Five Views on Inerrancy

Continuing the discussion from BioLogos Makes a Good Move on Inerrancy:

Good question @Randy.

I have not read the book, but I have read this summary very closely: I think this books seems very helpful.

Van Houzer seems to articulate my view:

He starts things out by saying that while ‘inerrancy, is not essential, is nevertheless expedient.’ So inerrancy may be a helpful word to use, but for Vanhoozer, we may need what he calls ‘an account of “well-versed” inerrancy.’ This is to be distinguished from a poor-verse account of inerrancy. Vanhoozer writes:

My primary concern about inerrancy today is that too many contemporary readers lack the literacy needed for understanding the way the words go, or for rightly handling the word of truth. Biblical inerrancy in the context of biblical illiteracy makes for a dangerous proposition.’

His position may be best summed up by a quote from Augustine with which he finishes his essay:

…if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand.

For Vanhoozer, this means that if the manuscript is sound, and the translator has done his work well, and if we can understand what’s going on properly (which is what he means by having the literacy needed for understanding), then we will cease to be perplexed by the situation, and come to a place of understanding.

In my view, too many people are either:

  1. Arguing for a “poorly versed” understanding of inerrancy.
  2. Arguing against inerrancy because they can only imagine it as “poorly versed.”

This is a false choice. I’d say we should all be moving to a well-versed inerrancy. Even those who reject the term “inerrancy” often hold to the doctrine any ways. I would also add that I am a traditionalist with an ecclesial bend, which is admittedly an anachronism for a non-denominational protestant. In my view, the Lassaune Covenant is important. It includes the text regarding Scripture: “Inerrant and infallible” in all “it affirms.” I can see no good reason for Christians not to affirm those words.

Though I do not agree with everything said of him, I think Frankle is right also on this:

I do think that the point he makes about foundationalism is very strong. He continues along this line later on with a helpful distinction separating God’s knowledge from ours:

Scripture is truth written (small t), in that it provides a series of faithful witnesses to the Truth of God’s self-revelation without itself becoming a manifestation of capital-T Truth. This means that while Scripture is truthful and trustworthy, we must be careful to respect the creator-creature distinction in our use of it.

In my view, this kind of thinking is wielding postmodernism to good effect: using a more nuanced definition of ‘truth’ to have a better grasp of what scripture is trying to achieve. On this view, we each have a perspective on scripture with only our small-t truth, and only God has access to capital-T truth. And this is why scripture provides us with what Franke calls a ‘pluriform’ truth. Franke writes, ‘The Bible is polyphonic. Perhaps the presence of four gospel accounts offers the most straightforward and significant demonstration of plurality in the biblical canon.

I would very much agree with this. My issue with Ken Ham is not that he trusts God’s Word over Science. No, that is not his problem. My issue is that he replaces God’s Word with his interpretation of it, and uses his personal view of Scripture to reject both good exegesis and good science. The issue is not trusting God’s Word over science, but trusting his own word over both.


Speaking of Kevin Vanhoozer, he just posted on BioLogos. Good for him:


A friend refers to this as the doctrine of personal inerrancy:
1: The Bible is Inerrant and infallible.
2: I believe in the Bible.
3: Therefore my interpretation of the Bible is Inerrant and infallible.

See the problem?

The other problem; this view of the Bible seems to be a favorite of egotistical narcissists, to whom the ideology of infallibility is a perfect fit. There is no talking to such people.

Disclaimer: I do not think everyone who thinks the Bible is inerrant is an egotistical narcissist. If you are worried about being perceived to have this doctrine of personal inerrancy, then you obviously do not!


I mean, I might be slightly egotistical, but narcissist? Nah.


Interesting that “affirm” is the exact word used in Dei Verbum (Vatican II, 1965). As quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

The standard Catholic position is innerancy for the things the authors actually affirm. However, I find that in practice it could be difficult to figure out what an author actually affirms.

Note also that while this is the standard Catholic position, the teaching of “the innerancy of the Bible in all it affirms” itself is not taught infallibly. The only part that the Catholic Church has taught infallibly is that the Bible is innerant in matters of faith and morals.


I learned to not be too dogmatic about there being no errors in the Bible that we have available to us today from reading The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. He documents rather convincingly how scribes introduced errors into the text because they did not understand the method being used to date some events and sought to “correct” them.


The alternative, which is how I saw it (before I dropped out of Christianity):
1: The Bible in inerrant and infallible;
2: Science gives a pretty good description of the world;
3: Therefore I must interpret the Bible in a way that does not contradict what science tells us about the world.


I’m not referring to the average person, but the most extreme - thus my disclaimer.

I don’t intend to pursue this line of discussion any further.


I know. I was just kidding.


Sorry - can’t read between your lines very well, yet. :slight_smile:


I’ve read the book. I’m with Vanhoozer and Michael Bird. The essay by Mohler is not good (I’m being kind)…yet he is (was?) the president of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. It’s been rumored for awhile that ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) could see a split on the issue. (BTW, I spent 11 years as a student under Mohler.)


I agree with that reading the entire book was worth it. I enjoyed Bird the most. Getting the counter arguments really helped me. Enns was, in my opinion, most correct, with the incarnational model. But Bird is so talented and humorous that I kept coming back to him. I think each had something unique and valuable to add.thanks.

How were you under Mohler? Classes? Interesting.

I did my MDiv and PhD at the seminary. I did have him as a professor as well…and even babysat his kids :slight_smile:


Neat, that you knew him well.
Too bad that he chose those reasons for inerrancy. It would be such a pity to have a split in ETS though.
None of the positions really argued for why they considered inerrancy true, though–as I recall. They only argued why they took a certain stance against others. That is indeed a thorny issue.

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A book I’d recommend that plays into this discussion is Michael Graves’ book on the early church’s views of inspiration & interpretation.



Glad to see someone is talking about the views of the early Church. Along those lines, I identify the most with John Behr’s view in The Mystery of Christ and Richard Swinburne’s understanding in his book Revelation. This blog pretty much catches it.

I agree with Enns that scripture is incarnational and scripture is not immune from historical/scientific error from the human author. But Enns fails to explain where the divinity of scripture lies. Swinburne and Behr help with this.


@Jeremy_Christian, what is your thoughts on this?

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That is a good summary. He also has very good insight. Good choice. Thanks.

There is another way. How about that the bible was written by at least 70 human authors over a period of 1700 years and thus contains a lot of errors and is fallible in what it says about God.