Montreal Christian Thinker

Introducing Inspiration and Inerrancy

In traditional Christian Protestantism, Inspiration and Inerrancy are commonly paired together to claim and emphasize that the Bible—traditionally viewed as the Word of God—does not have any kind of errors (i.e., inerrant) precisely because it is believed to be inspired by God. In Christianity, however, this does not normally refer to the extremist point of view of divine, mechanical dictation; that is, that the biblical text was literally dictated word-for-word by God to the authors through the Holy Spirit. Normally, inspiration in Christianity is traditionally believed to refer to what was written and recognized as Scripture (i.e., the final form of the biblical Canon, both OT and NT) as divinely and fully intended by God to be Scripture. This traditional view is called Plenary Inspiration. This is not like divine, mechanical dictation such as what is believed by Muslims and Islamists that the Quran was dictated by Allah through the angel Gabriel to Mohammad, and that it has never been altered in Arabic. In Plenary Inspiration, traditional Protestants reason that since God cannot, and does not, make mistakes or errors, therefore the Bible does not have errors of any kind in all that it affirms; and the Bible is in this way Inerrant.

Some traditional Christian Protestants (and this includes modern evangelical lay-people, students, and scholars) will have some differences of opinion when it comes to the specifics on what counts as an “error.” Most fundamentalists (Christian Protestant literalists, so to speak) would agree with a now-deceased scholar: Mal Couch (1938 – 2013). Mal Couch published God Has Spoken:  Inerrancy and Inspiration (Scofield Ministries, 2003) as well as Inerrancy: All Scripture is God-breathed (Scofield Ministries, 2012). Another scholar that most Christian traditionalists would agree with wholeheartedly is now-deceased Norman L. Geisler (1932 – July 1, 2019). Geisler was a famous Christian philosopher, systematic theologian, and apologist. He published over 40 books and he has often strongly voiced his views in the past decade on Inspiration and Inerrancy against Jack Rogers, Paul Jewett, Robert H. Gundry, and Michael R. Licona (between 2003-2011). Geisler criticized them for apparently professing the belief in Inspiration and Inerrancy, but who supposedly practiced exegesis and hermeneutics that go against the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. For example, Geisler wrote and published an online article entitled METHODOLOGICAL UNORTHODOXY (2003), in which he takes Jack Rogers, Paul Jewett and Robert Gundry to task. He then also published much later in 2011 an open letter questioning Michael R. Licona’s interpretation on the resurrected saints scene in Matthew 27.52-53 entitled An Open Letter to Mike Licona on his View of the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27:52-53. Dr. Licona had explained, and re-explains today in his most up-to-date books and debates, that some passages in the Gospels—and elsewhere in the Bible—must be interpreted in light of their ancient literary conventions.  These scholars above have not always, and do not always, abide to a literal view that every word, phrase or statement in the Bible must be historically, ontologically, physiologically true and/or accurate. This goes as well for Dr. Michael S. Heiser and Dr. John H. Walton, and many other modern evangelical scholars. I agree with them. But, in contrast, Norman Geisler (and most Christian traditionalists) do not agree. Geisler, and other traditionalists, would continue debating that we cannot accept that some statements in the Bible cannot be accurate or true where an author apparently affirms something to be true. Since God cannot make mistakes and the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then it cannot err in any way. This is also the view shared by creationists such as Answers in Genesis (AiG) and Creation Ministries International (CMI), which is the main reason why these creationists insist that the Bible must be scientifically true; and this in turn leads them away from secular science and into creationism.

In 2014, James Patrick Holding and Nick Peters (with a foreword by Dr. Craig Blomberg) have published a book responding more-or-less to Norman Geisler: Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation (Tekton E-Bricks, 2014). In this book, which I like and agree with, they respond that the traditionalists are actually making our faith less defensible when answering unbelievers who actually point out very problematic points in Scripture that actually torture the traditional view on Inspiration and Inerrancy. In other words, when unbelievers correctly point out flaws in the Bible, the traditionalists resort to exegetical, acrobatic gymnastics and pseudo-science; even if these traditionalists would deny so. From my point of view, as I understand James Holding and Nick Peters, the point is not that we must find new ways to make the Bible fit with new attacks from unbelievers (including popular atheists and agnostics). The goal is to be honest with the data and actually refine our understanding on what the Bible actually is, and to finally redefine Inspiration and Inerrancy in light of what we actually find in the Bible. We then find out that ancient authors were not concerned—or were not concerned in the same exact ways—with our modern preoccupations with historical accuracy, biblical manuscripts, textual variations, scientific discoveries, and the such. Since ancient authors were not concerned, or were not so much concerned, with our own modern scientific and historical apprehensions, we can see more clearly where the biblical text actually limits itself when it affirms something to be true from an ancient Near-Eastern (OT) or Greco-Roman (NT) perspective.

In reality, there are several layers of complexities about the Bible that makes this whole controversy on Inspiration and Inerrancy rather mute:

  1. First, we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible at all (not even for other ancient sacred writings much prior to the printing press). We only have copies. The textual witnesses that we have for the OT are more limited than the NT, and the OT did not get transmitted the same way as the NT. The OT was composed and transmitted over centuries more-or-less within the first millennium BCE (or around 900-400 BCE, and some sources going back to 1450 BCE or a bit earlier). In contrast, the NT was composed and transmitted more-or-less within the first century CE (or within around 40-50 years of Jesus’ death after 30-32 CE).
  2. Second, not only we do not have the originals, but the textual manuscript witnesses (or textual families, if I can still use this term in Textual Criticism) that we possess have some minor, and some major, textual differences. The vast majority of differences do not, for the most part, significantly affect theology, and they do not affect the overall message and messages of the Bible as a whole. However, they do affect certain theological concepts, statements, phrases, passages, and the like. This blog post is not about Textual Criticism, so I cannot address how all this works as it would take a book on Textual Criticism for each testament (OT and NT) to introduce this topic; and in fact, books like these do exist at (or if you are curious.
  3. Third, the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The Bible was written by those ancient authors to their original ancient audiences; and it was written to communicate and to be understood. The problem is that the world changes, circumstances change, society changes, languages and expressions change, and science changes.
  4. Fourth, the Bible was transmitted by ancient authors and audiences to much later revisers, editors, copyists, and audiences. Consider, for example, how later OT authors and revisers have edited and updated earlier portions of the OT. More precisely, consider some important differences between the same laws in Exodus versus Deuteronomy; or the differences about wiping out the giant clans in Joshua versus Judges; or other kinds of differences in 1 and 2 Samuel along with 1 and 2 Kings versus 1 and 2 Chronicles; or some different wordings about the same subjects in the early prophets (Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah) versus the later prophets (Daniel, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi); or the minor and major differences in the Synoptic Gospels among each other (Matthew, Mark and Luke); or the major differences among the Synoptic Gospels versus the Gospel of John, especially about the chronology on the death of Jesus Christ! Also, the Second Temple Jewish writings, as reflected in the Pseudepigrapha and the Apocrypha, interpreted and transmitted the OT in peculiar ways that do not always respect what we can objectively read in the OT in the original languages, and the way that they influenced some NT authors about some statements and views concerning some OT passages. One good example of this is Jude 9 that apparently reflects a reading of the pseudepigraphic Assumption of Moses (alternatively known as the Testament of Moses) and Jude 14-15 which is a quotation of the pseudepigraphic Jewish work known as 1 Enoch found in 1 Enoch 1.9. We could further mention the various NT usages of the OT, and the usage of the NT and the OT by the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers. They do not interpret in the same ways with the same significance. I am not suggesting that it’s all free-for-all, but there are differences even if we might consider the whole fairly reliable about the key biblical highlights, or the “gist” of the biblical messages.
  5. Fifth, the Bible was translated by the ancients (OT and NT) from the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into other languages that were current during the 1-3 centuries BCE and 1-3 centuries CE, including Syriac, Coptic and Latin. It is well accepted and recognized in scholarship that translations cause reading and interpretation problems, and this is an effect that cannot be escaped. But, most importantly, the OT was translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic into the Greek Septuagint (LXX) of the OT around the third century BCE (250-300 BCE); and the NT authors (esp. Luke, Paul and the author of Hebrews) extensively and particularly use the LXX when quoting the OT. But, then, the LXX is [1] not the original manuscript nor the original language, [2] read and quoted by the NT authors as the Word of God, and [3] it is different in some minor and major ways against the Hebrew and Aramaic textual witnesses. The NT authors, nevertheless, did not view the LXX as not being the Word of God! On the contrary, from what we can all attest in the NT, they viewed the LXX as the Word of God despite all the minor and major differences that we can all study in Textual Criticism.

My past Biblical Studies Professor, Dr. Michael S. Heiser, has pointed out several issues that must be considered if we want to continue trying to define Inspiration and Inerrancy. See here and here. In the past, he has pointed out that the OT has clear marks of edition by Jewish editors in the first millennium BCE. Take for instance his example on Ezekiel 1.1-4, where it exhibits a switch between first and third person in the very text. Another example is that David’s sins in relation to Bathsheba are clearly documented in 2 Sam. 11, but omitted in 1 Chron. 20–21. He has often mentioned how Daniel 7 uses the Canaanite Baal cycle as a concept to show vice-regency among the gods (in the case of Daniel 7, vice-regency between the Ancient of Days (Yahweh) and the “one like a son of man” who gets the worldly kingdom among the Holy Ones [divine beings, or gods, or angels]. He has also often referred to the fact that Psalm 74.12 reflects the Canaanite Baal Cycle, since the serpent Leviathan is crushed much like Baal defeats the ocean-god Yamm in the Canaanite literature.

I think this blog post will suffice for now. In the next blog post, I will be reviewing what Mal Couch has outlined in his two books on this subject. I believe it will approximately reflect what Norman Geisler has equally argued in his own books about this topic (I have read them all). Consequently, I believe that reviewing what Mal Couch argues will sufficiently reflect most traditionalists on this matter.

In subsequent blog posts, I will then be sharing my own thoughts on these matters and my own view on Inspiration and Inerrancy. It will essentially further unpack in more details what I have mentioned in the above two paragraphs and what I have already somewhat referred to in past blog posts from 2019.