Monday, September 08, 2014

Aha moments

Peter Enns has been hosting a series of deconversion testimonials ("aha" moments) about losing faith in the inerrancy of Scripture. Presumably, these anecdotes are more than personal interest stories. Rather, it's an argument from authority. If the Bible scholars in question give these reasons for rejecting the inerrancy of Scripture, then that's why you should too! So let's scrutinize their "aha" moments:

Michael Pahl

I was taught that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, that Deuteronomy’s account of his death and mysterious burial was an instance of prophetic foresight.

How is the fact that Deut 34 is a posthumous obituary incompatible with the inerrancy of Scripture? It doesn't say it was authored by Moses, even though wasn't.

Indeed, vv6,10 clearly imply a posthumous addition. Something written after his demise ("to this day," "not since"). 

Among other things, the posthumous obituary clearly functions to validate the succession from Moses to Joshua (v9). Moreover, it's a transitional pericope, which rounds out the Pentateuch while it leads into the next installment (the Book of Joshua). 

I was taught that Jesus’ words in the Gospels were word-for-word what Jesus said. 

How does that disprove the inerrancy of Scripture? Is inerrancy incompatible with Gospel writers paraphrasing Jesus?  

I was taught that Paul’s gospel was all about how individual sinners get saved, so that after death we can escape hell and enter heaven. 

What, exactly, is wrong with that? I suppose he's alluding to N. T. Wright. What if Wright is mistaken instead? 

I was taught a bunch of things “the Bible says” that I no longer believe the Bible says.

Notice his failure to distinguish between what Scripture teaches and what he was taught Scripture teaches. Why is he unable to draw that elementary distinction?

Michael Ruffin

Me: “That Moses didn’t write everything in those books.”Dad: “Really?”Me: “Yes, really.”Dad: “Huh. Well, I always wondered how Moses managed to write about his own death.”

Here we go again. How is this postscript at odds with the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in general

Daniel Kirk

One example: does Jesus go into the temple to cast out the moneychangers as the climactic moment of his “triumphal entry” (Matthew)? Or does he wait until the next day (Mark)?
For that matter, does Jesus curse it before going to the temple for the clearing incident (Mark)? Or after (Matthew)?Details, details, right?

Why is Kirk assuming that inerrancy entails strict chronological reportage? 

Another: Does the fig tree whither immediately upon being cursed (Matthew)? Or does the withering happen overnight (Mark)? 

i) This assumes that Matthew means instantaneous. That it had to happen all at once. But parachrema simply means a very short interval (cf. Louw & Nida, 67.113).

The point is that it didn't wither naturally. Rather, it withered and died at a miraculously accelerated pace. 

ii) For that matter, It's not as if Mark says the fig tree didn't shrivel up in a few minutes. Even if it had, the disciples didn't have occasion to witness the result until their return-trip. 

But then there are potentially more troubling questions: did Jesus have his last meal with the disciples on Passover (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)? Or was Jesus killed on the day when the Passover Lamb was slaughtered, such that the religious leaders were scrupulous to keep themselves pure for the feast that would take place that night (John)?

I've discussed that issue here:

One of the most compelling things about landing at Fuller Seminary six years ago was finding myself in a Bible Division practically devoid of inerrantists, and yet brimming with Evangelical colleagues who affirm that the Bible is the word of God, who seek it for divine guidance, and who seek God as a direct and active participant in the lives of God’s people.

Really? Elsewhere, Kirk takes the position that we can disregard what Scripture teaches about homosexuality and the historicity of Adam. 

John Byron

The problem, however, as I pointed out to my teacher, is that Jesus got it wrong. The story in 1 Samuel 21 relates how David fled from Saul alone. When he stops at the tabernacle and asks Ahimelek for help the priest enquires why David is alone. David seems to lie when saying that his men well meet him later (v. 2).

To begin with, that fails to distinguish between Jesus accurately describing what 1 Sam 21 says, and whether 1 Sam 21 is, itself, an accurate description of events. Even if, in his (Byron's) opinion, 1 Sam 21 is misleading, that doesn't mean Jesus was wrong when he accurately summarizes the account. Why is Byron unable to draw that rudimentary distinction?

Moreover, Mark has the wrong priest. In 2:26 Jesus states that the priest was Abiather, but 1 Samuel 21 clearly states that it was Ahimelek.

i) If he thinks Jesus was obviously wrong, why didn't Mark quietly correct the mistake rather than drawing attention to the mistake by reproducing the (alleged) misidentification? Presumably, Byron believes the Gospel writers were not above redacting the words of Jesus. Why not save face in this instance?

ii) Surely this was a well-known story in 1C Judaism. So confusing the actors would be surprising.

iii) Treating the two names as interchangeable evidently goes all the back to the source. As one scholar notes, commenting on 2 Sam 8:17, "Also in 1 Chr 24:3,6,31. It seems likely that the order of the names has been transposed because elsewhere Abiathar is consistently said to be the colleague of Zadok," J. Vannoy, 1-2 Samuel (Tyndale 2009), 314.

In that event, Jesus is simply following conventional precedent. If the author of Samuel himself uses these two names interchangeably, it's hardly a mistake for Jesus to emulate the practice of the very source he's alluding to. 

iv) Moreover, it's not hard to see how this would occur. The close association is only natural given the combined fact that you have both a direct genealogical succession as well as a direct priestly succession. As a result, the author of Samuel, as well as the Chronicler, already feel free to substitute one for the other: treating the two men (father/son, fellow priests) as if they were one. 

Byron himself says "In 2 Samuel 8:17 the father/son relationship is reversed and Abiathar is said to be the father of Ahimelech. The same thing happens in 1 Ch 24:6."

He chalks that up to confusion, just as he chalks up Mark's statement (or Christ's statement) to confusion.  Why is "confusion" the first and only explanation he reaches for? If, by his own admission, the intersubstitutability of the names reflects a pattern, why does he assume that's due to confusion rather than intentional? Why not infer that Mark, Samuel, and Chronicles deliberately do that as a way of linking the two figures? What if that's a literary strategy? 

He needs to add some new tools to his explanatory toolkit. His repertoire is too limited. "Confusion" is not the only explanation, much less the best explanation.  

Perhaps Byron never understood inerrancy in the first place. Inerrancy doesn't preclude literary conventions–or intentional theological associations, as a way of connecting two things. 

Chris Tilling

So, yes, I’ve come from a theologically conservative background. Ken Ham this, dinosaurs-lived-with-humans-as-seen-in-Job that.

That's not the background I come out of. And I think Job is referring to chaos monsters, not dinosaurs. 

Even at University, because of that fear, I didn’t make the most of my studies. Rather than downing Barth, Sanders, etc., I stuck to my safe and sure Ken Hams, Benny Hinns, Reinhard Bonnkes, and Josh McDowells.

Why is he making Benny Hinn et al. the standard of comparison for the inerrancy of Scripture? 

Instead, he argued, an inductive approach, one which refused the deductively logical wringer of inerrancy, allowed the Bible itself to shape our doctrine of Scripture. 

That's such a musty old chestnut. Does he even have any firsthand knowledge of how writers like Warfield proceed? Warfield's method is inductive, not deductive. He begins with the self-witness of Scripture. 

One particular “aha” moment came when listening to a Walter Brueggemann lecture on “The character of God in the OT.”Brueggemann pointed out that the Bible could say some astonishingly strange things about God, for example:

  • the contrast between what Deuteronomy 23:1-3 and Isaiah 56:3-5 have to say about who God says can be admitted to the assembly,
Why does Tilling imagine that contradicts inerrancy? The Mosaic cultus was temporary by design. Isa 56 is looking forward to a new era, after the Mosaic cultus served its purpose. 
  • Jeremiah 20:7 and God “overpowering” Jeremiah,
  • 1 Kings 22:20-22, where God’s actions seem devious,
How is that inconsistent with the inerrancy of Scripture? Does it conflict with Tilling's preconception of what God is like? If so, then Tilling is operating with a "deductive" theological methodology. He begins with his preconceived idea of what God ought to be like. If Scripture challenges his preconception, then he rejects the Scriptural depiction. 
  • Exod 4:24, where God “tried” to kill Moses.
i) To begin with, it's not clear that Moses is the target. The Hebrew text doesn't specify the referrent. Some scholars think it refers to the firstborn son of Moses.
ii) More to the point, the reason that God only "tries" to kill Moses is to give Zipporah time to intervene. It's like oracles of doom, which are implicitly conditional. A threat which gives the audience an opportunity to repent and thereby avert disaster.  
Anthony Le Donne

So I looked for the gist of God’s words through Ezra. The underlying message—it occurred to me—was that interracial marriage is sinful and disastrous to the purity of bloodlines. This teaching seemed remarkably similar to my grandmother’s disapproval of my parents’ relationship because my father was dark-skinned.I’m not claiming that my 16-year-old exegesis was all that sophisticated. But any way you slice it, Ezra 9-10 is deeply troubling—especially so to folks with an owner’s manual view of the Bible.

Ezra isn't about racial purity. Why is Le Donne unable to distinguish between interracial marriage and interfaith marriage? 

Sure, he was only 16 at the time, but the problem is that he hasn't thought better of his misinterpretation in the intervening years. For him to repeat it at this stage is downright dumb. 

Christopher Keith

Second, I was astonished at how (some) defenders of inerrancy and the like treated those who held alternative views.When they went through their lists of heroes and villains in class, almost all their villains were other Christians, and usually other conservative Christians.  Their language for them was sometimes vitriolic, always patronizing, and almost always de-humanizing.
It seems that, in their Bibles, Jesus said that we should love our enemies unless they disagree with us theologically or hermeneutically, in which case it’s alright to mistreat them. 

Notice Keith's hyperbolic characterization of his theological opponents. 

Carlos Bovell

An inerrantist historical Jesus scholar, for example, is not able to say that the early church put words into Jesus’ mouth in various portions of the Gospels or that a number of events recounted in the Gospels never really took place, being made up by a later generation of well-meaning disciples. Evangelical philosophy will already have decided these matters ahead of time. 

Notice the conflict between Keith and Bovell. Keith faults inerrantists for (allegedly) disregarding the statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. By contrast, Bovell faults inerrantists for reaffirming the statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. Well, you can't have it both ways. If Bovell is right, then Keith is wrong to naively cite statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept Keith's tendentious interpretation and application, did Jesus say we should love are enemies? Or are those words which the early church put into his mouth–a la Bovell? 

Christopher Skinner

This meant that despite my misgivings, there had to be a way to reconcile the conflicting genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.From Abraham to Jesus, Matthew lists only 41 names while Luke lists 57. At the time I thought Matthew’s omission of names must be some kind of rhetorical device. However, more problematic for me was the realization that of the 41 names Matthew and Luke should have had in common, they agree on only 17.

Why should they have 41 names in common? Are they not allowed to have different selection criteria? 

Christopher Keith

I suppose I could trot out the traditional fare concerning the realities of Scripture that produced “aha moments”:  the day of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Synoptic Gospels and John;

Been there, done that (see above)

 David’s census in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21; 

See below.

Paul’s Hagar allegory in Galatians 4; 

How is that a problem for inerrancy? Is Keith's unstated objection that Paul's "Hagar allegory" violates the original intent of Genesis? But even if that's the case, of Paul's treatment is intentionally allegorical, then how does that conflict with inerrancy? 

Keep in mind, too, that some scholars regard Paul's treatment as typological rather than allegorical. Moreover, it's an argument from analogy. So the question is whether his comparison is logically invalid. 

the sexual violence and erotic language in Judges 19, Ezekiel 23, and Song of Solomon.  Let’s include in that mix the stories of Tamar and Onan, which somehow never made it into youth group talks.

Notice how he lumps these together without any explanation or discrimination:

i) Does he think erotic language per se conflicts with inerrancy? If so, how so? Is sex evil? 

ii) Does he think it's wrong for Scripture to depict sexual violence? Does he think historians condone everything they record? Is he unable to distinguish between the narrator's viewpoint and what the narrator relates? 

iii) Does he think it's wrong to use graphic language to depict graphic sin? Does he think the Bible should be like the Hallmark channel? 

When one text says God made David take a census and another says Satan did, well, we call that a contradiction in any other realm of communication.

We do? Truman is often faulted for bombing Hiroshima. Yet Truman didn't drop bomb. Paul Tibbets did. Truman didn't pilot the Enola Gay. 

It is contradictory for critics to attribute that event to Truman when Tibbets was the real culprit? Since Truman gave the order, is it wrong to finger him as the agent ultimately responsible for that event? Assuming that was a blameworthy decision, is it not logical to blame Truman? Even if you think Tibbets was culpable to some degree, is it not logical to assign primary blame to Truman? Had he not given the order, it would never have happened.

My point is not to debate the merits of bombing Hiroshima. My point is that, far from calling that a contradiction in any other realm of communication, we routinely distinguish between direct and indirect agency. Examples could be multiplied ad infinitum. 

For me—like so many others have done—all I needed to do was read the first two chapters of the Bible, the creation accounts in  Genesis 1 and 2.Genesis 1 presents the world as created in six days. If we take the sequence literally, things are created in this order: light, sky, earth, plants, stars and sun and moon, aquatic animals, birds, land animals, and, finally humans in large number. In other words, humans—and many of them—are created last.But when we come to Genesis 2, the one human (Adam) is created first, even before plants had grown (Gen 2:5). After the human is made, God sows a garden and plants begin to sprout. After this, God begins the process of identifying a suitable companion for the human.

i) To begin with, the sequence of Gen 1 only contradicts the sequence of Gen 2 on the assumption that both accounts describe the same event. If, by contrast, they describe different events, we wouldn't expect them to synchronize.

ii) Apropos (i), Gen 1 & 2 aren't separate accounts or coincident accounts. Rather, they overlap. Gen 2 doesn't describe the creation of plants and animals in general–unlike Gen 1. Rather, Gen 2 describes the creation of the garden, the creation of plants and animals in and for the garden, in preparation for Adam and Eve, as their original home. And it details the creation of Adam and Eve.  

iii) And even if, for the sake of argument, the sequence of Gen 1 differs from the sequence of Gen 2, that wouldn't impugn the inerrancy of Scripture unless you assume Bible writers must narrate events in their historical order, or that this was the narrator's intention. 

Frankly, the contributors which Enns recruited for his series lack basic thinking skills. 

Christopher Hays

2 Peter 2:15 mentions false teachers who have gone astray like Balaam, the prophet from Numbers 22:5 who was hired by King Balak to curse the Israelites. Some manuscripts of 2 Peter 2:15 called him “Balaam son of Beor” (which is what Numbers 22:5 calls him); other manuscripts of 2 Peter 2:15 call him “Balaam of Bosor,” which, as we’ll see in a moment, makes no sense at all.
“Beor” is a person’s name; it was the name of Balaam’s dad (his patronymic). Bosor is the name of a city (a.k.a. Bosorra). The problem is: the older, better manuscripts called him “Balaam of Bosor,” but Balaam wasn’t from anywhere near Bosor, which is in the land of Gilead. According to Numbers 22:5, Balaam was from “Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw.”

That fails to draw an obvious distinction between where someone was born, where he grew up, and where he resides. That can represent three or more different locations.

The name Beor actually occurs in a genealogy (a king-list) that is copied three times in the Old Testament (Gen 36.33; 1 Cor 1.44; Job 42:17c [LXX only]). That genealogy mentions a king whose name was “Bela son of Beor,” who in turn was succeeded by a guy from the city of Bosorra (Bosor). And in one version of the genealogy (the LXX of Job 42), the king “Bela son of Beor” is actually called “Balak son of Beor”.
Now the King Balak son of Beor in this genealogy is a different King Balak (of Moab) than the one that hired Balaam son of Beor in Numbers. But you can see how people might get confused: same patronymic, similar sounding first names. You’re probably confused already! And so were some ancient Jews.
In fact, when you read the genealogy in ancient Aramaic translations of the Old Testament (the “targums”), which were already popular at the time of Jesus, you can see that they sometimes actually changed the name of King Bela/Balak son of Beor to Balaam son of Beor.
Since there was already a history of confusion over the Balaams and Balaks and Beors in the Numbers story and the genealogy, it seemed really understandable that the author of 2 Peter would be caught up in the flow and reproduce the same mistake.

i) Assuming for the sake of argument that that's why Peter calls him Balaam of Bosor, why would that be a mistake? If, by Peter's time, that designation was a literary tradition, how is Peter in error for repeating that convention? Is it erroneous to call New Orleans the Big Easy or New York the Big Apple? For that matter, Is it erroneous to say New York rather than New Amsterdam, which was the original designation? 

Christopher Hays has an artificial notion of naming. If enough people call a place by a certain name, that becomes the correct name, even if that's not the original name. Charleston has a suburb that used to be called St. Andrew's Parish. But people began calling it West Ashley. So that became the new name. 

ii) In addition, Christopher Hays disregards alternative explanations. Most commentators (e.g. Richard Bauckham, Peter Davids, Michael Green, Douglas Moo, Tom Schreiner) think this is a play on words. They think Peter is punning the Hebrew basar to make Balaam a "son of flesh," trading on the pejorative connotations of carnality. As Schreiner notes, Peter has a penchant for ironic punning. 

iii) One exception is Gene Green, who questions that interpretation, wondering why Bosor would be used instead of Basar, the transliteration of the Hebrew word for "flesh."

But do we know how Greek and Hebrew were pronounced in the 1C? In fact, Davids says of basar that "the first 'a' can be read as a short 'o' in some circumstances" (242n51).

Consider how Yankees pronounce New Orleans compared to the locals. Or consider how South Carolinians pronounce Beaufort. Pronunciation is highly variable in time and place. 

Likewise, many American cities have Indian names. But the Indian names are Anglicized. A "corruption" of the original word, phrase, or pronunciation. Yet that's the correct designation. 

iv) Even so, Green doesn't think Peter is mistaken. After discussing Num 22:5 & 23:7, he concludes that this "could, in fact, come from someone who knew the region and the whole Balaam story quite well (289). 

So these are the intellectual luminaries whom Enns showcases to disprove inerrancy. 


  1. Many of their objections against inerrancy appear to be taken from the same pages as (village) atheist objections against inerrancy. Perhaps a bit warmed over for a Christian audience, but fundamentally the same.

    However, if so-called evangelicals can jettison inerrancy on basically the same grounds as atheists, then I wonder what's keeping them from taking an extra step or two and becoming outright atheists? What's holding them back?

  2. Great stuff!
    About the geneologys in Matthew and Luke, I'd like to know more about that.
    I still don't quite grasp how it works.
    (If you've already talked about it, I couldn't find it in the search box sorry)

    1. Hard to say because we don't know what they started with. All we have is the end-product. Clearly Matthew is using septunarian numerology as part of his selection criteria.

      There's also the question of how Matthew and Luke define ancestry. Is it just a biological father/son relation, or is it more flexible? For instance, Luke calls Adam God's son. That's metaphorical. What about stepfathers, &c.?

      Here's a discussion of Luke's genealogy:

    2. Alex,

      In addition to searching our archives with Blogger's search engine, you can search with Google and look for our posts in our two topical indexes linked under the Triablogue graphic. Here are several of our posts on the genealogies:

  3. Each testimonial sounds like a slightly more sophisticated variation of the same basic theme: "I trust, and believe the Bible is the very inspired Word of God, except for the parts I don't".

  4. This is excellent material. Thanks, Steve.

  5. Regarding Mark/Abiathar, isn't there a simpler explanation available? Namely that Jesus did not say that it was Abiathar who was the current high priest, only that it was "in the time of" Abiathar, which need only imply that he was alive, or perhaps simply around the time of his life or term of office.

  6. I checked the sources I have at home. Hendricksen's commentary says

    "It is true that at the moment when the bread was given to David and his men and consumed by them, Abiathar was not as yet the highpriest. This, however, does not prove that Mark-really Jesus, for Mark is reporting his words-was in error when he said "in the days of Abiathar the highpriest." It is not at all unusual to designate a place or a man by a name which did not belong to it or to him until later. Thus Gen. 12:8 mentions "Bethel," though in the days of Abraham it was still called "Luz" (Gen. 28:19). We do the same thing even today. We say, "It happened in Marne (Michigan)," when we mean, "It happened in Berlin, which today is called Marne." Or, "The house was sold to Gen. Smith," though we know very well that at the time when Smith became the owner of the house he was not as yet a General. Scripture contains many examples of abbreviated expression-on which see N.T.C. on John, Vol. I, p. 206-, and so does our everyday conversation."

    In Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties:

    "A careful examination of Mark 2:26 reveals that Christ did not actually imply that Abiathar was already high priest at the time of David's visit. He simply said, "Epi Abiathar archiereos," which means "in the time of Abiathar the high priest." As things turned out, bloody King Saul soon had Ahimelech and the entire priestly community of Nob massacred by Doeg the Edomite (1 Sam. 22:18-19); and Abiathar the son of Ahimelech was the only one fortunate enough to escape. He fled to join David (v. 20) and served as his priest all through David's years of wandering and exile. Naturally he was appointed high priest by David after David became king, and he shared the high priesthood with Zadok, Saul's appointee, until David's death. Under these circumstances it was perfectly proper to refer to Abiathar as the high priest - even though his appointment as such came somewhat later, after the incident at Nob- just as it would be proper to introduce an anecdote by saying, "Now when King David was a shepherd boy," even though David was not actually a king at the time he was a shepherd boy.

    According to W.F Arndt and F.w. Gingrich (A greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Chicago: University of Chicago, 1957], p. 286), epi with the genitive simply means "in the time of"; and that is the meaning that applies in Mark 2:26 (the same construction as Acts 11:28 ["in the time of Claudius"] and Heb. 1:2 ["in the time of the last of these days"...]). The episode did happen "in the time of" Abiathar; he was not only alive but actually present when the event took place, and he very shortly afterward became high priest as a result of Saul's murdering his father, Ahimelech. If Jesus' words are interpreted in the way He meant them, there is absolutely no variance with historical fact."

  7. It seems to me that many of these unfortunate folks were unduly confident in their own ability to tackle these difficulties on their own. For many of them, a simple google search could have set them straight. How lazy and how sad that anyone would have their confidence in the Word of God so easily shaken.

    For those who chucked inerrancy or chucked the faith before the age of the internet, they certainly could have checked the reasonably-dated sources that I cited in the above post (well, they are dated enough that their authors are dead).

  8. It's amazing to me that Satan's oldest trick, "Yea hath God said?", is apparently still just as effective today as it was in the garden. Just goes to show human nature hasn't changed. Our disposition to trust in ourselves instead of trusting God runs deep.