November 29, 2020

iMonk Classic: We thought he was such a nice boy—and then we found out he didn’t believe in Inerrancy!!

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From February 15, 2005

Dear Sir: What a total disappointment.

I do like your wisdom and passion. However, you have become too smart.

May God have mercy on you regarding your responsibility to adhere to the inerrancy of scripture.

The discussion on inerrancy at the BHT and here at IM always fills my mailbox with mail that I can’t answer. All I can do is make an attempt to say what I believe is a reasonable approach to Christian scripture. That approach doesn’t do well with those who need perfection in their hands before they can say they have truth in their minds. I am not an inerrantist. It’s costing me friends, and it makes me uncomfortable. Here’s some of my thoughts. I know they will make a lot of you unhappy, but I’m nailing it to the door anyway. We need to articulate what we believe about scripture in a way that comports with the real nature of the Biblical texts, not inerrant, perfect autographs no one will ever have.

When I first wrote about Why I Am Not A Young Earth Creationist, I knew that eventually I would have to write more on scripture itself. So I have, here and here.

There is a lot more to be said, and I am really not up to saying it, but comments like these over at the Boar’s Head illustrate the problem well. (Three different writers, btw.)

One reason inerrancy is so important is that if we give it up in part the logical outcome will be the eventual giving up of the Gospel(not that you would of course). This is so is because the gospel is inextricably tied to history. Undermine the historical details of the Gospel and we undermine the Gospel itself.God, through the Holy Spirit, has written and preserved the Scriptures…If we don’t believe that, then why don’t we just toss it out the window, really…Do we believe in a literal six-day creation? I certainly hope so. Or do we try to turn some/all of the Bible stories into “allegories”?

What you are asking is the same as saying: “Since different people are reading the compass and their interpretation of true north may vary, then it doesn’t matter whether the compass is broken or not!” I disagree. KNOWING the compass is right is at least a starting point.

I could cite so many more things. I am constantly getting mail about my view of scripture, which really puzzles me. I obviously believe in the essentials of the Gospel and preach them out of the Bible. I teach the Bible to high school students, and have never been accused of being a liberal. I am a confessional Christian who enthusiastically embraces the Westminster Confession on the subject of scripture.

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture….our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

…it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary..


The problem? I don’t believe in inerrancy, a view of how scripture is inspired that means well, but just can’t get traction with me. My problems with inerrancy have been going on for a very long time, and I’ve heard it presented and taught by the best. It’s never sat well with me, probably because I have a lot of literary interest in the text of scripture, plus I don’t like to be bullied. I get a rash.

1. What the heck is it? It takes a major document to describe inerrancy.

2. The document in question contains the following paragraph (Chicago Statement on Inerrancy XIII):

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 material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations

Excuse me, but did I just read that I am off the inerrancy hook if I can assert that the passage in question did not intend to come up to a particular standard of truth?

OK….I don’t believe the Bible was ever intended to be true in comparison to contemporary science, history, astronomy, geology, medicine, anatomy, psychology or the Bill James Baseball Abstract. Can I go to lunch now?

3. Inerrancy is asserted for the original autographs.

We don’t have them.

4. While the Bible is supposedly inerrant, none of those who interpret it are inerrant interpreters. That’s a problem. If there is a perfect compass, and you give it to a chimp, what have you got? A chimp with a compass.

5. Inerrancy is almost always tied up with things that really bother me: Young earth creationism, of course. Spiritual warfarism, where people with problem kids and screwed up marriages thing that Satan is in the house and/or in their head. Secret knowledge schemes, like What did Jesus eat? Diets. Conspiracy theories. Bible only Christian education. Lunacy like the Bible Codes. It goes on and on. Magic Bookies run amuck.

6. Inerrancy looks, smells and feels remarkably like a philosophical imposition on the Bible, going beyond what the Bible CAN say about itself, and forcing those of us who believe in the authority and truthfulness of the Bible to take a “loyalty oath” that goes beyond what should be said. Typical of evangelical attempts to show they are really really really really really right. Catholics do it with the Pope. Pentecostals with experience. Evangelicals with inerrancy.

It’s like a philosophical security system to keep everything safe. It’s been called Protestant Scholasticism, and I agree.

7. No major confession requires that you use the word “inerrancy”. Even the Southern Baptist Convention’s Faith and Message Statement avoids the exact word, and doesn’t harp on the concept. Reformation confessions don’t use it at all. We can live without it. Read what my friend Alex Arnold said about inerrancy. He’s totally on target. Or consider BHT commenter Myron Marston.

I’ve got news for you….but the Bible may be wrong on the resurrection. It may be wrong on lots of things. I don’t really have any way to inerrantly prove it one way or the other. And neither do you. At some point, you’ve got to accept it on faith, as do I. Accepting or not accepting the idea of inerrancy has little to do with whether or not I place my faith in Christ. In fact, I think inerrancy has a tendency to get in the way of our trusting Christ. We spend so much time sweating all these little inerrant details and trying to scientifically/historically “prove” the Bible that we can miss out on the entire point of the whole thing: Christ. Isn’t Christ enough? Why does it have to be Christ and inerrancy? Call me crazy, but I’m THANKFUL that the Bible doesn’t line up factually or theologically 100%. It would make it too easy to “stand pat” with my current understanding rather than having to spend a lifetime wrestling with scripture.

I could expand this list but I won’t. I want to say something about the comments quoted at the beginning of the post.

Defenders of inerrancy send me lots of false dilemmas. Thing like: If we don’t believe in inerrancy, the Bible must go out the window. Shred it. Go ahead. Shred Grandma’s KJV because you don’t believe in inerrancy so YOU JUST DON’T BELIEVE THE BIBLE ANY MORE YOU OVER-EDUCATED KNOW IT ALL.

Or this one. If you don’t buy the six day, young earth creationist view of Genesis, then you are saying it’s all an allegory. And that’s stupid. So it’s literal history with Ken Hamm or it’s allegories with all the devils of hell.

That’s it? Those are my choices? Ken Hamm or “allegory?” The great thing about that one is I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t know what an allegory is.

Or the Bible is a perfect compass. Or a perfect map. Or a perfect book. Because God is perfect. And if God said it, it must be perfect. It’s perfect. Really, really really perfect. Not just true. Not just a book that brings us Christ and the Gospel. Perfect. And if you don’t come out and walk around saying the Bible is perfect, then you reject the Bible.

And of course, without inerrancy, we lose history, and we lose the resurrection, and we lose the Gospel. The only way we know that the Gospels are telling the truth is the doctrine of inerrancy, modern version. Without it, we float off on a cloud of mythology. Or so I keep hearing. Why this doesn’t seem to be applying to N.T. Wright hasn’t been explained.

You will have to forgive me, readers, but this all just amazes me. I mean, it really amazes me, because it simply isn’t so.

The Bible is, first of all, not a book at all. IT IS NOT A BOOK AT ALL. It is 66 books, from a very long time ago. A wide selection of literature in the human conversation. The church selected these books because it believes that God speaks through those books to tell us the truth of the Gospel, and to tell us about Jesus and our salvation by the mediator. Therefore, the church asserts that these 66 books are a message from God. Since the Bible doesn’t know the “Christian Bible as canon” exists, it doesn’t have a word for itself beyond the New Testament calling the Old “scripture.”

Confessions like the WCF do a good job of saying God revealed himself, the church wrote down not only what was revealed about the Gospel, but a lot of other things surrounding the Gospel that make it understandable. The church selected a canon, and the church endorses that canon as scripture. God didn’t pick these books. We did. Christians will discover, on their own, that the Spirit speaks through those books and brings us to a saving knowledge of Jesus. They do a good job of this without talking about science, anthropology, anatomy, the latest issue of Biblical Archeology or any other standard of modern “truth.” The Bible is historical, but nowhere do I read a claim that it is perfect history. It’s “here’s the story from the God-point of view, where all kinds of strange things are more important than what you learned in school.”

The Bible is truthful, but it’s approach to truth is clearly something like this: God told us the truth in Jesus. Believe him. The Biblical story leading us to Jesus is true in that it leads us to Jesus. This seems to work without reference to large epistemological tomes on the nature of truth or the real “facts” of science. It’s actually quite amazing. For example:

Romans 5 says sin entered the world through one man. No history book in the world agrees with this, but Bible-believers know its true. We don’t need to worry that it is laughable to the world. This is our story.

Romans 5 says the death of one man made up for that sin for all who believe the Gospel. This also doesn’t match up with any history anywhere, and won’t be verified, so I don’t really get what’s going on. (I mean, you can historically conclude that Jesus was executed, but the meaning of it all is off the meter.) The only way you get ahold of this event, and what it means, is by faith and the Spirit. The church tells you the story in its canon of scripture, and you believe it by the illumination of the Spirit.

We also discover that the Bible’s approach to truth comes through an amazingly diverse grid of various literary types. Most all were literary forms common in prescientific cultures that thought the earth was the center of the universe, stars were angels, the blue sky was water, the moon gave light and so on. God didn’t seem to care about the limitations of prescientific accounts. Inerrantists worry about them endlessly. God actually seems to prefer them over modern “historical and scientific” accounts, as they keep the main thing the main thing. (If the Bible were being written today it would be larger than Spurgeon’s collected works. 30 times as large. Easily.)

Literary genre is the great ignored fact of the Bible that inerrantists seem unable to feel good about. They toss out “allegory” as a straw man, but if we were more accurate, the list would include EVERY kind of literary genre in the book: proverb, drama, journal, lament, imprecation, praise song, parable, didactic, story of origin, genealogy, poetry, apocalyptic, novella, and on and on and on. For some reason, the “truthfulness” of anything other than “flat” narration or eyewitness reporting really bugs a lot of inerrantists.

They remind me of people who, when asked by a four year old chide where babies come from, get out a college biology text or a video from human development class. Why? Well, allegory, story, poetry, etc. would just be abandoning the truth. (This is crazy!) So if I say the story of Adam and Eve is true, but it is prescientific, mythic, and more story than history, I’m a heretic. I will just say this once: I’m an English teacher, and you people get an F. Truth comes in all kinds of literary forms, and insisting that Genesis must produce a scientifically correct view of the universe is being brutally shallow in your appreciation of the literary nature of the material that makes up scripture.

This just in, and I have lots more like this.

History in the Bible must be perfect if it is to be trustworthy and if it is to be breathed out by God. If not, then the historical detail about the resurrection of Christ may not be true at all. And then our faith would be futile.

I respect my brothers and sisters with this view, but I cannot understand why they have come to the conclusion that Jesus and the Gospel must depend on a perfect book for “truth.” I thought if it really happened, it was true, and if God chooses to tell us what really happened in a book of poetry, symbol, music, apocalyptic, parable, prophecy, lament, proverb, saying and so forth, that doesn’t stop anything from “really” being true.

Creation “really” happened. That I am told by God about creation in a three thousand year old liturgical, poetic, prescientific story meant to assert Hebrew ideas over pagan ideas during the Babylonian captivity doesn’t take one thing away from the truth of Creation. Not one thing. Telling me I have to become a young earth creationist in order to actually “believe” this account is absurd. Saying that if I don’t become a young earth creationist, I disbelieve this account is simply unacceptable. Stronger words are really needed.

I want to say more, but I am weary from saying this much. I love and respect my inerrantist friends. When they tell me I am rejecting the resurrection by rejecting “inerrancy,” I am hurt and puzzled. But so I will remain, because the quests to insure that modernistic assertions about the Bible precede and protect the Gospel are not about to end. Denominations will split. Friendships will end. Seminarians and pastors will be shown the door. Christians will reject their brothers and sisters. It is needless, and a ridiculous waste of unity.

(For a thorough response to this article, read the Jollyblogger, David Wayne. Excellent post and totally an honor to be fisked by the best.)


  1. AMEN!

    I miss iMonk so much.

  2. I share Michael’s frustrations.

    I think the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a flawed document and its Articles and Exposition more reflect the kind of Bible Evangelicals wish we had instead of the Bible we in fact do have. The authors of the New Testament citing and using the LXX as the inspired word(s) of God IMO muddles the assertion in Article X. that “We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text.” And this NT use of the Septuagint raises the questions of “What is the canon?” and “What is the Bible?” and “Why?” – things the Statement only briefly touches on, and more in the way of assumptions and assertions than proofs.

    Some have said the Statement “dies the death of a thousand qualifications.”

    The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy – A Statement put forth by Inerrantists, full of Affirmations and Denials, saying and signifying and proving… what?

  3. Kenny Johnson says

    I used to hold to inerrancy for exactly some of the reasons that iMonk’s critics did. I thought it was a slippery slope. If you denied inerrancy, then next you denied the resurrection, the moral and ethical teachings, the atoning sacrifice, etc. The funny thing is, I never really intellectually believed it. I just held to it for philosophical reasons — yet it did take it’s toll on my faith. I would spend a lot of time trying to remedy some contradiction and often just find unsatisfying answers from Christian apologetic sources.

    I sometimes will say I’m a soft-inerrantist, but then I haven’t really defined that. ha! I guess I believe that the Bible is inerrant in theological and spiritual truths, but not necessarily science, geography, or history. I believe that God accommodated himself to the knowledge of the authors when he inspired their writings. I don’t believe they had to gain knowledge of scientific or historical facts they never learned from the holy spirit before they could write the inspired words of the Bible.

  4. Hi iMonk,

    What a great post! It is interesting that the Reformers did not dicuss the topic of inerrancy. For Luther, Jesus was Lord and king of the scriptures. Calvin maintained that the scriptures mirror Christ and they are the instrument of the Holy Spirit to lead us continually to Christ. Thus their approach to the bible was Christocentric. Although scholars have debated whether Luther and Calvin would have held to inerrancy had the topic been discussed in detail in their day, these scholars differ on which side of the debate the Reformers would have come down on. What can be said is that both Reformers held to the reliability of the biblical message.

    It was some of the Protestant scholastics that introduced the notion of inerrancy in the 17th. and 18th. centuries and A.A.Hodge and B.B.Warfield added the idea of “in the original manuscripts” which, as Michael well pointed out, we do not have.

    Michael’s point that we need to take into account the literary form, the structure and the setting of any passage in its context (written and unwriiten) is important if we are to understand the meaning, coveyed by a particular author and how it was heard by the first readers.

    The bible is God’s word in human words in history. 2tim:3:15-17 says nothing about inerrancy as Fundamentalists claim. It says that the scriptures are God breathed, but does not say how. These scriptures were the O.T., not the whole bible. These scriptures give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, not infallible knowledge on science or history. These scriptures equip us for every good work. Hence as Michael points out, the Fundamentalists misuse these scriptures and that inerrancy is more a philosophical grid read into and placed over the bible by such people.

    The Reformers were well aware of differences between the books of Kings and Chronicles and of differences between the synoptics and between the synoptics and John’ gospel but this did not prevent them from focusing on the biblical meassage which points us to Christ. If we to have a Christocentric emphasis , we won’t get too bogged down in trying to reconcile differences.

    Let’s accept the diversity in the bible within the context of an underlying unity whose centre is the central story of Jesus.

    John Arthur

    • “2tim:3:15-17 says nothing about inerrancy as Fundamentalists claim.”

      I’ve had this conversation with an inerrantist. The argument put forth by this person was “Paul was speaking prophetically about the whole bible. Therefore, it DOES apply to the whole Bible.”

      Door was shut and bolted against any other ideas.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And so the wall in the mind slams down, leaving only “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!” and Scripture Thougtstoppers. Just like “AL’LAH’U AKBAR!”, except Christian.

        (You should have asked him “Which Bible?” I suspect it’d be The Kynge Jaymes version; at which point ask “1611 or…”)

      • One of my big issues with inerrancy is it makes Paul divine. He was a saint but a man nonetheless, and we must take that into account when reading him.

        The counter-argument would be that God was working through him to produce perfect writings. God can do anything, but on the other hand he created us as humans who are incapable of ever getting the will of God exactly right.

  5. “4. While the Bible is supposedly inerrant, none of those who interpret it are inerrant interpreters. That’s a problem. If there is a perfect compass, and you give it to a chimp, what have you got? A chimp with a compass.”

    This is pretty much my view. I do believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, but I do not believe it is all literal, nor that we are able to fully understand or correctly interpret all of it.

    I suppose with the modern usage of the word “infallible,” I would say I believe the Bible is infallible. The words are technically interchangeable, I know, but “infallible” seems to leave a little more wiggle room. It suggests more what Kenny Johnson is saying, and less what the Chicago Thingamajig says.

    • Lukas db says

      The terms ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ have different technical definitions. ‘Inerrant’ means that the scriptures are without error – they are absolutely true in any context you choose to name. They do not err in any of their declarations, whether theological, anthropological, historical, geographical, linguistic, historic….
      ‘Infallible’ means that the scriptures do not fail to communicate the truth they set out to communicate. It is the central point or points, in this view, that are beyond reproach – not the decorations. The window itself is what we see out of, not the window dressing.

      Personally, I see little difficulty in accepting the proposition that the Bible is infallible. But I cannot comprehend the position that the Bible is inerrant.

  6. I think there’s a big difference between a) someone who simply dismisses the Bible out of hand and says it’s just a collection of myths that one would be silly to believe in and b) someone who holds a high view of the Bible, believing it to come (in some way) from God but possibly containing occasional minor errors in non-critical-to-salvation topics because of human involvement in the actual writing of the books. I think IM’s point has more to do with the fact that many inerrantists fail to distinguish clearly between cases a) and b) and often take a heavily judgemental view towards compatriots in the faith who fall into category b)—-I agree with IM that those inerrantists taking such an attitude are themselves in error!

    However, I have to say that in my opinion (obviously), IM and others who reject inerrancy for the reasons stated in this essay are simply fighting a straw man of their own and that they are giving up something good and worthwhile for the wrong reasons.

    Again and again, reference is made above to creationism, even though it has nothing to do with inerrancy. I believe the strongest reason people reject inerrancy is because they think it means they have to be YECs. Inerrancy has nothing to do with creationism, eschatology or whether Jesus is God—it says that we have a starting point of writings that come from God and are therefore trustworthy but it says nothing about what those writings say doctrinally.

    The argument that inerrantists are somehow unaware of allegory or different genres to me is completely false. Chaplain Mike’s view on Genesis is completely consistent with inerrancy—-it’s a literary interpretation but it seems (as I understand it) to reflect a belief that the message came from God and is completely true and therefore is as good as a YEC interpretation in terms of inerrancy. Many inerrantists accept evolution, are amillenialists, etc.

    The biggest thing that irks me is the notion that inerrancy is something new. Perhaps the term is new because some folks a couple hundred years ago started thinking the Bible was “errant” so a term had to be coined to counter that idea. But the notion that the church took a wide view of Scripture that allowed for errors is, I would suggest, unfounded. Augustine in no uncertain terms states that Scripture is free from all errror. Aquinas says the same thing. Calvin says the same thing. It was not just assumed but *explicitly* stated by theologian after theologian that the writers of the Bible, in contrast to any other authors, including other theologians, were without error.

    Finally, the idea that somehow God would let slide certain details seems contradictory to the character of a God who micromanaged details in worship, in words, in architecture, etc, etc to an incredible degree. I mean, did it really matter exactly how many cubits this thing was or how many items of this sort were to be placed here? But God specified everything in excruciating detail. He also said of the prophets that not one word of theirs would fall to the ground—-not the least jot or tittle was going to “pass away” or be proven false.

    I can understand that because there is such huge baggage with YEC, the rapture, conservative politics, etc that people are leery of inerrancy and I hope I will not be one to scream “heresy” if someone has reservations but otherwise has a high view of the Bible. I just think that inerrancy is thrown out because of misunderstandings and that it’s worth a closer look.

    • When the Bible – e.g., the Synoptics – contains contradictory accounts of the same event(s) – and by “contradictory” I mean the normal definition, not some finely-nuanced and highly-qualified definition that allows “apparent” contradictions to overlooked because they’re thus said to not really be contradictions – i.e., when either one or the other or neither, but not both, of the accounts can be true, then how can the Scriptures be said to be “inerrant”? When what is set forth or narrated as or purported to be a factual account of what happened is at variance with another supposed factual account of what happened, does that not imply by any kind of reasoning or logic or consistent or valid definition of “contradiction” that at least one of the accounts must be incorrect, at least in part?

      As a for instance, tell me what happened and in what order and who said and did what to whom and when in the accounts by Matthew and Mark of the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, and the cursing and withering of the fig tree? Matthew 21 and Mark 11. If they are both historical accounts of what happened, then there are some serious problems of discordance between them. And if they are not intended to be read or heard and understood as actual/factual accounts of what happened, then what are they, and how does such a non-historical understanding of these Scriptures comport with the common Evangelical understanding and meaning of “inerrancy”?

      Just askin’….

      • Obviously, I don’t agree with your first statement about there actually being contradictory accounts! 🙂

        OK, I’m sure I can pull up as many examples as you can of apparent contradictions, not only internally comparing verse to verse, but also externally, comparing BIblical accounts with archaeology. If I could personally answer every one, I’d have to be divine myself! But when I read and study the words as ordinary language, in which people use figures of speech, in which they leave out details unimportant to a particular audience, in which they emphasize certain details, etc like everyone does when talking every day—I don’t find it too hard to resolve most things. And I’m sure you know as well as I do that there are countless “harmonies” of the Gospels out there and books galore about resolving apparent conflicts.

        As to the conflicts that I myself can’t resolve, I fall back on my own belief in God’s trustworthiness. From the first command to Adam and Eve, to the story of Abraham (the promise, the sacrifice, etc), to the words of the prophets—-in every situation, trouble arises when someone thinks God didn’t mean what He said or that what He said wasn’t trustworthy. If I trust in God to sovereignly rule over the universe, I personally think that I can trust that He had the power to make sure what got written down and transmitted to posterity is free from error—if there seems to be a conflict, it must be my own limited knowledge or understanding.

        All I can do is say that’s my view.

        • Just read the texts. How can you say you don’t agree with me when you haven’t even examined the texts or tried to solve the problem I set before you?

          You are using obfuscation and diversion. It doesn’t fool critics of Christianity and it shouldn’t be used to fool Christians.

          • EricW,
            Your tone above seems unnecessarily negative and somewhat hurtful—perhaps it’s a function of not having this discussion in person.

            I’m familiar with the text you mention and my point was I could state a bunch of other similar situations in the Gospels—none of them bother me or undermine my belief in inerrancy. If three people relate a series of events, we have no problem in everyday conversations synthesizing the following three cases and considering all three speakers equally truthful: 1) first speaker tells events in strict chronological order, 2) second speaker interrupts the narrative and says, “oh, yes, in order to understand what comes next, I have to first tell you something that happened 2 days earlier.”..then continues the narrative, 3) third speaker tells the story out of strict order but at the end says “now in order to understand what I just told you, let me also tell you what happened 2 days earlier…”. (the difference between 2) and 3) is where the out of sequence info is inserted). We tell stories like this all the time in everyday conversation and have no problem piecing things together and still affirming the truthfulness of the speakers. Approaching the Gospel accounts in the same way, out of sequence issues aren’t a problem. If we look at the Bible as some magical book of spells such that if any words get slightly out of order, the spell is broken and the whole thing falls apart…well, that would cause all sorts of problems for inerrancy, but inerrancy assumes the text is just ordinary writing and speech like we use every day—not magic spells.

            As to your particular passage, I have no problem seeing the entry followed by the fig incident followed by the temple cleansing. Matthew puts the temple incident first because the cleansing was important to him to connect with the entry. The wording nowhere forces a strict chronology that’s inconsistent and nowhere does a Gospel writer say that Jesus never entered Jerusalem or that some other writer related a fig tree incident that was totally wrong—if those things were said, there would be unmistakable contradictions and inerrancy would fall.

            Incidentally, chronological variability is common in the OT prophets. A long discourse stretching over a time window takes place and then the next chapter suddenly does a rewind to an earlier time period. It seems perfectly natural as a way of finishing the full implications of one thought and then moving on to the next.

            EricW, talk to me if you want and disagree with me but please be gracious enough not to sling argumentative and unhelpful words. Thanks and best regards.

          • So in other words, the Gospels aren’t meant to be understood as being totally accurate, correct, historical accounts. I can live with that. What I have problems with is people insisting and treating and regarding and declaring them as being accurate, correct, historical accounts while also insisting when it comes to irreconcilable contradictions between accounts like my example that the authors didn’t intend them to be accurate, correct, historical accounts. I don’t think one can or should be able to have it both ways.

            And using the three different speakers’ viewpoints argument also seems to overlook that there really was a correct and accurate and true way that things happened and that things were said. So maybe God didn’t ensure that one or two or all three of the Synopticists got all the facts and events and sayings correct. Maybe one got it all correct and the other two messed up on a couple things.

            Yes? No?

          • Eric, concerning my examples of the three speakers: if you think that because they told their stories in slightly different ways, sometimes inserting parenthetical past stories for quick reference, that they are (or at some are) not accurate, correct, historical accounts, I’d say you’re applying a standard of accuracy, correctness and historicity that you wouldn’t if you were listening to friends of yours telling stories to you. If you expect absolute precision and strict chronological accuracy in everything your friends say to you, then at least you’re consistent in applying that standard to the Bible. All I’m saying is that I doubt you have a problem if your friend says, “oh yeah and by the way, this happened yesterday—I didn’t mention it first since I wanted to finish the first part of the story..”. You don’t say you friend is untruthful, and I’m just saying the same is true of the Biblical mode of storytelling.

            I think maybe from one of your posts further down, you’re trying to apply some sort of rigorous dictionary definition to the word inerrancy and maybe that’s what you’re arguing here with me. I don’t think you can do that—-you have to use the definition actually stated explicitly and clearly by proponents of inerrancy. It’s not fair to impose a different meaning and then argue against that meaning. We can say there was a “trinity” of heroes involved in some battle and say that the dictionary defintion is a group of three. But we can’t take that definition and then start arguing against Trinitarians who are saying it’s not just a group of three, but a group that has a shared essence. You’d be inventing a new definition of “trinity” and arguing against Trinitarians who already don’t believe in your definition.

            I know I’m not going to convince you and I’m not really trying to—just trying to make a fair argument.

          • “cup of coffee or hot chocolate or a glass of lemonade or a beer”

            But what about iced tea???

            OK, thanks for all the discussion.

        • I think maybe from one of your posts further down, you’re trying to apply some sort of rigorous dictionary definition to the word inerrancy and maybe that’s what you’re arguing here with me. I don’t think you can do that—-you have to use the definition actually stated explicitly and clearly by proponents of inerrancy. It’s not fair to impose a different meaning and then argue against that meaning.

          And my point is or would be: If the proponents of inerrancy aren’t using and applying the dictionary definition of inerrancy, they should use another word or term. And I think that was part of Michael Spencer’s problem with “inerrancy” as well. Inerrancy proponents are changing the meaning of the term, yet wanting to keep and use the term.

          • Inerrantists didn’t “change” the meaning of the term—they clearly defined what they meant. If any group, be they “Christian” or “Trinitarian” or “Reformed” or “Catholic” or whatever clearly define what that terms means, then any arguments against that group can’t be based on someone else’s definition. If your case against “inerrancy” is just based on this semantic issue, fine—you’re right. But when the term is clearly defined in what is actually a fairly concise document (far less than the thousands of volumes on the Trinity which Christians have no problem supporting even though they can’t possibly have read and digested all that theology), I think it’s only fair to argue the merits of the belief on the basis of the definition provided. Eric, you quote often esoteric references frequently and in great detail here, so I know you’re a well read intelligent person. I don’t understand why you would choose in this case to argue against a definition that no inerrantist actually uses.

          • Inerrantists didn’t “change” the meaning of the term—they clearly defined what they meant.

            IMO, they have changed the meaning of the word “inerrant” by the way they have defined it so that it doesn’t mean precisely and exactly and simply what the dictionary says “inerrant” means.

            I don’t understand why you would choose in this case to argue against a definition that no inerrantist actually uses.

            I’m not so much arguing against a definition of inerrancy that no inerrantist actually uses. Rather, I’m arguing against or protesting the inerrantists’ use of the word “inerrant” for what they wish to claim about the Bible, as well as their insistence that Evangelicals affirm the “inerrancy” of the Bible when the term itself is as much a problem as its use as an Evangelical shibboleth.

            And, yes, we would probably get along quite well and nicely if we were sharing this banter back and forth over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate or a glass of lemonade or a beer, rather than in comboxes where statements can seem to be abrupt or harsh.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        As a for instance, tell me what happened and in what order and who said and did what to whom and when in the accounts by Matthew and Mark of the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, and the cursing and withering of the fig tree? Matthew 21 and Mark 11. If they are both historical accounts of what happened, then there are some serious problems of discordance between them.

        You know how cops can tell if eyewitnesses are faking it? Either their stories don’t match, or they match perfectly in every detail. Two eyewitnesses to the same event will always vary a bit in the details. Are these discrepancies within acceptable variation for two accounts of the same event?

        • HUG:

          We’re not talking about two eyewitnesses in a courtroom. Many Evangelicals hold that the Gospels are accurate, factual, correct and true historical accounts of what Jesus and his friends and enemies said and did. Hence all their efforts (some convoluted and strained) to “harmonize” the Gosples’ differering or contradictory accounts. See THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN STEREO which has the rooster crowing 9 times, IIRC. When they preach from Mark, they don’t say, “According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus went from such and such and did and said such and such.” No. They say, “Jesus said” or “Jesus did” as if what is written is exactly and correctly what happened.

          I can accept the Gospel writers changing things for theological emphases or there even being instances where one Gospel is correct and the other is incorrect (like in the section I’ve been referring to – the triumphal entry, cleansing of the Temple, fig tree cursing and withering, etc.) as being the nature of the Gospels and their writers. What I have a problem with is Evangelical inerrantists/inerrancists wanting to have it both ways – i.e., insisting that the Gospels are in every detail and every word true, factual, exact, and correct historical accounts of what Jesus and his contemporaries thought, did, and said, and then when one comes to irreconcilable conflicts between accounts, starting to make allowances for one author “telescoping” events or changing the order for certain reasons, etc. (I had a well-known former President of the Evangelical Theological Society give that response when I asked him about things like my example. I asked him how that comports with “inerrancy,” and his only response was to say, “Well the ETS apparently didn’t have a problem with my view.”)

          And we’re not talking about simple eyewitnesses. We’re talking about writings that Evangelical inerrantists insist were written by authors who were all under the inspiration and guidance of the same Holy Spirit to write the exact words they wrote, whether making allowances for their peculiarities or humanness or not. We’re talking about four different persons who personally witnessed these events and/or were supernaturally guided by the same One Holy Spirit of God to write what they did. Did the Holy Spirit not remember from one author to the next what He had them write? Did the Holy Spirit intentionally have one author say A, B, C, and D happened to 1, 2, and 3 and the other author say A, D, C, and B to 1 and 2 only just so their details wouldn’t match perfectly so we’d know they weren’t faking it?


    • Kenny Johnson says

      I agree that iMonk’s original essay built a couple straw men by bringing in YEC, but look how much trouble Peter Enns got into when he suggested that maybe God accommodated himself to the cultural knowledge at that time. Can someone, for example, still claim (the standard definition of) inerrancy while claiming that when Paul spoke of Adam that Paul may have thought there was a historical Adam even if there wasn’t? That’s something that Denis Lamoureux would claim.

      I just think the term has become meaningless — especially when we’re saying it only applied to the original autographs which no one has. I’d rather just say that the Bible is reliable, true, trustworthy, useful, etc.

      • Kenny,
        I appreciate your comments and I agree that really it comes down to saying the Bible is reliable, true, trustworthy, etc. One thing: don’t you think it’s also sort of a false argument to say the whole idea of inerrancy is meaningless since it only applies to the original autographs? I mean, when a scientist measures data, he/she never gets exactly the same answer twice—there’s always a spread in the measurements; yet when there’s enough data, a scientist has no trouble saying that for all practical purposes, we KNOW the true value. The unfathomable wealth of texts for the Bible is similar—sure there are variations, but for all practical purposes, we KNOW the original text even though we don’t have the exact documents penned by Paul or Luke. I know the OT textual store is much less so the argument is weaker—granted (although interestingly many, many of the contradictions people bring up are in the Samuel/Kings books and we actually have a second parallel history in Chronicles which helps resolve the issues most of the time—I don’t think that’s by chance). Anyhow, surely for someone like you who has obviously thought about this a lot, don’t you think that objection to inerrancy concerning the original autographs is a bit unfair?

        • Kenny Johnson says

          I guess I just don’t understand the need to claim inerrancy if we are only going to apply them to the original manuscripts. What’s to gain by claiming inerrancy if we can just assume that any apparent error can just be brushed aside as a textual error?

          That’s what I mean by meaningless. Maybe I’m using the wrong word. Unhelpful? 🙂

          • I think this is on target. We already have to argue, apologetics-wise, that the manuscript copies we have [of the Gospels] are “reliable”, since we don’t have the original ones. I don’t see how the implications of this are much different than when someone says that the originals were inerrant, but we don’t have them.

            So even inerrantists argue that the the texts (that we do have) are true and “reliable”, but they can’t argue beyond that. So in reality, the word “inerrant” does seem to be irrelevant. “Meaningless” is an appropriate word, I think–or perhaps the word “pointless”.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I agree that iMonk’s original essay built a couple straw men by bringing in YEC…

        YEC types provide one of the easiest and most convenient type examples of the attitude being described. Especially with the “Creation Week” traffic you get on this blog.

  7. 2tim:3:15-17 says nothing about inerrancy as Fundamentalists claim.

    And according to the marginal notes of the Nestle-Aland 27 NOVUM TESTAMENTUM GRAECE (Greek New Testament), the author of 2 Timothy quoted AS SCRIPTURE from a phrase in Sirach and also possibly from a variant reading of another phrase in Sirach. 🙂 See the marginal notes for 2 Tim 2:19 and look up these Old Testament and Sirach references in the Rahlfs Greek Septuagint.

  8. ahumanoid says

    “Inerrancy looks, smells and feels remarkably like a philosophical imposition on the Bible, going beyond what the Bible CAN say about itself, and forcing those of us who believe in the authority and truthfulness of the Bible to take a ‘loyalty oath’ that goes beyond what should be said. Typical of evangelical attempts to show they are really really really really really right.”

    My favorite quote from the essay. Michael nails the primary reason that Evangelicals feel a need for inerrancy.

    • one more Mike says

      I agree with you, ahumanoid, my favorite quote also, especially, “…take a “loyalty oath” that goes beyond what should be said.” God bless ’em, they are bringing Mike Spencer’s predicted evangelical collapse to pass quicker than any of us thought possible.

      I personally could care less about this debate. I only care that I can’t be a broad brush evangelical (i.e., baptist of any flavor, “community church”, “chapel”, etc.) or even join with most of the mainlines where I live with out being YEC. It’s running rampant, as though everyone believes there’s only so much grace and salvation left, and there has to be a test so only the “right people” can get a share in it, and belief in YEC and it’s evil twin inerrancy are the test they’ve chosen to use.

      I think the kingdom is big enough for all of us, that the christian life has enough inherent testing just in the living of it without this flame-throwing, philosophical ball-breaking the churchians have made part of the membership agreement, but I won’t try to convince anyone else of that. I’ll be wandering out here in the wilderness, where all that shrieking sounds like crickets chirping far off in the distance…

      God bless Micheal Spencer

  9. I do miss Michael every time I read one of these classic posts. When I was much younger I held to inerrancy, mostly because that was what some of my then elders found acceptable. But as I matured in faith and the rubber began to meet road of real life and faith in action, it became much less important for me. I also became an English teacher, and pursued a theology degree. Both helped immensely and actually strengthened my faith.

    Now I find one way to think of the scriptures sort of like a good map of the places one needs to go. There’s more than enough information to get us there but the inerrantists often seem intent on scrutinizing the precise accuracy of some topographic feature far off the necessary course and thinking that they and everyone else are bound to lose their way of those measurements aren’t utterly precise. It takes the focus off the main journey.

  10. You can easily see how an inerrant view of scripture plays into the culture wars. One could conclude that if scripture is not inerrant, then we might open the door to gay marriage, women preachers and other things that are not consistent with a first-century Jewish society.

    To me, it is striking how often history repeats itself. From Galileo to slavery to YEC, there will always be fundamentalists sure that an advance in civilization is anti-Biblical. I read someone describe it somewhere as the arc of scripture. Our understanding of the Word surely does change over time, from generation to generation.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      From Galileo to slavery to YEC, there will always be fundamentalists sure that an advance in civilization is anti-Biblical.

      Don’t forget the heat Franklin took for inventing the lightning rod. (Rebellion against God Who Sends the Lightning.)

  11. I think it was Eugene Peterson that wrote: It’s not what it says but what it means and how I can live it.

    The slippery slope argument seems to underestimate the role of Faith. Faith grows and the words become more meaningful.

  12. Stuart B says

    It’s funny that in an essay about inerrancy I found a typo and want to go back and change the original document so it’s not a typo anymore.

    Unless it was divinely inspired to be a typo…

    By the way, are the moderators of iMonk (your guys’ names escape me at the moment) going to update the rest of the site while you use it? Ie, remove the 2009 conference ad, modify the facebook/twitter links, etc?

  13. Stuart B says

    Also, all the links in this post appear to be broken…

  14. This was not the IMonk’s best moment.

    The issues are too numerous to discuss in a blog post comment, but here are the most important works on this subject:

    Paul D. Feinberg’s article “The Meaning of Inerrancy” in the volume entitled “Inerrancy,” edited by Norman Geisler.

    Greg Bahnsen’s article “The Inerrancy of the Autographa” in the same volume.

    Wayne Grudem’s article “Scripture’s Self-Attestation and the Problem of Formulating a Doctrine of Scripture” in the volume entitled “Scripture and Truth,” edited by D. A. Carson.

    John Woodbridge’s book “Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal.” Woodbridge argues persuasively that inerrancy has been the historic doctrine of the church.

    And, of course, B. B. Warfield’s classic, “The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.”

    I am confident that most, if not all, of the IMonk’s objections to inerrancy are answered in these documents.

    Michael raises some good points about the literary qualities of Scripture. But the doctrine of inerrancy does not require us to ignore the Bible’s literary qualities, even if some inerrantists may be prone to do so. Kevin Vanhoozer has proposed some new ways of thinking about inerrancy that incorporate Michael’s concerns without rejecting inerrancy.

    • Kenny Johnson says

      That makes me think that Michael (as well as others) aren’t rejecting the nuanced and maybe “academic” definition of inerrancy as much as they are the common application of inerrancy by those in the Christian community.

      • Kenny Johnson says

        Actually, I take that back. After reading through some more, I realize these don’t really answer the issue Michael (or I) had. Take for example, Luke 2:2 This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

        Historians think Luke is wrong. Inerrantists would say that future evidence will vindicate that Luke was right. Michael would say, “Does it really matter?”

        • I liked your first comment, Kenny, about rejecting the common application rather than the academic definition—I think that’s true. As to your last question, my response is “yes”. Not in the sense that if you have doubts and aren’t willing to say the mantra about “I believe in inerrancy” that somehow you’re a heretic, but it matters in the sense that it says an awful lot about the character of God and how we can relate to Him. Jesus didn’t just *say* “your sins are forgiven”—he miraculously healed to prove that there was authority and power behind what He had to say. If I pray to God and entrust my life to HIm to take care of me and guide me in every situation, I’m trusting that He really does have the hairs of my head numbered and that not a sparrow will fall without Him. If His own written revelation handed down to us which is supposed to contain all we need to know for having a relationship with Him is full of errors, how can I possibly trust that God won’t miss something else in my own life? How can I even trust that the wonderful doctrines of salvation aren’t somehow muddled up in the book we have? God directed His people to test the words of His prophets and if anything was incorrect, they were to be rejected as not of God. If I accept that God gives us a revelation with errors, I would have to say that I can’t really trust God and by His own standards, the book with errors would have to be rejected. That’s the sense in which to me it “matters” whether Quirinius was governor of Syria. I’m sure you’ve thought of all that before, but I can’t say anything better from a personal (rather than just academic) standpoint than that. Peace.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            I guess it depends on how you see God’s inspiration. If Luke thought it was Quirinius, or even if that was the commonly held belief when he wrote it, but it wasn’t true, do I think that the Holy Spirit’s inspiration needs to correct him on that? I don’t. Mostly because that’s not the purpose of his gospel. If the purpose of the gospel was to give a perfect historical account and it didn’t, then I think you could lose trust in God. But if the purpose of the Gospel is reveal the good news about Jesus, then I think the matter is insignificant.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            Here… even from the Chicago statement:

            “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 material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations”

            So, even by the Chicago statement, God apparently allows for grammar or spelling errors, lack of technical precision, hyperbole, rounding numbers, etc.

            Is God less trustworthy because of those things?

            • Try telling some of the YEC folks who base their views on a certain understanding of inerrancy that Genesis 1 might be marked by “the topical arrangement of material” rather than a strict chronological accounting, and you won’t be treated too kindly.

              • one more Mike says

                And then tell them there are factual contradictions in the Bible, but don’t do it unless you’re by and exit and your car’s running in the parking lot!

                • It’s clear that a seemingly fixed divide exists between those who maintain firm answers and those who are satisfied at least with understanding the questions. Finding myself in the latter category, regrettably there are “no-go” areas. I hate keeping the car doors locked and just driving straight through trying not to stop. But whenever by chance I bump into another Believer here locally, usually the first question is “where do you go to church?”. All too often it seems to be the litmus test for my testimony, and what follows is that awful silence. As a personal example, I was told recently that Lutherans are not true Christians. (My spiritual journey has lately taken me to a Lutheran church, but I doubt I’ll ever be given a key to the LCMS executive washroom). It can be exasperating and saddens me in so many instances where it is so difficult to part ways again rejoicing that Jesus is our common Lord without having first passed a doctrinal inquiry.

          • Kenny, please see my comment to Damaris below about pi (in reference to your quote from the Chicago statement). What I think it comes down to is reading the Bible and testing inerrancy by treating the words and language in the same way we treat ordinary language. We don’t get hung up and say someone is telling us an untruth when it’s clear from the context that they’re using a well-known figure of speech or using a level of precision that’s appropriate for the audience. I don’t think it’s skirting the issue or being dishonest to say that there is a difference between outright erroneous facts and simply a lower level of precision (whether in quantitative measurements or the amount of detail presented in a story, etc—-leaving out an unimportant detail for a particular audience is different from providing an actually wrong or contradictory detail). All I’m arguing is that we read the Bible and evaluate its truthfulness by giving it the same level of expressive leeway we do to each other in everyday speech. Thanks for engaging in good conversation.

    • If these recommended books don’t adequately and in a full and foolproof and consistent manner address the problem (IMO) passage I mentioned in my earlier post – see EricW says: July 17, 2010 at 8:30 pm – and/or other contradictory-to-other-passages examples, then I don’t think they address inerrancy where the rubber meets the road – i.e., in the Biblical text itself. Can the specific problems of the text I mention or texts like it be explained by or explained away by a definition/explanation of “inerrancy” without basically saying that “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘inerrancy’ is”? Can’t “inerrancy” simply mean “without error” without then having to qualify or nuance or sidestep or make exceptions for the meaning of the phrase “without error” so that the problem texts can somehow be said to be “inerrant” whereas in another setting – e.g., a court of law – such issues would show that we are indeed dealing with contradictory and/or erroneous data? I am not saying that the Biblical writers should meet the criteria of courtroom witnesses. I’m saying that people should first define the terms “inerrant” and “contradiction” such that the terms can be consistently used about ANY subject, whether the Bible or the Book of Mormon or automobile mechanics or a film adaptation of a book, etc., and THEN see if the Bible does indeed meet the standard and generic meanings of these terms. It seems to me that when it comes to calling the Bible “inerrant,” some proponents of inerrancy qualify what they mean by “inerrant” and “without error” and “contradiction” such that the terms no longer mean what they mean in plain English.

      • That’s a fair point, Eric, but not ultimately persuasive. The difficulty with what you propose is that different kinds of literature will have different standards for inerrancy. For example, what would qualify as an error on an IRS document would be much more precise than what would qualify as an error in a story using round numbers. Moreover, the standards of any given society will differ as well. In our day, direct quotes must be exact in order to be error-free, but the ancient world did not have as high a standard.

        What the Chicago Statement makes explicit is what we intuitively understand about what qualifies as an error in any given document. The statement is helpful in that regard because of our natural tendency to impose the wrong standard on the ancient documents of the Bible instead of reading them in their own historical context.

        This issue really is of massive theological importance because it goes to the very heart of what you believe Scripture is. Is Scripture the very word of God? Does divine inspiration extend to the very words of the Bible? If it is God’s Word, then it cannot be false, for God cannot lie. If it contains errors, then it cannot be the Word of God, at least not in the historic sense that the church has used that phrase to refer to Scripture. It may be a vehicle for the word of God (as in Barthianism), but I don’t think that is the view that IMonk adhered to. Nevertheless, I have to wonder what doctrine of Scripture you are left with once you deny inerrancy.

        The reason I believe in inerrancy is because Scripture claims inerrancy for itself. Of course, Scripture does not use the word “inerrancy,” but the concept is all over the place. Matthew 5:17-20 is probably the strongest passage in this regard (from the lips of Jesus himself). But there are numerous other statements as well. This is where Grudem’s article (that I referenced above) is so important. If we are not going to believe what Scripture says about itself, then in what sense do we really trust the Bible at all?

        • Fine. Just don’t call it “inerrancy.”

          • Or, rather, call it “inerrancy” if you want to, but don’t argue or insist that Evangelicals must swear their fealty to or uphold or believe in “the inerrancy of The Bible” when there are valid reasons to challenge inerrantists’ use of the term “inerrancy” and their (re)definition of the term. And I think that was part of Michael Spencer’s beef with the term and its use as a badge of loyalty.


          • Historically, the term “inerrancy” is a rather recent phenomenon. And I’m not so much concerned about the term as I am about the concept it communicates. But here’s the irony: the reason the term “inerrancy” has become the buzzword that it has is because those who disagree with the concept have forced conservatives to adopt the term. “Infallibility” used to be sufficient to communicate the same idea, but then moderates started using that term to refer to something less than what the term meant historically. So far, the term “inerrancy” has been the one that has held the communicative power for the concept that conservatives have wanted to preserve. Maybe some moderates are so repulsed by the term because they haven’t figured out a way to hijack it for themselves yet. 😉

            Regarding your other comment about insisting on evangelical adherence to inerrancy, I would simply repeat what I said earlier: this issue really is of massive theological importance. If someone denies inerrancy, then I want to know exactly why, and I also want to know what doctrine of Scripture that person confesses, with as precise an understanding of that person’s regard for biblical authority as possible. For example, I had a professor in college who did not like the use of the term “inerrancy,” but when he spelled out his view of the Bible, he communicated a doctrine of Scripture that was in accord with the concept of inerrancy. If that is what Michael is doing here, then that is fine with me, except for the fact that he is going about it in a terribly and unnecessarily divisive way. He is ranting about nothing more than semantics.

            But if Michael is (was) trying to communicate a different doctrine of Scripture altogether, then that is something that makes me cautious. Any deviation from the affirmation of sola scriptura (which implies the concept of inerrancy) puts the individual in a position to judge what he or she will accept and reject from the Bible. And if that is the way one does theology, then the Bible is not really the authority. The individual is.

          • Any deviation from the affirmation of sola scriptura (which implies the concept of inerrancy) puts the individual in a position to judge what he or she will accept and reject from the Bible. And if that is the way one does theology, then the Bible is not really the authority. The individual is.

            “Sola Scriptura” implies a definition of “Scriptura,” I would assume. How is a person to decide between the Masoretic Text vs. the Septuagint (or the assumed vorlage behind the Septuagint) for their Old Testament or what to include or exclude from the books of the so-called Apocrypha when they define their inerrant “Bible”? Where does the “Scriptura” tell them what books are “Scriptura”? If the Bible does not and cannot tell them what “the Bible” is, then what authority makes that determination, or what authority do they use to make that determination for themselves, and to what extent does their individual opinion and judgment have a say-so or the say-so in this, including their individual opinion and choice to belong to a particular denomination or confession that declares for them what “the Bible” is?

            Yeah, I’m a nit-picker. I see a thread sticking out on a sweater, and I start pulling it….

          • What you are asking is the question of canon. The canon is given by divine authority, but it was recognized by the consensus of the church in its early centuries. The church did not confer authority on the Bible, but it did give formal recognition to the authority inherent in the Bible.

            Sola scriptura does not include the Apocrypha because neither Jesus nor the apostles recognized the apocrypha as canonical Scripture (nor, for that matter, did the church until Trent).

          • “Text” and “Canon” and “Bible” and “Scripture” are inseparable. You can’t define or explain one without defining or explaining the other. And the fact that different Christian communions, all of which trace themselves back to the church in its early centuries, have differing canons or collections of books which are used in the worship and prayer life of the church, and sometimes differing texts (e.g., Septuagint versus Hebrew) as well, suggests that the lines of the canon “given by divine authority” were not sharply delineated for all Christians.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Sola Scriptura” implies a definition of “Scriptura,” I would assume. — EricW

            In my experience, in practice “Sola Scriptura” means “Ees Party Line, Comrades! It Is Written! It Is Written! It Is Written! Quote! Quote! Quote! Quote! Quote!”

    • I disagree. I think by having to write and/or read volumes and volumes defending and defining the concept of Inerrancy makes Michael Spencer’s point for him very well.

      If Inerrancy was a useful way to describe Scripture, (per the implications and connotations that come with the use of such a word in normal English parlance) then it would be very simple and easy to define (meaning, without lots and lots of qualifications for this or that). The existing concept of Biblical Inerrancy bites off more than it can chew, methinks.

      In other words, it’s not that what the scholars are saying is necessarily incorrect (though some of it may be–as someone pointed out, Michael would say, why does it matter?), it’s that after having gone though all the defenses and explanations of ambiguous Bible passages and apparent contradictions, clarifications for literary device, etc, the word “Inerrant” is not the sort of word that would normally come to mind.

      I think using the word lends itself to a confusing and misleading application of Scripture, having a high likelihood of missing Jesus altogether.

      • it’s that after having gone though all the defenses and explanations of ambiguous Bible passages and apparent contradictions, clarifications for literary device, etc, the word “Inerrant” is not the sort of word that would normally come to mind.

        Exactly. For instance, Evangelicals will criticise the Book of Mormon for being “in error” when it states that Jesus will be born at Jerusalem: “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” (Alma 7:10).

        And Mormon attempts to defend or explain away this “apparent” error read at times like some Evangelical inerrantist apologetics:

        If you’re going to apply qualified and elastic and exceptions-allowed definitions of “inerrancy” when it comes to the Bible, don’t you have to do the same when it comes to the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon? Are you not in fact weakening the meaning of the term “inerrant” when you have to continue to qualifiy it?

  15. I miss Michael greatly, but have always disagreed with him on the subject.

    If the scriptures are not inerrant, then where do they err? If they do err in various and sundry details, then how are they trustworthy? Can we even be sure on which details and subjects they err? How much error does it take to invalidate all or part of the Scriptures?

    Much of the defense of Michael’s position takes the form of removing ‘religious truth’ from the arena wherein we judge the truthfulness of things in our everyday lives, and placing it in what Francis Schaeffer called an ‘upper story.’ ( Read Schaeffer’s booklet called ‘Escape from Reason.’ )

    Michael glosses over some really important stuff in this essay and I think this is a case where he got it wrong, although I understand his frustration at such a complicated and subtle doctrine being used as a sledge hammer by some of our less careful brothers and sisters.

    • Patrick — I’m not the one to speak authoritatively here, but I understand for example that the dimensions of the “sea” in the temple, which is described as round, do not measure out as pi. Am I to reject the words of salvation because pi hadn’t yet been discovered? I think this sort of thing is what Michael means when he says that the scriptures are true but not perfect. Those who hold that they are perfect have a lot of work to do convincing themselves that the writer of the Torah was a perfect mathematician. Believers in inerrant perfection worry about the slippery slope, that if you concede that anything in the Bible is questionable you have to lose the whole lot. But frankly, having to maintain the idea of “perfect” given those types of glitches would shake my faith a lot more than accepting that the Bible is the truth about God’s relationship with man, however that truth is expressed.

      • Kenny Johnson says

        Agreed. I probably can’t articulate my views very well, but this is the problem I have. I don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to defend rabbits chewing cud or other apparent issues. Neither do I want to lose sleep over my faith because of such issues.

        To answer Patrick… If Matthew made a geographical mistake in his gospel, does that mean his total witness is now unreliable? If I was telling you a story about getting into a car accident, explaining in detail how it happen and I told you the driver of the car that hit me had a blue shirt on — but later it was determined it was red, does that mean my whole testimony is unreliable? Did Jesus not die for sins or the resurrection not happen because someone could have made a small error in their testimony? Does it mean none of it was inspired by the Holy Spirit?

      • Damaris, that example with pi is an interesting one that I can’t understand why there would be an issue about this. If opponents of inerrancy are expecting not just that the Bible is true but has to be true with infinite precision, then I myself would agree that it’s not inerrant. To me, the Bible shouldn’t be read or inerrancy tested by applying a higher standard of precision to its writings than we do in ordinary writing or speech. If I tell someone a town is 50 miles away and based on GPS measurements between certain points it turns out to be 49.776521 miles, was I lying to that person? No, I just didn’t state things with an unnecessary level of precision. If I had told the person the town didn’t exist, that would be an error, but because I state the difference with a level of precision that is enough to give the person a very clear understanding of the distance and time involved, I’m not stating something untrue. Nor is the BIble untrue if it doesn’t state a number with enough precision to satisfy a GPS programmer—it’s ordinary language with an ordinary level of precision. Again, if someone rejects inerrancy because they think pi should be spelled out with infinite precision in the BIble (and it isn’t), then I’m not an inerrantist either! But no-one who really believes in inerrancy thinks that’s what it means. You’ve had some good writings, Damaris, which I’ve appreciated.

        • I agree with you, JeffB, that if inerrancy means an absurdly detailed level of accuracy it’s untenable. My impression has been that the absurd detail was what Michael was objecting to; that’s what he’s calling inerrancy. I have no problem with the Bible not being accurate about pi. There are people, however, who worry that admitting inaccuracies in directions given by God and quoted by a Spirit-filled scribe would undermine the whole Bible. I really am not up on the word inerrancy or the different camps staked out around it. I’m just judging from what I’ve read here.

          Interestingly, my computer spellcheck doesn’t accept “inerrancy.” Actually, it doesn’t accept “spellcheck,” either. Oh, no, it must be flawed! Either I can’t trust my computer or there is no such thing as spellcheck or inerrancy! (Scream fading into distance.)

        • This would seem to render no need for a doctrine of inerrancy then….What exactly are people using it for? You don’t need inerrancy to affirm the theology in Romans. I think my problem with it is that it seems like a dismissal of the humanity of Scripture, or can easily be used that way. Which ultimately leads to obscuring the humanity of Christ. Which I believe is exactly what happens in so-called Bible-believing conservative churches. On the other hand, there’s no real benefit, it seems to me, to affirming inerrancy if it doesn’t mean what you’re describing. Why not just say it’s “true?”

          • Responding to your statement about the “humanity” involved in Scripture, I have a couple things to offer.

            Calvin said (commentary on 2 Timothy): “…we owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God; because it has proceeded from him alone, and has nothing belonging to man mixed with it.”

            This is inerrancy in a nutshell: Even if men are used as intermediaries to actually record the words, every word of Scripture has its ultimate origin in God and is therefore free from error (since God cannot err). In a sense, you’re right in that the whole point is simply to say it’s all true, without reservation or limitation in any way.

            And here’s a quote from Aquinas (discussing divine revelation as opposed to human reason) who in turn is quoting Augustine (ST, Q.1, Art.8): “…sacred doctrine…properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof…Hence Augustine says (Epist. ad Hieron. xix. 1): Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem anything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.”

            Inerrancy has been around from the beginning of the church and ultimately just comes down to saying that the Bible originates with God and is therefore completely true—it’s really no more complicated than that.

          • That’s my thinking. Let me say, “The Bible is true.” Then let people ask me, “What do you mean by that?” Then I can get into more nitty-gritty explanation.

            Why do we need “inerrancy”? If we start with inerrency, too many wrong and detailed assumptions are made in the mind of the hearer. If we start with “the Bible is “true”, that gives more room for healthy discussion and plenty of leeway.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Patrick — I’m not the one to speak authoritatively here, but I understand for example that the dimensions of the “sea” in the temple, which is described as round, do not measure out as pi. Am I to reject the words of salvation because pi hadn’t yet been discovered?

        Or that whoever was writing it down rounded off the measurement?

        Those who hold that they are perfect have a lot of work to do convincing themselves that the writer of the Torah was a perfect mathematician. Believers in inerrant perfection worry about the slippery slope, that if you concede that anything in the Bible is questionable you have to lose the whole lot.

        Type example: Answers in Genesis and a lot of the YEC crowd.

        About 1700 years ago, St Augustine wrote about the drawbacks of this approach.

  16. There are several degrees of separation from the autographs which are troubling from such a hard and fast perspective. It seems to me that those who rely on Sola Scriptura as the basis for their infallibility argument must come to some interesting conclusions concerning extra-Biblical sources. I’m referring to Paul’s example of Jannes and Jambres, and other examples as found in Jude, but not otherwise mentioned elsewhere. Does this mean these traditions are also free from all error?

    On another note, what does one do about the Early Church Fathers and Councils which established our Canon. (Emphasis on “our”). Does this mean these traditions are also free from all error?

    And of course, translations. KJV1611, I am definitely not going there.

  17. Christiane says

    I love the Book of Genesis.
    I don’t believe in Ken Ham.
    I don’t believe in ‘young earth’.
    I do believe that God is the Creator of all things visible and not visible.
    And that He did it ‘His Way’, and He left in nature clues as to how He did it.

    In the Bible, He tells us WHY He did it.

  18. These conversations usually make my head implode.

    A few drive-by comments:

    1. I sat in on a seminar once and heard a guy say that by ‘inerrancy’ they meant that ‘no major doctrine of the Bible is compromised by any errors.’ He went on to say we know where the errors are. These guys do a seminar called The Gospel According to Peanuts. My notes are somewhere.

    2. I’m not convinced that allowing for literary license forces one to forfeit ‘inerrancy.’ Most of you are aware that if I were to say, “I’m a million miles from Singapore,” I just mean I live really far away, not that I actually live a million miles away. Most people are aware that if you want to measure time properly in Scripture, you need to use a lunar calendar and start at sundown for it to all come out right. Most people are aware that, even though my sister and I are four years apart, we might be five grade levels apart depending on how our birthdays fall. Just saying.

    3. I am not touching the age of the earth discussion.

    4. The practices of a culture matter. Some places had a habit of conveniently leaving out information that put them in a negative light.

    5. As far as timeline goes, people weren’t always the timeline nazis we are, and many dates are speculative.

    6. Um, it’s better I don’t get started on the Mormons. And possibly not Islam either.

    7. Be careful lumping all ‘inerrants’ in as crazies. Personally, for me it’s about the same as trying to prove evolution, make some crazy, bend-over-backwards evolution argument, or argue against the existence of God. To be frank, it’s absurd, in my head, the amount of effort needed to prove those things; it’s a bit conspiratorial to think the Catholic Church decided to keep what they liked and tossed the rest out of the canon; and it’s a bit off-beat for me to think that God can inspire Scripture but not inspire the men who put together the canon or inspire scribes, translators, and printers. I’m just sayin’. Maybe it’s me.

    8. As mean as it sounds, while I’m all about asking genuine questions and such, at some point, enough nit-picking and I’m just going to think you’re being contentious. Regardless of the subject.

    9. I haven’t read the link with the document on inerrancy, but I’ll agree with you that any doctrine that requires (a) a Ph. D. to comprehend and/or (b) cannot be condensed to, at least, a brief summary (because even the Trinity doctrine meets that criteria) should be looked upon with serious scrutiny.

  19. in*ER*rant: adj. free from error; infallible

    Not “sorta – kinda – mostly – when understood a certain way – with qualifications and allowances for cultural understandings” without error.

    inerrant means “free from error,” i.e., without error.

    If the Bible has a single error, then “The Bible” is not inerrant. It may be something else – i.e., nearly inerrant, inerrant with respect to certain things, etc., – but the word “inerrant” can not and should not be applied to it in accordance with the dictionary meaning of “inerrant.”

    • ahumanoid says

      “If the Bible has a single error, then ‘The Bible’ is not inerrant. . . .the word ‘inerrant’ can not and should not be applied to it in accordance with the dictionary meaning of ‘inerrant.'”

      I agree completely. I don’t understand how an individual could accept the definition given above and then go on to claim that the Bible is inerrant (unless he/she had no knowledge of the factual contradictions in the Bible).

  20. I think the modern Christian view of Biblical inerrancy has been greatly influenced by the inventions of audial and visual recording devices. It’s as if we’ve come to view history as a really long documentary film, which has been made using billions of hidden cameras and microphones, observing and recording every single person who ever lived 24/7 from every possible angle — and that God (the director, producer, writer, and editor of this film) is storing all of this footage in a vast storage facility in heaven — and that if we could access the footage from Biblical times, we would see perfect movie versions of Biblical stories and accounts that line up in every way and detail with the written text, complete with some really cool visual effects. The characters would only do and say what the Bible says they did and said in exactly the way and in exactly the same chronological order that the Bible says they did and said it. It’s as if we view the Bible as the written transcript of the most important parts of this epic historical documentary God is making — though this transcript also includes a lot of play-by-play commentary from the Director to make sure we understand what all the hard facts mean.
    Now, I’m not saying that I don’t think that Biblical accounts never intersect with the factual data stream of history (whatever that really means). I’m just saying that strict scientific factualism simply wasn’t something that the ancient writers of scripture were all that concerned with. And I don’t think the One who inspired their writings is all that hung up over it either. I think His number one priority was to reveal Himself, His nature, and His passionate love for humankind in a variety of ways and through a variety of literary mediums — so that a variety of people could understand and come to know Him.
    In my opinion, the best written works are those in which the author succeeds in getting his point across in a highly creative way. Considering that God gave us scripture using the talents, skills, thoughts, experiences, and imaginatons of thousands of fallable human beings over the course of hundreds of years, I’d have to say it’s a work of incomparable literary genius.

  21. Jim Park says

    …all things considered, I think I’ll just wait for the movie. :>)

  22. Quixotequest says

    Aaron said, “And if that is the way one does theology, then the Bible is not really the authority. The individual is.”

    The Bible is NOT the authority. God is. And He has endowed the Bible with trustworthiness by which He does his own work to draw and save those who will have Him as Lord.

    I think all the harping on about inerrancy in modern Evangelical dialogue is what puts authority in a more risky, wavering, arbitrary realm of the individual because we qualify the term so much to deal with the reality of a very human collection of documents that, like Michael, I find it meaningless and unnecessarily divisive litmus. Trustworthy christo-centrism is a much more important banner about which to rally. It keeps our focus on the Bible as a human-infused means by which God-in-Christ has announced and performs His authoritative work to redeem His creation — that includes humanity.

    N.T. Wright, I think, wrote persuasively on this subject with his essay “How Can The Bible Be Authoritative”:

  23. “I’m an English teacher, you people get an F.”

    I’ve thought this exact thing! Anyone who has more than an “owner’s manual” approach to a text – any text, say a novel – understands that there are things like literary device. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” True statement? how can it be, it’s self-contradictory?

    You have to truly check your brain at the door to ignore the literary value of Scripture, and the artistry of its writers, so that you can approach the Bible like an FAQ or instructions for assembling a gas grill. And when it happens, lots of people start getting spiritual anemia.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And even “owners manuals” can become literary as well as instructional.

      Remember that Seventies ground-level owners/repair manual for Volkswagens? The one sprinkled with wry counterculture humor and underground-cartoon illustrations? “Care and Mainetnance of your Volkswagen for the Compleat Idiot”?

  24. What I know about inerrancy is only what I’ve heard from preachers and friends. If it is a wrong understanding then perhaps there is something wrong in the way inerrancy is taught at the church level.

    I hear a carved-in-stone understanding of each verse, which can never mean anything ‘other’ or even anything ‘more’.

    I got into the most astonishing argument with a friend, the one whom I have decided never to discuss scripture with again. I said I believed all Jesus teachings were Kingdom teachings, even healings and miracles.

    With righteous indignation she almost screamed at me, “You don’t believe Jesus healed?”

    I assured her that I DO believe Jesus healed and performed miracles. When He opened a deaf man’s ears He was ALSO saying, “The Kingdom is like this.” When He said “rise and walk” this was a healing AND a kingdom teaching IMO.

    From that discussion I realized that as much as inerrants fear the slippery slope of other understandings, they also fear a “more” understanding. It must be a carved-in-stone understanding that is exactly and precisely what they are taught at church.

    • I think odd assumptions are sometimes made about textual meanings when some people, usually very well-intensioned laypeople, assume that for a verse to have meaning and authority, it must have a single, very common sense meaning. They want to look at a verse, see a specific point or teaching, draw the solid conclusion from it, and then own it. It’s an assumption about reading texts, and maybe also a fear of introducing ambiguity. I used to struggle with this problem as a young evangelical, because I thought it was just so important to get everything right — and there before me was a pile of stories. It drove me crazy. I kept asking, Why didn’t we just get a big, well-organized essay with all the answers. Predictably, I thought the Pauline epistles were great, and the gospels made me loose sleep.

      Since that time, I’ve begun really to love the more ancient reading of Scripture — that pieces of Scripture have plain meaning, reveal mysteries (in the Catholic sense of ‘the mystery of the incarnation,’ etc.), and in general have a stacking and complicated set of meanings on which one can ruminate and reflect and meditate. Meanings can ‘stack,’ they don’t have to cancel each other out.

  25. jacqsprat44 says

    If the bible is inerrant then how do we explain matthew misquoting so much scripture…he quotes jeremiah when the prophecies comes from ezekiel!! He stuufs up heaps of prophecies!! Did got not know his own scriptures????

    • jacqsprat44 says

      sorry should read “did GOD not know his own scriptures” (man hands)

    • The original autographs don’t have these mistakes. 😕

      • How do we know this?

        Error in the original and error in transcription both seem possible, from a historian’s standpoint. One is left speculating which is more likely: that the original author got confused, and that those who followed him did not notice the mistake and correct it when copying? That some subsequent believers made an error in copying the text? That nobody really thought getting the citation exactly right was the point?

        • Danielle:

          EricW: The original autographs don’t have these mistakes

          Danielle: How do we know this?

          I was being sarcastic. 🙂

    • Re: Matthew’s citations, there are some arguments, I believe, that explain the Jewish methods of referring to Scriptures that don’t demand or expect exact precision.

  26. gracefaithjesus says

    It is certainly true that ALL of the first Christians came to faith in Christ without ANY Christian scriptures; therefore, it is not necessary for a person to believe the NT or OT cannon be completely accurate or authoritative (or even be aware of a single word of Scripture) for them to have a saving knowledge of Jesus. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone (Ephesians 2:8).

    We know this truth from Scripture. As Christians, we believe that God has revealed Himself (spoken) through the Scriptures (Nicene Creed). Christian doctrine is rooted entirely in Scripture. Mr. Spencer must, therefore, assume Scripture to be authoritative and inerrant in order to make his point. Or does he claim to have special revelation beyond what is recorded in Scripture?

    While he has asserted that denying the inerrancy of Scripture does not in anyway diminish the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, he did not establish any criterion to ascertain whether or not, in his view, a particular passage (or any passage) of scripture is accurate. Therefore one could legitimately use his view to claim that passages describing Jesus’ resurrection are erroneous.

    It is also true that the Bible was not written as a science textbook or chronicle of history (except for maybe the Chronicles!); however, when the Bible does touch on science or history, it has been and will always be completely accurate in its original, inspired form. That is not to say that honest students of scripture will not stumble on passages that give them difficulty; however, I have found that the vast majority of these result from the differences in cultural expectations placed on historical reporting- with our modern culture obsessively focused on detailed coverage of the facts, while Bible writers often focused on only what was relevant to the message God had given them to write, such as the supposed contradictions between the synoptic gospels. I would be more than willing to discuss any issues any of you may have with a particular passage of Scripture. If I do not know an answer, I can direct you to several other relevant resources, as I believe all objections have already been reasonably addressed by scholars more capable than I am.

    For these reasons, and others omitted in an effort to be concise, I believe Mr. Spencer’s statement that Scripture is errant to be self refuting, false, and unnecessarily damaging to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    As Christians we must be continually aware of Satan’s desire to draw us away from the Truth. Let us not forget that his first lie recorded in the Bible is “did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1).

    The following is an excerpt of “God’s Word” by Martin Luther, a good resource for those interested in his view of Scripture.

    “A man must be able to affirm, I know for certain, that what I teach is the only Word of the high Majesty of God in heaven, his final conclusion and everlasting, unchangeable truth, and whatsoever concurs and agrees not with this doctrine, is altogether false, and spun by the devil. I have before me God’s Word which cannot fail, nor can the gates of hell prevail against it; thereby will I remain, though the whole world be against me. And withal, I have this comfort, that God says: I will give thee people and hearers that shall receive it; cast thy care upon me; I will defend thee, only remain thou stout and steadfast by my Word.” – Martin Luther

    Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen!

    • gracefaithjesus says:

      …while Bible writers often focused on only what was relevant to the message God had given them to write, such as the supposed contradictions between the synoptic gospels. I would be more than willing to discuss any issues any of you may have with a particular passage of Scripture.


      I’ve already given an example here of real contradictions – not “supposed contradictions” – between the Synoptics, assuming they were written to tell what really happened and who really said and did what, etc. No one has so far been able or willing to answer my questions, but you have now said that you would discuss this problem. So please do.

      As I wrote above July 17, 2010 at 8:30 pm:

      As a for instance, tell me what happened and in what order and who said and did what to whom and when in the accounts by Matthew and Mark of the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, and the cursing and withering of the fig tree? Matthew 21 and Mark 11. If they are both historical accounts of what happened, then there are some serious problems of discordance between them. And if they are not intended to be read or heard and understood as actual/factual accounts of what happened, then what are they, and how does such a non-historical understanding of these Scriptures comport with the common Evangelical understanding and meaning of “inerrancy”?

      Your first step is to show how both Matthew’s and Mark’s versions of these events can both be correct at the same time for each and every one of the several points where they diverge from or disagree with each other.

      • gracefaithjesus says


        I am assuming that you are primarily concerned with the rate over time in which the fig tree withered- did it occur immediately, or require a day?

        I hope you have appreciated my immediate response 😉

        • gracefaithjesus:

          I’m not “primarily concerned” about the fig tree, or any other one thing in those chapters.

          I’m asking about EACH and EVERY detail and EACH and EVERY word and EACH and EVERY point at which Mattew and Mark diverge from each other in these chapters regarding who said and did what to whom or to what, and when something happened in relation to other events.

          If these are to be regarded as true and correct and accurate factual accounts of what was said and how, and what transpired and how/when, then I want to see someone reconcile Matthew and Mark here. And if they can’t be reconciled at one or several points, I want to know which one is correct at each point at which they can’t be reconciled. And if they are NOT to be regarded as true, correct, accurate, factual, etc., accounts of what was said and done, and when and how and to/by whom, then how are we to regard/treat/preach them? “This is what Matthew says Jesus did….”? “This is Matthew’s version of such-and-such….”? “According to Mark, Jesus said….”? Because we cannot assuredly say, “Jesus said….” or “Jesus did….” when we preach these chapters if we find that we have conflicting information that can’t be reconciled/explained.

          I think I said all the above better and more succinctly and completely in my earlier post that I quoted, but hopefully between the two you’ll understand what I’m asking. I.e., EVERYTHING about these two chapters, not just the fig tree or when it withered.

          • gracefaithjesus:

            The relation of my question to the issue of “inerrancy” is:

            Where these two accounts of the same events can’t be reconciled with each other, then either one of them is correct and the other is incorrect, or they are both incorrect – which means that one or both of them is in error (i.e., not “inerrant”) at one or more points. This to me impacts the “inerrancy” issue if we are going to treat the Gospels as accounts of what Jesus, et al, actually said and did, to what/whom they said and did it, when, etc.

            It’s not a matter how people 2,000 years ago regarded narrative and/or whether the readers of those days expected factual accuracy as we define “facts.” We receive and study and portray and preach the Gospels as telling us the truth about what Jesus said and did. Luke indicates in his introductory words that this was his purpose in writing his Gospel.

            (Question: Is Luke in his intro suggesting that Matthew and Mark may have misstated or misrepresented some things – i.e., Matthew and/or Mark weren’t “inerrant” in everything – which is why he is writing to Theophilus so Theophilus may know “the exact truth about the things” (NASB) he has been taught?)

            While John says he wrote what he did so that the reader might believe in Jesus (John 20:30-31), the Gospel also states that John is telling the truth (John 21:24).

            So when two or more accounts conflict in a statement or detail or details such that not all of them can be correct (“inerrant”), and at least one must by default be wrong vis-a-vis the other one(s), what does that say about “inerrancy” and our attempts to impose the term “inerrancy” on the Scriptures?