Sunday, January 07, 2018


Lydia McGrew recently did a webinar, hosted by Jonathan McLatchie:

I agree with most of what she said. And I commend the presentation to others. But I'd like to comment on some other things. 

During the Q/A session, she compared a courtroom witness who makes an innocent mistake (misremembering) to a witness who lies. Which witness would be more credible? That's a valid distinction.  

She mentioned someone who felt the McGrews emphasis on the human characteristics of Scripture was incompatible with divine inspiration. I'd just point out that according to the organic theory of inspiration, championed by Warfield, which is the standard paradigm in Baptist and Presbyterian inerrantist circles, human characteristics are not incompatible with the plenary inspiration of Scripture. 

She said she doesn't have worked out theory of inspiration. She approaches Scripture as a historian rather than theologian. Approaches Scripture as historical source material rather than a religious authority. Her methodology is inductive rather than a priori. The "nitty-gritty ground level". "What do we appear to have?"  

This raises a number of familiar issues. It goes back to old debates over the proper starting point when we formulate a theory of inspiration. Do we begin with the "phenomena" of Scripture?  It also goes to methodological differences between evidential and presuppositional apologetics. 

1. Let's put this in a larger context. Although some evidentialists affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, that's expendable to their theology because even if they discovered that Scripture was fallible, they have a safety net in the historical evidence and basic historical reliability of the Bible, especially the Gospels. 

A pragmatic objection to rejecting the inerrancy of Scripture is that once you deny it, there's nothing to prevent free fall. So the question is whether they have a containment principle. One way some of them defend their position is to say the Bible doesn't rise or fall as a unit. Rather, some books have better evidence than others. They're independent of each other in that respect. Skepticism about the Pentateuch doesn't spill over into skepticism about the Gospels because the Pentateuch and the Gospels are not on an evidential par. 

If we were using a metaphor to illustrate their orientation, we might use bulkheads. Sailors don't like to drown. As a result, they've designed vessels with bulkheads. The hull is subdivided into a series of watertight compartments so that even if the hull is punctured in one or more places, the entire hull doesn't fill with water. That contains the damage. If the hull is breached, the ship doesn't automatically sink. 

Some evidentialists think their position is actually more stable than doctrinaire inerrantists. They regard commitment to inerrancy as a "house of cards". By contrast, they think they have a fallback position even if the Bible is shown to be erroneous in some respects. 

2. What are we to make of that position? There's a sense in which it's preferable to have an alternative that stops short of instant apostasy if the Bible is perceived to be fallible. And in theory, it might be possible to treat books of the Bible on a case-by-case basis, depending on the particular evidence for each particular book. Kinda like a passenger train where if one car catches fire, it can be uncoupled from the other cars and left to burn without setting the entire train on fire.  

3. There are, however, some serious problems with this kind of evidentialism. For one thing, many books of the Bible aren't that compartmentalized. Because the NT, including the Gospels, constantly appeals to OT validation, the veracity of the NT is inseparable from the veracity of the OT.

4. Although we can approach the Bible historically, we must also approach the Bible theologically because it claims to be a theological document as well as a historical record. The Bible doesn't simply make claims about historical events. It also makes claims about a revelatory God. A God of words as well as deeds. One of the defining features of the Judeo-Christian faith is the stress on God who speaks, in contrast to the dumb idol gods of paganism. 

Not only does the God of biblical theism act in history, but he acts in people. He speaks to and through chosen agents. Which goes to another fundamental distinction: the difference between true and false prophecy. A false prophet isn't merely a prophet to makes false predictions. In principle and practice, a false prophet may make true predictions. What makes him a false prophet is that he presumes to speak on God's behalf without divine inspiration. 

Even in the case of revelation that originates in dreams and visions, visionary revelation is converted into verbal revelation. That's why we have a record of visionary revelation. It had to be verbalized. Committed to writing. Adapted from a visual medium to a propositional medium. 

5. Put another way, the Bible doesn't simply make claims people and events from a detached, third-person perspective. It also assumes a first-person perspective by making claims about itself. Not just what was said, but the divine speaker. It makes self-referential claims about the process of inspiration and revelation. That's essential to the identity of the Judeo-Christian faith as a revealed religion. A religion of the word. Revelatory words. Bible writers don't simply report facts, but report their religious experience, as instruments of divine disclosure. Conduits of divine communication. Depending on the genre, that's sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. Sometimes conscious and sometimes unconscious:

It's misleading to say commitment to inerrancy is a priori rather than inductive. For what we "appear to have"–the "nitty-gritty ground level"–includes the revelatory self-ascription. That lies on the face of many biblical texts. And it is, by precedent, the presupposition of other texts. 

Inerrancy is not an a priori posit, like philosophical stipulations and speculations about what is fitting or unfitting for God to say, do, or permit. Inerrancy is not, in the first instance, a deduction from a theological intuition about the nature of God and God's relation to the world. Rather, the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration is as much a part of the testimonial evidence as the historical claims. Indeed, they are intertwined:

6. Not only is presuppositionalism more theological than evidentialism, but it's more philosophical in the sense that it rejects the coherence of an atheistic alternative. That's a wall, not a door. Atheism is not an exit, but an optical illusion (as it were). That's a door jam painted on a way. But there's nothing outside the reality of God's world. There's nowhere else to go. 

7. Randal Rauser furnishes an instructive comparison. He rejects the inerrancy of Scripture. He has a face-saving position that he euphemistically dubs the "appropriation" model of inspiration. However, Rauser's primary frame of reference is philosophical theology rather than revelation. Yet there's nothing distinctively Christian about philosophical theology divorced from Biblical revelation. At best, a generic theism about truths of reason rather than truths of fact. Necessary universal truths rather than contingent historical particulars. That nicely illustrates the hazards of a religious orientation that's not grounded in biblical revelation. 


  1. I'm actually pleased that the bulk of your hesitations/disagreements about what I said are related to your being an inerrantist and my not being one, but also that you seem to agree with my larger thrust--about the problem with a witness that actually deliberately falsifies what happened.

    My experience thus far has been that old-school inerrantists have been more interested in and open to my critique than those who defend the ideas I'm critiquing. It doesn't appear to be sociologically a matter of getting opposed from both sides. My sample is admittedly small, but it is looking to me like the old-style inerrantists will think that we can work together because I state my position openly rather than trying to retain the inerrantist label while redefining it in these strange ways.

    As I mentioned in the talk, I've been invited to publish an article review of Licona's book in John Warwick Montgomery's journal this coming summer. This invitation came out of the blue. I didn't ask for it. When I explicitly and scrupulously drew Dr. Montgomery's attention to the fact that I'm not an inerrantist, he said that the journal is an inerrantist journal and that I shouldn't push anything anti-inerrancy in my article, but he didn't rescind the invitation. I have enough to say about the issue of reliability and simply won't discuss the topic of inerrancy in the article. There will be references to my original series, which people can read for themselves.

    This is what I'd like to see--alliances (if I can use such a word) being made on the basis of openness on both sides about what we disagree about and what needs to be criticized. And even why. Because of course inerrantists have an interest in reliability as well, and some inerrantists (I think of these as old-style or original inerrantists rather than neo-inerrantists) see the bizarre nature of "saving" the label "inerrancy" while holding that the Gospel authors made fictional changes, even many such, to the events in indetectable ways in their narratives.

  2. Steve, Lydia,
    What is your opinion of Dr.Craig Evans, an otherwise "orthodox" Christian, not a liberal or heretic, who says in his debates with Bart Ehrman that Jesus didn't ever say many of the things John's gospel puts in Jesus' mouth?

    For example, Evans says stuff like "before Abraham was, i am" was never uttered by the historical Jesus. see, Evans gives his answer at time-code 1:00 ff

    Sure, John might be a different "genre" from the Synoptics, but I don't think you can blame a skeptic or atheist for feeling confident about the theory that the gospels often lie to us about what really happened, when you have conservative Christian scholars like Evans admitting that the historical Jesus never said many statements now credited to him by the author of John's gospel.

    If as most apologists say, the atheist bible critic is unreasonable and irrational for crediting John with fiction, then must such apologists not also, to be consistent, charge Evans with being irrational and unreasonable?

    The only way I see out of this is for one of you to assert

    a) Evans isn't qualified to make such statements, or
    b) Evans is just plain wrong, implying you can demonstrate such, implying you actually will, or
    c) argue that gospel statements crediting Jesus with speech he never spoke, can nevertheless be legitimately characterized as "historically reliable".

    I'm not sure if "historically reliable" can be stretched so far that it also covers cases where real life people are credited with speaking words they never actually spoke.

    I look forward to your replies.