Inerrancy in Poster Form

Because not one but two blogs recently decided to reproduce without attribution or credit a poster I made and shared on my blog a few years ago, I thought I should share it again. It was created to illustrate the circularity of arguments for Biblical inerrancy.

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  • Howard Mazzaferro


    RULE #1


    RULE #2


  • James F. McGrath

    Yep, that’s the sort of circular reasoning I made the poster to illustrate.

  • Howard Mazzaferro


    RULE #1


    RULE #2


    RULE #3


  • James F. McGrath

    And since by definition no one can share your personal experience, since otherwise it wouldn’t be personal, this set of rules is no different than the shorter articulation:

    RULE #1: I am always right.

    Isn’t that what you are saying? If not, then how is it different? Since no one can share your personal experience (although they can, as I have, have had their own personal life-changing religious experience), can anyone correct your views in the Bible? Is there not even a slight chance that your personal experience might be true and yet your view of the Bible still be wrong?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    Actually, I was just being silly because your poster is silly. If I may make an observation about your poster, it is also illogical and contradictory. Why would someone after making the statement that THE BIBLE IS ALWAYS RIGHT, then admit that WHEN THE BIBLE IS WRONG, do this? That is illogical, no one would do that. So the poster is not even circular reasoning, but an illogical statement to ridicule people who have faith in the Bible. It does not deserve a serious response. Now a real statement would be something like this.

    1. The Bible’s message is accurate and the theology is God approved.

    2. If I read something in the Bible that seems wrong, I will not just automatically assume it is wrong, I will continue to trust in God as I have done in the past when things were not as clear. I will assume I am misunderstanding something and will investigate the situation to get a better meaning of what I have read. If and when God wants me to understand this part, he will do so.

    It’s not like my whole theology rests on a handful of hard sayings. I have a clear defined theology that most of the Bible fits into very well. You might be misunderstanding my use of personal experience which in fact can be shared. My personal experience includes receiving a detailed interpretation of the Bible that no other religious group shares, and then looking out the window and talking to people and seeing the world through the eyes of God. In my view, there is only one form of true Christianity, the rest are imposters with ridiculous interpretations of the Bible. So the problem I have with a lot of your posts is that you are criticizing the interpretations of the imposters and applying them to me as if I subscribe to the same ideas as them. Some ideas are similar, but definitely not the same.

  • James F. McGrath

    The poster is supposed to be silly, because the view it is parodying is silly. If you assume that something is inerrant, and that anything that seems to be evidence to the contrary is not in fact evidence of that, then you can believe that any text is inerrant and effectively immunize yourself from any attempt to change your mind and any evidence that might do so. And so if you happen to be right, it will be sheer luck and not because you have approached the matter in such a way as to find out. Do you really believe that God desires for people to take such an approach to religion – one that immunizes them not only against education but even against revelation, unless they happen through sheer good fortune to happen to end up in the right religion?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    No, God doesn’t desire that people fool themselves into this kind of thinking. God desires that all people come to an accurate knowledge of him. However, some people simply do not want to know the truth about God. They are satisfied with their one hour on Sunday and to accept with pleasure any ideas that come along that says they do not have to put any effort into their own salvation. Most people who say the Bible is inerrant (as in a word for word replication of what God said) do not even know what it says, their view comes from some preacher or the pope. But I don’t think anyone has “evidence to the contrary” in relation to the Bible. A person would have to be an eye witness of all past Biblical history and accurately know the mind of God to present evidence 100% contrary to the Bible on major topics. Something even more reasonable would be for someone to know my particular interpretation thoroughly before they could provide any kind of contradictory evidence. So there are in effect two answers to the situation. One is the person blindly says the Bible is accurate, end of story. The other is to challenge your contradictory interpretation of the evidence with my interpretation of the evidence. I think part of the problem is that I can legitimately say I don’t know how, or why God did some specific thing, but you want an answer for every little thing or else it did not happen.

    You said, “effectively immunize yourself from any attempt to change your mind and any evidence that might do so.”

    I’m not trying to insult you and I am being serious, but that statement sounds like something a Roman soldier might say to a Christian to get them to recant their faith before they were thrown to the lions. Is that what you’re advocating, that we all should recant our faith in God in favor of human reason and judgment? Granted, those that are imitation Christians have nothing to lose by recanting their faith as it is a useless faith in the first place.

  • James F. McGrath

    No, on the contrary, I am saying that by immunizing yourself from correction and education, you have recanted your faith, because you have effectively eliminated any route through which God might be able to rebuke or teach you. It is a stance that turns you as individual into the sole arbiter of religious truth, effectively taking for yourself the position that, in the Christian faith, belongs only to God.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    I don’t follow you, are you saying I need to accept that the Bible is wrong based on historical criticism to be rebuked or taught by God? I’m not sure where you went with this.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    As far as the last part of your paragraph, do you read my whole comments? I have already stated that my view of the Bible is not my own, but was received through spirit anointed Christians. It is through their views that I receive correction and education from God. They are ambassadors standing in for Christ, and yes they are the arbitrators of religious truth.

  • James F. McGrath

    So you accept correction from the authorities you have chosen for yourself which agree with your basic views and premises?

    If God wanted to persuade you that you have made the Bible into an idol by claiming it is inerrant, how could God possibly persuade you of this?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    Well first you have to define you view of inerrant. I’ll help…

    1. The thousands of variant readings are modifications to the texts, there is no way to know for sure which ones belong with the texts.

    2. Sections of the Bible have been slightly re-written.

    3. It contains human opinions

    4. There are mistakes as to names and places (see number 1)

    5. Some authors copied from earlier authors.

    6. The nomina sacra are probably changes made by copyist.

    7. And more….

    However, I believe the Bible contains the accurate message meant for its readers and a coherent theology and a divine plan.

    Is that claiming the Bible is inerrant?

  • Trey

    If the Bible is inerrant then it cannot by definition contradict itself. There is ample evidence of contradictions within the text itself. I have never really understood why the concept of inerrancy is so important anyway. That is a theological belief that has scanty support though I suppose supporters would rush to quote 2 Timothy 3:16 to defend their claim. But what Paul (or the anonymous author of Timothy, widely regarded as a  pseudepigraphical work) meant by Scripture is likely not the collection of books we call the Bible since the book did not yet exist.

  • James F. McGrath

    @Howard, The Chicago Declaration on Biblical Inerrancy is the classic statement about inerrancy. If you agree with it, you are surely an inerrantist. If it makes sense to you, and seems coherent, then you probably at least lean in that direction. :-)

  • Lamont Goodling


    To back up a few comments…you said:

    1. The Bible’s message is accurate and the theology is God approved.2. If I read something in the Bible that seems wrong, I will not just automatically assume it is wrong, I will continue to trust in God as I have done in the past when things were not as clear. I will assume I am misunderstanding something and will investigate the situation to get a better meaning of what I have read. If and when God wants me to understand this part, he will do so.

    This leads me to assume that for you ‘right’ is this context is ‘accurate and God-approved’ and ‘wrong’ in this context is ‘inaccurate and/or not God-approved.’

    Your (2) then reads “If I read something in the Bible that seems inaccurate and/or not God-approved, I will not just automatically assume it is inaccurate and/or not God-approved, I will continue to trust in God as I have done in the past when things were not as clear. I will assume I am misunderstanding something and will investigate the situation to get a better meaning of what I have read. If and when God wants me to understand this part, he will do so.” 

    In otherwords, your default is that what you read is accurate and God-approved, and that if you perceive it otherwise, it is an error on your part that will be corrected in due time.

    And not only is this your default, it’s the only possible explanation for your initial perception that the reading is inaccurate and/or not God-approved.

    Am I reading you correctly on this?


  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @jamesfmcgrath:disqus Well let me put it this way, first I don’t really agree with attaching such a complex definition to the simple word inerrant, which basically means free from error. Under the simple definition, I believe only the autographs were inerrant, the later copies and translations are not inerrant. But as for the Bible in general, yes I believe it is God’s authoritative word and all of it should be believed. If that means I fit your idea of inerrant, then I guess I’m guilty.

    However, I feel your approach to all of this is flawed. I think you are confusing “immunize” with loyalty. A Christian should be loyal to God in the face of adversity. And this would include being confronted with so called contradictory evidence. A person who knows God and loves him is not quickly shaken from his loyalty. Let me ask you, what would you think if someone came up to you and said that they heard your father was screaming racial slurs in a restaurant? Would you instantly believe the remark even though it was uncharacteristic of your father, and see your father in a bad light now because of it? Or would you be loyal to your father and not attribute this thing to him until you can ascertain the facts? In the mean time you would probably figure that this person who told you this story was mistaken or did not have all the facts. If you did, then I could say you were either a loyal son or you were “immunizing yourself from correction and education.” Which do you prefer? The situation concerning God is the same thing, except we can’t run home and ask him for the facts when faced with contradictory reports about him or his word. So we are left in that area where we have to reason that something is wrong with the contradictory evidence to remain loyal to God.

    You seem to put a high value on historical accuracy, as a historian I suppose that’s important. However, did you ever notice all the parables Jesus used, like the one with Lazarus and the rich man? Were these actual historical accounts? No, they were stories to make a specific point. Since Jesus is a teacher sent from God, do you think God may have done something similar when teaching the Israelites? Did he possibly provide non-historical accounts to teach them lessons? Who can say for sure, maybe the creation account is one of them. I’m not saying this is what I believe, but I suppose it is possible, and if you think it is possible, it is an alternate solution to many contradictory ideas. No one can say for sure right now, but when God completes his promises, people will know the answer.

    I’ll leave you with the words of Ben Witherington, III in his review of “What Has Archaeology To Do With Faith?”

    “What is not stated clearly by these scholars, but should have been, is that the historical critical method requires that we be as probing and critical in our evaluation of extra-Biblical data as we are with the Biblical data itself. Skepticism about the historical value of the Bible coupled with an uncritical acceptance of such archaeological reports as the destruction layers at Jericho, or the supposed lack of pre-70 A.D. evidence for synagogues, or Assyrian reports concerning the Omriide dynasty, reflect an uneven application of historical scrutiny to the relevant data.

    There is a common assumption that the critical historian or archaeologist must approach Biblical data with a certain amount of skepticism. Frankly, I would challenge that assumption. What is needed is an open mind, a critical sensibility not rashly disposed to discredit or credit one text or report or view over another. What is needed is intellectual curiosity and the willingness to be rigorous in examining the relevant data, not an adherence to a strange credo that amounts to “justification by doubt,” as if that is what distinguishes a critical scholar from an uncritical one.

    Nor is it possible completely to separate the historical record from either Jewish or Christian faith. If there were no Exodus-Sinai events and no resurrection of Jesus, then Jewish faith and Christian faith might have to be reinterpreted in ways that would be unrecognizable and probably unacceptable to those who wrote the foundational documents. One must distinguish between a faith grounded in historical events and a faith grounded in our ability to reconstruct what happened using historical methodology. The critical-historical method, whether applied to texts or other sorts of artifacts, can at best only establish probability, not certainty. Thus it is one thing to say faith is grounded in history, and another to say faith can or should be grounded in some particular historical reconstruction of that history. Scholars tend to assume, mistakenly, that because they cannot demonstrate that something happened, then it must not have happened.”

  • James F. McGrath

    @Howard, we are both seeking to be loyal. But you seem to think that it is loyal to God to accept the Bible as inerrant even if there seems to be evidence to the contrary, while I believe that God prefers us to be honest and has not created a world in which we are rewarded for ignoring evidence and refusing to go where evidence leads.

    Blind loyalty is rarely a good thing. We see it in fanatics and in the parents of people who turn out to be guilty, even though a mother will often say publicly that she is sure her child could not have done what he is accused of. What if it actually honors God and expresses more loyalty if, instead of insisting that he inspired a perfect book and then having to constantly explain away problems for that viewpoint, I suggest that perhaps God did not author the works or mandate their compilation as a book, and say instead that God is far greater than anything any book could ever say, no matter how wonderful it may be?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @jamesfmcgrath:disqus Oh, I get it now, it’s so clear. I should basically reject the book that claims to be from God because in fact he is greater then any book could say. If no book or writing could adequately tell us about God, who or what does tell us about him and what he expects of us? Do we each make up our own theology, since we have no authoritative text. Maybe he doesn’t expect anything from us and he doesn’t care what we know about him. Sounds like a pointless endeavor to me.

    Your missing one major point, I have not ignored any evidence, I have recognized the misinterpretation of this so called evidence and summarily dismissed it as such. If you think I am wrong, show me this evidence.

  • chris

    How do you know what God prefers–if he is far greater than the supposed revelations that he has given to us? 

    Are you alone the receiver of an inerrant message–the message that God cannot possibly use broken vessels such as men to author a holy script?  

    What tells you this about the nature of God?  Do explain.

  • James F. McGrath

    @Chris and @Howard, I think you are missing my point. I am not challenging the doctrine if inerrancy in order to offer some other inerrant authority in its place. Nor am I challenging inerrancy to leave everything subjective. We are perfectly capable of drawing good conclusions using available evidence, reason and experience, although we are often wrong, or often find that new evidence requires us to rethink things. If believing in a supreme ground of all that exists is logical based on all the relevant considerations, why would that not be enough? Why must you insist that God provide an inerrant text for which you can presumably make an inerrant case for its inerrancy? This seems to be an expression of human desire for certainty, rather than an implication of anything either that the Bible says or that the Bible shows itself to be.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James, let me ask you a question. If you started a new job today, which one would you prefer.

    1. The boss gives you a company manual that explains how to perform your job properly and provides you with all the company rules and procedures.

    2. The boss hands you a few company memos and tells you to observe the other employees to know what you should do.

    Which one do you think is more likely to perform badly at their job? Yes, number 2, because he does not really know if he is following proper company policy as he has no way of knowing if the employee(s) he is observing is doing so, or if the employee(s) are slacking on the job or doing the wrong thing. Is that what a company wants from their employees? God also works by organization, just look at the organization for the Israelites in the Hebrew Scriptures. Oh yeah, I forgot, that’s not from God either, never mind. :)

  • James F. McGrath

    I don’t see how either example, or what I would prefer, has any bearing on the matter. Even if you or I would prefer to have absolute certainty both about what to believe and what to do, it might well be that a perfect God would foresee that, even in the absence of such a text, we would invest our own imperfect ones with such attributes and fight over their interpretation. And it may be that it is better for us to learn to take responsibility for our actions rather than always trying to defer responsibility to a rulebook.

    But that is neither here nor there. What is relevant is that you are arguing from your desire to have certainty and clear rules to a claim that God therefore would have provided that and did provide it. I, on the other hand, think that if the evidence suggests that we have not been provided with an infallible revelation, the appropriate response is not to insist that God must have done as we wish, but instead make sense of the situation in which we actually find ourselves.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a situation where God has provided an authoritative text that explains pretty clearly what he is doing and what he wants us to do. Lets get down to the real issue for a change, If I remember correctly, you say you believe in God. If that’s so, can you prove to me with your historical methodology that he exists? If not, then you can only assume that he exists based on some corroborating evidence. What is the preponderance of evidence that makes you believe in God, and does this evidence meet the qualifications of historical methodology. If not, then aren’t you being hypocritical? You have one standard of methodology to accept the existence of God and another methodology to reject parts of the Bible. Based on the evidence, a strict historical view should say there is no proof of God, but yet you don’t. What’s up with that?

  • James F. McGrath

    @Howard, we are both in the same situation, but one of us believes that God has provided something that the other of us does not believe that God has provided. And you have already said that this belief of yours is something that must be taken on faith rather than arrived at deductively, and so you have effectively said that, having held your viewpoint and left it because of the evidence in the Bible itself, there is no way back for me other than to begin ignoring that evidence or dismissing it as irrelevant.

    I do not know where you got the idea that I think that questions other than historical ones should be answered using tools of historical inquiry. If I value you as a human being, that is not something that can be demonstrated using scientific or historical methods. There are different ways of viewing the world, and the fact that one approach doesn’t allow for certain kinds of conclusions does not mean that there are not other approaches.

    But I do think that, if one wishes to ask historical questions about events mentioned in the Bible, then historical critical tools are the only ones available to us for answering them. Anyone can believe anything based on a leap of faith, a decision to believe irrespective of evidence. If you want to reach conclusions that can be discussed rationally and reasonably with other people, then you need to agree on some common methods that will allow for that.

  • Trey

    @James, I completely agree with the points you raised. This is really about people wanting even demanding certainty for the beliefs that they cherish and hold dear. And is it not funny that those who claim to believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant often profoundly disagree on the meaning and interpretation of many passages in the Bible which kind of negates the value they attach to the importance of Biblical infallibility and inerrancy in discerning the truth? 

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James, I feel we are on two totally different planets with this stuff, I just don’t know what I can say anymore, you keep misunderstanding everything I say. One problem is I think you are applying your views of the average Christian to me. I never once said that faith alone was how I came to my beliefs. Actually you said something that is exactly how I feel, all I have to do is change one word.

    “There are different ways of viewing the [Bible], and the fact that one approach doesn’t allow for certain kinds of conclusions does not mean that there are not other approaches.”

    Perfectly said, for example, if someone says, Donald Trump built the Trump Tower, If that was all we had to go on, and after seeing the actual building, an historian would certainly be right in concluding that it would be highly unlikely that one man physically constructed this building. Should that make the statement false? In some cases it might be, but since we know the truth and the right approach to this apparent problem, we know this is not a false statement, but it uses an English idiom for the word built so that it means financially responsible for its construction. So someone from a different time, a different culture, and a different language could easily be mislead by this statement into thinking it was not humanly possible. But they would be wrong, because their approach and assumptions were wrong.

    But you do not seem to be interested in hearing other approaches to your contradictory evidence. Probably because when you hear my alternative approach, it does not fit into your complete conception of the Bible and God. But it fits mine, and in my opinion, before you can criticize my approach to your contradictory evidence you would first have to accurately understand my complete concept of God and the Bible. And it is certainly not what you think it is.

  • James F. McGrath

    I am not at all uninterested in hearing other perspectives. It may be that you don’t realize how similar your approach sounds to others that I am familiar with – indeed, that I previously held myself. This is one of the most common sources of misunderstanding in cross-cultural communication is when someone uses an idiom from their own language and culture that has different connotations for the hearer’s culture. So why not see if you can make yourself understood? Try treating me as though I really am from another planet, and see if that helps.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James, okay, lets try an exercise, I’m going to explain my view of Genesis chapter 1 and you show me where I am wrong or ignoring evidence.

    The creation account in Genesis chapter one is a description of millions of complex events that spans millions of years, and is condensed into 31 verses. This condensed version does not represent any one of the actual historical events, but groups large numbers of the actual events into a dozen or so symbolic events. Similar to my analogy as when someone builds a building, the word “build” represents all the numerous events that are needed in the construction of a building. Finally, this condensed version is communicated to man as a visual representation from his perspective as living on the earth and experiencing this visual description as it happens, and it does not reflect any actual detailed scientific observations. It would be like watching God paint a picture of the creation, the things he does on the canvas would not be the actual things he did in the real creation.

    Because Genesis does not reveal the actual events in a scientific manner, it means that this information is not necessary for the kind of information God wants us to get out of the account. Does that mean that we should not seek out this scientific information, or that what science has learned already is all wrong? Absolutely not, science has a purpose in the world, and so does Genesis, but not the same purpose. The purpose of Genesis is not to reveal to us all the scientific mysteries of our origin, but to reveal God’s part in our origin and to demonstrate God’s wisdom and power.

    Any questions?

  • James F. McGrath

    Yes. What do you see yourself as disagreeing with me about?

  • Gary

    Howard, per your LAST comments on Genesis 1, I agree with everything you said. 100%. I wish my pastor would say the exact same thing. He seems to dismiss science when it is convenient for him. The same laws of physics that makes it possible for him to use a cell phone, watch TV or listen to radio, or use the internet, he rejects when it is used in relation to the big bang. Creation from nothing (from our perspective). How can he knock that. But he doesn’t reject the goodies that come with the technology. He must be OK with Maxwell’s equations, but doesn’t seem to relate to anything that he doesn’t find in a 2000 year old book. Cell phones aren’t in the bible. Why use them.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Gary, I’m glad you agree, I think the problem you mention is due to people being too caught up in the mystical spiritual aspect of the Bible and it stories of miraculous happenings. They do not look any deeper to see all the science or nature involved. Take the parting of the Red Sea for example. God specifically says it was done by wind. Is wind in itself miraculous? Not really, it happens everyday. What causes wind? It happens when certain natural phenomenon take place, such as opposing air pressures. Is any of that miraculous? Again, no, so what made it a miracle? The simple fact that God supposedly manipulated the natural forces to produce a wind of extreme force to use to accomplish a specific task. Does this description sound more like some sort of magic or a science project? What if scientist learned how to manipulate the natural forces so they could produce wind or rain at a specific time for a useful purpose? Are they not attempting to do so right now? They call it science, what was the event in Exodus, a miracle or science?

      “Scientists Create 52 Artificial Rain Storms in Abu Dhabi Desert”

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James, I think the biggest contention between us is that you think men wrote this as an attempt to explain their own origin through the limited knowledge that they had at the time. You say this because the events in Genesis do not depict actual historical events. But what I have shown, was that in God’s wisdom, he provided a description that can be understood and appreciated for what it intended to convey in both a primitive culture and a modern scientific culture when interpreted in a way that best fits all the available evidence.

    In this type of situation with us living in a scientific age, there are only 3 basic options to take regarding the creation account.

    1. To take Genesis at face value and believe God did it in six literal days, and then attempt to explain away scientific observations.

    2. To accept scientific observations as fact, and then reject the literal reading of Genesis as ancient unscientific nonsense.

    3. To accept scientific observations as fact, and then readjust our approach to Genesis so it reflects scientific observations or at least leaves the understanding open so that it does not conflict with science. And of course it should not conflict with what we know of God’s character and his ways of doing things.

    One thing is certain, in many places, the Bible lacks enormous amounts of detail, and as such, there is no reason to have to choose between science and the Bible, when they usually can be harmonized because of the Bible’s lack of details and explanations.

  • Gary

    I agree again.