Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Keller and McLaren on Inerrancy

Tim Keller, Brian McLaren and Alistair McGrath recently sat together for a panel discussion about the Bible. I listened to the whole conversation last week and thought it would be worth passing on to you. On the topic of inerrancy, Keller expressed his clear support for the doctrine while McLaren voiced opposition. Alistair McGrath said he thought the term “inerrancy” was unhelpful.

I can hardly improve upon Kevin DeYoung’s commentary about this video. You can read it here. Nevertheless, I would like to offer a couple reflections of my own.

First, it is striking how far evangelicals have fallen from first principles. The authority of the Bible in all its parts used to be a defining evangelical belief. But now it is considered within the evangelical pale to deny that truth. That Brian McLaren’s hackneyed objections are considered serious evangelical fare these days is a most unhappy and unwelcome declension.

Second, I have noticed that some British evangelicals are trying to do a theological end-run around the inerrancy question, and that’s precisely what McGrath does here. They simply regard inerrancy as a curious North American dispute that has no relevance anywhere else on the planet. It reminds me of N. T. Wright’s book on the authority of scripture in which he doesn’t even discuss inerrancy (see my review here). As a practical matter, this parochializing of the question will not work. Either the Bible is authoritative and true in all that it teaches, or it is not. If it is not, then who gets to decide how we distinguish which parts are reliable and which parts aren’t? Furthermore, what does this say about the character of God who then would be responsible for inspiring error? These are not small questions, and British evangelicals evade the issue by treating it as a North American peculiarity.

Watch the video. Read DeYoung’s review. The inerrancy battle is not over, and it won’t be for some time.


  • Mike Bird

    Denny, re: McGrath, let me explain. In Australia we don’t have Burger King, we have Hungry Jacks. It’s basically the same franchise with basically the same menu. However, there are subtle differences. For a start, we call it Hungry Jacks not Burger King. Also, we have some unique burgers like the “Aussie Whopper”. Australians usually put beetroot on their hamburgers. There is a different decor as well. By analogy, we have the same doctrine of Scripture with you guys, but some of the wrappings and ingredients that go into our “whopper” is different? You dig!

    There’s an excellent article in EQ by Stephen Holmes on this. Things to remember are: (1) UK statements of faith have not, with a few recent exceptions, used the word inerrancy (e.g. UCCF, etc.). (2) We have not experienced the Fundamentalist vs. Liberal debates or the Bible-Wars in the way that the USA has. (3) Focus on the autographs has not been a staple of historic doctrines of Scripture.

    So we all agree that the Bible is true, the issue is why do we have to use the grammar and theological texture of the 19th-20th century American theologians in order to be kosher. Our confessions of faith and doctrinal statements have been around longer than your country. We like them just fine and do not feel the need to change them.

    Can you see the point?

    I go into this a bit in my intro to the book “The Sacred Text”.

  • Denny Burk

    Thanks for the comment, Mike. I’m less interested in “inerrancy” as a shibboleth than I am in the substance of it. Is it really true that British evangelicals agree with the substance of it even if they don’t like the word? It seems that folks like A.T.B. McGowan would question both the substance of it and the word.

    (I look forward to seeing you mix it up with Wright in November!)

  • Mike Bird

    Denny, I think the substance of USA and UK evangelical doctrines of Scripture are similar. I haven’t heard anyone argue for “errancy”. Even McGowan explicitly disavows errancy. There might be a bit more than to it than “a rose by any other name”. My reading of the situ is that some feel that Inerrancy is going “a bridge too far” and overreaching what can be demonstrated. I think that was James Orr’s position. I would be interested in seeing a trans-Atlantic definition of biblical veracity could both sides could agree on. I think that is still to be done. I am convinced they have more in common than what separates them. But UK approaches perhaps seem less refined and less weighted than their USA counter-parts.

  • S. Daniel Owens

    The major problem I have with your post is the part, “in all that it teaches.” Who gets to decide what the Scriptures are teaching? White, American, middle-aged, (ultra?) conservative Baptists?

    The reason I ask is because this (mainly) seems to be the only group who wants to make it an issue. I mean does the Bible speak about a false cosmology enough to say it is teaching it?

    Let’s just face it. Inerrancy was a word developed a long time ago in a battle far far away. U still hunt with a musket? How dare you abandon first principles. 🙂

    *since computers still lack a sarcasm font I note it here*

    Have a nice day,

  • Donald Johnson

    Denny wrote: “Either the Bible is authoritative and true in all that it teaches, or it is not.”

    My take is that the idea of total concordism fails, it might be a reasonable assumption when first approaching the Bible, after all God knows everything and much more than I ever will. But upon examination, it fails and it fails exactly because God accomodates his revelation to people who lived long ago so that the original readers would understand it. That is, God is not a liar, but he accomodated his revelation to those people back then, using THEIR categories of understanding reality.

  • Roger Fink

    I recently attended a class conversation held in Houston where Dr. Peter Williams, Warden (CEO) of Tyndale House and a member of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, gave a defense of scriptural inerrancy. It is worth researching his argument.

  • RD

    Why can’t the Bible be viewed as True without having to be viewed as factually inerrant? For example, the Bible expresses that Jesus is God incarnate. It also offers us three different accounts of how Jesus became so. Which account is factually correct? There are two distinct gospel narratives that tell two different stories of Jesus’ conception by the spirit and subsequent birth (he was born divine). And we have Paul’s thinking as reflected in Romans 1 where he states that God appointed Jesus as God’s son when God raised Jesus from the dead (in fact, Paul so offhandedly makes the comment that it seems, to him, that this reality of how Jesus became divine is commonly understood and no further explanation or discussion about it is needed; certainly Paul, when describing Jesus in Galatians, does not indicate that he believed Jesus’ conception and birth to have been anything other than normal). All three depictions can’t be factually true so the Bible clearly contains errors regarding the facts of how Jesus embodied God.

  • Chris

    Actually Paul adds “with power” so no there is no confusion in Romans 1.

    If there is any error involved in scripture it is in our own ignorance and/or blindness.

  • David Vinzant

    The reason you can’t see (or admit) the errors, Chris, is because you start with the belief that any error you perceive is due to your “ignorance and/or blindness.” Thus, you rationalize away the multitude of obvious mistakes and contradictions that you would pounce on if you saw them in the Book of Mormon or Qu’ran.

    Would any of you accept C.S. Lewis as a good evangelical?

  • Chris

    David I am not here to convince you of the inerrancy of the bible but any logical person can see once you believe that the bible has errors then it becomes all relative.

    I rationalize nothing but I also avoid the hubris of deciding for myself what is true or not!

    BTW I see no obvious mistakes or unresolvable contradictions. Perhaps you need to study further?

  • David Vinzant

    I don’t understand what you mean by “any logical person can see once you believe that the bible has errors then it becomes all relative.” Please explain.

    You say, “I also avoid the hubris of deciding for myself what is true or not!” yet you insist that the Bible is inerrant. Do you see the contradiction?

    There are dozens of historical and scientific mistakes and hundreds of clear contradictions. I have studied this in great depth.

  • MatthewS


    I would be curious to know what you consider to be an example of one or two of the most egregious examples of a mistake or a contradiction.

  • Chris

    David what I mean is that if you believe the bible has errors in it then where are they? Who gets to decide what is an error or not? Who gets to decide what is true or not? See the problem? We already see this played out right now in front of our eyes.

    There is no contradiction because I accept Gods word as absolute truth. So there is zero pride involved because I am taking my sinful self out of the truth determining position.

    Once again I see no unresolvable contradictions. If you do than I suggest you prayerfully go back and study in greater depth!

  • RD

    Chris, how does the fact that Paul states “with power” change the fact that he never discusses Jesus being born of a virgin? He clearly indicates that the source of Jesus’ divinity is the result of a special annointing of God at the time of the resurrection.

    MatthewS, I’m certain David will present some of the results of his study of scripture with regard to errors and contradictions. I can’t help but point to the two versions of the birth of Jesus that we are given in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as pretty strong examples of error and contradiction between two biblical sources.

  • Chris

    Why is that important to you? Is not Matthew’s and Luke’s word enough?

    No what Paul is saying that Christ came into His full power only after the resurrection because the resurrection is the defining moment. In no way does it imply that Jesus was not divine before.

    It’s amazing the fallacious interpretations that come into play when inerrancy is discarded.

  • RD


    I think you are reading the verse in Romans through the lens of a predetermined theology. The common understanding is that Jesus is God’s son because he was born of a virgin through the incarnational power of the spirit of God. Since this is our common understanding we make the assumption that Paul would have clearly known this and believed this to be true, especially since it is what we have recorded for us in the gospels. But the Matthew story and the Luke story were written years after Paul died. Paul certainly understands Jesus to be divine and to be God’s son, but I believe that his thoughts on how that happened did not involve a virgin birth.

    The fact that Matthew and Luke both recount a story about Jesus being born of a virgin indicates that there was some story being circulated within the earliest Christian communities about how, exactly, Jesus was both human and divine. But the fact that both accounts are so drastically different also shows that different communities had different understandings and beliefs about the birth story and how it actually took place.

    This is what I meant when I said in a previous comment that one only need look to these two accounts to find a solid example of Biblical disagreement or inconsistency. Matthew has Joseph taking Jesus and Mary into Egypt in order to escape the wrath of King Herod. Luke never mentions anything about Herod wanting to kill Jesus. They stay there for some prolonged period of time, returning only after Herod has died. And they end up in Nazareth, according to Matthew, only after trying to return to Bethlehem to live but being fearful when they discovered that Herod’s sons had taken over. Now, in Luke’s account Jesus is taken to the temple on the 8th day following his birth, and the account then states that immediately following the temple visit Joseph and Mary return home to Nazareth. Within 9 or 10 days of his birth, according to Luke, the Holy family is on their way home to Nazareth.

    The two accounts are completely different with regard to their understanding of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. How can one read each acccount separately and comparitively and not clearly see this?

  • RD

    Chris, the only two gospel authors who are supposed to have been eyewitnesses are Matthew and John. When you read these two accounts, though, the differences between them are multiple. They couldn’t be more different, really. They can’t even agree on what day Jesus was actually crucified!

  • RD

    Chris, it’s not a matter of being smart enough. I’m a high school graduate with no higher education. It’s got nothing to do with that. My point is that there is an accepted theological framework within which the Christian narrative has historically been presented. Church tradition has much to do with it, and reformation ideas that have been brought forward to our own day. I’m not saying that there isn’t Biblical truth. There most definitely is. I’m saying that there has always been multiple ideas about Jesus among his dedicated followers. We can see this within our own scriptures. And these different ideas and expressions are often where the discrepencies lie. I realize that millions of Christians believe the Bible is inerrant and infallible and that it is a direct message from the mind of God, supernaturally recorded through various writers. There are also millions of others who love Jesus, love the church, love God who don’t hold this belief. What concerns me is that those who hold to inerrancy often seem to believe (and teach) that those who don’t are not really saved or not really true followers of Jesus.

  • Chris

    I understand where you are coming from! I am not prepared to say what others are saying. However I think as soon as we discard inerrancy we are in big trouble.

    If you start to think forward about future generations, what you will see is a completely lost generation without biblical truth because it has been picked over, edited, redacted and rewitten by those that think that they, suddenly in the 21st century, have some kind of divine revelation that has been missed by thousands of years of scholars and theologians.

    Clearly the bible, as written, as is, as inerrant truth, has influenced humanities course in a positive way. It has clearly revealed the Gospel, transformed lives and has served its divine purposes. What’s missing? What are you looking for? What exactly is not happening because scripture is considered inerrant?

  • RD

    “If you start to think forward about future generations, what you will see is a completely lost generation without biblical truth…”

    Chris, if you and I had lived in 325 a.d. and were having this discussion, we would be appalled at the theological turn Christianity had taken had we been able to see past 1510 and the Reformation. Looking into the future from that vantage point would have seemed as theologically tenuous as looking to the future might seem to us today.

    “What’s missing? What are you looking for? What exactly is not happening because scripture is considered inerrant?”

    Well, the way many Christians view the role of women would be very different if scripture wasn’t literally interpreted. Many Christians views concerning homosexuality, earth sciences, cosmology, scientific research would be very different if scripture wasn’t interpreted literally. Theological ideas about hell and atonement would be different for many Christians if scripture wasn’t viewed as the literal inerrant infallible hand-written message of God to man.

  • David Vinzant


    I have engaged in many discussions with Christians about fallacies in the Bible and have also read many of the works that purport to resolve all contradictions. For every item that a common sense reading would show to be a contradiction, Christians and Jews have had thousands of years to devise multiple ways to explain away any problem. What they don’t usually realize is that those same techniques can be used to prove the inerrancy of any book, holy or un.

    At any rate, I will give you one of my favorites, which is actually a threefer:

    Mk 2:25-26

    25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions” (NIV).

    This reference to events described in 1 Sam 21:1-9 contains three mistakes and at least one theological problem.

    1) There was no “house of God” until the building of the temple. Actually the OT itself is in conflict on this matter. 1 Sam 1-3 refers to a temple at Shiloh, whereas other passages state that God lived in a tent or tabernacle before Solomon’s temple was built. But, never does the OT refer to a “house of God” at Nob. David is not said to “enter” anything in the 1 Sam account.

    2) David was not with any companions in 1 Sam 21. He had fled hurriedly from Saul. The priest noticed that David was alone and asked him about it. David lied, saying that he was on a secret mission from Saul and that he was to meet his companions at a certain place. In fact, David was completely alone and ran from Nob to Gath, where he pretended to be mad. Then he escaped to the cave of Adullum, where he is finally joined by others.

    3) The most obvious error is the statement “in the days of Abiathar the high priest.” In fact, the high priest at the time of this incident was Ahimelech. At a later time, Ahimelech’s son Abiathar does become high priest and, along with Zadok, is one of the most prominent priests in David’s kingdom. This would have been an easy mistake for Jesus or Mark to make. It is significant to note that when Matthew (12:3-8) and Luke (6:3-5) repeat this story, they both omit the reference to Abiathar. Apparently they realized this mistake, although they did repeat Mark’s mistakes about the “house of God” and “companions.”

    I won’t go into the theological difficulties here, but they involve Jesus’ use of 1 Sam 21 to justify violation of the law and the assertion elsewhere in the OT that David never sinned (except in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah).

  • Charlton Connett


    I might posit that your identification of an “error” is a real stretch, just based on what the text itself says. To deal with your “contradictions” in reverse order:

    3) Abiathar was not the high priest at the time of the incident. You’re right, his father, Ahimelech was. However, being that Abiathar was his son, and became high priest immediately following the incident (his father’s whole family was killed, he would be the only successor to the position) and, as you pointed out, he was one of the most well known high priests of David’s kingdom, it would be reasonable to speak of this as “In the days of Abiathar the high priest.” The fact is that this did happen in his day, and he was the one who went on to be the high priest. There is no error in speaking of the time in that way.

    It would be like me speaking of “in the days of Victoria, queen of England,” and referencing something that happened when she was a child. Sure, I could say “in the days of George III” in reference to an event in the early days of Victoria’s life, but queen Victoria is the best known figure of the time. If I want to get people to quickly think of a period of time without reference to a specific date, using a particularly famous figure who was alive at that time, even if they had not yet achieved whatever role they were well known for, is the most useful method of so doing. Remember, in Jesus time there was no “294 BC” so referring to a particular king’s reign, or a particular high priest would be the best method to set the time period.

    2) 1 Samuel 21:4-5 indicates that it is possible that David did have some companions with him. Yes, David fled from the king, and yes, Ahimelech notes that he is “alone.” But, note that Ahimelech says that he will give David some bread, and bread for those he is going to meet, as long as women have been kept from them. David’s response is that women have been kept from the young men. Thus, while David was fleeing from Saul, it is possible that he met with someone else and that he gave them some of this bread (as he was traveling to Gath). If Ahimelech gave David enough bread for multiple men, as seems to be the situation from the text, then perhaps David gave some of the bread to those who came to him at the cave in Adullam where he fled. Either way, we do not know that Jesus gets the story wrong, there is enough evidence in the text itself to indicate that Jesus version of the story is factually correct. (Consider also how quickly 1 Samuel records that David had 400 men with him. It is quite possible that some of these men traveled with David as they recognized him, since he was already famous throughout Israel.)

    1) As far as Jesus saying that David went to the “house of God” there is simply no contradiction at all there. Consider the term “house of God” as it is used in Scripture. In Genesis Jacob calls the territory that was named “Luz,” “Bethel,” meaning “house of God” because of his dream. In Judges we read that the idols that had been made for the Danites were used all the time the “house of God” was in Shiloh. (What exactly is being referred to by “house of God” is open for argument.) In Chronicles 6:48 we see the writer say, “the Tabernacle, the house of God.” (Yes, I recognize most people interpret the passage as “the tabernacle of the house of God.” However, the section is not necessarily possessive in the Hebrew. For other references, Judges 20:18 may refer to “the house of God” or “Bethel”. Most translators go with “Bethel”.)

    My point is simply this: while Jesus says that David went to the “house of God” that does not necessarily mean that Jesus was saying that there was a temple built. The place where God’s presence dwelt could well be called “the house of God”. Moreover, based on what we see in Chronicles, it is possible that even the Tabernacle came to be called “the house of God” after the temple was built, as a short hand reference. It is not a contradiction for Christ to say that David went to the “house of God” unless he actually meant David went to the temple, which he does not say.

    You may call these rationalizations, however, I tend to think these are the same considerations we should, and would, give to any historical text. To assume these as errors is simply poor historical scholarship. The fact is that we don’t have the full story for any text. Therefore, when we read any text, and yes, I mean any text, we should read it with a generosity that assumes that the writer, and the original readers, would have understood the text without contradiction, and that the text is accurate. (This always holds true, unless the earliest commentators of the text note the contradictions themselves, or unless we see necessary contradictions in the earliest commentators interpretation of the text.)

    I bring up this method of reading because it is how I was trained to read historical texts. My bachelors is in history, so this is an area I have had to learn a great deal about. (My focus was Medieval European history, particularly Spain.) Contradictions in a text should only be recognized when we have exhausted our ability to understand the text reasonably without contradiction. I would highly recommend reading a few books on historiography and historical research and document interpretation to anyone who wants to argue for textual errors in the Bible.

    To assume that these particular examples are contradictions is a matter of arrogance. Everything we can read in the Old Testament, about who was high priest, and who built the temple, and whether David had anyone with him, the Gospel writers could also read. Therefore, recognizing that the writers of Scripture were at least as intelligent as we are, and that they had at least as much access to the Old Testament as we have, when we read what they say about the Old Testament, if we think there is an error, we must be sure that the error is not on our side. If you honestly think that such minor issues are “errors” (I am counting internal contradiction as a form of error as it leads to logical inconsistencies within Scripture) in the text, I cannot force you to think otherwise. However, I contend you do not think these are errors because you are logically compelled to, but because you have accepted a hermeneutic that compels you to find errors in Scripture.

    (My personal favorite “contradiction” is how Judas died. That lets us get into all kinds of gory details about hanging, rot, and putrefaction.)

  • Donald Johnson

    FWIIW, I agree with Charlton’s analysis above. There are no contradictions if one reads them as the authors intended. It is very easy for us to think that something does not “fit together” and we need to be diligent and try to see how it might.

    For example, we have 4 gospels and sometimes they might appear to say different things, but one can have a working assumption that there was SOMETHING that happened in history and that this SOMETHING was described by the 4 authors in different ways to different audiences, putting stuff in and leaving other stuff out, in order for each to make their points.

  • David Vinzant


    My hermeneutic is to take a common sense and plain meaning of the text unless there is a good reason not to.

    I think all three of these are obvious errors. You have repeated the common rationalizations, but all three stretch the plain meaning beyond the breaking point.

    Your rule of finding any possible explanation before admitting an error could be used to demonstrate that any and all historical texts are inerrant. I have a challenge for you – present me with any supposed contradiction in the Qu’ran, Book of Mormon, Harry Potter book or any other document of your choice and I will show you how it is not really a contradiction.

    Thanks for the recommendations about further study, but I assure you that I have done my homework on this. My B.A. is in Bible with a minor in history. I also hold an M.Div, a D.Min. and a Ph.D. (the last in history).

  • David Vinzant


    I agree with you that the authors of the gospels and most of their original readers did not perceive the contradictions. This is only because they did not have easy access to other texts being referenced.

  • MatthewS

    David, thank you. I suspect you like that option partly because of its eponymous nature 😉

    I see that Daniel Wallace has a treatment of the Abiathar issue on ( He does not dismiss it lightly.

    I do have a hard time believing you are serious about the term “House of God.” There is obvious continuity between the tabernacle and the temple, and for that matter, any “tent of meeting” of YHWH and the temple. The structure where this ancient, oral culture met with God is the “House of God.”

    The textual and theological problems presented by the “Abiathar” issue have merited much discussion.

    Details like the name of the place of meeting, or whether David is completely alone or has friends, or is alone at the precise moment of asking but is with friends in his overall mission – those kind of details seem to purposely ignore how ANE literature works (or ancient history or any oral tradition at all, for that matter). I get the point of your Harry Potter example but even so, you judge Potter by the standards of its own genre.

    Anyway, I realize you aren’t here to get converted, neither am I. I just knew that curiosity would kill me if I didn’t ask you for a sample and I do appreciate you providing one. For whatever reason, I wasn’t familiar with the Abiathar issue. Now I know about it.

    Wallace quotes an author with an attitude that I consider to be intellectually honest:

    It is best, however, as in all such cases, to leave the discrepancy unsolved rather than to solve it by unnatural and forced constructions. A difficulty may admit of explanation, although we may not be able to explain it, and the multitude of cases in which riddles once esteemed insoluble have since been satisfactorily settled, should encourage us to hope for like results in other cases…

  • Chris

    RD the things you list that would be different is a list that scripture is pretty clear on. You would have to remove the parts you don’t like to make it work for you.

    Why stop there? Why don’t we remove, ignore or reinterpret everything we don’t like. Maybe Jesus was just a man. Maybe we can earn our way into heaven. maybe all paths lead to God. Why not? It would make all our lives easier and more comfortable.

  • David Vinzant


    Your welcome, and I appreciate your friendly tone. With regard to the “house of God,” I would repeat that the tabernacle was not at Nob. No tent or structure is mentioned nor any suggestion that David entered into such.

    I appreciate that you recognize the difficulty of the Abiathar problem. I think the authors of Matthew and Luke knew enough not to repeat Mark’s mistake here.

    Chris, I care about inerrancy because I am trying to help you and others to escape from dogmatic religion. I think most religions, especially the various forms of fundamentalism, do far more harm than good, especially in the fact that money and resources from good people are drawn into perpetuating their religion rather than solving the real problems in our world.

    One thing I would add to my response above to Charlton. You say “you have accepted a hermeneutic that compels you to find errors in Scripture.” I disagree. There are several books in the Bible that contain no errors. However, my hermeneutic allows me to find and admit errors in Scripture when they occur. Does your hermeneutic allow you to admit that there might be an error in the Bible? Or does your hermeneutic compel you to dent any errors in Scripture?

  • Donald Johnson

    I liked Wallace’s article, altho some parts were too technical for me to understand fully. I agree that “in the days of Abiathar the high priest” is the best solution of those he presented.

    For me, a basic principle of interpretation is that if there are 2 possible meanings and one leads to a contradiction, go with the other.

  • David Vinzant


    That policy of choosing the interpretation that smooths out contradictions is the one followed by the NIV translators. On these “difficult passages” in the OT, they alternate between the Masoretic text and Septuagint depending on which best “solves” the difficulty.

    Here’s my question for you. Suppose one of the possible meanings is the obvious and plain meaning, but leads to a contradiction, while the other possible meaning is convulated and involves various hypotheticals, but resolves the contradiction, which one do you go with?

  • RD


    By taking everything that is written to be God’s complete and unchanging thought for all eternity leaves no room for God to work through other means. God speaks to us through the creation, through special revelation, through study and historical discovery. By refusing to consider that certain biblical admonitions are reflections of the culture of that time literalist Christians are forcing ancient ideas and understandings onto 21st century believers.

    For example, take the role of women in the church. Literalists point to certain passages and say that scripture prohibits women from preaching or teaching men. In that day women were prohibited from most things within the greater society. The fact that Jesus included women in his inner circle and treated them in a manner that was revolutionary to the time seems to emphasize the equality and acceptance of women as equal with men. Many of the churches that Paul visited and wrote letters back to were led by women. Paul himself speaks of how there is no distinction with regard to these things, that we are all “in Christ”. I understand that there are roles women are more suited to excel at and roles that men are more suited to excel at, but to say that women cannot be inspired by God to preach to men seems to be a bit misguided. (I know, I know, I just called the writer of Timothy misguided. I truly mean no disrespect.)

    For the record I agree completely wth what David V says here: “I care about inerrancy because I am trying to help you and others to escape from dogmatic religion. I think most religions, especially the various forms of fundamentalism, do far more harm than good, especially in the fact that money and resources from good people are drawn into perpetuating their religion rather than solving the real problems in our world.” David nails it. This is why it is so important. Because, rather than ministering to people as equals (regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, economic class, religious persuasion, etc) we are opposing them and turning ministry into antagonism.

  • RD

    One more point….And I don’t want to get into spending comment after comment digging up contradictions. David made the very good point that there are, indeed, many throughout scripture. I think the example he’s given is a good one and I see the arguments against it being contradictory as involving some pretty heavy theological gymnastics (just my opinion).

    I think a better example is the recording of the census that King David was incited to conduct. As told in the oldest version 2 Samuel 24:1, “The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He incited David against them saying, ‘Go and count Israel and Judah.'” David follows God’s command and for doing so God sends a plague on Israel that kills 70,000 innocent people. Now, this event is retold much much later in Chronicles. Note the major theological shift as recorded in 1 Chronicles 21:1: Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” The remainder of the text is an almost identical retelling of 2 Samuel 24. Two versions of the same story each with its own theological perspective. The earlier version in 2Samuel reflects that idea that God was responsible for all that happened, both good and bad. The later version in 1 Chronicles was written at a time when Jewish apocalyptic theology was beginning to develop. The developing theology was understading God differently. God is good and not responsible for life’s afflictions. Satan and his demons work against us, not God.

    Now, these two accounts are almost identical except for the instigator in each account. Does God incite David to conduct the census or does Satan? Which is the factual, literal, inerrant account of the event?

  • Donald Johnson

    I think the Bible was inspired by God and teaches us what we need to know about (spiritual) faith and practice, but it is not necessarily concordant, as God accomodated to the ancient (material) concepts of those days, such as ideas of ancient cosmology, ancient geography, ancient biology, ancient origins stories, etc. If God had NOT accomodated, the original readers/hearers would not have understood.

    For example, John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. This was a concept from ancient biology. Today we know that if a seed dies, it will not grow at all. He also said a mustard seed was the smallest seed in all the world, but it is not, however it is very tiny. He used ideas from ancient biology to express spiritual truths; and modern biology (or other …ologies) might know more than the ancient version did.

    On plain meaning, I do not even know what that means, except I see people trying to claim that to require that others read some text as they do. Rather than plain meaning, I think one needs to do one’s best to try to understand it as an original reader would have (and this might be anything but plain to us due to time and space and cultural distance) and then try one’s best to apply it to today. God’s word was written FOR us but it was not written TO us and we should acknowledge that.

  • MatthewS

    I don’t want to go down that road, either, and I don’t mean to be disingenuous by throwing a comment out there when I’m not really prepared to follow this whole thing through. But I would like to make a comment:

    My son is a Boy Scout. Crazy kid loves to knock on doors and sell popcorn. So I walk with him for hours each weekend this time of year, knocking on door after door. My wife sits in the van and moves it once in a while to keep up with us.

    I can report this variously as:
    + I sold popcorn (stresses my involvement)

    + My son sold popcorn (his involvement)

    + Our family sold popcorn (it was indeed a family project)

    + My son and I sold popcorn (we enjoyed walking and talking together)

    + to add complexity, my wife and son will deliver it without me.

    So which is it? There is a contradiction! Beyond that would be the problem of Wittgenstein’s poker: intelligent modern people could never totally agree on what actually did happen that night. This all goes to known issues of historiography and interpretation.

    OT stories are didactic literature from an oral tradition, where the stories are well-told and the words used with economy. The “God did it” vs. “Satan did it” sort of questions easily tend towards violence to the stories, it seems to me.

  • Chris

    Actually RD there is nothing to be saved from. However important you and David believe you are, you are not. God is perfectly capable through His word to instruct and save us without your assistance or correction.


    You also make a informal fallacy (or maybe its formal I get confused) when you state that because Jesus had women in His inner circle He must have thought them equal to men in every way. Yet Jesus had more than enough opportunity to put this issue to rest yet did not. Same with homosexuality. If it was ok He would have said so but instead He reinforces the natural created order of one man and one woman.

    The only equality humanity has is its sinfulness!


    God does speak through other means but primarily through scripture. Scripture is the litmus test to see if the other means are indeed God, the enemy or our own desire to be God.


    Donald I disagree! To suggest that God did not anticipate modern readers is unresolvable to the nature of God. Yes there were cultural references that clearly resonated at the time but every single one of them can be perfectly understood in our day if it needs to be.

  • Donald Johnson


    I recommend study this area as you will find material things in the Bible used ancient ideas, modern concepts simply did not exist yet.

    For example, Raqia/firmament does not exist in reality back then or now and we know that now, but was the way the ancients conceived of where the stars were as that was how things appeared to the naked eye and is how planetariums work, a planetarium really is a hard dome. But this does not affect the spiritual truths taught that God created the universe and us.

  • Charlton Connett


    Because you asked about my hermeneutic: I do not believe there are any errors in Scripture at all.

    However, that is a matter of faith. The way I actually read the Scriptures is with the assumption that everything I am reading is factually correct and accurate. Therefore, when I come to a section where others say, “Here’s an error!” I assume that the author knows more about the situation than I do (which is how I read any historical material). I will not accept a section as containing an error unless there is no other way of reading the section but to recognize it is erroneous.

    Only after I have exhausted all possible explanations for how the section could be read without error am I willing to admit there is error in the Scripture. So far I have never been presented with anything that has logically required me to read the text as being erroneous. I am open to someone demonstrating to me that I am in error, that there are definite and irreconcilable errors in Scripture (logical errors, contradictions, etc.) but I have a strong suspicion that I will not find any.

    As far as pointing out contradictions in the Quran, I have not studied it in a long time and could not quote surahs to you. However, if you are familiar with the doctrines of Islam, you might note that Islam teaches that Allah can change his mind, or give contradictory commands, such that a newer revelation can nullify a later revelation. (Because I wasn’t sure about the specific theological name for the doctrine I did a quick bit of googling and found that it is known as the doctrine of abrogation.) So, when it comes to the Quran, scholars do not argue that it has no contradictions, but that later revelations cancel earlier revelations. Thus the challenge is determining which revelation came when. (As far as I know, the only way to resolve this question is to rely upon tradition, as the Quran was written based on the length of revelation, from shortest to longest, not based on temporal connection to revelation.)

    As to contradictions within the Book of Mormon, again I point you to history. The history of the redactions of the Book of Mormon isn’t a great secret, and by looking at those redactions you can see the various sections that were recognized as being contradictory within the Mormon community. Thus the church officials within the LDS church have struggled with the issue of error in the Book of Mormon. (Yes, I’m aware of the denials that have come from official LDS sources in regards to error in the Book of Mormon, but the historical record is there for anyone to research.)

    But, my goal is not to defend either of those books, nor to attack either of those books. The question is simply whether there is error in Scripture. To that charge I say there is no error, or at least none that has been demonstrated as being iron clad to me. As I said though, I cannot force anyone to agree with me, and I doubt honestly that a forum conversation could convince someone to change his mind on such an important position (unless the individual was wavering already). I recognize that my position is a matter of faith, and I’m fine with that.

  • RD

    MatthewS wrote: “The “God did it” vs. “Satan did it” sort of questions easily tend towards violence to the stories, it seems to me.”

    If I understand your statement, MatthewS, it seems that you are saying that – like the analogy of your popcorn campaign (I think it’s great that you go with your kid to sell popcorn, BTW; what great memories you are making together!!) – these two accounts of the census is simply a matter of personal perspective. The two accounts are written through the perspectives of the individual writers. I completely agree if this is what you are saying, and it goes to the heart of why we can’t view these scriptures as letter by letter, word by word, fact. There is much that is written that comes from the perspective of the individual writer (or the community for whom the writer is writing).

    If we insist that we must take every passage to mean literally what it says then how do we theologically approach these two passages about the census? If I get up to preach and use 2 Sam as my text, I am preaching a theology that God often incites his people to do things for which he will then turn around and punish them for doing. The message here could be that God is sovereign and can ask of us what he will (though this seems to make God into a kind of tormentor who lures his people into doing things so he can then turn around and rain destruction down on them just so they know who they are dealing with). If, on the other hand, I get up to preach and use the text of the Chronicler the whole theological message changes. God is looking for us to obey him and not follow the incitements of Satan. Which theology do we follow? Is there a correct theology here?

  • MatthewS

    Thanks, RD, for the kind words about making memories. I’m hoping that we are building a lasting relationship. I’m biased but I think he’s a great kid. He’s got his mom’s sense of humor, which is a good thing.

    My presupposition and yours are clearly opposite (hardly a news flash there). I believe God was working in the events when they happened and I believe he inspired the authors to tell the story with God’s insight into what was “really” happening. It’s no skin off of God’s nose to report that Satan stood against the people and incited David to do something that would cause damage, and yet to also report that God himself was still working with this whole event within his redemptive plan.

    Satan is evil and does evil things. But God is able to redeem even those things. Satan operates under a principle of violence and selfishness and often seems to win in the short run. Yet God brings new life out of the ashes and wins in the end.

    The issue of God using Satan reminds me of Habakkuk, where God is going to use Babylonians to punish his own people and Habakkuk wrestles with God over this. So who is attacking Israel? The Babylonians or God? Well… yes! God is allowing/using the Babylonians but God will write the last chapter. So with Satan and David. Who incited David, Satan or God? well…yes, God allowed Satan to “get away” with something but God wrote the last chapter.

    That strays way off into theology and theodicy and raises other questions. My point being that if one verse says God did it and another verse says Satan did it, then perhaps it is but a facile reading that finds a mistaken contradiction.

  • Nate


    I’m surprised that nobody has commented on your first so-called contradiction about Jesus’ birth. You state that Luke says they “immediately” went to Nazareth after they were in the temple. But the Greek text says nothing of the sort. It simply states they returned to Nazareth after these things were accomplished. You are interpreting that to mean immediately, but there is no proof for that. For Luke’s purposes, the story of Egypt has no bearing, but it is not in contradiction to Matthew’s, just as Matthew’s story neglects the temple visits because it is not imperative to his story.

  • RD

    “For Luke’s purposes, the story of Egypt has no bearing, but it is not in contradiction to Matthew’s, just as Matthew’s story neglects the temple visits because it is not imperative to his story.”

    Nate, good to hear from you again!

    You are absolutely correct! Both writers are writing stories about the birth of Jesus which address certain theological ideas about him. That is the point. That’s how scripture is inspired. The factual truth of the events is beyond the point. The writers are sharing stories they’d heard of how Jesus was God and became human, and what the early days of his life was like. But, I don’t see how anyone could look at these two stories and think that all of the events in both of them happened as recorded. When Luke tells us that when “these things were accomplished” it’s refering to the events in the temple (his circumcision, their offering of the doves, the encounter with Anna and her prophecy concerning Jesus). After these events happened they returned to “their own town of Nazareth”. They lived there and came from there to Bethlehem, according to Luke. Matthew has them arriving in Nazareth as a last point of refuge in order to flee the ruling Jewish household who wanted Jesus dead. The events are not even close to being similar. But, they don’t need to be. They were intended to be read independently for their theological impact.

    Of course there are many other differences between the two stories, not least is the time frame in which they are set. Each writer sets the story about ten years apart from the other. If Matthew is correct in his accounting of Herod’s involvement wth Jesus, then Jesus would have been about ten years old when Luke sets his story in historical context. The two simply do not jive on their facts. In a court, eyewitnesses can present different vantage points of the same event. They might have seen different people or heard different statements that were made at a certain event. Those witnesses are credible. If you put two witnesses on the stand and neither can agree on what day something took place on (or in what decade), it discredits their testimony. Witnesses of 9-11 will all have different accounts of the events of that terrorist attack, but if someone says the Twin Towers crashed on August 11 instead of September 11 then what are we to make of this testimony? Why can’t we bring the same logical thought to bear when we are reading scripture? DavidV stated it best way back in the comments. To try to maintain a literalist view you have to go down some pretty illogical paths in order to do so.

  • Nate

    “To try to maintain a literalist view you have to go down some pretty illogical paths in order to do so.”

    Not true. If that were the case then you should argue that every minute of Jesus’ life here on earth should have been written in the bible. Luke’s time period from 2:38 and 2:39 is irrelevant to Matthew’s storyline and is not explicitly stated. It is a fade-to-black and then the next scene is Jesus returning to Nazareth with his family. To argue that Luke needed to say that years of time passed does not prove the bible to have errors. Nor does Matthew need to write about Jesus’ circumcision or the temple visit.

    Your 9-11 example is irrelevant because neither Matthew or Luke contradict each other, they only leave out their respective stories. You are the one going down illogical paths to attempt to prove your point.

  • Donald Johnson

    When I wrote material, I was referring to all the “stuff” in the universe, as contrasted with metaphysical/spiritual things. The descriptions in the Bible of material things uses the understandings of those times, that is, God accomodated to the ancients’ understanding about how material things worked in order to make the spiritual points that God was the Creator and Sustainer and Orderer of Creation.

    When we read these ancient texts we need to do our best to step back into their worldview. For example, we KNOW the world is a globe, but back then they did not see things that way. We KNOW that when we look in the sky in the space between the stars it is mostly vacuum, but back then they did not see things that way, they saw stars on a hard dome.

    We need to resist the temptation to teleport our 21st century ideas of reality back into ancient texts and try to somehow make them concordant.

  • RD


    Matthew places Jesus being born when Herod the Great was King. Herod died in 4 b.c. Luke has Jesus being born when Syrian governor Quirinius was in power. He was governor of Syria around 6 a.d.

  • Nate

    It has been well researched that the most plausible answer is that there was another census taken before the more well-known census in 6-8 AD of Quirinius’ time. The Greek “protos” is used which can have both a meaning of first or earlier. There were many census’ taken by Rome and there is no reason to think that one was not taken earlier.

    Basically, it is what you want to believe, isn’t it? There is no legitimate proof that Luke is speaking specifically to a birth of Jesus in 6 AD and there is just as much evidence that he is referring to an earlier census. It is also surmised (though less likely) that Quirinius co-governed with Sentius Saturninus during 9-6 BC. Tertullian alludes to this.

  • RD

    “…the most plausible answer is that there was another census taken before the more well-known census in 6-8 AD…”

    Why do we have to look for a plausible answer? Why can’t we just realize that these are two distinct stories about the birth of Jesus, and read them for the theological messages that each provide in and of themselves?

  • Donald Johnson

    We can do that and should do that, accept each gospel as its own revelation.

    Some want to go beyond that and form a harmony of the gospels and I do not see harm in trying to do that, as long as such a harmony is never seen as canonical or inspired, but rather as ONE possible way to try to put all the reported things together.

  • Nate

    “Why do we have to look for a plausible answer? Why can’t we just realize that these are two distinct stories about the birth of Jesus, and read them for the theological messages that each provide in and of themselves?”

    Because we are not the arbitors of Scripture. If we are to say that Luke says Jesus was born in 6 AD and Matthew says he was born in 4 BC, then we are saying the bible is not accurate, authoritative, and inerrant. And as soon as we say that, then all Scripture is now open for speculation and that includes any passages that “harmonize.” The Resurrection is now a possibility among many, not fact.

    Peter writes clearly that “Scripture is not one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit of God.”

    So we do have a plausible answer. God has given us His inerrant word, not typos or misrepresentations. Any confusion is ours not God’s.

  • Donald Johnson

    ESV 2Pe 1:19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
    2Pe 1:20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
    2Pe 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

  • Donald Johnson

    It is “no prophecy of Scripture” not “Scripture” so it refers to prophecies IN Scripture not being from someone’s own interpretation.

    You misquoted; the verses do not say what you said they “clearly” did.

  • Nate

    Donald, that is a thin line, especially when all Scripture is the “prophetic” word of God. Nevertheless, then use 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as the example. Regardless, those who say that Scripture is not inerrant stand against Christian history and become self-arbiters of the word of God.

  • Donald Johnson

    I agree with 2 Tim 3:16-17; I see it applying to spiritual things.

    It is when one tries to make all Scripture concordant with material things that things can bolix up. Do you really think a seed dies when it sprouts? Jesus was speaking in terms of ancient biology and God was accomodating to his listeners to give them a spiritual truth.

  • Donald Johnson

    ESV Joh 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

    is the verse I was referring to above.

    I see this as an example where Jesus is teaching a spiritual truth using ancient biology, accomodating to his listeners.

  • Chris

    Actually Donald the grain does die as a piece of grain. Biologically it may still be alive but its form dies in order for something else to live. So no contradiction IMO.

  • Donald Johnson

    And you do not think you are convoluting the text? The text does not say anything about its form dieing, it says it dies.

    Do you do this for the many other things that are not concordant in the Bible? Such as raqia/firmament?

  • David Vinzant

    “Because we are not the arbitors of Scripture.”

    And yet, who decided what books should be included or not as scipture? Wasn’t it humans? Ironically, most Bible scholars do not think Paul wrote 2 Timothy, the very source of your argument. And certainly, whoever wrote it did not have the New Testament in mind.

  • Chris

    Convoluting? Not at all! Why would you think that?

    The Greek work is Apothnesko (From apo and thnesko; to die off (literally or figuratively) which can mean to perish by means of something. This clearly happens with the seed.

    Whats so confusing about this to you?

    As for firmament/raqia: here is a much smarter person than I explaining it.

  • Donald Johnson

    The seed perishes? What biology text did you get this from? None.

    On raqia, here is how another verse describes it.

    Job 37:18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?

    The ancients thought of the dome of the sky as hard material with the sun, moon, and stars placed IN the dome, which is how things appear and how a planetarium works.

    The word raqia implies something that is beaten out to be shaped, like a copper plate, or in this case a dome or inverted bowl in the sky.

    But the sky is not hard and trying to find ways it might be hard is a futile execise in concordism.

  • Chris

    Donald I don’t know if you are being stubborn, obtuse, want to use this example to justify another fallacious opinion or just so tied to your position you refuse to see. I don’t know.

    The seed ceases to exist in its current form when it is planted and sprouts. The seed is no more, dead, gone, changed! What biology have YOU studied?

    Honestly these are arguments I expect from atheists not other Christians!

    And isn’t our atmosphere hard as cast metal? If you don’t believe me try entering it from space at the wrong angle.

    I think I will take the advice of 1 Timothy 6:20 and move on.

  • Mitch

    “Thus, you rationalize away the multitude of obvious mistakes and contradictions that you would pounce on if you saw them in the Book of Mormon or Qu’ran.”

    “And yet, who decided what books should be included or not as scipture? Wasn’t it humans?”

    LOVE IT!!

    David, once again you rock my friend. Always good to know there are others out there who oppose mindless and unquestioning devotion to a set of ancient texts that have been translated to shreds by legions of HUMANS all with their own agendas.

  • Nate

    “Always good to know there are others out there who oppose mindless and unquestioning devotion to a set of ancient texts that have been translated to shreds by legions of HUMANS all with their own agendas.”

    Mitch, if the bible is so shredded by legions of humans, why are you spending time discussing it? It should be of no consequence to you what us humans with our own agendas speak about.

    David, the criteria for the canon of the New Testament was basically that someone who knew Jesus, an apostle or an associate of an apostle had to have written the letter. According to your logic we could still be adding to the canon. And only in the recent past have scholars tried to say Paul didn’t write 2 Timothy, but the rest of Christian history is not on their side.

    Of course, we “advanced thinkers” think we have all the answers, don’t we?

  • Donald Johnson

    The Bible is a gift from God for us, intended for our instruction in righteousness. That some misuse it or misunderstand it does not mean it cannot be used correctly and properly understood to guide us sufficiently with diligent study.

  • Chris

    Donald I agree so stop misusing it!

    It’s ludicrous to think that God would use any of you to “correct” “errors” that don’t exist so you can recreate God and His word in your own image. Good luck with that!

    2 Timothy 3

  • Donald Johnson

    I try my best to not misuse it by trying my best to understand the Bible in context, including the cultural context of the original readers/hearers. Taking text out a context is a great way to make the text say almost anything.

  • Donald Johnson

    I agree with Paul on spiritual things, but Paul can be hard to understand, so wrote Peter in the 1st century and how much more is that true today.

    Jesus and Paul were egals and I follow them in being an egal. It is true that being egal is not the highest principle in the Kingdom, love is.

  • Donald Johnson

    For example, I am not a member of the church at Corinth in the 1st century, so I do not know what was reported to Paul in person or by letter that resulted in him writing 1 Cor and 2 Cor. We do know he wrote other letters to Corinth, many refer to them as Cor A, B, C, D and 1 Cor is B and 2 Cor may be D or parts of C and D.

    I am certainly NOT Timothy in 1st century Ephesus. As Timothy was a spiritual son of Paul, they would share a LOT of common info that would not need to be stated, so communication between them would be compressed, taking out the things they already both knew the other knew and being able to make a quick ref to other things in their common knowledge. For example, it would be clear to Timothy exactly what persons or what groups Paul was referring to in 1 Tim 2, but today we do not know. For example, Timothy and Paul knew who the leaders at Ephesus were and what their genders were.

    And a letter like 1 Cor or 1 Tim by its nature is like a half of a telephone transcript, if we do not have the info that triggered the letter, we might easily misunderstand something.

    So we need to be humble and do our best with what we have.

  • Donald Johnson

    It is totally correct, Scripture was written FOR us but not TO us, it was written to the original readers/hearers and if one pretends it is not one can make all kinds of errors taking text out of context.

  • Donald Johnson

    Not a might small view of God at ALL!

    God accomodated to his original readers/hearers as he does to us today. God is infinite and we are finite.

    If you do not acknowledge that 1 Cor was written to the church at Corinth in the 1st century and we today are NOT in that church, you can make ALL KINDS of mistakes in understand Scripture. Why? Because the language, culture, idioms, etc. were all different. You will end up teleporting YOUR ideas back into the Scripture text resulting in a mishmash.

  • Chris

    Donald I keep trying to get away from this conversation but…

    I do acknowledge that Corinthians was written to the church of Corinth. The problem is you don’t seem to believe that it was also written to the church today as well.

    When you do that you too easily dismiss the uncomfortable passages as dated and no longer relevant. Once again a BIG mistake!

    So what happens is you raise up your opinions and the result is incorrect theology.

    Look we are never going to agree completely so lets agree to disagree.

  • Donald Johnson

    I do not dismiss ANY part of the Bible. I do try my best to correctly interpret it.

    It was written FOR us but not TO us. To think it was written TO us is a huge mistake, leading to all kinds of mistakes.

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