Pre-Scientific Worldview “Problem” and Inerrancy

Posted By on June 20, 2008

Taking off on Chet’s lengthy response to my “Definitions of Inerrancy” post:

The first thing I’d like to pursue is Chet’s criticism of the word “affirm” — I also think it’s a weasel-word. You quote 1 Cor. 11:14, which says, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?” Here Paul makes a specific statement about nature–it’s clearly a comment on the natural world and a truth that Paul believes the natural world communicates or points to. Having read the article in the readings list, it is quite clear that Paul’s statement is rooted in an absolutely non-scientific worldview. His statement is scientifically false. I’d say he’s clearly “affirming” something about nature here and then extrapolating to his more significant point. So, I think we need to dump this “affirming” language as some sort of safeguard (read: weasel-word) for defending inerrancy. Here’s what I’d like your (and others’) thoughts on:

1. Paul is clearly in error in terms of his understanding of nature on this point (he’s a pre-scientific man). Does that matter? Although Paul believed this, is he putting forth this belief as something his readers must believe? that is, while his contemporary readers no doubt believed what he believed, should be view this belief as something that we must believe? Is this the way this statement is cast? Put another way, when I read this passage, is Paul’s belief about hair what I am supposed to embrace as truth from this passage? I don’t think so, and I think you’d agree. But I also think it would be silly to say Paul isn’t “affirming” the particular erroneous belief about hair. He believes it.

2. Should we give Paul a pass? I’d say, of course — how is he supposed to know anything else? The science of his day was primitive by our standards.

3. What ARE we supposed to embrace from the passage? What is Paul teaching? I don’t think he’s teaching us about biology or sexual reproduction–though he presupposes some beliefs about those things that are erroneous when making his argument. If he’d said “this is what God wants you to believe about how we get babies,” the inerrancy issue would be a dead one-inerrancy would be untenable. But is it coherent to say that a speaker or writer’s conclusion or position cannot be correct if his arguments are not always correct? Obviously, the answer to this is no. People are right about X all the time when their reasons for thinking they are right are bogus. We all know that. But in this passage of Scripture this leaves us with a problem: How are we to correctly discern WHAT Paul’s point is (the thing that can still be correct) if the argument he’s using is wrong? That’s a problem, but I think it’s not an issue of inerrancy so much (as stated) as it is an issue of interpretation.

I say all the above to say this: perhaps in our understanding and articulation of inerrancy we should make it clear that taking the Bible on its own terms means not expecting more from the culture that produced it than is fair. I don’t think it’s fair for us to judge Scripture by standards foreign to the people who produced it. God chose to come to people of a particular culture, a particular region of the world, at a particular time. He used what he had at his disposal once he made that decision-some people who didn’t know squat about a whole host of things (and we’d have to say that about ourselves were we the people God chose to communicate through). God wasn’t trying to teach us science in the Bible precisely because he wasn’t teaching its authors science. They wouldn’t have understood it, and even if correct science was dictated to them, their readers wouldn’t have understood it. That would sort of defeat the purpose of dispensing revelation, wouldn’t it? (“I’m going down there and telling them lots of things they can’t grasp-and then hold them accountable for it” Huh?). To use the weasel-word, I’d say the Bible specifically does NOT “affirm” anything about science because God didn’t have anyone at his disposal sufficient to the task. So, I don’t care if Paul is wrong in his science; God didn’t care either.

But while Paul’s science shouldn’t be embraced by us as truth, can’t we still embrace what he says in this passage outside of science? I don’t think the hermeneutical gap in this instance (1 Cor 11) is that wide, either. I think we can get a pretty good idea of what Paul meant, however odd or wrong his reasoning process was. I’d say we CAN discern the truth item God wanted him to communicate while allowing Paul (even directing Paul) to make that point on the basis of his worldview’s bad science. The original audience wouldn’t have been able to understand it any other way. Our task is to recover his worldview and THEN judge the ends to which he’s arguing, not necessarily the means.

So, I just don’t think the pre-scientific worldview issue forces me to not hold to inerrancy. It DOES force me to not word what I believe the way the earlier definitions are worded (at least with respect to the “affirm” wording). I’d like to do better.

Not sure this helps (me or anyone else).

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49 Responses to “Pre-Scientific Worldview “Problem” and Inerrancy”

  1. Cognus says:

    I like the wiggle-room Enns definition provided/provides.
    I am not a manuscript scholar and the wrangling over inerrancy [in the past] seemed to be purely religio-political to me. Isn’t this more the realm of philosophy than christian theology?

    So many questions, simple ones to my way of thinking, that don’t have crystal-clear answers in hopes of forming a basis for discussion. Such as:
    – When we speak of a particular ‘book’ or letter being ‘written prior to the 2nd Temple period’ – do we mean that:
    A. the original author formed the complete work by that time
    B. the original author dictated to a scribe or secretary by that time, or
    C. the original author was deemed to be the scribe, gathering and editing thoughts from the originators, in which case, what is it that is inerrant?….. or,
    D. the finished work in writing first appears to have been circulated by that time – seen & read by others than the originators? And is it THAT work -that “first publication” work [which we have no physical portion of] that is under scrutiny as “errant or in-errant….by God!”

    I am really not trying to be press-button-difficult here I’m trying to get a foundation for what it is that is being scrutinized!

    It can get worse…. are we claiming as “inerrant” the peculiar copies of biblical work that were seen and handled by the Canonizers? Or worse yet – are we claiming as “inerrant” the freshly-approved versions/copies/manuscripts that some Father deemed to be reliable/canonical? [understanding that canonization was a process rather than an event…]

    I have asked these questions and others of well-meaning seminary professors and got the answer I expected….. “Yes”. ….. speaking of weasels….

  2. Pilgrim says:

    “I say all the above to say this: perhaps in our understanding and articulation of inerrancy we should make it clear that taking the Bible on its own terms means not expecting more from the culture that produced it than is fair. I don’t think it’s fair for us to judge Scripture by standards foreign to the people who produced it. God chose to come to people of a particular culture, a particular region of the world, at a particular time. He used what he had at his disposal once he made that decision-some people who didn’t know squat about a whole host of things (and we’d have to say that about ourselves were we the people God chose to communicate through).”

    That leads me to speculate the extent to which the worldview of the Biblical authors affects the accuracy and understanding of the text. In the case of scientific advances I wonder whether Paul’s erroneous understanding of sexual physiology may also translate to other texts and authors. One example might be the common reference to demon possession as an explanation of abnormal behavior. Advances in neuro-physiology now link many such abnormalities with brain chemistry deficits or “brain wiring” differences. How are we to interpret such passages? Secondly, and more important to me, is how do we treat the sayings of Jesus with respect to science or other cultural worldview beliefs? Since Jesus is believed to be God as well as man we should necessarily not limit his ability to understand modern scientific advancements. If we allow such an assumption an investigation of how or if Jesus, in the Gospels, bypasses the current understanding for eternal truth might be an interesting area of study. One reason Jesus may be considered an artifact is this tendency to locate Him in a pre-modern science age. Can Jesus stand up to facts?

    It is an interesting argument you present.

  3. Matt... says:

    Paul partly covers this a few chapters earlier in 1 Cor 8 where he talks about the eating of food sacrificed to idols. He suggests that the defilement is in the state of mind, not as a physical state of the food. To paraphrase, it’s not a sin for YOU because you know “it ain’t no thang” but it is for THEM because of their state of mind and beliefs. I think the point Paul is trying to drive home is that the “mens rea” is the important bit. This point is almost belaboured throughout the new testament. Galatians 2:16 probably phrases it the best.

    That leads me to believe we’re explicitly given quite a bit of flexibility in interpreting the LAW and permitted (even expected) to revise based on more correct understandings that influence our state of mind on a particular topic. So I think 1 Cor 11 is a bit of a red herring with respect to inerrancy.

    I really don’t know where that leaves me when it comes to historicity of stated events. Convenience wants me to slot the firmament in with “concepts subject to revision based on new data” but then again it’s a statement of fact, not law, so I leave open the possibility that there is truth to it but not the way we/they understood the concept. There are many other stories (such as the deluge) that but I feel have to be taken as fact based on other citations by Jesus and others (Matthew 24:37 for instance). So, like you, I’m not sure if this helps.

    The article on first century beliefs about women’s hair certainly raises an eyebrow with respect to Luke 7:38. Sorry, off-topic I know, but I couldn’t resist. :)

  4. Chet Silvermonte says:

    I can get behind most of that. (Down with ‘affirm’!) But the interpretation is tricky. I notice that even though you ‘don’t think the hermeneutical gap in this instance is that wide’ you don’t actually put any interpretation forth. (Yeah, I’m calling you out!) The difficulty posed by cultural relativity is that at some level the church should be influencing culture, not culture influencing the church. (If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it?)

    So do we decide that Paul’s reasoning is whack, but his instruction (cover those heads, ladies) is spot on? Or do we rather interpret the instruction itself through the cultural lens and realize that within the world of people who all believed the same bad (pre-)science as Paul, women running around with uncovered heads were seen as scantily clad. And thus the real instruction is perhaps simply not to dress like skanks. No fishnet and Spandex in the sanctuary, please! And while I totally get behind that for lots of reasons (not the least because it is often the WRONG women wearing the Spandex), what does it say about us as a church if we let society tell us how to dress? Should missionaries not bother trying to get those natives to cover up (for angels’ sakes!)? Seeker-friendly churches might get more exciting, but is there a danger to letting (fallen, increasingly permissive) culture be the guide here?

    Either way, what is interesting about this discussion is that the whole issue of inerrancy is usually bandied about by people who (secretly or otherwise) really want to be able to take the Bible literally. (The people who don’t care to take the Bible literally aren’t as bothered by the idea of errors in the text.) So it’ll be fun to see who can be satisfied by an approach that clings to the idea of inerrancy while rejecting a (pseudo?-)literal approach to the text. Exciting stuff!

  5. MSH says:

    Cognus: I’ll try to hit your questions in order, with your words in quotation marks:

    “When we speak of a particular ‘book’ or letter being ‘written prior to the 2nd Temple period’ – do we mean that: A. the original author formed the complete work by that time; B. the original author dictated to a scribe or secretary by that time, or C. the original author was deemed to be the scribe, gathering and editing thoughts from the originators, in which case, what is it that is inerrant?….. or, D. the finished work in writing first appears to have been circulated by that time – seen & read by others than the originators? And is it THAT work -that “first publication” work [which we have no physical portion of] that is under scrutiny as “errant or in-errant….by God!”

    MSH: I believe that inspiration (and that’s where you’re landing, as opposed to inerrancy) is a PROCESS, not an event (as it is usually cast in evangelical discussions). Prophets and apostles didn’t just get zapped and go into an automatic-writing trance and then wake up to see the book of X on their table! Rather, there was a full process of the “original” writer working, his work being edited by followers or scribes, and then a “finished product” released for copying. (I have a whole lecture on this I used to call “I don’t believe in the holy stapler”). I’d say that all your possibilities occurred. We either believe God was in the process or we don’t. God works this way in a whole host of other things, namely the canonical process and evangelism. WHy are we content to let God supervise via providential influence in people’s lives in those areas and not inspiration? Probably because people want some mystical or supernatural feel to the Bible and they don’t think providence cuts that (i.e., they have a low view of providence – God must be a “performer” or do something startling rather than use normal people in normal life settings). I think that’s a low view of God, frankly.

    “Or worse yet – are we claiming as “inerrant” the freshly-approved versions/copies/manuscripts that some Father deemed to be reliable/canonical? [understanding that canonization was a process rather than an event…]”

    MSH: As noted above, inspiration should also be viewed as a process, not an event. Inspiration and inerrancy should not be attributed to any copies; copies have derivative inerrancy and authority as they are faithful to the originals (that thing that was at the end of the process). Of course, we have no originals, and so scholars have been content to assume faithfulness to the originals unless there are clear indications of problems / disagreement. Usually those text-critical issues are in the “who cares, we can live with either reading” department. Sometimes it’s harder and we have to admit we don’t know what was most likely original. I don’t know of any doctrine that DEPENDS on a text-critical issue (but there are verses that have doctrinal content that are disputed – so I say, throw those out of your doctrinal discussion and base your positions on other passages).

    Inerrancy is, more or less, a philosophical construct that seeks to address (or ought to seek to address) how we understand the phenomena of Scripture against the character of God — and God’s willingness to use imperfect means (people) to give us information. Personally, for me the issue is becoming how to answer the question, “what information did God want us to have – what was the point of the exercise?” That is, I think we need to focus on the inerrancy of the ENDS to which God did what he did in dispensing revelation, recognizing the imperfection of the MEANS. It’s not easy to know how to spell that out.

  6. Ivan Steel says:

    What fun!

    Matt affirms that “[t]here are many other stories (such as the deluge) that I feel have to be taken as fact based on other citations by Jesus and others (Matthew 24:37 for instance).”

    Sufficient, but not necessary.

    Imagine that Jesus arrived today, and not in the first century. He might say, “As it was in the days of Batman, so shall it be with the coming of the Son of Man.” (Never mind what he might mean by that.) Would we then be forced to admit the historicity of Batman and his various literary exploits?

    Granting for the sake of argument that Noah was a historical person where Batman clearly is not (so far as we know), let us imagine Jesus saying, “As it was in the days of Prince John, etc”? Must we then believe that Robin Hood in fact split the shaft of an arrow?

    (For the record, I have no skin in the game when it comes to the historicity of Old Testament events. As an interpretational stance, we must imagine everything happening just the way the narrative says, because that’s what it invites us to do. Beyond that, though, the epistemological ground gets very soft very quickly.)

    * * *

    Pilgrm asks if Jesus stands up to the facts. I wonder if he needs to any more (or less) than Paul does.

    We can (should?) extend Jesus the same courtesy we do Paul — he says whatever he deems necessary in order to communicate his message in a way that his hearers can understand.

    However, this may bother us since while we can grant that Paul, being ignorant of physiology in Cor 11, is innocent of the lie, Jesus, having been on the design and building committee, would not be were he to say the same thing. (Leaving kenosis aside — please!) But can we not assume that Jesus is capable of condescension? In fact, being peerless, Jesus must condescend in order to communicate at all. Or if you like: The communication occurs at grasshopper-level, and Paul is already down in the lawn with the rest of us, where Jesus is not. Whether or not Jesus knows better as a matter of fact is beside the point; he must still communicate to his audience on their level, not from his. (Leaving aside those occasions when he intentionally obscured his message.)

    In any case, if we “affirm” verbal plenary inspiration, then surely we must hold God the Holy Spirit as he carries Paul along to the same standard as God the Son when he speaks? Or does the Holy Spirit get a pass but the Son does not? Is it because the Holy Spirit, operating under the aegis of a mortal, can thereby shield God from error, where Jesus, speaking under his own aegis and revealing the Father in word and deed, cannot? I only ask the question, I don’t presume to answer it.

    Furthermore, remember that the words of Christ as reported in the gospel are subject to the same sign-signified indirection as any any other item in the narratives. That is, Jesus is not the author of Matthew 24:37, Matthew is. (Let that percolate for a while.)

    Chet, I will deal with you in due time …

  7. Ivan Steel says:

    Chet: The question at hand is not “How shall we then live?” but “How can we take ANY of this cockamamie Bible stuff seriously when so many of the premises upon which its arguments rest are obvious nonsense?” While you’re busy getting the praxis cart before the hermenutic horse, vast gobs of the unwashed are laughing at the idea that Scripture can be called “true” in any sense of the word seeing as how it plainly asserts that unicorns should only be hitched to carts made of pumpkins and fairy dust. Meanwhile, half the church satisfies itself by insisting that the unicorns in the text are actually giraffes (or better yet, nuclear submarines) — Move along, there’s nothing to see here! — while the other half runs a caucus-race chanting that unicorns ARE SO real because if they aren’t, God is big fat liar, and God is no such thing, so unicorns are real. QED! QED! For their part, biblical scholars who ought to know better run the same circuit (only wearing bigger, floppier hats) and push anyone out of the ring who dares point out that the unicorns in the text obviously aren’t real, but the ancients thought they were and that is a perfectly good reason for the Bible to be going on about them at all in the first place.

    Climb out of that THAT crevasse first, THEN we can start to talk about who should be wearing what when — not t’other way ’round.

  8. MSH says:

    Pilgrim: I am willing to consider (but not side with) the notion that SOME of these passages might have been misinterpreted, following the reasoning you suggest. That said, I would not follow your reasoning in instances where Jesus converses with a demon, or where there is a named demon (the demon identifies himself). It would seem clear in these cases that we’re dealing with the demonic. Further, it might be a bit tenuous to have Jesus “playing dumb” for the sake of his audience here. I view that as a bit different than divine condescension, but I’ll admit it’s possible – but when you have Jesus conversing with a demon or the demon identify himself, that seems much clearer.

  9. MSH says:

    Matt: Interesting posting. It’s hard for me to get worked up about the cosmology language since I don’t believe (see my language in the last post) that the biblical authors EVER trying to teach anything about science – it was beyond their grasp, and even if supernaturally aided to spell it out right, the original audience couldn’t have parsed it at all, which undermines the enterprise. I think the point of Genesis 1-2 is theological polemic against the gods – what is affirmed is that Yahweh (no other god) is the creator of heaven, earth, everything on earth and in heaven, and humankind. I think that’s the reason why there are a variety of ancient near eastern (pagan) allusions or motifs in Gen 1-2 that are altered or nuanced to “diss” the foreign gods and place Yahweh front and center. As such, it barely registers as a concern for inerrancy for me, since I don’t see anything scientific put forth (“affirmed” – aargghh!).

    This takes me mentally back to the inerrancy debates of the 70s and 80s, where many evangelicals got upset with other evangelicals who didn’t want to claim the Bible was inerrant on matters of science. Somehow, THOSE evangelicals got lambasted, but others whose position had the same result (the “literary framework” view of Genesis, or Day-Agers) didn’t get shunned — because, I think, they were still suggesting some sort of congruence between science and the Bible. I’m more of the mindset to say that the Bible just ignores “doing science” by default, and anyone who wants to make science part of the inerrancy debate is basically de-contextualizing the Bible from the get-go and “dissing” the culture God chose to dispense revelation to.

  10. MSH says:

    Ivan: One note on your first post. I agree that Jesus’ condescension makes sense, following your reasoning.My comments about demon possession *might* suggest I disagree with you, but I don’t. My point in the demon possession situation is that I don’t think Jesus NEEDS to “play dumb” and say it’s a demons when it isn’t. That there were such things as demons was known to his audience via the OT revelation and 2nd temple material. He’d need to stoop to explain to his audience what a demon was or how they were made, but he doesn’t need to if he just says “we’ve got a demon here fellas.” Besides, if these accounts ONLY deal with neurological problems, one wonders how those problems are cured by invoking Jesus’ name (you don’t “cast out” chemical imbalances – and this terminology IS present, as opposed to ONLY “healing” language).

    I’ve also culled a few of your statements, and those of others, as seedlings for coming up with our own understanding of inerrancy.

  11. MSH says:

    Ivan: Wow – Chet being called too practical – never thought I’d see that!

  12. MSH says:

    Chet: I actually think your point is what Paul was after (“don’t dress like skanks”), so I respond to your call out thusly. And since I don’t see Paul’s (or the guiding Spirit’s) intent as teaching anything scientific (for reasons already noted), I have no trouble saying that Paul’s reasoning (when referencing science – please, keep that guy away from science!) is wacky, but his instruction is spot on (and inerrant).

  13. MSH says:

    Ivan: Been thinking a bit about your line: “That is, Jesus is not the author of Matthew 24:37, Matthew is.” We should pursue this, since it may give us a coherent path to “exempting” Jesus from any sort of erroneous statement stemming from the pre-scientific ignorance on the part of biblical writers.

  14. Pilgrim says:

    1. “Pilgrim: I am willing to consider (but not side with) the notion that SOME of these passages might have been misinterpreted, following the reasoning you suggest. That said, I would not follow your reasoning in instances where Jesus converses with a demon, or where there is a named demon (the demon identifies himself). It would seem clear in these cases that we’re dealing with the demonic. Further, it might be a bit tenuous to have Jesus “playing dumb” for the sake of his audience here. I view that as a bit different than divine condescension, but I’ll admit it’s possible – but when you have Jesus conversing with a demon or the demon identify himself, that seems much clearer.”

    I believe those incidents where the Gospels describes Jesus in conversation with a demon makes the case that such supernatural phenomenon are a part of reality for which science has no model to investigate. Notwithstanding the numerous references in the Gospels about Jesus employing tactics to obscure the intent of some of His teaching I can cite no reference which would indicate that Jesus attempts subterfuge or deceit because his audience is technologically backward. Given that Jesus addresses demons directly it follows that demon possession is more than neurological impairment. Until and unless we devise testing machinery that can interrogate supernatural phenomenon we cannot scientifically call accounts of demon possession unreal.
    Given that what we can know about God is limited to what He voluntarily reveals it is a fair statement (I think) that Jesus knows much more about the state of reality than is revealed in Scripture. Conceding that Scripture does carry the imprint of the author’s understanding of reality and can in places be shown to be suspect it does not follow that Scripture is therefore errant in its purpose as the self revelation of God.

  15. MSH says:

    Pilgrim: I’d agree with you – my point in the comment to you was that, if you have examples where the factors I noted are not present (and I haven’t looked to see if there are any that omit those things), then your notion of an unscientific “diagnosis” might be possible, given the other science problems.

  16. Cognus says:

    This is a better conversation than I had expected, actually. Michael I really do appreciate and resonate with your answer: “Personally, for me the issue is becoming how to answer the question, “what information did God want us to have – what was the point of the exercise?” That is, I think we need to focus on the inerrancy of the ENDS to which God did what he did in dispensing revelation, recognizing the imperfection of the MEANS. It’s not easy to know how to spell that out.”

    Now, THAT’s a pursuit I will sign-on for. I would wish to think that the earlier incendiaries cast-about on this topic [I mean from years gone by] were really not meant to be so much about meaningful dialogue.

    I’ve always contended that the finding of “errors” in the Biblical record, or inconsistencies, or contradictions, did not sway my core interest and belief one whit. I see the consistency of message, the strange and wonderful Character of the God who seeks to redeem, the ordinary lives transformed – those threads are not in the least blemished [in my view] by imperfections in a line of multi-translated text. In fact, there are more inconsistencies in my own perception of English language than are likely in the texts….

  17. Ivan Steel says:

    To MSH on Matthew-as-author: Indeed! That’s a white rabbit that ought to be followed (though perhaps it leads elsewhere for you than me).

    When reading, it is all too easy to forget that what we are encountering is a narration, not the thing-in-itself. We glibly say that “Jesus says X” when saying “Matthew says that Jesus said X” would be more accurate. We do this for the sake of expediency, but also because doctrines such as inspiration and inerrency fool us into believing that Matthew’s presence in the equation neither adds nor takes away. However, as readers, we cannot relate to people, places, and events, but rather characters, settings, and plots. Points of correspondence between a literary reality and the reality-qua-reality that it exposes may be many or few, but the two are NEVER one and the same. Congruent, but not equivalent.

    This is why secular postmodernist literary theorists say that you cannot “know” or “experience” the reality that lies behind a story, but only the story itself. Why? Because the author interposes himself, selectively revealing or obscuring as it suits his purposes, using words to manipulate the imaginations of his readers. In fact, in narrations, you cannot know the author, because he distances himself through the narrative voice he adopts, which may be a construction, wholly or in part. Furthermore, the reader is immediately present in the text, participating in recreating the events in his own mind, construing and misconstruing the author’s intent, and arriving at a model of reality that is unique to himself; but he is not present in the world behind the text, and can have no influence on it. Therefore, in any communication there is a barrier between the sign (the text) and the signified (its subject), a distance which cannot be crossed by reading alone.

    This is what I mean when I say that the sign is not the signified. Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

    This is where my hermeneutic gets off the pomo train: What differentiates the Bible from The Brothers Karamazov or Catch-22 (which also happen to be “true” in much that they “affirm”) is that the Signified, to which all biblical typology points, is able to pierce the sign-signified barrier and make a personal encounter with believers as a real individual and not a literary construct. You CAN know Christ through the text, not because of anything the text does, but what God accomplishes through the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Put another way, the text is not the truth, but points to it. We do well to realize the distinction, since even if we rescue some form of inerrancy, we have still not gained as much as we may think.

  18. Ivan Steel says:

    Further to author-as-author: Any formulation of inerrency must deal the human element in inspiration. Westminster says in response to Peter Ens that the Bible is production of God, not man. The first part is obvious; the second unnecessary. And demonstrably false.

    As I wrote previously, readers encounter Jesus the character, not Jesus the person. The evangelists stand between us and Christ, filtering, shaping, arranging, sometimes changing (!) what Jesus said to suit whatever purposes they had in writing the gospel in the first place. No one sits down to write a book that might get him executed without having some kind of agenda! The gospels are literature, biography, history, revelation, propaganda — texts that define the boundaries of a counter-cultural community and bind it together — but they aren’t transcripts, nor even journalistic accounts. They are cast as drama, based on actual events, but fairly bristling with the thoughts, emotions, intents, and biases of their human authors — to say nothing of grammar and diction. Read Luke and then John, in Greek, and tell me that the Bible is not the production of God AND man!

    Put another way: Does God swing the hammer, or the man who holds it?

    Any doctrine of inspiration that tries to write the human authors out of the picture is hopelessly impoverished.

    As a simple example, consider the very real differences between the character of Christ in the four gospels:

    — Mark’s Jesus is an impenetrable stranger, the ultimate “alien other”, walking among us but is not really one of us, disclosing of himself what he sees fit to whom he sees fit, come to do a great work (in secret!), knowing that he will be misunderstood, persecuted, and rejected. Who is this who teaches with authority? Who is this that demons flee before him? Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him? Who IS this? (I am content to let chapter 16 end at verse 8. It is perhaps an unsatisfying ending, but consistent with the themes of the gospel as a whole.)

    — Matthew’s Jesus is teacher and fulfiller of the Law, come like a prophet of old to denounce the wayward practices of the day and call the children of Israel back to their former glories and beyond, to re-establish their connection with Holy God and innaugurate his eternal Kingdom through a paschal self-sacrifice. He is a reformer, come to tear down the old institutions and bring in the new.

    — Luke’s Jesus reads more like a Greek philosopher, a paragon of divine virtue, a great physician dispensing both wisdom and random acts of kindness, brimming with compassion, caring for the needs and ailments of his people, a tragic hero who lays down his life for the salvation of the world.

    — John’s Jesus is the strangest of all: A walking, talking paradox, he is both tangible, palpable, and all-too-human — we find him tired, hungry, thirsty, frustrated, angry, weeping for a dead friend, letting Thomas fondle his wounds — but at the same time he is the Pantokrator, god-in-flesh, a full and perfect manifestation of the Old Testament God, equal parts love and fury, barely contained within the flesh he pours himself into. John’s Christ is a cosmic phenomenon, but on a human scale.

    Granted, these are cariacatures — each gospel is complex in its own way, and themes and episodes are freely swapped between them, often transformed in the process. But the differences in characterization arise from the literary conceits of their respective authors, a certain amount of “spin” applied to the narratives to achieve a unique purpose: Mark intends to tell the good news of Jesus, plain and simple; Matthew intends to demonstrate Christ as fulfillment of Scripture; Luke intends to set down an orderly account so that his readers may feel secure in their knowledge of the truth; John intends to give you a sign that you may believe.

    These conceits rest upon a very real underlying historical event (1 Corinthians 15:12-18 means what it says!) but they are literary productions nonetheless, and subject to the demands of Story as much as to Accuracy, subject to the whims of their human authors in submission to and in participation with the will of God.

    If we fail to recognize this and account for it, we fail.

  19. Ivan Steel says:

    MSH at 13: Interesting, but not exactly what I was driving at. We may be able to “exempt” Jesus by letting Matthew alter his words in such a way that they go from being fully truth-reality correspondent to less so (for our sake), but do we thereby indict the Holy Spirit who was carrying Matthew along? And never mind that, do we really want to let Matthew corrupt any of the words of Christ in that way?

    Perhaps we should start talking about a doctrine of “intended errancy” instead?

    Besides, like Pilgrim I see no evidence in the text that Jesus ever shaved the truth in order to protect someone from information that they would otherwise not understand. To the contrary, he seems uniquely nimble at avoiding such traps! It was a hypothetical question; I only admit that he *could* without being impugned.

    If we’re going by exorcisms, the most borderline one is in Mark 9:14-32. This looks very much like epilepsy, and Jesus doesn’t speak with the spirit or even bother asking its name (calling it a “deaf and mute” spirit instead). In answer to his disciples’ question “We can cast out other demons, why not this one?” Jesus cryptic answer in verse 29 may mean “This demon was so bad it would take extra effort (prayer and fasting) to cast it out” or perhaps “This wasn’t a demon, fellas, but I don’t want to confuse you with the details right now”. But as I said, the narrator (who must also be held infallible for inerrancy to work) calls it an evil spirit several times without hesitation, so I would go with the “extra strength demon” interpretation.

  20. Ivan Steel says:

    We ought to be honest about what we mean when we use various terms. Let’s start with “truth”.

    Do we take a correspondence view of truth, where the truth value of any statement is only legitimately evaluated with respect to the world? Or do we take a coherence view, where the truth of any statement is evaluated with respect to other statements? Does a true system necessarily have to correspond to observable, knowable facts about the world (correspondence)? Or does it merely have to internally consistent (coherence)? Put another way, does truth arise from the propositions within a system (correspondence)? Or may it only arise from as a gestalt property of the system as a whole (coherence)?

    As I understand it, Dr. Heiser opts for a correspondence view of the truth, which means that in order to hold the Bible inerrant, he must admit to realities that are both real and unobservable. This is a defensible position, although requiring some exertion, but it is consistent with a state of affairs that should be self-evident to all but the most hardened empiricist/postivist/materialist/nincompoop, namely, that we are unable to observe All Things.

    For my part, I opt for a coherence view of the truth, which means that I can hold the Bible inerrant if all of its statements form an extensive body of consistent propositions, some independently verifiable and some not. This is easily defensible — I can clear vast swaths of jungle by declaring all questions that boilddown to “Come on, none of this nonsense actually ever happened, did it?” as moot — and causes me great glee because it gives positivists and materialists severe indigestion. I can ask a positivist, “But how do you know?” all the way back through the chain of evidence until he must finally admit, “Because I think I must know”, and then I have him right where I want him, stuck in the morass of his own perception. It’s all just a big appeal to authority, isn’t it? Huh? Huh? Why do you think your authority is better than anyone else’s? Huh? Huh? In the meantime, those who hold a correspondence view of the truth have to slug it out on the merits. Boring!

    That said, I can “coherently” argue that Paul’s appeal to nature in 1 Cor 11 is true, because if we adopt the same framework that he has adopted (so far as we can tell, a Hippocratic theory of physiology coupled with a to-some-extent Hellenized flavor of second-temple Judaism), none of his statements contradict. It all hangs together as a coherent whole, and the whole truth that emerges as being greater than the sum of its parts becomes readily apparent. His argumentation is sound, his propositions resonable, and his conclusions justified, even though some of his premises are now known to have negative correspondence with the real world (but were not so known at the time). As a matter of truth, they are coherent, but not correspondant. Deal.

    Of course, all of us will wander back and forth between the two viewpoints. I agree with Paul by saying, “Well, yeah. That resurrection thing really happened, because if it didn’t, man are we screwed!” which forces me, for the sake of my own skin, to adopt a correspondence view of the truth, at least for that proposition. On the other end, I doubt if anyone really wants to take a full-on correspondence view of, say, the Apocalypse of John. Really? The locusts in Rev 6 have to be real locusts with people-heads and not blackhawk helicopters. Still interested?

    Surely I jest, but given how much of the Bible is cast in mythopoetic rather than empirical terms, we will find ourselves fairly often dealing with a coherence view of truth rather than a correspondence one. A correspondence view of truth could make the entire book of Ecclesiastes into a house of cards, for two reasons: First, it’s filled with speculation, rumination, hypotheticals, and general cases. Very little to accord with reality in the first place. Second, the only “falsifiable” assertion made in the book is that Qoheleth is the son of David and king in Jerusalem. What if be shown (I don’t know how) that this assertion has no correspondence with reality? Does that make the whole edifice come crashing down? No, of course not, but I have seen that very position argued by atheists, as if that single assertion were a lynch pin that held the entire machine together. Pull it and the whole thing comes flying apart. But in reality, we should use coherence to evaluate the book as a whole, and then we test each assertion by means of correspondence to see if it does, in any meaningful way, accord with our experience, or failing that, our imagination. Why? Because the book is framed by its author as a speculative rumination on the nature of life, and not as a set of propositions about a given state of affairs. So, we should treat it as such.

    Ack! I have just run out of time …

  21. Ivan Steel says:

    Cognus, you say: “I see the consistency of message, the strange and wonderful Character of the God who seeks to redeem, the ordinary lives transformed – those threads are not in the least blemished [in my view] by imperfections in a line of multi-translated text.”

    It’s as if I thought it and you said it, except not, because surely I would have used more words!

  22. cwmyers007 says:

    Dr. Heiser,

    It seems that you are denying these “affirmations”:

    The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1982) produced 25 “Articles of Affirmation and Denial.” Four of these are especially relevant for origins questions:

    Article 19: WE AFFIRM that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it. WE DENY that Scripture should be required to fit alien preunderstandings, inconsistent with itself, such as naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism.
    Article 20: WE AFFIRM that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else. We further affirm that in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations. WE DENY that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.
    Article 21: WE AFFIRM the harmony of special with general revelation and therefore of biblical teaching with the facts of nature. WE DENY that any genuine scientific facts are inconsistent with the true meaning of any passage of Scripture.
    Article 22: WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book. WE DENY that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.

    Maybe for now we should concentrate on discussing each one. Article 20 and 21 you touch on here in this post. But I feel like you have not given the I Cor. 7 passage its due attention. You have not even mentioned the various hypotheses that could resolve the problems you mention. Furthermore, we should not so quickly state that it is “so clear” that Paul’s nature proofs are so wrong. Especially since the scholarly community has not embraced the testicle interpretation that you have put forth in our required readings.
    This article does good justice to many different views:

    And your view of Paul’s “bad science” “keep this guy away from science” hinges on your interpretation of nature in vs. 14. as meaning “creative nature.” But a quick look in TDNT shows phusis to be firstly “natural tendencies and qualities” secondly, true constitution, and only your definition later. If you look on pg. 272-273 within TDNT for phusis, you will see that the authors clearly feel that Paul is not making a “scientific argument,” (contra your article) but a general order of nature to show us what is seemly and becoming.

    A good example would be if I were to tell you that you should not wear speedos to work because nature tells us; has not God arrayed the fowls of the air with more covering than that! It is against our culture and I can find natural animals more covered and so I make the connection.

    Enough for now. Good discussion though.

    Grace be with you all,

  23. MSH says:

    CHris – it doesn’t seem to me that you have read the articles I asked responders to read (judging by the comments in your comment about science). It’s not about word meanings. I therefore have approved your comment for others to read, but won’t be responding to it in addition to this.

  24. cwmyers007 says:

    Dr. Heiser, But I have read them. However, I do not see them as convincing as you do. So the “firmanent” lexically looks like it should be a solid object, which flies in the face of modern science. But did you see the stretching and gymnastics he had to do to try to come to that conclusion and then the extra charge of trying to find a flat earth in the text! If this article was straight on (which it seems to me to be off), then why do the more modern translations translate the “firmanent” as “expanse” or “canopy”? And yes, it obviously does come down to word meaning and semantics because that is exactly how your articles argue to prove that Biblical ‘science’ is bad modern science. And I think you should ask Geisler if Biblically ‘science’ contradicts modern science and watch how he responds! The sparks will fly.

  25. cwmyers007 says:

    Dr. Heiser, I wonder why your required readings were not more balanced? If you want to hear the other side, you would particularly enjoy,

    I think this “other hearing” will be particularly helpful if we are really going to discuss this topic.

    Grace be with you,

  26. cwmyers007 says:

    All, This would be good to read to understand the history of this past century that sperned this debate during our lifetimes:


    How the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy Began
    By Dr. Jay Grimstead

    We see the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) Statement on Inerrancy as being a landmark church document, which was created in 1978 by the then largest, broadest, group of evangelical protestant scholars that ever came together to create a common, theological document in the 20th century. It is probably the first systematically comprehensive, broadly based, scholarly, creed-like statement on the inspiration and authority of Scripture in the history of the church.

    Modernism Challenges the Historic View on Inerrancy
    Just as the church’s understanding of the full deity of Christ and the Trinity awaited the Arian controversy and the Council of Nicea in 325 AD; and just as the full understanding of Justification by Faith and the Priesthood of every Believer awaited the 1500s when it was clarified by Luther and Calvin, so the doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture awaited the 20th century for its full debate and delineation. Up until the 20th century, all branches of Christianity worldwide accepted the basic inerrancy view of inspiration except for the secular philosophers and the liberal theologians, so a full-scale debate was unnecessary until then.

    But, at the end of the liberal-fundamentalist doctrinal battles of the 20s and 30s, large portions of the previously sound major denominations were infected with a liberal view of the Bible. The evangelicals and fundamentalists within those denominations generally pulled out and started their own new denominations, seminaries, and mission societies and stood firm on the historical view of the Bible taught by Moses, Jesus, Paul and the heros of the faith the past 2000 years. By that time, almost all the theological schools and theologians of Europe had gone liberal. America and Canada, which are usually from 25 to 100 years behind Europe in their philosophical disintegration, were just starting to “catch up” with Europe theologically.

    As Francis Schaeffer stated so eloquently, courage for confrontation over matters of truth and righteousness in the hearts of Christian leaders in North America was replaced by a kind of “knee-jerk” response committed to accommodation and “peace at any price” which sadly still reigns supreme within most evangelical circles today. This is one major reason things have disintegrated so far and so fast. At the same time, the relativistic view of truth and a dichotomy worldview (that segregates the spiritual world from the material world into two separate air-tight compartments) that came from philosophers such as Hume, Kant, and Hegel had all but completely captured the university intellectuals of the entire world.

    Neo-Orthodoxy infects the Evangelical Ranks
    This was the kind of academic atmosphere that prevailed during the 20 years from 1947 to 1967 when many evangelical seminaries and colleges sent their bright young scholars to European universities to get their doctorates. A large percentage of these young scholars were infected with liberal and neo-orthodox views of the Bible; and then they returned to their evangelical schools to teach a neo-orthodox view of the Bible (what they sincerely believed were the “latest, most scholarly” views) to their students.

    These partially “corrupted” young professors did not openly challenge their denomination’s or institution’s historic view of inspiration of the Bible. It was more subtle than that and less obvious than the open battle over the Bible of the 1920s and 1930s. Most of these young professors were infected with neo-orthodoxy; the then fashionable “reformed” liberalism of Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Neo-orthodoxy claims that the human words of the Bible are not the very words of God, but rather are a fallible human “witness” to the words of God and are therefore in a sense, the “Word” of God to man. In some cases they claim that the words of the Bible “become” the Word of God to man at a particular existential moment when that man senses God speaking to him. Others have spoken of the Bible “containing” the Word of God.

    Neo-Orthodoxy Undermines the Reliability of Scripture
    Since most neo-orthodox theologians attempt to honor God’s word in some sense, their presentation to their students of their existential and relativistic re-interpretation of the Bible does not appear to be, nor is it intended to be, an attack upon the Bible. But, since most neo-orthodox men accept most of the higher critical theories of theological liberalism and since they usually believe (with Kant and Barth) that human language is incapable of communicating absolute, unchanging, and inerrant truth from God to man, therefore they are essentially liberals in their view of scripture.

    In addition, most neo-orthodox “evangelicals” believe they cannot count on the Bible being absolutely true in matters of time and space, science and history, or ethics and anthropology (that is, areas that are open to scientific verification or falsification), but they do comfort themselves by saying they believe the Bible may be capable of communicating undistorted truth in “spiritual” matters such as eternity and heaven, faith and salvation, or piety and theology (areas that are not open to objective empirical verification). Thus they ask us to subjectively believe the Bible in those areas of “faith and practice” that we cannot, by the nature of the case, “prove” and then expect us to understand that the Bible is not totally reliable in matters of history and science.

    In a nutshell, a liberal and neo-orthodox view of Scripture considers the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible to be part true and part false and that their theological experts must help us to determine what parts of the Bible are true and what parts of it are false. That is the essence of theological liberalism under whatever name it travels even if it goes by the name of “evangelicalism.” Thus, a professor infected with a neo-orthodox view of Scripture will tend to not believe that Moses wrote all five books of the Pentateuch; that Isaiah wrote the whole book of Isaiah; that Daniel was written in Daniel’s time; that the flood of Noah was a universal flood covering the whole earth; that all of present mankind came from Noah’s family; etc., etc. They will also tend to teach students that neither Jesus nor the Church Fathers believed the inerrancy of view of Scripture that was taught by the Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Hodge, Warfield, Machen, and Schaeffer. They teach that the inerrancy view is a late development in church history.

    Neo-Orthodoxy Entrenches Itself in Evangelical Institutions
    Since the 1960s, many evangelical seminaries and colleges, denominations and organizations have been infected by the prevailing fog of neo-orthodoxy. Many sincere evangelicals, including many pastors and professors, are neo-orthodox liberals in regard to Scripture and don’t even know there is anything wrong with their view. In light of all this, we felt we had to launch the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in 1977.

    By 1976, a neo-orthodox and liberal view of Scripture and therefore a relativistic view of doctrine and morals had permeated all levels of evangelicalism in every denomination and organization. The prevailing mood among educated people was openness to the liberalized view of scripture and a general fear of being labeled a “narrow inerrantist” who still believed the old, “unscholarly and medieval” view of Scripture. If a Christian in many evangelical circles really believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, they tended to remain “in the closet.”

    Furthermore, we, who felt God wanted us to stand up for the traditional, inerrancy view of Scripture and call our churches and organizations to be consistent with the statement on scripture in that organization’s founding documents, were often attacked as troublemakers and told to be quiet or to go away. Almost no one wanted to face up to an honest, open evaluation of how far a church or organization had slid down the slippery slope towards increasing liberalization. Christian leaders then, who believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, found themselves becoming lonely warriors who were misunderstood, feared, and sometimes gently persecuted. And almost no one seemed to be willing to make it a national Christian issue and get it settled if it meant losing friends or a position in their organization.

    The Battle for the Bible Explodes
    In 1976, Dr. Harold Lindsell came out with his bombshell book, The Battle for the Bible, which exposed the massive infiltration of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy into nearly every denomination and seminary that considered itself evangelical. Lindsell’s book was very accurate in exposing the deterioration and it was scholarly in its presentation. As far as we can tell, none of Lindsell’s charges were ever refuted in any substantive manner by the institutions in question. The accused schools merely fumed and spoke harsh things against Dr. Lindsell. At that time, few leaders beside Dr. Lindsell, Francis Schaeffer, and Bill Gothard were attempting to make the inerrancy of the Bible an issue, though many were still faithfully teaching inerrancy.

    The general response to The Battle for the Bible among the evangelical leadership of America was that it was “divisive” and that Lindsell was too “harsh” and “unloving” in exposing the factual situation within evangelical institutions. Thus, the church was not at all ready nor willing to go to battle over the watershed issue of inerrancy. Many of the inerrantists were in the “closet” and the anti-inerrantist, neo-orthodox theologians were having a field day making fun of the old-fashioned view in the various evangelical periodicals and journals. (I want to make it clear at this point that the Fundamentalists and most Pentecostals stood firmly for inerrancy during this period). It was in this context that the ICBI was born. The following is a short explanation of how several of us gave birth to the ICBI.

    A Call to Unite and Plan Strategies for the Battle
    In 1976, God was leading me to create a night school and training center for laymen in the San Francisco Bay Area called the Reformation Study Center. R.C. Sproul suggested to our little staff that it would be wise to launch the study center with a conference. We took Sproul’s advice and organized a conference on the Authority of Scripture at Mt. Hermon, California for February 1977. Our five speakers were to be R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, Norman Geisler, John Gerstner, and Greg Bahnsen, each dealing with two major topics on the authority of Scripture.

    In September 1976, prior to the Mt. Hermon conference, I wrote to Sproul and to Harold Lindsell suggesting somebody should attempt to organize a national theological conference to deal with this battle for the inerrancy of the Bible and to expose the fallacies of the neo-orthodox false assumptions believed by so many evangelicals at that time. What I visualized was something of a theological “army” of scholars who would take this thing into battle as a united team.

    I invited the five speakers, plus Miss Weatheral Johnson (of Bible Study Fellowship), Karen Hoyt and a few others to come early to the conference so we could pray in our living room about what to do regarding the inerrancy battle in the church. We had that prayer meeting then launched the conference and our little study center that February evening in Mt. Hermon with about 300 people in attendance. During the weekend conference, I gathered the speakers, Miss Johnson, and a few others together to discuss what strategy we might use to organize a frontal attack on this problem of a Barthian/liberal view of Scripture having infiltrated most of evangelicalism in North America and beyond.

    The Vision for a United “Army” Unfolds
    By the end of the Mt. Hermon conference, on Sunday afternoon, we had decided that God was leading us to launch a new organization, what we would later call ICBI, to do the following three things:

    Create together a list of world famous or nationally recognized inerrancy theologians, Bible scholars, and Christian leaders who would be asked to form a theological “army” to clarify the theological issues involved and attempt to turn the situation around so the liberal evangelicals would have to hide in the closet and the inerrantists, the world over, would be able to lift their heads high and proudly proclaim they believed in the full inerrancy of the Bible.

    Come to agreement on a list of theological sub-topics on which our scholar team would have to write white papers dealing with all the sub-points involved in a comprehensive attack on this problem. (Philosophically there are some 14 separate debates that must be faced when dealing with the matter of inerrancy.)

    Launch a major national conference on inerrancy for 200 to 300 biblical scholars and Christian leaders and sound forth the trumpet call that it was time to face the issue and turn the situation around. At that conference we would also work through and release a set of affirmations and denials on the inerrancy of Scripture and claim that there is no real biblical authority without biblical inerrancy and that the church was bound to deteriorate to the degree it rejected the inerrancy of the Bible.

    With Jeffersonian language of dignity offered by J.I. Packer, we created a short statement of purpose for our new movement then set a date for the following month to meet at Pittsburgh airport and spend a full day making a list of fellow warriors and launching our strategy in earnest. I was asked to serve as the Executive Director and keep this process going until it was well launched. I asked Karen Hoyt to handle the details as my Executive Secretary which she did very efficiently and eventually set up our ICBI office in Oakland.

    By the end of that series of meetings at Mt. Hermon, every one of the theologians and myself were positively excited about our prospects for a new inerrancy movement and we all felt a sense of release and a lifted burden of sorrow, loneliness and frustration we had carried over the theological deterioration of evangelicalism. I had felt this prophetic, Jeremiah type burden over the church the previous five years as an actual pain and heaviness within my stomach almost constantly. From that conference on it was gone. What we sensed is that, having decided together with like-minded, courageous, fellow warriors that we should indeed attack this problem together, whatever the cost, our mutual sense of loneliness (within all our various circles) and our near hopelessness over the situation was exchanged for camaraderie in battle and great optimism. It was a great breakthrough for all of us and we were grateful to be together.

    The Vision Gives Birth to the ICBI
    In March 1977, we met in Pittsburgh and created a list of some 50 theologians and Christian leaders to invite onto the new ICBI Council and Advisory Board. We set a date for a Council/Board meeting for September at the Chicago O’Hare airport and decided to ask James Boice to join us and function as chairman of the Council. I was asked to call most of the 50 men and explain the vision to them and recruit them onto our team. Nearly every one I called was quite enthusiastic, ready to join immediately and was grateful that we were going to form an “army” to attack this problem since they too had been frustrated and grieved to see the shift away from inerrancy in their own circles.

    In September 1977, at the O’Hare Hilton, Boice and I led the meeting of enthusiastic Christian theologians and leaders and worked our game plan. We would together first create a book to answer, chapter for chapter, the neo-orthodox oriented book edited by Jack Rogers of Fuller Seminary, Biblical Authority, that gave the basic neo-orthodox arguments against inerrancy (the major point expressed was that the church could have biblical authority without an inerrant Bible). We made the chapter assignments with plans to have the book ready to be sold at our launching conference to be held October 1978 at the Hyatt Regency near O’Hare airport. We also made assignments for the scholarly white papers which were to be written and distributed to those attending the conference. These white papers formed the scholarly foundation for our work the following 10 years as well as the foundation for the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which was created by the ICBI in 1978.

    The initial set of ICBI white papers now appear in the ICBI book, Inerrancy, edited by Norman Geisler and published by Zondervan Press. Another ICBI book, The Foundation for Biblical Authority, edited by James Boice and also published by Zondervan, answered the Roger’s book and is an excellent survey for the pastor and academic layperson to come to a solid understanding of the debate and the historical arguments of the church for the Bible’s inerrancy. Many Christian colleges now use The Foundation for Biblical Authority along with Roger’s Biblical Authority to show the contrast within evangelicalism between the historic, orthodox inerrancy view and the neo-orthodox view (sometimes disingenuously called the “enlightened evangelical view” by liberal-oriented evangelical professors). We also made other assignments for books on hermeneutics, short booklets explaining the problem, and what came to be Gleason Archer’s monumental work, Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties.

    The ICBI Launches its Theological “D-Day”
    Prior to the October 1978 conference, I wrote to Billy Graham and asked him to contribute to our cause. The Billy Graham Evangelism Association then donated $10,000 to help launch the ICBI. With this start-up money Karen Hoyt and I started on salary, so we could proceed with our plans.

    Just prior to Reformation Sunday in October 1978, we staged our first ICBI conference for about 300 Christian leaders, theologians and pastors at the O’Hare Hyatt Regency to launch the movement publicly. During that conference, amidst much intense discussion and several all-night editorial sessions, we created together 19 articles on Biblical Inerrancy based upon a consensus agreement on the scholarly points made in the many white papers our team had written. These 19 articles were published as the historic Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

    The ICBI Wins a Decisive Victory
    And it worked! The net result was that there was an immediate reversal of who was in the “closet.” Even though not many liberal evangelical scholars really changed their position theologically, they knew that under this new theological climate we had created they would not be able to be as bold about their departure from inerrancy. The week prior to our 1978 conference there were many articles in major Christian magazines belittling the inerrancy viewpoint. From that conference on, with a few exceptions, there was deathly silence from the liberal side for several years. Inerrancy was once again popular and respected as the historic, orthodox, and scholarly viewpoint.

    Because of the visibility and success of the ICBI in its united and scholarly defense of inerrancy, many schools, churches, mission organizations, and some denominations began rethinking their doctrinal statements on Scripture. They realized that, because of the prevailing liberal theological “smog” most of their members had been breathing and because of the great confusion that reigned and the deliberate efforts of the liberalized evangelicals within most ranks, they had to tighten up on their official statements on Scripture and require adherence to the orthodox view by their leadership and members.

    With the wealth of new scholarship that was produced by the ICBI to buttress the doctrine of inerrancy, many evangelical colleges and seminaries were compelled to engage in intramural discussions and debates within their faculty over the issue of inerrancy. With the united front of the ICBI behind them, adherents of inerrancy came out of the “closet” and more often than not saw that they were in the majority. Thus, the tide of accommodation to neo-orthodox views of scripture, which had seemed unstoppable in the 1960s and 1970s, was turned back at many evangelical colleges and seminaries.

    But the War Isn’t Over
    The proponents of inerrancy have not always been victorious against the proponents of neo-orthodox. At Fuller Seminary, a primary target of Lindsell’s Battle for the Bible, the professors and scholars of the School of World Mission faculty signed the ICBI Statement enthusiastically and then sent it across the hall and invited the Fuller School of Theology professors to sign it also. The Fuller Theology professors rejected it outright and, as far as we know, it remains unsigned by those Fuller theology professors to this day.

    Alas, the battle for for the Bible is far from over. In the years since the ICBI, the neo-orthodox liberals have developed new tactics and have made new inroads into evangelical institutions. The biblical doctrine of Inerrancy remains a crucial watershed issue for the church today. May God raise up a new generation of gifted theologians and scholars to carry on the good fight.

    See more comments on the ICBI by Dr. Grimstead.

  27. MSH says:

    Chris: The Seely argument is the tip of the iceberg. The biblical terminology is over-and-over again consistent with ANE pre-scientific cosmology. I assigned Seely because I couldn’t ask people to read a 300 page monograph of the Israelite / ANE conception of the world. If you want one, I can recommend one. The issue is real.

    The firmament doesn’t just “look” like a solid dome – the inspired text of Job 37:18 SAYS it’s solid: “Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?” Why doesn’t the space shuttle crash into this? (Maybe God left one of the windows of heaven open for it). Again, Job 37:18 is completely consistent with the other ANE cosmologies, and the points of agreement run into the dozens. Denying this doesn’t help us.

  28. MSH says:

    Chris: By the way, I love Norm Geisler – had him as a prof. He has little to contribute when it comes to semitics, though. And I think you sell him a bit short – Norm doesn’t have a problem with non-literal views of creation. I also know Hugh Ross, and he’s the same (more obviously). The issue is that both these scholars know that in places (their lists would differ) they MUST adopt a non-literal hermeneutic to make the Bible appear to be adaptable to science. I don’t oppose that in principle, but I think it’s much easier to side with Calvin here and affirm something equally obvious: In communicating with humanity, EVERYTHING God tells us is in some way an accommodation to our limitations. Scientific precision really wasn’t the point of the divine communication, so I have no trouble with God not bothering to correct the pre-scientific conceptions of the men he chose to write the Scriptures – and if he had, no one but them (and maybe not even them) would have understood it (until perhaps now, but that takes some hubris as well). So, they would have had a frequently obtuse revelation from the get-go, which sort of undermines the whole enterprise.

  29. MSH says:

    Chris: Since I want to know how to articulate inspiration and inerrancy in light of a pile of material I know about that creates some of these conflicts (and Ivan has brought up more), I get to choose the readings. Choosing readings that won’t help me is a waste of time.

    And I’m well familiar with Hugh Ross. He’s a brilliant scientist, but he’s like the rest of them: he will bend the text to his will when he needs to (and I say that not judging his integrity). He’s being consistent with his approach. He just isn’t informed as to a lot of the detail of the text since that isn’t his focus. You have to realize that scholars of necessity can’t be masters of every domain (one is tough enough). People (like me) who deal with the minutiae of the text have both an advantage and an added burden. Since my focus starts at the ground level in the text in the original languages, I’m just more aware of its warts, along with the panoply of methodological issues that relate to the examination of the text. Ross isn’t, really at all. What he does is entirely based on the English Bible. He only appeals to Greek and Hebrew when he needs to in order to keep his approach afloat and give it coherence in his mind. That he does that does NOT invalidate all (or even most) of what he does. He has done the church a great service in my view. He’s far from being an exegete, though. Same with Geisler, actually. He is little Greek and Hebrew training, and what he had he has long forgotten, since his focus (thankfully for the church) shifted to philosophical theology and apologetics. His task is systematizing and going beyond the text when philosophical argument is needed. He has little appreciation of knowledge of the kind of thing OT grunts deal with in the text, especially the comparative ANE material. What OUGHT to happen within the church and its scholars is that text-people (like me) should be doing their work with the goal of articulating a text-based biblical theology, and then handing the results over to people like Geisler and Ross for systematizing and apologetics. Sadly, text-based scholars rarely care about theology (even evangelical ones). They love the nuts and bolts. They’re like moles, and would spend their entire careers digging through the text just for the love of it. The result is that my category of scholarship has let the theologians down, and left them to do their work with superficial understanding of the text (English / translation based). They are left to think abotu the big picture, and only drill down into the the text when they need a band aid for the pretty theological picture they are creating – and that can lead to theological formulations that just don’t reflect the textual reality (hence this discussion about inerrancy). It’s a situation I often lament on my own, since I’m one who sees text work as being FOR biblical theology. I’m a dinosaur in that regard, sad to say. It just is what it is.

  30. MSH says:

    Chris: Thanks for this summary. It’s likely ancient history for most who are reading this blog. but for those unacquainted, it may be useful.

  31. cwmyers007 says:

    Dr. Heiser, That is good stuff. I would appreciate your recommendation on that thesis. 300 pages is no problem for me. I guess what I want to know about your mind is….Do you think that the Chicago statement of infallibility can still stand in spite of these pre-scientific worldviews represented in Scripture? If we can prove these “pre-scientific” worldviews as “bad” science, what other cavities will this open up for the world to declare the inspired word of God as “bad” logic, “bad” stories, and mythological anomalies of the “God” gene?

  32. cwmyers007 says:

    Dr. Heiser, Awesome points. You should brainstorm on how you can coordinate these textual scholars with the systematic theologians. Actually isn’t that exactly what Logos is doing? Making this textual research available right in their homes! (I think computer technology would be the starting point, i.e. through Logos) This would be an awesome goal for the church. Thanks for opening my eyes to it! I don’t think you are as much a dinosaur as you think. There are just many people who do not realize the need.

  33. MSH says:

    Chris: On the book, I’d start with the one by Luis Stadelmann: The Hebrew conception of the world: A philological and literary study (Analecta Biblica). It’s available at Amazon or at You need to be comfortable reading Hebrew in transliteration, as the author uses this throughout. It really helps digest the word-level congruences in the vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible and ANE literature.

    On the Chicago Statement, the honest answer is that I’m not sure how extensive it’s survival can be. I have liked it over the years (it says a number of things well), but I’ve felt consistently uncomfortable with what it fails to say – both in terms of including issues and nuancing others. A lot of this is born out of my own 10+years being in Semitics programs inherently hostile to such a theological commitment. I don’t feel I need to surrender inerrancy, because I know how I would answer a host of questions put to it. What I lack is a single statement of reference that covers the ground I’d like covered. I’ve tired of waiting for other scholars in my field to produce one, so I’ve gone to this blog for it. I’ve found that if I wait for more “mature” scholars to engage my questions, they won’t get answered. (I had to do that with the monotheism and divine plurality problem; cost me ten years of my life but I’m thankful God moved me into it in very specific ways). I’m doing what I can to provoke the discussion and get some help.

    I don’t think a pre-scientific worldview is a problem for inspiration and inerrancy. I think God will give us insight to deal with this. To this point, there have been two choices: (1) pretend scientific problems don’t exist by denying science; (2) pretend scientific problems don’t exist by non-literalizing the Bible everywhere there might be a problem. I don’t like either approach since one amounts to dissing general revelation and the other can involve awful exegesis and allegorizing to make the system work.

    Getting back to pre-scientific content and inspiration and inerrancy, the former is easily dealt with in my view, since God decided to choose humans where they were. The Scripture is very clear there. God uses people to do all sorts of things (like evangelism) and they are limited in their wisdom, knowledge, skill, etc. to do it – and yet God is always active through the Spirit to get it the job done. I think inspiration is the same. God used people, and oversaw the process so that the end result was what he wanted (and it was a long process, involving editing, human literary choices, human agendas for communicating in specific ways, etc. – look at Ivan’s summary of the gospels – nothing in their any gospel scholar would deny). Inerrancy is a bit tougher in that we really need to articulate it in light of God’s choice to inspire through human agency. That’s why I want the discussion. I think a more comprehensive view of inerrancy than the Chicago Statement is within our grasp, and I also think we can shore up its weaknesses of omission and lack of careful nuancing in places.

    Your reference to the “God” gene is a bit misplaced, assuming you refer to what is becoming known as “neuro-theology” (the mind-body problem). I don’t see any pre-scientific problem there, but I do see a *possible* problem with Scripture not affirming the traditional evangelical view of this (substance dualism). I am actually getting into this issue with some seriousness now for an article on it I have been asked to write. My hesitancy is that all the discussion on this has tended to be of a philosophical-theological nature (due to its history). What needs to be done is a text-based investigation in BOTH testaments that leaves the categories at the door.

  34. MSH says:

    Chris: You correctly discern that this text geek / theologian divorce is close to my heart at Logos, and not mine only. It’s hard to see how the gap can be closed. I remember about ten years ago (I think) Wayne Grudem lamenting this very same thing in his ETS presidential address. It was wonderful, but how much has changed?

  35. Rairdan says:

    Doc H writes:

    “… but I think it’s much easier to side with Calvin here and affirm something equally obvious: In communicating with humanity, EVERYTHING God tells us is in some way an accommodation to our limitations.”

    Inerrancy statements necessarily focus on some minutiae, but many of them miss exactly the above. I think an aura of humility needs to work its way into our thinking. Two hundred years ago, our ‘scientific’ conception wasn’t really on anyone’s radar. Now we think we have all of the answers. What will the conception be two hundred years from now, when some other conceptions shape and form the lenses one reads the text through?

    In other words, we need a conception of inerrancy that allows us to understand the text as it was communicated, not as we happen to see it. If taking a ‘pre-scientific’ worldview into account helps make sense of things which are otherwise insensible (e.g. 1Co 11 and head coverings), then it’s worth it.

    But we must be humble in our approaching the text, always starting from the assumption that we *haven’t* got it figured out. Otherwise we’ll smoosh the data into what we see instead of dig to understand what the text communicates.

    It ain’t (necessarily) rocket science, but it is detailed and, in some points that seem way-out wacky to us, rather difficult. Being honest about that difficulty, instead of flattening it, is the proper place to start.

  36. MSH says:

    Rairdan: Well said.

  37. Ivan Steel says:

    Rairdan: Hear! Hear!

    In order to say that what we “know” today about the universe is “true” and be intellectually consistent, we would have to say that truth — or our perception of it — changes over time: We’d have to accept that 120 years ago, space was filled with luminiferous ether which suspended the stars and planets in a fluid gel; that 500 years ago the sun really was an umblemished sphere and the planets revolved around the earth; that 1,000 years ago disease was in fact caused by the imbalance of the four fundamental bodily fluids. Or evil spirits.

    Go back to Palestine 2,000 years ago and you find that people believed all manner of frippery, glumdiggle, rum-tum and pitter-pat. Why are we shocked to find it in the pages of Scripture? And let us be fair: All of the jabberwocky we find was cutting-edge “science” in its day (rather, pre-scientific metaphysical speculation), all “known” to be “true” by learned and respectable men and women everywhere.

    It’s uncharitable in the extreme to hold Moses and his ilk guilty for not having had any idea about, say, the wave-particle duality of light — which even now is being undermined by diligent men and women in white coats and big shiny nerd glasses.

    Imagine if you will that Genesis began this way: “In the beginning, all the matter in the universe was compressed down into a single point. Never mind where the matter came from, or what it was doing all packed in there like that. Trust me, it just was. Someone, let’s call him God, flicked the point with his pinky finger and it exploded into a million billion trillion quintagazillion stars and galaxies.” That particular theory is already starting to erode, and in a generation or two will be counted as shamefully foolish. Besides, I barely understood that paragraph, and I typed it. How could we expect an ancient Israelite to?

    Just this: Reality doesn’t change over time, but our models of it do.

    Even the most hardened scientists sometimes deal in constructs that are only “true” on paper. We “know” nowadays that the planetary model of the atom Just Ain’t So. Nevertheless, it is indispensable to the task of stoichiometry. One must suspend disbelief long enough to use a model that is known to be false in most of its particulars in order to do something useful: Balance an equation so you can mix chemical A and chemical B without blowing your fingers off. For that particular task, a more accurate model of the atom is not only unnecessary, it’s downright unhelpful because it’s beside the point: Will someone please tell Dr. Heisenberg to keep his word-hole shut while I figure out just EXACTLY how much sulphuric acid to pour into this flask?

    As stoichiometry, so hermeneutics: A more accurate understanding of the cosmos is not only unnecessary to understanding the Psalms, it is downright unhelpful because it is beside the point. Statements of inerrency that pound the square pegs of scripture into the round holes of scholastic philosophy only muddy an already brackish pond further.

    Humility needed on all sides? I should say!

  38. MSH says:

    Ivan: Nice job, Ivan. I’ve added one more nugget from this one to my list, which will be posted tomorrow. For tonight, it’s the Chicago Statement – I’m hoping for pointed critique, but you might just anoint it a theological pinata!

  39. Ivan Steel says:

    Piñatas are usually filled with candy, not recriminations.

  40. Mike H.
    I read your blog here because I never want to quit learning and studying and growing in my knowledge of our God and his great salvation. I am really glad though I am not going to need to pass a test on this material to get into heaven, if so I am in trouble.

  41. RiRL says:

    Thanks for these discussions, although I’ve come late to the party, again, so to speak.
    I have an MA in Christian Apologetics from Talbot, and I am trying to figure out how to unpack these sorts of thoughts on inerrancy and the nature of Scripture in the context of lay teaching ministry in a non-denominational church.

    Any thoughts or guidance or references that might be useful (besides this blog) or follow-up articles given the late date of my comment would be appreciated.

    • MSH says:

      Generally, I think we would be better off if instead of making inerrancy “recipient centered” (how the recipients view it), we ought to make it “sender centered” (what were God’s goals and what was he satisfied in doing).

      We all know that inerrancy is subject to definition of necessity, and that one embraces it or rejects it based on definitions and how the phenomena of the text conform to the definitions (or not). I’d say a change in definitional orientation like that above, being content with God’s own choice to speak to a pre-modern people through pre-modern people makes the most sense in correspondence with both reality and the picture of the process in its time that the text itself gives us.

  42. Some Dude says:

    Dr. Heiser,

    Greetings. I have read all of your blog articles on the subject of inerrancy/inspiration and other associated articles re: Peter Enns’ discussion concerning the historicity of Adam. I have also read all of John Walton’s and Paul Seely’s materials re: ancient Hebrew cosmology and the relevant articles on the Biologos website. I am also a seminary graduate with several years of biblical Greek and Hebrew training and can read the Greek NT pretty well and can plod my way through the Hebrew text. I say this to give you an idea where I’m coming from academically. In light of this, I have a simple question:

    If the Bible makes erroneous assertions about the cosmos/history, why should we believe that its theological assertions are infallible? In other words, what prevents us from concluding that the whole thing is just a bunch of malarkey and out of intellectual honesty we might as well jump off into agnosticism or deism?

    I have yet to receive a satisfying response to that question other than “Well, we just have to believe that God’s inerrant message of faith was preserved for us through the fallible ancient worldview of the biblical writers.” In other words, I am expected to take this on blind faith. I asked another scholar about this and they said something like this (I’m paraphrasing their response for sake of privacy),

    “Its possible that the theology in Scripture is merely ancient theology like the ancient science. However, the reality is that it’s a living theology that continues to change the lives of people. That can’t be said of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. Hope this helps.”

    The fact is, that response does *not* help. There’s plenty of “old theologies” still lurking around (i.e., Hinduism, Buddhism) that are still “changing people’s lives” and all of them are philosophically and scientifically bunk.

    Please understand, I have no desire whatsoever to walk away from the faith. I really want the death and bodily resurrection of Christ to be *historically* true because it satisfies my deepest spiritual needs as a sinful, human being and gives great hope to not only my lost family, but to the entire world. However, I’m an intelligent, graduate level educated adult and pat answers didn’t earn my graduate degree nor are they going to be what alleviates the cognitive dissonance when I’m laying awake at night wondering whether or not this whole thing is just a load of crap.

    I’m not asking for an inerrant Bible in the sense that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy argues for. I just want to know what criteria prevents me from sliding down the slippery slope into unbelief because I recognized that part of the Bible was historically false.

    Sustained by the Holy Spirit (for now),

    Some Dude

    • MSH says:

      Your question was:

      “If the Bible makes erroneous assertions about the cosmos/history, why should we believe that its theological assertions are infallible? In other words, what prevents us from concluding that the whole thing is just a bunch of malarkey and out of intellectual honesty we might as well jump off into agnosticism or deism?”

      I would answer this way:

      1. I see nothing in the Bible to suggest that God moved the biblical writers to write about things in their human experience and five senses (i.e., the natural world of their lives) that they could not know about, given the time and place in which they lived (which was God’s own choosing). That is, the purpose of divine revelation was not to prompt people to dispense material they could not comprehend, and which no recipient could decipher. This premise — that the writers were responsible for knowledge beyond the time and place and worldview in which they lived, is OUR invention, superimposed on THEM. We presume God just stuck it in their heads. He didn’t and didn’t care to. He used them as they were, communicating in a mode in which they’d be clearly understood.

      2. The area that WAS outside their experience (and which would be outside the experience of ANY human at ANY time) was material about the nature of God, the nature of the spiritual (disembodied, divine) world, and the true moving of the unseen hand of God behind historical events. This was totally outside their ability.

      3. Note that both 1 and 2 contain reference to things the writers couldn’t know. I would say God cared about the material of #2 — i.e., THAT was HIS goal in moving people to write about Him and His activity and will. He didn’t care about #1. It wasn’t the point of the exercise.

      This view hardly results in deism. It’s also honest. It dispenses with viewing inspiration as a paranormal event. Rather, it sees inspiration in the same way as one would see canonicity — providence is at the center. Further, it is a providence that has a clear goal. But it’s God’s goal, not ours. And we have no right to swap ours in.

      And so my argument is that we ought to see the process of the making of the Bible as a process directed by God in often unseen, providential ways, directed in accord with goals that made sense to God. I would argue that the above makes it easy to have God look at the end product and say “good job; now everyone will know about me and what I’m up to.” I think if I’d protest to God, “but Lord, what about XYZ statement — that doesn’t sound like it conforms to what’s really true about genetics / physics / etc.?” He’d say “I know; I didn’t care to tell them all that. It wasn’t the point of the exercise or my goal. What of it?”

      What I’d need to be troubled about my view is also pretty simple. I’d need to be convinced by someone that God intended and desired the biblical writers to be scientists and communicate scientific truths that would satisfy us today (and what about 500 years from now?) while writing in the second millennium BC. I’d need to be convinced that God’s choice of the writers in the time and place wherein they lived brought with it that requirement. Lastly, I’d need to be shown how that makes good sense. Then I’d worry. While fundamentalists want to insist these sorts of things are required by inspiration, I’ve yet to have anyone make a convincing case for it.

      Not sure that’s clear, but that’s my five minutes’ worth for now.

      • Some Dude says:

        Dr. Heiser,

        Thank you for your reply. You noted in your response,

        //I see nothing in the Bible to suggest that God moved the biblical writers to write about things in their human experience and five senses (i.e., the natural world of their lives) that they could not know about, given the time and place in which they lived (which was God’s own choosing).//

        But why assume that “God moved the biblical writers” to write anything? In other words, since we can successfully demonstrate that their science is ancient, errant, and completely within the realm of their own experience, what prevents us from thinking that their theology is any different?

        After all, Mormons have taught that Joseph Smith had his first vision in a particular place, time, etc, and that he retrieved his “golden tablets” in ancient Egyptian from the Hill Cumorah, most of which has been proven to be historically bogus. Many LDS recognize these things are historically false yet still believe the claims of Smith “by faith” via a subjective experience notoriously known as the “burning in the bosom”.

        If its simply “faith” then I’m okay with that; I just would appreciate some clarity on how this is any different epistemologically than Mormonism.

        Sustained by His Spirit (for now),


        • MSH says:

          Saying something happened which didn’t is different than lacking scientific knowledge (i.e., being primitive). One reflects a mistake in offering information that one could have checked or validated. The other requires being born millennia later. Seems apples and oranges to me.

  43. Some Dude says:

    Dr. Heiser,

    Thanks for your response. Sorry for writing anonymously, but I need a place where I can safely express my concerns and doubts without fear of reprisal by my apologetic friends who would now see me as an apologetic target or someone in need of evangelism. I don’t need their shallow pat answers, I need answers from people who actually can read the ancient languages, understand the comparative ANE material, and give me some straight answers working from that scholarly material. Thanks again.

    Sustained by the Holy Spirit (for now),


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