You heard me right the first time, I am not an inerrantist

A while back I wrote a blog post pointing out that I don’t hold to an inerrantist view of the Bible. I do not accept that beloved doctrine held by many other evangelicals, biblical inerrancy. It isn’t biblical, it isn’t required, and it is, at times, just implausible.

Bnonn over at Thinking Matters doesn’t think much of the position I expressed. Apparently my comments are “theologically inept” and “culturally prejudiced.” I think Bnonn is simply wrong about this, and I also think that it might have been prudent to ask me what my case against inerrancy was before railing against it (as I said at the time, I offered only scant comments, and had I actually been trying o make the case against inerrancy I would have said more), but do head over to check his post out, where you’ll see my comments on it as well.

Unfortunately he actually oversteps the mark and misrepresents me, saying that I personally believe that the Bible may contain “fraud” or “deceit,” but I realise that it’s hard for those with a strong committment to inerrancy to imagine a Bible that is neither inerrant nor fraudulent and worthless. The fact is, I do not countenance a fraudulent or deceitful Bible at all. All I postulate is that the message of God was delivered by imperfect people (not fraudsters or liars). It’s nothing shocking, really.

Glenn Peoples

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14 thoughts on “You heard me right the first time, I am not an inerrantist

  1. Glen, I’d love to hear a future episode on this (with all your free time). Stick with your position. I understand the need for inerrancy, but it, ironically, claims something for the Bible that the Bible never claims for itself. It casts a perspective of truth upon Scripture that only exists as a response to modernist empirical methods.

    Perhaps the most terrifying things about the theory is that it flattens the idea of truth, the concept of witness, and the priority of the Scriptures. It equates every passage and demands that readers accept the four Gospels at the same level as the history of the book of Esther. It says, “If the Bible is not perfectly — divinely — accurate in this part, the whole thing is flawed.” Wow. If Moses’ words were recorded with a little liberty and interpretation, then how can we trust that the resurrection happened? Really?

    It’s an oath — a creedal idea — that, for some reason, never surfaced in the great Creeds of the church. But now, its a test (a test that really started in a debate between modernists). And how long-standing is this test of Christian faith? Well, there is that ancient church document: the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy dating all the way back to 1978.

  2. Didn’t see this in any of the commentary now or on your last post so… FWIW…

    I personally separate inerrancy from infalibility the latter of which I hold to and the former not so much.

  3. It is fascinating to watch the contortions an inerrantist goes through trying to justify the disparity between the figures in 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5.

    Firstly, the numbers are blatantly in disagreement with each other and, secondly, it stretches credibility to even consider the idea that the population was such that an army of ~1.5M could be raised (for perspective, the US army totals ~1.1M).

  4. Glenn, I didn’t mean to misrepresent you. But one of the Chicago Statements’ affirmations which you singled out, implying your disagreement (why else would you single it out?) was this:

    WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

    If you disagree with this statement, then the implication is that you believe ~(Scripture is free from falsehood, fraud, or deceit). Which may be colloquially rendered, “Scripture may contain falsehood, fraud, or deceit.”

    I was just going by what you wrote—if you wish to distance yourself from the “fraud and deceit” aspect while maintaining the “falsehood” aspect, that’s your business I suppose and I will happily acknowledge that.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  5. Dom, I think I made it clear that freedom from every kind of error is my issue. I took issue with the “inerrant” label they used there. Being a careful person, I quoted them in context.

    But I think it’s obvious that saying that some types of errors may exist does not mean that I am open to the possibility of fraud and deceit being present.

  6. Damian

    Of course you are assuming that ancient writers use numbers like this the way we do. I understand its a well known literary technique in historical writers to exaggerate numbers, and that its a mistake to interpret the authors as intending to convey the precise numbers of people involved.

  7. Absolutely Matt.

    It’s also a well-known literary technique for historical writers to exaggerate just about anything (yes, including virgin births which no doubt you’ll have your own opinions on).

    I don’t believe these exaggerations lessen the Bible (or any other ancient writings for that matter) at all; it just lessens those who place unnecessary demands on it’s literal accuracy.

    In fact I think it sad to read the many convoluted apologist explanations for why those numbers don’t agree with each other (without seeming to even take into consideration the fantastic totals claimed) when the obvious explanation is that of exaggeration.

    The Bible is a wonderful piece of literature.

  8. Damian, how in the world do you exaggerate a virgin birth? That’s like being a little bit pregnant!

    I think you probably mean “invent,” or say it happened when it didn’t, which is very different from what Matt was talking about.

    I agree with Matt that exaggeration was common when it came to nations describe their military might or similar things. In examples like that, we should look to the overall story, and accept that there may be errors int he details.

    Damian, I think that you’re quite right to point out how some apologists end up looking silly when they try to defend the things they defend. They apparently believe – quite wrongly – that they lose something if they concede points like this. They really don’t.

    I think it’s the mistake of some apologists and some skeptics alike to assume without good reason that unless the Bible is inerrant, then it’s just another human book. It’s a lazy way of thinking.

  9. Damian, how in the world do you exaggerate a virgin birth? That’s like being a little bit pregnant!

    The exaggeration I refer to is in the detail surrounding the origins of Christ. I realise you are probably pre-committed to believing this part of the story but you must see that it’s completely reasonable that details surrounding Christ’s origins (such as John the Baptist, the Angel and the virgin birth) could have been exaggerated over time and with repeated tellings.

    I think it’s the mistake of some apologists and some skeptics alike to assume without good reason that unless the Bible is inerrant, then it’s just another human book. It’s a lazy way of thinking.

    I agree. In defence of the skeptics though — I believe that they are responding to the claims of the believers but don’t truly believe the Bible to be inerrant and wouldn’t make such a fuss if there weren’t so many literalists.

  10. Your wording threw me off, Damian. You mean that false claims were made.

    I know you didn’t bring up the issue of details of the life of Christ being borrowed from the stories of divine figures in other religions, but in case that issue does interest you, I’ve done a blog on the example of Buddha and the virgin birth, and a podcast on Osiris. I may do another one, addressing some of the examples that aren’t covered in those two.

  11. Well, that argument about inerancy turned out to be a fizzer. In the end, after repeated claims that the Bible actually declares itself inerrant, Dominic declined to enter into a defence of this basic reason for his disagreement with me. For that, I was asked to go and read somebody’s full treatment of the subject.

    “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason,” as some famous German once said, I am not willing to have somebody’s doctrine of inerrancy foist upon me.

  12. Damian

    I was simply noting that the issue with numbers comes up with numerous historical texts. 500 spartans holding the entire Persian army at bay. Arrians figures of over a million Persians at the battle of Gaugamela. Egyptian writers talking about how they wiped out whole cities leaving nothing alive and then mentioning the cities existing a little latter in the same text. All these examples provide some clear textual evidence that when writers wrote in the ancient world they did not use numbers literally.

    I don’t think however one can simply assert an event is “an exaggeration” because it might be.

  13. I agree. In defence of the skeptics though — I believe that they are responding to the claims of the believers but don’t truly believe the Bible to be inerrant and wouldn’t make such a fuss if there weren’t so many literalists.

    Except of course that hardly any conservative or evangelical scholar actually takes the text “literally” in the sense these writers opine. The phrase “the literal sense” actually had quite a different meaning at the time of the reformation.

    I am yet to see any conservative scholar actually interpret the bible as literally as most skeptics do, which makes the “straw man” issue rather pertinent.

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