about last night

Last night’s class had a stimulating discussion that spilled over afterwards. This morning I wrote up something to organize and respond to the main concerns that were raised, and then thought it might also interest the readers of this blog. The page numbers are to the Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Here are seven theses on inerrancy.

1. Only the Bible is inerrant. Our interpretations are not inerrant (p. 211).

2. The Bible is inerrant in whatever it intends to affirm. But what does it intend to affirm? This is the question of interpretation.

3. The Bible often clearly affirms a historical fact (e.g., the resurrection of Jesus, the Exodus, the Fall of Adam), while sometimes it rearranges or paraphrases the historical facts to make a theological point (e.g., the different ordering of Christ’s temptations in Matthew and Luke, the slightly varied responses in the synoptics to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”).

4. The problem (or opportunity) of interpretation is how to determine when Scripture is declaring a historical fact and/or altering the details to make a theological point (p. 241).

5. We must avoid both a conservative and liberal danger. The conservative danger is to identify the inerrancy of Scripture with the inerrancy of our interpretation, and then say that someone who disagrees with our interpretation, say because they take non literally what we think is a historical event, is denying the inerrancy of Scripture (p. 69). Conservatives often make this mistake with Genesis 1. We should argue for our interpretation, while realizing that our evangelical interlocutors equally believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

6. The liberal danger is to empty the Christian faith of all meaning. The Christian faith is a historical faith, and it rests squarely upon what God has done in time and space. Once we begin interpreting the characters and events in Scripture in non-historical ways, how will we know when to stop? For example, some may say the talking snake in Genesis 3 is merely a poetic way to refer to the presence of Satan or to the temptation itself. But if there was no snake, was there an actual tree? Was there an Adam and Eve? You see how one might eventually conclude there was no historical Fall (see John Feinberg, No One Like Him, p. 613).

7. We must have Christian conviction, charity, and humility. Conviction, to emphasize the fundamental importance of the historical events recorded in Scripture. Charity, to recognize that those who read the Bible worse than they should can still believe the Bible is God’s true Word. And humility, because we might improve our reading of Scripture by dialoguing with them. Inerrancy of Scripture does not guarantee inerrancy of interpretation.

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  1. Another item that needs sustained discussion.. literary genre and inerrancy. This was one of the big issues between Walvoord and Ladd; pre and other millennial positions. E.g. how do you recognize and deal with apocalyptic language (see D. Bock’s article about the Walvoord/Ladd war; cf. Tremper Longman and Brent Sandy’s work). Some of the articles in the early work by the ICBI treated this…but not adequately (there work focused mostly on the Gospels). Most of the advanced biblical scholars I know, view the ICBI statements as inadequate…not because these scholars reject the field of inerrancy, but because the application of it was not adequately informed in the domain of genre.

  2. I’m appreciating these posts on inerrancy, and would like a copy of the book to become better familiar with the varying viewpoints. This is an issue to wrestle with, esp as I interact with skeptics/doubters. I did read the book Inerrancy, edited by Norman Geisler several years ago for a class. Need to get it off my shelf and review it.

  3. This is a very helpful summary of the key points. I often get frustrated in the Christian blogosphere with both defenders and critics of inerrancy who don’t seem to even have a working definition of it or the nuance represented here.

    I agree that the issue of genre is vital here. If we think of genres as a kind of game with rules, then what an error (or truth) is has to be defined within the strictures of that genre.

  4. Helpful post Mike.

    By the way, the Kindle edition of the book is $3.79 right now… for those that like that kind of thing. (Personally, I’m not going to spend another penny on Kindle books until they can guarantee me real page numbers.)

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