Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is inerrancy an impediment?

A common knock against inerrancy is that inerrantists can't produce "real" scholarship because their a priori commitment to inerrancy precludes them from asking certain questions or considering certain answers. "Real" scholarship is open-ended. Nothing is out of bounds.

Before getting to my main point, I'd like to make a few preliminary observations:

i) There's a lot of groupthink in "critical" Bible scholarship. Although there's the occasional maverick who bucks critical consensus on some particular issue (e.g. Cyrus Gordon, C. B. Caird, Luke Timothy Johnson, J. A. T. Robinson, Dale Allison, Martin Hengel), that's conspicuous by its rarity. 

Take Peter Enns. When does he ever say anything that's surprising for a liberal Bible scholar? When does he ever present an explanation or interpretation that's unexpected? Didn't think so. 

ii) By their own logic, liberals can't produce "real" scholarship because of their a priori commitment to methodological atheism precludes them from asking certain questions or considering certain answers. The main character in Scripture is a God who talks to people and intervenes in human history. Yet liberal scholarship denies that in advance. So it's like staging Hamlet without Hamlet. Edit out the main character. 

Indeed, in addition to God, Scripture also contains people who say God spoke to them, and people who perform miracles. Again, liberals deny that in advance. They systematically reinterpret a religious text irreligiously. 

So it's not just God that they edit out. They edit out Biblical prophets and miracle-workers. Like staging Hamlet, but leaving out Hamlet, Ophelia, Yorick, and Gertrude.  

iii) Now to my main point. I was reading John Goldingay's commentary on Genesis (chaps. 1-16). Although he's liberal, ever so often, even liberal scholars may say something insightful. But I was struck by how thin his interpretation is. So prosaic. 

To be sure, it's pitched to a popular audience, so he doesn't have the space to go into detail. However, Derek Kidner had half the space, yet he packs far more insight into far less space. 

I think the source of Goldingay's problem is that, given his low view of Scripture, he doesn't find much because he doesn't expect much. If you think these are merely human documents, then your shovel strikes deadpan in just a few inches. Given human limitations, the meaning bottoms out pretty quick. The meaning can't run very deep. 

Fact is, most Bible writers have less natural talent than the greatest poets, playwrights, and novelists. So if you deny inspiration, then you'd expect to find far less depth of meaning in Scripture than you can unearth in Shakespeare, Racine, T. S. Eliot, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Broch, Dostoevsky, &c. 

I'm sure Goldingay would deny that he has a low view of Scripture, but for scholars like him, inspiration is indistinguishable from the absence of inspiration. As a result, his interpretations in Gen 1-16 are very superficial. Almost perfunctory. He doesn't think there's much to see here. How could there be, given his view of Scripture? 

For liberals, interpreting Scripture is the easy part. By modern standards, the authors were simple men. Ignorant. Primitive. Short-sighted. Liberal scholars think they know so much more than the Bible writers they exegete.. It's the greater interpreting the lesser. 

For liberals, all their ingenuity goes into the preliminaries. Reconstructing the sources and sitz-in-leben. That's the hard part. Once you have that out of the way, interpretation is a breeze. The Bible is too backward to be sophisticated. The complexity lies, not in what the authors thought, but the editorial process. 

By contrast, it's the much maligned inerrantists who dig deeper. Who uncover layers of meaning. They don't give up so easy, because they think there's more to find. Inexhaustible meaning.  Ironically, it's liberal scholarship that puts the Bible in a little box. For them, the Bible is all to human. 


  1. By contrast, it's the much maligned inerrantists who dig deeper. Who uncover layers of meaning. They don't give up so easy, because they think there's more to find. Inexhaustible meaning. Ironically, it's liberal scholarship that puts the Bible in a little box. For them, the Bible is all to human.


    One's doxic predisposition either opens or closes one up to further understanding. A great modern example is how evolutionary presuppositions blinded evolutionists from the possibility that noncoding DNA had function. It was believers in Intelligent Design who PREDICTED that such DNA would eventually be proven to not be junk.

    It takes faith to see the depth and profundity of Scripture, and that faith is ultimately only had by regeneration. As the old Christian saying goes, we believe in order to understand.

    "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out." - Prov. 25:2

    John Piper is so right when he says that raking is easy but you only get leaves, digging is hard but you may find diamonds.

    I'm convinced God inspired Scripture so that it's beauty and wisdom is veiled from the unregenerate, but revealed only through regeneration.

    10 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?"11 And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
    "'You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.
    15 For this people's heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
    lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
    and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.'
    16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.- Matt. 13:10-17

    14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.- 1 Cor. 2:14

  2. In seminary (1983-88), the book edited by Norman Geisler, Inerrancy, was very good and useful to me, and I still take it out and use it. Each chapter is by a different scholar/ apologist.

    That was the classic book defense for years. (it seems to me)

    Do you (anyone seeing this) think there is another newer book that defends Inerrancy better, or improves upon the one edited by Geisler?

    1. This is both good and free:

    2. Gregory Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway 2008)

      Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP; 2nd ed., 2007)

      Steven Cowan and Terry Wilder, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (B&H 2013)

      James Hoffmeier & Dennis MaGary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Crossway 2012)

      Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003)

      John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Zondervan 2009)

      Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament (Baker 1997)

      D. A. Carson, ed. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016)

  3. Thanks Steve!
    I just ordered the one edited by Carson a few weeks ago, but have not read any of yet.

    The other ones are new to me and helpful to know. Though I have seen the Blomberg one mentioned around.
    I have one of Kitchen's older books, "Ancient Orient and Old Testament".

    your article and the one about Licona and Mark being confused was excellent.