Inerrancy: Inspiration and the Test of Truth


Before writing this paper, I knew that the Wesleyan Theological Society had originally affirmed inerrancy and then changed that position. But I didn’t know many of the original arguments for inerrancy in the society. Nor did I know when the change occurred. I was also unaware of some of the arguments for the change. My curiosity about these things led to my paper proposal.

This paper will seek to accomplish two things: (1) it will highlight a few of the early developments in the Society regarding its collective view of Scripture, [1] and (2) it will articulate a deductive argument for the inerrancy of Scripture, which is consistent with Wesleyan principles. Along the way I will engage some of the key arguments made for the rejection of inerrancy, and make the case that if the Bible is fully inspired, then nothing that the Bible writers claim to be true will contradict reality. This is what I call the test of truth.

Early Developments in the Society

For the first five years of its existence, WTS required that its members sign a statement affirming a belief in the inerrancy of the 66 books of the Bible. [2]

During this time, in 1968, two members argued forcibly in the Journal for the impeccability of the original manuscripts of Scripture. Ralph Thompson declared that renouncing biblical inerrancy is to strip Scripture of its status as an objective standard of divine truth. [3] He reasoned that Christ and his apostles had claimed complete inerrancy for the Bible, so to renounce the doctrine is to cast serious doubt on biblical teaching about God, the world, the nature and duty of man, as well as salvation. In the final analysis, according to Thompson, acceptance of inspiration and inerrancy rests on a faith that is reasonable because it is faith in Christ, the one who has proven himself to be trustworthy. The choice is clear:

Because Jesus put His stamp of approval so categorically upon the inerrancy of Scriptures, one must either accept His point of view of the matter or discredit Him as a teacher of truth. That we dare not do.

…Happily, the science of archaeology and other disciplines have already answered a significant number of the questions which critical scholars have raised. It is reasonable to believe that the rest of the problems will be solved in due time.

In the meantime, it is imperative that the Bible be considered both as an objective statement of truth and as a medium through which the Holy Spirit can bring the reader into a direct encounter with God. [4]

The other strong advocate in 1968 was Wilbur Dayton. He said that ignoring biblical inerrancy pulls out the keystone to theology and lets the whole structure collapse. “Man would be left to the subjectivity of his own opinions,” he said. [5] But our authority as preachers and theologians is based on the assumption of the utter reliability of the Scriptures. “If at any point the Bible is not reliable, it is no stronger than its weakest link.” [6] Dayton continues:

…The authority of Jesus Christ is at stake…. No one ever spoke more strongly than He about the detailed reliability of the Scriptures. God would not let one tiniest bit fail of fulfillment (Matt. 5:18). “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Wesley comments: “That is, nothing which is written therein can be censured or rejected.” Jesus knew, believed, studied, expounded, venerated, obeyed, and fulfilled the Scripture. This amounts to complete endorsement of the Scriptures by both precept and example. If He points us unwaveringly to the written Word as a firm foundation of our faith and hope, His veracity is at stake in the decision that is to be made about the complete reliability of the Word. If He fails us here, we are betrayed.

…Wesley’s view is typical of the normal approach to the Scriptures when he cries, “Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess.” And again when he says, “Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book it did not come from the God of truth.” Who can doubt that this thorough confidence in the inerrancy of the Scriptures was a vital factor in the effectiveness of Wesley in his contribution to the great Evangelical Revival?

…Doubt or denial of inerrancy is historically accompanied by doubt or denial of other basic doctrines, widespread unbelief, a sick church, and vigorous and triumphant anti-Christian movements. Until recent times such doubt had little standing in the Church… One wonders if the compromise on the Bible is not the wedge that opened the door for the massive unbelief that is sweeping over so much of the Church today. [7]

A close vote a couple years later (around 1970) determined that members would no longer be required to affirm inerrancy. [8]

The “Fundamentalist Leavening”

Paul Bassett argued in a 1978 Journal article that inerrancy was a Fundamentalist position and not a Wesleyan one, though he acknowledged many Wesleyans accepted the Fundamentalist arguments. [9] Bassett presented Nazarene theologian H. Orton Wiley as holding forth a balanced viewpoint between Fundamentalism on one hand and Modernism on the other. He quoted the following passage from Wiley:

Mystically connected with the Christ of God, the Scripture continues to be the objective medium through which by the Spirit, the original Light shines into the hearts of true believers. When, however, the living synthesis of the written word and the Personal Word is lost, the Church thereby sunders the Bible from the spiritual communion in which it perpetually stands, and comes to view it as an independent book, apart from the living Presence of its Author. Divorced from its true meaning and mystical ground, the Bible holds a false position for both theologian and teacher.” [10]

Bassett suggested in this article that one who holds to strict inerrancy is not truly capable of giving Jesus and the Holy Spirit their rightful place in relation to Scripture.

To these things [mentioned in Wiley’s quote above], Hills and other Fundamentalists would probably give assent, but only in pro forma fashion. But such a doctrine of biblical authority as Wiley here implies, and the theological role he here implies that the Scripture ought to play, could in no way fit into the various Fundamentalist theological systems.” [11]

This is not true, especially of Wesleyan fundamentalists. Wesleyans, with Wesley as their father, have been good at balancing rational arguments with experiential knowledge. Bill Ury explains how Wesley himself was as “clear as anyone before or after his time regarding the relationship between experience and Scripture….To miss Wesley’s lead would be tragic.” [12] To be as Wesleyan as Wesley involves understanding that God infallibly revealed himself to us propositionally in order for us to experience him personally. One can understand and experience the “living synthesis of the written word and the Personal Word” while believing that the truth claims of Scripture are utterances of God that are utterly true.

Inconsequential Errors?

One of those supporting the change allowing non-inerrantists to become members of WTS was Kenneth Grider, who said he didn’t know of any errors in Scripture that he was certain existed, but was confident that it wouldn’t matter if there were inconsequential errors. In a 1984 Journal article, he listed several reasons for asserting that it might contain errors on matters of mathematics, science, geography or such like. One reason is that “the four gospels, which give details of Christ’s life, tend to give only such life details as relate in some way to the redemption He provided for us.” [13] Another reason is that:

Scripture itself is not interested in inerrancy. It makes a claim for inspiration, but not for inerrancy—at least, not for total inerrancy. And what the New Testament says the Old Testament’s inspiration results in is not inerrancy, but correct teaching on doctrine and practice… [14]

Grider also discussed the views of H. Orton Wiley and Richard S. Taylor to support his position. He claimed that Wiley’s view was similar to his. He knew him well, and had many theological discussions with him, including on the issue of the Bible’s total inerrancy. [15] From his personal knowledge of Wiley and through checking his writings, Grider felt like he could say with confidence:

…Wiley nowhere taught total inerrancy. He probably wrote about, and he did teach, the kind of inerrancy which is indicated in Article Four of the Nazarene Articles of Faith, which speaks of the “Holy Scriptures,” written by the help of “inspiration,” as “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation…”

Grider then mentions Richard S. Taylor, his colleague for sixteen years at Nazarene Theological Seminary.

Taylor’s views are remarkably similar to my own. On the worth of literary criticism, he is more disparaging than I am; and he has even discouraged ministers from studies that include such pursuits, whereas I would not. Yet in the same book, on the inerrancy issue, he takes a view which seems to be identical to my own, on possible inconsequential errors in the original writings of Scripture. He says, “Of course the whole question of ‘inconsequential error’ remains debatable; this book is not assuming that such error existed in the autographs.” [16]

To slightly dispute what Grider has to say here, I will refer to a conversation I had myself with Richard S. Taylor a couple years before he died. [17] I shared with him my understanding of the work of inspiration as the Holy Spirit revealed truth to the Bible writers: “Using the Bible writers’ personalities, vocabularies, backgrounds, education, etc., God superintended their writings to enable them to write down exactly the words that He wanted to be in the Bible.” [18] Taylor quickly responded, “There is no doubt that this is what Wiley intended.” [19] In other words, Taylor affirmed that Wiley believed that the words of Scripture were just as much God’s words as man’s words (being exactly what God wanted). This verbal plenary inspiration would make the Bible completely free from error.

In reading Wiley myself, I’ve noted that Wiley used the word “plenary” in his Systematic Theology, but speaks of inspiration as a constant, “guiding the writer at every point, thus securing at once the infallible truth of his material, and its proper selection and distribution.” [20] This seems to be another way to express the idea of verbal inspiration. [21]

Contrary to Grider’s claims that his view of Scripture is remarkably close to Wiley and Taylor, it seems that Grider’s arguments go far beyond their view by trying to make the issue of inerrancy seem irrelevant, even though Grider claimed to teach only that there might have been errors. Grider’s later paper supporting monogamous homosexual relationships makes one wonder whether Grider’s earlier “lower” view of Scripture set him on a trajectory to reevaluate the authority of Scripture on all matters of faith and practice, even as he still professed to have conservative leanings. [22]

The Scripture Principle

In 1986, Randy L. Maddox reviewed Clark Pinnock’s Scripture Principle (later revised in 2006 with the help of WTS member Barry Callen).

Put briefly, Pinnock now argues that those who defend inerrancy all-too-often undervalue the humanity of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit. [23]

Indeed, Pinnock argues that the affirmation of detailed inerrancy: 1) is usually grounded more in a sensed need for an unquestioned authority than in the claims of Scripture…; 2) is based more on a (false) deductive argument about the nature of God than on inductive study of the Bible itself…; 3) is an unwarranted imposition of a modern definition of truth upon Scripture…; and 4) can be defended only by very strained arguments…; because, 5) a truly inductive study of Scripture itself reveals a more flexible and functional understanding of its authority and truth…. [24]

Maddox approved of these things about the book, though he didn’t like that Pinnock wanted to retain the use of the term “inerrant” to describe the Bible.

The Nazarene Scripture Study Group’s View

From looking at the previously cited and other articles in the Journal, I can see that many of the arguments in them are used by the Scripture Study Committee of the Nazarenes.  This group came out in 2013 with a recommendation that strongly opposed the concept of the total inerrancy of Scripture. This was in response to a resolution brought to the Nazarene Church by some pastors of the Southwest Indiana district:

Resolution JUD-805: regarding Article IV. The Holy Scriptures; to remove the phrase “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation,” and replace it with the phrase, “inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach.” [25]

The committee responded in part by saying:

“The committee therefore believes that it is not only unnecessary, but that it would be untrue to the Wesleyan tradition, incompatible with Wesleyan theology, and unwarranted by the Scriptures themselves, to add any assertion that the Scriptures are ‘inerrant throughout’ not only in revealing the will of God for our salvation, but in determining the truth of any statement whatsoever. That would be to turn the Bible from the saving word of God into an almanac or encyclopedia. To say that the Scriptures are ‘the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach’ merely raises the question of what exactly the Scriptures teach, and there are numerous unsettled disputes among Christians (and even among Nazarenes) about that. To assert the complete detailed factual literal accuracy of every part of Scripture (‘inerrant throughout’) raises more problems than it solves and diverts people into unnecessary, distracting and futile disputes.” [26]

But the proposal did not suggest that the Bible would be used to determine the truth of any statement whatsoever. The proposal simply insists that there are no errors in Scripture. Inerrantists don’t believe that the Bible is an almanac or encyclopedia. The Bible doesn’t address every question we could ask; but where it does teach something, what it teaches is without error. It is certainly not untrue to the Wesleyan tradition, or incompatible with Wesleyan theology, or unwarranted by Scripture to refer to the original manuscripts as inerrant. John Wesley himself taught that the Bible was without error, [27] though some later Wesleyans began to reject the idea. Inerrancy was part and parcel of the Protestant view of Scriptural authority, though the term itself may not have been used. Yes, scriptural inerrancy (and the authority of Scripture) was challenged in the past, but the attacks were normally from without the church, not from within the church, as the case is today.

Asserting complete inerrancy does not create problems, except from those who continually bring up supposed contradictions. Most Christians who believe the Bible is completely true distinguish the major facts and themes from supporting details, the misunderstanding of which would not affect our relationship with God. Inerrantists don’t obsess over the details and “flatten out” all the facts in Scripture, but they also understand that it is important that the God of truth will always speak the truth. Inerrantists find value in understanding that ultimately there is harmony among all of the Scriptures, since it is the Word of God. Belief in inerrancy justifies systematic theology, which attempts to build a harmonious system of thought based on what the Bible teaches. If the Bible is consistent with itself, I have a basis upon which to develop a self-consistent system of theology.

Of course the Bible needs to be interpreted, whether or not one believes the Bible is free from error. But it’s more likely to be interpreted correctly if one assumes it to be correct instead of assuming that the latest findings of the scientists (or social scientists) can correct erroneous parts of Scripture. [28]

The Study Committee also said,

“Martin Luther first proclaimed justification by faith (sola fide) and it was only when he realized that the pope rejected this that he saw the necessity that the Church be subject to the Bible (sola scriptura). For these later theologians in the Calvinist tradition, faith in the inerrancy of the Bible became the foundation for faith in Christ. It was from this Calvinist tradition, passed on through the nineteenth-century Calvinist theologians at Princeton, that the Fundamentalists of the 1920s took their belief in the total, detailed inerrancy of Scripture. Harold Lindsell tried to hold all evangelical Christians to this particular Calvinist belief in the 1970s and seriously divided evangelical Christianity, at least in the United States if not elsewhere. This whole development with its concern with detailed inerrant facts, demonstrates how much the Calvinist tradition was shaped by rationalistic modernity.” [29]

So according to this Study Committee, inerrancy is part of Calvinistic ideology rather than a Wesleyan ideology. Yet essentially all Protestant evangelicals in Wesley’s day held to the same view of Scriptural authority. Yes, other groups may have fought to maintain this view more than the Methodists during the time of the Fundamentalist/Modernist debates, but historically Wesleyans were part of the grand tradition that did affirm inerrancy. Anglican scholars Anthony and Richard Hanson said,

“The Christian Fathers and the medieval tradition continued this belief [in inerrancy], and the Reformation did nothing to weaken it. On the contrary, since for many reformed theologians the authority of the Bible took the place which the Pope had held in the medieval scheme of things, the inerrancy of the Bible became more firmly maintained and explicitly defined among some reformed theologians than it had even been before…. The beliefs here denied [viz., inerrancy] have been held by all Christians from the very beginning until about a hundred and fifty years ago.” [30]

And this belief continued even after the Nazarenes were established as a denomination. In his article on the Leavening of the Fundamentalists, Paul Bassett quoted what the Generals of the Nazarenes said in 1928:

“First, we note with pleasure that there are no differences or divisions among us. We are a perfectly united denomination. In this General Assembly there will be no discussions of modernism or fundamentalism. We are all fundamentalists, we believe the Bible, we all believe in Christ, that He is truly the Son of God. We stand for the same great fundamentals and we will not be torn asunder nor be hurled into strife by arguments or contentions arising from the differences of opinion regarding the great underlying principles of Christianity…We must stand for the whole Bible. We do not as a movement believe merely that the Bible contains the Word of God. We   believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We believe it from Genesis to Revelation. We stand for it in life and death… Every man in this body is a fundamentalist. . . We believe the Bible and accept it as being the revealed Word of God, immutable, unchangeable, infallible and sufficient for every human need. A modernist would be very lonesome in this General Assembly…We stand for the Bible; we stand for the whole Bible, an immutable Bible.” [31]

Were the Generals of the Nazarene Church betraying their Wesleyan roots by showing solidarity with the fundamentalists in 1928? I think not. The reason the Nazarenes were not more involved in the debates of that era is that they were in unity on that issue.

I will take the rest of the paper to further address some of the arguments made by those Wesleyans (and others) who advocate a “non-inerrantist” position on Scripture, and to make a case for complete inerrancy (not a dictation theory), keeping in mind that we are talking about the original manuscripts, not copies (though we understand that we essentially have what was originally written). I will start by affirming that the correspondence view of truth is assumed in Scripture.

Is the Correspondence View of Truth Biblical?

The concept of inerrancy is based on the law of non-contradiction and the assumption of truth (aletheia) as correspondence to reality. But one of the arguments against inerrancy (at least detailed inerrancy—an inerrancy that includes the smallest details in Scripture) is that we are reading a modern view of truth back into Scripture when the Bible itself does not subscribe to such a strict standard for truth. [32]

The simple version of the correspondence view of truth is that truth is that which corresponds to reality. [33] In other words, a statement is true if and only if it matches the way things really are.  In similar language, Aristotle stated the conditions under which something could be declared as true: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.” [34] I can say that the earth is flat or that the sky is green—but that doesn’t make it so!

Implied in the correspondence view are the fundamental laws of thought: 1) Something is what it is.  2) Either something is or it is not. And 3) Something cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect (the law of non-contradiction). [35] The correspondence view of truth assumes this law of non-contradiction (and the other related laws) and insists that a statement is false if it does not correspond with the way things really are. If two statements absolutely contradict one another, they cannot both be true (they cannot both match the way things really are), and they both could be false if neither of them correspond to reality.

Is this view of truth Scriptural? Or are we imposing on Scripture an Aristotelian or a Cartesian view of truth that doesn’t fit?

The very first lie in the Bible (the serpent telling Eve, “Ye shall not surely die” [36]) was a lie because it contradicted reality.  Eve, and Adam, actually died from eating the forbidden fruit.

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 taught the Israelites that they could test prophets according to whether or not their prophecies came to pass. If a statement (the prophecy) matched the reality (the event predicted actually occurred in time and space), then the prophet passed that test. If the prediction did not match reality, then the prophet was considered false. [37] The truth was determined by its correspondence to reality.

God instructed the judges to carefully investigate any allegation to determine whether it is false (Deut. 19:18). The only coherent understanding of this command is that it is a judge’s responsibility to determine whether the allegation corresponds to reality. If it does, it is true. If it does not, it is false.

In Proverbs 6:19, Scripture defines bearing false witness as lying, and Scripture also affirms that a truthful witness will not lie (Prov. 14:5). God requires His people not to bear false witness (Deut. 5:20).

Why were Ananias and Sapphira struck dead? [38] Because they had lied to the Holy Spirit by knowingly making a statement that did not correspond to reality. They claimed to have sold a property for a certain amount of money, when in reality they had sold it for more. Ananias and Sapphira would have lived if they had been honest—by describing their action according to the way it actually occurred. And the reason they told the lie was to make an appearance that was contrary to reality— to appear more generous than they really were.

The truth of Christianity hinges on whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. If his body still lies in the grave, then we have been deceived into following a false religion. The apostles knew that their claim that Jesus rose from the dead had to match reality. If there wasn’t actually a resurrection, then our faith is in vain, and the apostles were liars. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “[If the dead rise not], we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. [39] Paul confessed that he would be a false witness (a liar) if his truth claim didn’t match reality. The correspondence view of truth is assumed here.

Jesus himself warned us of false prophets and false Christs, and said that they would deceive many. How would false prophets deceive? They would tell followers things that did not match reality. Jesus was very concerned about this. Evidently the truth (as correspondence) really mattered to Jesus. He was concerned about what people believed. He understood and taught that what one believes has eternal consequences. If one believes that a particular person is a Messiah when in reality the Messiah is another person, he will lose his soul for putting his faith in the wrong person. The correspondence view of truth is implicit in this teaching of Jesus. [40]

I have shared just a few examples of a multitude of indicators that the Bible assumes the correspondence view of truth. [41] The biblical conception of truth always entails a correspondence between the intended assertion and reality. This understanding of truth culminates in the claim of Jesus to be the Truth [42] — the disclosure of Ultimate Reality, the Source of anything else that is real. [43] Christ embodies that Reality as a Divine Person.

The Case for Detailed Inerrancy

Understanding truth as correspondence should help us make more sense of the deductive argument for inerrancy, which is actually an argument for detailed inerrancy (inerrancy down to the detail, so that there is nothing claimed by the authors that does not conform to the way things really are). There’s nothing particularly “Calvinistic” or “Fundamentalistic” about this argument. It is logic based on a Scriptural assumption that truth corresponds to reality and that something cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.

Premise A: Every utterance of God is perfect, and thus free from error.
Premise B: All the truth claims of the Bible writers are the utterances of God.
Conclusion: All the truth claims of the Bible writers are free from error.

Premise A is supported by the teaching that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and that He knows everything (I John 3:20). God cannot say anything contrary to the way things really are. He is morally perfect and will not lead anyone astray, especially since He is omniscient. Bible writers declare that the words of God are pure (Psalm 12:6, Prov. 30:5 [44]).

Further, Jesus declares in John 17:17 that “God’s word is truth.” In John 8:44, Jesus defined truth as the opposite of a lie. [45] This leads to the conclusion that Jesus asserted that there is no lie (falsehood) in God’s word.  Paul calls Scripture the “word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 [46]), and he says that the truth excludes the possibility of lying (Rom. 9:1 [47]). There is nothing spoken by God that is contrary to what is really real.

Premise B is supported by II Timothy 3:16 (“All Scripture is God-breathed”), and other scriptures that refer to the words of Moses and the prophets as actual words of God. [48]

That is the deductive argument for inerrancy. If Premise A and B are true, then the conclusion (that all of truth claims of the Bible writers are free from error) must be true. If the conclusion is true, then we must approach Scripture from the stance of faith, trusting that when properly interpreted there will be found no error in Scripture, no matter how small. Nothing will be stated as a fact (by the Bible writers themselves, not necessarily those they quote) that does not in some way correspond to the way things really are.

Now it is true that not everything in Scripture is an assertion that could be called either true or false in a technical sense. There are plenty of questions, commands, optatives, blessings, etc. [49] We don’t ask whether a command, for instance, is true or false, but there are a great many propositions in Scripture that do make a claim about reality. [50] The deductive argument for inerrancy concludes that these assertions are always true.

The Inductive Argument

The deductive argument for inerrancy is a sound argument, but what about the inductive approach (that men like Clark Pinnock prefer)? Could we prove inerrancy using an inductive argument? That would be difficult because we would have to conclusively show by internal and external evidence that the Bible is entirely consistent with itself and with everything else in the world. Someone can always bring up a new objection you haven’t thought about, or an alleged contradiction you might not be able to solve to his or your satisfaction. However, the fact that so many alleged discrepancies have been solved as new historical and archaeological information comes to light, so that the list of “problem passages” has continued to wane, suggests that with enough information the Bible will be shown to be completely consistent with the way things really are. The overall evidence points in the direction of inerrancy. It is not reasonable to use the inductive approach independent of the deductive in regard to inerrancy, but it is certainly a method that complements and confirms the deductive case.

As an apologist, I use the inductive method to prove to skeptics that we can trust the Bible to be historically accurate, in general. As a theologian, I use the deductive method to show that the Bible can be trusted on every detail.

A Faulty Approach to Solving Alleged Contradictions

One way to solve the “problem passages” of the Bible is to theorize that the standards of historiography were not the same during Bible times. For example, William Lane Craig has found a way to explain alleged contradictions between gospel accounts if the traditional method of explaining them were to fail. [51] While not necessarily sold on this solution, he is intrigued by James Dunn’s view of how oral tradition works. According to Dunn, what matters in oral tradition is that the central idea is conveyed, often in some key words and climaxing in some saying which is repeated verbatim; but the surrounding details are fluid and incidental to the story. [52] Craig applies to Scripture this understanding of oral tradition:

When you compare many of the stories told about Jesus in the Gospels and identify the words they have in common, you find a pattern like this.  There is variation in the secondary details, but very often the central saying is almost verbatim the same…. So the stories in the Gospels should not be understood as evolutions of some prior primitive tradition but as different performances of the same oral story. Now if Dunn is right, this has enormous implications for one’s doctrine of biblical inerrancy, for it means that the Evangelists had no intention that their stories should be taken like police reports, accurate in every detail.  What we in a non-oral culture might regard as an error would not be taken by them to be erroneous at all. [53]

According to this theory, since the writers of the Gospels did not intend for the “incidentals” of stories to be taken as actual happenings, when the biblical stories conflict on incidentals, this should not be taken as constituting error. But this solution means that there would not be a complete harmony between the texts. And we are confronted with the impossible task of separating the incidentals from the main elements of the story to know what we can have absolute confidence in. If we all started using Dunn’s methodology, we could never ever agree on what actually happened and what was made up. I doubt that Bill Craig agrees with Dunn that “John invented, or [in Dunn’s words] imagined, large swaths of Jesus’ interrogation before Pilate.” [54] With this theory, the Bible becomes a book that crosses the line between truth and error, and we are not even sure when it does.

But even the inductive method (to determine the veracity of the text) seems to contradict this oral tradition theory. Both the internal and external evidence of the Gospels point to a concern for careful accuracy, rather than a looseness with the facts. The author Luke told Theophilus that he (Luke) had a “perfect understanding” of what he was writing about, and he wanted Theophilus to know “the certainty” of what happened (Luke 1:1-4). He mentioned eyewitnesses as his sources. [55] Looking at the rest of the gospel, we can see that Luke dated events by known historical figures, such as Caesar Augustus and Quirinius. The famous archaeologist Sir William Ramsay said, “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness” [56] Luke appears to have had a concern for “precise detail.” [57]

External evidence for the historicity of the details of the gospels also includes Papias (who knew John the Apostle), saying, “The Elder [the Apostle John] used to say this also: ‘Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ; not, however, in order….Thus Mark committed no error in thus writing down some things as he remembered them. For he took heed to one thing: not to omit any of the things he had heard, or to set down anything falsely therein.” [58] So here is evidence attesting to the full accuracy of Mark’s gospel, with an acknowledgement that it wasn’t necessarily presented in chronological order.  We know that presenting events in history out of order wouldn’t entail factual error unless the author made a point of saying that one event came before another when the opposite was true.

Beyond these examples of internal and external evidence, we must return to the fact that these gospels are God-breathed. How could the “God of truth,” whose “Word is pure,” contaminate his Word with claims about reality that are not in some sense true (corresponding to reality)?

The Test of Truth

If all Scripture is the Word of God, then anytime we suggest that it contains truth claims that fail to represent reality, the necessary implication is that God is guilty of knowingly making statements that are factually untrue. But Titus 1:2 says that God cannot lie. So we believe that the Bible will always pass the test of truth—it will never cross the line from truth to falsehood.

Just as we know that Jesus would remain sinless when he was tested, so we know that God’s Word will ultimately show itself to correspond to reality when it is put to the test. We’ve already given evidence for the Bible passing the internal and evidence tests for historical reliability.

Since we know that the Bible is God’s Word, rather than trying to decide whether a particular passage is accurate or not, we ask, “Does God (and the human author) intend through this statement to make a claim about reality?” Then we ask, “If so, how does this intended communication match reality?” Whether or not the statement matches reality is a given, since we know that the Bible is trustworthy.

The Benefit of the Doubt

Those who believe that the Bible is God-breathed will give the Scriptures the benefit of the doubt when a question arises. If an alleged contradiction comes to their attention, they will assume they are missing information rather than that the Bible is incorrect (unless there is a textual issue), because if the Bible is God-breathed, every claim about reality in the original text of Scripture is true, and nothing will ever be shown to be false, when properly interpreted.

I think some give up their faith in an inerrant Bible because they think that if a supposed contradiction could be solved, they would be able to figure it out.  But then they can’t, and so begin to doubt the full veracity of the text. Many have completely cast away their faith in Scripture as a result. This is why it is important that we have humility regarding our ability to figure out the whole truth.

Once we stop assuming verbal plenary inspiration (that God inspired all of Scripture down to the very words), we will likely stop giving the Bible writers the benefit of the doubt.

Do Inerrantists Have a Docetic View of Scripture?

Inerrantists are sometimes accused of having a docetic view of the Bible. Clark Pinnock said, “It is not logical to say that God is in total control of the Bible’s composition and also that there was genuine human authorship. Such lack of logic leads directly to Docetism, which reduces the human aspect to a merely nominal one. [59] Pinnock advocated a “middle approach”:

“In relation to Scripture, we want to avoid both the idea that the Bible is the product of mere human genius and the idea that it came about through mechanical dictation. The via media lies in the direction of a dynamic personal model that upholds both the divine initiative and the human response. We want to allow for a human element in the composition of Scripture and also a strong role for the Spirit to ensure that the truth is not distorted by the human receptors. God is active in overseeing and directing the process of inspiration, and human beings are active and alive in responding to divine initiative.” [60]

“Variety and multiplicity characterize the results. One biblical writer will come across as intellectual, and another as emotional. One will patiently carry forward the tradition, another practice literary artistry. Some are nonconformists; others speak for the people. In all these dynamically different ways, the Spirit is active, inciting, superintending, and drawing out the work. God is present, not normally in the mode of control, but in the way of stimulation and guidance. The writers really are what they seem, truly human beings expressing themselves. God did not negate the gift of freedom when he inspired the Bible, but worked alongside human beings in order to achieve by wisdom and patience the goal of a Bible that expresses his will for our salvation. [61]

If we were after a perfectly errorless Bible, this model of inspiration would not be enough. Such a text would have to be more strongly determined. The whole mental activity of the writers would have to be overruled in order to produce a text that was a divine utterance in each and every detail….A higher degree of perfection would no doubt require a Calvinistic cosmology and a material dictation, but this is not something that the Bible aspires to. [62]

The first two paragraphs I just quoted are an excellent articulation of the view of inspiration that I hold to. Traditionally, inerrantists have taught that God inspired the Bible by superintending (not dictating) the Bible writers’ thoughts and writings. As I explained verbal plenary inspiration earlier in the paper, God revealed truth to the authors, and using their personalities, education, background, vocabularies, etc., he enabled them to write down exactly what he wanted in the Scriptures. [63] There was a divine/human confluence—God and man working together to produce The Holy Book.  “Holy men of old were moved (or ‘carried along’) by the Holy Spirit” [64] when they wrote Scripture. The only part of this description that Pinnock would disagree with is the idea that God enabled them to write down exactly what He wanted in Scripture. Pinnock evidently didn’t think that the end product would be “exactly” what God wanted, at least in the sense that it was completely accurate. According to Pinnock, it could not be “perfectly errorless” unless it was dictated. Yet notice that the inerrantist definition of inspiration allows for the human personality, etc. to shine through. That’s not a docetic view of Scripture. Also notice that Pinnock asserted a “strong role for the Spirit to ensure that the truth is not distorted by the human receptors.” It is not beyond God’s ability to ensure that the truth is not distorted at all, while retaining all the essential human elements of the Bible. If God is helping to preserve the truth in any way, then why couldn’t He preserve the truth in every way while allowing the authors to freely write?

One’s view of inspiration does not need to be that God absolutely controlled the process, so that there was no genuine human element, in order for the Bible to be completely kept from errors. [65] Yet Pinnock taught that the Scriptures would have at least some kind of errors if they were genuinely the result of human agency.  He is wrong because just as it is possible for Christ to be sinless while at the same time being human (because he was God), it is possible for the Bible to be errorless while at the same time being human (because it is also divine). To be human doesn’t make error inevitable. For one thing, God prepared the Bible writers’ humanness with the vocabularies, education, etc. that they needed so that they could be kept from making mistakes and could write down what He wanted. 

The Chicago Statement

I believe that the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy sufficiently qualifies the doctrine of inerrancy without it “dying the death of a thousand qualifications.” The 13th article of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy in part states:

We … 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.

None of the qualifications mentioned above suggest that the Bible crosses the line between truth and error.  Though the Statement also says things like: “We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose, [66] it clarifies that it is not allowing for even minor discrepancies:

Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions. [67]

The authors of the Chicago Statement assumed that there is an inherent consistency of all the Scriptures even though they acknowledge that we may have to wait until Heaven to find out completely how that is the case. The Statement should be interpreted as a denial that there are actual contradictions or statements contrary to fact in the Bible. [68]

The Mustard Seed

To give an example, when Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds (Mark 4:31), is this an error, since there actually are smaller seeds than mustard seeds? William Lane Craig said it wasn’t an error “because Jesus is not teaching botany; he is trying to teach a lesson about the Kingdom of God, and the illustration is incidental to this lesson.”  I don’t find that explanation acceptable, because it suggests that Jesus actually made a statement about seeds that was not true (in any sense).

Michael Horton explains Jesus’ statement this way:

From the context it is clear that Jesus was not making a botanical claim but drawing on the familiar experience of his hearers, for whom the analogy would have worked perfectly well. A reductionistic view of language is implied at this point both in many of the criticisms and in many of the defenses of scriptural accuracy. It is unlikely that in his state of humiliation, in which by his own admission he did not know the day or hour of his return, Jesus had exhaustive knowledge about the world’s plant life. Whatever contemporary botanists might identify as the smallest seed, if it were unknown to Jesus’ hearers, the analogy would have been pointless. We have to ask what the biblical writers are affirming, not what they are assuming as part of the background of their own culture and the limitations of their time and place.

This explanation is unsatisfactory as well. Jesus (through the biblical writer) is affirming that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. Appealing to Jesus’ supposed ignorance, Horton suggests that Jesus was actually wrong in his assertion that the mustard seed is the smallest seed. Yes, Jesus was drawing on the familiar experience of his hearers, and it would have been pointless for him to refer to some seed that his hearers were not familiar with. But we should not assume that anything Jesus claims in Scripture could contradict the way things really are. Jesus was speaking the truth when he said that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds—it is the smallest of the seeds known to the hearers, or planted in their gardens. That’s what he meant in that context, and the Bible writer didn’t have to get technical for that statement to be true. The “incidental” was a true statement in the way that God meant it to be understood. It did not contradict what is really real.

The Implications of Inerrancy for Biblical History

If the Bible is inerrant, we must accept the Bible writers’ interpretation of history. This includes what Jesus said about what happened in the Old Testament. Jesus accepted all the people and events of the OT as actually historical. He mentions them in his teaching and sometimes the point of his reference to them rested on the historical validity of the accounts: Matthew 12:41 — “Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching, but one greater than Jonah is here.”  Matthew 24:37 — “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the time of the second coming.” Matthew 11:23-24 — “If the miracles done here had been done in Sodom, it would have repented.  It will be more bearable for Sodom in the judgment.”

It is obvious from Romans 5 that Paul understood Adam as an historical person. Peter Enns denies inerrancy when he says that the Apostle Paul erroneously believed that. The Apostle Peter took the flood as literal, and global (II Peter 3). The mistake many theologians make is putting their faith in the majority of the scientific community rather than interpreting the Old Testament as Jesus and the Apostles interpreted it.

Erroneous Views of the World and Accommodation

Did the Divine Author of Scripture accommodate the human authors’ erroneous views of the cosmos? Likely the ancients had incorrect ideas on how the world functioned, but does that mean that those erroneous views were taught in Scripture? Let me give one example of a passage that could be interpreted that way:  Psalm 93:1 says, “The earth is firmly established; it cannot be moved…” As he penned these words, the human writer possibly had a geocentric view of the earth in the back of his mind. But he wasn’t teaching that view in the verse, and there is a way in which the statement is completely true. The earth is firmly established, even in a literal sense. For example, in relation to myself, it does not move at all.  Don’t we set up stakes, make maps, etc.? Don’t we lay foundations for houses, assuming the earth will not be moved? “The earth shall not be moved” is not a scientifically inaccurate statement, though it is non-technical; we just need to correctly interpret language like this. Good science can help us do that. This issue is similar to the Bible speaking of the sun going across the sky.  That might seem astronomically incorrect, but the fact is that we still talk about the sun rising and setting, though we “know better.” There is a way that phenomenological language accurately describes reality.

My view is that God allowed Bible writers to use language that they were familiar with as long as they were not making claims that do not match reality. It helps to understand the main point that they were making (Psalm 93 is teaching about the majestic, eternal reign of God), and then realize that even the specifics have a sense in which they are true, when properly understood. The human author is not always going to understand even his own words the way that the divine author will want us to ultimately understand them, but the human author will not make a statement that will not be consistent with the rest of God’s revelation, including the truths about the world that we discover through true science (not science based on naturalistic assumptions). The divine author wants us to discover what He means by what He says, and sometimes science can help us determine that meaning.

John Woodbridge addressed this issue by discussing St. Augustine’s view of accommodation. Woodbridge points out that Augustine’s view of accommodation did not allow for actual errors:

Augustine … argued that Scripture is written in a language accommodated to the weakness of our understanding. This gracious divine accommodation helps us with our frail minds to understand Scripture. Some passages of Scripture are written in the language of appearance— how things appear to us. Scripture is not written in a way to render it as a “scientific” textbook. Rather, when it describes the natural world, it does so truthfully (without error) but not necessarily in exhaustive and overly precise terms. Considerable confusion has recently emerged in evangelical circles regarding what the Augustinian doctrine of accommodation represents, some evangelical scholars portraying a Socinian doctrine of accommodation as if it were an Augustinian definition of accommodation.  According to the Socinian definition, God accommodated Scripture to the faulty cosmologies of the biblical authors. The result: we have an errant Scripture owing to imported errors drawn from these faulty cosmologies that allegedly informed the writing of the biblical authors. By contrast, Augustine’s view of accommodation did not have as an entailment that errors are found in Scripture. The Bible may describe the natural world simply, but truthfully as it is….The Princetonian Charles Hodge argued that it was the dangerous advocacy of a Socinian view of accommodation that contributed to the undermining of a high view of Scripture at the turn of the nineteenth century in Germany among Protestants.

It seems that this Socinian view of accommodation is coming back to affect evangelical thinkers today.


If the Bible is verbally inspired (God-breathed down to the very words), then there will be nothing in Scripture that is not true, when properly understood. I am speaking of not just the “main points,” but also “incidentals” or “minor details.”  We all agree that God is powerful enough to keep the Bible writers from crossing over the line from the true to the false. If everything in Scripture really is the Word of God, then that is what He did–He did keep them from claiming anything contrary to the way things really are. So when we face a problem passage, rather than asking, “Is this an error?” (we already know the answer is no), we ask, “What did the author intend, and how is it true?”

Inerrancy, and even a strict view of inerrancy, is not a concept that contradicts Wesleyan principles. The arguments I’ve used are very consistent with the way that Wesley viewed Scripture. I’ll repeat what Wilbur Dayton said in the early days of WTS, “This thorough confidence in the inerrancy of the Scriptures was a vital factor in the effectiveness of Wesley in his contribution to the great Evangelical Revival.” I wonder if a renewed emphasis on the full authority of Scripture would help bring about another great revival, something very much needed today.

This paper was written by Mark Bird for the Wesleyan Theological Society Meeting 2015, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University.

[1] For more thorough and excellent examples of such analysis, see Daryl McCarthy, “Nazarenes and the Authority of the Bible: 1908-1988”; and Bill Ury, “A Blow to the Root: The Necessary Connection between Inerrancy and Entire Sanctification in Recent Wesleyan Theological Discussion.”

[2] “Wesleyanism and the Inerrancy Issue,” J. Kenneth Grider, WTJ, Vo. 19, 2. Fall, 1984, p. 52.

[3] “Facing Objections Raised Against Biblical Inerrancy.” W. Ralph Thompson, Th.D. (Chairman, Division of Religion and Philosophy, Spring Arbor College.) WTJ  Vol 3: Spring 1968., pp. 27-29.

[4] “Facing Objections Raised Against Biblical Inerrancy.” W. Ralph Thompson, Th.D. (Chairman, Division of Religion and Philosophy, Spring Arbor College), WTJ Vol 3: Spring 1968, pp. 27-29.

[5] “Theology and Biblical Inerrancy.” Wilber Dayton (Chairman, Division of Biblical Literature, Asbury Theological Seminary), WTJ  Vol 3: Spring 1968, p. 32.

[6] Ibid., p. 34.

[7] Ibid. pp. 36-37.

[8] “Wesleyanism and the Inerrancy Issue”, J. Kenneth Grider, WTJ, Vo. 19, 2. Fall, 1984. p. 52.

[9] Paul Bassett, “Fundamentalist Leavening of the Holiness Movement,” 1914-1940, WTJ 1978, p. 65-91.

[10] Ibid., p. 84.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “A Blow to the Root: The Necessary Connection between Inerrancy and Entire Sanctification in Recent Wesleyan Theological Discussion,” William Ury, p. 10. (paper presented at the Wesley Study group at ETS). Ury said that Wesley’s “continued confrontation with the subjective bent of the Mystics of his day and the accusation of ‘enthusiasm’ by his Anglican peers forced him to explain the relationship between Scriptural truth and the confirmatory nature of  Spirit- enabled experience.”

[13] “Wesleyanism and the Inerrancy Issue”, J. Kenneth Grider, WTJ, Vo. 19, 2. Fall, 1984. p. 53.

[14] Ibid., p. 54.

[15] Ibid., p. 54-56.

[16] Ibid., p. 58-60.

[17] He had read the manuscript for my book How Can You Be Sure? and wrote the Foreword to it (2004). Along with discussions regarding the content of that book, I asked him about his view of inspiration.

[18] Not a dictation theory, but an understanding of how the divine and human worked together to produce written revelation.

[19] I immediately placed these words into my Systematic Theology lecture notes.

[20] H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, Vol 1, Kindle edition, Loc 2658 of 7974.

[21] One researcher (Daryl McCarthy) who has spent a great deal of time investigating the issue of inerrancy in the holiness movement confirms what I have to say here. (“Nazarenes and the Authority of the Bible: 1908-1988: Eighty Years of Changing Definitions in the Church of the Nazarene.” Dr. Daryl McCarthy, 2009.) McCarthy had the following to say regarding Taylor and Wiley: “Although I never had the opportunity to talk with Taylor about his views, from my reading he affirmed total inerrancy in the way it was understood by the Chicago statement.  Back when he was writing, he wasn’t using as precise a language as we later learned we needed to use on this subject….I don’t think Grider’s position was similar to Taylor’s… I don’t agree that Wiley nowhere taught inerrancy.  Certainly parts of his theology seem to affirm inerrancy.” (Personal email from Daryl McCarthy, Feb 28th, 2015.)

[22] “Wesleyans and Homosexuality” by J. Kenneth Grider, Distinguished Visiting Prof. of Theol.,

Olivet Nazarene Univ. and Prof. of Theology Emeritus, paper originally prepared for presentation at WTS in 1999. Grider said in the paper, “[T]he Bible is a book of religion and ethics, not a book of science as such. It is altogether trustworthy on beliefs and practices, but only if you interpret it according to its times and according to our times.” (p. 40). So in 1999, he still professed to believe that the Bible was altogether trustworthy on beliefs and practices, but seems to have a diminished understanding of God’s role in producing Scripture. For example, he refers to Paul’s writings as if they are only Paul’s when dealing with the issue of homosexuality: “When a person such as Rev. Dr. Mel White falls in love with a same-sex person, and makes a mutual commitment of fidelity with him, as a Christian, not given to violence or idolatry, or any other proscribed actions–that same-sex act might not be what the few Scripture proscriptions refer to. Paul would have been aware of man-boy sex. And he seems to know that sometimes heterosexuals have same-sex relations, because he is talking in Romans 1:26-27 about unnatural, opposed-to-nature sex. Or, he does not know about homosexual orientations–which genetic dispositions would not be transgressed by same sex relations. He assumes that everyone is heterosexual, and that it would be against nature” (p. 30).  But wouldn’t God know about homosexual orientations? Grider goes on to show how much weight he placed on the conclusions of scientific and social scientific studies, as he reinterprets Scripture in light of new findings. “And in light of this meeting’s theme, if we know about the scientific DNA linkage of homosexuality to a biological cause of the proclivity, and still do nothing… are we still medieval, or Victorian, because of three Old Testament passages and three New Testament references to the same-gender matter–interpreted, still as negative to gayness, long after we came to disregard the clear teachings opposed to such matters as to receiving money on interest loans, the abolition of slavery, and the ordination of women?” (p. 42).

[23] Randy Maddox, Book Review, WTJ, 1986, p. 204.

[24] Ibid., p. 206.

[25] Report of the Scripture Study Committee to the Twenty-Eighth General Assembly Church of the Nazarene, p. 1.

[26] Ibid., p. 4.

[27] Regarding Scripture, Wesley said, “Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess.” (Preface to the New Testament Notes).

[28] I understand that science can help clarify our understanding of Scripture at times, but when Scripture clearly contradicts what the scientific establishment comes up with, the Bible should always trump these scientific “findings.”

[29] Report of the Scripture Study Committee to the Twenty-Eighth General Assembly Church of the Nazarene, p. 5.

[30] To support this further, Michael Haykin (Professor of Church History at Southern Seminary) makes the case that the Ancient Church uniformly regarded the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures as a given. “The famous affirmation of Augustine (354-430) that he believed the authors of Holy Scripture were “completely free from error” and that if he did find something in the Bible that seemed “contrary to the truth,” it was because there was a textual problem, or the translator was at fault, or he himself was deficient in understanding, is especially remarkable for its detail.” (“Inspiration and Inerrancy in the Ancient Church.” Unpublished paper presented at ETS 2014).

[31] Bassett, 75-76, quoting from the Seventh General Assembly, Journal . . . 1928.

[32] For example, WTS Journal 1996, p. 206. See also John Perry, “Dissolving the Inerrancy Debate: How Modern Philosophy Shaped the Evangelical View of Scripture,” Journal for Christian Theological Research [] 6:3 (2001).

[33] The correspondence theory can take different forms. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy presents two of them as: 1) x is true if x corresponds to some fact; x is false if x does not correspond to any fact. 2) x is true if x corresponds to some state of affairs that obtains; x is false if x corresponds to some state of affairs that does not obtain. Similarly, Alan Padgett proposes that we understand truth as the “mediated disclosure of being (or reality).” He says, “Sometimes that truth will be mediated through everyday experience, or common sense, sometimes through the specifics of propositions. This concept of truth has its roots in Scripture and in Platonic philosophy. I find it in Augustine, Franz Brentano, and Martin Heidegger, all of whom were influenced by Christian and Greek thought.” Alan Padgett, “I am the Truth,” in But is it All True?, p. 106.

[34] Aristotle, Metaphysics 1011b25 The Complete Works of Aristotle, two volumes, Jonathan Barnes (ed.) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).

[35] Aristotle was the first to discover, or at least write about these laws—the Law of Identity, the Law of Excluded Middle, and the Law of Non-Contradiction:

[36] Genesis 3:4.

[37] Deuteronomy 18:21 – You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

[38] Acts 5.

[39] I Cor. 15:14-15.

[40] Unfortunately, there are those today who downplay the role of truth in salvation, and practically deny that faith must have content. To some extent, this paper addresses that concern as well.

[41] What about other views of truth, like the pragmatic view, or the coherence view? I consider them good tests of truth, but not good definitions of truth. A proposition needs to be coherent to be true, but there are false propositions that could be considered coherent. That doesn’t make them true. Truth also should “work” but sometimes false views can “work” too, so the pragmatic theory can only be used as a test, not as a definition of truth.

[42] John 14:6.

[43] “As God the Son, the Word is indeed the source of all truth.” Alan Padgett, “I am the Truth,” But Is It All True?, page 107.

[44] “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver purified in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6). “Every word of God is pure” (Prov. 30:5).

[45] John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

[46] 2 Tim. 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

[47] Romans 9:1: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.”

[48] Romans 3:2: OT Scriptures are the very spoken words of God, the oracles of God. Scripture is the Word of God according to Rom. 9:6. Acts 28:25: The Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah. So God is the author.

[49] Nicholas Woltershtorff elaborates on this in his essay “True Words,” in But Is It All True, p 35.

[50] And the parts of Scripture that are NOT making a claim about reality are often in some way related to other parts that are.

[51] Craig favorably presents the traditional approach of inerrantists: “When confronted with biblical difficulties, the inerrantist will attempt to show that alleged mistakes are not really mistakes after all and to provide plausible harmonizations of apparent inconsistencies.  Where this cannot be done, he will honestly admit that he doesn’t know the solution to the difficulty but nonetheless insist that he has overriding reasons to think that the text is accurate and that were all the facts to be known the alleged difficulty would disappear.  Such an approach has served the inerrantist well:  example after example could be given of supposed biblical errors identified by previous generations which have now been resolved in light of more recent discoveries.  One of my favorite examples is Sargon II, an Assyrian king mentioned in Isaiah 20.1.  Earlier critics claimed that the reference to Sargon was an error because there was absolutely no evidence that an Assyrian king named Sargon II ever even existed—until, that is, archaeologists digging in the region of Khorsabad unearthed the palace of one Sargon II!  We now have more information about Sargon than about any other ancient Assyrian king.”

[52] This theory doesn’t seem to match normal human experience. If you tell a story to children, then tell it again another time, they will correct you if you change even a minor detail. They will accept the addition of detail but not contradiction.


[54] Andreas Kostenberger in “Of Professors and Madmen: Currents in New Testament Scholarship”, p. 14.

[55] “The evangelists were in more or less direct contact with eyewitnesses, not removed from them by a long process of anonymous transmission of the traditions.” (Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 5).

[56] Sir William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (1915), p. 81. He also said that Luke should be “placed along with the very greatest of historians” (p. 222).

[57] What about the other gospels? I haven’t seen a significant dissimilarity between Luke and the other gospels regarding either internal or external evidence for historicity.  Some scholars, like Robert Gundry and Clark Pinnock, have suggested that the literary form of Matthew is midrash, which means that Matthew filled in gaps in historical narratives to interpret them in a particular way, as was a common rabbinic method. But even if Matthew filled in gaps, the Holy Spirit would have ensured that those additional details would correspond to the way things actually happened. The stories would be interpreted by Matthew the way that God intended for them to be interpreted.

[58] Papias, Early Christian Writings.

[59] Pinnock, 129-130.

[60] Ibid., 130. Emphasis mine.

[61] Ibid., 131. Emphasis mine.

[62] Ibid.

[63] R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on the Chicago Statement, said, “Through divine inspiration God made it possible for his truth to be communicated in an inspired way making use of the backgrounds, personalities and literary styles of [the] various writers. The human writers were not machines and ought not to be conceived as being without personality. What is overcome or overridden by inspiration is not human personality, style or literary structure, but human tendencies to distortion, falsehood and error.” Explaining Biblical Inerrancy, p. 38.

[64] II Peter 1:21.

[65] For God to work with the Bible writers to produce what he wanted in the Bible is not the same as the concept of compatibilism (in relation to human freedom and determinism), which proposes that God predetermines human actions, but gives them genuine freedom to accomplish what he has predetermined. I’ll admit that there would have to be more limitations on the freedom of Bible writers while they were writing Scripture if they were going to be kept from all error, but who’s to say that man has to have complete freedom when he writes Scripture? None of us has complete freedom to do what he wants anyway (our freedom waxes and wanes), and we remain human. The human element in Scripture can still be completely present (and it’s important that we acknowledge the human element!) even if the Holy Spirit is involved enough with the human writer to keep him from making mistakes.

[66] 13th article of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.

[67] Under the Exposition: Infallibility, Inerrancy, Interpretation.

[68] Norman Geisler, the general editor of the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) books, said, “ICBI declared explicitly ‘When we say that the truthfulness of Scripture ought to evaluated according to its own standards that means that … all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual, or spiritual’ (Sproul, Explaining Biblical Inerrancy, 48). It adds, ‘By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth. This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds to reality.” Sproul and Geisler, Explaining Biblical Inerrancy, p. 8. Emphasis in original.


[70] Michael Horton, p. 178. This isn’t the main point I want to make in response to Horton, but we have to ask what the biblical writers are affirming AND what they are assuming as part of the background of their own culture. It all needs to be considered.

[71] In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith, Thomas McCall addresses the idea that Jesus ignorantly made false claims about reality. While preferring the model that Jesus in some way had access to his own divine knowledge, McCall says, “Even on kenotic accounts, the incarnate Son is led and nourished by the Holy Spirit, who protects him and gives him divine knowledge” p. 51.

[72] Class notes from Jack Cottrell of Cincinnati Christian Seminary.


[74] I Peter 1:9-11 gives us one indicator that the prophets did not have a clear understanding of everything they wrote: “Receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”

[75] Woodbridge, John. “Evangelical Self-Identity and the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy.”


Aristotle, Metaphysics 1011b25 The Complete Works of Aristotle, two volumes, Jonathan Barnes (ed.) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

Beale, G. K. The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority. Crossway Books, 2008.

Carson, D. A. Collected Writings on Scripture. Crossway Books, 2010.

———. Scripture and Truth. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992.

Carson, D. A., and John D. Woodbridge. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005.

Conn, Harvie M. Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, a Challenge, a Debate. Grand Rapids: Baker Pub Group, 1988.

Cottrell, Jack. The Faith Once For All. Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing, 2002.

Craig, William Lane. “Are there Objective Truths about God.” Accessed November 15, 2013.

————. “What Price Biblical Errancy”. Accessed November 15, 2013.

Enns, Peter.  “Understanding Adam.” White paper. Biologos Foundation. Accessed November 15, 2013.

Geisler, Norman and R.C. Sproul. Explaining Biblical Inerrancy: Official Commentary on the ICBI Statements. Matthews, N.C.: Bastion Books, 2013.

Gier, N.F. “Inspiration and Inerrancy” from God, Reason, and the Evangelicals. University Press of America, 1987. Accessed Nov. 2013.

Hoffmeier, James, and Dennis Magary.  Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? Wheaton: Crossway. 2012.

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

John Perry. “Dissolving the Inerrancy Debate: How Modern Philosophy Shaped the Evangelical View of Scripture.” Quodlibet Journal: Volume 3 Number 4, Fall 2001.

Köstenberger, Andreas. “Of Professors and Madmen: Currents in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship,” Faith & Mission 23/2 (2006): 3-18.

Lewis, Gordon Russell; Demarest, Bruce A. Challenges to Inerrancy: A Theological Response. Moody Press, 1984.

Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.

Marian, David. “The Correspondence Theory of Truth.” Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy.

Mohler, Albert. “The Devil is in the Details.” Assessed November 15, 2013.

Morris, Henry, Ph.D. 2004. “Doctor Luke.” Acts & Facts. 33 (9).

N.B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley. The Infallible Word. P and R Publishing, 1967.

Oregon State University “Aristotle’s Laws of Thought”. Accessed November 15, 2013.

Padgett, Alan and Patrick Keifert. ed. But Is It All True? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

Papias. Early Christian Writings. Website Copyright: Peter Kirby. Accessed November 15, 2013.

Pinnock, Clark, with Barry Callen. The Scripture Principle, 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

Poythress, Vern Sheridan. Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization. 1 edition. Crossway, 2012.

Radmacher, Earl, and Robert Preus. Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible: [papers from ICBI Summit II]. Academie Books, 1984.

Report of the Scripture Study Committee to the Twenty-Eighth General Assembly Church of the Nazarene, 2013.

Robbins, John. “The Biblical View of Truth.” The Trinity Foundation, 2005. Accessed Nov, 2013.

Ramsay, Sir William. The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the NT, 1915.

Stonehouse, N. B., Paul Woolley, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary. P & R Publishing, 2003.

The Proceedings of The Conference on Biblical Inerrancy, 1987, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1987.

Vanhoozer, Kevin, “Lost in Interpretation, Truth, Scripture and Hermeneutics.”Journal of the Evangelical Society.

Wesleyan Theological Journal, Vol 3, Spring 1968.

Wesleyan Theological Journal, Vol. 13, 1978.

Wesleyan Theological Journal, Vo. 19, 2. Fall, 1984.

Wesleyan Theological Journal, Vol. 21, 1986.

Wiley, H. Orton. Christian Theology Vol. 1. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1940.

Woodbridge, John. “Evangelical Self-Identity and the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy.” Understanding the Times, edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough, 2010. Accessed November 15, 2013.