Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Bart Ehrman defense

Apologist and annihilationist Glenn Peoples chimed in:

Glenn4/22/2014 7:58 PM 
Initially the author was talking about inerrancy. But then came this: "Denying the inspiration of Scripture can have far-reaching theological consequences." 
For some people, believing in inerrancy is the same as believing in inspiration. And this definitely, absolutely will create more Bart Ehrmans. Because now, as soon as they start to doubt inerrancy, they will think that perhaps the Bible isn't even inspired. 
An unintentional insight from the author perhaps, but an important one!

i) For purposes of this discussion, inerrancy and inspiration are interchangeable. That's because of how the issue was framed. The argument goes like this: "Even if we conclude that Scripture is not inerrant, Christianity is still true. That's because, even if the NT is just a historical document, like other uninspired ancient histories, an uninspired historical document can still be sufficiently accurate to vouch for the Resurrection."

That's the argument under review. Whether that's a viable fallback position. 

Notice that I'm simply responding to Peters et al. on their own terms. At this point I'm not saying if I personally think inerrancy and inspiration are interchangeable. 

ii) However, since Glenn brings it up, I'm happy to state my own position. Yes, inspiration does entail inerrancy. It's a cause/effect relation. 


iii) I'm also struck by what seems to be the growing popularity of the Bart Ehrman defense by ostensively Christian apologists. Making the reaction of a hypothetical Bart Ehrman the new standard of Christian orthodox. The principle is: Don't classify as a Christian essential anything that would make more Bart Ehrmans. 

I'm curious as to how far they take that standard. Don't insist that the Exodus really happened. That will create more Bart Ehrmans. Don't insist Adam and Eve were real people. That will create more Bart Ehrmans. Don't insist sex outside of marriage is sinful. That will create more Bart Ehrmans.

Is the standard of Christian orthodoxy how individuals react to Bible teaching? Is what we ought to be believe relative to what we are prepared to believe? 

If people threaten to reject Christianity because we insist on some "offensive" Bible teaching, are we supposed to capitulate? 

iv) Now, there's a sense in which we shouldn't impede Christian faith by making gratuitous demands. But the Bart Ehrman defense is boundless. 

v) Let's take a bad example of how to formulate inerrancy. In his attempt to harmonize the timing of Peter's denial (i.e. synchronize Peter's denial with cockcrow), Harold Lindsell resolved the perceived tension in variant synoptic accounts by multiplication: Peter denied Christ six times!

Now, that's a misapplication of inerrancy. It reflects a ham-fisted understanding of inerrancy.

Suppose a young Bart Ehrman, reading Lindsell's harmonization, exclaimed: "Well, if that's what inerrancy implies, then I reject the inerrancy of Scripture!" 

Who's primarily to blame? Erhman is to blame.  The proper response to Lindsell's harmonization is to say "Lindsell meant well, but the man has limitations."

Nominal Christians who lose their faith for bad reasons are responsible for their folly. 

vi) Let's examine Glenn's worse case scenario: "And this definitely, absolutely will create more Bart Ehrmans. Because now, as soon as they start to doubt inerrancy, they will think that perhaps the Bible isn't even inspired."

To begin with, so what? Should we deny the link between inerrancy and inspiration just because that has unfortunate consequences for doubters? If, as a matter of fact, inspiration implies inerrancy, then why shouldn't they take their denial to the logical conclusion? 

vii) What's the proper response to doubting inerrancy? Consider two possible responses:

a) The Bible seems to be in error. Therefore, the Bible is in error. Inerrancy is false. 

b) The Bible seems to be in error. Therefore, I'm in error. Inerrancy is true, but my interpretation is false, or my understanding of truth and error needs to be refined.

If we doubt the Bible, we should doubt ourselves. 


  1. I think again there's a misconception. I am all in favor of ditching a view of Inerrancy I consider harmful, and that's the kind supported by Geisler and others that wants to ignore historical criticism and to ignore entirely extra-biblical sources. (Though highly selectively as apparently you can use modern science to interpret ancient works like Genesis.) I am of the opinion that we need to redo a statement on Inerrancy, particularly for a new generation in light of new research, like Walton and Sandy's in "The Lost World of Scripture."

    Ehrmans will come and go, but let us not create them needlessly. It would be the same as saying "Let's not make YEC be equated with Christianity." YEC can be false (And is) and Jesus has still risen from the dead. The same with an ICBI view of Inerrancy. That could be false and Jesus still rose from the dead.

    Inspiration and Inerrancy are important, but neither are essential to showing that Jesus rose from the dead. That does not mean that the two former are unimportant, but they are not as important. Inspiration and Inerrancy are still defensible, but we should seek clarification on what we mean by those terms. Have a wooden Inerrancy and you'll make Bart Ehrmans who think the Bible teaches something that it never did. (Evans, Wallace, and others have said Ehrman is on a flight from fundamentalism.)

    Get to the resurrection first and show that and let everything else follow. If the resurrection is true, all the other discussions matter. If it is not true, they're just trivia.

    1. If you think we need to redo the ICBI statement on inerrancy in light of Walton's view of Gen 1, you seem to be blurring the distinction between inerrancy and interpretation. Yet isn't that what you accuse Geisler of doing?

    2. "Inspiration and Inerrancy are important, but neither are essential to showing that Jesus rose from the dead."

      You keep falling back on that trope. I've marshaled a number of arguments to demonstrate the inadequacy of that position. If it's your ambition to become a professional Christian apologist, you need to engage the counterarguments instead of just repeating your slogan.

    3. The arguments against it are an all-or-nothing position which I find to be problematic and is the same kind of mindset held by all fundamentalists across the spectrum. Deal with the mindset first and then answer charges of contradiction and error. If we treat the Biblical account in even the bare minimum way that NT scholars of a non-Christian persuasion do, we still have a powerful case that Jesus rose from the dead. That case must be made before a case for Inerrancy and/or inspiration.

    4. You initiated this discussed in response to my post on Greg Boyd. You solicited my evaluation. When I present a detailed response, you don't even attempt to engage the response. Instead, you keep shadowboxing with Geisler, and reiterating your minimal facts approach. If you refuse to interact with my specific arguments to the contrary, what does that say about your own mindset?

    5. My post was nothing about Greg Boyd. My post was that someone linked to me in the comics and I wanted to address what someone else said there. What you said about Boyd was of no interest to me.

      As for minimal facts, were you familiar with my approach, you would know that the minimal facts is not the main approach I take. It's a secondary approach to my main argument.

      Say what you will about Boyd. It didn't matter to me. I showed up for a different reason.

    6. What I said about Boyd was in relation to inerrancy. And that's the connection in which you commented on my post:

      In response to your solicitation, I wrote a reply:

      Thus far you've done nothing to advance your original claim in response to my specific assessment. That's not a promising sign on the part of an aspiring young apologist.

      When I draw various distinctions, it's incumbent on you to adapt to new challenges. If you're not prepared to do that, then you're just as inflexible in your own way as Geisler.

      I've presented my analysis. If you don't have the time or interest to offer a substantive reply, fine. But so far I've getting an anti-intellectual reaction from you. You brush aside objections and default to your formulaic position.

  2. Who said anything about Walton's work on Genesis 1?

    1. You've done so repeatedly on your blog (Deeper Waters).

    2. I have often referred to Walton's work in understanding Genesis, but have not said because of that book, we need to avoid the Inerrancy debate as it is today. My reasoning for doing so has been because of what has been done to ICBI and because it is often a wooden literalistic viewpoint that gets us away from the main question.

      My reference to Walton here was Walton and Sandy which refers to their work "The Lost World of Scripture" that gets us into the high context of Scripture, which Geisler and others seek to avoid with ICBI.

  3. If you had checked the point on Boyd, you would have seen I was responding to Ron Van. After all, AP posted to my work on the topic. Someone responded. I responded to that. I said nothing to you. I asked a question.

    In the other post, I did reply to you. If you said something beyond my reply then I missed it.

    I also notice you're ignoring that I was referring to another work other than the one you cited and seem unable to acknowledge what my own approach is.

    So if you think you have a concern I have not addressed, then bring it.

    1. You "replied" to me by recycling your stock argument, without engaging the counterargument.

      I didn't cite a specify a particular work by Walton. I didn't mention a title. I referred to his position. He's presented his views on Gen 1 in several different works, including the recent book he coauthored with Sandy.

    2. Nick

      "As for minimal facts, were you familiar with my approach, you would know that the minimal facts is not the main approach I take. It's a secondary approach to my main argument."

      "...and seem unable to acknowledge what my own approach is."

      By your own admission, your methodology includes the minimal facts approach:

      "Now many of us know about the minimal facts approach of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. Many of you also know that I use that approach, but I also use another approach and since the minimal facts is already well known (And if it isn’t, get the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona)I will be here using another approach."

      So it's not as if my statement was uniformed or mischaracterized your position.