In this episode Kurt and Chris Date discuss the doctrine of inerrancy.
What Do You Meme?
Inerrancy as it pertains to the city of the feeding of the 5,000:
Mike Licona’s take
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a great pleasure to be with you again here week after week out of the Defenders Media offices in downtown West Chicago, Illinois, and today we’ve got a nice core doctrine that we’re talking about, well whether it’s core may be up for debate. We’re talking about the doctrine of inerrancy. What is inerrancy? It’s a big term. Basically it asks the question, are there errors in the Bible? We’re going to delve into another different subpoints of that question. Before we do that, you might notice here, Chris, my tech friend and I are actually eating our lunch here on today’s episode. We’re going to try to just be a bit more relaxed here as we talk about the doctrine of inerrancy and for those who maybe know us personally, they know we go to KFC/Taco Bell. Yes. That is me opening up my $5 fill-up box. It is our tradition after the podcast and we’re going to try something different today where we’re going to be eating while we’re talking about these doctrines. If you want to join us in on the conversation, you can give us a call. The call lines are open. You can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. I will get the text messaging system up here shortly as well so you can text in to the show. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and I’ll get your text message and you can send me a question that you might have or at any time during the week, send me a message, maybe if you’ve got a show idea or a guest you want to hear or a question you might have. You can just text that in. Alternatively you can email me, Kurt@veracityhill.com. That’s another way to get in touch with me throughout the week. I would love to hear your feedback on the shows that we do. Each episode we try to bring something different to you week after week. We’ve started that worldview series now. We’re a couple months in. That first Saturday of every month we’re doing a topic on a worldview so we’ll see what we bring to you next month in June, but last week the episode was on Judaism, we had an orthodox Jewish Rabbi join us, Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, so it was interesting to hear from him. If you haven’t had a chance, please go back and listen to that episode. I thought it was very fascinating how many things I had in common with him. Of course, some strong distinctive differences when it came to Jesus, but very interesting to see the similarities there.
We’re talking about the doctrine of inerrancy and in order to do this we have brought on not just a guest but a friend of the program, Chris Date of Rethinking Hell. You might know them from the sponsorship that they have, but Chris has done some thinking and some writing on inerrancy. Chris. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Chris: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Kurt: Yeah. Of course, so for those of you who are unfamiliar with Chris, he’s a well-known evangelical Christian author, editor and speaker, a popular blogger. You also have your podcast that you participate in. You’re considered a steward of the Rethinking Hell project and for those that haven’t had a chance, I recommend that you go back into our archives and listen to that episode, where Chris sort of laid out three different views on the afterlife and then in the second half of the show made his case for his view on conditional immortality. I’m getting everything right so far Chris. Right?
Chris: Yeah. So far. Yep.
Kurt: Good. Good. I’m not making any errors, pun intended for today’s episode. Thanks again and I don’t mean to make you jealous if we’re going to be eating here. Chris Yiesla, the tech guy, he’s going to be doing most of the eating because he won’t be doing as much talking. At any rate we’re going to be eating our lunch here just relaxing. Chris Date, since we’ve got two Chrises here, let’s just first look at this first question that I thought of. What is inerrancy? I know it’s a broad question, but what are your thoughts on it? What is inerrancy?
Chris: Well at it’s simplest I think inerrancy is the belief that the words originally penned by the authors of Scripture are without error in terms of what is it those authors intended to communicate. That doesn’t sound all that controversial I suppose, but there’s a lot that it doesn’t say. In other words, I think it’s just as important to explain what inerrancy is not as it is to explain what it is. Just as one example of what I’m talking about, when the author of Revelation, when John describes this apocalyptic symbolic vision that he’s receiving, when he describes for example a beast with seven heads and ten horns being ridden by a vampiric blooddrunk prostitute with the name Mystery Babylon tattooed on her forehead, none of us are intended to take that literalistically. It’s not accurate in the sense that this is what we can expect in the future to arrive on the scene, but rather it’s an accurate description of what it is that John saw in this vision that he received. It’s just the belief that what the original authors of Scripture intended to communicate is accurate and was captured in the original documents which means that there’s the possibility that there might be minor mistakes in the transmission, during the copying process of the manuscripts and so forth, so it’s about the accuracy of the autographa, the original documents, not the copies since, although I would argue that there’s very few significant if any errors in the transmission process from the original documents throughout history. Those are my thoughts.
Kurt: So you brought in the first point of distinction that I like to make is the autographa. What we’re talking about when we say that the Bible is inerrant is we’re talking about the original documents, the original writings, and right away from an apologetics standpoint, that would basically push aside any objections to the copies. If people say “Here there was a manuscript error” we’re not talking about that. We’re not talking about necessarily the transmission, but also as you pointed out Chris, I think we can believe in a strong strong reliability of the transmission process and in fact that none of Christian doctrines hinge upon any transmission errors, but that is a distinct point from the doctrine of inerrancy and so really we’re just talking about the errors and rather there are any errors.
Chris: That’s right.
Kurt: Chris. What do you think are, if we were to survey, personally I sort of see two camps when it comes to inerrancy. How do you survey the field when it comes to this doctrine? Do you see Christians differing over their understanding of inerrancy?
Chris: Undoubtedly. There’s the whole Mike Licona controversy. Sometimes I do question when he treats for example portions of Mark as he recently did, I do question just how truthfully he believes in inerrancy, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to get at. The point I’m trying to get at, there’s a very extreme camp of inerrancy heading up by people like Norm Geisler which would doubt the sincerity of anybody professing inerrancy who just wants to let genre inform what one understand to be the author’s original intent and so for example when Matthew describes this resurrection of the saints at the time of Jesus’s death, Mike Licona wants to say that the genre of that portion of that Gospel tells us that it’s not intended to be taken as a literal historical narrative of something that happened. He’s not saying it’s inaccurate. He’s saying the genre is such that it wasn’t intended to be taken as a historical narrative and so when somebody like Norm Geisler or some other people in that extreme end of the spectrum criticize him for that, I don’t think they’re legitimately criticizing him on the grounds of inerrancy. They’re disagreeing with his assessment of the genre of the passage as I would. I don’t share Mike Licona’s view of that, so this is why I think it’s important to distinguish inerrancy from what one understands to be the way that genre informs one’s understanding of the text and I would probably lean closer to the Mike Licona area of the spectrum where it is inerrant, but genre informs those things. On the other end of the spectrum of course, you have people that think it’s utterly unreliable, and then there are people in between who I think would be comfortable saying that the Bible is infallible in matters of faith and practice, by which they mean there’s something that God intended to communicate through the text that is without error, without being able to fail, that’s what infallible means, but they would not say that historical and scientific details that aren’t really part of what God intended to communicate, those aren’t expected to be inerrant and so they would not feel comfortable affirming outright inerrancy, but they would land more in the middle on some sort of infallibility so that’s kind of the spectrum I see it I’m pretty close to the extreme inerrancy end, but I wouldn’t go so far as people like Norm Geisler to criticize people like Mike Licona.
Kurt: Right. Maybe you’re not so far, I don’t know how the spectrum is laid out right and left. Maybe you’re not so far to the right as you say, because I sort of view like you mentioned, Geisler he almost associates inerrancy with interpretation, but of course even he recognizes the difference of interpretations between young Earth and old Earth and it’s fascinating that he is willing to recognize difference of interpretations there and I’m sure elsewhere in Scripture, but not necessarily when it comes to the Licona controversy, and for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Licona controversy, Dr. Mike Licona sort of interprets the end of one of the Gospels where it says that the saints came out of the graves and entered the cities. Licona doesn’t interpret that literally or rather historically but thinks that the author is sort of making an apocalyptic message here and so of course, that sort of set out a firestorm that many of us, Chris, a lot of us know about in the theology and Biblical criticism world.
Chris: Let me interrupt for just a second though, because while I agree with you there and I think you and I are probably on the same page of that aspect of the Licona controversy, I will admit to leaning more toward the James White view of the more recent Licona controversy. When he comes to the passage, I think it was in Mark, where
Kurt: The location of a city.
Chris: That’s right. Licona seems to be willing to accept that the Gospel author there made a mistake and that’s not, to me that does fall outside of the bounds of inerrancy and I think that there’s a very simple explanation for that passage that we don’t need to get into here. I just want to make clear to those listening that while I am on Licona’s side of the previous controversy surrounding that passage that you just described, I’m probably less on his side when it comes to the more recent one.
Kurt: Yeah. And I’ll have to go back and look that up. I remember reading, I think it was just a couple blog posts on that. We can’t always afford all of our energy into looking at topics. Yeah. So that would be interesting. I don’t want to say that the original author made an error, but I do want to sort of emphasize human intent because I think a number of things can be explained through recognizing their intentions and their intentions, here’s the crucial difference, their intentions very well might be different than our own. That leads me in to say Gospel differences, and we’ll touch more broadly Bible difficulties after this, but let’s just focus specifically on Gospel differences. How would you for example handle any, there are some easy Gospel differences, there are some not so easy ones, so let’s take what I consider an easy one Chris, how many angels were there at the tomb of Jesus and how do you know?
Chris: Before I answer that question, I like to give an analogy, and bear with me, it should only take a minute to give this, but imagine that ten years ago I was walking down the sidewalk in town and I happened upon my Mom and her sister. We struck up a conversation and it’s a conversation that I remember very clearly and so ten years later, now it’s today, I’m telling you, “Oh man. Ten years ago I was walking down the street and I encountered my Mom and her sister and we had this conversation”, but then let’s say tomorrow you went and you talked to my Mom and she told you about that story and she made no mention of her sister there. Would that mean that one or the other of us is inaccurate or wrong or that our memory is fallible? No. It doesn’t mean any of that. It just means that I remember her being there and it’s not something that my Mom remembered being there, but she also doesn’t say only me. She doesn’t say that my sister wasn’t there. She just doesn’t mention it. What you have is a difference in perspective. A difference in memory that does not reflect any sort of error. It’s not that one of us is lying or making an error, and so in the same way if one Gospel author records the presence of two angels there but another one records the presence of one, that doesn’t immediately stand out to me as an error. It’s just an example of one person remembering the both of them, the other person for whatever reason seeing only need to mention the one. It’s not as if that Gospel author said there was one and only one angel there. That author just mentions only one and that does not seem to me to be a contradiction.
Kurt: Let me throw you a sort of devil’s advocate question here before we get into some other examples. You talked about the importance that memory played there in the hypothetical. What would happen then if say a Biblical author misrecollected something? Would that constitute an error? I know this is more of a trickier question.
Chris: Maybe. Maybe not. What we’re not saying is inerrant is the memories or the entire worldviews or anything like that of all the authors. What we’re saying is inerrant is the Scriptures themselves, the words that the authors penned, and so if somebody with a fallible memory, a mistaken memory even, records an account of history that is accurate and doesn’t specify those errors in that person’s memory, then I don’t think that’s an error, but if on the other hand this person, if in fact the one Gospel author only remembered there being one angel there and said there was one and only one angel there, well then now you’ve stepped into the realm of a Biblical error because the error in that person’s memory has been specifically transferred to the paper he’s writing on so to speak so for me, the question isn’t really what does the person remember or not remember, what does the person think he saw or doesn’t think he saw, etc. The question is, what was penned, and if what was penned is not what was contradictory to what another person penned who records the same account but they have some differences, that doesn’t constitute an error immediately.
Kurt: Yeah. So maybe there is some room for the authors to misremember something. Like you said, it just depends.
Chris: It depends on what they wrote down.
Kurt: Yeah. Right. Let me take a medium level example here from the Gospels. Let’s take the example of Jairus’s daughter. In one account of the Gospels, you have messengers coming and meeting out with Jesus, and in another example, you don’t have the messengers and I’m just being very simple here in the accounts. Some Christians have taken a method to interpreting this example and others through what’s called harmonizing and I think harmonizing works in a number of examples. Of course, for example, how we might explain the angels at the tomb, but some people would take harmonizing a bit further and maybe even stretch it and say something like, “Well, maybe Jairus’s daughter died twice and Jesus raised her from the dead twice.” I would say that sort of interpretation and stretching of harmonization goes a bit too far when it seems that there are some other explanations for that. What would you say accounts for a difference like that where an author sort of focuses or to use Licona’s terminology, spotlights on a certain person or situation at the expense of mentioning other people?
Chris: First of all, this is not a difference that I’ve studied in detail so I don’t really have an informed opinion on it, but what I will say is that the way you’ve described the situation here does not sound to me to be altogether different from the case at the angels at the tomb. If I’ve understood you correctly, you’ve got one Gospel author mentioning a group of people that another person does not, but what does that have to do with whether or not the person who doesn’t mention it specifically is saying that those people were not there? Does that author say that it was only Jairus and his daughter or whatever and that these other people weren’t there?
Kurt: Right. Good. That’s a good point.
Chris: I’m asking you that question. Does he say that?
Kurt: No. To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t say that there were no other people there.
Chris: Yeah. I don’t think that dying twice is something that needs to be resorted to here. I think that’s a little foolish, but it doesn’t seem to me, based on at least the way you’ve described the circumstances here, that we have a case that requires that extreme of an explanation. It seems to me that the same kind of difference between the angels at the tomb can be explained here. I don’t want to see harmonization go too far, but at the same time I do think that one’s belief or lack thereof in inerrancy will constitute presuppositions that will determine whether somebody even really makes an attempt to harmonize and that’s one of my concerns. What I mean by that is, somebody like me who believes in inerrancy is not, or at least, should not go into an account like this and be willing to blindly accept any possible explanation, but the presupposition that I have that is inerrant means that I’m going to at the very least spend some time exploring what alternatives to an error might account for the discrepancy or the difference between the text. On the other hand, somebody who does not believe in inerrancy, I think is very likely to not even really give much of an effort at all to harmonizing the accounts and I don’t think that really does justice to the Biblical text. Even within a single passage, I’ve been going back to the more recent Licona controversy that I just mentioned, James White has explained on The Dividing Line that there’s a very simple explanation right there in the very passage for what’s going on whereas the person who alleges that Mark has made a mistake has to allege that Mark made his mistake in a matter of three or four verses apart and that seems to me to be really ridiculous. The idea that I would actually contradict myself a mere ten words after the first thing I said I think is unfair to the authors themselves. To me, whether one presupposes inerrancy going into these kinds of differences makes an enormous difference as to whether harmonization is even going to be attempted, let alone whatever the conclusions from that harmonization attempt are.
Kurt: Good. I know a number of people have chimed in on that. I think Lydia McGrew had a good article as well.I’ll try my best for those interested, I’ll try my best to bring a number of links to our website so this afternoon if you want to check that out we’ll have those links posted for you to check out this controversy. And if you’re watching us on the livestream. Please say hi. Bob. Thanks for saying hi there on the livestream, and if you like what you’re hearing go ahead and share it with your friends as well so more people can listen in to our show today. Chris. Before we move on I have one more example from the Gospels and I think this is one where I personally think it’s a real stretch when harmonizing attempts to solve this quandary, and it’s not quite all from the Gospel because the other account is in the book of Acts, but the death of Judas. One account says that Judas hung himself from a tree. The other says that his means of death were that he tumbled down a hill and his guts burst open upon the rocks. Here the way that some scholars have tried to reconcile and harmonize these accounts is by saying, “Well, Judas first hung himself on the tree, the rope broke, and he fell down the hill.” To me, I find that to be stretching the accounts. What’s your take? Are you sympathetic to that view or some other interpretation?
Chris: I’m sympathetic to it. I think it’s at the very least plausible although I will admit that stretch I think is a fair word. It does strain credulity a little bit, but I do think it’s plausible and again, as somebody who presupposes Biblical inerrancy because of texts that maybe we’ll get to at some point in the course of this conversation, as somebody who presupposes inerrancy, I come to this and say, “If I can’t come up with an answer that fully satisfies me, I don’t immediately jump then to error.” I’m not saying you do either, but I’m just saying that’s what the role of presuppositions is. If I can’t figure out something that really makes sense of the text, I’m willing given the preponderance of the evidence throughout the rest of Scripture to say “This is one I just can’t yet explain.”
Kurt: Right. That’s interesting and we’re going to get to this later. For you, you mentioned that this is sort of a presupposition for you and now for me it’s not. It’s something that I come to after an investigation and yet you and I still have sort of the same attitude or approach that while we have this doctrine, we affirm it at different stages in our mental state, if that makes sense, we still have the same attitude and approach to giving the Scripture a sort of fair chance, a fair hearing because we don’t immediately jump to error. We’re willing to recognize maybe we just don’t understand. For me, it’s like we live 2,000 years later. Maybe there are cultural norms that we’re unfamiliar with. Maybe an author wrote something for a specific purpose and we simply don’t know what that purpose is and so we’ve just got to do the best with what we can. I don’t know what your take is on that.
Chris: I’m less comfortable with the idea for example that an author might have a legitimate godly purpose for writing something that didn’t actually happen. I’m not comfortable with that possibility even if that day and age, it would have been perfectly normal for different authors to do such a thing. I don’t know that I’m willing to go that far, but I do want to clarify one thing just in case this maybe there isn’t as much of a difference between you and I as you might have thought. When I say I presuppose inerrancy I don’t mean the very first time I cracked open the Bible I presumed it was inerrant. What I mean is that when I come into discrepancies like these, I presuppose inerrancy because of the myriad other texts in Scripture that I think teach inerrancy.
Kurt: Alright. Cool. You’re right. I think we’re probably closer than some other people are and we’ll get into that in the second half of the show later. Let me take a comment here from David who comments here that Biblical inerrancy would be a problem if you accepted the creation and flood accounts in Genesis as literal. That sort of brings an interesting view into inerrancy. So much so that it’s not sort of an internal critique, looking in terms of internal coherency, that is one section of the text supposingly contradicts with another section of the text, but rather that if one interprets some passages in Genesis a certain way that that contradicts with the facts that we know about science. What’s your take, Chris, to David’s comment here that Biblical inerrancy would be a problem if we accepted a literal interpretation to the creation and flood narratives.
Chris: Well, this person, this commenter’s far more persuaded that secular scientific and even non-secular scientific conclusions about the age of the Earth, he’s far more confident in those than I am. #1. I see the ever changing flow of scientific investigation and conclusions and right off the bat I’m skeptical when anybody says it’s a decisive fact of science. That immediately I’m skeptical of, but secondly I don’t think an evidence against a young-Earth and against a global flood is all that great and I think the scientific evidence for it is very powerful. Just as one example, and I’m saying there aren’t answers to this. I haven’t yet seen any, but maybe they’re there. When you see fossilized trees upside down spanning multiple strata that have allegedly been laid down over millions of years, that seems to me very much like a tree was buried in sediments that settled in a global flood, or if you take multiple layers of sediments that were apparently folded back and forth on each other while those sediments were still soft and hadn’t yet hardened, that does not look to me like layers that were laid down over millions of years. It looks to me like layers of sediment that settled as the flood was coming to an end and then because of continental movements or whatever, those layers got folded. I’m not intending to get into a debate about that. I’m just saying I don’t find the scientific evidence against a young Earth and against a global flood to be all that persuasive and so I don’t find there to be necessarily a contradiction between a literal reading of those texts and God’s book of nature as it will, but this is what I do appreciate about critics of young-Earth creationism. They do at the very least recognize something that I think is really important which is that special revelation, the book of the Bible is not the only revelation that God has given us. He’s also given us the book of nature, general revelation, and I do think that if somebody like me as I am is going to be a young-Earth creationist, he at the very least needs to make sure that the record of Scripture lines up with what we see in general revelation or else I think we’ve got a problem. I do appreciate that.
Kurt: This is all to say that David’s concern or criticism here, it sort of takes the debate to the scientific stage. Right? It just sort of pushes the debate back a step and so it seems that Biblical inerrancy is only a problem if certain scientific things were in fact hard facts shall we say instead of maybe even soft facts because as you had mentioned Chris, the scientific concensus changes. New developments occur. At least once a year there’s some article that talks about how some discovery changes the stages of evolutionary theory. I think that’s a good point and it just pushes the debate back one step. Let’s continue along here.
Chris: And really quick let me just add that there a lot of old-Earth creationists who also take the flood account literally. They just don’t think that it describes a global flood. They might take the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 less literally than I do, but I think they actually have legitimate, although not persuasive to me, reasons for taking the genre of those first couple of chapters to be such that they can be taken more metaphorically or symbolically, so I’m just saying that old-Earth creationists even I think can treat the Bible as inerrant and take the flood narrative literally without contradicting what are scientific conclusions.
Kurt: Right. That’s a good point. Let’s move along to the next question and then after we deal with this question we’ll take a break. Why should we believe that the Bible, which is a book that’s 2,000 years old, and some parts of it even older than that of course, is still relevant today? It seems that we know so much more about science. David’s question or concern sort of gets into this. The Bible is just so old, why should we even be paying attention to whether what it says is accurate?
Chris: If we believed that, and if one does believe, that the Bible is a purely human in origin document or collection of documents, then I think it would be legitimate to ask that question because humans living 2,000+ years ago are probably going to have much less to say of relevance to people nowadays 2,000+ years later, but the doctrine of inerrancy and I would say the Bible confirms this, is not purely a collection of documents that are human in origin. It’s a collection of documents whose writing was guided by a God who transcends time and therefore has things that are relevant to say 2,000 years ago and today. One of the reasons I alluded to this earlier, one of the reasons I go into debates on particular allegedly discrepancies with the presupposition that the Bible is inerrant is becuase of just how frequently and from cover to cover the Bible seems to attest to its not just human origin but divine origin. You’ve got the phrase, “Thus sayeth the Lord” appearing hundreds of times in the Old Testament. You’ve got the Bible frequently saying God speaks through prophets. You’ve got what prophets is said to be what God says. You’ve got Paul saying in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scriptured is Godbreathed. You’ve got Peter saying in 2 Peter 1:21 that no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirt and on and on and on I could go. From cover to cover the Bible repeatedly and consistently says that it is not merely a book that is human in origin, but it’s also divine in origin, and if God is reliable, if He’s true, if He’s timeless, if He doesn’t contradict Himself, then what He said 2,000+ years ago through the Biblical authors won’t contradict what we see in nature and our common everyday experience now, so really the question comes down to whether one thinks that the Bible is purely human in origin or is also divine in origin and if one thinks it’s divine in origin, then I think one faces a much bigger challenge embracing some denial of inerrancy because then you’ve got to account for how it is and why it is that God would contradict Himself 2,000+ years ago from one book to the next or from then to now.
Kurt: Right. Good. That’s a great response to that question as to why we should believe a book written 2,000 years ago. We’ve got to take a break, but when we come back we’re going to be talking about whether inerrancy is essential to Christian doctrine and where we should place it in the priority of our beliefs so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors and now, it is my favorite segment of the show, much to Chris here in the studio’s office, the dismay of him, here we go.
Kurt: I thank the Beebs for singing that song. What do you meme? Alright. Here is the meme today. We’ve got it up on the Livestream and if you’re listening to this as the podcast or the download it’ll be up at the web site if you want to see it. Here we’ve got Boromir, one of the famous Boromir memes where he’s got his fingers up and says, “One does not simply believe in a happy God and inerrancy.” What is that meme? The way I take it, and Chris Date, I’d love to get your thoughts too, but the way I take it here is that this is likely an atheist or maybe someone who’s got a more liberal interpretation of at least the Old Testament passages. I take it that this is a knack against the God of the Old Testament. He seems like He’s evil and mean and so if we want to hold to inerrancy, which would be the whole of Scripture, the whole council of Scripture, that we can’t think that God is happy. I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t see why we should think that. I think we do need to consider the whole of Scripture and you will see that of course God is happy. He is also the God of justice and mercy and I don’t see why we should think that God isn’t happy if inerrancy is true. Chris Date. What do you think?
Chris: I think that the atheist community ought to be pretty disappointed by the quality of whatever this particular artist is trying to say. It would be one thing if it said, “One does not simply believe in a God who is alone happy and experiences no other emotion and inerrancy.” Then I think there’d be something to it, but the Bible does not merely record God’s joy and His happiness. It also records His grief and His sadness and His disappointment and His anger and His wrath and His jealousy and a host of other emotions. This is one of the problems I have with atheists is they tend to reduce God of Scripture to a carricature that I don’t think does justice to what the Bible actually says about God. I think this is a pretty ridiculous meme.
Kurt: They are memes after all, Chris.
Kurt: Okay. Well that does it for our short segment this time around of…
Kurt: I’ll fade it out there. All eighteen seconds of it.
Chris Y: Thank you.
Kurt: Chris here in the studio for those who are long time listeners know that this is not necessarily the most favorite segment that he has because he doesn’t like the Beebs, but how do you hate the Beebs? I don’t get it. Let’s get back to the topic that we’re dealing with today. We’re talking about inerrancy and I’m here with Chris Date and we’re going over just a number of different questions that we might have about the doctrine of inerrancy. I see that we’ve got a couple questions here online. We’ll get to those, but before we do. Chris, here’s the next question that I have for you. Is inerrancy an essential Christian doctrine?
Chris: I would say no. I don’t think that somebody who denies inerrancy is not a Christian or that we should call into question such a person’s salvation, but there is somebody whose name escapes me right now who said it’s not an issue of evangelical essentials, but it is an issue of evangelical consistency, and what I would mean by such a thing is that my concern with the denial of inerrancy is basically twofold. First of all, I do fear that as soon as you start to doubt the veracity, excuse the pun, of Scripture, I think that you open yourself to embracing all sorts of problems. I think inevitably, not inevitably, it becomes much more possible that somebody will go on to deny other essentials like the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Just as one example, I don’t remember the name of the debater that James White mentioned a number of months ago who debated the topic of homosexuality and James White went up to him after the debate was over and said “Well surely Jesus being God in human flesh knew that there were some of the people surrounding Him that struggled with feelings of homosexuality. Right?” The guy who denied inerrancy said to James, “I know Jesus believed He was God in human flesh. You don’t actually think He was right do you?” The point I’m getting at is that I do fear that a denial of inerrancy can and possibly often does lead to a rejection of other essentials of the faith and that concerns me, but I do want to be careful because as a believer in conditional immortality and annihilationism, it is sometimes said that I am likely to go on a slippery slope to denial of other doctrines, but there’s a big difference here which is that there is no logical, one of those is a logical slippery slope and the other is not. Conditional immortality and annihilationism don’t logically lead to a denial of other essentials, but inerrancy might because as soon as you don’t think that something the Scripture says has to be true then you really don’t have, you lose a lot of the grounds to accept it as being true so that’s my first concern.
My second concern is that as soon as you begin to doubt the inerrancy of Scripture I don’t know upon what basis one has for reliably determining what it is that Scripture says that is accurate and what it is that it says that is not. If I’m willing to say that Mark got the location of the town wrong, to use the more recent Licona controversy as an example, what grounds do I have for believing that Mark was right when he recorded something else in his Gospel about what Jesus said? If for example, it’s not recorded in one of the other Gospels, or what grounds do I have for believing something that Paul said if the Biblical authors can error in what it is they originally recorded. There may be, I’m glad that people who don’t believe in inerrancy do continue to believe many of the things that the Biblical authors wrote. I just question whether they have any good reasons for doing so and that’s my concern.
Kurt: It’s interesting that your second concern was brought up because I think there are people out there and one of them I think fits your description here, Bart Ehrman. For him, I think the moment inerrancy goes, all of a sudden sort of the house of cards falls and that’s something that I think has affected a lot of people, but it might be interesting, sort of our solutions for dealing with that. For me, at least the tactic I would take is, and I would, I don’t want to say warn people but advise them that even if you think that there’s one error, that doesn’t mean that the whole thing is unreliable. I think that’s a big jump that people mistakenly make. They think if there’s one error, all of a sudden I don’t believe the Bible anymore. In cases like that, I think people have obviously, it’s obvious to me, maybe not you Chris, I think they place too much faith in the doctrine of inerrancy and they’ve made it too essential to their faith. What do you think?
Chris: I think there’s a nugget of truth to that and I agree with you. Like I said, I’m glad that somebody who doesn’t believe in inerrancy and doesn’t think one thing the Bible says is true doesn’t immediately go and throw the rest of it out with the bathwater, and while it is generally true that just because there may be one error, it doesn’t mean that the rest is unreliable, again my concern is how do you discern an error from a truth? If one author, let’s say that Paul records something, or let’s say that in the book of Acts, Luke records some historical event that cannot be confirmed by any sort of historical archaeological evidence or anything like that and a person who comes upon this passage has rejected other parts of the Bible as being untrue, on what grounds do they have for accepting this historical account in Acts? That’s my concern. I’m glad they don’t throw out the rest of the Bible, but I don’t know why they don’t, or rather I don’t know what grounds they have for not doing so and that’s my concern.
Kurt: Yeah. Sort of just opens up the box if you will to seeds of doubt instead of sort of treating the Bible as innocent until proven guilty in all respects. It’s guilty until proven innocent and even in a court of law, testimonial evidence, which still counts as evidence, people have conflicting accounts and make mistakes, but it still constitutes as evidence so I think that’s interesting. It’s almost just like peoples’ mentality switches from holding a charitable view to an uncharitable view at the moment of one, if they think that there’s one error and that’s an interesting thing. Danny here online writes, “The doctrine of inerrancy causes so many problems for Christians.” He says that he objects to the doctrine and all the problems that it brings with it. Danny. Thanks for commenting. I think what you’ll find here with what Chris and I are saying is that it maybe doesn’t bring as many, it doesn’t have as many sufficient objections to it as we might think. That’s to say that the objections can be sufficiently responded to and I think we still can affirm inerrancy. I’m someone who does affirm it, but maybe we sort of need to clear the brush, clear the misunderstandings, before we recognize that. Chris. Maybe this sort of leads me to my next question. Should we presuppose the doctrine of inerrancy as sort of a fundamental building block to our faith as some people at least seem to suggest. I know R.C. Sproul, Michael Kruger’s written an article on this, and I haven’t listened to James White’s Dividing Line all that much. I know however that he places a very strong emphasis on inerrancy. Do we presuppose it as a core or essential doctrine or is it a belief that we come to after investigating the Gospel message?
Chris: That’s a good question. First of all, as I’ve already indicated, when I use the word presuppose in this context I’m just talking about what I presuppose when I come to any perceived discrepancy because of what I see the rest of Scripture saying, but I think this is a good question. The bigger question is, as I begin to formulate a worldview based on what Scripture teaches do I presuppose that it’s inerrant or do I come to that conclusion based on what Scripture teaches? I don’t know that I have a great answer to that question. I think that I would share probably some of the concerns that Dr. White does which is if you don’t presuppose it and you come to a particular text in Scripture and you’re trying to build your worldview by what Scripture teaches, again what reason do I have for either accepting what a particular author says in a particular place, or rejecting it? I don’t know how you could do that. Maybe you have an answer to that.
Kurt: Right. So here we’re going to find maybe where we disagree a little bit then. At least from my view, and maybe I’m on the highway to hell here Chris.
Chris: I don’t think so. As I already said, I don’t think it’s an essential doctrine.
Kurt: I would say the reason why is because I think the Bible’s reliable generally speaking. I think that there is enough evidence to suggest that what the authors have written is reliable and does correspond to the way it happened historically, in terms of the historical genres as opposed to the poetic genres. I sort of take them then as generally reliable and therefore if there were an error in the Scripture, it wouldn’t affect my whole worldview because I think that the Scripture’s still generally reliable. Not only do I think it’s more reliable than not, as in like 51%, but I think it’s very very reliable, such that if there were an error in the autographas that it would just be so miniscule, so as to not concern my faith.I don’t know if that makes sense. How would you respond to that take then given your concern?
Chris: Actually I think if I can put what you said a little bit differently, then I think I can be kind of okay with it although it’s not my view, which is to use an analogy you gave earlier, it’s an innocent until proven guilty approach. If the extreme reliability of Scripture makes somebody like you think that if you come to a passage you should assume it’s true until it’s truly otherwise, then yes, I could say that being a somewhat reliable way of going about things so long as you’re very careful and by you I mean the proverbial you, not you specifically. As long as one makes sure to use the proper tools for determining whether or not a particular text is true, so for example, if somebody thinks that their own personal philosophical conclusions or their emotions or a somewhat questionable scientific conclusion or something like that is reason for assuming that a passage in Scripture is false, I would object to that, but if on the other hand they came to a passage that they were convinced was absolutely inconsistent with what the rest of Scripture had to say on the topic or was an outright contradiction with some historical account recorded elsewhere in Scripture, well now you’re talking about the internal consistency of the text itself and I think that’s a little bit more reliable, so yeah, I think somebody who takes this sort of innocent until proven guilty approach to any particular text is at least on safer ground than I might have otherwise thought, but I’m just concerned that people who take that approach are probably not always anyway really, truly, doing all due justice to make sure that their reasons for rejecting the truth of the text, that they’re doing so with good warrant. I guess that’s my concern.
Kurt: Interesting. Yeah. Let me phrase this carefully. I at least want to think that people who kind of have my approach would fight tooth and nail for the veracity and truthfulness of Scripture and that’s distinct from sort of your position here, right? Which says if you presuppose inerrancy that, I’m trying to think how to word this carefully, that if you presuppose it that you are far less likely to fall away from essential Christian doctrine. Is that right?
Chris: Yes, but the way that you’ve characterized that you and others go about it does not concern me nearly as much. I think that you are on far safer ground, you’re far less likely to go down that slippery slope.
Kurt: Yeah. And I would agree that there are people out there that if there’s one error all of a sudden the whole Bible is false and even if that’s a caricature, it’s sort of the attitude that one takes when approaching the text, that it’s all of a sudden guilty until proven innocent and just sort of a deep skepticism that takes hold of people. It’s a fascinating thing and it’s a sad thing I think too, and one that is simply in my model unnecessary. I think that’s an unwarranted leap. So, okay. Good. We’ve got a question here from Kyle. He says, “This is the toughest question I struggle with. How relevant is the argument over inerrancy when the Bible is a collection of documents which clearly show a progression of revelation? The Trinity, views of slavery, marriage, heaven, hell, covenant, demons, satan, etc. and invites a diversity of credible opinions from honest, faithful, Christians throughout history. Think of the interpretative pluralism of the Christian Smith argument.” I’m not sure what he means there, but I do understand the diversity of credible opinions there. He concludes here, “Inerrancy, though I agree with its basic goals is like a bunch of squares trying to explain a cube or like an analogy for the Trinity. It gets some things right, but it still seems to miss the essential nature of the Bible.”
Kyle. What I would say to you then is I think the arguments for inerrancy, and Chris you know I’ll get your take in a second. I think the views for inerrancy are, the way I phrase it is that it’s a conclusion I come to after analyzing the text. I think the autographas are without error and so I don’t need to come up with analogies. I just simply look at the text and after investigating I think, “Boy. This is not only reliable, but I have yet to find some mistake.” For me, I take it as a doctrine of faith that the originals are without error. Chris. What do you think?
Chris: First of all I think you’d better put the fire out in your studio or whatever is causing that fire truck or ambulance.
Kurt: Our office is right on downtown Main Street so we get the fire trucks coming through every now and again.
Chris: It’s okay because I’m sure this whole time you’ve been hearing my children outside my office door and stuff like that. I appreciate you putting up with me. In direct answer to your listener’s question, it actually seems to me that the debate over inerrancy is extremely relevant to the very two phenomena that he described. If inerrancy is true, then we have a reason to believe in the revelation as it progresses from Old Testament to new, but if inerrancy is not true, what reason do you have for thinking that what the progressive in the New Testament teaches is to be believed over the less progressed revelation of the Old? Right? The inerrancy debate informs our willingness to accept progressive revelation. That’s #1. #2. When you do have such divergent opinions by sincere and largely faithful interpreters of the text, and there’s a whole debate that we can have about that, but given the reality about that, if the Bible is inerrant and the various sides of that intramural Christian debate all believe it to be inerrant, then they’re more likely to work together and dialogue together to try and eventually reach an agreement, knowing that agreement is possible, knowing that there is, in fact, a true authoritative meaning communicated by Scripture that these people if we continue to work together to try to find out what it means can eventually come to. Inerrancy will prompt the people that differ on these doctrines to work toward that end, but if inerrancy is not true, if the Bible’s not reliable and fully truthful, then what’s to prompt Arminians and Calvinists to work together to find out what the Bible actually says on the topic? If the Bible isn’t reliable, maybe whatever the Bible says is irrelevant and we should just do our soteriology by philosophy like some philosophers seem to want to do….
Kurt: Not only that. Paul talks about that in terms of the philosophy of men in 1 Corinthians. I think he just means that it’s philosophy devoid of special revelation, but also I think as you mention, even though the vast majority of people aren’t philosophers, they would just sort of make their own theology off of their life experience. That’s a good point. What I would say since I really didn’t address it to you Kyle, and again thanks for your comment, in terms of the relevance, I think it is very relevant as Chris said to affirming progressive revelation, and it’s very important for us to recognize what people believed back then. Here’s my controversial comment of the show. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to believe what they believed. That’ll be a controversial proposition. Here’s one fine example in terms of cultural values. For example, today, head coverings, the vast majority of Christians don’t do that, however in other parts of the world, there are still Christians that do head coverings, and I think it’s a cultural thing, and whether there is a transcendental principle, a principle that transcends even the culture that would require women to wear head coverings. I think the text maybe is not so clear. That’s just one example and even if you think I’m mistaken on that I think we could come up with various other examples, especially from the Old Testament, for how the Jews understood their society and the regulations and laws that they had to follow. Me being a Gentile, I don’t have to follow or believe that I ought to do that thing, so that controversial comment, that what they believed back then, we want to figure out what they believed back then, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to hold the same thing today and I think that’s to the point of progressive revelation. We do maybe learn more about things and recognize that we don’t really need a system of slavery any more. Our cultural socio vantage point doesn’t necessitate a system of slavery, whereas back in an Agrarian society what do you do with prisoners of war if you don’t want to kill them? They become your slaves and you treat them as a family member, but that’s one example where we would differ from Old Testament Israel. Chris. Have I said something that is causing you turmoil?
Chris: Nah. I think I might word it a little bit differently. For example, when Paul, not to get into the egalitarian/complementarian debate, but when Paul says that women are not to either teach or exercise authority or usurp teaching authority as egalitarians might say, arguably he is not laying down some sort of universal timeless principle, but he is directly addressing a phenomenon that is taking place in a local church that Timothy or Titus is overseeing and there’s room, and I’m not trying to make any comment one way or another about that particular debate. I’m just saying there are things in Scripture that may very well be for a specific time and place that don’t necessarily have timeless application. One show I’d love to be involved with if you haven’t already done this is a show on the difference between preterism and futurism because if, when Jesus talks in the Gospels about Woe to women who are pregnant when this time comes, that text doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given futuristic dispensational views of the future given the advent of automobiles and planes and so forth, but on the other hand if those events were taking place in the first century, it’s going to be very difficult for a pregnant woman to get on horseback into the hills when the armies surround Jerusalem or whatever. The point that I’m getting at here is regardless of the debate is that there may be some things in Scripture which were for a time and place then, don’t necessarily have universal timeless application, and to the extent that that coincides what you just said, then no nothing you said there causes me turmoil.
Kurt: Yeah. I think we agree on principle even if we sort of flesh it out using different language so cool. Good. Now one thing I want to mention before we leave here is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is something I’ll provide a link to it. I’m not going to go over it since we’re sort of past our normal time here, but it’s something everyone should check out and I think one of the lessons I want to say to the Chicago Statement is that for a number of signers, while the statement is important, there is still a diversity of opinion as to what inerrancy means. You’ll recognize that as you get into the topics and discussions on inerrancy, but go ahead and check that out and I’ll share a link at the web site. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Chris Date. This is great to have you on. Let me say one thing that I appreciate about your perspective here is it helps me to recognize too that, boy inerrancy really does cover just a variety of doctrines, and so it really is, maybe it’s not a tertiary issue, if it’s not issue, if it’s not a primary issue of salvation, it seems like it’s a secondary issue, because here we are, we’re talking about preterism/futurism, egalitarianism/complementarianism, women’s head covering, Old Testament, Gospel differences. Clearly, the doctrine of inerrancy just covers a wide range of different Biblical doctrines and theological beliefs so it does seem very relevant to what we believe about those things, and thanks for helping shed that light to that on today’s show.
Chris: Whatever small amount of life I shed, I’m thankful to have been able to do so.
Kurt: Before I go Chris, again let me say thanks to you and your team at Rethinking Hell, and specifically to you, I’ve told you this before, I love that you’re doing theology in community. I appreciate that you’re taking your positions out there to the public and engaging the theologians, you’re debating, you’re writing articles, and I very much appreciate that, I think we need to do theology in community. Whereas you and I differ on a number of perspectives, I just know it’s good that we’re out there getting this stuff to sort of put it to the fire if I can use a Rethinking Hell allusion there, a refining fire for our theological beliefs. Thanks so much for coming on the show today Chris.
Chris: It’s been my pleasure and I hope you’ll have me on again at some point in the future.
Kurt: Of course. God bless you.
Chris: You as well.
Kurt: Alright. Well that does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Ratio Christi, and I want to thank the tech team today, Chris. Thanks. The right hand man week after week, most weeks. There’s just a week or two thus far and as we’re thinking this is episode 44. We’re almost to 52 which would mean a year so we’re anticipating celebrating one year of coming to you and we haven’t missed a week yet. We’ve been devoted to getting this sort of content out there for you, our listeners. I also want to give a shout out to Chris Date. Thanks again for coming on the show today, and lastly, and as every week, I want to thank you for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.