Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

What does it mean to say that the Bible is without error? For a number of people, the answer is a no-brainer: either the Bible has errors (skeptics) or it does not (Bible-believer). But is it really that simple?

Back in the 1970s, a group of evangelical scholars got together and drafted The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It was an attempt by the best conservative evangelical minds at the time to articulate an understanding of the authority of Scripture that was faithful and consistent with what the Scriptures actually teach. The framers remarkably were able to come together with a unified understanding of what inerrancy means with respect to the Bible. For example, while English grammarians may dispute the correctness of using “regardless” or “irregardless” in a sentence, such similar issues of standardization for ancient Greek grammar do not apply to the concept of inerrancy according to the Chicago framers. In other words, the New Testament was never meant to be a textbook in Greek grammar. While the Chicago Statement was largely accepted within the evangelical faith community back then, there were some rough edges.

Those rough edges are still with us some thirty years later.

In Zondervan’s latest Counterpoint series book, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, we find Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the intellectual leader of the largest Protestant evangelical denomination in North America. He enthusiastically supports and affirms the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to be just as true for us today as it was back in the 1970s. Al Mohler is smart. He is articulate. He is well-read. He is passionate for the truth.

But according to Bible scholar and Ancient Near East literature expert Pete Enns, Al Mohler is also dead wrong. To those familiar with the compromises associated with liberal Protestantism, the complaint registered by Enns is nothing new, except that Pete Enns says that he is still speaking as an evangelical. Enns, formerly an Old Testament scholar at the Westminster Theological Seminary, says that the Chicago understanding of inerrancy advocated by Mohler is flawed and does not do proper justice to how the Bible truly presents itself to us.

In between the above polar opposite positions (further represented with excerpts from the book on the BibleGateway blog by Mohler and Enns) are other contributors, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, and John Franke, each who in their own distinct way think that while inerrancy is still in some sense a useful term for understanding the authority of Scripture, its definition should be carefully reevaluated in view of new challenges to our understanding of the Biblical text.

When thinking about inerrancy, there is a certain sense of nuance involved and attention to what is meant by “inerrancy“. For those who look at the Bible from afar, this may not register too much, but for those who really dive into the Biblical text, as John Paine is encouraging us to do in his recent series on Who Wrote the Bible, it becomes really important.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

10 responses to “Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

  • JO Shaw

    yes

    Jim Shaw MD
    Co Founder Lackey Free Clinic
    Yorktown Va

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  • John Paine

    Clarke, thanks for showing me how much I can agree with Al Mohler (I don’t always). Inerrancy is an extremely important concept, and one that I would encourage people to consider carefully and fully. While we don’t tell people what to think on this blog, this is a topic where I’m quite comfortable laying my cards on the table. I believe the Chicago Statement is a beautiful document that adequately addresses the challenges that careful students of the Bible encounter as to its authority, inspiration, and inerrancy. It is also helpful and practical in that regard, without being (I think) overly dogmatic or simplistic.

    And as long as I am laying out my cards…the harder I study, the more ‘conservative’ my theology becomes. What’s up with that? (Dave Rudy, David Work, and Norm Geisler are affecting me–worse things could happen.) 🙂

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    • Clarke Morledge

      John, I think about the question of inerrancy… um… a lot. Perhaps way too much. I have a quite a bit of personal history on this one.

      Judging from the brief essay linked to from the main blog post above, I would say that I agree 100% wholeheartedly with Al Mohler. The problem is, as they say: the “devil is in the details” when you actually sit down and wrestle with the interpretation of particular texts.

      From my perspective, the essence of a truly Biblical view of inerrancy has to do with the truthfulness of Holy Scripture, which I fully affirm.

      Unfortunately, based on my last post on Veracity, I find that there are some rather significant and disturbing cases where inerrancy functions in the church in a rather unhelpful way in how the Bible is actually read.

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    • John Paine

      No question inerrancy can be wielded in some very unhelpful–and at times just plain wrong–ways. But used carefully as a plumb line, it is helpful for sorting out a great deal of doctrine. Inerrancy can only take us so far, then we must rely upon the Holy Spirit.

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    • Steve Finnell

      DID THE 1ST CENTURY CHURCH HAVE NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES? BY STEVE FINNELL
      The prevailing thought of many is that since the Bible was not canonized until sometime between 300 and 400 A.D. that the church of Christ did not have New Covenant Scriptures as their guide for faith and practice. That is simply factually incorrect.

      The Lord’s church of the first 400 years did not rely on the man-made traditions of men for New Testament guidance.

      Jesus gave the terms for pardon 33 A.D. after His death and resurrecting. (Mark 16:16) All the words of Jesus were Scripture.Jesus did not have to wait for canonization of the New Testament in order for His word to be authorized.

      The terms for pardon were repeated by the apostle Peter 33 A.D. on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:22-42) The teachings of the apostles were Scripture. The words of the apostles were Scripture before they were canonized.

      The apostle Peter said the apostle Paul’s words were Scripture. (2 Peter 3:15-16…just as also our beloved brother Paul , according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand,which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures…

      The apostle Paul’s letters and words were Scriptures when he wrote and spoke them. Paul did not have to wait for canonization to authorize his doctrine.

      John 14:25-26 ‘These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to you remembrance all that I said to you.

      The words and writings of the apostles were Scripture and they did not have to wait for canonization to be deemed authoritative. The apostle did not use man-made creed books of the church or man-made oral traditions to teach the gospel of the New Covenant.

      Did the early church have written New testament Scriptures? Yes, and they were shared among the different congregations. (Colossians 4:16 When the letter is read among you, have it read in the church of the Laodiceans and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodica.) Paul’s letters were Scripture and they were read in different churches.

      They were New Testament Scriptures long before they were canonized.

      WRITTEN

      Matthew A.D. 70
      Mark A.D. 55
      Luke between A.D. 59 and 63
      John A.D. 85
      Acts A.D. 63
      Romans A.D. 57
      1 Corinthians A.D. 55
      2 Corinthians A.D. 55
      Galatians A.D. 50
      Ephesians A.D. 60
      Philippians A.D. 61
      Colossians A. D. 60
      1 Thessalonians A.D. 51
      2 Thessalonians A.D. 51 or 52
      1 Timothy A.D. 64
      2 Timothy A.D. 66
      Titus A.D. 64
      Philemon A.D. 64
      Hebrews A.D. 70
      James A.D. 50
      1 Peter A.D. 64
      2 Peter A.D. 66
      1 John A.D. 90
      2 John A.d. 90
      3 John A.D. 90
      Jude A.D. 65
      Revelation A.D. 95

      All 27 books of the New Testament were Scripture when they were written. They did not have wait until they were canonized before they became God’s word to mankind.

      Jesus told the eleven disciples make disciples and teach them all that He commanded. (Matthew 28:16-19) That was A.D. 33, They were teaching New Covenant Scripture from A.D. 33 forward. The apostles did not wait to preach the gospel until canonization occurred 300 to 400 years later.

      THE WORDS OF JESUS AND THE APOSTLES WERE SCRIPTURE WHEN THEY WERE SPOKEN AND WRITTEN. THEY DID NOT HAVE TO WAIT FOR CANONIZATION TO BE THE AUTHORIZED WORD OF GOD.

      MAN-MADE CREED BOOKS AND MAN-MADE ORAL TRADITION WAS AND IS NOT SCRIPTURE.

      YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Steve: I appreciate your input, but frankly your comments resemble more of a prepared tract than a serious, interactive engagement with the topic at hand. The question of the canon is related to the topic of inerrancy, for sure, but that really is not what we are discussing here. Is there something in particular you were trying to say?

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  • jriddett

    It’s seems John and Clarke got to the bottom line in the last two comments. Ending line by John seems right on. Any examples of the line ” how inerrancy functions in the church in unhelpful ways ? “. Just wondering I guess …

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    • John Paine

      One of the most unhelpful uses of inerrancy is, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Biblical scholar Daniel Wallace takes that one to task in the first video in this post:

      https://sharedveracity.net/2012/10/27/can-we-trust-the-bible/

      That approach will seldom, if ever, reach people who don’t accept the Bible, and for those that do it’s an obstinate refusal to explore the text. It may indeed be the worst slogan ever concocted.

      We should be willing and able to discuss Scripture, giving a reasonable defense as prescribed in 1 Peter 3:15–with gentleness and respect. It makes sense; C.S. Lewis came to faith through reason, not through dogma or hard-core biblicism.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      All I can say to John Paine’s point regarding “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is another AMEN!!!

      I do think it is important to add one other observation: if you view the comments made by Peter Enns in the video, it would probably be worth a separate post at some point to get at what he is saying (and it is indeed controversial), since he assumes that his listener is a long-time student of the Bible. But the one thing that struck me is that sadly the term inerrancy is often used as a kind of shibboleth for determining who is in and who is out, what Enns calls a “gatekeeper” doctrine, tragically without ever taking the time to invest in the necessary dialogue and thought required to get at what inerrancy even means.

      John reblogged one of Dick Woodward’s posts on this very topic that hits it right on the head:

      https://sharedveracity.net/2014/01/23/shibboleths/

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  • jriddett

    Thank you for answering John and Clarke. It makes me think of ” you can’t argue someone into belief “.

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