What do I mean when I say the Bible is “trustworthy?”

What do I mean when I say the Bible is “trustworthy?” October 2, 2012

With the whole catholic and orthodox church of Jesus Christ I whole heartedly affirm that the Bible, the Christian scriptures, is entirely trustworthy and true.

As they say, however, the devil is in the details.

How does “trustworthy” and “true” function? What do these adjectives mean?

Clearly, given a recent experience, a group of people can agree that the Bible is trustworthy and celebrate that common affirmation and consensus and then fall into disagreement and even suspicion (often leading to excommunication) over how that affirmation is consistent with the phenomena of Scripture and various interpretations of it.

When I say Scripture is trustworthy and true, I mean it is perfect with respect to its purpose. It is infallible in the sense that it does not fail to fulfill its assigned function–to identify God for us. By that I mean Scripture communicates to us the metanarrative of God’s story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation in a powerful way that, if we allow it, draws us into the real world of God. In the inimitable words of Hans Frei, “the Bible absorbs the world for us.”

The Bible’s main purpose is transformation, not information. Yes, of course, it includes much information, but the information is for the purpose of transformation.

Trouble arises when people disagree about the accuracy of the Bible’s information content. Unfortunately, that is an obsession with evangelicals, especially “conservative evangelicals” still rooted in fundamentalism.

Information closely connected to the transformational aim of Scripture is most important. That’s why Bible translators do not begin by translating, say, Ecclesiastes, to provide the gospel to people. They begin with, for example, the Gospel of John. We all intuitively know that some portions of Scripture are more directly related to the Bible’s overall purpose than other portions.

When I say the Bible is trustworthy, I mean it can be (and for Christians must be) trusted to transform those who are open to its message, the gospel, by bringing them into encounter with the living God through Jesus Christ. I do NOT mean the Bible is a source book of information about history or cosmology or even morality. All those are in the Bible, but they are not its main purpose.

When I say the Bible is trustworthy, I do NOT mean every event recorded in the Bible happened exactly as it is described there. And anyone who says all did have simply not wrestled deeply enough with the phenomena of Scripture. It takes Herculean efforts to harmonize many biblical accounts of the same events and, in the end, they are not worth it and do not really succeed (except by forcing harmony where it does not exist). An excellent example, of course, is the event of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Harold Lindsell had to have the rooster crowing six times to harmonize the gospel accounts.

Even most conservative evangelical biblical scholars know this, but they keep it a secret (except among themselves). They don’t want to share it with the lay people who look to them for fundamentalist support. If they really told their constituents what they know to be true about the Bible, they would be crucified by many of them. So they preach inerrancy, but among themselves and in their footnotes admit that the Bible contains many “problems” that resist harmonization.

My guide in all this has been Donald G. Bloesch–a God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christian theologian if there ever was one. But who rejected strict inerrancy in favor of what he called a “sacramental view” of Scripture. He used the illustration of a light and the glass light bulb. The light within the bulb, playing on the filament fibers, is God’s Word. The physical bulb itself is the Bible. God’s Word needs the Bible as its medium, but the medium is not the message itself.

Does affirmation of the Bible’s truth and trustworthiness commit me to believe every event recorded in the Old Testament happened exactly as recorded? Who does believe that? Hardly anyone I know. And to those who say they do, I ask again, did God inspire David to conduct a census or was it the devil? Or did God inspire David using the devil? Sure, you can find ways to “explain” one account or the other, but you can’t simply believe both as they are described. That’s the case with many events recorded in the Bible.

Even the great Charles Hodge admitted there are flaws in the Bible. He compared them with the bits of sandstone in the marble of the pillars of the Parthenon. He said we Christians are justified in trampling such arguments under our feet. I’m not sure what he meant by that except to say we are justified in simply ignoring the sandstone (flaws in the Bible) because of the majesty of its marble. However, problems arise when someone whose job it is to inspect the pillars of the Parthenon points out the sandstone. Too often he gets trampled under fundamentalist feet.

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  • Trip

    Professor Olson, if the Bible can be wrong about such seemingly trivial things as how many times a rooster crowed, how can we trust it when it makes such monumental claims as that a man rose from the dead?

    • rogereolson

      Of course, that is always the question that comes up. (It’s like pushing a button on a machine that always has the same result.) Surely you don’t think that if I say a person is “trustworthy” I mean every story he tells is absolutely accurate. I mean he doesn’t lie and you can depend on him to keep his word (promises). What is your answer to the dilemma about rooster and Peter’s denial (and David’s census as either inspired by God or Satan)? As Gary Dorrien says in his critique of conservative evangelicalism, it isn’t “inerrancy or the abyss!” That’s a false either-or. I hope your faith in Scripture is not based on its factual inerrancy but on the Spirit’s testimony that it is the unique and infallible witness to Jesus Christ.

      • Trip

        So I should look for a subjective feeling to confirm to me that a book riddled with factual mistakes is actually God’s Word? Surely you can understand the angst of the skeptic…

        • rogereolson

          First off, “riddled with factual mistakes” is your term, not mine. I never said that. Second off, no, I don’t understand the angst of the skeptic. What’s that?

          • Trip

            So it only has a few mistakes here and there around the edges, but none at the core? Only factual mistakes, or doctrinal mistakes as well?

    • Tim Reisdorf


      How far does this go? If an original is found to have a spelling mistake or spelling that is so uncommon for that word that we would otherwise call it a mistake? What if some verses are missing from the beginning of Ephesus? What if we only have “best guesses” to the ending of Mark? What if 2nd Corinthians is really a couple letters stitched together masquerading as one? What if Matthew (or John) skews the chronology of Jesus’ ministry?

      Do we wilt under the uncertainty and discredit the whole?

      I think that the Bible writers would dismiss such standards – they would implore “cast aside these less important items and drink deeply of the Word of God anyway”.

      • C Alan Nault

        Or in other words, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Mr. Nault,

          The man behind the curtain? This is exactly the One that we should be paying attention to. This is the Strong Hand of Love hidden in the shadows. This is the One whose image the best and worst of all people bear. This is the One who hides proof of Himself in the vastness of the universe, the complexity of the smallest organism, the laugh of a child. This is the One that Job desired and feared to face. This is the One who makes nations of barren octogenarians. This is the One who visits us in the cool breeze of summer and the icy blizzard of winter, the glowing hearth at night and the blistering sun at noon. This is the One who crept into history as a baby and overturned the direction of empires (in addition to the more important things He did).
          Would you harden your heart to my words if I didn’t use “octogenarians” with a certain kind of clinical precision that a good editor would catch? Would you close your ear to the message for that one “mistake”? (Or would you excuse my “error” as poetic license?!?) …. The Bible is “God-breathed”, but transmitted through people – to our sorrow and joy.

  • I found your fourth-from-last paragraph really saddening, Roger. It impugns the integrity of a good many people, including me, and it’s not the sort of thing you usually say about people (which makes it more jarring!) I’d ask you to consider the claim of many (though I’m sure not all) conservatives that we have searched Scripture carefully and do not believe there are any statements within it that are contrary to fact or incapable of harmonisation. Disagreeing is fine, of course! You do that here articulately and insightfully, on a regular basis. But saying that “most” conservatives are keeping their true views secret out of fear of being crucified by their congregations is unfair, untrue, and unhelpfully pejorative. Keep poking us – but please represent us fairly (as a wise Arminian I know once said to his Calvinist critics 🙂

    • rogereolson

      Of course there are exceptions. But my experience has been that students who grew up in conservative churches and Christian schools, being taught “inerrancy,” never heard of the qualifications inerrantist evangelical scholars make. Those don’t seem to filter down to the pastors and laity.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        This is why Devotionals outsell Commentaries by a wide margin.

      • After completing my MA, I was being considered for contract teaching and discussed some issues related to the reliability of the Bible with one of my professors. He told me that I didn’t have to teach everything I knew. He told me that most teachers didn’t. I don’t know the percentages, but there are some who fit Dr. Olson’s description.
        I never did teach at the college level, but I have encountered many pastors who will say something similar. There are certain things they won’t tell their congregations. These are people who are in every other way honest and people of integrity.
        They will often credit pastoral concern … don’t tell the congregation things that will harm their faith.
        The problem, of course, is when someone finds out.

        • Matt

          As a pastor, I disagree with your sentiments Henry that pastors must teach publicly(from the pulpit) everything they know, and that to “hide” it or only speak to folks personally about it is some kind of deception. This is not in line with what it means to be “pastoring” and not only teaching. I am not ashamed of anything the Bible teaches, but there is a kind of scale of Bibical certainty to differing subject matter. For instance, in 2 Peter we read about the “spirits in prison.” I taught based on my perspective but also offered a summary of the differing perspectives in addition to why I believe mine. I do not think anyone can say with absolute certainty what Peter was saying there, and it is intellectually dishonest or prideful to claim it as a FACT. So the same applies to some of these meaty doctrines too(inerrency being one), which are more suited to a lengthy explanation to saints truly interested in growing with God and the scriptures and not in the typical short worship service. That is not dishonesty, that is pastoral wisdom. Another thing I do is make resources available online to the minority who want to explore deeper, including opposing views. If you open a can of worms in the pulpit, make sure you can clean it up by the end of the sermon. Although I am preaching on “the truthfulness of scripture” this Sunday, I will be seeking to do it in a pastorally helpful way which whets the spiritual appetite, rather than to attack the subject in a more apologetic way, which does not suit the maturity level or doxological purpose of the saints gathering together.

          • rogereolson

            I doubt that “Henry” meant every pastor must preach everything he/she believes from the pulpit. His point was, as I recall, that a pastor should not hide his/her beliefs from congregants.

    • John I.

      Anyone who has been to a Bible college or seminary, and befriended a prof and so had less guarded conversations knows the truth of what Olson has asserted. I have, and did. It occurs less so in kool-aid drinking colleges where even the profs buy into the party line, but such colleges are fundamentalist or neo-fundamentalist and so not evangelical within the meaning of the term used on this website (large tent, Billy Graham loving, evangelical in the 50s sense of neo-evangelical). In addition, many profs just play it safe by sticking officially to their specialty or sub-specialty, which means that they do not overtly have to deal with the issue and better yet if possible, just ignore the issue. Or they teach surveys that are actually just surveys of facts to be remembered and not actually wrestling with any of the content. The point being that there are many ways of sticking one’s head in the sand, so it is not so nefarious as you make it out to be.

    • John I.

      Intellectually honest and responsible teachers that are not fundamentalist or neo-fundamentalist kool-aid drinkers do, and so the representation is fair. One only has to befriend a prof at a evangelical (in the big tent, 50s “neo-evangelical”, Billy Graham style) Bible college or seminary and have less guarded conversations to know the truth of what Oslon writes. I did and had. And the hiding is not as deceptive and nefarious as you make it out to be. Professors can by and large ignore the issue successfully–sticking to their speciality, covering the topics in survey fashion only, publishing on safe things that further their career, not digging deep into what they suspect is true because they don’t have to dig, etc. One can very successfully follow Jesus without having to commit to what one suspects is true about inerrancy. The bottom line is that one can keep one’s thoughts to oneself without having to deceive others. Moreover, since Jesus is the central thing, not bibliolatry, one can be unworried about whether the Bible is errant and so not feel any need to discuss these sort of thoughts publicly. It’s not required that I disabuse someone of their belief in inerrancy, especially since the issue is contested and contestable (in the sense of not conclusively provable either way).

      • Wow! Either “intellectually honest and responsible teachers” or “fundamentalist or neo-fundamentalist kool-aid drinkers.” No broad brushes here!!

  • Craig Wright

    This article is so relevant. I’m going to share it with the men’s Bible study I teach early every Monday morning. We studied Genesis 1-11 two years ago and are studying Job this year. I also used your point about David and the census. It helps to have a Biola University Bible professor in our church to support me in this issue, when he points out that “inspired” is a word that Bible uses about itself, and not “inerrant”.

  • Tim Reisdorf


    I believe that you are correct in your views on this. The Bible books are true, but is folly to harmonize the Gospels/Acts and SamuelKings/Chronicles. We must get away from these tests of inerrancy/historicity and focus more on meaning.

    I’m also leaning towards thinking it mistaken to harmonize the books of the Bible into one long story. Maybe it could be done, but I don’t believe that was the intention. I fear this approach would distort the meanings that the authors put in to their own books – valid and God-inspired meanings that don’t contort well to outside harmonizations.

    • Matt

      I am just preparing a message on the trustworthiness of the Bible and I find the “real” conservative position to be compelling. The issue isn’t whether the story(of the rooster, etc.) was recorded “wrong” or “right” according to modern journalistic standards which we impose and assume as a basis for judging the Bible. for instance this sentence from John Pipers church, who is linked with the council on Biblical inerrency :
      “What Does “Without Error” Mean? The Bible is “without error” in the sense that all that the Biblical authors intended to teach is true and does not conflict with reality or with the will of God.”
      That ain’t Kool aid folks, that’s perfectly reasonable.

      An important part being “what they intended to teach.” Because verses such as the rooster story can be used as a “test” supposedly challenging the factual data given. I think the writers would wonder that we missed the point of the story: Jesus said Peter would deny Him before the cock crows(once or twice?) and what he said came to be, though Peter was determined to follow Him to the death. I don’t find conservative commentaries to be doing any kind of herculean effort on that verse. Jesus could have said it to Peter more than once with variations as Peter defended himself to Jesus, also the “cock crows” is a term to describe a certain time of night(early morning) as well as an “event.” I don’t find it confusing at all. That was not what they were intending to teach. Same goes for numerical or chronological “errors.” They simply were not conforming to the standards we consider important in this day and age.
      I see the same problem with the KJV only crowd. The sentiment goes “If the Bible is God’s Word, surely He would preserve a translation so we can know exactly which WORDS were His.” Well again that is a man-imposed standard and not what the Bible claims itself to be. Thanks for the viewpoints

      • rogereolson

        Did you read my earlier post about Piper’s definition of “inerrancy” as “perfection with respect to purpose?” Go back and read that. There I reported that I once sent that essay (by Piper about inerrancy) to a leading evangelical inerrantist theologian (without Piper’s name) and he criticized it as not strong enough. My point is, of course, that even “inerrantists” disagree among themselves on what inerrancy means. But they never admit it to their constituents, so most pastors and lay people in inerrantist churches have no idea how inerrantists qualify inerrancy or disagree among themselves about its definition.

  • Jeff

    Dr. Olson you wrote:
    “Information closely connected to the transformational aim of Scripture is most important. That’s why Bible translators do not begin by translating, say, Ecclesiastes, to provide the gospel to people. They begin with, for example, the Gospel of John. We all intuitively know that some portions of Scripture are more directly related to the Bible’s overall purpose than other portions.”

    I like how you flesh out your position a bit more. This quote is interesting, if Ecclesiastes is in the Bible then how can one say some portions are more directly related to the overall purpose than other portions. I think it would be better to use an analogy. If you use the analogy of an engine, you might say that John is like the steering system and Ecclesiastes like the air conditioning system.

    But this analogy highlights a problem. One does not need the AC unit in cars, so does one need Ecclesiastes to promote the main point? Also Conservatives will argue that you cannot have transformation unless the information presented is correct.

    And again “perfect with regards to purpose” is something that many books can do. The Bible is more special than that. I think the purpose that you mention of the Bible needs to be revised to fit the Wisdom literature. I look at the Bible as a “family history of events and thoughts” during the most important time, and therefore most important that we heed its lessons lest we be doomed to repeat it. As someone said in another blog, it is like going into the attic and finding all kinds of pictures and diaries and old historical data from one’s family past. This explanation, I feel, better handles the contradictions we find in Scripture. One avoids the tranformation/information issue because it is not about transformation but about learning lessons from the most important part of history that God thought was vital to us knowing about including events and ideas. This also solved the problem of the Wisdom Literature, because it presents ideas, and not so much salvation history.

  • Josh

    Just curious, suppose you came across this exact article on someone else’s blog, except that “Bible” was replaced with “Quran” and “Jesus” replaced with “Mohammed”. Would you find it to be a compelling argument for the trustworthiness of the Quran?

    • rogereolson

      My belief in the Bible’s trustworthiness is based on the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (Calvin), not on technical accuracy of every detail recorded there.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        How does “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (Calvin)” differ from “Burning in the Bosom (Joseph Smith)”?

        • rogereolson

          One is from God and the other isn’t.

          • Quartermaster

            That’s a glib answer, even an accurate answer, but does little to answer the core of the question.

            Both can be said to be subjective, depending on your viewpoint. However, one comes as a result of regeneration (I think Calvin was a Christian, but have serious doubts about it), and the other is to be asked for as a preconversion witness for the Mormon target. As such, what Calvin had was a result of God’s movement in his life, and the other is a false witness of God to a false gospel, pushed by a cult. As a consequence, Calvin’s statement is not the result of anything subjective, while the “Burning Bosom” is.

          • rogereolson

            I think you’re confused about the concept of “subjective.”

  • Lonnie

    Dr. Olson, thank you so much for this. I’ve been struggling with putting what you say here into words. I feel as if a great burden has been lifted from my heart.

  • Dr. Olson, though there are difficulties in the Bibles, there are ways to solve many of them. In fact, Gleason Archer wrote a book of almost 500 pages on this very subject. It is called “Encyclopedia Of Bible Difficulties.” One of the most interesting sections is found in the Introduction. In this section he gives 11 types pf transmissional errors which help explain how errors came into the Biblical texts. Here’s my own observation about the point made in Harold Lindsell’s book, “The Battle For The Bible” (which I have carefully read) that the rooster crowed 6 times: Jesus did not say it would only crow two times. He said Peter would deny him tree times before it crowed two times. So, it could easily have crowed many times during the whole series of events. Just recently I was at a friend’s house. He raises chickens and a rooster. In a very short period of time, maybe only one minute, I heard it crow at least 8 times. On a related subject, it is common for many persons to claim that Paul contradicted Moses in 1 Corinthians 10:8. But many Bible scholars have resolved that so-called contradiction. For example, here is part of what Gleason Archer says on the matter in his book on Bible difficulties: “What Paul is referring to is the total number who perished that day, not only from the swords of the avenging Levites, but also from the terrible plague God sent on the camp…..” And here is what the Expositor’s Bible Commentary says about the subject: “Paul is speaking about how many died in that one day; he does not include others who were killed subsequently, among them being leaders in the rebellion, whom God ordered Moses to hang (Num. 25:4).”

    • rogereolson

      I’m familiar with all those “explanations” of Bible “difficulties.” I read Archer in college and wasn’t convinced then and still am not. It seems like these defenders of inerrancy are going to great lengths to shore up something that doesn’t even need shoring up (once one realizes the real purpose and power of Scripture).

      • John I.

        I felt the same. Also, I figured that whoever wrote the last gospel wasn’t concerned abuot these issues, so why should I be? Perhaps the “solution” was obvious, perhaps the problem was not obvious, perhaps he didn’t care, perhaps his purpose was different, perhaps the genre didin’t require such historiological accuracy, etc. Whatever; Jesus is the real deal apart from the New Testament Bible–which early Christians survived and thrived without anyway.

  • Phil

    Thank you,

    As a pastor/planter I find your blog and thoughts very helpful. More reasoned arguments for some of my thoughts and feelings.


  • Steve Rogers

    If my relationship with God is such that exposure to the fact that the Bible contains some informational inconsistencies threatens it, then most likely my faith is deposited in something other than the living God.

    • rogereolson

      Amen to that!

    • John I.

      And Amen. It’s all about Jesus.

  • I guess the problem I have with Dr. Olson’s analysis is that the Bible does purport to tell us real history, and in fact bases its apologetic argument on the fact that Jehovah is the true God Who actually does things in history. The Bible is very careful to distinguish itself from mere mythology.
    Part of the reason why it often seems like it’s inerrancy or the abyss is precisely because liberal theologians have headed for the abyss with disastrous consequences for both Christianity and society at large. Once we concede that the biblical writers were prone to error, where do we stop?
    On the other hand, it seems obvious that the writers of the historical narratives in the Bible used sources available to them, and used their judgment to evaluate the sources. If Luke, let’s say, was divinely inspired, and used Mark and a variety of other sources, how did the divine inspiration influence his use of the sources? Was he limited by his natural faculties and his source material?
    Hodge actually mentions the problem in I Corinthians 10:8, and in his commentary on the passage says that both Paul and Moses are simply using round numbers (Calvin says the same thing), so that there is no actual contradiction of fact. Yet it is still hard to see why Paul would have used a different figure than the one contained in Numbers (and confirmed by the Septuagint, Philo, and Josephus). Was it a memory lapse on Paul’s part, as C.K. Barrett suggested? Can we say that the precise number is inconsequential, and therefore not germane to Paul’s argument in the passage?

    • rogereolson

      You offer me an opportunity to illustrate what I was talking about (viz., inerrantist scholars who qualify inerrancy in ways they never mention to ordinary pastors and lay people). One leading evangelical theologian I know very well (we were colleagues for a time) says (in scholarly writing to other scholars) that “inerrancy” is compatible with errors in the Bible insofar as the biblical authors used errant sources inerrantly. Who is he fooling? Only the lay people who never get to hear this and are left to assume that “inerrancy” means what it sounds like.

    • John I.

      re “the Bible does purport to tell us real history”. No. The Bible nowhere claims to tell us “real history”. Find me a passage that says that. Your use of “real history” is the use of a term that does not occur in the Bible and which is loaded with theoretical assumptions that are inherent in the western cultural outlook on history. These assumptions do not even occur in all cultures today, and did not occur in to the Jews. They had their own view of what they were recording that was “history”, and just as importantly, history is only claimed with respect to specific passage. Hence any reader of the Bible (reading for anything other than the very obvious and explicit issues of salvation, forgiveness, love, resurrection and discipleship) faces at least three rivers that must be crossed on her way to understanding the text: understanding his own point of view and assumptions, understanding the assumptions of the writer, and identifying which writer assumptions are relevant to the text in view.


      • rogereolson

        Thanks for saying this, John. I don’t understand how anyone reading and comparing the gospels can think they are “real history” in the sense of modern historiography. They are gospels, written to testify to Jesus Christ. Nobody thinks the chronologies of the gospels can be harmonized (that I know of).

      • Tim Reisdorf

        But the Bible does claim to tell us real history. When Paul talks about Christ rising from the dead and how his faith is in vain if this did not happen, he’s staking everything to this real history. There are many instances where events are spoken about where the argument and the context betray this assumption – that real history is at issue. There are, however, many instances where this is not the case. The parables, for example – we never get the idea that the historicity of the story is at issue or even related to the point. The real history of the parables makes no difference to their trustworthiness. Is Job such a story? Jonah? The Creation? Can we not recognize that people of food faith, good character, good thought, and good study will come to different conclusions on these? And even if we differ among our conclusions (and hold to our own conclusions firmly) does it not make sense to recognize the wideness of acceptability about this among the faithful and treat each other accordingly?

  • Terrence O’Casey

    Good morning Roger,

    A couple of years ago I read, and was deeply moved by “Three Cups of Tea” written by Greg Mortenson. His “story” touched hearts & wallets. Then Krakauer, an investigative outdoor journalist ran a counter-“Three Cups of Deceit.” The good Greg did was irreversibly damaged by Greg’s imaginative writings. Truth needed be told by Krakauer.

    At the same time, I head up a Christian Ministry program at a west coast Christian University and network with many pastors. Without painting with too broad of a brush, those who have had the Biblical accounts “Krakauered” while in graduate school (minimalism-David probably did not exist, most of ‘Solomon’s writings were post exilic etc) find it harder to have a passion in the ministry. Mentally they are holding back the “truth” of the historicity of scripture from their congregations Many, many of them are struggling in churches going nowhere. They have been intellectually neutered, and then profoundly hurt by extreme fundamentalist if they share their skepticism. Hurt plus doubt builds huge walls impervious to new explanations.

    At what point does our cultural mindset of deconstruction (3 cups of deceit was needed) bleed over into the Biblical stories impotizing the stories & their power for healing? The Ancient Near East documents, II Sam 24 and I Chronicles 21 don’t need to be harmonized using a Western 18th-21st century mindset. Yet, the story can still be true even in the details. The ANE mindset would allow the history of II Sam. and I Chron to be explained via the book of Job (parable or history) where both God and Satan were choreographing together Job’s life.

    Genesis 1 and 2 can be literally 24 hours, can be, if we go beyond the typical fundamentalist/liberal options and consider John Walton’s understanding of the 7 days being a 7 day, 24 hour a day festival of Creation condensing however long creation took/takes into 7 days of celebration.

    All that to say from a pastoral angle-Story is desperately needed for the brokenness of our world. If we “3 cups of deceit” too much the Biblical stories because we are viewing things from a western mindset or from not being open to new ideas (Walton) we can do as much violence to the text as an ultra-fundamentalist can.

    • John I.

      The problem with their passion and struggle, etc., lies not in the text nor in the modern historiological understanding of the text, but in their own worldview and intellectual and spiritual response. To be blunt, they need to grow up and out. Become more mature in relying primarily on Jesus and not Bibliolatry, and getting out of their former incorrect but deeply ingrained perspectives on the Bible. Barth was very passionate about scripture, and his views on inerrancy were likely far more liberal than those of any graduate of an American bible school. There are many today who are passionate about scripture and not struggling, and who hold a wide range of views on inerrancy. Hence, the issue is not the loss of fundamentalist inerrancy per se, but the pre seminary / college fundamentalist assumptions (I include fundamentalists, neo-fundamentalists and the more conservative evangelicals), and the struggle to hold on to these assumptions or to change God’s Word to fit them.

  • Dr. Olson, you wrote: My belief in the Bible’s trustworthiness is based on the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (Calvin), not on technical accuracy of every detail recorded there. What would you say to the Mormon who claims to have an internal testimony from God that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God? Does your internal testimony trump his/her internal testimony?

    If the Bible can be divinely inspired while including factual error, could the writings of the apostles include spiritual error? Wouldn’t a claim that the Bible contains historical and cosmological error but is preserved from spiritual error be special pleading?

    • rogereolson

      I’ve answered this so many times before that I’ll just refer you to earlier posts about the Bible. For now I’ll just say there is no proof that the Bible is the Word of God other than the Spirit and power. Nor is there any disproof that the Book of Mormon or the Quran are the Word of God (to those who are determined to believe they are). You are looking for Enlightenment-based rationalistic knowledge, not spiritual insight. I can do no better than refer you to Luther and Calvin who based the truth and authority of the Bible on the Holy Spirit’s authenticating power.

  • Andrew Schmeck

    Dr. Olson, Charles Hodge continues after the Parthenon illustration: “Admitting that the Scriptures do contain, in a few instances, discrepancies which with our present means of knowledge, we are unable satisfactorily to explain, they furnish no rational ground for denying their infallibility” (p. 170). Elsewhere in his theology Charles Hodge wrote: “The whole Bible was written under such an influence as preserved its human authors from all error, and makes it for the Church the infallible rule of faith and practice” (I, p. 182).

    Already in the 1880s some critics had claimed that Charles Hodge had not believed in inerrancy. They, too, cited the Parthenon illustration. To this charge, B.B. Warfield replied: “Dr. Charles Hodge justly characterizes those that have been adduced by disbelievers in the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, as “for the most part trivial,” “only apparent,” and marvelously few “of any real importance.” They bear, he adds, about the same relation to the whole that a speck of sandstone detected here and there in the marble of the Parthenon would bear to the building.

    • rogereolson

      My point stands. Even Hodge knew it was not “inerrancy or the abyss,” but he waffled.

      • John I.

        See below my comment on “infallibility” in response to another commenter’s quote of those lines.

  • Bart Breen

    It’s been my experience that many inerrentists blind themselves to basic truths, including that we don’t have the originals, that there are conflicts in places that can’t be reconciled and that the Bible is both divine and human in its origins. Inerrency as it’s expressed in most fundamentalist circles today, in my observation is rooted most deeply not in the Bible but in Platonian Philosophy and the need for theoretical “perfection” (as illustrated in Plato’s cave)

    Many are more committed to the concept of Biblical perfection as they define it and defend it without any consideration to the problems that gives rise to. They’re more concerned about reconciling the errors than they are remaining reconciled to others who accept the Bible but don’t accept the philosophical framework they attempt to force the Bible into.

  • Donald Fisher

    “My belief in the Bible’s trustworthiness is based on the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (Calvin), not on technical accuracy of every detail recorded there.”

    How does this differ from the Quaker testimonies which strongly emphasized the Spirit’s inner testimony to the scriptures as proving that the Spirit, and not the scriptures, must therefore by the primary source of faith and practice? Or for that matter, how does this differ from the Mormon “witness of the Spirit” that assures them the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God?
    Does the Bible point to the “technical accuracy of every detail” as the proof of its trustworthiness? I don’t think so. On the other hand, does it point to an inner testimony of the Spirit? Uh-uh. Too subjective (one day you’ve got it, the next day you don’t).
    Instead, the Bible calls for faith in its own simple statements of fact regarding trustworthiness: although the biblical writers were human, they were impelled by the Holy Spirit and thus spoke the words of God (2 Pt. 1.21). It’s because of that fact that what they wrote can be described as “inspired by God”. And because what they wrote is inspired by God (who is trustworthy) I know it is trustworthy. Some of the discrepancies people perceive are pretty readily explained (such as the census David took) while others are more difficult. But such rather trivial irritations don’t make me doubt the Bible’s trustworthiness. Whether or not at any given moment I have some sort of testimony of the Spirit, I believe the Bible’s claim that it adequately conveys the word of God.

    • rogereolson

      Um, excuse me, but I said I believe the Bible is trustworthy.

      • Donald Fisher

        I understand you believe the Bible is trustworthy, and I did not question your belief. What I do question is your basis for believing it is trustworthy, the internal testimony of the Spirit. That was what I wrote about. I don’t see the argument of the internal witness of the Spirit as the basis for accepting the trustworthiness of Scripture in Pope or Wiley. I don’t see it taught in Scripture itself. If that is the reason for believing the Bible is trustworthy, especially if it is the primary reason, then it seems to me that it puts one on the same level as the Muslim, Mormon, or Quaker who has a sense of internal affirmation regarding the source of their own religion. Indeed, as I mentioned, it was the basis for the Quaker defection from any notion of ‘sola scriptura’.

        • rogereolson

          Pope? Wiley? How did they get into the conversation? Anyway, on what do you think they based the truth and authority of Scripture? Certainly not inerrancy!

          • Donald Fisher

            Again, I am not talking about inerrancy. I am talking about the basis on which you say you believe in the trustworthiness of Scripture. I mention Pope and Wiley as 2 examples of Arminian theologians from different eras who do not use the inner “testimony of the Spirit” as a basis for the truth and authority of Scripture. Wiley, for example, points to the fact that Scripture is inspired as the basis for it being true. He has an extended discussion on the inspiration of Scripture in chapter 7 of his Christian Theology. He writes: “The Scriptures claim to be divinely inspired. Since the term inspiration denotes the specific agency of the Holy Spirit as Author of the sacred Scriptures, it is required of us to give first place to the testimony of the Bible itself” and then goes on to look at the claims of the Old Testament, Jesus, and the apostles. The point being that he never mentions a subjective basis (testimony of the Spirit) for believing in the trustworthiness of the Bible.

          • rogereolson

            So what do you think is his basis for believing in Scripture’s trustworthiness? I’ve been around Holiness people all my life, grew up among them, and I can tell you it’s the Holy Spirit. It certainly isn’t the Bible’s inerrancy. Wiley didn’t even believe in that.

    • John I.

      You’d gain a much better understanding of, and perspective on, the testimony of the Spirit if you read some stuff by Alvin Plantinga on the sensus divinatus or stuff by J. Morehead. Both are top notch Christian philosophers who have excellent full-orbed positions on that issue and who answer the objections you raise. Perhaps at some time Olson will have a separate post on the Testimony of the Spirit in which a blog discussion could be had. To do so here, however, would hijack this thread.


    • John I.

      David’s census is only “easily” explained if one makes a pre-commitment to certain assumptions that lie outside of the OT text and outside of any self-referential statement that the Bible makes. I don’t make such assumptions, and so do find that the census discrepancy is easily or with certainty explained.


  • Fred Karlson

    I enjoyed your post. The issue of inerrancy is a tricky one and can unfortunately be divisive. Some time back I heard Dr. Bloesch give a presentation at the Mid-West Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). As a member there at the time and a current subscriber to their statement on biblical inerrancy, I assumed that he was in agreement. From my experience, there is a lot of variation in interpreting the ETS inerrancy statement, especially when we consider the latitude allowed in the Chicago Statement with regard to genre and phenomenological language. As an example, Clark Pinnock remained in the ETS, despite being under investigation relative to how open theism can support inerrancy. I have to say that I still cannot harmonize these two teachings, and was in agreement with the logic but not the spirit of Norman Geisler who spearheaded the confrontation against open theism. There were many members, as I understand it from one who still serves on a committee of ETS, who were not happy about the whole affair. Nevertheless, I was glad that Pinnock decided to remain, affirming his belief in inerrancy and open theism.

    • rogereolson

      I have a recording of a leading evangelical theologian speaking to an audience (during the controversy over open theism) declaring Clark “not a Christian” because of his open theism.

      • Bev Mitchell

        In his introduction for “Most Moved Mover” Pinnock gives one of the best short accounts of the treatment reserved for those who go against the self-appointed overseers of evangelical orthodoxy – and what he describes is shameful. This selection of quotes from pp 14 and 15 provide a glimpse of Pinnock’s assessment of the situation (as of 2001).

        Speaking of what he dubs “paleo-Calvinism” he sums it up like this: “At its most extreme its proponents equate true Christianity with Calvinist orthodoxy and exclude from the faith, not only openness of God thinkers, but the whole free will theistic tradition. To them, Arminians are tolerable only because they are confused, and openness theologians are not tolerated because they are clear in their rejection of theological determinism.”

        and later he expands “…..the openness model, a more radical version of free will theism, is a different kettle of fish. Being a more coherent alternative to Calvinism, it is a nightmare for them. ….(it) “must be opposed more radically because it poses much more of a threat….As in politics, where winning however you do it is the only goal, so in this context the gatekeepers of orthodoxy will resort to anything.”

        • rogereolson

          I have often thought that the vehemence of the Calvinist response to open theism had something to do with fear that it might remove one of their main arguments against Arminianism (viz., that Arminianism cannot explain how God foreknows future free will decisions and actions). From where I sat (and still do) I was never able to figure out why else their reaction to it was so wild. What difference does it make, anyway? So long as God is omnipotent (which all open theists affirm), there’s nothing he cannot do, no situation he cannot respond to in the best way, no promise he cannot fulfill, etc. Then, when I read the books of the Calvinists against open theism, I noticed that MOST of their theological arguments against it would, if valid, undermine Arminianism as well. That’s one reason I rushed to the defense of open theism, because IF the Calvinists got their way (viz., expelling open theists from evangelicalism) based on their theological arguments (e.g., the open theist God could not have guaranteed the crucifixion of Jesus and cannot guarantee the return of Jesus) they would then turn those same arguments (which really depend on there being no free will as power of contrary choice) against evangelical Arminians. In other words, I saw myself and my fellow Arminians standing right behind the open theists being shot at by the evangelical Calvinist inquisitors.

          • Bev Mitchell

            You’ve got our backs. Thank you. 🙂

          • Robert

            Hello Roger,

            “I have often thought that the vehemence of the Calvinist response to open theism had something to do with fear that it might remove one of their main arguments against Arminianism (viz., that Arminianism cannot explain how God foreknows future free will decisions and actions).”

            I don’t think that is the reason open theism is such a threat to calvinists, but it is close.
            I think the real threat is that advocates of open theism are extremely good at arguing for free will and against determinism (e.g. Greg Boyd is currently working on books that argue against what he terms “blueprint theology”, or exhaustive determinism, Boyd is extremely sharp and he will provide strong arguments against determinism, calvinists as determinists are extremely threatened by this kind of thing). And as calvinism is determinism dressing up like biblical Christianity, there is a bit of the Emperor has no clothes going on (i.e. the open theists is the boy saying I don’t see any substance or force in these calvinistic arguments for determinism).

            Regarding, your statement “that Arminianism cannot explain how God foreknows future free will decisions and actions” I believe an important distinction to make is between (1) THAT God knows, and (2) HOW God knows what He knows. The fact is, while we know that God knows the past and present, we really do not know how he knows what he knows. In terms of ourselves, we know via our senses, via reasoning upon premises, via the testimony of others, via personal experiences, via memory, etc. But God has no physical brain or senses, he does not learn the way we do, He just knows. I don’t think it is right or fair for calvinists to **demand** that noncalvinists (whether they be Arminians, Open Theists, Molinists, Ockhamists, whatever) explain HOW God knows the future when we don’t even know HOW He knows the present and the past! I discussed this distinction with Plantinga (who is a famous proponent of Molinism) and he agreed that in fact we don’t know how God knows what He knows. So the fact is we don’t know HOW God knows what he knows (whether it is the past, the present or the future). What we do know is that He knows things (and in my thinking if we interpret the bible properly we conclude that he knows the future exhaustively as well). So we know THAT He knows, but not HOW he knows.

            If this distinction is valid then noncalvinists are under no obligation to explain how God knows the future. All we are responsible to affirm is that the bible presents both that God knows the future AND that we sometimes have what is ordinarily viewed as free will.

            “From where I sat (and still do) I was never able to figure out why else their reaction to it was so wild.”

            Again, if you are a theological determinist, and someone (like the open theists) strongly argues against determinism, then they are a real threat to you and your theology.

            “What difference does it make, anyway? So long as God is omnipotent (which all open theists affirm), there’s nothing he cannot do, no situation he cannot respond to in the best way, no promise he cannot fulfill, etc.”

            Regarding open theism, merely affirming omnipotence is insufficient because the Christian church (across theological traditions, including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants) has affirmed both omnipotence AND that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. And it seems to me and virtually everyone else, that proper exegesis of scripture yields the conclusion that God has exhaustive knowledge of past, present and future. HOW he knows what He knows is beyond us, THAT he knows what he knows is clearly presented in scripture.

            “Then, when I read the books of the Calvinists against open theism, I noticed that MOST of their theological arguments against it would, if valid, undermine Arminianism as well.”

            I disagree with you here Roger. Most of the arguments of Calvinists against open theists on the issue of foreknowledge that I have seen involve the same arguments that Arminians would use to establish that God does know the future.

            The arguments against free will by calvinists against open theists are arguments that they have used against Arminians (which Arminians have ably answered) and anyone else who affirms free will as ordinarily understood.

            From my perspective open theists make strong arguments for free will and against determinism (and Arminians and other noncalvinists will agree with them here). Calvinists make strong arguments for exhaustive foreknowledge (and Arminians and other noncalvinists will agree with them here. Arminians will disagree with open theists in their arguments against exhaustive divine foreknowledge: and disagree with calvinists in their arguments against free will. This is all true because the Arminian (and other noncalvnists) hold the correct views regarding free will and foreknowledge.
            “That’s one reason I rushed to the defense of open theism, because IF the Calvinists got their way (viz., expelling open theists from evangelicalism) based on their theological arguments (e.g., the open theist God could not have guaranteed the crucifixion of Jesus and cannot guarantee the return of Jesus) they would then turn those same arguments (which really depend on there being no free will as power of contrary choice) against evangelical Arminians.”

            Regarding “guranteeing” the crucifixion of Jesus and the return of Jesus: Arminians have long maintained both that God has foreknowledge of events that will in fact take place and the distinction between necessity and certainty. Events that involve freely made choices are not necessitated though they will in fact occur with certainty. Calvinists ignore this distinction since if they are consistent then every event is in fact necessitated (i.e. it has to occur exactly as it does because God predestines all events) according to them. But the noncalvinist, whether an Arminian or Molinist, or Ockhamist, etc. etc. can maintain that a future event though not necessitated and involving freely made choices, is nevertheless certain to occur. What “gurantees” that some future events will occur is not because they are necessited (or because determinism is true) but because God’s foreknowledge involves events that will occur with certainty. Take your two examples, the crucifixion and return of Jesus, these events do not have to occur with necessity, though they are certain to occur. God knew via his foreknowledge that both events will occur with certainty, and so prophecies could be made about both events. But an event can occur with certainty though not of necessity. Jesus did not have to go to the cross (he spoke of doing so willingly that he allowed Himself to be arrested, allowed Himself to be crucified) though it was certain that he would do so. Jesus does not have to return, though it is certain that he will choose to do so.

            “In other words, I saw myself and my fellow Arminians standing right behind the open theists being shot at by the evangelical Calvinist inquisitors.”

            Unfortunately you may be correct in this regarding the mentality of determinists, if the theological determinists got their wish, they would eliminate all non-determinists with their arguments and “inquisitions”! 🙂 But I am not too worried about the efforts of determinists as I know they are doomed to fail. God is not a determinist nor did he create a world that is fully determined, so in arguing against free will the determinist is arguing against reality. And when you argue with reality you always lose! 🙂


  • Dr. Olson, you made reference to statements by Charles Hodge. I looked it up in my set of his systematic theology. It is found in Volume 1, under the subject of the inspiration of the Bible, under the section called “Discrepancies and Errors.” His statements affirm my confidence in the Bible. Here is part of what Hodge wrote: “It is enough to impress any mind with awe, when it contemplates the Sacred Scriptures filled with the highest truths, speaking with authority in the name of God, and so miraculously free from the soiling touch of human fingers. The errors in matters of fact which skeptics search out bear no proportion to the whole. No sane man would deny that the Parthenon was built of marble, even if here and there a speck of sandstone should be detected in its structure. Not less unreasonable is it to deny the inspiration of such a book as the Bible, because one sacred writer says that on a given occasion twenty-four thousand, and another says that twenty-three thousand, men were slain. Surely a Christian may be allowed to tread such objections under his feet. Admitting that the Scriptures do contain, in a few instances, discrepancies which with our present means of knowledge, we are unable satisfactorily to explain, they furnish no rational ground to deny their infallibility.” A few sentences later Hodge wrote the following: “So the Christian need not renounce his faith in the plenary inspiration of the Bible, although there may be some things about it in its present state which he cannot account for.”

    • rogereolson

      Did I renounce faith in the plenary inspiration of the Bible? I did not.

      • I did not suggest you did, nor do I think you did. My point in quoting Hodge was to let your readers see what he said on the subject. He did not say what you claimed he said. You wrote: “Even the great Charles Hodge admitted there are flaws in the Bible.”

        • rogereolson

          I stand by that. That is what he said with his analogy however he went on to qualify that.

    • John I.

      Interesting, Hodge uses “infallibility” and not “inerrancy” (either alone or together with), though I thought inerrancy as a term had currency back then. Hodge’s use of “plenary” also indicates that he believes that God inspired the “sand” and the “discrepancies”, and by no means does this imply that Hodge thought that they could be solved as G. Archer et al. do.


    • Joshua Wooden

      Bruce, I think you have successfully proven Roger’s point.

  • Joshua Wooden

    I’m thinking over John Piper’s definition of “inerrant with respect to purpose,” and I am now wondering: has [name deleted] criticized Piper the way he does everyone from Pinnock, to Enns, to Vanhoozer, to Grez, etc., for challenging in one way or another strict inerrancy. Do you know anything about that?

    • rogereolson

      I had to delete the name of the theologian because I don’t know that he has done what you say. I have to be extremely cautious here about naming names. I suspect many can fill in the blank, however, as the theologian you named is well-known among evangelicals for this behavior. I have not heard that he has criticized Piper.

      • Joshua Wooden

        I apologize, and I only meant the word “criticism” in the purely academic sense – the scholar in question did, after all write against those several scholars. Thank you for your response, though.

  • Dr. Olson, thank you for clarifying your view regarding the authentication of Scripture by the internal testimony of the Spirit. I understand that it’s difficult to respond to each comment, but if you have time would you answer my other area of questioning (or point me to where you’ve answered it previously)? I think this is an important issue:

    If the Bible can be divinely inspired while including factual error, could the writings of the apostles include theological error? Wouldn’t a claim that the Bible contains historical and cosmological error but is preserved from theological error be special pleading?

    Thank you.

    • rogereolson

      That seems like an “all or nothing” view to me. The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit points me to Jesus Christ, the center and purpose of Scripture. If there are factual errors of history and/or cosmology in the Bible, they are irrelevant to the Bible’s main purpose and don’t bother me. Evangelicals have always acknowledged that the Bible is both human and divine, that is, the authors were human beings. No evangelical author I know would contest that some of Paul’s grammar, for example, is not perfect. Why does imperfect grammar not bother you? It seems you want a “manuscript from heaven”–the traditional Islamic view of the Koran. Christians have never thought of the Bible that way. How can a few discrepancies damage or undermine your confidence in the Bible as the book of Jesus Christ and the medium of God’s will for our lives? I just don’t get that way of thinking.

  • Joshua Wooden

    I think the comments in the above feed just go to show the widespread misunderstanding of the doctrine of inerrancy, and further misunderstanding of those who do not affirm it while still affirming its trustworthiness and inspiration. This is the very effect of teaching inerrancy to common Christians without letting them in on the relatively secret knowledge that most scholars don’t believe in inerrancy in the way that common men and women in the pews do; but scholars don’t take it upon themselves to draw any attention to that fact.

    A couple years ago now, Bruce Waltke said of evolution something to the effect that there comes a point when denial of the evidence when it is so overwhelming endangers Christianity of becoming a cult, a group that is out of touch and doesn’t really have anything to say to the real world. Well, I think that applies here to the ongoing feud over inerrancy. I would say it’s a debate, but it’s really not – it’s a series of non-arguements that can’t really be sustained, so certain “gatekeepers” of Evangelical orthodoxy bully anyone who questions or disagrees.

    It seems to me that there is a very real interest in drawing the line in the name of shepherding more ignorant among us, at the expense of truth, and with the un-intended (though nevertheless, very real) consequence of potentially shipwrecking the faith of those who are not ignorant.

  • Kyle Carney

    In my experience, most pastors who believe in a strict inerrancy may or may not be versed in textual criticism of the original documents (I think they should learn), but they generally look at apparent contradictions or errors as something like a theorietical equation that they believe will be worked out through the scholarship of historians, archeaologists, anthropoligists, NT scholars, etc., or God is fine with leaving us in the dark on the details.
    I think this further promotes your point that the situation is not “innerancy or the abyss.” I also think my experience, if true in general, points to a way of looking at innerancy from a theological, spiritual lens without a technical evaluative mechanism. This doesn’t give apolagists a leg up using the Bible as a superior technical document, but it does maintain an innerantist view of scripture. If you read an account of Billy Graham’s struggle with this question, this view seems like a similar “by faith” view. Again, not very different from “the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.”
    I think one vein we’re missing in this thread, that could possibly mitigate between strict innerantists and those who don’t share that view because of textual criticism scholarship, is to identify certain historical truths that are central to the overall message (i.e. Jesus’ physical life, death, and ressurection). I guess the problem we see is that, for some, a discrepancy of the number of times the rooster crowed casts doubt on whether the event really occurred at all. I think there are ways to view this instance from the pov I suggested above such as asking “Was the number representative of a techinical piece of information in the story telling, or was it meant to be something meaning a couple or a few kind of like ten thousand was meant to be a bajillion in our vernacular?” Now, this gets to the “perfect with respect to purpose” view, but also can be viewed from an stricter position. I think the reality this points to is that strict innerantists have to at least back off from saying that the Bible presented in the English, or any other modern language, is perfect in the specific details that do not really effect the overall message. To maintain such a stance, is to deny themselves the very method used in establishing the soundness of innerancy.

  • Closeted Barthian

    I think most evangelicals have a “sacramental” view of scripture and know God in their daily lives in a very personal and intimate way. Some of the more conservative people come up with a restricted version of this, and are then denounced by the more extreme fundamentalists.

  • RowanVT

    “When I say the Bible is trustworthy, I mean it can be (and for Christians must be) trusted to transform those who are open to its message, the gospel, by bringing them into encounter with the living God through Jesus Christ. ”

    This is, unfortunately, not always the case. I was very much a christian as a child and into my early teens. But I had been raised non-denominational and had only attended church without ever reading the bible for myself. I prayed daily, and lived my life trying to help others because that is what Jesus did.

    Then I ended up at a catholic high school and, naturally, religion classes were part of the curriculum. By the end of the book of genesis I was very much questioning the morality of this supposedly “good” deity and by the end of the entire bible felt I could no longer follow God.

    Taking away free will by hardening Pharoah’s heart? Killing children? Considering it okay for a man to offer his daughters up for gang rape? Completely ruining a man’s life on what is basically a bet with the devil and then offering to replace his family as if that will somehow make it all okay? And sending someone who may have done all they could to help others and bring kindness and light to the world to Hell just because they believed in a different deity or none at all. A place of eternal torment of the worst pain imaginable. If a human did that, we would consider them evil. I cannot follow such a god, when I have greater compassion and ability to forgive than it does.

    • rogereolson

      I am truly sorry that you focused on the wrong things in Scripture. It’s about Jesus.

      • RowanVT

        If the focus of the entire Bible is Jesus, why is the old testament even included then? And while Jesus is your saviour, isn’t God still the one calling the shots so doesn’t that make him pretty important? How do you reconcile the moral deity that God is supposed to be with the listed stories where he takes away free will in order to cause death, ordesr mass murder and the enslavement of virgin girls, and visits torments upon a man because of a bet with the devil? How do you reconcile Jesus’ message with this portrayal of the God he is supposed to be the son of?

        • rogereolson

          Interestingly, the early church fathers mostly interpreted the OT allegorically.

  • Percival

    Who knew my faith in the scriptures and prophecy rested on the vicissitudes of poultry and their sonic emanations?! The roosters who live in my neighbor’s yard (here in the middle east) crow all night! Anyway, the cock crowing seems to be a euphemism for a certain time of night corresponding to a night watchman’s call. Whew! Our faith is saved.

  • You really didn’t answer my question. The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit may point me to Jesus Christ, and he may very well be the center and purpose of Scripture—but none of this necessitates an infallible Scripture. And a human and divine written Word no more requires error than a human and divine Christ requires sin.

    I can understand a consistently inerrant Scripture. That makes sense. And I can understand an errant Bible that contains the best-intentioned but fallible writings of wise, insightful even godly men, but that is only divinely “inspired” in the sense that Wesley or Tozer were inspired. This also makes sense. But I haven’t found any explanation of how the Scriptures are both errant and infallible that makes any sense to me. (Even the use of the word “infallible” seems disingenuous to me since infallible and inerrant are usually synonymous.)

    Let’s say I have a Buddhist friend who claims we have divinely inspired Scripture that definitively explains authentic Buddhism and its origins. So I examine it and find that in a number of places it contains blatant inconsistencies and historical errors. The natural conclusion is going to be that—while these writings may be historically valuable and may even teach something that is true—they just aren’t divinely inspired Scripture. My friend may respond that he can show how these apparent errors are not really errors, and I would give him a chance to make such a case. But if he argued that, yes, these scriptures do contain real error, but they are still divinely inspired and I can still trust them to be completely infallible theologically, I would reject this as special pleading. There would simply be no compelling reason why i should accept obviously errant writings as somehow infallible Scripture from God.

    I still haven’t heard any convincing reasons why we should accept the Scriptures as theologically infallible if they contain historical and cosmological error. How is this not special pleading? And why should a seeker believe that God supernaturally preserved the Bible from theological error, keeping it spiritually pristine, but didn’t bother to keep it factually accurate? Certainly the Spirit may give them internal testimony drawing them to faith in Christ, and the Scriptures may resonate with them deeply. But does this require that Scripture be infallible? If the Scriptures are not inerrant, why should we accept them as infallible?

    • rogereolson

      Why doesn’t it bother you more that every Bible in existence contains errors?

      • Okay, assuming, for the sake of discussion, that all of these errors are actually in the Bible, how does this lead us to conclude the Bible is infallible? I see two related yet distinct questions here: 1) Is the “factually errant but spiritually infallible” view a plausible option and why? and 2) Does the Bible in fact contain unarguably factual error? It seems that some people are answering the second question first, in the affirmative, and then just assuming the infallibility view by default.

        I don’t want to repeat everything in my comment above, but I still await a response from proponents of this view. If the Scriptures are not inerrant, why should we accept them as infallible?

        • rogereolson

          And why do you believe in the authority and trustworthiness of any existing Bible when everyone agrees errors exist in them? Every inerrantist I know appeals to the non-existing original autographs as the only inerrant Scriptures.

          • And why do you again defend the alleged infallibility of Scripture by challenging a particular view of inerrancy (which I have not propounded in any of my comments up to this point)? My views of inerrancy are irrelevant to the question of whether the “factually errant but spiritually infallible” view is a legitimate option. Actually, even the existence of factual errors in Scripture is irrelevant to this question. Even if the errors exist, this doesn’t in any way establish scriptural infallibility. You can’t just prove errancy and then assume by default infallibility. The infallibilist may be sawing off the same limb on which they sit.

            Yes, there are readings in our current Bibles that are uncertain. Inerrantists commonly acknowledge this and discuss it. But for the vast majority of the biblical text, we know the original reading. This is especially true of the NT. I don’t know any inerrantist scholar or pastor who insists that our current Bibles are 100% certain, perfectly reflecting the inerrant original. Where the reading is certain our Bibles do convey the inerrant original; where it is not, they don’t. Inerrantists are able to live with ambiguity where the text is not certain, but teach with scriptural authority what is. I see this challenge as a bit of a red herring. To adapt a quote you seem to like: it’s not 100% certainty or the abyss.

            Of course, when inerrantists show this kind of nuanced approach, they’re accused of qualifying inerrancy into meaninglessness. This becomes an uncharitable catch-22: either the inerrantists are obsessively rigid, or they’re qualifying inerrancy to death. Actually, I think this is a sound, balanced approach that takes inerrancy seriously but also deals realistically with the relatively few passages where uncertainties remain.

            Hopefully I’ve answered your question. And hopefully you’ll now answer mine. 🙂

          • rogereolson

            The point is, of course, that belief in the inerrancy of the original autographs is based on faith (the testimony of the Holy Spirit). You can’t prove they were inerrant.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Hi Curt,

          Let me give a stab at your posting….
          1) Yes. The “factually errant but spiritually infallible” view is plausible – indeed it seems the best view. The difficulty that some people see in it is the “factually errant” portion. If the parables were meant stories (non-historical) meant to teach something about living life in the Kingdom, it should be evaluated according to its own standards. If you force on it on the parable, you end up distorting it. It’s not just fair to the story to impose standards that they would not agree to.
          2) The answer is for you to decide for yourself. Only if pressed, would I say that the 7-day Creation is factually incorrect. However, the Creation story does not impose that standard on itself, so I shouldn’t either.
          The Bible is true because it speaks (writes) what is true about God, about me, and other people. Some might say that it has the “ring of truth”. While that might not be enough for some, it is at least an adequate explanation for me. There are, of course, other points to be made about archeological evidence, textual evidence, internal witness evidence, etc, but I don’t believe these are convincing nor adequate by themselves. As Roger said, the Bible is meant to change people, not just inform them – and that is where the most effective “proofs” or “explanations” are to be found.

          • Dr. Olson:

            Actually, most inerrantists base their view on Scripture’s testimony of itself and their understanding of divine inspiration and all that it entails. I do find it somewhat ironic, and a little frustrating, that I have asked repeatedly for the basis for belief in an infallible Scripture, but you have responded only with shots at inerrancy and now with suggesting the basis for people’s belief in inerrancy, not infallibility. In the spirit 1 Peter 3:15, would you tell us your reasons for believing in the infallibility of errant Scripture?


            Thanks for being willing to interact on the infallibility view. I do agree that on passages such as the creation account (and Job and Jonah as you mentioned previously), sincerely dedicated, godly Christians disagree as to the intention of the original. And just because I might disagree with some who hold a differing view doesn’t mean I would call into question the legitimacy of their faith. (That goes for you and Dr. Olson too, of course.) But, as you also mentioned, the Bible does claim to tell us real history. Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 15 were not intended to be a parable, and neither were the gospel accounts of Jesus. So the question of factual error takes a sharper focus when discussing passages that we all agree describe events that actually occurred.

            I’m all for having a frank discussion exploring each of these alleged errors. I’m definitely not in favor of a blind faith in anything, including the concept of biblical inerrancy. But my question is—assuming the Bible is incontrovertibly factually errant—what is the basis for believing that it’s still infallible. You do give some reasons for believing this (and I thank you for that): The Bible speaks what is true about God, me, and other people; it has the ring of truth about it; it’s emphasis is not on mere information but on transformation. I wouldn’t challenge any of these of course. But couldn’t we say the same things about, say, the writings of Roger Olson? They speak what is true about God, me, and other people; they have the ring of truth about them; their emphasis is not on mere information but on changing people. Does this make his writings infallible? I appreciate you directly addressing my question, Tim, but—to me—this doesn’t seem yet seem like a solid basis for believing in the infallbility of a factually errant Bible.

          • rogereolson

            See today’s post.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Thank you, Curt for your kind and thoughtful response.

            You said,

            … this doesn’t seem yet seem like a solid basis for believing in the infallbility of a factually errant Bible.


            Regrettably, I must take issue with your characterization of how things stand in the conversation. I am uncomfortable with calling things “errors” when they really are not errors. Let me try to illustrate with a simple statement about geography: “Minnesota is west of Wisconsin.” This is a true statement. However, there are are parts of MN that are to the east of some part of WI. It is unfair to call this an error, however, because the statement was not intended to be anything more than a general statement.
            If you find me a Biblical factual error that the Bible itself would describe as a Biblical factual error, then we can agree about the Bible being in error. If there are none to be found, then our conversation on that topic is moot (which I believe it is). It is only if the issue is pressed beyond what the Bible itself intends that I will admit to “historical errors”. (But at that point in the conversation, I’m compromising on my language in order not to hamstring the conversation. Otherwise, I will not admit that the Bible is in error.) If we rest on what the Bible itself intends as true, then we are both happy and in agreement.

            You also asked,

            . . . what is the basis for believing that it’s still infallible.

            I can’t do better than what I said before. The proof that is sufficient for me may not be sufficient for others. God makes the difference. I guess I’m not impressed by finding hundreds of half-sentences in the OT that we can point to fulfillment in Jesus or the Soviet Union or the EU or Iran. (I’m just stubborn that way.) To me, these seem thin. That the Bible is the best at bringing truth to light – it’s about all I’ve got that is super-solid to me. (You may believe that Roger’s writings are that way, but I disagree with him at least as much as we have in common. On this topic, we agree closely.)

            I’m sorry if what I have is inadequate for you.


          • Hi Tim,

            Okay, I’m confused. 🙂 Are you saying that the Bible doesn’t contain any errors? Wouldn’t that make you an inerrantist? When I speak of factual “errors” I mean the alleged historical and/or cosmological inaccuracies to which people point in order to question the inerrancy of Scripture. I don’t think the intended purpose of the Bible can somehow make these inaccuracies accurate. Even if I my purpose is to faithfully convey principles, if I inaccurately convey certain data in the process, I have erred in conveying that data. I can see how someone might argue that the historical/cosmological inaccuracies aren’t germane because they’re peripheral to the main purpose of Scripture. (I don’t buy that argument, but I understand how most infallibilists argue this way.) But I don’t see how we can say that supposedly clear inaccuracies are not really errors. (Unless you don’t believe that these are really inaccuracies, which again would seem to make you an inerrantist.) The reason I speak of a ‘factually errant but theologically infallible Bible’ is that this is what most infallibilists have been proposing.

            If a document was produced that was intended to convey the political philosophy on which the US was established but in the process presented clear historical inaccuracies, would we describe this writing as “without error”? Someone might claim that the author was entirely correct as to the main principles they were presenting. But if the historical inaccuracies kept adding up, wouldn’t that cause us to question how sound the main points are? And if someone claimed that this writing was actually divinely inspired and infallible in its philosophical principles, wouldn’t the inaccuracies militate against accepting such a claim? Jesus asked Nicodemus, “If you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” Well, if the Bible can’t be trusted to tell us about historical and cosmological things without inaccuracies or inconsistencies, how can we trust it to tell us of much more significant, spiritual things without inaccuracies or inconsistencies?

            Okay, let’s add your additional criterion of consistently agreeing with the writings in question. I still don’t see how this leads logically to a conclusion of infallibility. A writing can be focused primarily on transformation, it can speak truth, this truth can resonate deeply with me and I can agree completely with it—all of this can be true, but this doesn’t justify concluding the writing is infallible, especially if it includes a number of factual inaccuracies.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Hi Kurt,

            Let me ‘splain my position this way: The story (parable) of the Good Samaritan. It never happened. It did happen. Who cares?!? Would someone confront Jesus about His factual inaccuracies? He would lump them with the Pharisees and mock them for their unhelpful insistence on things that are trivial and inconsequential. It was never intended (my assumption) that the stories be historically accurate. Because they were never intended to be held to those standards, I would not count them as errors – it is simply unfair to the author for me to do so. Nicodemus did not hold Jesus’ words to these standards. It is because I don’t hold such words to these standards that I don’t belong in the inerrancy group, though technically I could admit to being inerrant. I would not be a good fit there.

            “Infallibility” (to me) means that the Bible’s messages are without mistake. They convey specific truth sometimes, they convey general truth very often. How I came to that is very much is my own personal journey – my own quirks combined with experiences with God, people, and ideas. But when the arguments of Bildad and Elihu are more true than that of Job, then there’s a problem. Since I haven’t run into those problems with the Bible’s books, I’m still an “infallibility” adherent. So it is not a scientific approach, nor probably very linear or logical; but it is my own, for better or worse.
            Have a super day,

          • rogereolson

            I remember when I was in an inerrantist context people debated such things as whether Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus was a parable or not. That seemed to matter very much. The reason was, of course, that the gospels do not explicitly tell whether it is a parable or a true story. What a waste of time and breath and energy (I thought then and still think). The assumption was that if the Bible doesn’t say a story is a parable it must be taken as “true history.”

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Hi Kurt,

            Let me now ask you something, does God have wings (Psalms 91)? If you say that God doesn’t have wings, then aren’t you saying that the Bible is in error?
            (Is an appeal to “figures of speech” simply a handy way of avoiding the obvious conclusion – that the Bible made a technical mistake?) What say you?


          • Tim, thanks for fleshing out your position, although I don’t see anything in your description of your view that is inconsistent with inerrancy. The existence of parables and figures of speech in Scripture present no challenge whatsoever to the inerrancy position. Of course Scripture—as any other form of communication—includes metaphors and similes and hyperbole, etc., etc. We don’t read the Psalms the same way we read James, and we don’t read James the same way we read Revelation. We interpret the content of Proverbs as proverbs. This is basic hermeneutics. We all agree on this. Anyone who presents any of this as problematic to inerrancy, insisting that inerrantists hold to an absurdly literal view of Scripture, either doesn’t understand inerrancy as knowledgeable inerrantists hold it (and have held it) or is intentionally misrepresenting it. ‘Unsophisticated literalism or a loss of inerrancy’ is a fallacious way to present this issue.

            Of course, since the Bible doesn’t label every parable or figure of speech, these sometimes become topics of discussion—and rightly so. How hyperbolic was Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and how do we determine this? Is Genesis 1 historical narrative, poetry, or some unique blend of both (or something else entirely)? These are legitimate exegetical questions, and areas about which inerrantists can disagree and discuss without weakening in any way the inerrancy of Scripture. Despite the rhetoric of some critics, inerrancy simply does not require 100% certainty of every reading and interpretation, and to argue against this mischaracterization of inerrancy is fallacious. We don’t know exhaustively and perfectly the plan of God. Does this mean that we can’t have confidence in his “inerrant” plan?

            Yes, sometimes inerrantists might obsess over a particular passage such as the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Thank God the validity of Scripture does not rest on our maturity or proper use of Scripture. It’s no more appropriate to dismiss inerrancy because of these kinds of discussions than it is to dismiss divine inspiration because of them. Unless, Dr. Olson, you’re suggesting that we shouldn’t have such exegetical discussions at all! Let’s consider the converse. If we have no need of determining whether a story is in fact parabolic because we don’t have to accept non-parabolic stories as true history, then why must we accept the virgin birth as true history? or the exodus from Egypt? or even the resurrection? I’m not attributing these views to you—but what’s to keep us from these kinds of conclusions? You may not follow this path to liberal theology, but what will prevent other non-inerrantists from going that direction? Who determines which biblical stories are “true history” and which are merely historical inaccuracies or metaphors and symbols?

            I didn’t enter this discussion to be the champion of inerrancy, but to seek the basis for belief in a scriptural infallibility (as distinguished from inerrancy). I still find it ironic how often these exchanges turn to challenges and defenses of inerrancy instead of frank discussion of the infallibility view. I feel compelled to again point out: Discrediting biblical inerrancy does absolutely nothing to establish biblical infallibility.

          • rogereolson

            I’m tiring of this discussion; we are like ships passing in the night. A true meeting of the minds (on this particular subject) seems elusive. (Which should surprise no one familiar with history). I don’t have time to answer every question you (and others) pose; in my opinion these have been answered very adequately by evangelicals such as the authors of (among many others similar defenses of infallibility versus inerrancy) Biblical Authority (ed., Jack Rogers) (Word, 1977). I’ll just remind you that belief in inerrancy, even in divine dictation of the Bible, does not guarantee belief in the historicity of every biblical narrative. Many religious groups interpret the Bible allegorically while touting its inerrancy. Inerrantists themselves disagree about literal versus figurative interpretation of many Old Testament stories.

          • Thanks to both of you for the interaction.

          • rogereolson

            A model of civil disagreement among equally evangelical Christian thinkers. But sometimes these discussions just run into the ground because of different perspectives.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Hi Curt,

            Thanks for your reply. Since you reject the “wooden literalist” question that I put forth about God’s wings, then we are on the same side. We differ in degrees – and we respect the other’s position. You and I both agree that Scripture has no errors in our own way according to our own understanding of “error”. (Roger is getting tired of this, so we better move on to current topics pretty soon.)
            You said,

            Discrediting biblical inerrancy does absolutely nothing to establish biblical infallibility.

            I do not attempt to establish biblical infallibility to anyone else except myself. Because of that, I’m not surprised that you don’t like my reasoning. As the poet said:

            “Too many preachers and not enough proof
            Too many teachers and not enough truth
            You’ve got to find it, you’ve got to find it yourself
            None of these people can give you any help.”
            -John Fischer


          • rogereolson

            Good. Now let’s move on to other subjects at least for now.

      • Matt

        I think there is a “low fruit” aspect to the scriptures that is oftentimes missing: reading them as if they were meant to be understood by humans. They were written by God, by humans, for humans, in human language and yet people seem mystified oftentimes with the simplest teaching or instruction.

        I add this to the “witness of the Spirit,” thought you are correct that the Spirit is the foundation.

  • Jenny

    I agree the way Church leadership hides issues with Scripture from the laity is a huge problem. When the laity are confronted by such issues with Scripture (usually by hostile anti-Christians) they are left pretty much defenseless.

    Strange that people are more rigorous with sports statistics than they are with defining biblical inerrancy these days.

    Btw good to see your post generated good interest, some say the topic is overdone.

  • Dr. Olson, what you say at the end of this posting about Charles Hodge’s view of the Bible seems to contradict what you say about his view in your book called “The Westminster Handbook To Evangelical Theology.” For example, on page 214, when dealing with the subject titled “infallibility/Inerrancy,” you make reference to some theologians and then say this: “These theologians hark back to the leading lights of Protestant orthodoxy and scholasticism, especially to the nineteenth-century Princeton theologians Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield, who responded to growing mainline Protestant liberal skepticism about the Bible with a strong reaffirmation of its supernatural inspiration, unique authority, and factual infallibility.” Then, on pages 323 and 324, when dealing with the subject titled “Scripture: Inerrancy/Infallibility, you wrote the following: “Both Hodge and Warfield were attempting to protect the Bible from the new higher criticism and from the skepticism that arose with it in the nineteenth century. They appealed to a deductive process of reasoning to defend the Bible’s complete inerrancy even in matters of history and cosmology: God is the author of Scripture (through the process called inspiration); God does not lie or decieve; Scripture is inerrant. When examining the actual phenomena of Scripture, they found little disturbing evidence of actual error; when they could not explain an apparent error away, they simply appealed to the ignorance of the wider context of facts that would, if known, explain the contradiction or discrepancy.”

    • rogereolson

      I dont see the conflict.

      • The conflict is that in your posting you said Hodge admitted there are flaws in the Bible. But in your book you wrote this about Hodge and Warfield: “They appealed to a deductive process of reasoning to defend the Bible’s complete inerrancy even in matters of history and cosmology: God is the author of Scripture (through the process called inspiration); God does not lie or decieve; Scripture is inerrant.” My question is, how could Hodge have believed there are flaws in the Bible and affirm its inerrancy at the same time?

        • rogereolson

          Ah, everything depends on what one considers an “error,” doesn’t it? That’s an issue that absolutely bedevils the whole evangelical discussion about “inerrancy.” There is no universal agreement about what constitutes an error. I never said Hodge was always totally consistent, either.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Robert (Oct 5)

    Great response! You say “I believe an important distinction to make is between (1) THAT God knows, and (2) HOW God knows what He knows.” So true, in so many ways – not just concerning the future. We get into a good number if our long-standing food fights by demanding to know “How?” and then insisting that our answer to the question is more God-hornoring, more scriptural etc. than that of our opponents. Will we ever learn this simple lesson? I began a recent essay entitled “The story of two hows?” with this statement “There are two kinds of “how?” “How?” is never pious. “How?” can be either innocent or arrogant. True believers should avoid the latter, true non-believers have no use for it.”

    Now to a particular “How?” and hopefully not an arrogant one. You say “What “gurantees” that some future events will occur is not because they are necessited (or because determinism is true) but because God’s foreknowledge involves events that will occur with certainty.” Yes, that is one answer to our humble “How?”. Another, based on Boyd, I think, is that God knows all future possibilities as if they were true, so that no matter what turns up, he is ready. In this way, his will can prevail. I won’t say this answer is better than (or even much different from) your answer, because, as you say, we don’t really know how. 🙂

    It’s a bit of a shame that how God knows, “guarantees” the future is such a focal point with discussions of OT. There is so much to the open way of thinking that is simply based on owing up to how things are, on how we live, love and pray, sometimes in spite of our theology, and on reading Scripture with an open mind, heart and realistic spirit. Being ever ready to not see God as lisping, so to speak.

    I really enjoyed your thoughts.



  • Robert F

    I have questions for all those who hold that Scripture is inerrant and infallible in every respect: is John 7:53 through 8:11 infallible and inerrant Scripture? If it is not, by what Scriptural criteria do you come to this conclusion? If it is, by what Scriptural criteria do you come to this conclusion? And please don’t suggest that because this passage doesn’t deal with doctrinal issues it is unimportant, because it most certainly does set out a moral theology that is distinct and makes a difference for how the Christian is to conduct his/her life, and that moral theology is not the Old Testament requirement of capital punishment for the adulterer.

    • Matt

      I’ll take a quick shot at it. First of all realize that of course the author and Jesus Himself was purposefully making a seeming catch-22 for the Pharisees and us to consider what was meant by it. In other words, this is intended to make us think. In my limited understanding I would say
      1. Jesus is teaching about the purpose and heart of the law in contrast to the misunderstanding of the purpose of the law. Even in the OT there are many instances such as when David at the show bread. Human life is more important than the also important ceremony of the show bread, and here Jesus is trying to show something new and something old. perhaps something along the lines of “mercy triumphs over judgment.” In other words, yes you may stand on your right to kill this woman by national law, or you can forgive and go beyond the law to the heart. This doesn’t adequately answer it of course, but know that Jesus and John both were very aware of this tension and it is there intentionally.
      2. As I recall, Jews were under Roman law in exile and therefore without the right to execute people without Roman permission. this would make these guys even more vindictive as they are now under judgment as a nation and subject to Roman law in addition to their law.

  • Jack Hanley

    I think we have found something we can almost totally agree upon. The only place I see where I may be in disagreement, is when you say the information in the Bible is there for transformation. I would rather say, it is there first and foremost, for salvation. This difference may seem to some, as splitting hairs, but I believe if you really think about it, you will see there is a larger span there, than it seems at first. However I will leave this for a later time.

    I have always believed that inerrancy, is a crutch, many Christians need to lean upon, whom as you say, have not truly wrestled with the Biblical text, and therefore cannot defend their position, and go on to do more harm than good.

    I could give many examples, however please allow me to give at least one. There are many unbelievers as well as believers, who will argue that the creation account is pure mythology. Let me stress as strongly as possible, I AM NOT IN THAT CAMP. However, I believe there are those who waste far to much time, energy, and resources, attempting to win an argument that will never have the desired effect. Because of this, I believe our time would be far better spent, (for the sake of argument, conceding at this point) and rather asking our opponents, to continue into the rest of the narrative, or story, (and by the way, that is what the Bible is, the real HISTORICAL story of redemption) and explain how a story, (whether, real or myth) written thousands of years before the time of Christ, or Christianity, could paint such an accurate picture of the coming Christ and what He would accomplish for us. In other words, I believe, if we could first get people to grab a hold of the Story, it would be far easier at this point, to get them to grab a hold of the history, (which is, by the way HIS STORY).

    In the end, I do not believe I have to hold to the belief, that the Bible is totally and completely without error in every minute detail, in order to believe that the overall message is true. I believe the evidence of the truth of the Christian faith is overwhelming, to the one is who is truly a student of the whole of the Scripture from Genesis, to Revelation, and a few minute errors, does not take away from it’s validity, but rather adds to it.

  • Roger Olson wrote:

    “Even the great Charles Hodge admitted there are flaws in the Bible. He compared them with the bits of sandstone in the marble of the pillars of the Parthenon. He said we Christians are justified in trampling such arguments under our feet. I’m not sure what he meant by that except to say we are justified in simply ignoring the sandstone (flaws in the Bible) because of the majesty of its marble.”

    You are referring to something Hodge wrote on page 170 in volume 1 of his Systematic Theology. He made clear what he meant by that in the paragraph that followed his Parthenon analogy:

    “Admitting that the Scriptures do contain, in a few instances, discrepancies which with our present means of knowledge, we are unable satisfactorily to explain, they furnish no rational ground for denying their infallibility.”

    The paragraph is worth reading in full, and I recommend it to you. Theologians with a biblical errancy fetish consistently demonstrate their ignorance of Christ’s own highly relevant words on the topic of special revelation: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12, ESV).

    While I do not go specifically into inerrancy in my video on inspiration (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHZ0YYC5k_E), inerrancy is not only a necessary corollary to any biblical doctrine of inspiration, but it is also Scripture’s own teaching about itself.

    • rogereolson

      But please tell us how you qualify “inerrancy” and let’s see what’s left of any ordinary meaning of the word. Your comment doesn’t address my central concern about the concept.

      • Perhaps you should first define what you mean by “any ordinary meaning of the word.” There is an implicit charge of obfuscation lurking there.

        • rogereolson

          You’re exactly right. Go back and read what I have written about problems with the word “inerrancy.” I have charged many inerrantist scholars with holding to qualifications of the term that no ordinary lay person (not tutored in the standard qualifications) would guess at. For thirty years I have exposed students to those inerrantist qualifications much to their dismay and delight (laughter). Almost without exception they have told me they would never have guessed that “inerrancy” could have such qualifications and still be the right term for what is believed about Scripture.

          • Your reply here is long on rhetoric and short on substance. Going back and re-reading your charges is not a very informative exercise: you certainly provide no details here that in any way demonstrate that inerrancy has died the death of a thousand qualifications, as it were.

            Nor have you addressed the fact that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html) provides all the qualifications that have ever officially been given by a body of evangelical scholars in 19 succinct articles of affirmations and denial that each deal with classic points controverted by errantists. Instead you’ve merely allowed one of your surrogates to diss that standard document.

            If you are to construct a credible case for your position, I think you need to start with the classic evangelical statement on the matter rather than taking pot-shots at little anecdotes.

          • rogereolson

            It has been the Chicago Statement’s qualifications to “inerrancy” that have made my students over thirty years shocked and dismayed and, often, amused. Uniformly they have told me they never heard those qualifications in churches where they were taught biblical inerrancy. My point, which you seem to miss, is that the WORD “inerrancy” is not the right word for what most inerrantist scholars believe; it is downright misleading.

          • In lieu of any specificity on your part I guess we’ll just have to take your word for it that the content of the Chicago Statement has “shocked and dismayed” your students. But I would suggest a worthier procedure: why not actually discuss the supposedly shocking and dismaying points of the Statement—expose these dreadful things to the light of day—instead of merely making oblique reference to them? After all, the Chicago Statement has been publicly available for more than three decades now and I have yet to find a single person express shock or dismay over anything it contains. So if there’s something abhorrent that we inerrantists have somehow missed, on behalf of my fellow inerrantists I would humbly request that you make it known to us so we can address it.

          • rogereolson

            I have done that here before. Go back and read what I have written about it and then address something specific. Move the conversation forward rather than just accusing me of being oblique. You are picking up the conversation in midstream or tail end and missing (apparently) where I have addressed your questions and concerns.

          • You wrote:

            “My point, which you seem to miss, is that the WORD ‘inerrancy’ is not the right word for what most inerrantist scholars believe; it is downright misleading.”

            Again, assertions like this lack sufficient specificity to provide a basis for response. They can only elicit yet another request for more specificity. Exactly why is “inerrancy” not the right word? According to the Chicago Statement, “inerrant signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.” How is this “downright misleading?”

          • rogereolson

            You are playing games here. I have said, and I think you know it, that it’s not that definition but the QUALIFICATIONS that follow that make “inerrancy” a poor choice of words for what inerrantists (at least scholarly ones) believe about the Bible. Now, here’s a question I have for you and, since this is my blog, I insist you answer it before we continue the discussion: What if it were the case that I believe exactly the same as you believe about the Bible, but you think “inerrancy” is the right word for what we both believe and I think it’s a poor word for what we both believe and decline to use it to describe our common belief about the Bible? Would you have a problem with my NOT using “inerrancy?”