Leon Morris on Biblical Authority and Inerrancy

Great quote from Leon Morris:

My … point is that what we need more than anything is a way of looking at the Bible which holds fully to its authority, but which does not bog down on the defence of minor points. The Bible writers, while consistently regarding what they have written as reliable, do not speak of inerrancy. We must recognize that it is not our concern to show that every Bible statement can be proved to be in harmony with every other one and with the facts ascertained by various academic disciplines. It israther to show that the Bible is eminently trustworthy.

Wish I had quoted this in Biblical Inerrancy: Five Views, right on the money!

From his article “Biblical Authority and the Concept of Inerrancy,” Churchman 1967.


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  • It’s not simply the “minor points” of differences between the Gospels (and let’s not leave out the differences between OT passages and their creative reinterpretation by Gospel authors) that threatens high Christian ideals of “Biblical authority,” there’s also the challenging variety of possible interpretations of WHY such differences exist, i.e,. granted Markan priority, and the question of why stories or portions of Mark either appear or do not appear in later Gospels, or appear in altered forms in later Gospel retellings, or have passages inserted into the Markan story by later Gospel authors, along with additional stories concerning the parts of Jesus’ life in which Mark is silent (and the fact that Matthew and Luke differ most from each other in exactly those places where Mark gives them no clue how to proceed since Mark lacks information about Jesus’ birth and his post-resurrection appearances).

    See for instance these podcasts on Gospel comparisons and the interpretations scholars have suggested for the differences:

    “Which Jesus: Examining Differences in the Gospel Narratives”

    VIDEO: http://vimeo.com/18223935

    SLIDES: http://www.doubtcast.org/docs/which_jesus.pdf

    AUDIO: free on itunes Episode 78 (see also Episodes 131 & 132, “Cross-Examining the Four Witnesses Part 1 and Part 2”) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/reasonable-doubts-podcast/id266671828?mt=2

    “Gospel trajectories” (in which you can see how different stories about Jesus grew over time)


    Even the earliest Gospel is not historical reportage so much as a ‘Gospel tract” to try and sell Jesus, because you can see the author specially scripting the Jesus story in order to try and gain adherents. Let me supply a few brief examples…

    The narrator of the earliest Gospel wrote his tale from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, i.e., someone who “knows” what Jesus and others were thinking throughout the story, knows where Jesus went and what happened to him even when Jesus was all alone, for instance during the “temptation” in which the Markan narrator tells us, ‘The Spirit sent him [Jesus] out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.’

    The Markan narrator also tells us what Jesus prayed and did when the disciples were all fast asleep, i.e., ‘He [Jesus] said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”He returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!”‘)

    The Markan narrator knows what Jesus alone saw and heard at his baptism (‘As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “YOU are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,’ this earliest story of Jesus’ baptism also fits perfectly with the narrator’s depiction of Jesus not revealing his identity to the public. (The narrator of Matthew on the other hand alters this Markan tale, having the voice from heaven seen and heard not only by Jesus, but implies the crowd saw it too, for GMatthew changes “Jesus saw,” and, “YOU are my Son,” to “THIS is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” i.e., spoken to the crowd.)

    The Markan narrator knows what was spoken at Jesus’ trial, and even knows what a lone Centurion said when Jesus died, and it just so happens that the tale of Jesus’ baptism neatly frames the tale of what the Centurion said, i.e., in Mark Jesus sees the heavens “torn” open and God announcing him to be “my Son,” while at the end of Mark when Jesus dies, the curtain of the holy of holies is “torn” open (a parallel to the heavens being “torn” open), and another voice, this time the Centurion’s says, “surely this was the Son of God.” Nice framing. But is it providence, storytelling, or rather story “selling” that is going on?

    Also one might consider Gospel trajectories and how they allow one to SEE the story about Jesus growing over time from Gospel to Gospel, which raises the question of how much in the Gospels is history and how much is storytelling: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/04/gospel-trajectories-resurrection.html

    Neither can one help but question Matthew’s typical first century “stretching of the meaning” of whatever OT passages he could find to try and make them appear like “prophecies” of Jesus’ first coming. Matthew is eager to “connect the dots” any way that he can in order to “prove” the truth of his beliefs to others, suggesting that not a little bit of creativity and imagination went into the creation of even canonical “Jesus stories.” Matthew even admits that after the resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee “some doubted” (whatever that means, since interpretations vary on that passage as well).

    Christians are in love with the stories that Gospel writers told about Jesus, and such writers were seeking converts first and foremost. Who knows if the average devout Christian today would have loved the historical Jesus or been willing to follow such an apocalyptic prophet (which is a valid scholarly point of view in historical Jesus studies). I’m not sure Paul would have loved the historical Jesus either, since I am not sure Paul’s soteriology and views in other matters were the same as that of the historical Jesus. We don’t have any writings by Jesus himself, explaining his views of himself and his mission, nor a single first-hand letter by anyone claiming to have seen or heard the historical Jesus preach or perform miracles. What we have are Gospel trajectories, and even the earliest Gospel appearing to be a work of propaganda. Neither am I suggesting Jesus mythicism, merely that the question of just how much of the Jesus story is history remains a moot question, and that attempts to apologize for biblical discrepancies or shrug them off will never satisfy all of the questions raised by scholarly examinations of the texts themselves.