"If the Bible is Not Inerrant, then Christianity is False" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Added to my “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series.

Consider this story (adapted from a true story):

Greg Jones was an evangelical Christian, active in his church, a regular preacher, teacher and served on the elder board. He says that he was addicted to fundamentalism. He slept, ate, and drank the truths of Christianity. After a decade of faithful service to the church, he is now a professing atheist who rejects the naivety of all that he held to so dearly. Why? Well, as he tells the story, he says that he was awakened out of his slumber of fundamentalism through many encounters with “the truth.” Chief among these encounters was when he finally realized that the Bible was “full of errors.” He describes his turn by referencing the discrepancies that he found throughout Scripture and being unable to come to a way to reconcile them. “For years,” he describes, “I was the best at answering the skeptic with regards to any objection that he could levy against the Scriptures. I knew how to reconcile any supposed contradiction. It became like an art form that I was proud of. No matter how difficult the problem, I could find a way out. After a time, I don’t know why, but I began to reflect upon the lengths that I had to go to make it all fit together. I realized that the art of answering the contradictions became a subjective smokescreen that I raised not only to those I was responding to, but also to myself. I had to be honest with myself. John says ‘No one who is born of God sins,’ then turns around and says “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father.” Which one is it? There are literally hundreds of problems like this in Scripture. My answers may have satisfied those I taught, but they no longer satisfied me. Eventually I realized (sadly, I might say) that I had to let go of the inerrancy of Scripture. Once I did that, I had to let go of Christianity all together.”

This description is a common testimony of many who have walked away from the faith. But this blog is not about walking away from the faith per se, but with the danger of the doctrine of inerrancy. When Greg rejected the doctrine of inerrancy because of his inability to reconcile the discrepancies, did this necessarily mean that he had to walk away from the faith?

Here is the question: Is the doctrine of inerrancy so central to the Christian faith that if one were to deny it, he or she should pack their bags and search for a new worldview? In other words (and let me be very clear), if the Scriptures are not inerrant, does that mean the Christian faith is false?

Most of you know that I hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. I call my view “reasoned” inerrancy which does not suppose a particular wooden hermeneutic to be tied to it. (You can read more about it here).

Having said this, I believe that this doctrine, while important, is not the article upon which Christianity stands or falls. I believe that the Scriptures could contain error and the Christian faith remain essentially in tact. Why? Because Christianity is not built upon the inerrancy of Scripture, but the historical Advent of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ became man, lived a perfect life, died an atoning death, and rose on the third day not because the Scriptures inerrantly say that these events occurred, but because they did, in fact, occur. The truth is in the objectivity of the event, not the accuracy of the record of the event. The cause and effect must be put into proper place here. The historical event of the incarnation caused the recording of Scripture, Scripture was not the cause of the events. Again, Christianity is founded upon the Advent, not the inerrant record of the Advent.

Think about this: Do we only trust the historical records of those accounts that have an inerrant witness? Are the ancient histories inerrant? I have never heard anyone say that Polybius (c.200-after 118 BCE) was inerrant in his records of Roman history, yet we treat him as generally reliable. As well, Josephus (37- after 93 CE) is seen as a generally reliable Jewish historian, but not inerrant. Those who write history books for our schools today do not have to submit a resume with credentials of inerrancy before they are approved by the publishers to write upper-level history textbooks do they? No. Why? Because it is a well accepted understanding that people can give a reliable and truthful witness, even if they are not inerrant. What if we followed the example set by Greg in the above story. Once we find a discrepancy of any kind in any work, this renders the entire work untrustworthy. If this were our method of historical inquiry, we would be completely agnostic to all of history. We would end up saying that all works written by historians of past are complete lies and fabrications, because they are not inerrant. 

Thankfully, this is not the dilemma that is presented to us in understanding history (or any other discipline). We understand that people, while errant, can give us generally trustworthy accounts. Those who hold positions as university professors, scientists, engineers, historians, mathematicians, politicians, and just about every other career must rely upon the general trustworthiness of the witness of other errant individuals.

Let’s take this same approach with the Scriptures for a moment. Let’s assume that the Scriptures are not inerrant. (Please, at least attempt to go there with me!). Let’s take it a step further and say that the Scriptures are not inspired at all. Here then is the situation: the Scriptures are a collection of 66 ancient historical records, given through various types of literature. The records, like any other record, may have errors-historical, scientific, or otherwise. Now that we are rollin’, let’s say that John did indeed make a mistake about the number of women who came to the tomb of Jesus after His resurrection. Does this make the testimony of John completely false? Does this mean that the entire testimony of John is now wrong at every turn? Of course not! Any historian who followed this methodology would quickly find himself out of a job, for he would have no sources for his research. If the Scriptures were like any other records of history with minor discrepancies, then this would not justify a total rejection of the events they record. Their credibility is based upon the assumption of general historic reliability as evidenced through the rules of historic inquiry—which do not include a criteria for inerrancy.

Let me take this one more step further. The fact is that we don’t even need the Scriptures in order for Christianity to be true. Remember, the Christian worldview is Christocentric (centered around the Advent of Christ), not bibliocentric (centered around the Bible). It is because of God’s grace that we even have the record of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. But if for some reason God had decided to withhold His grace and not record these events in Scripture, does this mean that the events did not take place? Of course not. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are historical events that happened whether or not we have inspired records.

You may say to me, how would we know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ had it not been recorded? This is a good question, but you must first take this next step of concession. Not only is it true that Christianity is not dependent upon inerrancy, inspiration, and recording of the events, but it is also not reliant upon our knowledge of the events. Theoretically speaking, God could have sent His Son to die for the world and raise from the grave and not told anyone at all and Christianity would still be true. The point is that Christianity stands or falls upon the historical truth of the Advent of the Son of God, not the record of these events through Scripture. How God decides to communicate these events, should He choose to do so, is not the issue. I suppose, for the sake of arguement, God could have used unwritten tradition, the testimony of angels, dreams and visions, or direct encounters.

Now, apologetically speaking, there is no reason whatsoever, I believe, for one to reject the general historical reliability of the Scriptures if presented as such. If one were to accept the Gospels, for instance, like any other historical writing, then they would have to be persuaded of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth based upon honest and solid historical inquiry. If they did not, then, in my opinion, their methodology is flawed by other unjustifiable presuppositions such as the impossibility of miracles.

Why did Greg feel compelled to reject the entirety of Christianity because of a few supposed errors? Because that is what he was taught by conservative, well meaning Christians. I believe that we often times, in our zeal for the Scriptures, create a false dilemma suggesting that belief in inerrancy and total rejection of the Christian message are the only two options. These are not the only two options. The Scriptures can be generally reliable historical accounts and the Christian faith still be true.

To those of you who are struggling with or reject the doctrine of inerrancy, while I believe you are wrong, this does not mean that you have grounds to reject the historicity of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God as recorded in Scripture. There are 27 ancient documents that have historical credibility that must be referenced just like any other ancient document (not to mention the witness of dozens of first and second century historical documents that are not included in this New Testament canon). If you reject Christianity based upon your belief of the errancy of these documents, you must also reject all the records of ancient history.

To those of you who believe in inspiration and inerrancy, your belief is on solid ground. But please be careful not to create a false dilemma concerning a strict adherence to your persuasion. While the authority of God’s word is of central importance, Christianity is Christocentric, not bibliocentric. Christ is still Lord, even if the Scriptures were never written.

What is the danger of inerrancy? Making it the doctrine upon which the Christian faith stands or falls. Again, while I hold to this doctrine, I am not even convinced that it is a linchpin of Evangelicalism.

59 Responses to “"If the Bible is Not Inerrant, then Christianity is False" . . . And Other Stupid Statements”

  1. Probably the best post you have written in a few years. Of course that’s coming from someone who rejects inerrancy as a doctrine, and who readily affirms errors in scripture, but remains an orthodox Christian.

    As an interesting aside to inerrancy; originally ETS had only one qualification for membership – you had to affirm inerrancy. Then a Mormon attempted to join (since Mormons affirm inerrancy), so the leadership added a few other criteria for membership to prevent such things from happening. It would seem ETS learned the hard way that inerrancy might not be the shibboleth they thought it was.

    Pax Christi…Nick (aka Luther007)

  2. I think many hold to inerrancy out of fear. Inerrancy makes your theology neat and tidy. It provides a standard in stone for so many issues that become grey & slippery without it. Many like the comfort inerrancy provides in this messy world.
    But, in my opinion, don’t hide from the messiness; rather, slide with the world as we find it.

  3. Sorry about the confusion with posting this. It was my latest blog on the old server, then we switched. Therefore all the comments were lost. Feel free to comment again!

  4. on 29 Dec 2009 at 5:32 pm # I think many hold to inerrancy out of fear. Inerrancy makes your theology neat and tidy. It provides a standard in stone for so many issues that become grey & slippery without it. Many like the comfort inerrancy provides in this messy world. But, in my opinion, don’t hide from the messiness; rather, slide with the world as we find it.

    The place of fear in our bibliology:

  5. CMP,
    I’m wondering if the type of inerrancy you advocate in various other places on this blog would be considered inerrancy as defined by the Chicago Statement? This is just a question of curiosity since I could agree with inerrancy as you seem to define it, but I’m not sure I could as defined by the Chicago Statement.

    Also though I would affirm inerrancy as defined by CMP I also agree with what some other have indicated. If we simply viewed the Bible as a reliable historical document which reveals God to us and as such was our final authority in matters of faith and practice not a single one of the core doctrines of Christianity would be affected. This story should ultimately show us the danger of making our faith bibliocentric rather than christocentric.

  6. Mark Noll, in his “The Scandal of an Evangelical Mind” and “A Brief History of Inerrancy, Especially in America”, does a great job of describing how fundamentalism’s adherence to inerrancy “rendered the experience of the biblical writers nearly meaningless” (Scandal, p. 133). So the issue of inerrancy becoming the locus of biblical interpretation is also detrimental for Christians who need to experience scripture for all it’s worth.

    Further, in the same way that taking a completely docetic view of Christology can cause someone to miss the whole story of Christ, taking rigid inerrancy position can cause one to miss the picture (or cause one to sway whenever they find discrepancies).

  7. This was really helpful. Some unbelievers believe the same way as Greg. Since there are errors in the Bible it cannot be trusted therefore why would they want to be Christians? Believing who Christ is and what he has done for us personally is what is important. Worrying about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is not what to trust an eternity to.

  8. If the bible is truly the Word of God (God does not error) and theopneustos then I would think that one who has the Spirit of God dwelling within would not reject the Scriptures as inerrant.

    John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;

    John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

    If the bible contains errors then it is at best maybe some of Gods Word. Why trust one part over another? Who decides whats true and whats not?

    John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

    If the bible is not inerrant then it at best may only contain some truth and it wouldn’t fully be God’s word because we know from Scripture that His Word is Truth. But we really counldn’t even knowt that because that Scripture could be part of the error.

    Michael are you saying that even though you don’t believe that the bible contains errors that one can be a Christian and deny the formal cause of the refomation, Sola Scriptura?

  9. Michael wrote:

    “Christianity is Christocentric, not bibliocentric.”

    If Christianity is Christocentric then we must be bibliocentric to learn what it means to be Christocentric.

    John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;

    With the Spirit of God being in us of course.

    John 15:26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, {that is} the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,

  10. Chris,

    “Michael are you saying that even though you don’t believe that the bible contains errors that one can be a Christian and deny the formal cause of the refomation, Sola Scriptura?”

    Well inerrancy and sola Scriptura are not the same thing. This post is about inerrancy, not sola Scriptura (which I have written quite a bit on!).

    Either way, if you are asking me if I believe that one can deny both inerrancy and sola Scriptura and be a Christian, I would say yes. What it takes to be a Christian is to believe the message of the Gospel, not to believe in the messenger. Hope that makes since. Christ is the center of Christianity, not the medium though which the message is transferred.

    However, I do believe that inerrancy and sola Scriptura are important. But I would say that sola Scriptura is much more important than a belief in what usually passes of as inerrancy.

  11. Chris,

    It has often been mentioned that the WCF of faith doesn’t contain
    “doctrine of inerrancy,” but rather speaks of the scriptures as
    infallible.” While some would read these as synonymous, there is a large school of historical thought on this that interprets presbyterian trajectories (via Vos, Kuyper, et. al.) to move in a very different place than modern notions of inerrancy. In fact, these issues have been recently been at a center of controversy in the conservative presbyterian world.

    Luther – wanted to remove certain texts because they did not “Christum Treibet” (drive towards Christ). James was an “epsitle of straw” and what not.

    All that to say that the notion of inerrancy as currently formulated may not be precisely the same thing as sola scripture. It would seem that this historic doctrinal stance of the reformation was based more on a response to roman catholic notions that tradition could interpret and override scripture.

    Pax Christi…Nick

  12. Chris,

    Nice prooftexting, however I fail to see how a single verse you cited supports the argument you are making.

    “John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;

    John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”

    Neither of these helps you because the Spirit of Truth rightly discerned could tell you exactly how to read the Bible and exactly which part are accurate and which are not (assuming there were part which are not), as well as exactly how things should be interpreted. It could even tell you the Bible is not inerrant. The fact of the matter is well the Spirit speaks infallibly the way we interpret the Spirit’s leading is far from infallible and unless you can claim to infallibly discern this leading these verses are meaningless to this discussion.

    “John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”

    Again doesn’t help you. No one is saying that God doesn’t speak Truth, just that the recording of it could be in error. Furthermore, the Johannine understanding of Word of God did not equal the Bible which didn’t even exist for the most part yet.

    “If Christianity is Christocentric then we must be bibliocentric to learn what it means to be Christocentric.”

    It might surprise you to know there were Christians before the Bible who believed on the account of what they were told by others. There was no Bible in it’s current form until a couple centuries after Christ. Various churches had bits and pieces of the Bible, but none had the whole thing, and most people couldn’t read it anyhow. Furthermore the verses you cite don’t help you. First one is referring to the prophecies concerning the messiah. Second one isn’t even germane to the subject.

  13. Michael,

    To push you a bit more, two things from your stated position on autographa (while nearly ubiqitious in evangelical apologetics) have often caused me great confusion. Maybe you can nuance what seems to me (at first glance) as untenable positions.

    1.) The appeal to autographa. – Assuming that a given mistake would be correctable in the autographa is a common disclaimer in evangelicalism. This move strikes me both as a bit non-sequitor and as a no true scotsman fallacy.

    Take the amount of gold solomon brought from ophir; in 1 Kings 9:26-28 we read the amount to be 420 talents but in 2 Chronicles 8:17-18 the amount listed is 450 talents of gold. A numerical difference which (evangelicals argue) might be corrected by the autographa

    a.) First, it seems that the possibility of correction is moot, since without any autographa extant, we can never know (450 or 420) which one is correct. Hence we can claim the conceptial possiblity of an inerrant bible, but (and this is key) no such bible actually exists anywhere today, nor have any of Gods people in a very long time read such a completely inerrant bible. What good does an inerrant platonic bible do us, seeing as the form of it has been corrupted through copyist error.

    Furthermore, If God does not care to keep his text inerrant and fully perspicuious in these verses, why must we assume he did so in other verses. To me the autographa claim seems like a non-sequitor because of this. The argument for inerrant autographa doesn’t really address the problems of errancy in scripture (such as the gold from ophir.) It is a dog barking without teeth.

    b.) Secondly it seems like an NTS to me. The conversation I have had goes almost always like this…

    Sarah – The bible is inerrant

    Mary – Yes, but here is an obvious error (1 Kin. 9:26-28 vs. 2 Chr. 8:17-18; 9:10)

    Sarah – Thats only an error because its a copy, in the autographa there are no errors.

    Me – So then the bible must be inerrant, and no amount of showing errors can prove otherwise. Not only then is the autographa claim not in any way testable or accesable as a hermeneutic claim about the text; inerrancy becomes a NTS fallacy, since any non-inerrant textal scrap or pericope is said not really to be “the truly inerrant text.”

    These are two of the reasons (among many) which led me to jettison inerrancy as a viable model fo scripture for an incarnational analogy of the text.

    What do you think Michael?

    Pax Christi…Nick

  14. Thank you for the post Michael. I agree that many times well meaning Christians in their zeal to protect and proclaim the Gospel, overreach in their applications. This is true even in regards to the doctrine of inerrancy, but this does not then imply because some individuals are over zealous that the doctrine is not necessary for the protection and proclaimation of the Gospel.
    You mention how Christianity rises and falls based upon the historical events of the incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection of Christ. I agree 100 %, but how are we to confidently assert these doctrines if we do not know whether they were recorded accurately in the Scripture?
    Certainly we can find extra-biblical materials that attest to the reality of an individual who lived named Jesus, who was executed by the Romans, but where will we find that his death was atoning? We could read it in the Bible, but then how are we to know that the author has recorded the meaning of the death in an accurate way.

    In summation, while I do not think Christianity rises or falls with the doctrine of inerrancy. I do think that without such a doctrine we are left in a situation of uncertainty.

  15. Once when I was out doing some street ministry, a young woman from a large local Bible church asked me what church I was with and what I believed. After I told her, I asked her what she believed. She responded that she believed that the Scriptures are inherent (sic).

  16. Now, from the comments I see here the errors that are being refered to, I am guessing are with a translation or manuscript not the original documents themselves.

    One Question:

    If God inspired the human writters to write the scriptures why would he put or allow errors in the original documents?

  17. I’m not sure I fully understand the assertion that the Bible must be inerrant in the “original autographs.” I guess the idea is that God wouldn’t allow the original writers to make mistakes.

    But if God wants the Bible to be free from error, wouldn’t it be more important for God to ensure that there are no mistakes in the later manuscripts that serve as the foundation for the Bibles that have actually been read by Christians for centuries?

    To me, it almost makes more sense to argue that the LATER manuscripts are inerrant than that the ORIGINAL manuscripts are inerrant.

    For example, take the ending of Mark. Most scholars (including evangelicals) now believe that the ending of Mark was not in the original. The evangelical position is thus that (1) for centuries, God has allowed Christians to be misled into thinking that the ending of Mark is part of God’s word, and yet (2) God would never allow an error in the original manuscripts because God wouldn’t want to mislead people. This seems somewhat inconsistent to me.

  18. I agree with John T III in comment 15. Since we know the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and we know that God can’t lie, why in the world should we ever assume that He could of inspired errors? That idea goes against the very core of who He says He is. Unless, of course, you want to assume that the verses that tell us He is the Sprit of Truth and that He can’t lie are also part of the error. In which case it would pretty much leave us not being able to believe with any degree of assurance that any of the Bible is true, would it not??

  19. CMP,

    Thank you so much for this post. I have often thought that the evangelical community needs to “return to the table” and dialogue about what it means by “inerrancy” given advances in OT and NT textual criticism. You know…we just need to talk about it, but everyone seems to be so afraid of what the outcome may be.
    Thank you so much for your emphasis on the Savior. Christianity must remain Christocentric. Our hope, faith, and love is dependent upon the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our embrace of the gospel is what defines us.
    I must admit that my reading on the historical development of the doctrine of inerrancy is minimal (I wouldn’t mind taking suggestions). I am currently reading through Peter Enns work Inspiration & Incarnation. In order to make an attempt to move the conversation forward, one question I have concerns how we as evangelicals understand the relationship between inspiration and inerrancy. In most of our minds, the one must lead to the other. If God inspired the writers, then he, being perfect, must have produced an inerrant autographa. I think a more thorough discussion of inspiration will help us better discuss inerrancy. What method of inspiration does traditional inerrancy follow? Strict dictation? Can it fit within another grid? What does the Bible teach about its own inspiration? Does traditional inerrancy follow? What does the early church teach about inspiration and the authority of Scripture? Did they see inspiration as leading to inerrancy? Were we ever “supposed” to travel down the road that has led to the traditional, evangelical understanding of inerrancy?
    I know…a lot of questions. These things have been swimming in my head for awhile now. Thanks for providing a place to dialogue.

    In Christ,

  20. Cherylu,

    One can have “assurance that any of the Bible is true” without believing in inerrancy. As Michael stated, we believe in the truth of thousands of other historical documents even though we don’t believe their authors were incapable of error.

    And if there are any errors in the Bible, they wouldn’t be God’s errors. The Bible was written by men with God’s supervision. God certainly could have stepped in to prevent any errors whatsoever. Or God could have merely made sure that the Bible was sufficient to show men the way to salvation. Or something in between. The point is, if there are errors in the Bible, it doesn’t mean that God “lied.”

  21. Re John T III and God inspiring errors.

    A lot depends on what is meant by inspiration. Is it insight? Drive? Awarness? Exact words? If the latter, then God would not have given untruthful words, but may not have stopped errant ones from being added, or words from being changed. Also, one mjust remember that editors were involved over many generations for much of the Old Testament materials (how does inspiration relate to them?), and that Paul, at least, dictated some of his letters (how did that work? did his amenuensis copy exactly? or paraphrase? what was acceptable back then?)

    Further, if an omnipotent God, who could do what ever he wanted, did not see fit to keep errors out of the copies, why should we assume that he would keep errors out of the originals? He was dealing with errant humans in both cases.

    Moreover, one has to think about God’s purposes for the scriptures, not what we assume them to be or would like them to be. Do his purposes necessitate inerrant originals?


  22. If we’re going to equate theological errors in bibliology with theological errors in christology then I think the landscape looks more like this:

    Docetic view – Scripture does not have complete humanity to it. It is a complete assumption of the human into the divine to where it is no longer completely human.

    Adoptionist view – Scripture is completely human and only made the Word of God by the Spirit in certain instances. All that is human remains suspect to error, since it is not really inspired by the Spirit.

    Orthodox view – Scripture is completely human and completely divine, the human element does not cancel out any of the divine element and vice versa.

    Which view is consistent with the orthodox view of Christ? The view that sees the human element as primary and the divine secondary to that? The view that sees the Bible dropping out of the sky like the Koran? Or the view that sees God use the completely human element to produce a Word that is both fully divine and human without the error of fallen humanity entering into it? Or do we think that Christ must have erred to be human?

  23. John T III:

    Different wording, a truth from other parts of Scripture added to another part, a mispelled word, a repeated word, a dropped word, etc. doesn’t really constitute “error” that would convey a different message to God’s people in my mind. I would distinguish between a mistake that God has no problem allowing, since it doesn’t effect any message within the canon as a whole (and God preserves the canon, not just a single verse in the place one may wish Him to), and an error that leaves us with a different theological message. I believe He even inspires this way, so His preservation of the text through variation is the same as His inspiration through variation. I see no difference in it.

  24. There are Bible versions that translate the verses in II Timothy 3 about the inspiration of Scripture as all Scripture being “God breathed” or “breathed out” by God. If that is the correct translation, it gives a very strong indication that the Scriptures were God’s words as He intended them, IMO. Otherwise we would have to be saying that He “breathed out” error.

    If that is the correct way to translate the verse, then it seems to me that we would have to say that there were no errors in the originals as God would not “breathe out” error. That translation would seem to me to bypass any human errors that could of crept into the way Scriptue was written down.

    And I still don’t understand how any of you can be so sure that if you think God allowed human error to come in to the picture in the originals, that there is not human error there in places that are really important. Crucial teaching areas for example. How can you be certain, if that is the case, that any of it is error free and to be totally trusted?

  25. Someone brought this up, and it’s becoming a pet peeve of mine, and that is to equate the ideas of “breathing” and “speaking.” That “God-breathed” means “God-spoken.” I hear that POV all the time and I feel it makes no sense whatsoever. In common usage, they are two different concepts. I breathe while I am asleep, I do not speak when I’m asleep (usually). I breathe all day long. I do not speak all day long. I was breathing from the moment I entered this world. It was years before I spoke.

    They are not the same thing. I’d go so far as to say the “God-spoken” idea is non-biblical. It’s an evangelical assumption that can’t be supported scripturally. I’d encourage you to go through scripture and look up the references to God breathing. There are several, and they should be used to interpret the Timothy passage.

  26. Dave Z,

    What do you understand “God breathed” to mean?

  27. Plus, really, how helpful is the concept of inerrancy? It certainly does not help people decide on theological error. Both young and old earthers believe the Bible to be inerrant. So do Catholics and Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. Calvinists and Arminians also believe the Bible to be inerrant. As do anabaptists and paedobaptists. Is the communion the real body of Christ? both views subscribe to inerrancy. When is Jesus coming back? Is there a real millenium (pre-, post- or a-)? representatives of all views believe in inerrancy. Mormons also believe in inerrancy, so how does the concept of “inerrancy” help with respect to that heresy? I know inerrantists who have lives full of sin. How does the doctrine help them? Not too much, obviously.

    There have also been, throughout history, strong Christians who have persevered in the faith and yet who have not believed in inerrancy. I just don’t see inerrancy as a useful or helpful concept (though my default position is inerrancy because that is the belief system I was first introduced to).


  28. “They are not the same thing. I’d go so far as to say the “God-spoken” idea is non-biblical. It’s an evangelical assumption that can’t be supported scripturally.”

    Dave, I would equate this. The Bible seems to make a connection between God breathing out His Spirit and the words that He speaks to create something. I think your issue follows from your idea that the Spirit and the Word, as we experience them, are not inseparable.

  29. John,

    Inerrancy is not meant to curtail all heresy. It is meant to address certain issues. Your argument is a non sequitur. Simply because interpretation may not be aided by the understanding of the nature of a text does not mean that the nature of the text is not important in some way. Inspiration may not help solve theological controversies based upon differing interpretations either, but this doesn’t mean we should throw it out.
    I think the really interesting thing here is the assumption that used to be the liberal assumption in the fundamentalist debates (i.e., that truth must be immediately functional or it is irrelevant). Inerrancy is a logical conclusion for anyone who holds to the inspiration of all Scripture. The issue, as I said before, has to do with what definition we are giving to “inerrancy” and “errancy.” It may be that certain definitions are to be ruled out rather than the concepts themselves.

  30. Michael,

    You said:

    “Well inerrancy and sola Scriptura are not the same thing. This post is about inerrancy, not sola Scriptura (which I have written quite a bit on!).”

    I agree that they are not the same thing, but they are corollary. You may disagree but it seems that the Reformers viewed the doctine of Sola Scriptora in this way.

    For instance R.C. Spoul writes in an article entitled “Sola Scriptura: Crucial To Evangelicalism”:

    “For Luther the sola of Sola Scriptura was inseparably related to the Scriptures’ unique inerrancy.”

    “The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura involved inerrancy.”

    Sola Scriptura: Crucial To Evangelicalism

    As the article states, I understand that there is disagreement regarding the full inerrancy of the bible.

    You said:

    “What it takes to be a Christian is to believe the message of the Gospel, not to believe in the messenger”

    I would agree that what it takes to BECOME a Christian is to believe the message of the Gospel. It’s when people claim to have become a Christian and then start denying things that concerns me.

    For instance it does not take belief in the Sola Fide to become a Christian, but when one claims to be a Christian and denies it, I have to wonder. It has been said that the Roman Catholic Church ceased being a true chuch when it anathematized this doctine at the Counsel of Trent.

  31. We know with certainty that the current best preserved Biblical texts we have are full of errors. Now unlike what some would have us believe most of these errors are minor and even those that are major would have little impact on Christian theology. Yet it is enough to beg the question. If God was so concerned about keeping his revelation to mankind free from any kind of error whatsoever then why hasn’t He continued to do so?

    It would appear self evident that even if the original manuscripts were without error the doctrine of inerrancy isn’t a big deal to God since he hasn’t continued to keep the Bible free from error. If God chose to reveal Himself through witnesses who recorded the events of Jesus in a fallible manner while maintaining the essential message that is His prerogative. As CMP pointed He could have just of easily relied on oral tradition or something else had He wanted to.

  32. Chris,

    “For instance it does not take belief in the Sola Fide to become a Christian, but when one claims to be a Christian and denies it, I have to wonder.”

    So somehow you believe that a doctrine which wasn’t believed or articulated for 1500 years following the death of Christ should call into question someones salvation if denied? That is the epitome of arrogance. All those who were martyred in the 1st – 3rd Centuries for the Christian faith, but believe baptism was necessary for salvation deserve an apology from you even if they were doctrinally mistaken.

  33. All those who were martyred in the 1st – 3rd Centuries for the Christian faith, but believe baptism was necessary for salvation deserve an apology from you even if they were doctrinally mistaken.

    So… how does one apologize to dead people if one doesn’t believe in venerating or praying to saints? :)

  34. Chris,

    Luther’s view of inerrancy was not the same as the later fundamentalist doctrine. He believed that a writer could be mistaken in a detail, but not in theology or practice, so his view is more toward what is considered evangelical forms of errancy, even though I doubt Luther would state his views using that definition.

  35. “It would appear self evident that even if the original manuscripts were without error the doctrine of inerrancy isn’t a big deal to God since he hasn’t continued to keep the Bible free from error.”

    This imprecise language needs to be defined. How do the manuscripts contain “error”? Theological or moral? Does God need to preserve the spelling of a word or even the precise word in the precise place it was originally placed in the original in order for it to be preserved without “error”? A mistake on the part of a copier is not necessarily a lack of divine preservation of the text. BTW, the multiplying of manuscripts on top of this is also an act of preservation against error when examined as a whole; but my main concern is the equation of identifiable mistakes in mss being classified as errors in preservation.

  36. “So somehow you believe that a doctrine which wasn’t believed or articulated for 1500 years following the death of Christ should call into question someones salvation if denied?”

    This isn’t accurate either. It seems clear that a form of inerrancy was believed. Was it articulated by everyone? That’s a different matter. Did the Church’s form of inerrancy include belief that the Scripture was teaching scientific and historical details? I doubt it to be the case for all of them, but it may be the case that many of them did. I would take the historic position as a belief that Scripture presents inerrant theology and ethics (i.e., the mind of God and the character of God), but would not see the use of cultural views of history and science to convey a theological point as “error.” There specific form of the doctrine of inerrancy is not as clear. However, to assert that they did not believe a form of it is just not an accurate presentation of the facts.

  37. Hodge,
    First off let me point out again that I affirm a slightly nuanced form of inerrancy (one which would probably be incompatible which the Chicago Statement). I would affirm that everything in the Bible is true at least so far as the perspective of the writer is concerned, but that the writers understanding could be mistaken and thus record falsehood. One of the common areas this is viewable is the passages which support a geocentric view of the universe. From the writers perspective and understanding this view of the universe was true, but we now know that this view of the universe is demonstrably false. Another example might be the assertion that the mustard seed is the smallest seed when in fact the orchid is. I would further affirm that the Bible (properly interpreted) is infallible when it intends to speak on matters of faith and general practice.

    As for errors (maybe I should just use textual variant instead of error) in the manuscripts as I’ve admitted most of them are minor and have little effect on Christian theology. However, if God in fact worked in the authors of the Bible to ensure that their writings contained no error of any kind then why not ensure that it is perfectly preserved?? Why leave doubt about inerrancy if it is such and important article of faith? Why do we have two different accounts and one says 420 talents and one says 450 talents? I mean Chris asked how someone with the Spirit in them could deny inerrancy earlier and that such a denial should call into question their Christianity. I’ll accept this to be true only if someone can tell me which of these accounts the Spirit tells them is accurate.

    At the end of the day this is to me the strongest argument against inerrancy and the one I wrestle with most. It just isn’t logical for God to create a perfect masterpiece of his revelation to man and then not preserve it in perfect condition. Which is not to say that He couldn’t do so – just that it seems unlikely. This is part of the reason most Muslims hold the the Quran has no textual variants (as ridiculous as that is).

  38. I hold the same version of inerrancy that you do here, so kudos to you for understanding the issue well.

    The problem I have is that the idea that Scripture is without error if it is in the same words, spelling and placement in the original autographs is itself a misunderstanding of the issues, since this is only one view of inerrancy, and this particular view is also the one that holds to certain ideas that you and I have both stated we do not believe. If God inspires the original text in variation without error then why can’t he preserve that text through variation, whether that be internal to the text itself or through the multiplicity of mss? In other words, it is the message conveyed, not the words, spelling or placement used in the canon that holds the idea of inerrancy. This is where I took issue with this idea (an idea also argued by Ehrman). I just think this is a very superficial view of inspiration and inerrancy that stems from fundamentalism, and is retained within evangelicalism today.

    Like I said, however, kudos to you for thinking deeply about the subject of inerrancy and not confusing the categories of error in general belief and error in conveyed message.

  39. Michael,

    The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy would be the understanding of inerrancy I would hold to. I would like to get your thoughts on it if possible.

    I also liked what Wayne Grudem had to say in his Systematic Theology in the Chapter on Inerrancy.

    Do you think that there is a connection between Sola Scriptora and inerrancy?

    Regarding if one can deny inerrancy and be a Christian, my answer wouldn’t be absolutely no, but like I said it does cause me to wonder and that is only because I hold a very high view of Scripture. I would agree with what the Chicago Statements 19th article says:

    WE AFFIRM that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.

    WE DENY that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

    With that being said thank you for the work that you have been doing and I hope to take the Theology Program one way or another, especially because of what John Frame had to say. :)

  40. Finally getting a chance to respond to Cheryl, and her question about a possible difference between “breathed” and “spoken.”

    First, let me say that I think Paul’s choice of words is significant. He seems to have coined the compound term “God-breathed.” I suppose that he could have said “God-spoken” if that’s what he meant. But that’s not what he wrote. So what could God-breathed mean?

    If we look at other passages, following the principle of scripture interpreting scripture, we find references to breath, breathe, breathing and breathed all over the place. I think the use that most relates to the Timothy passage is when God’s breath gives life, as with Adam. If we use that meaning, then God’s breath gives life to scripture, which just happens to fit pretty well with Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Peter 1:23.

    Of course, I think “word of God” as used in scripture relates to the message of God, not just to scripture itself, as we commonly use it, so my two references may not really apply directly to scripture.

  41. WE DENY that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

    This is the old “slippery slope” argument, which I believe is a logical fallacy. For example, Fuller Seminary’s decision to go with “infallible” had many conservatives calling the school “Fuller Cemetary,” but to my knowledge, the school has not been sliding ever deeper into theological liberalism. And, living in SoCal, I know a number of Fuller grads, and they’re solidly evangelical.

  42. This is a good post concerning inerrancy by Roger Olsen who denies the fundamentalist understanding of inerrancy but is otherwise completely orthodox in his beliefs.

    “Some defenders of inerrancy will argue that when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:8 that 23,000 Israelites died in a single day, he was not in error, even though Numbers 25:1-9 records of the same event that 24,000 died. How is this not an error? One strategy is to say that Paul actually wrote 24,000, but an early copyist made the error. Another strategy is to say Paul was not trying to give a flawless performance in statistics and therefore, given his purpose, this should not be considered an “error.”

    Neither strategy is intellectually honest. The best approach is to admit Paul made a mistake but one that in no way misrepresents God’s message to the Corinthians or to us”

  43. Night,
    I don’t know if I would charge intellectual dishonesty to those who harmonize this. Although some commentators will charge that it’s due to a weak view of inspiration and inerrancy, I would suggest that such a thinking is due to the academic atmosphere of our culture (i.e., anything in favor of a traditional belief is apologetic rather than intellectually honest scholarship). As many have pointed out, both of these numbers are rounded, and that is a typical way of referring to a number in the Bible, and there may in fact be a tradition in Paul’s day to include not only a rounding of the 23,000 killed by the plague, but also the number of people killed by the judges a couple of verses before.

    It doesn’t matter in the end though, and I see the point made. People need to refrain from saying that the Scripture is in error, when it is seeking to convey a theological or ethical point, when it may only be that the author is in error. Inspiration and inerrancy do not require such of the author or his beliefs. It only requires that of the message communicated through the text.

  44. Sorry, that should be “but also subtracted the number of people killed by the judges a couple of verses before.” In other words, the emphasis is on those who God killed with the plague.

  45. It only requires that of the message communicated through the text.

    Hodge, I can agree with that 100%.

    And in light of the fact that some may see some of my posts as arguing against inerrancy, maybe I should say that I don’t think the Bible contains error. I just don’t think much whether it does or not. I just fully trust God to work in and through scripture to communicate his message accurately.

    I prefer the term infallible – the scripture cannot fail – because it goes to purpose, not because I believe there is error. Inerrancy, as typically presented, just sounds a little too cold and clinical to me, while infallible is full of the ministry of the Holy Spirit accomplishing God’s purpose.

    Inerrancy is too weak a term in my opinion, and ignores the “living” element of scripture.

  46. “Inerrancy is too weak a term in my opinion, and ignores the “living” element of scripture.”

    I would go further and say that in the fundamentalist sense inerrancy ignores God’s chief concern in the Bible which is revealing Himself and His plans to humanity. In doing so it expects things of God (such as correcting scientific errors in ANE cosmology) which would completely destroy the effectiveness of His communication over a something that doesn’t matter and has no bearing on the Truth’s God is seeking to communicate whatsoever.

    “while infallible is full of the ministry of the Holy Spirit accomplishing God’s purpose.”

    I love this statement because it provides such a great explanation for the way God has worked in preserving the Bible and His revelation to humanity. Through all the scrolls and various textual variants God is not working to ensure that every word is preserved perfectly, but rather to ensure that the essential message He wishes to convey are preserved. It’s not about whether there were 420 or 450 talents, or 23000 or 24000 people died. The numbers are not essential to the story being conveyed. It’s the story and the theological Truths which are contained in those stories which God is concerned about, not being historically or scientifically exact in the details.

  47. As I posted earlier (in a post that was deleted in the server transfers) ultimately the problem with “inerrancy” is that it is a loaded term. When someone hears this term they instantly thing of a fundamentalist young earther who wants nothing to do with anything even remotely intellectual. As Hodge has noted there are two types of inerrancy in reality, historical (which I fully affirm) and fundamentalist (which I can’t affirm). Unfortunately when one sees a post on inerrancy on a Evangelical blog such as this I think it is fair to assume we are talking about the fundamentalist form and not the historical form. As such I tend to use the term infalliblist to describe my views in order to avoid confusion even though these views line us with what would historically be called inerrancy.

  48. Dave and Night,

    I agree. I would still like to retain the term inerrancy, however, since it does indicate that the Bible is without error; but I would want to qualify it, so that one day, perhaps, it has the connotations we all have expressed here. My fear is the either/or, which we spoke about before, on both sides, and the confusion of categories. I usually don’t use the term infallible because in Reformed circles, in which I reside, the term is used with different connotations. I think the best analogy for our position is the cosmological issue in Scripture and how it cannot be divorced from language. Once people see this, they might be able to see more clearly how Scripture’s inerrancy should be defined.

  49. Let me describe two Christians both are Gay (or perhaps bisexual) and I have every reason to believe are (or were) God fearing:
    One man fights the passions that he believes are sinful but occasionally falls to temptation. When he fails it is inevitably in cheep casual relationships of the most sorted type. After each affair he is overcome with guilt repents and promises God and Himself he will not fall again. Sadly he does again and again.
    The Second Man accepted that his homosexuality was the result of a broken and fallen world where no mere human being could hope to be truly holy in the sight of God apart from Christ’s sacrificial blood. He determined to live a life of love and faithfulness to a man that he loves and try’s to be faithful to him.
    I knew both of these men the first was my Uncle the Second was (for a brief time my Priest). The first man dead of Aids nearly 20 years ago he left a wife and three children behind and he was as an aside a pillar in his local Baptist Church.
    The Second Man ministers to a small working class Anglo Catholic inner-city parish and is a chaplain at a local mental hospital. To this day he serves faithfully his partner, His church and his community.
    Which of these men are the most faithfully Christian I once knew and am now no longer sure.

  50. fundamentalist young earther who wants nothing to do with anything even remotely intellectual

    Gee, thanks for the ad hominem.

    As for the matter of copying errors, a textual critic looks at the letters used in the two competing references and sees if it is possible to go from one to the other by dropping a line or stroke. Or whether the reference is from the Hebrew or Greek copies of the first testament.

    Harmonizing difficulties in two texts is common enough among scholars not to arouse any comment. For example, comparing 420 and 450 the difference between kaf and nun (20 and 50) is a small tag on the side of the kaf. The original number was probably 420 but a copying error turned it into 450. Scribes were careful, but they weren’t infallible.


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