Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Has the Doctrine of Inerrancy Outlived Its Usefulness? PART 2

This installment simply attempts to define the doctrine, and Jimenez has defined it well. To accomplish this, he cites the following quotations:
"If God cannot err, and the original text was breathed out by God, then it follows that the original text of the Bible is without error." ~Norman Geisler

"Inspiration is the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit, who through the different personalities and literary styles of the chosen human authors invested the very words of the original books of Holy Scripture, alone and in their entirety, as the very Word of God without error in all that they teach or imply (including history and science), and the Bible is thereby the infallible rule and final authority for faith and practice of all believers." ~Norman Geisler

There is one human characteristic the Bible does not have: errors.” ~Norman Geisler

inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” ~Wayne Grudem
I commented as follows:
From all I’ve seen, I think you offer a good survey of the inerrantist position here. More could be said, or course, about the qualifications regarding genre, authorial intent, phenomenological language, acknowledged imprecision, etc. but you have correctly stated the core concept in my opinion. It’s always helpful to define terms.
Another commenter gave a lengthy treatise describing his rejection of the doctrine. In it, he stated the following:

I think we have to determine the difference between the words fact and truth. I would say Scripture is fully true, but might not be error-free in its fact presentations.

The greatest example, of which even inerrantists (is that a word) would agree, is the idea that parables are not fact. They teach truth, no doubt. But they are not factual stories. It is a fact that Jesus told parables. But the parables, in themselves, are not fact. But they are truth.

And I think this is where modern Christians get mixed up. So we must note such a difference when we read in 2 Samuel 7:16 the report of Nathan’s prophecy to David – And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. And then read what 1 Chronicles 17:14 reports – but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.

From a factual standpoint, one or both could be wrong. But the truth is communicated in both accounts . . .

This reasoning is absurd. First, regarding the parables, inerrancy is not the least bit threatened by an acknowledgement that parables are fictional stories. Inerrancy recognizes the use of literary genres within the Bible, and in fact demands that we interpret them accordingly. It calls us to interpret parables as parables and doesn't demand more from the text than Jesus Himself meant to put into it.

The commenter goes on to cross hermeneutical lines and apply parable logic to historical narratives. But the genre-specific rules of interpretation cannot be transferred in this way. We have to treat historical narrative as historical narrative. Dealing with parallel accounts of a historical event can be challenging, but not so challenging that we have to pretend the actual history is false or irrelevant. In the two texts, God Himself is quoted as speaking "for real," at a specific time and place in history, to a specific person, about specific events, through the prophet Nathan (who was a real historical person). It's not a parable, and it can't be treated like a parable. The two accounts may appear to contradict, but neither account can be "wrong" in any way. It is likely that Nathan the prophet uttered both statements, but each writer, guided by the Holy Spirit, included the particular statement that was most suitable to his purpose (this is a common phenomenon in Scripture - and such omissions are not errors). It is certain that the apparent contradiction between the two accounts was intentionally placed there by the Holy Spirit - the Breather of Scripture - in order to get our attention. In a very real sense, which the Holy Spirit surely wants us to recognize, the throne of Solomon is a continuation of the throne of David. The house and kingdom of David are ultimately the house an d kingdom of God, through which He will send His own Son. Problem solved, inerrancy held intact. This is a classic example of a textual paradox, which is neither contradictory nor erroneous.

Not only does the commenter's approach dismantle precious Biblical Truth and erode the authority of Scripture by its erroneous assertions, it also misses the beautiful and edifying POINT of the texts it butchers. May God keep us from fallaciously rationalizing away inerrancy in this manner. We can recognize that there are Bible difficulties without conceding that there are Bible errors. Instead of affirming errors, we should seek explanations that are consistent with the character of the Book.

Jimenez's next post in the series will attempt to trace the historical origins of the doctrine of inerrancy. While I do not expect to agree with his ultimate conclusions, and I will probably argue against them vigorously, I hope to enjoy a good education along the way.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Sola Scriptura!
Sola Gratia!


  1. Derek -

    Not sure how much I can interact here at your blog. But I will initially share some thoughts. Maybe we can stay connected at Robert's posts at Near Emmaus.

    I acknowledged that inerrantists would agree on this comment about parables. I simply started with an easy example that we could stand on common ground. From a most literal definition of fact, parables are not factual.

    Then I went on to take other steps in considering what the doctrine of inerrancy purports. But, again, I simply wanted to start with common ground on how we see that the Scripture does not always contain 100% factual statements in the more precise sense. Another example is that most of the speeches recorded in various places - the Gospels, Acts, etc - are not full factual accounts of what was said. They are truncated, possibly even things subtracted or added to help more faithfully communicate the authors intent. None of this cuts at it being true and faithful and God-breathed. But it does not line up to a most basic definition of factual.

  2. I can only say that the statement about how Nathan's prophecy is recorded with 2 different wordings feels a bit intellectually dishonest. The 2 differing reports are not 'error' in the sense that it has failed in communicating the truth and word of God. But, again, from a factual standpoint, to say that the persons recording both events were actually there, got a detailed recording to make sure they recorded each word correctly, etc, well for me that is not being honest. If Ezra was the recorder of Chronicles, then he definitely wasn't there. Sure, God could have 'told him' what was said, that both wordings were used (as if Nathan said the same prophecy twice, but changed the wordings in the 2 differing accounts), but the Chronicler decided to only chose one, of course it's always possible. But it seems more contrived than to recognise the reality of what it means to report history, especially from an ancient near eastern perspective where many times oral transmission was more valued than written.

    You and I can report an event of our interaction on Near Emmaus. Both of us will present differing accounts due to the reality that we hold differing views on the word inerrancy. But it will not necessarily cut away at the true presentation of the accounts. You could say, 'Scott said he doesn't hold to the evangelical view of inerrancy.' I could say, 'I told Derek that I challenge the evangelical view of inerrancy.' From a factual standpoint, one of us, or both of us if our memory is not perfect, has not recorded the factual details perfectly. In a sense, there is error from a modern perspective. So factually we are wrong. But the truth is still communicated, and even faithfully communicated to the intent and purpose of our report.

  3. Comment 3:

    Now, someone far away could say, 'Well Scott said both statements. One to Derek and one to another friend.' Yeah, it could be true. But we know it's a silly argument because the point was not to communicate each detail in accordance with modern, empirical evidence, but to communicate faithfully the truth of the situation and account. And we both accomplished that faithfully and truthfully to the intent.

    The same happens across the different recordings in Samuel-Kings and Chronicles, the four Gospels, the recording of Genesis 1-11 where there was not exact knowledge of how it all played out in the beginning, etc, etc. The author of Genesis was relying on a lot of oral and written tradition of the origins of humanity in the ancient near eastern. Hence why there is such similarity with other accounts from the ancient near east. It doesn't cut at it as God's revelation and truth, for God directed the authors. But I can be honest and say that I don't think it all worked out exactly like that in detail. It didn't take exactly 6 days. But, lo and behold, the purpose of Genesis 1 was not to tell how long, but to tell us that Yahweh was the one who did it. Of course God teaches through the details of Genesis 1. I see the interesting pattern of 3 days of forming and 3 days of filling. I see the importance of God saying, 'Let there be light' and there was. I see so much there, so much truth. But it was not an exact factual recording of 'the first day' of history.

  4. Comment 4:

    I know you said on Near Emmaus that you were being pretty harsh in your article, but that I should not take it that way. And I am not offended by this post, but I will say you have not faithfully represented my thoughts. Maybe that is a case of errancy. ;)

    I will never look to dismantle the truth of Scripture. Again, I affirm it is God's word, God-breathed, given by the Spirit. But those human beings that the Spirit used lived in a particular culture in a particular historical time period. We cannot approach the text with our modern, western, empirical approaches to fact and truth and evidence. It is unhelpful. It is dangerous because we take with us our cultural understandings of fact and truth and evidence, rather than an ancient near eastern and first century approach.

    So I believe Scripture is 100% faithful to its purpose and intention as designed by God when he meant theopneustos (God-breathed). But I have to approach Scripture in the best way I can knowing the mindset of the authors, not the mindset of modern, western evangelicalism.

    But I will continue to believe Scripture is God's word, God-breathed, from the Spirit, authoritative, powerful, and faithful for teaching, rebuking, training, etc. And I will read it, study it, teach it, preach it, invest my heart into it, calling others to do the same.

    Again, I just mention this book that will be a blessing to you. It is by a conservative, evangelical scholar: Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation ( And it's only 170 pages.


  5. Scott,

    Thanks for taking time to respond to my diatribe.

    You said: Another example is that most of the speeches recorded in various places - the Gospels, Acts, etc - are not full factual accounts of what was said.

    Certainly the accounts are not full, but in order to affirm their truthfulness we have to view the included portions as factual and historically accurate. Historical sections of Scripture record things that actually happened.

    You're right to note that we do agree on the basic distinction of parables as not necessarily historic events (and I am glad you affirmed the telling of parables as factual, that's helpful).

    One reason I am concerned about this issue is that it seems many of today's Christians are too quick to retreat from difficult doctrines and concede ground to doubters. Before long we will be left with nothing but a "truth" that isn't rooted in history and is entirely subjective - inviting skeptics to prove our faith is nothing but irrational sentimentalism. If we give up on core doctrines because they are too challenging to defend, the skeptics' analysis will be right.


  6. Scott,

    In response to your second comment: You agreed previously that some of the verbal statements ascribed to Biblical characters were not complete and contained omissions. It follows that the Holy Spirit, being omniscient, has a full knowledge of every word that was said, and could easily have added details back into the accounts when it suited His purpose. This may well be part of God's reason for providing canonized parallel accounts. These textual paradoxes challenge us and prove whether our faith is in God's Word or our own reasoning about God's Word.

    Some scholars emphasize the "human" nature of the Bible in such a way that its divine character is reduced or practically eliminated. If we really believe the text is theopneustos, we have to make room for the Holy Spirit to breathe in any factual details or additions afforded by His omniscience. I see the two accounts of Nathan's prophecy as a difficulty, but not an unresolvable one from the standpoint of inerrancy. One can say my proposed solution is dishonest, but I would rather you accuse me of intellectual dishonesty than the Scriptures of something worse: God-ordained counter-factual dishonesty. I would not abandon or retain inerrancy based on conjecture or my best guess regarding this scenario. There may be a better solution, which has not yet been offered, but if I abandon inerrancy before an acceptable solution is discovered I will undermine the whole of the Bible and make that solution irrelevant.

    I think the greater intellectual dishonesty is on the part of those scholars who want to press the fact/truth distinction into areas where it does not apply, and where there is no reason or need to apply it - areas where Scripture presents its words as facts. Those scholars disingenuously claim to uphold the Truth of God's Word while they work hard to become the Bible's backstabbing best friends.

    The historical accuracy of the things presented as historical details in Scripture is included in the affirmation of Scripture as Truth. Deny the facts that are presented as facts and you deny the Truth with them. In other words, inerrantists affirm that we can (and should, or even must) separate fact (i.e. historical event) from Truth (i.e. theological reality) in some instances (where Scripture presents something as a parable, allegory, or recorded false statement, e.g. Satan's lie in Genesis 3 where he says "You shall not surely die."). But we would destroy both fact and Truth if we separated them where Scripture presents them as united. The "truth" in historical narratives is inextricably bound together with the "facts" that are related. Remove the facts and you are left with a "truth" that is built on lies.

    If we follow this fact/truth distinction into areas where it is not warranted, we can eventually deny the historical validity of Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. That would leave us still in our sins, and more to be pitied than any other man. If the Bible is not factually true in regard to creation and redemptive history, how can I trust it in relation to my own salvation, which is rooted in the historic work of Christ?

  7. Scott,

    In response to your third comment: I don't agree that it's a silly argument. As an expositor, I may gain tremendous insight by noting the things said to David by God through Nathan. Did David know the promises regarding his successor, and were some of his actions motivated by this knowledge? If David didn't actually hear those things, I'm building my exegesis on sand. If the text tells me that David heard those words, but David didn't actually hear those words, the text lied to me. If I believed that, I would abandon Christianity to join the skeptics and agnostics.

    As far as the early chapters of Genesis, I can only say God knows what a "day" is, and if He says it was a day, specifying evening and morning, and using the word "day" in a way that consistently means "literal 24 hour day" every time it is used, there is no reason to question it or deny the factuality of the things stated. God mentions evening and morning, the first day, evening and morning, the second day, evening and morning, the third day, etc. and He details specific divine activities with each "evening and morning" time period, so the point is grammatically emphatic, and from a literary standpoint it could hardly be more specific. Do we need God to specify which hour, minute, and second of the day He performed each act before we believe His version of the events? I have never found a line in the book of Genesis where it turns from allegory to history. The Biblical genealogies go from people present at the time of writing right back to Adam. If the author's intent was to portray allegory or something else non-historical, he messed up big time.

    Christ Himself, and Paul, treat the Genesis events as literal and historical. The New Testament writers build gigantic theological arguments on this, including the very efficacy of the atonement. Sweep Genesis into the "truth but not fact" category, and you'll end up mashing a lot of essential Biblical doctrine into meaningless mush at the same time.


  8. Scott,

    In response to your fourth comment: I think you misunderstood my comment at Near Emmaus. I noted that I argued strongly against your arguments, but not against you personally. I find the position you have articulated, following certain Evangelical scholars, appallingly irresponsible, utterly implausible, and ultimately destructive to all Christian doctrine. But I think you are following what you believe to be a good and wise path. I don't think you aim to destroy faith in the Bible, but that is nonetheless the final result of your position if it is followed through.

    I am thankful for much of what you affirm about Scripture. I am also deeply troubled by some of your statements. However, many of today's Evangelicals are in lock step with you. I believe all of you are marching toward a rather dangerous cliff - and I fear you won't know it until you've crashed to the rocks below. I appeal to you as a brother in Christ and warn you of this danger, but I do not view you as a heretic to be condemned.

    Concerning Ancient Near East perspectives and Western Evangelical perspectives, I would point out that the doctrine of inerrancy views context (historical and otherwise) as essential to a correct understanding of Scripture. My arguments about the early chapters of Genesis, and my affirmation of other Old Testament events as historically accurate, are rooted in the writings and sayings of some 1st Century Jews. They were miles and millennia away from our times, but the Holy Spirit inspired them to write so that we would know the Truth (including all of the relevant facts). Inerrantists seek to view Scripture as Christ and the apostles did. From their time until very recently, inerrancy was assumed by all Christians and didn't even need to be argued.

    The Ancient Near East offers many different perspectives, most of which were not canonized. I believe some scholars are trying to force alternative ANE viewpoints onto the Bible, assuming that if a view is Ancient Near Eastern it must be applicable. But then, as now, there was a battle for Truth, and there were right and wrong views. This much is clear from the Bible's own affirmations of its entire truthfulness and accuracy.

    I pray this interaction has been a blessing to you, and ask God's greatest blessing on all your study of His Word.

    Thanks for the book recommendation.

    Grace & peace,

  9. Derek -

    Thanks for the interaction. Rather than share more, I do encourage you to check out Peter Enns book, Inspiration and Incarnation. Again, it is only 170 pages. So it wouldn't take long to read through. I know you think you might not, but you will appreciate the book if you do appreciate solid evangelical scholarship. He is not the authoritative truth on the matter. But he explains faithfully more of what I have been saying, and he recognises that Scripture is God's word and authoritative truth.

    You can paste this link into your web browser:


  10. Scott,

    Thanks again for your comments, I do find it helpful to have my views challenged. I plan to read Enns' book, though I doubt I will agree with his view - based on the reviews by D.A. Carson, Paul Helm and Steve Hays, as well as the responses and other writings I've perused on Enns' website. However, I still plan to give "Inspiration and Incarnation" a fair hearing.

    For some reason, several of your comments never got forwarded from blogger to my Gmail. I found them on blogger this morning, and I've noted that you responded to some of my arguments, particularly those regarding the slippery slope. If you'd like, I can copy and paste the content of the unpublished comments as new comments that will follow this one (this way we won't create havoc with the previously established commenting order). I offer this because I want to give your views a fair hearing and assure you I'm not censoring out your "good" arguments. Online discussions have to suffer from these computer quirks, I guess.

    Just let me know if you'd like me to publish them for the benefit of my readers. Either way, they haven't gone unread or unconsidered. However, if I publish them I will probably have to give some sort of answer. These discussions can go on and on forever . . .

    God's blessing on your work in Europe.


  11. "If God cannot err, and the original text was breathed out by God, then it follows that the original text of the Bible is without error." I am completely in agreement with that. There's a really fascinating debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at


Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

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