A Compelling Case against Inerrancy?

I’m reading Thom Stark’s new book arguing against biblical inerrancy, The Human Faces of God (Wipf & Stock, 2011). In the preface Stark says this about proponents of inerrancy:

“As for died-in-the-wool fundamentalists and biblical apologists, I have no expectations that anything I have said within the pages that follow will convert them (although I hope it will); neverthless, I have tried to pay them the deep respect of extensively engaging their arguments” (p. xvii).

I have to say that I am forearmed against believing that Stark will meet the ideal of that last sentence. I have just perused Stark’s bibliography, and there is not a single reference to the work of Greg Beale, Timothy Ward, D. A. Carson, or John Woodbridge. Has he really paid his respects? It doesn’t sound like it. So far, not so good.


  • Greg Monette

    I’m curious what you will think about this book. Would you be comfortable doing a chapter by chapter review for your blog? – Greg Monette

  • Thom Stark

    I had in mind my extensive engagement with different Evangelical apologists, Denny, such as Christopher Wright, Tom Wright, Gleason Archer, Walter Kaiser, Norman Geisler and the other drafters of the CSBI, etc. But many of the arguments made by your favored apologists are not original to them, and are of course addressed in my book as well. I look forward to reading your book review.

  • Daniel

    However, since Carson and Beale have written some of the most recent defenses of inerrancy, it may have been wise to interact with their works. Beale’s exegetical defense of inerrancy from various passages in Revelation is fairly original to him.

    As much as I appreciate Tom Wright’s work, I don’t think of him as being a passionate defender of inerrancy. In his book on the authority of Scripture, he stated that he preferred the term “reliability” over the word “inerrancy.”

  • Thom Stark


    Even if Revelation claimed something like inerrancy, that doesn’t make it true. There seems to be some confusion, however. My book does not deal primarily with official “defenses of inerrancy.” I cover that somewhat in the first few chapters. But the main thrust of my book deals with specific issues (polytheism, human sacrifice, propaganda, genocide, and apocalypticism), and thus my engagement with Tom Wright concerns not “inerrancy” but how to interpret the Olivet Discourse. I’m sure Denny will have much to say by way of criticism, but it’s probably not the best idea to critique it for being something other than what Denny ostensibly expected it to be.

  • Thom Stark

    The main object of my criticism when it comes to inerrancy is the CSBI, and that’s because of the controversial role it has played in recent years within the ETS. I engage the CSBI extensively, and that took up enough space. Moreover, my arguments there cover the kind of argument Beale makes when he tries to prove inerrancy by arguing that certain texts claim something like inerrancy. At any rate, the quote Denny pulled from my preface says that I engaged “extensively” with Evangelicals, not “exhaustively.” Denny’s rhetoric depends upon a conflation of those two domains. I’m sorry if I disappointed him, but again, I think this has more to do with Denny’s own expectations than anything I actually claimed about the content of the book. Nevertheless, I still look forward to his review. I expect that after he’s finished reading it, he’ll have a better grasp of the approach I’m taking and the primary arguments I’m making. It’s difficult to have a whole perspective based on having read the preface and bibliography.

    All the best,

    • Daniel

      Perhaps you should give us a taste of the book’s argument. Why this is a misguided question? Give me a preview. You might spark my interest and I’ll buy your book.

      • Thom Stark

        Just to clarify, I’m not trying to make a sale. If you bought a copy that would pay for about a third of a gallon of gas. πŸ™‚ Anyway, here are two (of several) reasons. I argue that the Bible is a collection of books, not a single book, and that many of the books of the Bible are arguing with one another (sometimes even different sources within the same book are arguing with each other). Thus, from my perspective it makes no sense to say that I do not accept what the Bible says on a particular point, because the Bible may contain different views on the matter, and I may agree with one view while disagreeing with another. From my perspective, on several matters I cannot agree with “the Bible” without also disagreeing with it.

        Secondly, “the Bible” never makes any claim about “itself.” Only certain authors make claims about certain texts within what we now call the Bible. But not every author of the Bible might agree with those authors or that view of scripture. Indeed, if in fact some books and sources are intentionally arguing with other books and sources in what is now the canon, then those authors would certainly disagree with any other biblical author who (may or may not) claim that “the Bible” is inerrant. Thus, again we do not have “the Bible” making a claim about itself, but a few authors within the Bible making claims that reflect the views of certain groups within Judaism at a certain time. At most that’s what we can say we have. To say that I “do not agree with what the Bible says about itself” is therefore, from my perspective, to confuse the reality of the sources we have.

        I don’t at present have time to debate the issue, but you asked for a “taste,” and there’s a very small one. I argue that this is the only consistent historical-grammatical approach to the question, and that inerrantists shoot themselves in the foot whenever they assert that the historical-grammatical hermeneutic is the only valid hermeneutic. I argue at some length that in fact many of inerrantists’ axiomatic hermeneutical principles contradict a historical-grammatical hermeneutic, such as (for instance) the principle that “the Bible is the best interpreter of itself.”

        I should also point out that I am a person of faith, who hopes in God. I simply no longer have faith in the doctrine of inerrancy or in the reliability of all that scripture affirms. I know you’ll probably have questions. I try to answer as many of them as I feel can be honestly answered in the book.

        Hope that helps clarify where I’m coming from.


  • Jason

    Thom wrote,

    “Even if Revelation claimed something like inerrancy, that doesn’t make it true. ”

    I’m not sure what else would need to be said about the matter of Thom’s interpretive grid.

    I, for one, very much appreciate Thom’s candor in the matter.

  • Thom Stark


    There’s plenty more to be said about my interpretive grid (as well as the interpretive grid of inerrantists), and much of it is said in the book. But I appreciate that you appreciate my candor! πŸ™‚

  • Jason

    You bet! Always clarity first, for it makes it very hard to discern what a person is trying to say until we better understand their assumptions about the matter. There are too many word games and semantic shmushings, so to say as you did in the quote is very helpful to many of us.

    Take care, Thom.

  • Jason

    Please forgive the redundancy, my 1.67G phone is not a help to me. i could not see my previous comments, so, of course, they didn’t exist. until they did.

  • Thom Stark

    No worries! I was however about to attribute your triplets to different sources, J, S, and N, since each version of the comment had minor variations that emphasized different things.


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