Review of Defining Inerrancy

Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters, published by Tekton E-Bricks on 22 May 2014, is intended to be a response to Norm Geisler and Bill Roach’s Defending Inerrancy—and so much more. Both have a similar cover and similar title. Defining Inerrancy, however, is a gloves-off defense and affirmation of a version of inerrancy that many are not acquainted with. That is, many except those who are Old and New Testament scholars.

Defining inerrancyDefending Inerrancy

Defining Inerrancy also interacts heavily with Norm Geisler and David Farnell’s The Jesus Quest, a book published just last March. The info on Amazon says that the eBook is the equivalent of 98 pages long, based on the number of “page turns” on a Kindle. A preliminary Word draft of Defining Inerrancy, sent to me by the authors, weighs in at just 74 pages. It’s a one-evening read, but it will be an evening very well spent.


Even though only an eBook so far, this little volume addresses some of the most pressing issues within American evangelical circles that have been brewing for more than four decades. And it comes with a Foreword by world-renown Gospels scholar, Craig Blomberg, giving the book instant credibility.

The booklet has fifteen short chapters and no footnotes or endnotes (but some, though not entirely adequate, in-text notes).

Blomberg’s Foreword, in the opening paragraph, lets the readers know that Norm Geisler has recently been attacking his evangelical orthodoxy. As one reads through this book, they will discover that it is in many ways a response to Geisler’s campaign to rid the church of what he perceives to be bibliological heretics. Inter alia, Blomberg gives a laundry list of evangelical scholars who have been the victims of Geisler’s acidic pen: Robert Gundry, Murray Harris, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Darrell Bock, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg—and even the entire Evangelical Theological Society (a group which, according to Blomberg, Geisler referred to as ‘liberal’ and the “Former Evangelical Theological Society”)! And Blomberg does not mince words. Penultimately, Blomberg commends this book as follows: “…if Geisler has already misled you on any of these topics, read these chapters carefully so that the record may be set straight.”

Indeed, that is an apt summary of the book. The authors set the record straight on Geisler’s increasingly marginalized approach to inerrancy. Many would regard Geisler as the spiritual heir of Harold Lindsell, a man whose books The Battle for the Bible and The Bible in the Balance bitterly divided evangelicals nearly four decades ago. But I digress.

The major issue that Holding and Peters put forth is that within the inerrantist camp are ‘traditionalists’ and ‘contextualizers.’ Traditionalists claim that the Bible should be read essentially literally and that unless there are clear in-text clues that something is to be taken otherwise, the reader is to regard the text as literally true. Contextualizers see things differently. They would argue that genre, comparative literature, and other extra-textual features are often important keys to understanding the meaning of the text. The book focuses on the Gospels and narrative. Here, it is claimed, traditionalists view the narrative in the Gospels as historical, while contextualizers view it as imbibing, at times, in more than one genre. And even then, this does not necessarily mean that such is not historical. Even though many traditionalists would claim that, for example, dominical sayings are always exact quotations of the Lord (known as ipsissima verba), contextualizers claim that this is not only not in keeping with ancient historiographical reporting but also involves exegetical gymnastics that defy logic.

The authors put forth their thesis rather boldly:

“inerrancy requires a contextualization of the Bible as both the superlative literature that it is and as a document; and that the ‘as it stands’ readings frequently (not always) decontextualize the Bible, reading it as a text out of time, and therefore without respect to critical defining contexts during the time of its writing.”


“… the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable, leading us down a path of endless epicycles of explanation, artificialities, and illogic. The end result will be to bring down scorn on the Christian faith and contributing [sic] to its demise in the Western world.”

This should be enough to pique the interest of any reader! As astounding as their statements are, I think they are spot on. But one will have to read the book to see whether they make out their case.

I will simply note two refrains that the authors make. First, though the Bible may be inerrant, our interpretation of it is not. This would seem to be obvious, yet repeatedly they show that Geisler sets himself up as the arbiter of truth—including true, inerrant interpretations. And this is one of the great divides among evangelicals today. Ironically, though there are many near-consensus interpretations of a number of passages among evangelicals, to hold up a particular interpretation as the true interpretation is to place tradition above the text. And this cuts directly into sola scriptura—the sufficiency of scripture as our final authority. Geisler and other traditionalists tend to claim that any view that does not see the Gospel narratives as utterly historical is not compatible with inerrancy. Yet—again ironically—many traditionalists claim that the Church has from its beginning embraced inerrancy. But if so, it is certainly not the same inerrancy that is embraced by traditionalists.

A case in point (not mentioned in the book): several church fathers, whose bibliological credentials on the New Testament at least were unimpeachable, claim that Jesus’ healing of the blind man in Mark 8.22–26 was not historical. This is one of two miracles of Jesus recorded in Mark that are not found in either Matthew or Luke. Both of them involved Jesus using spittle (the other is the healing of the deaf-mute in Mark 7). Jerome says that the story is “not historical, but symbolic.” And Ambrose, the bishop of Milan in the fourth century, saw the spittle as a symbol for the washing away of sins in baptism.

Nevertheless, these hoary authorities of old were probably wrong. It is instructive that through the route of historical criticism these two pericopes have become seen as among the most likely historical events in the Gospels—and for the same reasons that Matthew and Luke probably excluded them and the church fathers spiritualized them. Why was that? Embarrassment. Most Gospels scholars today, both evangelical and liberal and everything in between, regard a saying or act preserved in the Gospels that would be potentially embarrassing to the church, as having the marks of authenticity for this very reason, for no evangelist would create such out of whole cloth.

Second, the authors make the case that elevating inerrancy to the level of, say, the resurrection of Jesus, puts one’s whole belief system in jeopardy. Toward the end of the book, they make this case as follows:

“Blomberg also offers us, Geisler says, the hideous (!) statement that if there were a few genuine contradictions in the Bible, the rest of the text would not be jeopardized and the entire case for belief would not be called into question. Yes, this is one of those dangerous views of Scripture that says that if the Bible is not inerrant, then Jesus did not rise. How far would it go? Would we say Jesus did not even exist if we find there are mistakes in the Bible? Actually, there are some professed former Christians who hold to this position, and their questioning of the Bible started with them having been in a position like Geisler’s as confessing Christians.”

This view—making inerrancy as important as the resurrection of Christ—is part of a mindset that does not differentiate among doctrines. I call it the domino view of doctrine. When one falls down, they all fall down. I have taught for years that it is one of the main reasons why some conservatives become “liberal.” I put “liberal” in quotes because often such people are not really liberal; they are still fundamentalists, just on the left side of the theological aisle. They still see things in black and white, but now are skeptical about the supernatural and anything that smacks of biblical authority. Darrell Bock speaks of such a mentality as “brittle fundamentalism.” And he sees it as shattering when it comes in contact with the sophisticated polemics of the left.

In Defining Inerrancy, the authors note that they have known many evangelicals who have abandoned the faith precisely because they started out with such a hardening of the categories. This rings true: I get countless emails from people who have either jettisoned their beliefs (or have friends or family members who have) because their starting presupposition was that it’s inerrancy or nothing. Such people would throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater! And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit. Yet again, I digress. Holding and Peters are not in the least denying inerrancy; they are simply rejecting a rigid form of it that they see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church.

In sum, Defining Inerrancy is a book far more important than its size would indicate. It defines not only inerrancy but a yawning divide within evangelicalism. My hope is that traditionalists will not dismiss it out of hand (as they have so many treatments coming from contextualizing inerrantists), but will indeed wrestle seriously with its contents. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

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85 comments on “Review of Defining Inerrancy

  1. Thanks Dr. Wallace for your review of this book. Wasn’t sure if I should purchase this volume. Thanks again, I’m gonna read it carefully. God bless you and yours!

  2. Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.

  3. Thanks. A great review. After becoming aware of Dr. Blomberg’s position at Credo House, I am glad this position is coming more to the forefront. Our core beliefs should stand on the truth itself. And if the truth requires just a little more effort to understand than a rubber stamp then we need to get in there and ferret it out. People, take a deep breath and dig in. This book is a good way to get started.

  4. seeing that the book has the foreword by Craig Blomberg it tells a lot what this book is as such: it’s no worth buying it!

    • Genti, this is the attitude that I spoke against in my blog. Note my last two sentences: “My hope is that traditionalists will not dismiss it out of hand (as they have so many treatments coming from contextualizing inerrantists), but will indeed wrestle seriously with its contents. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.” Very sad indeed.

      • Dr. W.,
        I can assure you that not all ‘traditionalists’ dismiss this book or others that challenge our current belief. I consider myself among this group but I continue to believe that viewpoints offered by others, especially those who have done so much for the cause of Christ, must not only be read and engaged to protect what I believe but to actually sharpen it and yes, too often transform it to the biblical view. Your works have often been challenging to my views but most of the time they have been biblical and corrective. Honest and open debate in the unity of our joint beliefs makes us all more Christ-like which I pray is always the goal.

        In Him Whose Grace is Sufficient,


  5. What I’m most curious about is whether or not the authors include both the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics as part of the traditional view. Or did they suggest that the contextualizing view is still somehow compatible with them despite what Dr. Geisler, Dr. Sproul, Dr. Packer, and Dr. Kaiser have said in the last couple years about one of the more well known attempts to interpret a biblical record as less than historical? Seems to me that the CSBI and the CSBH were the first real attempts to define inerrancy (and a hermeneutic that wouldn’t undermine inerrancy). Like it or not, the framers and signers of the CSBI and CSBH set the standard. It’s pretty much the only standard there is for now. It also seems to me that the nontraditionalists are caught in the uncomfortable position of needing to redefine inerrancy in a way that is not consistent with the ICBI statements but they’re not willing to admit that their hermeneutical methodology is at odds with some of the affirmations and denials in the CSBI and CSBH. When will someone have the courage to say that the problem is with some parts of the CSBI and CSBH and then proceed to attempt to offer improvements/amendments to that standard? Or offer an alternative standard? Precisely which statements of affirmation or denial do they disagree with and what would they like to change them to say? If Holding and Peters were brave enough to do that, I’d at least respect their courage.

    • By attacking Geisler, they are attacking CSBH and CSBI. I have found that a lot of evangelical scholars don’t care for those statements.

    • Chris.I cannot speak on behalf of JPH, but for myself, I think it’s time that we redid ICBI for a new generation. We have more information on how the Bible was written and its culture now. (See for instance Walton and Sandy’s “The Lost World of Scripture”) Also, even if ICBI was fine as it was, I think it has been hijacked by Geisler and therefore its reputation has been lowered. It will be connected with his viewpoint now. (Also, I personally think that the deck might have been stacked in favor of a more dispensational approach, but again, that’s just me.)

      It’s my hope that we could get together a new team consisting entirely of scholars in the field who will affirm what evangelicals believe about Scripture for a new generation. Will this have to be done again eventually? Absolutely. Such is the nature of continued research.

      • Nick, I appreciate you taking the time to answer my curiosity and I appreciate your transparency. It seems to me that it might be better to focus on ICBI/CSBH/CSBI than just Dr. Geisler here because RCSproul, JIPacker, and Walter Kaiser all clearly backed him up on one major point of controversy over the interpretation of ICBI statements. While that’s of course not blanket endorsement that covers every point, it’s still seems like plenty of 16-penny nails in the coffin lid of the theory that Geisler wasn’t interpreting that one point in accord with the original meaning intended by the original authors. While I personally think CSBH and CSBI are very impressive and very helpful documents (notice I didn’t say inerrant, inspired, or impossible to improve), I do think it could be helpful for clarity’s sake to have an alternative statement from the progressive inerrantists. Causing division may be unhealthy but clarifying existing division is good, I think. And now that there’s a Five Views of Inerrancy book out I’m wondering if the word inerrancy has begun to become so laden with different connotative meanings that it has become almost meaningless–well, confusing anyway. Getting a unified statement/rewrite/revision together could be a big challenge for any group of scholars though. Does it seem like there should be a total rewrite in a back to the drawing board sort of sense? Or is it really just two or three points from CSBI/CSBH that tend to impede the progress of the progressives and should be recommended for reconsideration? If you addressed that already in your book, or if it’s in the Walton and Sandy book, I apologize for my ignorance.

      • Nick, just one quick comment: I don’t think that the Chicago Statement leans toward dispensationalism at all. There were, to be sure, some dispensationalists who signed the document, but they were in the minority. There are also places in the statement that no dispensationalist would have written.

      • I wouldn’t mind discussing that sometime. I do know Geisler is heavily involved in his dispensationalist interpretation which does often lean towards a more “literal” interpretation of the Bible and I have discussed this with others, but I wouldn’t mind having a discussion with you sometime on where you think a statement is in there that no dispensationalist would write. That would be interesting.

  6. Thanks for this informative post, which gives me a helpful perspective on some of the issues that are being debated among (conservative) evangelicals.

  7. I do think Geisler has been a little harsh on some people, like Kevin Vanhoozer in the above mentioned book. But I feel like the contextualizing argument tends more toward liberal theology than fundamentalism does. Contextualizing is a safe upper category ivory tower that Bible scholars can retreat to when their feeling the heat from the sciences. At least, that’s what I think Francis Schaeffer would say if he was writing “The Great Evangelical Disaster” today – which is great book on inerrancy.

    • Hi Mike.

      Actually, as one of the co-authors, I can say we both come from great distances on that question. J.P. Holding is a young-earth creationist, but he chooses to not debate or discuss that issue. I am an old-earth creationist who would have no problem with macroevolutionary theory seeing as my view of Genesis 1 is that of John Walton. (See the Lost World of Genesis One.) I could even grant an eternal universe or a multiverse as my theistic arguments (The Thomistic ones) do not rely on the universe having a beginning. I feel no heat from science. I just have this strange idea that true science will line up with a true interpretation of Scripture and where we see a conflict, either the facts are not all in on one side, or we are misinterpreting the evidence on one side. If something is bad science however, it should be refuted with good science. If something is bad theology or hermeneutics, it should be refuted with its good counterpart.

      No fear of science here.

  8. Thank you for the positive review Dr. Wallace! I am humbled and honored!

  9. YES! I have been telling people the difference between “Traditionalism” (relying on what others have said) and “Conservatism” (closer to the 1978 Chicago style Inerrancy).

    I even told a lady, when she told me I must have grown up at more “Liberal” churches because I remember going to a square dance at church, “no, I’m sorry, you are incorrect… you may have gone to more restrictive churches, but that church held to verbal plenary inspiration and didn’t add rules to the Bible like yours did… so, my church was more Conservative.”

    Same kind of thing. The white hot center of the “Conservative” Christian should be the Word of God… yet one can be a Christian even if other than “Conservative”

    Anyhow, it is for reasons like these I posted the Chicago statement on our church web-site and every time “inerrant” is used there is a link to it.

    I’m so tired of people saying “you can’t believe in ‘millions of years’ and believe in inerrancy” I simply say “Warfield did…” and they say “who” and I just shake my head and die a little inside.

  10. Thanks for the review, Dr. Wallace!

    You can add me to the list of former Evangelicals whose disillusionment with inerrancy, as it had been taught to me, led quickly to a loss of faith. It was very soon after reading the Chicago Statement, for the first time, that I realized I could not reconcile that view of the Bible with reality. After that, it did not take long before I lost my faith, entirely.

    Your review has definitely piqued my interest on this book, though, and I’ve added it to my ever-growing reading queue. Thanks again!

    • Perhaps it might be time to reconsider why you left to begin with?

      • Hahaha, thanks Nick!

        Actually, to be perfectly honest, I try to consider it all the time. If you’re interested, I actually talk about my journey and my reasons for leaving the faith in my own blog post, today.

      • Sure. I also believe you recently showed up on my own blog when I wrote about internet debates.

        I think the main mistake people make with leaving the fold is making the Bible the basis instead of Christ as the basis.

      • Knowing that I may be misreading you, I ask, is this not a sort of false dichotomy? Is not Jesus’ identity as Logos a defining attribute concerning the nature of God’s speech pointing both to His perfections and those of Scripture, such that Scripture may err as often as Christ does?

      • No. An error could be in Scripture for any number of reasons, though I don’t think there are any. That does not mean that Christ errored. I determine that Christ is who He said He was and that He rose again by using the data that even the critics will accept, such as the authentic Pauline epistles. However, with my apologetic for the resurrection, I also use a look at the social climate of the time as an honor-shame culture.

        I also prefer to call Scripture, Scripture. The ultimate Word of God is Jesus. This does not change my view of Scripture. It just means I give it a different name, the name I think the NT gives it.

      • I so agree that Christ should be our center not the Bible. When the Bible becomes the 4th member of the Trinity then I will reconsider.

    • You can add me to the other list–the list of guys who ICBI-style inerrancy helped protect my faith. My first semester of Bible college back in 1992 was dominated by George Eldon Ladd influences (his already-but-not-yet synthesis was all the rage back then) and that helped erode my inherited assumptions about the inerrancy of the Bible. I dropped out of Bible school after one semester, signed up for philosophy courses at a state school for the next semester to try to help me get rid of God (didn’t work), and then ended up hitch-hiking to Alaska to find work and try to find answers to my deep-souled questions another way. A read of Who Moved the Stone convinced me that the gospel accounts must be eye-witness testimony rather than myth. All the complexities of the political milieu there between the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod, for example, is just so messy–like we’d expect real life to be in first century Jerusalem and Caesarea. If you’re writing myth, you don’t bog down the story with confusing stuff like that–unless it was really true. Later JI Packer and Norm Geisler both gave me a sense of what Jesus’ own view of the scriptures was. Indirectly Jesus taught more on the authority of the Scriptures than any other subject. And He also considered it to be without error. The ICBI statements were great for clarifying for me what inerrancy was and wasn’t. And of course Packer and Geisler played big roles in framing the ICBI statements. Faith doesn’t come easy to me and partial inerrancy just isn’t something I’m interested in. It’s an all or nothing proposition for me. If there is any error in the Scriptures (old or new) then I’m not interested in investing any of my faith in it. I tend to see the trustworthiness of the Bible not as a thick rope of many fibers which is not hurt if a few fibers are decayed but as a chain of many links that is only as strong as its weakest link. Admittedly it can get tricky when it comes to interpreting the Bible. But the CSBI and CSBH statements were both very helpful there too. It helped me to see that old-earth versus young-earth interpretation wasn’t something the ICBI signers were hung up on, for example. That was a big deal for me at the time. By 1996 my faith was rebuilt and I enrolled in a different Bible school that was very much in line with ICBI.

      • Chris,

        My journey could not be any more different than yours. I grew up in a liberal mainline Protestant world that knew nothing of “inerrancy.” And yet it was this constant talk of inerrancy back in the 1980s among a number of my evangelical friends as a young believer in college that almost shipwrecked my faith. It was a like an all-or-nothing proposition. Lindsell made it sound like unless you accepted the claim that Peter denied Jesus six times, NOT three times, as all of the Gospels say, then you are pretty much left with a dead Jesus. Elevating inerrancy to that level just made Christianity sound unintelligible.

        It was reading folks like G. E. Ladd that helped me to see that I could have a profound confidence in the truthfulness of the Scriptures without jettisoning my brain in the process. Ironically, reading Packer and Geisler (in general) along the way actually strengthened that confidence, too. I never really saw any of this as opposed with one another respecting inerrancy. D. Wallace’s point about making a distinction between inerrancy and interpretation is absolutely critical. It only becomes a problem when well-meaning folks conflate inerrancy with their own interpretation, and then start shooting arrows at folks who hold to inerrancy in less traditional ways.

        If traditionalists think that they can reverse the damage done by the Bart Ehrmans who fall down their slippery slope by trying to discredit “contextual” evangelicals who are giving solid answers to folks like Ehrman, then I think they are sadly mistaken. Their concept of “error” is so laden with unwarranted assumptions, that it really becomes indefensible. That is why Nick’s book is so important. Yes, we do need to defend the inerrancy of Scripture, but we must take care to properly define what we mean by that.

        I mean, why would you assume that different possible interpretations of the Scriptures within an inerrantist framework necessarily deny the Chicago statement? You already concede that the old earth/ young earth question is not at stake here. Is this the only exception? But why make an exception for that? Why not jettison this goofy heliocentrism stuff and go back to good ole’ geocentrism and further protect literalism?

        The bottom line for me: Peter could have denied Jesus three times, or it could have been six. This is a good question, sure. But it just simply is not at the same level as the empty tomb, brother!! He is still risen, is He not??

        Your faith is simply an “all or nothing proposition” for you? I will pray for you that you carefully rethink that. I would hope that your faith is more resilient than what you are stating. You are playing with some dangerous spiritual fire.

  11. Reblogged this on beliefspeak2 and commented:
    Many folks take a harder stance than necessary when it relates to truth in the Bible only to be disappointed later when their house collapses since they built upon a faulty foundation. Certainly inerrancy should not be viewed mechanistically: a sort of wooden and inflexible use of words.
    Without having read Holding and Peters book, I view myself in between the two camps and would want to look at each instance on a case by case basis. However, Norman Geisler’s censorious antics toward some scholars is deplorable. Dan Wallace gives good insights along with his review of Holdings and Peters book.

  12. Is this Turretinism again?

  13. There would be many who accuse those who condemn the rigid traditionalist view on inerrancy implying that they/we are actually denying the Chicago statements of inerrancy and hermeneutics. I don’t think I would deny anything said in the Chicago statements. This accusations of traditionalists would be parallel to the accusations of reformists and calvinists that non-calvins (Molinists, Arminians) cannot accept the creeds like Westminster on predestination. Or that we don’t even believe in predestination just because we don’t have a calvinist view of predestination. This is true, isn’t it Dr. Dan ?

  14. Just bought it, and looking forward to reading it. I attend a seminary wherein the doctrine of inspiration is pretty low, and I tend to be the only student holding to plenary inspiration. I am sensitive, however, to the nuance of how each word was chosen, at what time in history, and in what ways truth is communicated in less-than-literalistic manner. Thanks, Dr. Wallace.

  15. I don’t know. Regardless of the content, I find it difficult to take an author seriously who does not include his middle initial on the cover.

  16. Could you give me the references for the Ambrose and Jerome examples? I’m not really from Missouri, but I’ve got this “show me” thing. LOL. I’m sure you realize that to say the “the spittle [is] a symbol for the washing away of sins in baptism” is not equal to calling it ahistorical.

  17. Apologianick,

    I have not read the book yet, but look forward to doing so. However, your answer to Justin above side steps the issue he raised. Of course errors could have crept into the Bible for a number of reasons. His question particularly addressed the idea that has become popular among some Evangelicals that there is a dichotomy between who Jesus is and the Spirit inspired Word. I often hear this from friends who have attended more liberal seminaries. The concept of holding Jesus as in conflict with scripture, which is what it calls itself because it is Spirit breathed, is in my opinion a false dichotomy. I am indebted to many of my brothers in Christ who hold this view for great growth in other areas of belief, I am just convinced that on this issue they have created a dichotomy that scripture does not.


    • If you mean I think the message of Jesus and the message of Scripture is distinct, then no. All of Scripture is about Jesus. Christ is the central message and the way we know Jesus best is through Scripture.

  18. Reblogged this on Overheard and commented:
    Take a deep breath and “dig in” – the work will be very worth it to those who care deeply about these matters. To others, it is a fascinating look into the deep and intense scholarship in evangelical circles. today.

  19. Presumably the Jerome example comes from Homily 79. There he does take a decidedly allegorical approach, and in fact references that he is doing so on at least two occasions. I think you will see that while he insists that the lesson to be learned is via this allegory, what he does NOT appear to say, as far as I can tell, is that the events of the text did not actually occur in history. He is saying that the allegorical interpretation is in addition to the literal, not that the literal is untrue.

  20. Great review, Dan! If interested, this morning I just posted a reply to Geisler & Co. that’s getting significant traffic: http://www.risenjesus.com/chicagos-muddy-waters

    • Michael,
      After reading your post referenced above I am less clear on what those of you who do not agree with CSBI do believe about the historical accuracy of scripture! It seems to me, which I admit is not worth that much, rather than pointing out random examples of where you believe ‘errors’ exist, why not say exactly what you do affirm about the accuracy of scripture. For me, the reliance on either side on what others have said is problematic. Do you believe that there actual errors in scripture that were penned by the inspired authors? Regardless of Geisler, this seems to be a simple answer which clarifies the distinction going forward.


  21. Michael,
    Thanks for your quick reply, it helps me!
    However, even as a ‘traditionalist’, I never believed that a position I hold is not open for correction, so for what it is worth, carry on my brother!


  22. It seems to me that missing from this whole debate is the context of what was happening in theological circles between about 1930 and 1975, which spawned the inerrancy wars of the 1980’s. It seems as if this context is totally forgotten. But it nevertheless has a great deal to do with where we are today. My response, written before either of the books above:


    • HS,
      Thanks for the history lesson. Even though I was aware of this information seeing it laid out in a clear, concise fashion does give perspective. For example, my question above and Michael ‘s answer seem less satisfactory if the way he and I define ‘errors’ is different in substance. I will have to read this e-book to get a clearer picture. One point you made in your post, or at least I took away, seems that unless we have agreement on what terms mean, particularly in a historical sense, even when we think there is grounds for agreement, it might not be so! In any case, thanks for the clarity.


  23. There is that idea out there that “If one inaccuracy is present in the Bible, then a perfect God could not be its author, and absolutely none of its claims can be trusted.”

    That sort of intuitively makes sense.

    But, I am not certain if the mental picture of God putting the words into the mind of the biblical writers is always correct in all instances.

    It seems sometimes the bible makes the claim of specific words being provided by God …

    … but in other cases not.

    For example:

    The Hebrew historical books such as Kings mention several source documents, such as Book of Jasher, Book of Iddo the Seer, Book of Nathan the Prophet, Book of Jehu, Book of Samuel the Seer, book of the acts of Solomon, Book of the Wars of the Lord.

    As the writer tells us other documents verify and provide additional details pertaining to the facts he is presenting, that would seem to disprove the idea of God always putting the specific words into the mind of the writer.

    I presume that if God were always providing the specific words, there would always be perfect recall of events, and yet sometimes a biblical writer does not have perfect recall. Example: Paul says “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.” I Cor. 1:16.

    I presume that if God were always providing the specific words, there would never be any uncertainty, and yet sometimes a biblical writer has some uncertainty about minor details, such as the writer of II Kings 9, when he did not have perfect certainty regarding the exact number of eunuchs (was it two, or three?) involved in Jezebel’s death. “He looked up at the window and called out, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down.”

    I presume God would know if it was two or if it was three.

    But, there are things said by prophets in which the prophet didn’t even understand the meaning of what they were saying or writing. See Acts 2:25 – 2:36 as an example.

    In such instances, the claim is being made that the prophet was given specific words by God.

    It seems ‘inspired by God’ sometimes means specific words are being given, but other times it seems the writer is not necessarily given the specific words.

    • Your discussion really leads to another topic: the difference between inerrancy and inspiration. Different genres of scripture are not all inspired in the same way. A prophet could be given word by word inspiration, or a vision, without claiming that the authorship of Kings works the same way. Inerrancy simply means lack of error; historical and prophetic writings could be inspired differently but inerrant in the same way (i.e., free from errors). Saying that two or three eunuchs were present in the tower is not an error and therefore has nothing to do with inerrancy. However, it is revealing as an insight into how inspiration does and does not work.

  24. Is there a hard copy of this book which will be released?

  25. […] today I’d just like to “reblog” a review of an e-book I wrote, with Nick Peters, titled Defining Inerrancy. The last two posts I wrote here […]

  26. Thank you very much for this review. I purchased the book immediately and am still reading through it. In reading it I didn’t realize that the position I’ve held on inerrency was so controversial. Though it does explain some of my experiences of the past. Once I was in an Adult Fellowship being taught by a person whom I respect and has much greater knowledge and wisdom than I. The question was asked “is Scripture required for salvation” or something of that nature and I shook my head “no” after which our teacher emphatically said “yes”. My response in my head was almost verbatim of what was in this book. “How would Stephen have been saved, then?”

    Interestingly enough, in the church that I used to attend and (I suspect) the one that I attend now, the basic definition was that the Bible is “inerrent in the original language, and the original manuscripts” or something along those lines. And I’ve always added, for the sake of clarity “with its original intent.” I never realized that so many in Evangelical circles have problems with that. I have contended that without at least trying to understand the context and intent of a passage we run the very real risk of interpreting the Scriptures in whichever way we see fit. But I never realized I was in such a minority. This has been a very eye-opening read.

  27. Thank you Kevin for your compliments! Your view is only controversial if you’re not a new fundamentalist. Thank you also for buying the book and I hope you’ll leave a positive review on Amazon!

    • Nick,
      Ok, this whole original intent concept mentioned by Kevin and used by Michael in his roundtable discussion with Kruger, et al is indeed troublesome. Not so much for the concept but the way it is used to redefine historically accurate passages as something less,e.g.(myth or legend) and then claiming to hold to an inerrant bible. Almost everyone could claim to hold to some form of this concept, even while denying essential beliefs, as long as they are the one who determines original intent. Finally, with this concept in mind, even a direct answer to whether there are errors in the bible is insufficient to know where practitioners of this new ‘original intent’ actually are. Let us not forget that Jesus , Himself, is the one who promised the apostles that the paraclete would insure they would remember all that Jesus taught. So unless one argues Jesus’ original intent was somehow not what it seems then Jesus, His resurrection are historical because scripture records it. This does not elevate scripture above Jesus but to the place Jesus placed it, an accurate record of historical events.

      • Tim. Have you read Mike’s book? That’s the first question I’d like to have answered.

      • Tim,
        The concept of original intent is only troublesome for those who conflate inerrancy with their own interpretation of the text. If there is evidence that suggests that we have wrongly understood the original intent of the sacred author, then why would this necessarily undermine inerrancy? The evidence may or may not be conclusive. Licona could be right on his interpretation. He could be wrong, too. But what does this have to do with inerrancy?

  28. […] Defining Inerrancy  (Book Review by Daniel Wallace. Worthy short treatment of some of the relevant issues.) […]

  29. Nick,
    I have not read Mike’s book yet! However, I have read several of his articles to include the address to EPS and the Muddy Waters of Chicago which address the specifics of his position, in addition to the aforementioned roundtable discussion. I have also read reviews both positive and negative. Certainly, I do not condone the antics that have occurred surrounding his position. Yet, neither do I believe that his stated position on original intent bode well as a method to deal with difficult texts. Also this whole idea that we cannot take into account the uniqueness of the Biblical text, e.g. it’s inspiration, when looking at historical events is troubling. Using hyperbole in uninspired texts, to prove that what appears to be an inspired historical account is not, rather than accepting a plain reading is equally troubling. No, I am not ant-intellectual, historical research is both informing and valuable. It is also a red herring to answer challenges by attempting to redirect the debate. Original intent is troubling for the reasons stated not because I have conflated my interpretation with inerrancy.

    • Well Tim, do you know why Mike takes the position that he does on the passage? What reasons does he have for reading it as apocalyptic?

      • How do you respond to the James White video listed below?

      • Well James, there’s a lot White gets wrong which is one reason I decided not to move forward, as well as my own mentors giving me that advice. For instance, he warned me to be careful since he knows some people at BIOLA. First off, I can only see that as a threat. Why make a threat to me? Beats me.

        Second, I am not now nor have I ever been or even tried to be a BIOLA student. White made that assumption and had he simply done some checking on me, he would have found that false easily.

        The biggest problem is White has this idea that sitting at the table of NT scholarship means sitting at a seat that denies Jesus is Lord. We’re here on Dan Wallace’s blog. He’s a NT scholar. Does he deny Jesus is Lord? How about Mike Licona? How about Craig Blomberg? Ben Witherington? Craig Keener? Michael Bird? N.T. Wright? Etc. I could go on and on.

        If anything, the NT is our document. We should be the ones in charge of it and leading the way in scholarship. Yet at the same time, I wish we were also leading the way in evolutionary scholarship, either for or against, in Islamic scholarship, in astronomical scholarship, in law scholarship. In every area, Christians should be leading. We should seek to be the best scholars.

        White lives in a world apparently of strong dichotomies. Oh I don’t deny there are several NT scholars that are antagonistic to Christianity. So what? Try to win them over sure, but don’t let that mean they control the area. They don’t.

      • I think you misrepresented White.

        You realize he wasn’t talking about BIOLA, right? He was talking about Southern Evangelical Seminary.

        Second, the issue of Lordship is not about salvation, but the application of Christ’s Lordship to every situation. And in this case, will you accept what Scripture says even if “scholarship” says contrary?

      • When I watched, he said he knew people at BIOLA. If he had said SES though, it still wouldn’t matter. I haven’t attended a class at SES in years and it’s still a threat.

        As for the Scriptures, would I go with them if scholarship said otherwise? Yes. Absolutely. So would Mike LIcona, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, Michael Bird, William Lane Craig, etc. I don’t think it would be a problem though. If the Scriptures are true, good scholarship that works rightly will bring that truth out.

      • Well, I agree that you’re not really a threat. Maybe that’s why there’s not a lot of interaction with your stuff. Maybe I’m wrong.

        However, as the record goes (or at least what we can all see online): White discussed your book, you responded (mainly claiming misrepresentation), and he responded to you.

        Clearly, this is more of an issue between presuppositional and evidentialist apologetics. White is a presuppositionalist and you’re clearly an evidentialist.

        I also think you didn’t respond because White has a huge media outlet. Why don’t you discuss the topic with him? Let the scholarship prove itself. What do you have to lose?

      • Actually, I never said anything about my being a threat. I said something about White making one. Once we get to that level, why bother? Furthermore, if we want to go with media outlets, Joel Osteen has quite a media outlet as well. So what?

        I notice mainly that the points I raised about scholarship weren’t addressed. Could be just a case of White presuppositionalism going on here. However, there is a fuller working out of the issue planned for the book when it comes out in a format that is not EBook.

        And no, the reason I kept going was I was advised not to by my many mentors. I followed their advice.

    • Tim,

      Let me respond to some things you said in your last post:

      “Yet, neither do I believe that his stated position on original intent bode well as a method to deal with difficult texts.”

      I hope you agree, though, that original intent is of utmost importance. Is it possible that some authors did not originally intend certain things to be taken as exact literal history? (Consider Jesus’ parables where he tells a narrative of something that is likely not historical.) If so then that’s how we should interpret it. But the onus is on us to determine original intent . It is not a license to pick and choose what we want to believe or what is most convenient to believe – but that applies both ways.

      “Also this whole idea that we cannot take into account the uniqueness of the Biblical text, e.g. it’s inspiration, when looking at historical events is troubling. Using hyperbole in uninspired texts, to prove that what appears to be an inspired historical account is not, rather than accepting a plain reading is equally troubling.”

      Are you suggesting an inspired text cannot contain hyperbole, idioms or other figures of speech and normal use of language from the culture it originated in? That is a very troublesome position. If people consistently hold to this position I expect to see more one- or zero-eyed Christians walking around hating their parents.

      The fact is that the way ancients used language and literature to communicate is often very different from our own. When you want to read the text literally you bring all sorts of modern presuppositions about what that means – which might be different than what the author intended at times. It requires humility and hard work on our part to be right. We can no longer just assume they thought and communicated just like us. I’m not saying its radically different or that we have no idea what we are reading – but there are differences that can make a difference in how a text is understood. The more we learn about the culture and times the better to understand the author’s intent.

      • Clbirch,

        Yes! Original intent of the author is the goal that we seek. Of course , the scriptures contain hyperbole, et al, it is not only inspired but intended to communicate to us in human language. Literal interpretation requires that one deal with all of this and contra some, literal is not wooden. Indeed, the more we learn about the culture and the times the better! But none of this allows us to import these ideas or concepts into historical events because they are troublesome.

        All that has been said here, at least by me, is framed within the original post by Dr. Wallace and the subsequent interaction in the thread as it relates to how Mike has applied these concepts to the resurrection of the saints.

        Let me be clear, nothing I have said should be read in a way that conveys anything more than this.


  30. […] seen in my life as an evangelical. (Though, this takes the cake.) Daniel Wallace at DTS has written a response as well, reviewing a recent […]

  31. Personally, if God showed up at my doorstep and said, “I inspired certain people to write according to what they knew, in view of the times in which they lived, and that the overall message would be My work of salvation to be brought about through certain unchangeable and unalterable facts [the five-to-six common critical core elements of Christianity: Jesus is the Son of God, the essence and express image of God; he was born of a virgin, died, resurrected, is Lord and King, and will come back again to finish the job of bringing all things into conformity to the Father’s will; and that only by submitting one’s allegiance and knee to him, in obedience and service to him, is salvation found], it’s neither here nor there if you find a mistake in spelling, language, words, numbers; neither is it here nor there if I allowed editing and redaction; neither is it here nor there if the science in the Bible isn’t up to twenty-first century knowledge; neither is it here nor there if you believe that the world was created in six days or six thousand years. I’m God, there’s only one of Me, Jesus is Lord and Savior, and that’s that…” If God said that to me, I’d be juuuuust fine with that.

    I mean, what, am I going to argue with God? Am I going to tell Him, “Yeah, but the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy says…”? Really?

    I’ve read the Bible (studied most all of my life). I get the message. If nothing else, I don’t need anything more than to know that the the central core truths are the point of the whole Bible. End of story. I don’t have to throw it out the door because I see a mistake, a numerical error, even a contradiction, or six days or six thousand years in creation. I DON’T CARE! That’s not the point of the book. It’s to give us the message of God’s love for this fouled up, sinful world; that there really is a way of escape, and that it ain’t good for those who won’t go with it. Period.

  32. Dan, thank you for the insightful review. This is an “intramural debate” it seems, but certainly has implications extending beyond our evangelical community. (Come back to Tampa soon! :-) )

  33. Reblogged this on Cross-Current and commented:
    Leaning more toward the traditionalist view of inerrancy myself, I am always a little uncomfortable with any discussion of the flexibility of the definition of inerrancy. However, this blog by Dr. Wallace is very interesting still. What are your thoughts on the strictness/flexibility of the definition of the doctrine of inerrancy?

  34. […] Seminary New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace recently was reviewing a book and mentioned the problem of d…. I think Wallace is sadly correct. It is a real problem in the […]

  35. […] Wallace has a lengthy review of Defining Inerrancy, by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters, with a forward by Craig Blomberg. This book is a response to […]

  36. Bravo on pointing out the dangers of the “domino theory” as you put it. And kudos for pointing out the “spiritual/allegorical” interpretations of some of the early fathers that we might wince at today, that doesn’t exactly line up with the idea of an unbroken 2000 year theological agreement on inerrancy (ala Geiser or Woodbridge types). On the other hand, I can understand Geisler’s frustration: it looks like some are trying to have their cake and eat it to. In other words, instead of saying “YES, this is an error” or “YES, this is unhistorical mythology here”, some are saying “NO, it’s not an error” and therefore they can continue to hold teaching positions after they have signed doctrinal statements holding they believe in inerrancy, while at the same time acknowleding “difficulties” with the text and subsequent interpretations that MAY not be exactly compatible with how inerrancy is understood in the evangelical world (i.e, CSBI). Thus the critique of dying a death of a thousand qualifications (and I should point out that the hard-liners are just as guilty in their explanations: Peter denying Jesus 5 times, etc). My own feeling is that the evangelical community needs reexamination of the theology of verbal plenary inspiration and canon formation. The popular description of inspiration, however nuanced and rejecting of dictation theory, still seems pretty close to a Koranic view: EVERY SINGLE WORD (assuming we get pretty close to the original and have agreement on the books [cannon]) is God’s words. God help me, I may be wrong, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

  37. Thanks for this review!

    Along the lines of inerrancy, have you read Kevin DeYoung’s latest: Taking God at His Word or listened to his message this year from T4G?

    Would you review it?

  38. […] If you’re wanting to make sure I’m quoting it right, just go here. […]

  39. Where do people like Vern S. Poythress (Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible) and G. K. Beale (The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority). Both authors published by Crossway. Does it follow to assume that ESV translators hold to their view? Thanks

  40. Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters, published by Tekton E-Bricks on 22 May 2014, is intended to be a response to Norm Geisler and Bill Roach’s Defending Inerrancy—and so much more. Both have a similar cover and similar title.

    The only problem is they never actually interact with Geisler and Roach’s book. They only ripped off the cover and responded to the Jesus Quest.

    Also, look to this video: Starting about minute 57 James White made some great comments interacting with Nick Peters and Defining Inerrancy.


  41. Here’s a better link to the video: Starting about minute 57.

    • James White made some interesting points about the inerrancy discussion, after I endured five minutes of narcissism before he got started on that segment of the discussion. Maybe we should link that video in the Osteens and Christian Narcissism discussion as well.

  42. I think it often, if I can be so simplistic, comes down to the same suspicion and fear that characterizes much of Christian academia today. This probably includes a good bit of pride that says, in a way, unless “I” take a stand on what I have concluded, danger lies ahead. It is unfortunate how this fear can keep believers from depths of understanding inside the Word they long for in the first place.

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