Does the Bible need to be inerrant to be authoritative?

(RiderOnTheClouds) #41

The passuage connects the sacrifice withe the divine wrath


Thanks for you reply. Your views seem like the most rational approach to the question of inerrancy, and mirror my own. Even though I am an atheist, I can still approach the Bible and christian theology on its own terms, so don’t feel bad about agreeing with an atheist. :wink:

(Mitchell W McKain) #43

The passage does not make an explicit causal connection. So while there may be a causal connection in the minds of some of the people involved, the passage does does not require us to believe this is the case.


At best, apostles could be defined as the early church fathers who helped establish the basic theology of the christian church within the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples. This would also allow the deutero /pseudo-Pauline into the cannon despite their questionable authorship. Tradition and date of authorship would seem to be the most flexible and defensible criteria.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #45

Why mention the sacrifice at all?

(Dominik Kowalski) #46

In the classical sense, apostles were called the disciples who witnessed the resurrection first hand. Mervin stated above that it didn´t matter later and I agree in the sense, that we know, that the disciples preached the same thing, which made such ranks obsolete. And regarding the deutero-Pauline letters, I´d assume that either a) the church fathers thought the letters were written by Paul or b) it was known, that they had other authors, but because it was written by students of Paul or people who were witnesses of his preaching and therefore reliable. Ultimately I let the scholars judge in whichway those letters provide usefull informations in the historical account.

Also, thank you, much appreciated. If I´m reading old threads here, I get the feeling that the tone between christians and non-christians have become much calmer, and you were certainly a factor on the non-christian side :grinning:


True. He was probably a gentile, and was definitely not an apostle.


Mark wasn’t a disciple/apostle either. And this brings up another point: we have the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But these author names weren’t in the manuscripts! Rather, the names were associated with the respective gospels by church tradition. So it’s not really certain that the gospel according to, say, St. Matthew really was written by the apostle Matthew.

(Christy Hemphill) #49

I only know this because “apostle” is considered a key term in Bible translation (a hard to translate, but important word) and we were just discussing how to translate it with our team. The Greek word basically transliterated into English as apostle has two main uses in the NT. One as a special office: (the Twelve apostles) occupied by Jesus’ chosen disciples (and Matthias once Judas Iscariot needed to be replaced). The number twelve is a recapitulation of the twelve tribes of Israel that founded the Jewish people. Paul is often called the “thirteenth Apostle.” But elsewhere, frequently in the NT the word apostle refers to “one sent out” with the gospel. So you have some other apostles with names: Andronicus and Junia in Romans 16:7, Barnabas in Acts 14:14, perhaps Silas and Timothy in 1 Thess. 2:5-6, perhaps Apollos in 1 Corinthians 4:9. You also have apostles referred to as something Christians can be gifted to be in Ephesians 4:11. Traditionally people infer from Paul’s defense of his being called an apostle that the early church believed that learning directly from Jesus himself was a requirement.

(Dominik Kowalski) #50

I get the problem and thought about a few terms, but I can´t think of a fitting term. “Missionary” is probably the most accurate, though it would only be completely fitting if this was treated like a title back then. Is there even another word for it in english?

(Christy Hemphill) #51

messenger, delegate, ambassador would be my top three picks.


For example… A Man dying and returning to life? Food appearing from nothing? Men walking on water? Hard to swallow such pills when the book can’t even get the basics right, isn’t it?

(Mitchell W McKain) #53

To claim that the Bible is authoritative for all things and all people is just absurd. “Because the Bible says so” is a ridiculous reason for expecting people in general to agree with you. A person doing this is revealing as having a rather provincial unawareness of the rest of the world if they talk this way.

Thus the only reasonable authority to attribute to the Bible is for Christian belief as part of the definition of one religion, Christianity, as different from other religions. And it is quite possible to do this (for I have done so) without attaching anything like a requirement for salvation to it either.

(Daniel Fisher) #54


I agree with your insight - logically, if there is not some source of divinely provided, inerrant revelation, then much Christian doctrine ought not be trusted. One obvious example… Jesus certainly claimed knowledge about things about the character of God, his nature, what the afterlife will be like, etc., … things that are simply impossible to know or discover empirically. Knowledge of these things must be divinely revealed (and, assuming God’s trustworthiness and omniscience, would de facto be inerrant). If there is no divine, inerrant revelation from that side of the “veil”, so to speak, then every non-empiric religious belief is a nonsensical fantasy concocted from our imagination. This is logically inescapable.

Pete Enns et al want to try to “work with” the Bible but they miss this basic logical necessity… Pete for instance goes to great length to undermine any inerrancy or authority from Scripture, but then holds out parts of the Bible like Ecclesiastes or Job as the more “proper” way to understand God, over against the portrayals of a god as in Deuteronomy or Joshua. But if his premises are correct, that God has not inerrantly spoken in Scripture, then Ecclesiastes is no more reliable a guide than Deuteronomy or Joshua. His only logical basis for holding out the “good” parts of the Bible as reliably instructive about God’s character can only be that he personally prefers those parts to others. If the Bible is not divine/revealed/inerrant, then NO part of it can be held as insightful against any other… they are ALL the invention of human imagination. And unless Pete Enns and the others are claiming divine revelation themselves, then their recommendation to prefer part “A” of the Bible as revealing truth about God while rejecting part “B” is meaningless, based solely and entirely on their own personal/cultural preferences (just as the views of ancient Israelites he is rejecting)

As to your particular concerns, I can humbly suggest: 1) Archaeology is hardly inerrant itself, especially in the wilderness to find something some 3,500years old. We are still discovering entire established cities that have been buried for millennia, it doesn’t disturb me that we haven’t found campsites in the wilderness, especially one where the ancient claimed that their belongings “didn’t wear out these forty years.” I’ve been camping myself numerous times, I dare say an archeologist would be hard pressed in 100 years to find any evidence of any of my excursions. 2) Bible hardly suggests other deities don’t really exist… some idols are products of imagination, but others are described as real demons that are objects of people’s worship and which may well interact with their followers (Dt 32.7; Ps 106.37; 1Cor 10.20; Rev 9:20)… does not contradict the reality that these other gods are yet “worthless idols.” 3) if it is true that there is a day of judgment, and that no man (Christ included) can know the day or hour, then I don’t know what else to call the day of judgment except “imminent”. It can come at any time, can happen at any moment. That is certainly “imminent,” and it is imminent to me as well. 4) God can certainly be both kind and just, giving both judgment and mercy, otherwise there would not be both a heaven and a hell, no? As for slaughtering animals, would you object to the slaughter of Christ for the sins of the rest of us?

IRT to early church, Luther quotes Augustine as recognizing he learned to hold Scripture alone inerrant. That is a good starting place for that topic.

Bottom line remains though: I agree with your basic observation: it is logically inescapable- if there is not SOME source or method of divine, inerrant revelation from God about his character, what he expects from us, what is or isn’t sin, the nature and method of his judgment, then we simply can not know ANYTHING about such things. Pete Enns’s beliefs about God are as baseless, culture-bound, and unreliable as the beliefs of the ancient Israelites about their violent, tribal deity that he rejects. Without SOME method of inerrant revelation, they are BOTH products of our baseless imagination. Unless there is some inerrant revelation, then we simply can’t know anything of substance about God, his character, or what his intentions are for us after death.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #55

He does? Here’s a sample blog post of his:

I think you bring up a good point in that it is good to ask, what can we actually expect to find given such events occurring. However, I think there comes a point when it is an interesting point like this quote:

The fact is that we are all minimalists—at least, when it comes to the patriarchal period and the settlement. When I began my PhD studies more than three decades ago in the USA, the ‘substantial historicity’ of the patriarchs was widely accepted as was the unified conquest of the land. These days it is quite difficult to find anyone who takes this view. In fact, until recently I could find no ‘maximalist’ history of Israel since Wellhausen. … In fact, though, ‘maximalist’ has been widely defined as someone who accepts the biblical text unless it can be proven wrong. If so, very few are willing to operate like this, not even John Bright (1980) whose history is not a maximalist one according to the definition just given.–Lester Grabbe

That is should we be of the position assume the text is describing a literal event until it can be proven wrong but even then still insist we are understanding the text correctly?

I think though probably all in all mostly what is at stake are usually particular interpretations and not the actual text itself. I think that any other form of knowledge (i.e. science, archaeology, etc.) can only ever put constraints on certain interpretations of the text without tossing out dramatic extremes.

(Christy Hemphill) #56

This is a false choice, not a logical necessity. You can’t just slip in “If God is trustworthy and omniscient, therefore the the Bible is inerrant” as a premise. That’s a bare assertion. Plus, it sounds like you are using “inerrant” as a synonym for trustworthy. Inerrant has many meanings to many people, but as a concept it is far more specific and involved that simple trustworthiness.

It is a huge mistake if you are conflating these ideas. Bible scholars like Pete Enns contest inerrancy as a construct. I would challenge you to come up with a Pete Enns quote that contests the divine inspiration of the Bible or that it is authoritative as God’s revelation. I’ve never seen one.


  1. Christians generally believe that the truth of Scripture is mediated by the Holy Spirit. Or in other words, an individual’s understanding of the divine revelation of the Bible requires personal divine revelation. It’s not wrong, it’s necessary. Christians also believe that the Holy Spirit gifts certain believers to use Scripture for teaching, encouraging, correcting, and exhorting the church. Others in the church are gifted by the Holy Spirit to discern the truth of what is being taught and confront errors.This is another way God mediates the revelation of his truth in an ongoing way.

  2. I don’t think Pete Enns or scholars like him are dismissing any part of the Bible as meaningless based solely on their preferences. They are using hermeneutic tools and referring to extra-biblical disciplines and textual criticism to arrive at conclusions about how different passages should be understood. That’s a far cry from some kind of “I like it/I don’t like it” exegesis.

(Daniel Fisher) #57

Christy, please note, in this paragraph I was not referencing the Bible at all. Hence my carefully chosen and emphasized phrase: “ some source of divinely provided, inerrant revelation”

And yes, it is logically inescapable. If there is not some sort of divinely inspired, perspicuous, trustworthy, and non-erroneous revelation from God about those things which are simply I,possible for us to know empirically, then we have no basis whatsoever for believing them eternal life, the reality of a final judgment, the particular nature of God’s character, his triune being… these are things that cannot be empirically determined. No amount of philosophy, study, contemplation, human wisdom, or the like will allow us to determine these things. We rest on revelation from God about these things, and yes, assuming he is trustworthy and omniscient, then what he reveals in whatever manner must be inerrant. It could be Christ’s own words, those of Muhammad, Joseph Smith, the tea leaves in my drink this morning, whatever… but unless there is some means by which God has revealed truths that are otherwise empirically impossible to determine, then we simply have no basis for believing them.

I grant of course Pete uses the words “divine inspiration” and “authoritative”, but I would submit he uses these words in a manner that I hardly recognize. For instance, he grants, in some vague way, that the book of a Joshua was “authoritative” and “divinely inspired,” and then proceeds to explain how the tribal, backwards, wrong-headed beliefs of those uncivilized savages led them to wrongly believe in a God who blessed their conquests. If I did that with “authoritative” documents given to me by my military commanding officer, I’d be (rightly) court-martialed for mutiny.

Here I must simply disagree. Consider his treatment of Joshua vs. Ecclesiastes in “The Bible Tells Me So.” He uses the hermeneutics tools and textual criticism you mention to arrive at his beliefs and understanding of the diverse intent, purpose, and perspective and beliefs about God as reflected by the authors of Joshua and Ecclesiastes, respectively. But then he passes (personal) judgment endorsing Ecclesiastes’s approach and theology, and disavowing that of Joshua. This judgment did not come from hermeneutics, textual criticism, or the like. That judgment was solely from the fact he approves of the theology of Ecclesiastes and disapproves that of Joshua. Hermeneutics and textual criticism helped him clearly understand the intent, beliefs, perspective, message, and theology of these two authors. But his rejection of the one and endorsement of the other did not come from textual criticism or hermeneutics, but rather his personal approval of the one and personal distaste if the other.

(Christy Hemphill) #58

Well, I flat out disagree with you there. Even if we had some kind of perfect revelation, you can’t escape the problem that our human ability to understand its meaning would be imperfect, culturally bound, confined by the limits of language and translation, and hindered by our spiritual brokenness. So even if there is perfect revelation, there’s no such thing as an inerrant human interpretation. The foundation of our faith is our union with the resurrected Christ, who reconciles us to God and allows us to relate to the divine. That we are offered access to the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit is our hope of knowing truth, not inerrancy. God’s ultimate revelation was a person, a person who we can be connected with in an intimate spiritual way that defies full comprehension. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)

True. We all have to go through the process of making meaning of the text.

But this is not necessarily true. You can’t speak to another person’s motivations or reduce their understanding and reflection on a wide variety of factors down to approval and disapproval. I don’t agree with Pete Enns’ conclusions on the meaning of a number of passages. I don’t agree with you. But I assume more goes into your thought processes and value system than just the fact that you prefer inerrancy and fairly literal readings and have a personal distaste for anything that seems to be dismissing certain human aspects of Scripture as mistaken.

(Daniel Fisher) #59


I certainly don’t disagree about the challenges of interpretation; but that doesn’t alter my basic observation. For example: Christ spoke about the fact those blessed by him would be resurrected and have “eternal life.” Now granted, we might misunderstand, be confused, argue, disagree, and otherwise misinterpret exactly what Jesus meant by “eternal life” and all his other words describing it…

But this is all predicated on assuming that Jesus was speaking something true… something he knew, with authority, unerringly, to be true, and he was in no way erroneous about what he was speaking about. Whether or not you or I or anyone will be resurrected to eternal life is not something empiric… it is something that we can only know, if we know it, by trusting the authority of one who does have direct access to such knowledge.

If I told you about what color the fish are on a certain earth-like planet in galaxy M31, you shouldn’t waste any time worrying about your interpretation of my words. You should simply dismiss my claim in toto as you recognize I have no basis for such knowledge.

If Jesus did have such knowledge about the afterlife, and reliably communicated this knowledge, then we have some basis on which to attempt, however faultingly and erringly, to understand and interpret his words.

But if he was erroneous or otherwise untrustworthy… if his words about eternal life and resurrection were just and “shot in the dark” guess, or something he inherited from his culture (who had themselves done a shot in the dark”)… if he didn’t actually have unerring knowledge about such an otherwise inaccessible truth… then our attempts to “interpret” his words are simply pointless. If he had no more knowledge, in fact, of whether we’ll be resurrected than people today have about piscine life in galaxy M31, then it is pointless to even try to interpret his words. His words would be baseless speculations, and thus be practically meaningless.

And yes, God’s ultimate revelation was a person… a person who spoke objective truth claims about topics outside of empiric knowledge with authority that he expected to be believed. He was certainly more than just a truth-speaker, but certainly not less.

I don’t mean to read motives or be uncharitable. But I am submitting that Peter’s disapproval of the theology of one part of the Bible and his endorsement of another is clearly subjective. He presents Joshua as presenting an inappropriate, wrong, and immoral portrait of God, and the wisdom literature as presenting “valid” portraits of God. I submit that this judgment cannot be based on objective criteria. What textual criticism, what archaeology, what linguistic examination, can somehow determine that the view of Joshua is less accurate about God’s true nature than that of Ecclesiastes? Can you point to any specific, objective criteria by which Pete judges one part of the Bible as presenting a view of God that is less accurate, true, or valid than another? If not, I maintain that however charitably I can describe it, his approval of the wisdom literature over against his disapproval of Joshua remains subjective.

(Christy Hemphill) #60

Exactly. But we trust a someone not a something. I agree that it is important and necessary that the Bible be trustworthy and authoritative. I just don’t understand how trustworthy and authoritative necessarily implies “inerrant” in the particular way it has been formalized by the Chicago Statement.

I agree. The only reason Jesus’ words have authority are because we believe Jesus is Lord. The authority of the words comes from the person speaking them, in this case God. But in your mind is there no difference at all between the pretty much straightforward (there are some elements of Jewish narrative style) history accounting in the Gospels and Acts, where God’s words through Jesus are recorded and the other genres that make up the Bible? God spoke through the prophets, God spoke through poets, God spoke through the apostles’ letters to churches, but getting at the truth of those messages requires different tools. When Paul says women should cover their heads in the assembly, that is God’s word, but what we do with it is different than when Jesus says love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. I don’t think Paul is “erroneous and untrustworthy,” but I do think his words need to be evaluated differently than Jesus’ words when we are trying to figure out what God is telling us. I think the fact that Paul was not God incarnate matters.

Okay, I agree with you there.

Right. But I think the subjective decisions are less informed by taste and preference and more informed by an understanding of who God is that has been shaped by other Scriptures. The whole reason these subjective decisions are being considered in the first place is because certain passages of the Bible present problems as far as a consistent picture of God’s character goes. People have different strategies for dealing with the problems based on different sets of rules about what counts as an acceptable answer. Those rules are shaped by (subjective) values and beliefs about God and inspiration, not just personal taste or arbitrary opinion.

I haven’t read the particular book you are citing, and it’s been a while since I read Enns. But I would guess that he would say the purest revelation of God’s character is found in Jesus and that God’s character has been the same throughout history. So if you find in the OT that has God endorsing or commanding behavior that Jesus calls out as morally wrong, you give preference to Jesus and assume something got lost or missed in the other passage. So Jesus’ teaching becomes the “objective standard” for evaluating God’s character. Wisdom literature in general is easier to square with Jesus’ revelation of God than the Canaanite conquest.