Inerrancy and mass slaughter

From my own humble point of view (and only from his other writings, haven’t gotten to the next chapter in the “five views” book yet)… Enns gives some kind of lip service to the idea of inspiration… but whatever he means by it, inspiration did not keep the Bible from being practically indistinguishable from any other ancient near-eastern writings. Just as fallible, erroneous, filled with faulty impressions of deities, inherited from very problematic and immoral cultural sensitivities. Indistinguishable in any way from the process that have us Enuma Elish or Hammurabi’s code or any Egyptian or Greek myth. I’ll address it more once I read that particular chapter, to be fair.

I’ve found this analogy very helpful in conceiving or explaining the sensus plenior…

Take a movie that has a particularly ingenious plot twist at the end… something like Sixth Sense, Fight Club, Maverick, Psycho, etc. when you watch the movie up until the “reveal”, it is entirely coherent. Nothing particularly contrived, every line of dialogue makes perfect sense, and it is telling an engaging story with a straightforward meaning.

All of a sudden, one little bit of information is revealed, and then you realize that every line if dialogue has a deeper meaning. When done well, It isn’t a contrived, “retroactive continuity” kind of artificial new meaning forced into the original, or the like. No, you realize that the author had this “deeper meaning” in mind the whole time. The “first” (plain) meaning was effectively communicating a real, genuine, intentional meaning… but upon the reveal, you realize that all the time the author was also planning to go somewhere else with his words.

This is explicitly claimed to be the case, for instance, in the atonement. God had demanded the people of the OT offer animal sacrifices in order to atone for their sin. This was real and necessary for them, and gave them real and genuine worship, communicating that God’s forgiveness comes at a cost as justice must also be executed, but that he is willing to accept a substitute, a scapegoat.

But upon the “reveal”, we realize that all those details about animal sacrifice in worshipmhad a fuller meaning… “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” This is either A) John coopting the OT narrative and artificially importing what Jesus did onto a worship activity that was never intended to be connected to Christ butnwhich coincidentally and conveniently had some parallels… or B) that when God gave the worship regulations of animal sacrifice to the people in the OT, he did so all while he had an eye to what the “end of the story” would be, and gave one regulations with a “deeper meaning” in his own mind.

This basic principle is proffered throughout the Bible…Hebrews in particular.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.”

Appreciate your candor… but this reminds me of…

Speaking of my hero C. S. Lewis… One observation by him that I find both logically inescapable, and especially germane to our current discussion (whether Israelite conquest or penal substitution)…

The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them to realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact -not gas about ideals and points of view. Secondly, this scrupulous care to preserve the Christian message as something distinct from one’s own ideas, has one very good effect upon the apologist himself. It forces him, again and again, to face up to those elements in original Christianity which he personally finds obscure or repulsive. He is saved from the temptation to skip or slur or ignore what he finds disagreeable. And the man who yields to that temptation will, of course, never progress in Christian knowledge. For obviously the doctrines which one finds easy are the doctrines which give Christian sanction to truths you already knew. The new truth which you do not know and which you need must, in the very nature of things, be hidden precisely in the doctrines you least like and least understand… there will be progress in Christian knowledge only as long as we accept the challenge of the difficult or repellent doctrines. A ‘liberal’ Christianity which considers itself free to alter the Faith whenever the Faith looks perplexing or repellent must be completely stagnant.

My bottom line argument is rather simple. I personally embrace inerrancy because Jesus did and taught me to. There are layers and complexities to unpack in this argument, of course, and I can explain further, but the bottom line as to why I embrace it is because I perceive that Jesus did and wants me to, which follows and confirms a long history of the rest of scripture commanding the same, and I trust his judgment.

Thank you for note. Apparently, Lewis wasn’t inerrant because of his quote elsewhere: :smile:
“The dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater.”

Thank you for the note on sensus plenior; that’s a bit different from what I received elsewhere, but I see the parallel. It’s interestingly almost the same one as Gregory Boyd used in “Cross Vision,” where Jesus is the sum of the translation of the OT but the OT isn’t held as inerrant (though I have never watched any of those scary movies–I have a hard time with stress watching “Anne of Green Gables,” let alone those!).

Moving on to work–thank you, and God bless!

If interesting, I read the “four views” (I think it was four) on atonement a while back. I found them all problematic. I absolutely embrace the Christus Victor model, I absolutely embrace the truth of his “moral influence”. No one with any working brain could read the scripture and not notice those themes clearly there. The problem is that most folks try to make these approaches mutually exclusive, claiming, “I believe the Moral influence rather than penal substitution.” I think there’s a grand category mistake there. I’ve come up with the following illustration.

So, say there is a mass shooting going on in a mall. And a brave police officer runs in, quickly identified the situation, accurately identified the perpetrator with his weapons firing into a crowd. And the police offer grabs his weapon, and proceeds to discharge 6 rounds into the perpetrator.

Now, let’s ask, “Why did the policeman shoot the perpetrator?”

We might _truly and accurately _say…
“To establish peace and security in the world.”
“To save innocent lives.”
“To do his obliged duty.”
“To stop any further suffering.”

OK, none of those are wrong. But I would also add that the policeman shot the perpetrator “in order to cause him bodily harm and/or death.” That isn’t the final purpose, and it isn’t the whole story by any means. But it is a necessary aspect.

But if a peace activist tried to say, “No, enough with your violent rhetoric. The policeman wasn’t trying to harm the suspect, he was trying to save innocent lives…” this would be exceedingly odd. They are not mutually exclusive, in fact, the one is absolutely dependent on the other. The policeman was saving innocent lives by inflicting to bodily harm to the perpetrator. The other descriptions speak more to the “end” and purpose, but his shooting the perpetrator was the necessary means to accomplish all those other things.

For what it’s worth, It is similar when I think of the Atonement. I totally embrace and affirm the idea that Christ, in the atonement, conquered evil and began his reign over Satan and all dark powers. He also exhibited a perfect example of sacrificing his life for others. I could easily prooftext these themes from numerous other passages in the gospels and epistles and Revelation.

But when someone says, “no, Jesus died to give us a moral example, not to sacrifice himself for sin,” I have a similar reaction as I would with my hypothetical policeman above.

Firstly, they are in no way mutually exclusive. But moreover, his death as a sacrifice of atonement is the means by which he can conquer evil, and certainly the foundation for it being a moral influence. (Otherwise, what kind of moral influence is it, really? Be like Jesus! Sacrifice yourself needlessly in acts that accomplish nothing. If Jesus’ death was not necessary to save or forgive us, then his death strikes me like the “moral example” of a marine that left a safe foxhole where he and his fellow Marines were hiding in safety, and threw himself on a distant grenade that was not a threat to anyone! OK, fine, his death didn’t actually accomplish anything, but he sure showed us what real sacrifice is. Let’s all be like that and sacrifice and die for needless causes…?)

(I wouldn’t spend too much time on this, except that I think it does connect with our larger topic ofmGod’s punishment to the nations around Israel during the conquest.)


Personally, I don’t take issue with the idea that a rejection of a child sacrifice is certainly consistent with, inferrable from, and part of the larger idea, that Moses was using in this passage. It is consistent with the other suchncondemnations in the ePemtateuch.

I agree we can’t say this was the main intent of the passage, but I don’t think it is out of the question to suggest that a disapproval of human sacrifice is also communicated in that passage.

Kind of like there are certainly “main” points of most of Jesus’ parables, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t other things we can appropriately infer from them.


That’s a helpful illustration, and I agree. My issues with penal substitution are (1) when it is presented as the only view or as the true reality to which all other views are only figurative add-ons, and (2) when it is presented in a way that tears Jesus apart from God, as if Jesus appeases the Father’s wrath, or Jesus can forgive us but the Father still needs to see blood. I accept that there are ways of formulating penal substitution that don’t do this, but often those more nuanced views don’t make their way to the pulpits and pews.


Yes, I entirely agree that such distortions are far too prevalent. God is angry, and only Jesus’ intervention protects us from his dysfunctionally angry father. Or that kind of preaching that isolate the atonement from the heart of God that desires to rescue his children from sin, to heal us, to destroy evil. It comes across as if God is willing to forgive… But reluctant. And kind of has to be talked into it or have his arm twisted.

It misses the emphasis that it was God who put Christ forward as a propitiation… or that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If interesting, that’s why I myself like to emphasize the “means” and “ends” aspect of the atonement. Jesus death was the means to accomplish a certain end (our forgiveness / righteousness), and shows the length tomwhich Christ was willing to go to accomplish our forgiveness…

(And, to this discussion, the length God was willing to go for our salvation… “he who did not spare his own son…” I’ve often noticed that Gen22 would have to have been much harder on Abraham than Isaac… and I have to speculate or imagine that the atonement was far more painful for God the Father than it was for Christ.)

but even our forgiveness is still a means to an end. God presented Christ as that sacrifice to accomplish our forgiveness, but he accomplished that forgiveness in order so that we could be invited into eternal dwellings, have God himself wipe every tear from our eyes, that we might live with him, be adopted into his family, have the freedom to cry out “Abba, Father,” have unfettered access to him in prayer, rescue us from even the presence of any sin and suffering whatsoever, and be united with Christ in marriage for eternity. If those aspects are left out of any atonement theology, I’d agree it is an incomplete understanding.

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Mervin, I suppose I am a ‘moderist’ but I certainly do NOT seek to indict Scripture. Yet I cannot concur with the almost universal Christian belief that Abraham was “the father of our Faith”; and your exegesis leaves me unconvinced for these reasons:
(1) Children (especially inheriting sons) were NOT regarded a merely property. Isaac was expected to be responsible for Abraham’s progeny as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
(2) If “child sacrifice” was such an abomination to the Israelites of the O.T., how is it that the N.T. claims that salvation depends upon depends upon the fact that God sacrificed His Son for us humans. Is there some other terminology, other than “sacrificed for” that is more appropriate?

I will admit that the image of Jesus, viewed as an “innocent lamb sacrificed” for our sins, was and is a powerful influence in keeping me ‘on the straight and narrow’. But it emphasizes what has been done for me, rather that what I must do to accept God’s invitation to live in His Image. I presume that my belief is not acceptable to Lutherans or Calvanists who believe in strict predestination, but it is something I can live with.
Al Leo

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Mr Fisher,

Thank you for your note. I agree that alone, these don’t describe the whole picture. One of the book’s authors actually took the “all the above” position expressly, which the others also nodded at.

Much of this does come back, again, to the justice of God, in my opinion;. I have more to write, but it’s late, and I’m only partway to the pile of work!

Thank you.

Thank you for your discussion. I wonder–have you had a chance to read the Inerrancy Counterpoints any more?

I will try to get back to you in better depth about the above.

However, I do affirm enthusiastically that you are a man of kindness and integrity, from what I have read of your notes. I also believe that God is the epitome of justice. I still do not think that God would order the killing of innocents, especially in punishment of others’ sin. In as much as either Old or NT writers would imply that, I do not believe that they saw God or justice correctly. However, I am not convinced that our understanding of the NT sacrificial discussion, in light of the New Perspective on Paul and other things that have come to light, has historically been accurate, either. That is a very complicated discussion which I hope to learn more about.

Thank you again for your gracious discussion! May God give us wisdom.

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My apologies for not writing sooner, some crises at work had to take precedence.

Two initial thoughts, as I progress toward Dr. Enns’ treatment of the topic.

  1. Firstly, this may sound like I’m contradicting myself a bit, given my criticism of Dr. Mohler’s response, but see if you follow me here. I critique Mohler given that he sounds like he’s defending inerrancy on the basis of his desire to maintain belief in certain doctrines. I find that entirely backwards. “If we don’t have inerrancy, then we have no basis for believing X.” That may be true, but that, in itself, is not a reason whatsoever for believing inerrancy. At worst, it sounds like selective beliefs in order to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.

HOWEVER… There is an element of truth that he’s getting at that I would present very differently, and it gets into my philosophical critique of Dr. Enns’ perspective. That is simply this:

If there is not some inerrant revelation of some kind, then we have no basis for believing anything whatsoever about spiritual matters that are beyond empirical observation. If God did not communicate some discreet details about himself, his activity, his character, his actions, which are accessible, perspicuous, true, and trustworthy to us, then we simply have no basis to believe anything about him whatsoever.

Now, this in and of itself is not proof of inerrancy, so much as philosophically, I am simply trying to make it clear that we really only have two options. Amidst my many disagreements with the philosophies presented here at Biologos, the one with which I have strongest agreement is the general acknowledgement that God cannot be studies empirically. We only have empiric access to this creation, to this cosmos. God, being entirely outside of our reality, is not open to our tests, our observation, our scientific methods.

The only way we can have knowledge of him, whatsoever, is if he reveals it. Back to Lewis, he made the apposite illustration of Hamlet trying to somehow grasp knowledge of Shakespeare. This absolutely could not happen based on Hamlet’s efforts. His reality is constrained to the reality that Shakespeare created. And unless Shakespeare so chose, Hamlet is entirely powerless to determine anything whatsoever about Shakespeare.

So all that to say, if God hasn’t spoken in some manner that is clear, accessible, perspicuous, intelligible, trustworthy, and true (i.e., inerrant), then we simply have no knowledge about him at all.

The best we could do is infer various things about him based on what we see in creation, in ourselves, in animals, in the world. But at best these are shot-in-the-dark guesses. We might infer that he likes beauty and love based on our experiences, but someone else might infer that he likes what is putrid and vile. Our world contains both. Or another might believe him to be enitely aloof, uninterested in us, just having wound the world up out of curiosity like the deists’ God.

Point is, philosophically, we really have only those two options. Either God did give us some answers, some truths right from heaven in the “teacher’s manual” (that Enns’ refers to), or we know nothing about him whatsoever.

So think about all that Christians believe that is not empiric, and not easily inferred from our observations. Take just one example. Jesus promised a resurrection to eternal life to his people. Is this an “inerrant” belief? One delivered to us absolutely true, right from the teacher’s manual?

Now, if Professor Enns is right, Jesus, being a first century Jew, and completely human, and lacking omniscience or any access to special knowledge, simply inherited that view as he was bound to do from his culture. This was not special knowlede, this wasn’t revealed to him, he didn’t know this because he was inherently the son of God. Rather, it was a view that developed over time. Jesus may have made his own modifications and nuance, and Jesus “guess” about eternal life may have been informed by his unique spiritual giftedness. But unless this was in some form or fashion “inerrant” revelation from outside of this reality, then it is meaningless. We humans have no access to that kind of knowledge whatsoever, unless it is an absolutely true truth communicated by God. In other words, “inerrant,” and all that that implies.

And hence my critique of Enns’ overall philosophy. If you read his books, listen to his talks… you find him saying numerous and divers things that he thinks God is like, or what God wants from us. But he doesn’t seem to notice that his basic philosophy has logically precluded him from being able to embrace any of those beliefs.

God loves us? That would need to be inerrant revelation, communicated from the “teacher’s edition.” God wants us to be kind to others? Same. God doesn’t want us to take revenge? God wants us to be humble in our understanding of him… How do we know? etc., etc., etc.

So, though I don’t follow Mohler’s own approach, my observation may sound similar in one sense. Again, this is not so much to prove anything, as to clarify the philosophical options. I’m not defending inerrnacy on the basis that we need it in order to maintain any particular doctrine… rather I’m pointing out that if we reject inerrancy, we are bound to throw out EVERY Christian doctrine without exception - everything that cannot be empirically observed or conclusively inferred from our empiric observation of the world.

If God hasn’t spoken - in some accessible, perspicuous, and true (i.e., inerrant) fashion, then we know practically nothing about him.

Sorry for my rambling, but hopefully some of that made sense. I have other less overarching critiques of Enns’ position but I’ll post those later. Would be interested of your thoughts of any of the above for now, though.


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You bring up good points, but the argument above falls apart as many feel scripture is reliable and “perfect as to purpose” but that purpose is indeed revelation of God, not science or even history as we think of it in the modern sense. It is like saying a hammer is a perfect tool then expecting it to drive screws.


We have something in addition to just the words in the Bible. The unsaved can read the words in the Bible and not receive the same information that we can.

Daniel, to the extent that you’ve made an argument for the necessity of revelation, I fully agree. If God hasn’t spoken, we can’t know God. “The only way we can have knowledge of him, whatsoever, is if he reveals it.” Hamlet won’t know anything about Shakespeare “unless Shakespeare so choose”. Preach it.

But this argument unravels to the extent that inerrancy is inserted into it:

  • Inerrancy isn’t a well-defined concept. What Christians who affirm inerrancy believe about the Bible spans almost the whole range of what Christians who deny inerrancy believe about the Bible. Without specifying the necessary precision or perfection or what counts as an error, the word “inerrant” doesn’t add anything to the argument beyond what is already in “revelation.”

  • If Shakespeare chooses to convey information to Hamlet through another character, and if that character conveys the information in a way that is entirely faithful to their Shakespeare-given character, Hamlet may receive a message that does not match most definitions of inerrancy. But, unless the character is entirely corrupt, Hamlet will still learn something about Shakespeare.

  • One could easily allow that the Bible contains passages that are clear and passages that are inerrant while denying that the entire Bible is clear and inerrant. In other words, one could fully affirm the sentence I quoted to begin this post without establishing that without an inerrant Bible our knowledge of God drops to zero.

  • If we must have access to inerrant revelation from God to know anything about God, we’re in trouble because even inerrantists don’t claim that the Bible we have is inerrant.

  • If God’s speaking (however mediated) must be inerrant for us to learn anything about God from it, that would suggest our faculties also need to be inerrant as we interpret for us to learn anything about God from it. If errant humans can get knowledge even as they read errantly, then errant humans can convey knowledge even as they write errantly.

In general, your post holds together quite well if the word “inerrant” is simply ignored. “Revelation” already implies truth: it reveals rather than misleads. “Inerrant” just adds a modernist twist, where truth is reduced to propositions and facts and any mistake or accommodation turns the whole thing into a lie. At least, in most definitions. In other definitions, it means no more than what is held by many who refuse to affirm inerrancy.

Finally, you say that without inerrant revelation from God…

We have more revelation than that. Special revelation doesn’t cease to exist based on whether one describes it as “inerrant.” We also have personal experience and the Holy Spirit’s work, just as many biblical figures did. They didn’t have an inerrant teacher’s manual, but they still learned much about God.

But still, at best we see as through a glass, darkly. We haven’t been given perfect revelation, and if we had it wouldn’t matter because we couldn’t understand it perfectly. That’s got to leave us feeling a bit unsettled, needy, humble. I think that’s a feature, not a bug.


Thanks., @Daniel_Fisher I appreciate your time. I’m glad to see your post, and appreciate your making it despite your busy schedule. I understand your concern. I am also behind in my work–I’ll try to get back to you this week. God bless.

Marshall, good thoughts and I agree with you in some significant ways. I probably should have been more specific that I was speaking about any revelation whatsoever, not simply written revelation as in Scripture, but it sounds like you picked up on that.

And I agree that “inerrant” is a singularly awkward and inadequate, modern word. However, I reluctantly use it for the same reason I think it originally became popular. There have been people who began affirming that they believed scripture was “true,” God-inspired, and even “infallible”, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t erroneous. “inerrant” bcame necessary to clarify that by true we mean, well, true.

Nonetheless, I would absolutely maintain that apart from inerrant revelation (whether written, verbal, voice from heaven, dreams, etc.), we are still lost in the dark. And I think this is lotically inescapable.

Let me push back a bit on some of your ideas, so as to show why the concept of “inerrant revelation” is, in fact, a critical concept.

What if I rephrased it… “Hamlet may receive a message that does not match most definitions of inerrancy. But, unless the message is significantly corrupt, Hamlet will still learn something about Shakespeare.”

If a message contains truth, but is otherwise corrupted so as to contain both truth and error… how, exactly, is that useful to us Hamlets that have no way of discerning the truth from the error about Shakespeare?

So, you may have to clarify for me what exactly you mean by a message wherein Hamlet would learn something about Shakespeare without matching my definition of inerrancy.

I used to play a party game called “two truths and a lie,” wherein Each player had to state two things about themselves that was true, and one that was a lie. If “revelation” From God, as we received it, was essentially like that, containing things that were in fact true and revealed, however mixed with erroneous, culture bound myths, preferences, and human inventions, how exactly could that possibly help me know who God is? We aren’t even in a position to know the ratio… we wouldn’t know if our ”revelation” is one lie for every two truths or one truth for every two lies!

So, let’s assume that Jesus’ teaching, for instance, contained genuine, true, real, absolutely true revelation from God about otherwise unknowable truths… but, a la Professor Enns, Jesus was “fully human” to the extent that “ What holds for the Bible holds for Jesus, too,” and that “Jesus wasn’t an omniscient being giving the final word on the size of mustard seeds, mental illness, or cosmic and biological evolution. He was a 1st century Jew and he therefore thought like one.“

OK. Fine. “There are demonic forces that affect humans’ mental health.” Is this true knowledge as revealed from “behind the veil”? Or erroneous myth Jesus picked up as a 1st century Jew? In context Professor Enns seems to suggest the latter.

Not a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from the will of God. True revelation? Or erroneous cultural inheritance?

All his teachings about hell? Truly revealed from God, or erroneous inherited myth?

That Adam and Eve were real people?

That there will be a resurrection of the dead?

That in heaven, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage?

That the thief on the cross would be with Christ in paradise?

That Jesus is going to return?

That lust is sinful and displeases God?

That hateful thoughts are sinful and displease God?

That the creator made us male and female?

That we ought to love our enemies?

That those who beg for mercy are justified before God rather than those who are religiously arrogant?

That God will have mercy on prostitutes?

That there will be a judgment wherein people are separated for their final destination like sheep and goats?

And I could of course go on. Point is, if Jesus himself is not an inerrant source of truth about God, and God’s character, decrees and actions, and what we have in Jesus’ teaching is a mix of revealed truth and human error… and no way by which we are able to discern the one from the other… then we still remain entirely in the dark. Will there be a final judgment? Who knows! That may be revealed from God, but it also may not be revelation, it may have been some 1st century myth that Jesus inherited and started teaching. Same is true about every single one of his teachings. If he is not an absolutely true, unerring source of revelation, then we are simply still in the dark about everything he taught that is outside our empirical observation and understanding.

Every single “truth” Jesus told us may or may not be true; may or may not be erroneous. I utterly fail to see how that can function as “revelation” to us inquirers in any manner worth speaking of.

I fear this does not follow. I imagine it is not difficult to find pages in a math book book that are in fact without error. This doesn’t imply that a student of math must be free from error in his faculties in math to gain any knowledge from that book.

It would imply that we need to be humble as we approach it, recognizing that we may be mistaken in our understanding. That much I would certainly grant. But it would not mean we should abandon our effort to learn from inerrant sources just because we might misunderstand or misinterpret. Rather it means we should be all the more careful as we approach such a source of knowledge.

Again, does not quite follow. If I’m reading a math book that is significantly errant, containing a large or significant amount of erroneous information… and being a novice student of math, I do not have the faculties to discern the truth from error… then yes, at that point the book is useless to me. In this analogy, not entirely useless, as in theory I might have the mental faculties or additional resources to test and fact check what is in the book, and may yet gain some new, true insight.

But when we’re talking about details that are entirely inaccessible about God’s nature and actions that we would not have apart from revelation… then if that revelation is significantly corrupt, containing mix of truth and error, and I have no way of determining the one from the other, then I simply remain entirely in the dark.

So I maintain my previous point. Either there is some source of inerrant revelation, or we are completely in the dark about God’s nature and anything and everything else in the spiritual realm inaccessible to our senses.

They think they learned much about God. And you may think they did. But if the revelation from which they gathered this knowledge was not inerrant, my observations here stand… and neither they nor you have any idea if those things they “learned” about God are in fact true, or are just erroneous gleanings of human imagination.

I would agree insofar as, if the authors were not intending modern scientific precision or the like, then of course we shouldn’t import such expectations. If Genesis 1-2’ for instance, were never intended to communicate a historical, modern, scientific description, but rather a different truth using poetic, polemic, or mythical language, then certainly, I would not disagree with you. But this would in itself not affect discussions of inerrancy way or the other.

this is incorporated into the modern understanding of inerrancy, for what it’s worth. From the CSBI…

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete
truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of materials, variant selections of material in parallel accounts or the use of free citations.

If you are saying there have to be some bits of revelation that are inerrant, even if the Bible as a whole is not, I can see the logic in that view. This especially makes sense given how you’re dealing with revelation more broadly than just Scripture.

That we need some truth even if we don’t have perfection applies elsewhere as well. My wife doesn’t have to be inerrant to communicate to me, even about matters I can’t otherwise check. The same goes for Shakespeare to Hamlet.

But in other places you do seem to be claiming the Bible must be inerrant as a whole or it’s useless:

I hope it can, because although I wouldn’t describe it in exactly those words, that does seem to be pretty much what we have. The Bible does contain erroneous, culture bound ideas. In another recent thread we looked at how God speaks of us thinking with our heart and kidneys, to give one example. What do we do with that? Does that make the entire Bible useless? Or do we redefine inerrancy so such things don’t count as errors? I think we’re better off not using the modern category of inerrancy to determine what the Bible must look like to be revelatory.

To give another example, I’ve read complex explanations for how Stephen’s telling of Israel’s history is accurate, despite appearances. Others simply say that Acts inerrantly reports Stephen’s errant words. Inerrancy can be stretched to accommodate or exclude all sorts of biblical phenomena. Interpreters put themselves and the text through contortions in order to show it doesn’t do what they believe it must not do. I don’t think these exercises get us closer to truth or to God.

You raised the example of math books and math students, and I think that’s where inerrancy fits. It makes sense to judge a math book as inerrant or not. When we do so, we won’t need to water down the definition (i.e. CSBI) so that a certain book can pass. There are inerrant math books by a normal reading of the word “inerrant.”

But the Bible is not a math book, nor is it trying to be one. I don’t see a single way inerrancy helps the conversation about the Bible’s truthfulness, especially since the word is distorted in all sorts of creative ways when applied to the Bible. With all that flexibility, we’re not talking about something black and white that can ground a logical argument like this:

Since the only thing we know of Jesus writing is a doodle in the dust, I’m not sure this helps. What we have is what different witnesses and writers compiled, as it has been preserved and translated. This provides many opportunities for error to creep into the Bibles we have available and can read. But none of that renders the Bible useless!

So moving from Jesus to the Bible, what does it mean for the Bible to be an “absolutely true, unerring source of revelation”? Unerring, but it doesn’t matter if there are figures of speech, speeches of unreliable characters, rounded numbers, poor grammar, accommodation to the way things appear or the way things were thought to be rather than the way they really are, insertion of parables and legends and other non-literal genres even when they are not clearly marked, creative rearrangement of historical material, etc.?

If all that is okay and still allows us to learn about God from the Bible, how can a single case where the Bible does something beyond this cause a crisis? I don’t see how a logical argument aiming to establish an all-or-nothing about revelation can be based on a term as wiggly as inerrancy.

Thanks for the good thoughts and engagement. Yes, i think we agree, there must be some “bits” of revelation (scripture or otherwise) that are inerrant for there to be any communication of transcendent truth. (For simplicity, in this discussion, I’ll use the term “transcendent truth” to refer to ideas that are entirely inaccessible to us without divine revelation).

And I would agree in principle, that a source of revelation could in theory contain a combination of inerrant transcendent truths and erroneous beliefs about transcendent things. Logically, transcendent truth would still have been communicated from the source even through such a fallible medium. Thus far, also, I think we are in agreement?

But my problem is the one step beyond that, in terms of our receipt of such revelation… and why I am in fact claiming and maintaining that any source of transcendent revelation must be inerrant as a whole or entirely useless…

If some claims in scripture about transcendent truth are true, and some claims about transcendent truth are erroneous… Exactly how do you propose I am able to discern the one from the other?

To illustrate my point, let me do a variation of one of those classic logic riddles…

You’re trapped in a room with two doors. One is boobytrapped with a poison that will kill you instantly if you touch it. The other is the way to freedom. A kind benefactor with knowledge of the trap has carved a message into the wall, and has written on it the truth about which door is the poisoned one. But an enemy of yours found the message before you were put into the room, and wrote on the same wall a false claim about which door is poisoned.

So you find the two messages, and the one says, “the door on the right is poisoned,” and the other says, “the door on the left is poisoned.” You have no way to determine who wrote which line. They are similar handwriting, similar carving, both written such that either could have been written first. Thus you know that the wall does contain “revealed truth” of a sort, but it also contains error, but you have no way of determining which one of these statements is true, and which is false. thus the writing on the wall, although it may “contain” truth, remains, in fact, utterly useless. You are absolutely no better off than if you didn’t have the messages on the wall.

Similarly, if 1) the Bible contains some claims about transcendent truth that are in fact true, and 2) it contains some claims about transcendent truth that are erroneous, and 3) if we have no way of determining the difference

Thus I maintain - from those three premises - the Bible must be entirely inerrant in its teaching about transcendent truths, or be completely useless to us in determining anything about the truth or falsehood about any transcendent belief.

Should I believe in eternal life? How, exactly, do I determine if that is one of those bits of inerrant, revealed truth from God, or the erroneous imagination of 1st century Jews? Should I believe in hell? Same dilemma. Should I believe God is merciful and forgives? Same problem. Should i believe he is vengeful and will pour out his condemnation on those who do not accept Christ? Same dilemma. How, exactly, do I determine which of these beliefs (if any??) are in fact revealed by God, and not just the erroneous imagination of long-dead culture bound Jews?

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