Let’s Not Miss What Matters



I just finished Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Charles Marsh. I’ve always been a fan of Bonhoeffer – everyone in the evangelical world is, right? He’s a hero, our go-to guy.  “Would you like to know what a committed Christian looks like? Go to Bonhoeffer. Would you like to know what it’s like to follow Christ no matter the cost? Go to Bonhoeffer.


Theologian, poet, pastor, professor, a guy who dressed like he just jumped off the pages of GQ – oh, and dissident, spy, and martyr, who was executed for his role in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. See? A hero!


Maybe you’ve read his classic, The Cost of Discipleship. If you haven’t read the book but you have attended an evangelical church sometime since 1980, you’ve more than likely heard it quoted by a pastor of said church.


For as long as I can remember anything about Christian authors, Bonhoeffer has been at the top of the evangelical heap – portrayed as the voice of evangelical values. Such was the position in another popular biography of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. In an interview for his book, Metaxas said this about Bonhoeffer, “I have to say, with unbounded joy, I discovered him (Bonhoeffer) to be the most straight-up, theologically orthodox believer I have ever encountered. He is as theologically orthodox as St. Paul and Isaiah!”


Not so fast. Experts on Bonhoeffer came out of the woodwork to contradict Metaxas’ perspective. Even a fan of the book, Tim Challies, admits that these experts “may well be right in suggesting that Metaxas got in over his head and they may be right in suggesting that the true Bonhoeffer was simply too unorthodox to appeal to the likes of me…”


What does the “true Bonhoeffer” believe that doesn’t fit with the “likes” of some? Here’s a sample:


*In a lecture in 1928 Bonhoeffer stated that the Bible is filled with material that is historically unreliable.


*In discussing the first three chapters of Genesis in Creation and Fall (1933) Bonhoeffer criticized the idea of verbal inspiration and stated that the biblical author was restricted by the state of knowledge when it was written.


*In the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer presented a series of lectures on “Christology.” Later, his good friend Eberhard Bethge published the notes under the title Christ the Center. In that writing, Bonhoeffer said this, “It is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us.”


What do we make of these views? What do we make of Bonhoeffer in light of his views?

Do these beliefs knock him down a notch or two?

Do these beliefs negate his role as a “go-to” guy?

Do these beliefs change his love for Jesus and people; his passion to follow Him fully?


Tylor Standley, in a blog post carried by Relevant Magazine, asks these questions:

What does it mean to be evangelical?
What must you believe?
What must you reject?
He then lists other “heroes” of the faith who like Bonhoeffer may be cut from the evangelical team because of their theological views and positions.


You’ll recognize some of them – Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, even Billy Graham.  Maybe you’ll be surprised by the views of some of them.

Maybe we all will realize how easy it is to miss the essence of Christianity – to miss what really matters.


It was Christmas, 1934. a 28 year old Bonhoeffer preached a series of sermons on  1 Corinthians 13 -the Love chapter.   Speaking of doctrine and the churches of Germany, he asked, “Is it not obvious? They have not made people who love. It does nobody any good professing to believe in Christ without first being reconciled with his brother or sister – including the nonbeliever, his brethren of another race, the marginalized, or outcast … In the end everything must become love…perfection’s name is love.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer got it.  I hope I do too.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Not Miss What Matters

  1. Almost everybody agrees that Bonhoeffer had some important things to say and everybody believes that, in many respects, his life was exemplary. But, just because we think those two things doesn’t mean that we have to agree with every aspect of his theology.

    Bonhoeffer’s understanding of Scripture doesn’t mesh with the Scripture’s understanding of Scripture or with Jesus’ understanding of Scripture. So, he’s a great guy who stood for really noble things and said some really incredible things but he was wrong on Scripture.

    Standley’s blog post is inaccurate and unfair to the men he quotes on a number of different levels that I guess I don’t need to get into.

    But, maybe most importantly, you quote Bonhoeffer’s understanding of Scripture, but you don’t offer your own thoughts. It seems obvious that you question the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture like Bonhoeffer from your quotes of him, but where do you stand on your understanding of Scripture?

    • Hey Justin,
      Thanks for the response. For most of Christian history the stream of orthodoxy has been wide enough to allow for a diversity of opinions on the nature of the Bible’s inspiration. Over the last several years that stream has so narrowed that anyone not holding to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) is tossed out of the stream. “Inerrancy” has become a litmus test for one’s orthodoxy. See Al Mohler’s contribution in Zondervan’s 5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy.)

      I’d like to see the stream widened to include Drs. Mohler and Bonhoeffer.
      You claim that Bonhoeffer was “wrong” in his view of Scripture and that his view doesn’t “mesh” with Scripture’s view of itself or with Jesus’ view of Scripture. What is your understanding of Scripture’s and Jesus’ views on Scripture?

      Dr. Bruce Metzger, former professor at Princeton, speaking at DTS in 1992 stated that he did not believe in inerrancy because he felt it unwise to hold to any doctrines that are not affirmed in the Bible. Is he wrong? Is he right?

      The truth is, all attempts to describe/explain the nature of Scripture are open to examination – yes, even my own. Diversity on this topic and changes of opinion have been part of the church since its inception. I’d like to embrace that.

      You state that “it seems obvious” that I “question the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture.” To be clear, I wholly affirm the inspiration of Scripture but do not require Scripture to be inerrant to be inspired. Here are some reasons why:

      1. The most passionate proponents of inerrancy admit that no existing Bible is inerrant. They attribute inerrancy only to the original manuscripts, which do not exist. If the Bible’s inspiration and authority depend on its inerrancy but only the original manuscripts were inerrant, then only the originals are inspired/authoritative. I believe the copy of the Bible on my shelf and in my phone are inspired, even though they are not inerrant.

      2. I am uncomfortable with inerrancy as defined by the CSBI which is the standard for defining and understanding inerrancy. For example:
      Article 12 states “WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
      WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”
      So, anything but a literal view of the creation story is unacceptable to an inerrantist?

      Statement #4 in the introduction: “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”

      The statement asserts an “all or nothing” approach to the Bible. If the Bible is wrong in what it says about science or history, then we can’t trust what it says about salvation. I believe that is a dangerous approach.

      I may be wrong here, but I’m thinking you and I have a mutual respect for Dr. William Lane Craig, professor at Talbot. In response to a question from a guy named Jason about miracles and events recorded in the Old Testament, Dr. Craig answered in part, “Clearly, Jason, your concerns are with the details, not with the central truths. The unreliability of certain Old Testament narratives would have no impact upon the truth of theism or the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The questions you ask are thus “in-house” concerns to be debated among Christians. Should we accept the Old Testament as inspired throughout by God? To what extent does inspiration imply scientific or historical reliability? These are, I think, open questions to be discussed. But they should not be obstacles to belief in mere Christianity and, hence, faith in Christ.”

      I appreciate Dr. Craig’s take on the matter.

      You can read the question and answer in their entirety here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/problems-with-the-old-testament#ixzz394J5iMYM

      Again, Justin, thanks a lot for your comments. I know my answer is long, yet incomplete. I’d love to meet and visit with you over a drink. It would be good for me. Have a great day.

  2. Phillip,

    Thanks for responding. I appreciate your willingness to get down to brass tacks and talk about what we actually believe. Since your response was long, mine will be as well. Sorry about that!

    I want to directly address some of what you said, but I think it is more important to answer your question about what I believe with regard to Scripture.

    I affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The two quotes from that statement that seem most pertinent to our conversation are here:

    “Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches.”

    And, “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”

    Now the question is why do I believe this is true? I have four reasons off the top of my head. I will put them in order of persuasiveness.

    1. Jesus believed the Bible was inerrant and infallible. Here’s the logic. Jesus is God. Whatever God says and believes is true. Jesus said and believed that the Bible was inerrant and infallible. So, the Bible is inerrant and infallible.

    I suspect your issue would be with the third sentence. Jesus said and believed the Bible was inerrant and infallible. So, let me prove it to you.

    Matthew 5:18: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Jesus seems to be affirming the truthfulness and the validity of the Old Testament Scriptures down to the very letter.

    But, you could say, “Maybe, Jesus is merely talking about the spiritual truth of the Old Testament Scripture not the historical details.” That could be true unless Jesus affirms the historical details of the Old Testament and then uses them as foundation for the spiritual truths that He teaches. This, of course, is exactly what He does.

    Matthew 12:40-42: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” Jesus here points to historical details from the Old Testament record to make His point about the coming judgment for those who don’t believe Him.

    Mark 12:35-37: “And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

    “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
    “Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
    David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.” Jesus uses a grammatical argument from the Old Testament text to show how the Old Testament pointed to Him. Jesus assumes the truthfulness of this passage down to the very grammar.

    Luke 4:25-27: “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” Jesus affirms the historicity of the prophetic stories of Elijah and Elisha.

    John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus points to the historical event in the wilderness as a picture of His crucifixion.

    Philip, I could list more, but these will due. Notice what Jesus doesn’t do here. He never in any way doubts the historicity or truthfulness of any of these events. He never suggests that they are fictional allegory. In each case, He assumes that these historical events happened, that the Scriptures recorded them without error, and then uses them as evidence for the spiritual truth that He is teaching.

    Jesus says what He believes about Scripture in Matthew 5:18 and then shows that He believes this over and over during the course of His ministry.

    Notice also that these examples are from all four gospels. And, in these examples, Jesus refers back to all the major parts of the Old Testament Scripture (Law, Prophets, Writings).

    2. The Apostolic Authors believed that the Scripture was inerrant and infallible. I won’t go into as much detail. But, let me give you a list of Apostolic Authors affirming the truthfulness of the Biblical record of history and then using that record as a foundation for their spiritual teaching.

    Luke writes about Paul affirming the historical details of Israel in a sermon (Acts 13:16-24).

    Paul affirms that Abraham was 100 when he bore Isaac (Romans 4:19).

    Paul affirms the historical miracles of the Exodus (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

    The writer of Hebrews affirms that real Abraham really gave a tenth of his spoil to a real man named Melchizadek (Hebrews 7:1-2).

    James affirms that Rahab really received spies at Jericho (James 2:25).

    Peter affirm the truthfulness of the ark story (1 Peter 3:20).

    Once again, at no point do any of these writers say or even suggest that the story might be wrong in any way. The idea that something could be historically inaccurate but still point to spiritual truth was a non-category for the Apostolic Authors.

    Note also that Paul seems to quote authoritatively from the Gospel of Mark (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). And, Peter places Paul’s letters alongside of the Old Testament Scriptures in terms of their authority (2 Peter 3:16).

    3. The early church fathers affirmed that the Scripture was inerrant and infallible. I have given you quotes before. But let me list the church fathers that I have read who have affirmed inerrancy and infallibility.

    Clement of Rome







    Thomas Aquinas

    Martin Luther

    John Calvin

    Those last three aren’t early church fathers, but they are significant nonetheless. And, I haven’t even addressed the list of men who affirm the Chicago statement.

    4. To say that the Scripture is inspired but not inerrant seems logically inconsistent. Some definitions are in order here, I think.

    Inerrancy means that the Bible is free from error or does not affirm what is contrary to fact in all that it speaks.

    Inspiration means that the Bible is God-breathed or that the words of Scripture were spoken by God through human authors.

    So, to say that the Bible has errors and is still inspired. You must affirm either that God intentionally led human authors to write misleading and inaccurate truth. Therefore, God doesn’t always tell the truth. Or, you must affirm that God was simply misled Himself, didn’t know the real truth, and unintentionally led them to write what was wrong. So, God doesn’t know everything. Or, you must affirm that not all of Scripture is inspired.

    So, which one is it? God doesn’t tell the truth. God doesn’t know everything. Not all of Scripture is inspired. Is there another logical possibility that I am missing?

    I could write more, but that is enough for now. Let me address some of the stuff you wrote in your blog post.

    You wrote, “Dr. Bruce Metzger, former professor at Princeton, speaking at DTS in 1992 stated that he did not believe in inerrancy because he felt it unwise to hold to any doctrines that are not affirmed in the Bible. Is he wrong? Is he right?”

    I respect the late Dr. Metzger’s contribution to Biblical scholarship, but I would say that he is wrong. There are a number of central doctrines of the faith that are not directly referenced in the Scripture even though their substance is obvious. You won’t find the word Trinity or Substitutionary Atonement in the text. But, both concepts are clearly true from the Scripture.

    The word inerrancy isn’t in the Bible, but it is clearly modeled and taught as I showed above.

    You wrote, “Diversity on this topic and changes of opinion have been part of the church since its inception.”

I think your church history might be a little bit off. The idea that the Scripture might be inspired but not inerrant doesn’t surface until the rise of 19th century higher criticism. The term inerrancy wasn’t coined until later because it didn’t need to be. Inerrancy has been assumed by Jesus, the Apostolic Authors, and leaders in the church for most of church history. I tried to show this above. Even though the term inerrancy isn’t used. The words “without error” are used over and over again throughout church history.

    You wrote, “They attribute inerrancy only to the original manuscripts, which do not exist. If the Bible’s inspiration and authority depend on its inerrancy but only the original manuscripts were inerrant, then only the originals are inspired/authoritative.”

    Every statement of inerrancy includes the qualification that it applies to the originals. But, all proponents also admit that we can be certain that our English Bibles are accurate to the originals 98% of the time. And, the 2% are never related to any theological issues and usually related to a spelling issue or the omission/admission of an article.

    Here’s a helpful video from some DTS guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtOWUUMoc6Q&list=UUWWeT-LcpA85I2edobmf41w .

    There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of our English Bibles.

    You wrote, “So, anything but a literal view of the creation story is unacceptable to an inerrantist?”

    The Chicago Statement directly addresses the issue of texts using metaphorical or poetic language. You should read that part, too.

    You wrote, “If the Bible is wrong in what it says about science or history, then we can’t trust what it says about salvation. I believe that is a dangerous approach.”

    Let me flip this on its head. If we can’t trust what the Bible says about history, how can we ever trust what it says about salvation? I think that is way more dangerous. You can’t just say that the Bible has some errors. You have to say what errors you think that the Bible has. Most people think that the Bible has errors in the parts that they don’t like. I don’t like the judgment in the Old Testament so there are probably errors there. But, how do you know there aren’t errors in the passages that you like, too? What if there are errors in the love passages in the New Testament?

    All you can say is that I feel like the love parts are true. But, feelings are notoriously fickle things. I felt like MC Hammer was the greatest music artist of all time in the 1990s but my feelings are fickle. It is dangerous to base your worldview, your salvation, and your life on something so fickle as feelings or what sounds right.

    You wrote, “I appreciate Dr. Craig’s take on the matter.”

    I do appreciate, Dr. Craig. If you listen to him as much as I do, you would know that when Dr. Craig is addressing skeptics he goes to great lengths to get them to focus on foundational issues first. Dr. Craig knows that, if the person he is talking to isn’t sold on Jesus, he will not be able to argue for inerrancy. So, he goes to the Jesus issue first.

    If you listen to Dr. Craig as much as I do, you would also know that once the Jesus issue is settled Dr. Craig is quick to address inerrancy.

    You can see Dr. Craig do that here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-price-biblical-errancy .

    I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this. I would also love hear more clarity on what you actually believe about the text of scripture.

    What parts of the Bible are in error?

    Do those errors extend to any orthodox doctrine? What do you believe about hell? What do you believe about the Bible’s take on sexuality?

    How do you know when something in the Bible is an error or is inerrant?

    These are all important questions for a leader of a church to clarify for his people.

    Sorry it took me so long to respond. My daughter has been demanding tea parties all day.

    • A post-reply may not be the best format for such discussions but here goes…
      I’ll respond first to your appeal to Jesus as the basis for your commitment to inerrancy. You stated, “Jesus believed the Bible was inerrant and infallible.” And then you promised that you would “prove it” to me. Let’s look at your “proof.”

      Matthew 5:18 – Matt. 5:17 gives the context for understanding 5:18 –“Do not think that I’ve come to abolish the law…” I see nothing in this text about inerrancy. Jesus is not saying the law is or isn’t inerrant. He’s saying that the law of Moses and all it contains would continue until “all is accomplished.” I believe it was all accomplished on the cross/resurrection event with “It is finished.” See Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 7:22; 2 Corinthians 3:6.

      Rather than a statement on the inerrancy of the law, I see Matt. 5:18 as a statement of the temporary nature of the law.

      Your next proof is to list 4 times (out of many) in which Jesus refers to historical events recorded in the Old Testament. Two thoughts:
      1.The mention of an event does not demand the belief in the historicity of the event. Preachers do this all the time in sermons when they say, “There’s a story about…” Many of those times the story that follows is not factual. It is told simply to present a spiritual truth. I’m not saying that Jesus presented these events as fictional. I’m just saying that the telling of an event doesn’t imply the belief in the actuality of the event. Jesus did this all the time with parables…”There was a certain man…”
      2. One does not have to be an inerrantist to believe in the historicity of these events. I don’t hold to inerrancy but I think the events you list actually happened. So just because Jesus sees these events as actual does not prove that he is an inerrantist.

      Next you go to “Apostolic Authors affirming the truthfulness of the Biblical record of history…”

      For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts:

      I think the record of an event can be real history yet still errant in the reporting of details. In that case, the account, while true, is not inerrant. Let’s use Paul as an example: This is Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 10:8 – “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in a single day.” This is an obvious reference to Numbers 25:9, “Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were 24,000.”

      What’s up? A copyist made a mistake? Maybe. The NIV Study Bible says, “It is clear that Paul is not striving for exactness. He is only speaking approximately. First-century writers were not as concerned about being precise as 20th century authors are.”

      That would be a good argument if Paul had changed the number to a nice round number like 25,000. But he didn’t. A more logical explanation is that Paul simply made a mistake, an error. I’m ok with that. But such an error does not take away from the truth of the story.

      The explanation of the NIV editors/translators brings up a problem I have with the inerrancy position – “exactness.” I agree with their characterization of the authors of the 1st and present centuries – that the criteria for historical records is different.

      The CSBI addresses this in Article 13 – “WE DENY that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.”

      Article 13 creates a convenient way out for inerrantists.

      They then cover themselves completely with Article 14, “We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.” “So,” the CSBI writers seem to say, “whatever other errors are not covered by the loopholes mentioned in Article 13, still do not negate the fact that the Bible is absolutely inerrant. “

      If inerrancy allows for a “lack of modern technical precision,” “differences in the “topical arrangement of material” or “variant selections of material in parallel accounts,” then is the Bible really “free from error?”

      “Inerrancy” as a way to describe the Bible is confusing to the average person – especially to the non-Christian – who sees the “alleged discrepancies” as they seriously study Scripture. And “inerrancy” seems to me an intellectually dishonest way to understand the Bible.

      Instances of “lack of modern technical precision”:
      *2 Samuel 24:24 and 1 Chronicles 21:24-25 – Did David pay 50 shekels of silver or 600 pieces of gold for the field?

      *1 Samuel 21:1-6 and Mark 2:25-26 – Who was the high priest? Abimelech or Abiathar?

      *Acts 7:15-16 and Genesis 49:29-30 – Was Jacob buried at Schechem or Machpelah?

      Instances of “observational descriptions of nature.”
      You know, all the verses that speak of earth on pillars, for example: Ps. 104:5, Job 38:4, 1 Samuel 2:8.
      Then the verses that say the sun moves across the sky: Ecc. 1:5, Josh. 10:13.

      Speaking of the Bible’s record of scientific information, John Walton, PhD, Prof of Old Testament at Wheaton states that there is no scientific revelation in the Bible. What the authors said about science, the earth, the universe, etc. was not revealed to them by God but represented what they and people around them already believed about the world. “There was no new information.”

      Dr. Walton goes on to say that God used what the people believed to teach them more important truths about Himself.

      Yes, we use the same “observational” descriptions today but we know they are only that – expressions of how things appear. We know that our observations do not reflect reality – truth. To ancient people, including the Biblical writers, these are descriptions of how they actually believed the universe operated. As history shows, the idea that the earth was immovable and that the sun moved across the sky was part of astronomy until the early 1600s.

      Instances of “topical arrangement of material.”
      *Matthew 21:18-20 and mark 11:12-14 and 11:19-21 – When did the fig tree actually wither?
      *Mark 10:46 and Luke 18:35-19:1 – Did Jesus heal the blind man before entering or after leaving Jericho.
      *Matthew 9:18 and Mark 5:23,Luke 8:42 – Was Jairus’ daughter dead or dying?
      *Mark 14:10-11 and Matthew 26:14-16 – When was Judas paid?

      These references are but a sampling of some of the instances in the Bible covered by Article 13. I see them as errors. When two writers record different and even opposite facts about the same situation, one of them is wrong. One of them made a mistake. Now, in no way, do these mistakes detract from the truth of the primary story. The event about which they are writing actually happened. They just missed a detail or two. One of my seminary professors put it like this: I paraphrase – If a pastor delivers a sermon on love but gives an incorrect date in an illustration, that “error” does not negate the truth of what is said about love. Yes, Paul can be wrong in writing a number. Mark, Luke, Matthew or John can make a mistake in chronology. But the truth of what they are saying is preserved.

      One issue I have with inerrancy is seen in the pivotal book by Harold Linsdsell, The Battle for the Bible, published in 1976. I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth from 1978-1982. We felt the shots fired from the author. We read his book. Discussed, debated it in light of Christian history and at that time the present controversy (Isn’t it interesting that it’s still a controversy). Anyway, in his effort to reconcile the different accounts of Peter’s denial of Jesus, Lindsell determined that Peter denied Jesus 6 times. That was purely ludicrous to me. Instead of going through hermeneutical gymnastics to force “inerrancy” on to the Bible, why not just admit that the gospel writers varied in their chronology of this event. Such variation does nothing to diminish the truth of the Peter’s denial, his deep remorse, and subsequent restoration by Jesus.

      You continue laying out your case for inerrancy by naming early Christian theologians whom you say attest to the Bible’s inerrancy. We know how language changes over the years. “Bad,” today, means “good”. “Sick” used to mean “ill” but today means something is really amazing. “Without error” I believe has also changed over the years. What the church fathers mean as “without error” is, I think, very different from what is usually meant by “inerrancy” today. For example:

      Origen: While believing the Bible is authoritative, Origen did not have a high regard for reading it literally. Here are his words, “What intelligent person can imagine that there was a first day, then a second and a third day – evening and morning – without the sun, the moon, and the stars. Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardener, God planted a garden in Eden….I cannot imagine that anyone will doubt that these details point symbolically to spiritual meanings, by using an historical narrative which did not literally happen.”

      Origen doesn’t stop with Genesis. Speaking of the conquest stories of Joshua, Origen says, “If the horrible wars related in the Old Testament were not to be interpreted in a spiritual sense, the apostles would never have transmitted the Jewish books for reading in the church to the disciples of Christ, who came to preach.”

      In his Homilies on Joshua, Origen argued that anything in the Old Testament that wasn’t consistent with the moral and theological truth revealed in Christ must be interpreted in a non-literal way. He thus interpreted “herem” (devote to destruction) as an allegory for spiritual warfare. Does his view represent the view of inerrantists today?

      Augustine was also a big fan of an allegorical approach to Scripture interpretation. In fact, allegorical interpretation dominated theological thinking through the Middle Ages. It was the Protestant Reformers who ultimately rejected it in favor of a literal approach.

      Speaking of Protestant reformers let’s look at Luther. Yes, I’ve read that Luther affirmed in certain words the truth of the Bible – words that have been used, as you have, as proof that he believed in inerrancy. Luther said things like, “The Scriptures do not lie or deceive.” And, “The Scriptures have never erred.” Case closed. So it seems. Then we read further into his works.

      Speaking of the various accounts of Jesus cleansing the temple, Luther says, “When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scripture, and we cannot harmonize them, let them pass. It does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith…If one account in Holy Scriptures is at variance with another and it is impossible to solve the difficulty, just dismiss it from your mind. The one confronting us here does not contradict the articles of the Christian faith. All the evangelists agree on this, that Christ died for our sins. But in their accounts of Christ’s deeds and miracles they do not observe a uniform order and often ignore the proper chronological sequence.”

      “Discrepancies,” Luther says. He doesn’t say “alleged discrepancies.” Yet, he sees beyond them. He sees that these “errors” do not negate the truth of the Bible and the power of the Bible to point us to Christ.

      And this from Luther, “When one often reads that great numbers of people were slain – for example, eighty thousand – I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed.”

      And then there are Luther’s views on certain books of the Bible.

      Concerning the book of James: “He does violence to Scripture and so contradicts Paul and all scripture.” “I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my bible.”

      Concerning the book of Jude: “Hence, although I value the book, yet it is not essential to reckon it among the canonical books that lay the foundation of faith.”

      Concerning the book of Revelation: “…to my mind it bears upon it no maarks of an apostolic or prophetic character….Everyone may form his own judgment of this book; as for myself, I feel an aversion t it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it.”

      Concerning the book of Esther: “The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness.”

      If this were said by someone today, would you consider him/her to be an inerrantist? Would you even characterize that person as having a high view of Scripture? I don’t think so.

      Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible, along with the CSBI were two significant events in in the 70s that shaped the theological landscape today. As a seminary student I had a front row seat to the impact of these works on theological education and thinking.
      Almost 40 years later and we’re still discussing/debating the issue. Lindsell stressed two points in his book:

      *Even though “the Bible is not a textbook on chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, or medicine…when it speaks on matters having to do with these or any other subjects, the Bible does not lie to us. It does not contain any error of any kind.”

      *The Christian church has always believed this. He says, “..for two thousand years the Christian church has agreed that the Bible is completely trustworthy; it is infallible or inerrant.”

      You have expressed the same convictions.
      If for you everything has to be factual to be true, then I understand your need for the Bible to be inerrant in everything.

      For me, the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 is enough – that the Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. It is “inerrant” in regard to its purpose.

      Speaking of 2 Timothy 3:16, when I have time between other tasks, I’ll express my understanding of inspiration.

      A key phrase is “my understanding.” We’re talking about the question of whether or not the Bible is inerrant. But there is absolutely no question about whether or not I am inerrant – I’m NOT. I know my own susceptibility to biases and my inability to fully understand the mysteries and ways of God.

      Our fallibility must be recognized by all who enter into the discussion.

  3. Phillip,

    This is great! I appreciate your willingness to talk about real stuff. I appreciate your willingness to be open. I think this is the perfect forum to discuss this stuff. Public figures ought to communicate what they believe publicly. That is the blessing and the curse of our vocation!

    I would love to directly address some of what you wrote because I think you misunderstood or didn’t read carefully some of what I was saying. But, before that, there are two really important questions that you didn’t address.

    First, last post, I said that the fourth reason that I think inerrancy is true is because it seems logically inconsistent to say that the Bible is inspired and not inerrant.

    Here’s what I wrote: So, to say that the Bible has errors and is still inspired. You must affirm either that God intentionally led human authors to write misleading and inaccurate truth. Therefore, God doesn’t always tell the truth. Or, you must affirm that God was simply misled Himself, didn’t know the real truth, and unintentionally led them to write what was wrong. So, God doesn’t know everything. Or, you must affirm that not all of Scripture is inspired.”

    I know you said that you would deal with inspiration elsewhere at the end of your last post, but this is a crucial issue. Response?

    The second question that I kept thinking as I read your response was this: what parts of God’s Word does Phillip think are in error?

    I will address some seeming discrepancies that you cite below. But, the passion with which you obviously care about this topic makes me think that there is more to it than some concerns about numerical discrepancies in moderately obscure Old Testament Scriptures.

    It is necessary for someone who believes in the inerrancy to show why he thinks that the Scripture are without error. I have tried to do that. It is equally necessary for someone who doesn’t buy inerrancy to be forthright enough to say which parts of God’s Word he thinks are in error and why.

    You have said that you have problems with inerrancy. What parts of the Bible do you think are in error? What traditionally Christian doctrines do you think are in error? Why?

    Your church website says that you value conversations that come with questions. Those are my two main questions. I would love your thoughts.


    Now, to respond to some things you wrote in your post.

    Concerning Matthew 5:18. Our interpretation of what Jesus is saying with respect to the law is irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not Jesus saw the Old Testament and specifically the law as inerrant. Here’s what I was trying to communicate by pointing to Matthew 5:18. We both agree that Jesus’ ministry brought something new. The question is why would Jesus feel the need to say that He fulfilled the law? Why didn’t Jesus just say the law is wrong (or it has errors) and I have brought something new and right? The answer is that Jesus thought that the law was infallible and inerrant. So, if His ministry was bringing something new to the table, it must be a fulfillment of the law rather than a deletion or negation of the law.

    If Jesus thought there were areas where the Old Testament was in error, this was the perfect place to say so. Not only does He not say that the law has errors, He elevates the importance of the law as infallibly and inerrantly pointing to Him.

    You said, “The mention of an event does not demand the belief in the historicity of the event. Preachers do this all the time in sermons when they say, “There’s a story about…”” Jesus does use stories all the time. You are right to call these parables. None of the examples that I quote is a parable. They are all evidence for a spiritual principle listed by Jesus as fact. You would surely admit that most Jews at the time would have considered these events real, factual history. So, surely, Jesus as He was teaching these Jews would have mentioned that these are just stories, if that’s what He thought. Not once does He do that. If Jesus uses these historical events as evidence the way that He does and if Jesus doesn’t even once hint that they are mere stories, He is either being misleading or He is being a bad teacher. I’m not willing to say that Jesus was either of those two things.

    You said, “One does not have to be an inerrantist to believe in the historicity of these events.” This is true. But, these are just a sampling of the many times that Jesus affirms the authority and truthfulness of the Old Testament. These are examples from all parts of the Old Testament in each of the four gospels. And, not once in His ministry does Jesus even hint that the Old Testament has error or is anything but God’s words to people.

    I will deal with some of your specific examples of “errors” below. But, most of what you point to as errors have fairly easy resolution. So, for example, Numbers 25:9 does not have any qualifiers attached to it. It simply said that 24,000 people died during the plague. In 1 Corinthians 10:8, Paul attaches two qualifiers, those who committed “sexual immorality” and “in one day.” It seems perfectly reasonable that 24,000 total died during the plague but 23,000 died in just one day or that 23,000 were judged specifically for sexual immorality.

    You quote Article 13 and call it a convenient cop out for inerrantists. All Article 13 is saying is that God spoke to people in language they could understand. We cannot call it an error that God spoke to people in ways that would allow HIs truth to be understood.

    I could say, “Phillip, it is raining cats and dogs.” Am I in error? I could say, “Phillip, the Cardinals killed the Cubs last night.” Am I in error? Are we going to fault God for speaking to people in a particular cultural context in ways that they could understand? I’m going to praise Him for that!

    You said, “Inerrancy” as a way to describe the Bible is confusing to the average person.” You certainly have to define what you mean by inerrancy. But, it is, in my opinion, way more confusing to say that the Bible has errors and then refuse to clearly state what you think those errors are.

    You list some examples of what you consider errors. I will deal with these “errors” by groups. If you want specific responses, I could do that, but I don’t want to write a book.

    You point to “lacking modern precision ‘errors.’” A mere trip to a commentary or an internet search provides reasonable explanations for each of these supposed errors. So, I will let readers and you too, Phillip (if you want to), do that.

    You point to “observational descriptions of nature ‘errors.’” It is not an error to speak truth in language that people understand. Of course, you know that Psalm 104, Job 38, and 1 Samuel 2:8 are all poetry. Good poetry is full of rich metaphor, and my God writes good poetry. In the Joshua passage, would you have prefer that God drop a modern astronomy text book and forced everybody to learn before He spoke to them? I think I would rather have God communicate His truth in language that I understand.

    You point to “topical arrangement ‘errors.’” Arranging stories topically does not mean that the stories are wrong. And, more importantly, the inclusion of certain details in one story and the exclusion of those details in a parallel story does not impact the truth of either account.

    Phillip, I have not read Harold Lindsell’s book and, from your description of it, I doubt I would like it very much. If you want to read books that are better arguments for inerrancy, I would read J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, B.B. Warfield’s many books on the subject, Kevin DeYoung’s new book or the Bible, or Wayne Grudem’s chapter in Systematic Theology. I don’t know any inerrantist who points to Lindsell’s book as the definitive, original, or best argument for the doctrine.

    You said, “Bad, today, means good.” Maybe this is true. But, I doubt you can say that “without errors” then means “has lots of errors” today.

    Whether one interprets a passage allegorically or poetically is a completely different issue than inerrancy. In fact, I would submit to you that Augustine and Origen took allegorical approaches to Scripture because they thought the Bible was without error. Most modern scholars say that the Genesis account of creation was just wrong. Why didn’t Origen just say that he thought the Genesis account was wrong? Because he thought the Bible was inerrant so there must be some interpretation to account for that passage. For the record, I disagree with Origen’s interpretation of Genesis, but I agree with his view of inerrancy.

    I would love to know the citation for that Luther quote before I respond. I also would like to know what was in the “…” of your quote.

    Luther did have well-documents problems with the canon and we can discuss canonicity if you want, but inerrancy is a different issue. Unless you want to say that certain books shouldn’t be a part of our canon, I suggest we stick to one topic at a time.

    You said, “If for you everything has to be factual to be true.” Phillip, what I am saying is that, for Jesus, the apostles, the writers of the Old Testament, early church leaders, granting that there is poetry, metaphor, hyperbole, and cultural expression, the idea that something could be true but not factual would have been a non-category. The separation of the truth of God from the truth of God’s words in Scripture is an invention of the 19th century.

    Last thing I would say is that my admitted (and very great) fallibility causes me to press into the authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of God’s Word even more. You see, if you say that the Bible has errors, it gives fallible you the right to decide what is true and not true. It gives fallible you the right to determine the real truth behind the sometimes mistaken words of Scripture. I am uncomfortable with that kind of power.

    Thanks for your time.

  4. Thank you both so very much for this discussion. When I go to “church” to hear the truth and then hear that the bible that I read every day may not be true it breaks my heart. I heard a quote that goes something like this. “Either you will bring your morality in line with God’s law or you will subvert God’s law to bring it in line with your morality.”

    It seems to me that saying scripture is in error is a way of bringing God’s law in line with your morality. As you can see I am not an educated man and I don’t have the right words to join into this discussion but if I can’t believe “all” of scripture them how can I believe the part about Jesus dying for my sins.

    I choose to accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice and along with it the complete truth of scripture.

    God bless you both.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s