If you believe in ‘inerrancy’ you have to pretend that all the other people who believe in ‘inerrancy’ do not exist

“Complementarians” do not like Rachel Held Evans — mainly because complementarians do not like other complementarians.

They have to attack Rachel because she listens to all of them, and tries to respond to all of them. And they can’t bear that, because that exposes the one thing they can’t survive acknowledging: the wide diversity of “complementarian” views.

That word refers to the idea that men and women have “complementary” roles, with men divinely ordained as leaders. It’s basically a religious euphemism for “patriarchal.”

What all these various “complementarians” share in common is the claim that their views are based on the decisive, authoritative plain reading of an inerrant Bible. That’s their trump card — “It’s not me saying this, it’s God.” Anyone who disagrees, therefore, is denying “the authority of scripture” by rejecting its plain, clear, obvious meaning.

This is what the idea of biblical “inerrancy” offers its adherents. This is its appeal and its primary function. If we do not recognize the Bible’s authority as the final word, settling all disputes with clear, definitive teaching, then we are adrift.

Inerrancy, in other words, is said to be the only way to avoid a bewildering diversity of opinions and interpretations and the only way of adjudicating decisively between competing views.

That’s an excellent argument and it makes biblical inerrancy seem very appealing. The problem is that, in practice, biblical inerrancy itself produces a bewildering diversity of opinions and interpretations while offering no way of adjudicating decisively between competing views.

If inerrancy worked as advertised — if it were true — then every believer in an inerrant Bible would share identical beliefs with every other believer in an inerrant Bible.

And yet they don’t. Not even close.

“That other guy is lying. I alone have the one, true, inerrant Word of God.”

That diversity among inerrantists is itself a more sweeping rebuttal of their claims than any external critique of “inerrancy” ever could be.

Thus “complementarians” are upset with Rachel Held Evans not because of her critique of their views, but simply because she had the audacity to try her best to portray the wide diversity of their views as accurately and honestly as possible.

Evans writes:

The problem with accurately portraying what complementarians believe about “biblical womanhood” is that complementarians do not agree on what they believe about “biblical womanhood.”

This is why I never use the word “complementarian” in the book. It appears only once, and in the context of another person’s quote. I did this on purpose because 1) complementarianism is not a word, 2) I recognize that the movement is too diverse to summarize, and 3) I suspect a more general audience will be unfamiliar with the term anyway.

Instead, I identify and cite what specific people (some of whom identify as complementarian) say about “biblical womanhood.”

In the introduction, for example, I quote from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s pivotal Danver’s Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to try and capture the ethos of the movement. On page 22, I quote Dorothy Patterson’s statement in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that “keeping the home is God’s assignment to the wife—even down to changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and scrubbing the floors.” On page 100, I quote Mark Driscoll as saying that “a wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband….is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping either.” On page 178, I quote Walter Chantry who said, “Woman’s hope, the church’s hope, the world’s hope is joined to childbearing…Women, here is a lifelong calling! It’s the highest any woman can enter,” and Dorothy Patterson again who said , “We need mothers who are not only family-oriented, but family-obsessed.” On page 203-204 I examine John Piper’s views on women’s submission from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and on pages 207-214, I examine Debi Pearl’s. (Note: I never identify Debi Pearl as a complementarian.) On page 254, I quote again from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to share what John Piper and Wayne Grudem say there about women teaching and leading in the church.

If most of these people and organizations identify as complementarian, and if I represent their views by quoting directly from their books or sermons, and their fellow complementarians disagree with those views … that seems like something complementarians need to discuss amongst themselves rather than with me.

That’s true. But they can’t have that discussion amongst themselves, because to do so would be to acknowledge the intolerable diversity of views among those claiming that the authority of an inerrant Bible eliminates the possibility of all such diversity.

See earlier:

• The all-or-nothing lie of fundamentalist Christianity (part 1)

• The all-or-nothing lie of fundamentalist Christianity (part 2)


What's the deal with this 'Sunday WTF'?
Duck Dynasty's loveless ethics and why reaver jokes aren't funny
Inerrancy, white evangelicals, 'and the sin of racism'
Duck Dynasty's loveless ethics and ... the Aristocrats!
  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    If a work is truly unclear, if even educated scholars disagree about its interpretation, I don’t know what it means for it to be inerrant. That among the set of ways it can be interpreted that one of them is absolutely correct?
    In fiction, isn’t the ability of a narrative having several possible canonical interpretations a sign of depth in literature?

  • Baby_Raptor

    If you believe that the bible is without error, how do you explain away the passages that contradict each other, or the passages that clearly contradict what we now know as fact?

  • John W. Morehead

    Years ago I used to teach in a Bible college in northern California. One of the classes was theology, and when I taught on the Bible one of the aspects was on the “perspicuity” of Scripture, the ability of anyone, anywhere to read and understand its plain meaning. However, this is most certainly not the case as many parts of these texts are difficult to understand, if for no other reason than the cultural and historical distance from us today. In addition, this leads to a wide diversity of conflicting interpretations, not a single harmony of views, as the many Protestant denominations alone testify to. So inerrancy cannot be appealed to as a way to settle such disputes.

  • stardreamer42

    That’s the healthy parental response, and I honor you for it. And it’s not as if she didn’t give your way a fair chance.

  • stardreamer42

    Repeat yourself until people convince themselves, so when they read the
    text it automatically reflects the Absolutely Clear Truth you put into
    their minds.

    AKA the “Big Lie” technique, because the thing you’re repeating doesn’t even have to correspond with observable reality. If you get it out there widely enough, from enough different sources, you can convince lots of people that black is white or vice versa.

  • Fusina

    I was dealing with systematic abuse by my family that had been going on as long as I can remember back, being bullied in school (and thus having flashbacks when I tried to apply for college years down the road) and other problems. I still don’t have a degree. Weirdly, people who find out I don’t are shocked–apparently I am smart enough to fool them–also, I had untreated ADD and was smart enough even at the time to realize that I didn’t do well with too many classes. So I have quite a few credits stashed up–assuming they are still valid–but no degree. So you have nothing to apologize for. What is harder is for me to accept that I have nothing to apologize for. I did the best I could, and I am relatively successful in life–we aren’t poverty level–and although I was technically when I was working at shops, I had enough to pay my bills and still eat, even on occasion get books and craft supplies. So yeah, successful.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    When it’s packed in as an appeal to authority, yeah, it kinda is. That’s the point of an appeal to authority.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    While this may be true for some, maybe many, it does not follow that such is the main motivation or the motivation of all.

    It follows quite reasonably that it’s the main motivation of people using the argument to build up and enforce their authority. The rank-and-file can use the same arguments without having thought it through in the same way, but it more likely means they’re serving the agendas of the powerful when they do so.

    Your example of an ATM charge doesn’t quite fit because advice about those isn’t remotely on the scale of someone peddling the Bible as an authoritative guide to personal living and society. We see again and again that the Biblical inerrantists are explicitly claiming this about the Bible. I don’t know how to hammer this any harder – they are trying to force a comprehensive worldview upon people, and that’s why the constant rages and insults and threats to QUILTBAG people, the “insufficiently godly,” and anyone else who doesn’t fall into line. It’s why they are politically involved in trying to suppress people’s rights, as documented here by Fred pretty much every day.

    Look at the powerful who issue these ideologies, and then what they do with the influence they garner. It’s about control. It’s about pushing others down. Whether they think they have divine sponsorship or not, it’s still ultimately about power.

  • Lunch meat

    Why would one have to characterize oneself as a “Bible-believing Christian” or a “Bible-believing church” if one did not feel that a typical Christian or church was “Bible-disbelieving”?

  • http://ma-sblog.blogspot.com/ Alice

    I don’t believe that anymore, I just know how one can be led down this path. In hindsight I see how strange it was. Trying to make everything in the Bible literally make sense was very hard to do without outside help.

  • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

    Every alleged contradiction in the Bible has an easy explanation when proper consideration is taken for context. The more of those I study, the more convinced I become of it.

    As for things “we now know as fact,” I know of none that contradict the Bible. Though I know of many things claimed as “fact” which in fact are not.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the “well there aren’t actually any contradictions if you just read it right like I do” excuse before. It’s just as empty as any other baseless assertion without evidence. You’re not bringing anything new to the table.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It seems that there might be a conflation here between the purported Inerrancy of a text and the purported Clarity of a text.

    Cornflakes Cereal Can I?

    That’s inerrant because each word has precisely one meaning taken in isolation.

    But it doesn’t mean a damn thing.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’ll take 1+1 = 2 as being a lot more inerrant than your Bible.

    Incidentally, unless you can read Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic and have somehow travelled back in time to get the oldest texts possible, your statement that the Bible is without error is not going to hold a helluva lot of water and even if by some impossible magic you did all of the above, the original transcriber still had a chance to screw up in between the brain and hand.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Oh, context. You mean you have to…


    the Bible.

    Which, y’know, opens up the issue of subjective viewing and reading of the text.

    Which raises the question: Whose subjectivity is more correct?

  • dpolicar

    Well, I certainly agree that, after making an observation of the world that contradicts my current interpretation of the Bible, I can create a new interpretation of the Bible that is not contradicted by that observation.

    I guess the question is, is there any way of identifying the proper consideration for context in advance of making those observations?

    To put that a different way, can we use our interpretation of the Bible to successfully predict novel observations?

  • dpolicar

    We don’t have to discard Christianity, we simply have to avoid fooling ourselves into thinking that Christianity, or any other human construct, is a unique or inerrant source of truth.

    In other words, as you say, we have to acknowledge that we make errors along the way.

    But nothing stops us from extracting value from our imperfect constructs as we go along, and discarding valuable constructs is silly.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    Semantic confusion is very convenient. It’s pretty much how fantasy novel prophecies work – a quibble, the whole “none of woman born” thing. As Fred has pointed out, it’s also how the Tribbles lie regularly in LB while congratulating themselves for not lying. (And I would be lying to say I hadn’t ever taken advantage of it, either.)

  • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

    That’s what I’m saying. Most gatherings that go by “Such-and-such Bible Church” are not trying to make an appeal to authority. They are simply stating what they hold as their authority.

  • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

    Perhaps because adherence the Bible is their special emphasis. Plenty of churches and denominations are known for their emphases. “Community” churches emphasize community. “Faith” churches emphasize faith. Etc. But I don’t think any of these churches mean to imply that no other churches have faith or community.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay. Were man and woman created simultaneously as per Genesis 1, or separately with the creation of animals between them as per Genesis 2? What is the explanation for the sun standing still to lengthen the day of a battle in (iirc) Joshua? Actually, you know what, http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html , have at.

    (My explanation for all of the above is ‘the Bible was written by a collection of humans, who, being humans, are incapable of producing perfection’. But that’s clearly not your explanation.)

  • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

    I’m not trying to bring anything new to the table. I simply answered a specific question addressed to me asking how I explain these things.

  • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

    That is indeed the question. I make no claims to have the perfect interpretation. I do my best, and I understand that those who disagree with me are doing their best as well.

  • Fusina

    Thank you for that encouragement. I try–I think I have mentioned here that I did not have an emotionally healthy childhood. Mostly I do the opposite of what I grew up with. So it is encouraging for me to hear that I am doing the healthy thing. And she did try. I suspect she is like me, she likes her adventures in small tame doses. Or in books. In books is good. She has plans, and has outlined what she intends to do, so I am encouraged by that.

  • Guest

    Or else it’s just BS pretending to be deeper and more important than it really is.

  • Alix

    I really think we need to shift back to the idea that a college degree is something extra, not something mandatory.

    Honestly? The only reason I ended up going back for a degree was that half a degree left me qualified to do almost nothing. Employers either wanted a degree – any degree – or they looked at the half-a-degree thing on my resume and assumed I’d be leaving the job to go back to school at some point, or that (with only half a degree!) I was “overqualified.” >.>

    There is not a single goddamn thing wrong with not going to college, or deciding for whatever reason it’s not your thing and leaving. You don’t have a damned thing to apologize for, either.

  • Baby_Raptor

    They’re all easily explained? Then how do you explain that Mark and Matthew can’t agree on who Joseph’s father was? How do you explain that Matthew and Luke disagree on when Jesus was born? How do you explain that Jesus was at the Lord’s Supper during Passover, but Paul later claims he instituted the practice?

    Those are just a few of the big ones. There are more if you’re curious.

    The bible assumes that the earth is flat, and several times reinforces this assumption. We know for a fact it’s not. There are also people who claim that the bible says that the earth is only ~6K years old, and we know it’s not. And then there’s the incorrect categorization of animals–insects don’t have 4 legs, rabbits don’t eat the way the bible claims they do, the odd claim about snails, ETC. Please explain to me how we “know” these are all actually true.

  • Fusina

    Considering that my husband, who managed to get a PhD, has told me that he thinks I am smarter than he is–I suppose not. Most of what I have learned, I self studied–I was interested in yummy food, so studied books on herbs and spices. I was interested in fancy embroidery, so studied that–I also took classes–they were fun. I read incessantly.

    This brings up something. Someone here was reading Elaine Pagels’ book on Revelation. I read it, finished it, and have moved on to other of her books. They are fascinating–the cultural events happening at the time that Revelation was written gave a better insight into it–and, incidentally, caused me to despise the authoritarian structure of the various denominations even more.

  • Alix

    Pagels’ stuff is great. She’s one of the few authors whose books I’ll nab sight unseen, because she’s always got such interesting stuff.

    There’s a lot to say for self-study and reading. I kind of wish schools did a better job of teaching how to study things on your own – my high school wasn’t bad on that front, but my sibs’ schools were … pretty bad in that respect. I feel that high school ought to be giving people a solid set of basics – basic knowledge and basic principles for gaining more knowledge in the future.

    Embroidery classes sound like fun. I sort of want to learn, sometime, but I’m absolutely lousy with needle and thread, so. :/ You wouldn’t happen to know of any good resources for a raw beginner, would you?

  • Fusina

    Don’t start with Jane Nicholas…Actually, aside from her projects being intimidating, she is one of the best so far as writing instructions is concerned. She is also an awesome teacher–I was lucky enough to get to take a class with her.

    What kind of embroidery are you interested in? There are zillions of different types, materials, etc…

    Partial list
    Counted cross stitch (what it says–little floss x shaped stitches)
    Counted thread (can include cross stitch, but adds stuff that is reminiscent of the seventies era thread and tack pictures)
    Surface embroidery (can include a variety of techniques, including applique, working with wool, or silk, or cotton threads, beads, sequins, and anything else that can be stitched to fabric)
    Stumpwork (like surface embroidery, but 3D)

    I don’t list these to scare you, but to give you some ideas of what you can look into. For counted cross stitch, there are lots of kits that are very good as far as teaching you the basics. Don’t be afraid to start with a big project, if it is something that you like. Even if you don’t finish it, you will have learned something–so it is not a failure. I teach embroidery classes (nothing that i have designed as yet, although I do have an original piece that when I finish it I will be self publishing it–straight surface embroidery, but I think it is pretty–a peacock that was stylistically designed using elements from Indian Sari prints. I also design and teach beadwork–very occasionally. Another thing you can look into is Embroiderer’s Guild of America. They have chapters everywhere and are a good resource for classes.

  • Alix

    Huh, I had no idea there were so many kinds of embroidery! XD My mom embroiders – I don’t know what kind; she draws patterns on cloth and then just stitches along the lines (surface embroidery? idk), and we all just called that “embroidery.” I might nab a cross-stitch kit next time I’m at the craft store, though.

    Don’t be afraid to start with a big project, if it is something that you like. Even if you don’t finish it, you will have learned something

    That philosophy has served me well for painting and for cooking. (Admittedly, cooking can sometimes be an abject failure, but I’ve yet to give anyone food poisoning, so…) It’s hard to teach yourself something if a) you’re not interested in the thing you’re making and b) you’re not actually challenging yourself.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  • Fusina

    Hee. There is a cross stitch kit that reads, “Many people have eaten my cooking and gone on to lead normal lives”. Also, apparently wikipedia has an article about counted cross stitch, and if you want to look into free charts, just google (or duckduckgo) cross stitch.

    Your Mom does what is called surface embroidery. My Mom started me on my first piece when I was around seven or so–I hated it. Not because of the hobby, because I couldn’t get the stitches to look perfect. Many years later, I revisited surface embroidery, and with the counted cross stitch projects I had done, I had developed the fine motor control necessary for doing the embroidery. Also a lot less perfectionism, which also helped a great deal.

    Ahh, can you tell you found one of my great passions in life? ;-) The other one is having fun. And if you try embroidery and it isn’t fun, try something else. (Fun can be defined fairly broadly–I have had projects that I did finish, but that on occasion would get flung across the room–as someone said to a friend of mine who was muttering dire imprecations to the project she was working, “are you sure you like doing this?”

    The response was, “Yes. It relaxes me.”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    “Admittedly, cooking can sometimes be an abject failure”

    But even when it’s inedible, you may wind up with a family catch phrase or at least a funny story – around here, when something doesn’t work out as planned, we say “well, at least it’s better than the tripe.”

    Yeah, I’ll tackle almost any kind of self-taught project, no matter how ill advised.

  • Alix

    as someone said to a friend of mine who was muttering dire imprecations to the project she was working, “are you sure you like doing this?”

    The response was, “Yes. It relaxes me.”

    Ha! That’s me and cooking. My mom won’t come in the kitchen when I cook – apparently, me cooing vile imprecations at the dinner is something she finds a bit unsettling. XD

  • Fusina

    I just picked up a cross stitch kit that has the quote, “Success is sometimes just having one more patch than your innertube has holes.” Yeah. I like that. I’m going to have to brighten up the colors though, they are pretty bland as is.

  • AnonaMiss


    *universe becomes all centers just to spite you*

  • AnonaMiss

    Yep. I use shampoo with menthol in and it makes my scalp go all tingly.

    Spiciness is a similar effect, which is why it hurts so damn much when it gets in your eyes.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    The bible does not claim the earth is flat. The bible presumes the earth is flat.
    Ignoring that distinction is the same kind of biblical illiteracy that the “literal” crowd engages in.

  • auroramere

    OK, I’ve always wanted to know this one: if it’s only the temperature sense that’s activated, how is it that chili peppers cause irritation consistent with a burn?

  • auroramere

    How does the bible claim rabbits eat? I thought they were an example of an animal that chews its cud but doesn’t have cloven hooves. Well, they do chew something very like cud; the route is a little different but the effect is basically the same.

  • Baby_Raptor

    The claim is that they chew cud, yes. Either it’s wrong about how they chew or it’s wrong about what they chew (translation error I guess?), but either way, it’s wrong. And either way, it serves my point that the bible isn’t “inerrant.”

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’m not 100% sure of the difference, but I’ve edited my post to make it clearer just to be accurate.

  • Dick ZagNut

    Men Rule, Women Follow, Woot Woot :D

  • Bob Smith

    “You don’t take the Bible seriously?”
    I don’t take it for toilet paper.
    The bible is the great book of multiple choice and contradiction for the morally impaired. You know, for a perfect god, who communicates with his creatures perfectly using a perfect medium, divinely inspired to be written perfectly,
    Apologists spend a lot of explaining this perfect text that we should understand…perfectly.Except… it doesn’t actually say any of the things they say it does.

    It was written by:
    A bronze age, superstitious, barbaric, sheep herding, goat sacrificing, scientifically illiterate, imaginative story telling, myth stealing genocidal hebrew tribesman from 2500 years ago and who lived in constant fear of every thing they didn’t understand.
    But great story tellers if you like superstitious nonsense raised to an art level.Now they wrote a little book about their superstitious beliefs that had a god character in it who promised magical eternal life. (but only if you knew the secrete handshake)

    Now apologist believe in inerrency of the bible have a condition known as”Biblical Dyslexia” syndrome.
    It is a condition wherein the reader inverts, flips, performs letter substitution, and invents whole sections of the bible they are reading to suit the readers desired belief system.
    BD syndrome manifests itself when inconvenient, embarrassing, contradictory and fractious sections of the book are rendered invisible to the reader.
    Sufferers are not aware they have this malady.
    If the bible is perfect, why is it necessary to interpret perfection?If the bible does’t say what it clearly say, then it says nothing. If you don’t take the bible literally, we don’t have to either.

    No other book has brought as much human misery, killing, hatred, wars, prejudice, and backward thinking. That makes it a rightful target.
    ” And yet, the Bible is still loved by millions”.
    The number of people believing a wrong thing does not increase its truth.

    1. That there’s a god. 2. A 3 day old corpse rises. 3. Woman gets pregnant without a man’s sperm. 4. Men walk on water. 5. Trees killed by getting yelled at. 6. Talking snake. 7. A man received ten rules from a god to live by (but missed rape & slavery). 8. A man built a ship to carry & feed 2 of each spieces for 40 days & nights. 9. That the world is about 6,000 years old. Anyone who believes in the bible is mental. Scripture is not evidence. God is man’s great lie.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’m not sure what kind of peppers you’re eating, because I’ve never had a pepper that caused irritation which continued past the point where the oil was washed away. Maybe you’re allergic? Or eating peppers which are temperature-hot enough to actually burn you?