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November 25, 2013


I'm not sure I believe anymore than Christianity can survive the errancy of the Bible because it seems to me an argument can be made against Christianity from errancy. It would go something like this:

1. If Christianity is true, then Jesus is a prophet and the messiah.
2. If Jesus is a prophet and the messiah, then the Old Testament is inerrant.
3. The Old Testament is not inerrant.
4. Therefore, Christianity is not true.

The reason for the second premise is that Jesus appeared to believe the Old Testament was inspired by God, and that seems to entail inerrancy. If Jesus was wrong, then that throws his status as a prophet and messiah into question, and that throws Christianity into question.

First of all, you have to ask exactly what someone means by "inerrancy" since it comes in so many flavors.

Sam, your #2 premise isn't true. Just because Jesus uses a common OT story to make a point doesn't mean He affirmed its historical or literal truth.

If I said, "just like Sam helped Frodo persevere to the end, so we should stand by our friends", everyone hearing would understand what I meant. But in no way would I be saying that LOTR actually happened.

"inspired" doesn't necessarily entail "inerrant". Why would it, after all.

Goat Head 5

Goat Head 5, are you saying that Jesus did not subscribe to inerrancy of any flavour?

No. Inspiration does not automatically imply inerrancy. If by that you mean that the two terms don't have the same meaning.

For example, the fact that "Oklahoma!" may have inspired me to believe that everything's up to date in Kansas City does not imply that the belief that everything's up to date in Kansas City is without error.

What I think does imply inerrancy is that God will not lie to us or deceive us.

Let us make the following suppositions:

  1. Suppose God inspired Isaiah to write something.
  2. Suppose that when God He did so, He knew how Isaiah would ultimately verbalize that inspiration.
  3. Suppose also that Isaiah's verbalization contains an error.
  4. Finally, and this is very important, suppose that God gave Isaiah no way to discover His error.

What are we to conclude from these suppositions except that God acted with the intent of deceiving Isaiah and his readers?

Maybe there's a good answer to this. In general, I think that there are cases where God makes it the case that evil exists in the world without Himself being the author of evil. Maybe there's a way, with this particular kind of evil, for Him to make it the case that the evil (deception) occurs without Himself being a deceiver.

But I don't have the imagination to have seen, thus far, how that can be.

So for now, I proceed from the assumption that there is no way for all the suppositions above to be true and yet God not be a deceiver.

Notice that supposition #4 is important. That supposition is precisely what does NOT apply when it comes to errors that creep in during the copy process.

So inspiration, by a non-deceptive, omnipotent and omniscient God would seem to imply inerrancy in the original manuscripts.

But not necessarily in subsequent copies...we can detect, or at least could have detected, errors in the copy process.

Notice also that your particular theory of inspiration does not much seem to matter. All that is important is that when the omnipotent, omniscient God inspired Isaiah, He knew how Isaiah would verbalize the inspiration. As such, He could have inspired differently or inspired someone else to avoid the error. Or corrected Isaiah after he made the error.

Unless you want to argue something like trans-world depravity here. That it is a logical impossibility for God to get his message across without error. It doesn't seem a very plausible view offhand, but maybe long reflection would yield a different opinion.

God can write, prompt, copies a and b and c.... my trip to London has countless details He can add any time, in time. History and Archeological reliability are intact in scripture. Ontological contradictions are nowhere. I can show you 30 essays on my trip to Paris and you would swear I was speaking of either 30 different trips or 30 different people. And yet no deception takes place. God can write of what He wants when He wants. A need not match B. Logical necessity can make no claim. Thus Timelessness has proven reliable in time, over time.

Sorry..... make that: Logical necessity can make no such claim......


I don't know what Jesus thought about inerrancy. Don't have a record of Him talking about it.

I know that while I consider the Bible authoritative, I don't believe what most would call inerrancy is true.

Goat Head 5

I agree with Wisdomlover when he says:

"What I think does imply inerrancy is that God will not lie to us or deceive us."

If I were to add, "with the thought He is trying to convey".

Example: In the creation story God is telling us He created everything. The details...... not so much.

Goat Head 5

I see reason to believe that account A, including details or excluding details, of my trip to Paris needs to be the same as account B. I'm the one telling the story in both accounts, and, each time I can speak of whichever details I wish. The assumption seems to be God is not alive, and thus cannot speak throughout time, and thus every account must be but a copy of (My) previous account. But why think that? None of us, alive, persons speak that way. If He prompts, then He prompts. Why think He need stop? I see no reason to assume this of Him.

Typo: make that opening line: "I see no reason...."

Of course GH5. The intent of the speaker is always important.

If I tell you how to get to Paris, and, following them, you end up in Paris, Texas rather than Paris, France, it hardly follows that I've made an error or that I was trying to deceive you.

Literary form also matters. I'm an inerrantist. But I do not subscribe to a dumb literalism. I do not think that the Scripture affirms that trees have hands to clap, even though Isaiah tells them to clap their hands.

Bottom line, I think the doctrine of inerrancy is separate from the question of how one is to go about interpreting Scripture. Having said that, how one answers the interpretation question may well influence how well one can defend the doctrine of inerrancy. If you insist that trees do have hands because the Bible tells you so, you will have a tougher time defending the inerrancy of the Bible.

The Peril of Inerrancy

I'm an inerrantist, but it's important to recognize that Inerrancy is a perilous doctrine.

What I gave in an earlier post, and what, I think, most inerrantists hang their hats on is a deductive argument from Scriptural principles. But the mere fact that one has a deductive argument for a given conclusion does not mean that the conclusion cannot be false. All that it means is that if the conclusion is false, then either the inference is invalid or one of the premises is false.

And this is the peril of the doctrine. It is why I do not much hold to the blithe indifference that is sometimes paid to the doctrine, even by its adherents.

Some apologists think it is enough to say that you can get reliable guidance from an errant document. Then they refer to a map or a phone book that certainly contains errors, but which still can be relied upon. But that is nowhere near enough.

If you're going to take the 'easy route' and say that the doctrine is not true, but the Bible is still reliable, that is not the end of the story. If you are willing to 'fall back' to the claim that the Bible is errant, that is not the end of the story. If you are going to compartmentalize the Bible into things it is inerrant about, matters of faith and practice, and things it is not inerrant about, matters of fact, that is not the end of the story. It is far from the end of the story.

And the hardest job you face is not coming up with a way to distinguish faith and practice from fact (though that's hard). The hardest job is not to prevent a fall back from becoming a rout (though that's hard). The hardest job is not to distinguish what can be relied upon from what cannot (though that's hard).

The hardest job you face is acquitting God of the charge of deception without denying that He is God by limiting His Omnipotence, Omniscience etc.

What you have to handle, if you deny inerrancy, is nothing less than the problem of evil. The one objection to Christian Theism that has ever had legs.

I'd far rather argue about whether Jesus rode two donkeys, about the so-called conflicts in the sequence of events that surrounded his death and resurrection, about the circumference of Solomon's Cast Sea and so on than take on that version of the problem of evil.

In fact most of these 'bible contradictions' are fairly easy to handle. It often frustrates the heck out of skeptics that to their 100 lame arguments there are 100 pat answers. They attribute sophistry and casuistry (or some other bigworditry) to the theist rather than admit the obvious truth that they've got nothing.

Even the marginally more difficult problems, like the dreaded tensions between science and Scripture seem far, far less difficult than the version of the problem of evil that arises from denying the doctrine of inerrancy.

The doctrine of inerrancy has actually been pretty well expressed in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. If you haven't done so already, you should check it out.

BTW, the Chicago Statement basically agrees with Greg in identifying the doctrine as true, normative, useful and so on, but not as needed for salvation.

I find Greg very gifted in thoughtful responses to questions, but I had the uncomfortable feeling that he was laboring hard on this issue. It is as if Greg was burdened between two camps, the "we camp" that understands the doctrine of inerrancy and finds it important and the "you camp" that needs not deem the matter important at all.

Thanks WL for the Chicago Statement. It was great to read that document again and keep in line what is affirmed and denied in the teaching of Scriptural inerrancy.

For an alternative to the mistaken doctrine of inerrancy, read this:

Roger Olson. "Why Inerrancy doesn't Matter".

A sample for those with short attention spans:

"First, a strong affirmation. As evangelicals, we postconservatives DO believe the Bible is our (and should be every Christian’s) norming norm for life and belief. Tradition is our normed norm–a secondary guide or compass that is not infallible. Scripture, we all agree, is infallible in all that it teaches regarding God and salvation."

Goat Head 5

The largest problem with inerrancy is it produces a "house of cards" faith. One inaccurate fact in the Bible, just one, and your Christianity comes tumbling down like a house of cards.

Why did God inspire the Bible yet allow it to be what it is? Who knows. It is what it is. I don't see that this necessarily makes it follow that God has lied to us.

Goat Head 5


I'm open to attacks on the inference. But what exactly are those attacks. Just saying, I don't see how it follows, is not an objection.

  • Do you think God is not Omnipotent?
  • Do you think He is not Omniscient?
  • Do you think it is possible to tell someone something with full knowledge that the telling will result in their holding and spreading a falsehood that they have no means of detecting is not deception?
  • Do you think that even if Scripture contains an error, the inspiration of Scripture does not meet the conditions described in the previous question?
  • Do you think these questions are somehow not relevant to the relation between inspiration and inerrancy? If so, why not?

Also, there is a peril to Inerrancy as I wrote above. But that does not mean that inerrancy creates a 'house of cards'. That one inaccuracy is actually pretty difficult to find.


The Roger Olson post GH5 linked on why Inerrancy is not important begins with a salvo against using the word "inerrancy" in a way that is consistent with the Chicago Statement. I the basic problem with the Chicago statement turns out to be that ignorant college students don't get it.

Forgive me, but attacking the doctrine of inerrancy by attacking a form of 'inerrancy' that is not consistent with the Chicago Statement, is a bit like attacking Christianity by attacking a form of 'Christianity' that is not consistent with the Apostle's Creed (another statement that ignorant college students probably don't get).

Olson's attack proceeds to an anecdote about an unnamed inerrantist who supposedly had a poor understanding of inerrancy who nevertheless is now a leading proponent of the doctrine. The discussion probably does more to reveal Olson's own shortcomings on the understanding of the doctrine than anything else.

It turns out (from reading another of Olson's posts) that this mystery man is probably John Piper.

I'm actually not terribly familiar with him, even though I've been accused of being a 'Piper Cub' the time, I didn't even know what the term meant and had never read one word written by Piper. I've now read at least one word, but I'm still no cub. But I'm willing to bet that Piper knows more about what inerrancy is than Olson does.

He concludes with an anecdote about an effort to join the ETS which failed because he did not want to endorse a doctrine titled with the word "inerrancy". He claimed to believe exactly the same things about Scripture as many of the members. But he just didn't like the word "inerrancy".

In many of Olson's musings in the linked post, he indicates with unconscious irony that the word "inerrancy" has become a shibboleth.

Indeed the word has become a shibboleth. Olson is just confused about who is using it as such. He is using it to identify benighted Christians that don't know what the authority of Scripture is based on. He, Olson, of course knows and can identify them by the use of a single word.

My guess also is that his views about the authority of Scripture are not so close to the ETS as he characterizes them. He repeatedly speaks of Scriptures use as a norm of faith. Inerrantists do not deny this of course. But it's what this characterization leaves out that is telling. In particular, it makes a false distinction between matters of faith and matters of fact and gives Scripture authority only over one of them. something that no inerrantist would accept.


"I think the basic problem..." not "I the basic problem..."

I believe there's some sort of rule of proofreading that goes like this:

Make sure you haven't any words out.

The Goat Head responds:

Do you think God is not Omnipotent?
Why yes. Yes I do. He can do anything that is logically possible for Him to do.

Do you think He is not Omniscient?
Again, yes. He knows everything that can be known.

Do you think it is possible to tell someone something with full knowledge that the telling will result in their holding and spreading a falsehood that they have no means of detecting is not deception?
Uh, not sure where you are going with this, but, yes, of course it is possible.

Do you think that even if Scripture contains an error, the inspiration of Scripture does not meet the conditions described in the previous question?
If you are saying, "Did God know that the writers He inspired would add something not factually correct?", then, yes, I would agree. Of course God wouldn't be mistaken about a fact.

Do you think these questions are somehow not relevant to the relation between inspiration and inerrancy?
Ah. Now I think I see. Could God make sure the inspired writer conveyed what He wanted told yet allow the writer to tell it in a way relevant and understandable to his audience that might contain commonly held untruths? Yes, I think so. I would guess that is exactly what happened. Does this make God evil, or a liar? Only if you think He dictated the Bible. If He did than another problem is revealed that cannot be avoided; He would then be responsible for communicating in a way that was clear and impossible to misunderstand.

A question for you, Wisdomlover:
Do you believe that God is capable of communicating clearly in a way that is impossible to misunderstand?

If so, why didn't he do that with the Bible?

Goat Head 5



Yes I would hold that God is both omnipotent and omniscient.

Awkwardly worded questions, Wisdomlover.

Did I say I was "objecting"? I thought I was simply disagreeing! Peripheral incorrect facts in the Bible would not make God evil, in my opinion.

Goat Head 5

This is our point of disagreement:

WL: Do you think it is possible to tell someone something with full knowledge that the telling will result in their holding and spreading a falsehood that they have no means of detecting is not deception?

GH5: Uh, not sure where you are going with this, but, yes, of course it is possible.

I don't think it's possible.

To put it another way, suppose that:

  1. X tells Y that some proposition, P, is true.
  2. X tells Y this with full knowledge that it will make Y believe that P is true and report as much to others.
  3. P is, in fact, false. And X knows it
  4. X also knows that Y has no means of correcting the erroneous belief that P is true, and X provides no such means to Y.
  5. X could have provided such a means to Y.
Now, I just don't see any way to describe X's actions except as deceptive. But you seem to me to be saying that of course it's not deceptive...which seems an odd thing to say.

GH5: Do you believe that God is capable of communicating [to His creatures] clearly in a way that is impossible [for His creatures] to misunderstand?"

Note the bracketed parts I added to your question. I don't think I'm taking liberties there, since we are talking about Scripture, not Intra-Godhead communication.

With that clarification in hand, my answer is no. Of course He can't. He's also short on the ability to make round squares, married bachelors and stones so heavy that He can't lift them.

God's creatures are, by definition, not God. Because they are not God, they are, by definition, limited. Thus there are always some things God cannot get across to these limited beings. Meaning that there will always, by definition, be room for human misinterpretation.

At the same time, God has provided a means for us to correct our misinterpretations: We can study the scriptures and let the clear passages interpret the unclear passages.


My argument for inerrancy does not require that a dictation theory of inspiration or any other theory be true or false.*

All that is important is that, however the human writer comes to write, God knows exactly what they are going to say.


* OK, if you have a theory of inspiration that says that God inspired in such a way as to include mistakes, inerrancy does require that that theory be false.

Hmmm... no post...

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