Craig Blomberg’s new book Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2014) is about to be released. As part of the Brazos blog tour, I’m been assigned to comment on chapter four, “Don’t These Issues Rule Out Biblical Inerrancy?”
In the first three chapters, Blomberg addresses controversial issues related to the textual integrity of the Bible (chapter 1), the canonization of the Bible (chapter 2), and reliability of modern Bible translations (chapter 3). He gives thoughtful and nuanced answers to questions often raised by critics and skeptics. He then asks whether the answers he gave to these topics rule out a belief in the Bible’s inerrancy (chapter 4).
I confess that I love how he starts off by noting how the language of biblical inerrancy came to prominence during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 20th century, he adds: “Other branches of evangelicalism, especially in parts of the world not heavily influenced by American missionary efforts, tend to speak of biblical authority, inspiration, and even infallibility. Sometimes these other Christians mean virtually the same thing, but in other instances they are consciously rejected ‘inerrancy’ as too narrow a term to apply to the Scriptures.” Amen! I argued exactly the same thing recently in the book Biblical Inerrancy: Five Views. Blomberg notes groups of people who have either poured scorn on inerrancy (e.g., Carlos Bovell, Kenton Sparks) and others who have insisted that inerrancy is comprised when it accepts critical views about the Bible (e.g., Norman Geisler, Robert Thomas).
Blomberg also helpfully differentiates between deductive approaches to inerrancy (starting with the nature of God) and inductive approaches to inerrancy (staring with the phenomenon of Scripture), finding strengths to both approaches. Blomberg is right when he says that the majority of Christians across the world and throughout history have believed in the Bible’s complete trustworthiness as a collection of God-breathed literature. He rejects the idea of inerrancy or infallibility as pertaining only to faith and doctrine and prefers Paul Feinberg’s definition of inerrancy as: “Inerrancy means that when all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.”Also, Blomberg does not think that belief in the Bible’s inerrancy in relation to physical science thereby commits one to a literalist reading of Genesis 1. It is a hermeneutical matter and cannot be solved by “appealing to the shibboleth of inerrancy.”
Blomberg very carefully engages numerous objections to inerrancy such as dying the death of a thousand qualification, historical perspectives on inerrancy, interpretive pluralism, and debates about harmonization.
I thought a big highlight was Blomberg’s critique of extreme views of inerrancy by Robert Thomas and especially Norman Geisler. It becomes clear that Geisler in particular is not a particularly pleasant chap to work with and has never found an institution that was worthy of him. Seriously, Geisler is the villain of this chapter and comes across as being slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun.
As a global evangelical, I’m more accustomed to speak of the Bible as authoritative and infallible. However, I can easily swing with Blomberg’s version and vision for the American inerrancy tradition. One or two things I’d disagree over. I’m still a bit “meh” over some approaches to harmonization even though sometimes I think it does work/help. I think approaches to inerrancy also a require a lengthy prolegomena on epistemology and hermeneutics which is lacking. But overall, an exemplary treatment of the subject. Blomberg gives a thoughtful, intelligent, robust, biblically-focused, theologically sound and generous account of biblical inerrancy. Highly recommended.
Let me add that I think chapter five is in fact the highlight of the book where Blomberg gives very helpful and thoughtful reflection hot topics like Genesis 1 and creation, whether Job and Jonah are “historical,” two or three Isaiahs, the dating of Daniel, Matthew as Midrash, and Pseudonymity and NT Epistles. It ends with a section on the debate about Matt 27:51-52 and the Michael Licona controversy.Even though Blomberg himself takes more or less conservative stances on these issues, he recognizes that those who take more critical positions are not necessarily inimical to biblical authority and even inerrancy.