when inerrancy no longer works: Carlos Bovell on Robert Yarbrough

when inerrancy no longer works: Carlos Bovell on Robert Yarbrough August 29, 2014

c bovell 2014Today’s guest post is by Carlos Bovell, a frequent contributor to this blog (for a recent post go here and work backwards). Bovell is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (2007)By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (2009), an edited volume, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (2011), and Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear (2012).


Robert Yarbrough is a New Testament professor at Covenant Seminary, an inerrantist school, and served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2013. He is the author of a commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John in Baker’s Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament series and also co-author of the textbook, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. He has recently published two articles (”The Future of Cognitive Reverence for the Bible,” and ”Should Evangelicals Embrace Historical Criticism? The Hays-Ansberry Proposal”) defending the importance of inerrancy.

My purpose here isn’t to disagree with Yarborough’s position. He is free to defend his understanding of scripture as inerrant as I am free to point out what I see are the problems with the concept.

I am more interested here in highlighting the unhelpful rhetoric Yarborough uses in both of the linked articles above, which I have found to be common among defenders of inerrancy:

Yarbrough presents three lines of argument for inerrancy’s continued importance.

  1. Theological: Inerrancy is theologically and biblically viable.
  2. Sociological: Inerrancy is what motivates students into biblical studies and into ministry.
  3. Historical: Inerrancy is what the world-wide church has always and still today believes.

On one level, those not disposed toward inerrancy should nevertheless take these considerations seriously. American evangelicalism made an inerrant Bible a core—if not the core—component of its theology. I feel we must be charitable and grant that, even if we disagree with the concept, the reasons for doing so were not entirely unfounded.

But that said, those who have doubts about inerrancy are not coming at their faith from a place where these arguments have much force, for we have come to experience personally that the spiritual life of churches and of believers is a journey and that the journey has to be “adaptable for life” (as James A. Sanders put it in his 1978 SBL presidential address) if it’s going to survive. (Thus the “aha” series on this blog describing some of the experiences.)

Despite Yarbrough’s assertions, an inflexible, all-or-nothing inerrantist doctrine of Scripture, impervious to change and development along the way, is hardly sound spiritual advice. For many believers, inerrancy as the default view of Scripture has already proven ill-equipped to handle biblical phenomena. It simply doesn’t allow for healthy adaptation, and in many cases will not permit needed growth in one’s faith—or in some cases even allow the faith to stay alive.

I don’t think the best way forward is to deny those experiences and strong arm Christians to adapt a paradigm they see as faulty.

To illustrate the differences in perspective between us, let me rephrase Yarbrough’s three points according to the questions I ask myself about the Bible:

  1. Theological: What is the best way to try to describe the Bible’s “authority”?
  2. Sociological: How has an “inerrant” Bible become so central to faith that it is thought to be what motivates believers to study scripture, go into ministry, remain a believer, etc.? If it truly is what’s motivating people, is this a good thing or does it suggest a deeper problem?
  3. Historical: How have Christian communities throughout the world and throughout history thought about their scripture, why have they done so, and what bearing does this have on the views we formulate today?

These are some of the questions I find myself asking and not only does Yarbrough not provide satisfactory answers to them, but his very style of defense does indeed seem to me “embarrassingly retrograde” (to use Yarbrough’s phrase in “Should Evangelicals?”).

Consider what theological advice Yarbrough might offer a student who has come to doubt inerrancy because of academic study of the Bible:

We can no more separate God and his words to us, if that is what Scripture is, than we can separate human friends and family from the words we exchange with each other. Neither God nor people we know are sphinxes whose identity we ultimately intuit by solely spiritual (or even Spiritual) means. To separate knowledge of persons’ identity, human or divine, from their verbal self-disclosure would in the end be both unproductive and perverse. (“The Embattled Bible,” 12)

Jesus regarded Scripture as words from God’s mouth. That should be understood analogically, of course, and not crudely literally, but the integral link between God and divine enscripturated speech remains. (“The Future of Cognitive Reverence,” 17)

This kind of answer would only be compelling for those who are satisfied with inerrancy as the default view. Not only is Yarbrough’s rhetoric here not persuasive, but it comes across as strong arming and emotionally manipulative.

Post-inerrantists are not trying to sever the relationship between God and scripture but rather to establish it by critically investigating scripture and conceptually clarifying it. It is not “perverse” or “unproductive” when a believer suspends judgment on inerrancy, takes a searchingly fresh look at the Bible, and concludes that inerrancy simply does not do justice to what the Bible is and how the Bible behaves.

Given the significant number of thinking people who have left inerrancy (as opposed to moving toward inerrancy from a non-inerrantist position), dismissing this scenario as invalid or spiritually stunted, or minimizing the experiences of those who have walked this path by rhetorically pitting them against the “faithful” who have not walked that path, is pastorally unwise and harmful.

Next: How has an “inerrant” Bible become so central to faith that it is thought to be what motivates believers to study scripture, go into ministry, remain a believer, etc.? If it is what’s motivating people, is this a good thing?

In Yarbrough’s view, it’s the reliability of scripture that led a large percentage of ETS members to go into ministry and scholarship. Is it, really? Has inerrancy really always been so central to Christian faith and the motivator for most Christians to study scripture, go into ministry or be a believer? Or has the true motivation come from the love of God in Christ for us and ours for him? 

If inerrancy is what is motivating some to believe, perhaps they have misplaced their first love, or even allowed scripture to substitute for God. As I explain in Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear, we come to scripture already immersed in God’s Spirit. It’s because of God’s love for us and ours for him that we read and meditate on scripture in the first place not the other way around.

Third: How have Christian communities throughout the world and throughout history thought about their scriptures, why have they done so, and what bearing does this have on the views we formulate today?

Yarbrough continues to appeal to Woodbridge’s claim that modern day inerrancy is the historic position of the Christian churches through history. No thought is given, however, to the overwhelming changes that have occurred in the ways we see the world today and what we know about scripture today.

Our views of scripture had better be different in many respects from how the ancients thought about scripture—and indeed they are.

And when examining what the ancients did say with respect to their views of scripture, we must keep in mind that even when they use language similar to ours (“no errors”), the church hasn’t always meant the same thing by it, nor does it mean that the ancients are poised to adjudicate for us the pressing challenges of modernity. We cannot simply appeal to ancient voices to settle or table current challenges. 

One thing to notice is that the questions post-inerrantists tend to ask and the arguments inerrantists like Yarbrough tend to put forth speak to two different sets of concerns.

Post-inerrantists are trying to find ways to adapt their faith to keep their journeys going, while inerrantists are trying to make sure journeys stay in line with what they perceive to be historic, orthodox faith, and that insists on inerrancy as defined by the Chicago Statement.

When it comes down to it, both groups are grappling with how to deal with change.

I suggest that at least part of what keeps the latter from giving their blessings to what the former is trying to do is a culture of fear that defines parts of inerrantist evangelicalism. (See my chapter on Bart Ehrman in By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblicist Foundationalism and also Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear.)

I say this based primarily on personal experience within inerrantist culture, but it also comes up in some writings by inerrantists themselves when they defend their position. We hear that too much is at stake to yield to criticism, and as long as there are inerrantists scholars around who can defend it as a plausible or possible view, a believer need not worry about making any changes to inerrantist doctrine.

Yarbrough not only asserts that the historical church held to inerrancy, but that the global church does to. Although he presents the point as an afterthought, I wonder whether it plays a larger role:

The history of movements sacrificing the whole truth of the whole Bible for the sake of extending an olive branch to parties not committed to the whole range of historic Christian conviction (God not being a piecemeal God) is not encouraging. . . . not to mention the disastrous pastoral and missiological implications of church leaders. . . suddenly announcing to Bible-honoring congregations, or proclaiming to the lost in the post-Christian West, to Muslims in the Middle East, or to Hindus in India (or anywhere), that the Christian Bible long claimed to be true by the ‘Church’ is now known to be, well, substantially less so. But believe our testimony to Christ (testified to historically almost no where else besides this Bible) anyway! (“Should Evangelicals Embrace Historical Criticism?” 50–51).

In other words, inerrantists have been insisting to everyone for decades that the Bible is inerrant, imagine what would happen if we changed our minds now.

This is an appeal to emotion such that if believers want to support what missionaries are trying to do, they must hold on to inerrancy lest they undercut their efforts. But the perceived centrality of inerrancy among missionaries, wherever that might be, speaks not to the actual centrality of (western) inerrancy but to how these missionaries were taught to think about scripture, which, in turn, passed it on to their congregations.

Yarbrough and other inerrantists at ETS will continue defending the centrality of inerrancy for the spiritual life. But for those who have already experienced the change authentically from within their journey, Yarbrough’s defense rings hollow at best, and appears emotionally manipulative at worst.


"I think you're arguing with what I'm not saying. I'm not saying there are no ..."

the best defense of the Christian ..."
"Don't you have one? Or do you just want to read it twice?"

we have lift off…my new website ..."
"Ooh yes. Free copy of 'Inspiration and Incarnation'?"

we have lift off…my new website ..."
"My first comment. You should get a prize or something."

we have lift off…my new website ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ben

    I owe the beginning of my academic journey to Robert Yarbrough. He was my freshman adviser in college and encouraged me to major in biblical studies because, “We need people who will engage critical scholarship and be able to defend the Bible.” I guess that makes me one of his sociological examples…sort of.

    • Carlos Bovell

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for your comment. Evangelical philosophy students, too, sometimes go into philosophy to learn how to defend evangelical views from “secular culture.” Although this can be helpful, it can set believers up for a fall as well because when they let down their guard (and eventually they will), there will be time to engage in their discipline for its own sake. That’s when a serious tension can arise between always having to make sure the answer turns out a certain way in advance and following the line of inquiry where it seems to be leading.


  • mhelbert

    I love Bovell’s work. I find him to be intellectually engaging and…correct! I was a worship leader in a small fundagelical church. I found that in the world of worship leader there was a huge disconnect between what I read in the scripture and what these folks were selling. So, I went to seminary to learn what the scripture was actually all about. I had several ‘aha’ moments there. But, at no time did I consider inerrancy a motivating factor. I think Bovell is entirely correct to question Yarbrough’s contention that it is. Thanks!

    • Carlos Bovell


      Thanks for your encouragement! It’s interesting that in his essay in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture, sociologist Brian Malley observes, “People commonly assume that the principle of biblical authority motivates the practice of biblical authority, but the evidence does not support this interpretation” (313).


  • John Besse

    I believe innerantcy is the root symptom of our present crisis in the United Methodist Church. The largely American tradition within Fundamentalism. It is the “Family” tradition of many of the Laity and a great deal of the Clergy who even if they hold to some level of critical analysis of scripture are not willing to teach it within the “cultural” “Family” of Evangelicals. Instead for what ever reason they remain ignorant or choose silence to remain ” “p-correct”.

    • Carlos Bovell


      Thanks for your comment. Change is going to take time. I regret, however, that evangelical scholars are still publicly reassuring everyone that inerrancy is still “possible” and that until something better comes along no one has to admit there is a need to move on. As leaders, I feel they should be leading the way toward change not helping keep the status quo.


    • Andrew Dowling

      I agree John . . I’ve often been surprised seeing how many Methodists (who are throw into the bucket of “liberal” mainliners) in their faith and practice really resemble conservative evangelicalism more than anything.

  • Josh de Keijzer

    Thanks for this post. I still need to read the whole thing, but my immediate knee-jerk response to the three theses by Yarbrough would be as follows (and, mind you, I’m coming from a conservative evangelical background):

    (1) Theologically we now know that inerrancy is no longer viable, given what we know about the world scientifically, and given what we know about the nature of human interpretation (philosophically).

    (2) Inerrancy became almost a deal-breaker for my theological studies, in the sense that, given inerrancy, I could no longer do theology with a sound mind or believe in the biblical God (and many an evangelical is with me on this point).

    (3) Inerrancy, as proposed by the likes of Yarbrough, is no more than a 19th century modernist heresy and certainly cannot boast the support of the church universal.

    • Daniel Fisher

      Josh, and Carlos,

      I fear I am not following perception of inerrancy being a “19th century modernist heresy”, or the idea that it was “American evangelicalism” that made an inerrant Scripture the foundation of theology. Perhaps what is being discussed is just one particular kind of inerrancy (the strictly literalistic, fundamentalist kind?) But even so, that isn’t what I expect is coming out of a place like Covenant Seminary, though I could be wrong? In general, though, when I hear a perception about inerrancy being a new, modern, American concept, I am immediately reminded of Augustine’s words:

      “I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it….”

      Augustine’s words on the Scripture sound very similar to my own view, and not terribly different (though obviously shorter) than the perception of something like the Chicago statement. The core and dare i say foundational belief about the inerrancy of The Scripture certainly seems to go back to the 5th century in North Africa at least, no? Or do I miss something? Are we talking about a far more specific facet of inerrancy?

      • Josh de Keijzer

        Daniel, the difference between evangelical inerrancy and the Augustinian position can be seen from (1) Augustine’s treatment of Genesis: not to be taken literally (literalism and inerrantism tend to go together in the evangelical paradigm), (2) the fact that the doctrine of inerrancy was specifically designed (as far as I can see) to provide a foundationalist basis for a modernist theological construct that sought to provide indubitable and absolute theological claims.

        If the Scriptures are inerrant, we see too many discrepancies that cannot be solved. For me it means I have to check my mind at the door before doing theology. Also, since inerrancy and a literal interpretation are closely connected (the latter feeding off the former), I would encounter statements, opinions, and pronouncements of God (both intended by and literally ‘transmitted’ by God) that I find reprehensible. This kind of theologizing does injustice to the humanity of the human authors but also the transcendence of God. The biblical author is a mere drone and the biblical God is “human all too human.” I would prefer to develop a model of “divinely sanctioned human self-interpretation.”

        • thomasmitchel

          Good morning,
          You say “too many discrepancies that cannot be solved.” How many do you believe there are? What are your top 3?

          • Josh de Keijzer

            Hello Thomas, as you might expect I don’t have a top three, because I’m noeither a biblical scholar nor so excited about them that I would keep a score list. But a few main areas of discrepancy would be the (1) double creation account, (2) the diverging interpretations of history in Samuel-Kings vs Chronicles (notably where both God and Satan incite David to hold a census), and (3) the variant eye witness account of the resurrection.

            Of course there have been many valiant efforts to solve the discrepancies and reduce the gaps of meaning, but—and this is a truly interesting thing—such efforts cause divine inerrancy to be dependent on human ingenuity and speculative theology. That is a rather shaky ground for God to base his speech-acts on or for us to uphold inerrancy.

            Rather, we should let God off the hook and relegate discrepancies and errors in the biblical text to human authorship. Inerrancy tries to reduce human authorship to the point where the Bible becomes a Qur’an that dropped out of heaven but results in a ridiculous construct that makes God into a puppet dependent on the evangelical puppet master.

          • thomasmitchel


            You are clearly familiar with the reasonable explanations that have been provided for the “discrepancies” you identify. Once one properly interprets the text in context, the discrepancies (for the most part) fall away or are more or less easily resolved. Admittedly there are a couple, that we do not currently have good answers for — but as you probably know, the three you identify are not among those. One should also define what one means by inerrancy. A good definition that I used in a paper last semester is from Paul Feinberg:“Inerrancy means that when all 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.” One must also bear in mind the nature of Hebrew and Greek writing of which those autographs are composed. It is not human ingenuity and speculation, but rather fairness in the treatment of the Scriptures and humility in handling the inspired Word of God.
            Funny you should mention the Koran. For the Bible, the amazing consistency and lack of contradiction in a collection written or compiled by some 40 authors over 1500 years is a strong piece of evidence for both inspiration and inerrancy.

          • peteenns


          • thomasmitchel

            Mr. Enns, I don’t understand your point.

          • thomasmitchel

            Have you read Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths?

          • peteenns

            I read it when it first came out. I was asked to review it by the publisher. It was so idiosyncratic and so misconstrued the issue of Bible and myth, I told the publisher out of courtesy to the author i would not review it, as it would be nearly entirely negative.

          • John

            I’m glad I’m not the only one who responded this way. I don’t have your level of education, but when I first read Oswalt’s book I was genuinely confused. It didn’t seem to interact with any of the myriad scholarship on the issue.

          • thomasmitchel

            I’m sorry but frankly that sounds like you had no good arguments and were 4 years invested in your post-evangelical experience. We have all seen entirely negative reviews, especially when the work is contrary to one’s own. That is part of the academical debate (as we would have said at UVa). If you were asked to read it for a review you have notes and thoughts. What were your thoughts?

          • thomasmitchel

            I want to clarify that I am not being disrespectful. I could not find in a quick search that you had interacted with the book. I don’t have access to my library at the moment.

          • Josh de Keijzer

            A strong piece of evidence for inspiration perhaps but not for inerrancy. Also Paul Feinberg’s argument goes back to the Old Princeton School (Charles Hodge, Warfield). The retreat to autographs speaks volumes. Since we have no way of obtaining such autographs we have effectively let ourselves off the hook. But of course we haven’t; we’re just playing tricks.

            Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves why on earth we would hold to a doctrine of inerrancy. Our whole concept of “the Bible as God’s Word” is something that we can only hold intelligibly when we admit that it is based on tradition rather that the Scriptures themselves. (I wholly and wholeheartedly subscribe to it, by the way.) But if our doctrine of the Word of God is entirely dependent on tradition (and the guidance of the Spirit, of course) then any doctrine of inerrancy or infallibility is no more than a human construct.

            So all we are left to do is examine our motivation for holding it. Such motivation is, I believe, located in a modernist struggle for epistemological certainty in response to the liberal modernist paradigm that in the same name of reason tore the entire fabric of divine revelation apart. Conservatives at the time had only one acceptable paradigm to work with: modernity. So the did and that’s fine.

            But now we are in a different era in which postmodern deconstruction of modernity allows us to leave behind both 19th century liberalism and 20th century fundamentalist evangelicalism. So it is about much more than inerrancy. But as far as inerrancy is concerned, there are other very good reasons (philosophy of language, semantics, hermeneutics) for throwing it in the trash can.

          • thomasmitchel

            It is good that you believe in inspiration. The doctrine of inerrancy naturally flows from the doctrine inspiration. Scripture is God breathed, every jot and tittle. If it contains God’s words then it is true. If it is true, it is inerrant. The Scriptures do make the claim that they are true. The reason the doctrine is related to the autographs is because those are most directly the word of God. In point of fact, because of the work of criticism we know that we can have confidence that we have the contents of those documents. Most lawyers have not seen the originals of the Constitution, the statutes, or the cases for that matter, yet they have confidence in the copies they use. Once you understand how the documents of Scripture were recorded and preserved you can have that confidence as well.

            Because of the Dead Sea Scrolls we know what Christ meant when he made reference to the Scriptures. Almost certainly the Dead Sea scrolls were not Moses’ original work. Since they were found at Qumran, it is unlikely that those are the actual scrolls Christ referenced. Yet he spoke of Scripture and documents his audience had read or heard. In short, we can have confidence in our copies. Also NT writers reference the Septuagint as scripture, suggesting that copies, even translations, are not always suspect. There is an excellent collection of works in a book called Inerrancy edited by Norman Geisler that answers in much greater depth most of your “problems.”

            The reason folks reject inerrancy is fundamentally a rejection of truth. They want to reject the portions of Scripture with which they disagree. Those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious” are neither in any meaningful sense of the word without a truth basis to their claims.

            To what philosophy of language, semantic issues, and hermeneutic are you referring? If I understood exactly where you are coming from, we might have a more fruitful discussion.

          • Josh de Keijzer

            Thomas, let me explain why, in the light of developments in philosophy in the 20th century, I believe inerrancy, even if true, is a largely irrelevant concept for what it tries to achieve (which is to provide direct access to objective divine truth).

            (1) Language is a human achievement, a human construct, developed to facilitate humanity’s being in the world. Even if the Bible is inerrant its content was poured into that human language which is a human construct that is fallible in its representation of divine truth.

            (2) Words are signifiers, symbols that point to things or other symbols. As such words are part of an extremely intricate and elaborate network of semantic meaning that provide those words with their meaning. Such networks are dependent on existing communities in order to function; that is to say that without such existing communities there is no semantic meaning. Even if the Bible is inerrant, i.e. God intended exactly the words used in Scripture and did so in such a way that there are absolutely no mistakes, it would still mean nothing, unless the semantic web of meaning of those words is included in the doctrine of inerrancy. But even then, it would mean nothing, because the semantic web of meaning of those words is lost to us. We have merely the naked strings of words on the written page. The communities that embodied the semantic network of meaning no longer exist.

            (3) This brings us to hermeneutics. We now know, that hermeneutics is not a x-step procedure from here to the original meaning and, through an application process, back to us. Hermeneutics is the process of meaning making in which the horizon of the text fuses with our horizon. Hermeneutics is meaning making, an interaction process between us and the text. Meaning is created in the middle. Whether this text is inerrant or not, doesn’t matter, for, in the end, the meaning (i.e. what God is saying to us through his Word) comes into existence between the text and us as part of a creative and imaginary process in which, we may hope, the Spirit of God is involved.

            So wherever you insert inerrancy into the picture, whether on the level of language, semantics, or hermeneutics, you will always remain at least one step removed from God’s absolute truth. It is for this reason that rejection of inerrancy is not the same as rejecting truth, as you claim. Absolute divine truth is not within our reach; at least not in the way that you seem to propose, namely by means of inerrancy. Rather, truth comes into existence through interpretation, as we encounter reality, God, and others, whereby truth can never be reduced to either the Biblical text or our imagination. It is somewhere in the middle, ungraspable, yet revealed.

          • thomasmitchel

            If you believe the Scriptures are inerrant, you should defend it rather than seek the approval of men. If you don’t then just acknowledge that. As I noted previously, inerrancy flows from inspiration.
            God invented language, confused the languages at Babel and then spoke through Moses and the prophets in Hebrew. If God invented language, He can probably manage to speak to man in language. Even if He left us on our own to invent language, being God, he can probably speak through one of the language, which He did, namely Hebrew (with a little Aramaic) and Greek.

            “The semantic web of meaning” of those words is lost to us? If you do not have any confidence in the translations, a diligent study of history and culture, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, provides one with an adequate “web of meaning” to understand what God wishes to be communicated. Those who reject that possibility simply do not want to acknowledge that it He is God and has communicated to us. Just do a word study for Moses, Law, Prophets, and “it is written” in the gospels and then do some research about the Dead Sea Scrolls and it will help give you a different perspective. Before you reject the truths of Scripture, you should spend some time studying how the OT was preserved, and how it was interpreted by Christ and the other NT writers. The NT Scriptures are a bit different, but are a little easier in this regard.
            There is a great book called The Hermeneutical Spiral by Oswald that discusses and addresses the horizon fusion . . . stuff. As a believer hermeneutics is how to properly interpret scriptures. Do you approach it as the inspired (God-breathed — theopneustos) Word of God or do you approach it as a purely human work. Your hermeneutic approach appears to be an odd twist on Barth. Barth’s doctrine of inspiration is actually pretty weak, thus he comes to the conclusions on inerrancy that he does. it is convenient because it allows one to pick and choose what parts of Scripture one wants to believe and see as authoritative and which ones one does not.

          • AHH

            rather than seek the approval of men
            Impugning people’s motives like this is unworthy of discussions among followers of Jesus, Regardless of who is right about the “inerrancy” issue, you owe Josh an apology for that.

            And you might think about how many people (like Peter Enns) have lost the “approval of men” in their churches and seminaries for seeking how to deal with Scripture in the most faithful and truthful way and deciding that “inerrancy” is not the best approach. If one is in a fundamentalist environment, leaving behind a position of inerrancy is the last thing one should do if the approval of men is the driving force.

          • thomasmitchel


            You are correct and i apologized above.

            As to your second point it depends on truth and from whom you are seeking approval. It also depends on why suddenly one concludes that inspired scripture is not inerrant. Or if you have never subscribed to a doctrine of inerrancy, what your beliefs about inspiration are. Inspiration, like trinity, is arguably a test of orthodoxy.

            Also, I did not notice you chastising Andrew for his comments about “actual scholarship.”

          • thomasmitchel


            AHH below is correct. I apologize for characterizing and then impugning your motives. Please forgive me.

          • Josh de Keijzer

            Thomas and AHH, I’m not offended. I understand where Thomas is coming from. I used to be an inerrantist and a conservative evangelical. I understand why Thomas would talk like that. In a foundationalist epistemology everything depends on concepts such as inerrancy and giving up on them is seen as giving up on truth. Yet, I would like to close the discussion here and thank you for participating. It has been a useful exercise for me. God’s peace be with you.

          • thomasmitchel

            Josh, you still have not articulated your position on inspiration. That has to be the starting point. Too often folks deny one of the ancillary doctrines without acknowledging they are really questioning inspiration.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Respectfully, you need to put the apologist titles aside, take a leap of faith, and read some actual scholarship. You can start by simply perusing the many posts made by Peter here on the numerous inconsistencies and contradictions found in the Bible.

          • thomasmitchel

            Good afternoon Andrew,
            I am attending seminary and have had a great deal of opportunity to read a good deal of very fine scholarship on this issue. I have also spent much of the last 20 years explaining to those with a bias against inspiration how most of what they see as inconsistencies and contradictions have reasonable explanations. You are obviously defining “actual scholarship” as something written by a degreed professional that agrees with your conclusions. That is a pretty poor definition.
            I will ask you the same question I asked Josh; How many ACTUAL inconsistencies/contradictions do you believe there are (which tells me how much time you have actually spend looking into the matter)? Multiple thousands? A couple hundred? A few dozen? What are your top 3?

          • Jeff Y

            “most of what they see as inconsistencies and contradictions have reasonable explanations” – Just a clarification here in your argument, Thomas. Either every last one of them has a reasonable explanation for why it can’t possibly be a contradiction (based on the definition of inerrancy you’ve supplied) – though that’s quite disputable – or that definition of inerrancy has to be abandoned.

          • thomasmitchel

            That is correct.

          • geoffrobinson

            (1) double creation account, (2) the diverging interpretations of history in Samuel-Kings vs Chronicles (notably where both God and Satan incite David to hold a census), and (3) the variant eye witness account of the resurrection.

            Not to bad mouth you, but that seems to be rather weak examples of discrepancies. #3 being an OK example, but still…

          • Josh de Keijzer

            Well, let me put it the other way around then. If there was no perceived problem of discrepancies either on the part of defenders of inerrancy or its detractors, there simply would be no need for a doctrine of inerrancy. The mere proposal of such a doctrine indicates that there are certain areas of tension, let’s say, and the same can be said of the works written on the topic by people like Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. My goodness, there’s even an encyclopedia on the topic (Gleason Archer) and I’m asked to provide my top 3. It’s hardly my issue, I’d say.

          • MattB

            But discrepancies in the text don’t show that the event behind the text is false.

          • Josh de Keijzer

            Indeed, but if the discrepancies in the text provide two different interpretations of an event it becomes clear that we have no infallible or epistemologically absolute access to the events. Inerrancy is never about the truth of events (whether they be revelatory of historical events) but always about our epistemological access to them.

          • MattB

            I think inspiration might be a better word or if we were to say by an inerrancy, that everything the Bible teaches is true.

        • Daniel Fisher

          I fear I still don’t see the difference – Covenant for example (where Yarbrough is at, I understand?) doesn’t, to my knowledge, require a literal reading of Genesis, i.e., framework readings of Genesis 1 are accepted, etc., So it can’t be a strict literalism that differentiates Augustine’s inerrancy from that of general, mainstream inerrantists today.

          Again, Augustine’s quote pretty well sums up my own inerrantist view almost exactingly (though I would add more clarification about understanding the intent of common parlance and how language is used). Innerancy may well have been embraced as one of their tools/weapons by the radical fundamentalists in the 19th century as they fought modernity,(I have no issue agreeing to this) – but this in no way proves that it was “invented” by them at that time, when you have folks like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and plenty of others who held the basic idea of inerrancy long before.

          As for your question below about why in the world anyone would hold to inerrancy? I can only speak for myself (though I know I’m not unique), but bottom line, because of the way that Jesus used, spoke of, and understood Scripture as the very words of the Holy Spirit and as absolutely and unquestionably true. I believe it to be so because it sure looks like Jesus so believed. I at least can’t understand his words about the Bible in any other way than leading to the conclusion that he saw Scripture to be right from God and consequently absolutely and unquestionably authoritative and true in all it says.

          • Josh de Keijzer

            Daniel, thanks for your comment. I’m not going to extend the discussion into eternity, but a few thoughts. The author of this blogpost himself reiterates my point how there is a vast difference between our conception of the Bible as God’s Word and that of the ancients. Even their apparent inerrant positions are not the same as ours, he claims. After all that is a good thing, for we have more developed tools to engage ancient texts and we are asking different questions than people in the past. So there is no consistent unaltered inerrant position of the Church. I do not know what I might add to what Carlos Bovell has already written on this point.

            Allow me—to finish my involvement on this thread—throw in one more argument against inerrancy. Suppose inerrancy is a true proposition (A). For it to function it needs to rest on another true proposition, namely “The Bible is God’s Word” (B). A is only true if B is true. However, how do we establish B? By quoting some Scripture verse that we claim to be inerrant? That is circular reasoning. In fact there is no verse in Scripture that speaks for the whole of Scripture, claiming that the Bible we have, from Genesis to Revelation, is the Word of God. We have a few statements referring to the Old Testament (but references are mostly to the LXX anyways) but it is hard to establish from within Scripture that Scripture is the Word of God. And even if we could, it would epistemologically speaking be circular in reasoning. As we all should know and acknowledge, the only reason why we call the Bible the Word of God is because of two main faith traditions (Jewish and Early Christian) that collected certain writings and proclaimed them to possess divine authority. Thus, proposition B (The Bible is the Word of God) is based on the following proposition (C): “Christians proclaimed a certain collection of writings to be the Word of God.”

            Let’s see what this looks like:
            1. Christians proclaimed a certain collection of writings to be the Word of God.

            2. The Bible claims to be inerrant
            3. Therefore the Bible is inerrant

            It is evident that inerrancy doesn’t carry us any further than we get without it. (3) is dependent on (1) while the validity of (2) is disputed to say the least. Inerrancy is always still dependent on the human fallibility of document collection and human recognition of divine revelation. So it is a superfluous doctrine that we could do without.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Thanks again for the discussion. One quick item, as we close, I’d never hold this if I found it circular. The basic argument is 1) Jesus is authoritative on such matters, 2) he viewed the Scripture as inerrant, 3) therefore the Scripture is inerrant. Granted, this requires a) trust in Jesus’ authority, and b) some confidence that the gospels accurately portrayed his attitude toward the Bible, but I don’t see it circular, especially since strictly speaking, Jesus’ words can only directly confirm the inerrancy/authority of the OT.

          • Josh de Keijzer

            Daniel, that is indeed worth pondering. A few quick suggestions: (1) Jesus was talking about the intention of the law and rejected the notion of the law being permanently broken by means of hyperbolic language. Hence the ‘jot’ and ‘tittle’ in Mat 5:18. So it’s not necessarily a defense of inerrancy and certainly not the modernist version of it. (2) Jesus is not necessarily an authority on how Scripture ought to be used or understood. He was a human being embedded in his time, context, and cultural practices. It’s only natural that he would talk about the law in this way. We know too much about hermeneutics, text criticism, etc. to keep holding the same position. (3) That Jesus allegedly views the Scriptures as inerrant is more the imposition of a modern category on Jesus’ speech act than doing justice to what Jesus actually meant to say: “we need to take the law of God seriously even when I transcend that law in my practice and injuctions.” (4) Did Jesus have an inerrant view of Scripture or did his followers who tried their best to remember what he said think Jesus did? And (5) regardless of the answer to 4, aren’t we still being circular, since Jesus’ words on the matter are part of the content of which inerrancy is being disputed?

            These are a few thoughts. I’m not a biblical scholar, so I could be wrong here.

    • Daniel Fisher

      Also, I’m curious if you might expound your point #2 – about how you could no longer believe in the biblical god, and how that relates to inerrancy? I’d like to hear more as you have opportunity.

  • Mark K

    I have come to see inerrancy as merely a manifestation of a propositional view of epistemology. When we say, “God said it,” foundationalism assumes he said it propositionally. But that is a huge assumption, and to then claim that only those who agree with it are the true faithful is a giant, unwarranted leap. And to use patronizing, pejorative, or fear-mongering language to describe those who disagree….Well, you know.

  • gingoro

    In October I will be 74. I grew up in Ethiopia where my parents were missionaries and yet I never remember hearing of inerrancy. Rather the two descriptions of scripture that I heard were “a high view…” and “infallible”. When the Chicago statement came along I found that I was totally unable to understand it as it did not seem to be self consistent and it seemed very verbose. As best I recall Carl Henry who was an inerrantist talked about evangelicalism requiring a high view of scripture and not necessarily an inerrentist view. Since many now consider inerrancy necessary if one is to be an evangelical, I no longer call my self an evangelical.

    Thus I would dispute that inerrancy was the historical view of Orthodox Protestants even as recently as1940 thro 1975.

  • Dr. Donny

    It is not clear how the concept of inerrancy is supposed to work with multiple canons existing throughout the Christian world. Not only are there Protestant and Catholic canons, but also a bunch of Eastern canons such as the Ethiopian, Armenian, Syriac, and so forth. Since they vary all over the place on which OT books to include, how is one to know which particular canon is THE inerrant canon – the one that contains no extra non-canonical books while omitting no canonical books? Seems like one must explain why God did not make His will clear at all of the councils, synods and confessions exactly what books were to make up His canon. Explain that and maybe then we can have a meaningful discussion about inerrancy.

  • Ross

    I think I restate this every now and again, but I really do find there to be something sinister in the inerrancy camp. It is a deliberately divisive doctrine, regardless of its intellectual failings and I just wonder what is going on in the minds and hearts of people who keep on wanting to divide “Christians”. My leanings gather more and more toward considering the whole thing heretical. Try as I might, I really can’t see how the usual literalist/inerrantist view actually contributes to holding scripture in uniquely high esteem.

    I also think those who assert to inerrancy, but in the more thoughtful and nuanced manner probably need to reassess whether or not they should drop this term for something more fitting instead.

    Let’s face it, the Chicago Statement and the underlying reasons for it have been a complete and utter disaster for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      This makes sense. It is not the Bible that inerrantists hold in high esteem; if they did, they wouldn’t so frequently do such violence to the text. Rather, it is their own theological preconceptions that they hold as beyond debate. “God said it, I believe it, so that settles it!” is not the declaration of someone humbly seeking the Kingdom of God, but is instead that of the theological bully.

      • Ross

        This tendency toward bullying is my experience of many who hold the “inerrancy” position. However I would add that there are far more struggling loving fellow believers, determined to follow God, who hold this position because this is what they have been taught.

        I do have a certain amount of sympathy as to many of the reasons why people hold this position, but when a plethora of dogma and doctrine hide the “wood amongst the trees” then something is surely not right.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          Your follow up comment also makes sense to me. My own background is inerrantist – that’s why the dogmatic statement I quoted (I would not be able to tell you how many times I heard those exact words) is so familiar to me. But that does not mean I lack sympathy or even love for those who receive those teachings from pastors and others whom they respect or that they love Jesus any the less. I do find that too often many of these same believers have trouble extending that same sympathy and love to those who disagree with their theological preconceptions, many of which can’t really be found in the very Bible that they uphold as the foundation of their beliefs.

          • Ross

            Thank you for your comments. I empathise a lot with what you say. I’m not sure how closely I held to some form of “inerrantism”, certainly more than now, but I’ve never felt too comfortable in that “camp”. I now more and more believe that as a doctrine it actually creates a suspicion toward other genuine “believers” and leads to an attitude and practice of seeking out “heretics”. I really can’t see that it actually has much worth or value for apologetics directed outside the “Christian” faith and really seems to be just a shibboleth for “true belief”.

            I think it is a tremendous “red-herring” which takes up much time and effort which could otherwise be used fruitfully in finding and following God’s will.

            This is why my views are turning from finding the doctrine to be an annoying irritant, of dubious significance, to believing the whole thing to be a much darker presence.

            I really do wonder why such a large number of people have failed to move beyond where the Victorians were struggling to deal with geological/evolutionary claims which were increasingly turning previous certainties on their head.

  • Benjamin Martin

    So there wasn’t really an Adam and Eve, except as myth. Paul didn’t really mean literally that sin entered the world by Adam. Probably don’t understand salvation anyway, except for it makes about as much sense as smashing my thumb with a hammer….to pay my neighbor’s car payment.

    • Daniel Merriman

      Inerrantists love to say that God is the author of Scripture. Then they try to tell us what Paul’s authorial intent was. Makes my head hurt.

      • Daniel Fisher

        I’m not sure how this is so different from saying, “The Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David…”?

      • Kwp10021

        So, what you are saying is you don’t believe in the concept of exegetical and biblical scholarship. Amazing.

        • trytoseeitmyway

          No, I don’t think that’s what he’s saying at all. In fact, it’s puzzling to understand how you would get that out of the comment.

  • James

    I think all Christians believe in inerrancy to some degree. God just doesn’t make mistakes like you and me, to state the obvious negatively. And if he chooses to reveal something of himself through the medium of writing, who are we to quibble over wording? Yes, we must continue to search diligently for truth in Holy Writ. If it’s not accessible to the surface read, then it’s buried deep like treasure. If “doubting” inerrancy turns out to be a useful tool in our kit, so be it. But what’s with the negative words? Fact is, the inerrancy cat is out of the bag. I say, let it run until overtaken by better terminology and a deeper understanding of divine mind.

    • Carlos Bovell

      Thanks for commenting, James. Early on, the churches came to scripture for help in relating to and thinking about God, but I see little reason to conceive this as “all Christians believ[ing] in inerrancy to some degree.”

      Grace and peace,

  • MattB

    Why are patheos commenters always so negative and rude? It seems that anyone with a computer and keyboard on here thinks they have the power to bully people because they simply disagree.

    • Carlos Bovell

      Thanks for your comment, Matt. The internet can be a real test for us. We have to try our best to remember that there’s a real person on the other side of the computer who Jesus Christ loves.

      Grace and peace,

      • MattB

        Hello Dr. Bovell,

        Thank you for that kind response. You’re absolutely right. The person behind the computer is real and Jesus does love them. I will pray for those who bully and mock each other on here.

    • Non-Christian visitor

      I read broadly across patheos, and I don’t think it’s a patheos problem, because it doesn’t appear uniformly through the site. It can happen anywhere, but it’s especially an evangelical Christian problem

      • MattB

        From my personal experience, it seems to only happen on the Progressive and Evangelical Christian channels. It reminds me of Youtube. It won’t matter anyway because I won’t be commenting on here much longer. I enjoyed reading many scholars like: Peter Enns, James McGrath, Scott McKnight, and Ben Witherington III. Unfortunately, it’s on these blogs that way too many people who act like morons and bullies.

  • Carlos Bovell continues to distinguish himself, as he has for several years now, by presenting the weakest and most fallacy-ridden arguments against inerrancy to be found anywhere. Keep up the good work, Carlos!

    • peteenns

      Don’t snipe and run. Explain why they are “the weakest and most fallacy-ridden arguments against inerrancy to be found anywhere.”

    • Carlos Bovell

      Thank you for taking time to comment, Ron. I wish you God’s blessings.

      Grace and peace,

  • Dwight Gingrich

    I’d just like to point out that, unless I missed something, Carlos Bovell, you have failed to address one of Yarbrough’s key points that you quoted: “Jesus regarded Scripture as words from God’s mouth. That should be
    understood analogically, of course, and not crudely literally, but the
    integral link between God and divine enscripturated speech remains. (“The Future of Cognitive Reverence,” 17)

    This stands out to me because it is the key problem that I have not heard addressed satisfactorily in this blog series. I pointed this out way back near the beginning of this series in some long comments, where I noted the tendency of the inerrantist and non-inerrantist camps to talk past each other. For example, this year at Together for the Gospel one of the main talks was on Jesus’ view of Scripture. It presented essential evidence in favor of inerrancy that must be addressed–while succumbing to the opposite problem of almost entirely failing to mention the problem of “difficult” Bible passages and apparent contradictions!

    In other contexts I have indeed heard inerrantists attempt to address such difficult passages. But I don’t think I’ve heard a serious attempt from a non-inerrantist to explain Jesus’ high view of Scripture.

    • Carlos Bovell

      Hi Dwight,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve though a lot about how Jesus thought about scripture. What I’ve been able to learn comes down to this: based on mystical experiences, Jesus had a full confidence in the scriptures, meaning that he was fully convinced that they spoke of him. The early church (i.e., the NT writers) followed his lead and completely trusted that the OT was most profitably read in ways that spoke of Christ.

      I have found support for this view in the writings of some historical Jesus scholars. Scholars such as C. Evans and B. Chilton, for example, describe this way of understanding scripture as “supplementing” scripture and/or “subverting” it, which, of course, was in full keeping with the hermeneutics of the time.

      This is the lead that some of us post-inerrantists are trying to follow. One complication (and it’s not a small one) is that Christian churches in the West have now become historically conscious, which means, among other things, that we think today in ways that the ancients (including Jesus and Paul, etc.) could never have possibly thought. Nevertheless, we faithfully work to follow Jesus by suggesting ways by which scripture can spiritually point to him.

      Grace and peace,

      • Dwight Gingrich

        Thanks for the reply, Carlos.

        I agree with much of what you wrote, including the idea that we share with Christ and the apostles a practice of reading Scripture as pointing to Christ. (Rabbit trail: I often capitalize Scripture because I understand the NT uses the parallel Greek term exclusively for what the apostles called “sacred writings.” Thus it functions as our English term “Bible,” also capitalized.)

        That said, I still think we need to deal with the reality that Jesus’s confidence in the Scripture was not limited to “meaning that he was fully convinced that they spoke of him.” His confidence also meant that he believed Scripture described historical realities and, as Yarbrough wrote, is “words from God’s mouth.” It appears he even believed the authorship superscriptions for the Psalms were trustworthy (cf. his commentary on Ps. 110). This evidence about Jesus’ view of Scripture comes to us through the same evangelists who record Jesus’ belief that Scripture points to him, so I think it must also be accounted for in our own hermeneutical understandings.

        In addition, it seems to me from my readings (both in the NT and in secondary sources such as Dodd, France, Longenecker, Beale and others) that Jesus and the apostles handled Scripture differently than their contemporaries. Yes, they certainly shared many Jewish beliefs and interpretive practices. But there was also sharp discontinuity with their hermeneutical peers. I don’t think we can conclude that Jesus and the apostles “subverted” the intent of Scripture merely because their peers did, if by subvert we mean “go against the grain” of the OT, as Enns elsewhere wrote. Rather, I see them, under the guidance of the Spirit, creatively unfolding and extending the OT in ways that went beyond the understanding of the OT writers but remained consistent with it.

        Similarly, despite the undeniable differences between first-century experiences of historical consciousness and our own, it is clear that the NT authors possessed a keen concern to report history in a way that reflected actual events. Yes, their concept of historical accuracy differed significantly from our own at points, but we cannot make the leap from that to claim that historical accuracy was unimportant to them. And Jesus seemed to believe that the OT Scriptures expressed this same essential historical trustworthiness.

        In summary, I don’t think it does Yarbrough’s point justice to simply say that we agree with Jesus that Scripture points to him. That skips over a lot of important data.

        Grace and peace,

        • Ross

          Just two throw my two-penneth in. Depending on whether you agree with much recent scholarship, it could be said that “we know more about scripture now” than Jesus would have at the time he was here. I can easily understand that he felt that the historicity of the majority of scripture was accurate, even if it is not. I don’t feel personally that this poses major problems for “scripture” or Jesus as divine, nor does it necessarily cause major problems for us now. Although I know many will not agree with me…in the slightest.

          To me this raises questions of Jesus’ humanity and to what extent he had revelation from the Father above and beyond that which his peers had.

          If for instance it is true that the Earth is actually millions of years old, would he have known that? If there were no individual Adam and Eve, would he have known that? Etc. Etc.

          Some feel that Jesus would have had an absolutely totally correct “theology” and also knowledge of nature/the World/science, whereas others may feel, that as being totally human, there were fairly major strictures limiting what he knew, particularly to the place and time of his walk among us. My view is the latter.

          He certainly “knew” scripture and could use it with those very used to using it, but how much of that was having a “perfect knowledge ” of scripture and how much was having knowledge of people and knowing how to use it in discourse?

          For me, I don’t feel it necessary to have exactly the same view of scripture as Jesus had. In fact it is probably impossible for any of us to have the same view as he had.

          • Dwight Gingrich

            Ross, thanks for your thoughts. You raise a lot of valid and admittedly difficult questions about what it meant for Christ to be incarnated in the flesh. I certainly don’t have answers for all your questions, and I’m hungry to know more as God permits us understanding.

            I agree that, early in Jesus’ life, there were normal human limitations to Jesus’ knowledge. After his baptism and the beginning of his ministry…? Now I’m less sure. On the one hand we have Jesus’ statement about the Son not knowing the timing of the coming of the Son of Man. (That is a statement about the future, not about the past or about Scripture.) On the other hand, Luke records that even at age 12 his understanding was extremely exceptional, and we have multiple cases where he knew the unspoken thoughts of others. And then we have Jesus’ claim to have authority to explain and even re-shape the Law (“but I say unto you”); how could he rightfully exercise such authority if he was mistaken about significant elements of it? I am left with the impression that Jesus’ understanding of the Scriptures was something pretty central to his whole ministry, such that if he was mistaken on these matters then his ministry may be called into question.

            Thanks for making me think. I don’t have time right now for long discussions here, but I appreciate you taking time to write.

            Grace and peace to all,

          • MattB

            It would seem that Jesus used the OT as a means of showing how followers should be living their lives, which in my opinion, is why I think he used it against the Jewish leaders and pharisees as well since they were prohibiting other Jews from entering salvation and the Kingdom of God by instituting hypocrisy via legalism

      • Daniel Fisher

        I follow the idea that Jesus had a full confidence in the Scriptures, convinced that they spoke of him (and that the early church followed that lead)….
        But the significant question remains, then: was he *correct* in having this confidence, or was his confidence misplaced?

        When I was 4 years old, I had full confidence I had super powers and was able to fly…. my confidence was ill-placed and, no matter how convinced I was, I was still wrong.

        So I remain curious – was Jesus’ belief *correct*? Was he in fact correct in his conviction that the Scripture spoke of him? Or did he have a misplaced confidence in the Scripture speaking about him, while in actuality he was deluded and sadly mistaken?

      • jason peters

        where on earth do you get that Jesus had mystical experiences as evidence in the Scriptures testifying of Him. This is why a category of inerrancy is important. We are fallible thinkers, and when given no precise interpretive parameters, we come up with unvalidatable conclusions. You attempted to validate your point based on other people( similar to rabbinical methods wanting to validate one’s own interpretation), instead of appealing to Scripture to validate your point. Did Jesus have full convidence in the Scriptures, yes, simply because He knew His OT, not to mention being fully God, and having the Spirit in an immeasurable way.

  • Sam Haylor

    But for those who have already experienced the change authentically from within their journey…

    This statement is the very reason innerancy is so critical. One cannot authenticate one’s own personal experience.

  • Jeff Y

    Good thoughts, Carlos. Along with an appeal to emotion Yarbrough also engages in a number of other fallacies. I just read his review that you linked to and found it very disappointing.

    Certainly, liberal historical-critical approaches that draw conclusions based on a priori assumptions that rule out the divine (e.g., the impossibility of miracles) are problematic because they view the scriptures as only human documents with no possibility for divine inspiration. But, this does not negate historical-critical investigation and findings. It does not change the reality of the data that is present. Further, the fundamentalist assumptions that lift – from the start – scripture above culture (as if they are mutually exclusive) is also problematic. It assumes a way God must function (much as meticulous sovereignty of some Reformed Calvinists argue against human choice).

    Frankly, I found Yarbrough’s review driven more by a hint of anger, by fear, and a condescending, polemical harangue aimed ultimately at rebuke rather than a calm, academic and honorable engagement with the authors of the book. It fails to give the benefit of the doubt (“love believes all things”) and its condescending tone is inappropriate. Sad that this is where the ETS leadership is situated (not surprising this is linked with the Gospel Coalition – given its reactionary ‘move’ in this direction in recent years). Mr. Yarbrough would do well to read Tim Keller’s blog-wrting on engaging with theological differences.

    The attitude of the review is illustrated well in the quotes below (comments to follow):

    Y: “Jeffrey Morrow, commenting at length on Legaspi’s book, has rightly recognized the character of much historical criticism as “secular allegory.” That is, “precisely by denying the plain meaning of the text in search of more authentic history behind the text as we have it, historical criticism often results in fanciful reconstructions, more allegorical than literal, that would make Origen blush.”

    – That an individual in academia would either buy into such an argument or make it, is disappointing.

    A. None of those questioning the modern Evangelical-fundamentalist definition of inerrancy is “denying the plain meaning of the text” (whatever that is) – the point of searching the historical-cultural background is precisely to ascertain meaning. And, historical research has come to see that there are problems with the presumed “plain meaning” of modern views on “inerrancy.” No one, in fact, does not use historical-critical data in their exegesis of scripture – they do so the moment they read the text in English. Or take the simple example of the command to emulate Jesus in foot washing (Jn. 13). Unless Yarbrough or Morrow honestly believe literal foot washing is to be practiced daily, they are employing the “search of more authentic history behind the text as we have it” and are denying, according to their assumption of the meaning, the “plain meaning of the text.” Everyone’s exegesis is “behind the text” – it is an inescapable reality. Better to be conscious of that than to act is though we don’t.

    B. As to the so-called “plain meaning” – plain to whom? The thousands of denominations and hundreds of books debating thousands of various biblical topics (including inerrancy) are indicative. What is plain to one is not to the other. Reality does not match the theoretical assumptions of fundamentalism (either in this area of “plain meaning” or in the realm of certain definitions of “inerrancy.”). That is a key point here.

    C. Meaning is only present in context. What is missed by Morrow and the review above is that words only have meaning in their cultural milieu and this is where historical-critical investigation is of enormous value. Obviously, any conclusion must be open to critique. But, neither should historical-critical investigations be down-graded or cast aside as Yarbrough does.

    D. Finally, while indeed there are critical scholars who are too imaginative, this statement is more ad hominem than anything else. Many – particularly believers who incorporate h-c scholarship – are simply searching for a reading that incorporates all the data. And none of that undermines the inspired text.

    Y: “He continues, “We need to unmask how claims that do away with traditional, patristic, medieval, spiritual exegesis and instead focus exclusively on the literal-historical level often mask a secular allegory at the service of another kingdom, not the Kingdom of God.””

    – Once again, there is ad hominem here. There is no basis that “literarl-historical” investigations and results of historical-crtiques serve another kingdom (certainly, those that hold to assumptions against miraculous do so; but not all do this). And, why should traditional or patristic exegesis be privileged? This assumes what must first be proven. It all comes down to exegesis in context.

    It is about interpretation; not authority (which Yarbrough implies).

    Y: “Morrow argues in the service of Catholic teaching, but Protestants seeking to uphold an historic and evangelical fides quae (body of saving Christian doctrine) can concur with him: “We must be fully aware, when we engage in biblical exegesis, that we tread on sacred ground.”

    – To return to the analogy of the incarnation, this “sacredness” that leads to resistance to exegesis that incorporates historical-cultural-critical exegesis is reminiscent to the resistance of the Jews to a crucified messiah (let alone a crucified God! – Phil. 2). It doesn’t allow for God to be God in choosing to bring his word to humanity through the scandal of human culture.

    – Indeed, ultimately the text is a sacred message but it comes through the scandal of being entrenched in human culture. Employing h-c findings into exegesis in no way reduces the sacredness of the text. On the contrary it honors it in a greater way than fundamentalists who downgrade such data because it seeks to read the text in its God-given context. It is honoring the text for what it is just as the disciples of Jesus – when many Jews found it scandalous that the Messiah, let alone God, would be found in such a humble personage – saw the Messiah in this poor, humble, Jew from Nazareth. The Yarbrough/Morrow perspective on h-c exegesis is akin to Nathaniel asking, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

    Y: “I think it is fair to say that we catch not a whiff of this kind of reverence in the Hays-Anbsberry volume with its one-sided deference to historical criticism.”

    – Having read Hays-Ansberry (and I’m not in agreement with all of their positions), this statement is simply not true. This accusation of a lack of “reverence” and “one-sided deference” is simply unproven. It is pejorative and ad hominem and unnecessary. H-A are first proposing that employing historical-critical findings need not, in itself, undermine inspiration on a theoretical level; and second, that historical criticism is simply reflecting the reality of the biblical record. It was and is immersed in culture (God’s choice) and culture/history is God’s chosen context. As such, it often reflects those cultural phenomenal of the day – without undermining the divine plan for His word. This is the stumbling-block for the fundamentalist approach: the upside-down, ironic, thoroughly human looking text – turns out to be of Divine origin. But, it must be recognized within its human context to be properly understood. That, is about nothing more than reverence for God’s chosen means of communication.

    Y: “My sense is that the book under review wants to steer the church pastorally on the basis of (1) a hermeneutic that is ill-suited for this purpose and (2) an understanding of the Bible that does not take sufficient stock of what Legaspi uncovers and what 200 years of Western church history confirms.”

    – “ill-suited” is precisely the question. This is a condescending dismissal. Recognizing that the biblical writers reflected cultural perceptions is not ill-suited. It is inescapable. But, further, appealing to “200 years of Western church history” is nothing more than the consensus fallacy (with the particular nuance of the genetic fallacy). For an academic to engage in such is inexcusable. It is an appeal to authority directly in line with the response of the Pharisees to Jesus eating with unwashed hands in Mark 7.