The Untold Truth about Paige Patterson

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The Untold Truth:

Facts Surrounding Paige Patterson and his Removal from SWBTS

By Sharayah Colter

May 2018

“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.”

Proverbs 18:17 (NASB)


When I received news that Paige Patterson had been fired from his role as president emeritus, I was standing under a sunny sky listening to my toddler son squealing with pure delight as he chased his dog around my legs. It struck me how oblivious he was to the sobering news, and I felt the weight of the realization that the history we write today is the future he lives tomorrow. In the spirit of writing a truthful history, I’d like to offer a more complete picture of what has transpired over the past month in regard to Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe we are all better served operating with the truth, and since I am aware of these truths, I feel I need to share them.

The first fact I’d like to offer in full disclosure is that I have had a front row seat to observing Paige Patterson during my time at Southwestern as a student and most recently as wife to his chief of staff, Scott Colter. I have been in his home, ridden in his car, passed him on the sidewalk, been a student in his class, sat through his chapel sermons, emailed with him and shared meals with him. I’ve observed him in large groups and small family gatherings.

Second, I want to be clear that I have compiled this account of the truth completely of my own volition. Paige and Dorothy Patterson have not asked me to write on behalf of or in defense of them, and my words are my own.

Third, the fact is, Southern Baptists deserve to know the whole story. Thus far you’ve heard one side of it, and that is because Patterson holds the conviction not to defend himself personally, following the example of Christ. However, this story has spiraled out of control to a point that demands a balanced and truthful response. The facts below will characterize a man who — while a sinner with feet of clay like each us — is not guilty of all of which he has been accused in recent days.

Please allow me to address the accusations against him here.


Accusation # 1: Patterson encouraged a female Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary student not to report an alleged rape to police.

This accusation was outlined in a Washington Post article published May 22 while the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) were meeting. In the article, a student who in a Tweet later identified herself as Megan Lively (Megan Nichols during her time at Southeastern), alleges that Patterson met with her along with four male seminarians and encouraged her not to report the alleged rape to police. The article states that she was placed on probation but that she did not know why.

Truth: Patterson says he does not recall meeting with Lively, which appears in keeping with a letter Lively sent to Patterson dated April 15, 2003 (see attached letter and response in the PDF version).

“Finally, thank you for the accountability and for putting me on probation. Even though Dr. Moseley has handled this, I think it is great that the school enforces discipline,” Lively wrote in the letter. “At first, I was humiliated and embarrassed. But I know now this is from my own actions and the consequences of those.”

In the letter, Lively apologized and admitted what she recalled then as sin.

“I just wanted to write you and first of all apologize,” Lively wrote in the April 15 letter. “I know that you have been made aware of the sin that was in my life. While I have confessed this to the Lord, repented and sought accountability in my own life, I feel that I have disgraced the school.”

In July 2003, Lively sent a handwritten notecard to Patterson again offering her gratitude and appreciation to him (see attached notecard and response).

“I just wanted to take the time to thank you for the difference you have made in the life of our seminary and in my personal life,” Lively wrote in the notecard. “We will be praying for you and support you 100 percent. The faculty and students at Southwestern have no idea how blessed they are to have you as their new president.”

If a rape had indeed been alleged in 2003, and Patterson had known about it, he would have reported it to authorities, as he demonstrated in a different scenario involving a Southwestern Seminary student when he called police even when the student asked him not to do so.

This brings me to the second accusation against Patterson.

Accusation # 2: Patterson did not handle appropriately an alleged case of sexual assault against a SWBTS student.

Truth: Patterson immediately called police in response to a female student claiming she had been raped. The accused man admitted to having sexual relations with the woman, but said it was consensual. The man also produced evidence to the police to that effect.

Southwestern’s chief of police can confirm that the Fort Worth Police Department was called and responded. Patterson expelled the male student accused of rape. However, because the female student refused to press charges, Patterson had done all he could by calling the police, expelling the student and encouraging the woman multiple times to press charges.

Assistant Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies Candi Finch, who also served as assistant to Dorothy Patterson during her time as first lady at Southwestern, was in one of the meetings where Patterson met with the female student and her family members.

“I personally sat in a meeting with Dr. Patterson and this female student and two of her family members,” Finch recalled. “Dr. Patterson opened and closed the meeting with prayer for this young lady. He encouraged her in my presence to press criminal charges against the young man, but she said she wanted to think and pray about it more.”

Finch said to her knowledge the woman has not pressed charges to date.

Accusation # 3: Patterson says an abused wife should return to an abusive husband.

Truth: Fifty-four years ago, a woman in Patterson’s church told him she was feeling spiritually abused because her husband would not let her go to church or tithe. After the woman emphatically assured Patterson her husband had never hurt her physically and would never hurt her, Patterson advised her to go home and pray for her husband. Surprisingly to the woman, the husband did hurt her. They both came to church, and the man was saved, about which Patterson said he was happy. Contrary to the narrative spun through social media, Patterson was not happy the woman was hurt. Patterson has apologized for not expressing himself clearly in the retelling of this story giving the impression he condones abuse. As one who has risked his life to remove wives from domestic violence, nothing could be further from the truth.

Many Southern Baptist leaders have condemned Patterson by explaining their stance on abuse and setting it up in juxtaposition to Patterson’s portrayed beliefs. Patterson has offered multiple statements clarifying his stance on abuse. “I utterly reject any form of abuse in demeaning or threatening talk, in physical blows, or in forced sexual acts,” Patterson stated in “An Apology to God’s People,” posted on Southwestern’s website on May 10, 2018. “There is no excuse for anyone to use intemperate language or to attempt to injure another person.” For Patterson, those are not just hollow words; they are strong beliefs which he has demonstrated by physically removing women from abusive husbands on more than one occasion.

“I was the one being hit and Dr. Patterson never suggested to ‘stick around and get smacked.’” tweeted Angie Brock on May 4. “What he did was bring the authorities, remove my violent husband and encourage me in the Word. Not recommending divorce does not mean approval of abuse.”

Accusation # 4: Patterson objectified a 16-year-old girl in conversation with a woman and her son.

Truth: Patterson, upon hearing a teenage boy say to his friend that a girl passing by was “built,” commented to the boy’s mother that the boy was just being biblical, meaning that he was using the same language the Bible uses to describe Eve in the creation account. In the retelling of this story during a sermon illustration while preaching on Genesis 2, Patterson said that the “young co-ed” who had passed by the boys, was “nice.”

Patterson has issued a statement saying he regrets any hurt his words have caused.

“[A] sermon illustration used to try to explain a Hebrew word (Heb. banah “build or construct,” Gen. 2:22) [has] obviously been hurtful to women in several possible ways,” Patterson said in his May 10 statement “An Apology to God’s People.” “I wish to apologize to every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or that lacked clarity. We live in a world of hurt and sorrow, and the last thing that I need to do is add to anyone’s heartache. Please forgive the failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”

Accusation # 5: Patterson fired student employee Nathan Montgomery in retaliation for Tweeting an article calling for his retirement.

Truth: When Montgomery’s Tweet was shown to Patterson, he instructed that the employee not be fired. Vice President of Communications Charles Patrick, however, had already fired Montgomery. The matter was taken out of Patterson’s hands when Montgomery appealed directly to the board of trustees instead of appealing to Patterson. 

Remaining truths

The last few remaining truths that Southern Baptists should know is the way in which the Southwestern board of trustees has handled the social media crisis and ensuing termination of Patterson. While many godly men and women comprise the board of trustees, the manner in which the matter was handled was disappointing at best, especially in light of the many bylaw infractions and violations of trustee confidentiality.


Trustee violations


The executive committee of the board of trustees worked outside the bounds of its bylaws by not giving the required 10-day notice before holding meetings.


Trustee confidentiality was violated by the release of information from the executive session of the board’s May 22 meeting to people outside the room and not on the board during the 13-hour meeting. Confidential seminary information which was only shared with the trustees appeared both on Twitter (@eyesonSBC) and in a blog.


May 22, 2018 meeting of the board of trustees


Despite the fact that Patterson requested the meeting to have a hearing from the full board, only a fraction of the time was allotted by the trustees for him to address the group. His time was limited and he was only allowed to answer specific questions posed by the board. On the second brief occasion when he was summoned to speak to the board, he was not allowed to bring his cabinet with him, as he desired.


Then, after waiting into the wee hours of the morning while the board met in executive session and upon offering Patterson the position of president emeritus, Patterson returned to a side room down the hall from the trustees’ meeting room to discuss the board’s solution with his cabinet. After about 20 minutes, when Patterson was nearly ready to return to the board’s meeting room in reply, a Southwestern employee noticed the trustees were returning to open session and rushed down the hall to let Patterson and his cabinet know so that they could return to the meeting.


I personally walked down the hall to hear what the board would announce in open session, since they had not waited for Patterson to return. When I arrived at the room, trustees and media were pouring out, having already ended the meeting after only a couple of minutes, if that, in open session. I had to ask a reporter what the board had announced and then returned immediately to deliver the news to Patterson that they had removed him as president and named him president emeritus.


May 30, 2018 action of the executive committee of the board of trustees


After midnight in Germany, while Patterson was sleeping, the chairman of the board of trustees, Kevin Ueckert, ordered Scott Colter to wake Patterson for a phone call. On the call, Ueckert told Patterson he was fired effective immediately, with no salary, no health insurance and no home. He then relayed that Patterson would receive instructions for vacating Pecan Manor upon returning to Fort Worth.


Before the phone call, both Pattersons’ and Colter’s email accounts, including personal contacts and calendar, were shut down without notice and while the three were traveling in Germany on behalf of Southwestern, leaving them without access to itineraries, train tickets, local contact information, hotel confirmation and flight boarding passes.


Also at some point before the phone call, the locks were changed without notice to the room on Southwestern’s campus housing Patterson’s private and personal archives containing ministry materials and documents from Criswell College and the Conservative Resurgence. No notice was given, and the Pattersons had no knowledge that this was being done and had not given permission for such. Despite accusations that the archives were mishandled, the attached correspondence from 2004 from Patterson to Southeastern’s librarian and president indicate he believes all was handled properly.


It is regrettable that the trustees did not contact Patterson during their May 30 executive committee meeting to hear any explanation of these accusations before his immediate termination. I wish to reiterate that the purpose of sharing the details of what has transpired over the past month is the hope that Southern Baptists, who own Southwestern Seminary and control its work, have a fuller picture of what actually occurred.


So why was Paige Patterson actually terminated? Was it for …


–        encouraging a female student not to report to police an alleged rape at Southeastern?


We now know that he does not recall meeting with her and that she thanked him and sang his praises.


–        not handling appropriately an alleged case of sexual assault against a SWBTS student?


We now know that he called the police, urged the woman to press charges and expelled the male student.


–        telling an abused wife to return to an abusive husband?


We now know the wife assured him that her husband had not and would never physically harm her.


–        objectified a 16-year-old girl in conversation with a woman and her son?


We now know Patterson has apologized for using a sermon illustration that misconstrued his heart and beliefs.


–        fired student employee Nathan Montgomery?


We now know Patterson did not fire Montgomery and instructed that he not be fired.


We serve a God of truth. I have written in the spirit of that truth, and I pray you will receive it in that spirit as well.


Carroll instructed Scarborough,

“Lee, keep the Seminary lashed to the cross. If heresy ever comes in the teaching, take it to the faculty. If they will not hear you and take prompt action, take it to the trustees of the Seminary. If they will not hear you, take it to the Convention that appoints the Board of Trustees, and if they will not hear you, take it to the great common people of our churches. You will not fail to get a hearing then.”

–        B.H. Carroll – Founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary



por Dr. Norman L. Geisler

Copyright © 2014 Norman L. Geisler – Todos los derechos reservados

Traducido por Pastor Alejandro Molero, Venezuela


La edad de la tierra es un tema muy acalorado entre los evangélicos. Los que creen en una tierra antigua, como la mayoría de los científicos, creen que el universo tiene miles de millones de años de antigüedad. Los que creen en una tierra joven, miden la edad del universo en miles de años . El debate no es nuevo, pero la insistencia de algunos de los que creen en una tierra joven respecto a que la infalibilidad de la Biblia exige una posición de Tierra Joven, si es relativamente nueva.

El Punto de Vista Bíblica de la Tierra Joven

A fin de establecer la visión de la Tierra Joven, uno debe demostrar que

  1. no hay brechas de tiempo en el registro bíblico y
  2. los “días” de la creación en Génesis son seis sucesivos días de 24 horas.

Las posibles brechas en Génesis

Desafortunadamente para los que creen en una tierra joven, estas dos premisas son difíciles de establecer, por muchas razones .

  1. Podría haber habido una diferencia de largos períodos de tiempo antes de Génesis 1:1 (llamado Creacionismo Reciente) .
  2. Podría haber habido una brecha entre Génesis 1:1 y 1:2 (llamada la Teoría de la Brecha con o sin la intervención y caída de Satanás, como Scofield relató)
  3. Podría haber habido largos intervalos entre los seis días literales de 24 horas (Teoría de la Alternancia de los Días) El punto aquí no es defender ninguno de estos puntos de vista sino, notar que la creencia en una Tierra Antigua no es incompatible, en principio, con la creencia en la inerrancia bíblica y la interpretación literal del Génesis.
  4. Existen brechas de tiempo bien conocidas después de Génesis. Por ejemplo , Mateo 1:08 afirma que “Joram engendró a Ozías” pero en 1 Crónicas 3:11-14 se menciona tres generaciones que faltan entre Joram y Ozías. Del mismo modo , Lucas 3:35-36 enumera una generación perdida (Cainán) no se menciona en Génesis 11:20-24 .

Así, con brechas demostrables en las genealogías, el punto de vista de la “Cronología Cerrada” necesitaba apoyar que la visión estricta de una Tierra Joven no es real. Esto significaría que una visión joven de la tierra de la creación alrededor de 4000 AC no sería factible. Y una vez que se admitan más brechas de tiempo, entonces ¿cuándo dejarán de de aparecer los puntos de vista de los que creen en una tierra joven?

La evidencia de que los ” días ” de Génesis pueden suponer más de seis días de 24 horas para la Creación

No sólo es posible que existan brechas de tiempo en Génesis 1 sino que también hay evidencia de que los “días” de Génesis no son 6 sucesivos días de 24 horas. A esto se ha llamado el Punto de Vista de la Edad de los Dias (ver Hugh Ross, “Creation and Time” y Don Stoner, “una nueva mirada a una Tierra Vieja” ). Considere lo siguiente:

  1. En primer lugar, la palabra “día ” (heb. yom) no se limita a un día de 24 horas en el registro de la creación. Por ejemplo , se utiliza de 12 horas de luz o durante el día (en Génesis 1 : 4- 5a).
  2. También se utiliza de un día entero de 24 horas en Génesis 1:5b , donde se habla el día y la noche juntos como un “día “.
  3. Además, en Génesis 2:4 la palabra “día” es usada para los “seis días de la creación” cuando afirma: “Estas son las generaciones de los cielos y la tierra cuando fueron creados en el día [yom] que el Jehová Dios los hizo “(Génesis 2:04 )
  4. Y aún más, en el “séptimo día” Dios “descansó” de su obra de creación. Pero según Hebreos 4:4-11, Dios está todavía descansando y nosotros podemos entrar en Su descanso sabático (v. 10). Por lo tanto, el séptimo día de descanso creación está todavía en curso, unos 6.000 años más tarde (incluso según la cronología de la Tierra Joven)
  5. Además, hay alternativas bíblicas a la más fuerte discusión de un día de 24 horas . Por ejemplo:

5.1.       la serie numerada con la palabra “día” (como en Génesis 1) no siempre se refiere a día de 24 horas, como muestra Oseas 6:1-2.

5.2.       También, “tarde y mañana “, a veces se refiere a períodos más largos de tiempo, en lugar de 24 horas, como lo hacen en los días proféticos de Daniel 8:14.

5.3.       Y la comparación con la semana de trabajo en Éxodo 20:11, no tendría que ser de una comparación minuto a minuto, sino unidad por unidad. Además, es sabido que el séptimo día es más largo de 24 horas (Hebreos 4:4-11 ) . Así que , ¿por qué no pueden los demás días ser más largos también?

5.4.       En cuanto a la muerte antes de Adán, la Biblia no dice que la muerte de toda la vida fue el resultado del pecado de Adán. Sólo se afirma que “la muerte pasó a todos los hombres” a causa del pecado de Adán” (Romanos 5:12 , énfasis añadido), y no a todas las plantas y animales, a pesar de que toda la creación fue sujeta a ” la esclavitud de la corrupción ” ( Rom. 8 : 21 )

  1. Otros como Hermon Ridderbos (Autor de “¿Existe un conflicto entre Génesis 1 y las Ciencias Naturales?” ) considera los “días” de Génesis como marco literario para los grandes eventos creativos del pasado. Y otros (Bernard Ramm, Autor de “El Punto de Vista Cristiano de la Ciencia y la Escritura”) consideró que los “días” de Génesis eran seis días de 24 horas de la revelación (en los que Dios reveló lo que había hecho en el pasado antiguo al escritor de Génesis), pero que no eran días literales de creación. Una vez más, el punto aquí no es defender estos puntos de vista, sino señalar que hay alternativas a la posición de una tierra joven, la mayoría de los cuales no son incompatibles (en principio) con la creencia en la inerrancia de la Escritura.
  2. El Punto de Vista del Tiempo Relativo afirma que la Tierra es tanto jóven como antigua, dependiendo de cómo se mida. Gerard Schroeder, un físico judío (Autor de “El Génesis y el Big Bang”), argumentó que según el tiempo de Dios, cuando creó el universo sólo fueron seis días literales de creación. Pero medido en tiempo nuestro, la creación del universo tiene miles de millones de años de antigüedad.
  3. El Punto de Vista de la Edad Aparente propone que el universo sólo se ve viejo, a pesar de que es joven. El libro de Philip Henry Gosse fue titulado Omphalos (1857), lo que significa ombligo, proponiendo que Adán tenía un ombligo, a pesar de que fue creado como un adulto. Del mismo modo, en este punto de vista el primer árbol habría tenido anillos en ellos el día en que fue creado.

Si hay evidencia de brechas en Génesis y el período de tiempo involucrado en los seis días del Génesis, entonces el punto de vista de la Tierra Joven no apoya de manera convincente sus dos pilares. Como mínimo, deja espacio para la duda razonable. En vista de esto, uno puede preguntarse por qué es que muchos todavía se aferran al punto de vista de la Tierra Joven con tanta tenacidad.

Una Presunción Teológica

Para algunos, la creencia en una Tierra joven parece estar basada en una especie de intuición o en la fe en la omnipotencia de Dios. Se razona que si Dios es todopoderoso, entonces, ciertamente Él no habría tomado millones de años para hacer de la tierra . Sin embargo, por reducción al absurdo, uno podría preguntarse por qué Dios no lo creó en seis minutos o seis segundos en lugar de seis días. Si Él es todopoderoso y puede hacer algo de la nada, entonces ¿por qué Él no crea todo el asunto de un solo golpe instantáneamente!

El miedo Evolutivo

Muchos defensores de la teoría de la tierra joven parecen tener miedo de conceder largos períodos de tiempo por temor a que puede ayudar a apoyar una conclusión evolutiva. Sin embargo, esto no necesariamente sería así por dos razones.

En primer lugar, el tiempo , como tal, no ayuda a la evolución. Dejar caer confeti rojo, blanco, y azul de un avión de mil metros sobre el suelo no producirá una bandera estadounidense en nuestro patio. Y subir a diez mil pies (y darle más tiempo para caer) tampoco ayudará a formar la bandera. El tiempo como tal no organiza las cosas en diseños complejos, sino que mezcla aleatoriamente el material. Se necesita una causa inteligente para formar en una bandera estadounidense. Además, separar los actos sobrenaturales de la revelación de Dios a Adán, Noé, Abraham, Moisés y los profetas por muchos cientos de años no los hace menos sobrenaturales. Simplemente hace que su revelación sea progresiva en un período de tiempo. Lo mismo podría decirse de los actos de la creación de Dios, si es que fueron separados por largos períodos de tiempo.

En segundo lugar, hay un montón de otros problemas con la macro evolución porque esta no explica (sin una causa inteligente que intervenga) (a) cómo algo puede venir de la nada, (b) ¿cómo lo inanimado no puede venir de la vida, (c) la inconciencia puede producir conciencia, y (d) cómo los seres no racionales pueden producir seres racionales. Los períodos largos de tiempo como tal no explican ninguno de estos problemas, sino que se necesita la intervención de alguien inteligente para hacerlo.

Como hemos visto, las premisas del Punto de Vista de la Tierra Joven son susceptibles a objeciones serias. No hay ninguna carcaza hermética para el punto de vista de una tierra joven, desde un punto de vista bíblico. Así, mientras que esa postura pudiera ser compatible con la inerrancia, sin embargo, la inerrancia no requiere de la creencia en una Tierra joven.

La condición histórica de la Teoría de la Tierra Joven

Históricamente, la teoría de una tierra joven nunca ha jugado un papel importante, y mucho menos crucial en la historia de la Iglesia. Se sabe que los Padres de la Iglesia (véase San Agustín, “Ciudad de Dios” 11,6 ), pero nunca fue una doctrina esencial, por no hablar de un estatus especial.

En primer lugar, el creacionismo joven de la tierra nunca se le dio un estatus de credo en la Iglesia primitiva. No aparece en ninguno de los credos apostólicos tempranos o en cualquier otro credo ampliamente aceptado en la historia de la cristiandad.

En segundo lugar, no se le concedió un importante estado doctrinal por el fundamentalismo histórico (c. 1900). Es decir, no fue aceptado o defendido por B. B. Warfield , Charles Hodge o J. Gresham Machen .

En tercer lugar, el creacionismo joven de la tierra es el gran ausente en la famosa serie de cuatro volúmenes (1910-1915) “Los Fundamentos: un testimonio de la Verdad” editado por R.A. Torrey y C.C. Dixon. De hecho, ni un solo artículo de esta serie histórica defiende el punto de vista joven del Creacionismo de la Tierra. De hecho, todos los artículos sobre la ciencia y las Escrituras fueron escritos por académicos favorables al punto de vista de la Tierra Antigua.

En cuarto lugar, los fundadores y redactores del movimiento contemporáneo de la infalibilidad (ICBI) en la década de los 70´s y 80´s rechazaron explícitamente la opinión de la Tierra Joven como esenciales a la creencia en la inerrancia. Lo discutieron y votaron en contra de lo que es una parte de lo que ellos creían que la inerrancia implicaba, a pesar de que ellos creían en la interpretación literal e “histórico- gramatical” de la Biblia, un Adán literal, y la historicidad de los primeros capítulos del Génesis. Teniendo en cuenta esta historia del punto de vista de una tierra joven, uno se sorprende por el celo con el cual algunos defensores del creacionismo joven están convirtiendo su posición en una prueba virtual para la ortodoxia evangélica.

Si el punto de vista de una Tierra Joven es verdad, entonces que así sea, pero deje que sea la evidencia bíblica y científica que lo demuestre. Mientras tanto, pretender que sea una prueba tácita de la ortodoxia servirá para socavar la fe de muchos de los vinculan tanto la inerrancia a la ortodoxia que van a tener que tirar al bebé con el agua del baño, en caso de que alguna vez se convenzan de que la tierra es antigua. Uno nunca debe atar su fe a la edad de la tierra.

Incluso si el punto de vista de la Tierra Joven fuera cierto, no por ello iba a ganar una posición en el Credo cristiano o algún equivalente. Eso es harina de otro costal reservado para las verdades que son esenciales para el Evangelio (véase Geisler y Rhodes, “Convicción sin Compromiso” ). Hay muchas doctrinas cristianas menores que no han obtenido el estado de credo, junto con El Credo de los Apóstoles en el que se declara de la creación sólo esto: “Creo en Dios, Padre Todopoderoso, Creador del cielo y de la tierra” (énfasis añadido) y nada acerca de cuánto tiempo hace que sucedió.

Algunas observaciones finales

Después de reflexionar en serio estas cuestiones desde hace más de medio siglo, mis conclusiones son las siguientes: ( 1 ) El punto de vista joven Tierra no es uno de los fundamentos de la fe . ( 2 ) No es una prueba de la ortodoxia. ( 3 ) No es una condición para la salvación . ( 4 ) No es una prueba de la comunión cristiana . ( 5 ) No es una cuestión sobre la que el cuerpo de Cristo debería dividirse . ( 6 ) No es una colina en la que debamos morir. ( 7 ) El hecho de la creación es más importante que el tiempo de la creación. ( 8 ) Hay doctrinas más importantes en las que debemos centrarnos (como la inerrancia de la Biblia, la deidad de Cristo, la Trinidad, y la muerte y resurrección de Cristo, y Su Segunda Venida literal . Como Repertus Meldenius (muerto en 1651 ) lo expresó: “En lo esencial , unidad; en lo no esencial, libertad, y en todas las cosas la caridad.” Y por dondequiera que se mira, la edad de la tierra no es uno de los elementos esenciales de la fe cristiana.



There is a new “kid” on the world view block called “neotheism.” While claiming to be in the camp of theism, proponents of this view make several significant changes in the nature of the theistic God in the direction of process theology or panentheism. They claim, among other things, that God can change His mind and that He does not have an infallible knowledge of the future. Since a number of noted evangelical thinkers espouse neotheism, it poses a significant threat to the orthodox understanding of God. For example, if God does not know for sure what will happen in the future, then predictions in the Bible can be wrong. While the view is not heretical, nonetheless, it is a significant doctrinal deviation from traditional theism and would undermine both traditional Arminian and Calvinist beliefs about predestination.


The nature of God is the most fundamental issue in all theology. It’s what theology is all about. On it stands or falls every other major doctrine. From its inception, orthodox Christianity has been uncompromisingly theistic. Recently, a new view has seriously challenged this venerable history. In fact, this view claims to be orthodox but zealously desires to make major changes in the classical theistic view. Several proponents of this view, including Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, have collaborated on a volume titled The Openness of God.1 Other Christian thinkers share similar views or have expressed sympathy for this position, including Greg Boyd, Stephen Davis, Thomas Morris, and Richard Swinburne.2

Neotheists have variously labeled their view “the openness of God” or “free will theism.” Others have called this new form of theism a form of process theology or panentheism because of its important similarities to this position.3 Yet it seems more appropriate to call it neotheism for several reasons. First, it has significant differences from the panentheism of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorn, and company.4 Neotheism, like classical theism, affirms many of the essential attributes of God, including infinity, necessity, ontological independence, transcendence, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Likewise, it shares with traditional theism the belief in ex nihilo creation and direct divine supernatural intervention in the world. Since process theology denies all these, it seems unfair to list neotheism as a subspecies of that view.

On the other hand, since significant differences exist between the new theism and classical theism, neither does neotheism fit comfortably in the latter category. For example, neotheism denies God’s foreknowledge of future free acts and, as a consequence, God’s complete sovereignty over human events. These deviations from two millennia of Christian theology are serious enough to deserve another name, as well as to arouse concern. It seems appropriate, then, to call it neotheism.

One proponent, Clark Pinnock, correctly positioned neotheism in titling his chapter in Process Theology “Between Classical and Process Theism.” Whatever it is called, this view is a serious challenge to classical theism and a serious threat to many important doctrines and practices built on that view. Since they desire to be members of the orthodox theistic camp, they have understandably cast their view in that direction. Let’s examine the distinctive features of their proposal.


As the new kid on the block, neotheism desires to make itself clear, distinct, and appealing. Proponents list five characteristics of their position:

  1. God not only created this world ex nihilo but can (and at times does) intervene unilaterally in earthly affairs.
  2. God chose to create us with incompatibilistic (libertarian)5 freedom — freedom over which he cannot exercise total control.
  3. God so values freedom — the moral integrity of free creatures and a world in which such integrity is possible — that he does not normally override such freedom, even if he sees that it is producing undesirable results.
  4. God always desires our highest good, both individually and corporately, and thus is affected by what happens in our lives.
  5. God does not possess exhaustive knowledge of exactly how we will utilize our freedom, although he may very well at times be able to predict with great accuracy the choices we will freely make.6

Neotheism is a form of theism, and should not be ranked as a heresy. Nevertheless, it is a significant doctrinal departure from the traditional theism underlying historic orthodoxy. As such, it deserves careful analysis. Granting what neotheists believe about God, neotheism is inconsistent. Moreover, it is an unnecessary aberration: the classical theistic view of God can be logically derived from the premises of neotheism, and the central desire of neotheists for an interactive God is possible without giving up the classical theistic view of God. These are just some of the problems with neotheism that are readily apparent. (As we examine the logical inconsistencies of neotheism it will be necessary to cover some philosophical ground that may prove slow going for the lay reader. A glossary has been provided to help such readers navigate through this section.)

Creation Ex Nihilo Entails Theism, Not Neotheism

Neotheism affirms with Theism that God created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo). God is ontologically independent of His creation. That is, if there were no world, there would still be God. Yet at the same time, they claim to reject God’s traditional attributes of aseity and eternality (nontemporality). Logically, they cannot have it both ways.

God’s Eternality Follows from Creation Ex Nihilo. If God created the entire spatiotemporal universe, then time is part of the essence of the cosmos. In short, God created time. Moreover, if time is something that is of the essence of creation, then it cannot be an attribute of the uncreated — that is, of God.

If on reconsideration a neotheist opts to hold that time existed before creation, then logical problems emerge. Was time “inside” of God — that is, part of His nature — or outside of Him? If inside, then how can God be without a beginning, since an infinite number of temporal moments appears to be incoherent (as proponents of the kalam argument for God’s existence have affirmed).

If, on the other hand, time is “outside” of God, then some sort of dualism emerges. Moreover, if time is outside God, then we must ask whether it had a beginning or not. If it did not, then it could be argued that there is something outside God that He did not create, since time is as eternal as He is. This is no longer theism in either the classical or neotheistic sense. Yet if time is outside of God and had a beginning, then God must have created it (since everything with a beginning has a cause). In this event we are right back to the theistic position that God created time, and that God as the Creator of time is not temporal.

God’s Transcendence Implies His Nontemporality. According to neotheism, God is beyond creation. He is more than and other than the entire spatiotemporal world. Again, however, if God is beyond time, then He cannot be temporal. The neotheist might reply that God is also immanent in the temporal world, and whatever is immanent in the temporal is temporal. Yet a proper understanding of God’s immanence does not make Him part of the world (as in panentheism) but only present in the world (as in theism). God is in the world in accordance with His being, and His being is nontemporal. He is in it in a nontemporal way.

For example, God is a necessary being. As such He is immanent in the contingent world, but this does not make Him contingent. Rather, God the necessary Being is immanent in the contingent being in accordance with His being, which is necessary. As Creator He is immanent in His creation. This does not mean He is part of creation just because He is present in it. Therefore, immanence of a nontemporal God in a temporal world does not demand that God is temporal.

God’s Uncausality and Necessity Imply His Pure Actuality. The new theists also believe God is not caused by any other being, and is Himself the cause of all other beings. But if God is uncaused in His being, then He must be Pure Actuality. For whatever is not caused never came to be; and whatever never came to be has no potentiality in its being. But if it has no potentiality, then it must be Pure Actuality.

To put it another way, if God is uncaused, then He has no potential. For to be caused means to have one’s potential actualized. But what has no actualized potential had no potential to be actualized. Hence, God must have been pure Actuality. Thus the neotheists’ belief that God is an uncaused Being logically entails what they say they reject, namely that God is a Being of Pure Actuality with no potentiality in His being.

The classical theistic view of God also follows from the neotheist belief that God is a Necessary Being; for if God is a Necessary Being then He cannot not be — that is, God has no potential in His being not to be. Once again, if God does not have potentiality in His being, then He is Pure Actuality. Therefore, the classical theistic view of God follows from what neotheists admit about God. Nevertheless, neotheism rejects the attribute of Pure Actuality. Thus neotheism is inconsistent and incoherent.


In addition to the philosophical incoherency of neotheism, there are some serious theological consequences. Several will be briefly enumerated here.

Predictive Prophecy Would Be Fallible

If all predictive prophecy involving free choices is conditional, then the Bible could not have predicted where Jesus would be born. Micah, however, did predict that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2), as He was. Indeed, the Bible also predicted when He would die (Dan. 9:25-27), how He would die (Isa. 53), and how He would rise from the dead (Ps. 16:10 cf. Acts 2:30–31). Either these predictions are infallible or else they were just guesses on God’s part. If they are infallible, then neotheism is wrong, since according to their view God cannot make infallible predictions. On the other hand, if it is not infallible, then God was just guessing.

The same is true of most, if not all, prophecies about the Messiah. Such prophetic fulfillments involved free choices somewhere along the line, which — according to neotheism — God did not know. For example, if God does not know future free acts with certainty, then He does not know that the beast and the false prophet will be in the lake of fire. The Bible, however, says they will be there (Rev. 19:20; 20:10). Hence, either this prophecy is potentially false, or neotheism is not correct. In other words, if neotheism is true, then this prediction may be false.

Before leaving prophecy, another point must be addressed. Neotheists claim “the problem with the traditional view on this point is that there is no if from God’s perspective. If God knows the future exhaustively, then conditional prophecies lose their integrity.”7 This argument confuses two perspectives. Of course, from God’s perspective (since He knows the future infallibly) everything is certain. As noted above, this does not mean that from the human standpoint these actions are not chosen freely. It is simply that God knew for certain how people would freely exercise their choice.

It Undermines the Test for False Prophecy

If all prophecy is conditional, then there cannot be any such thing as a false prophecy. The Old Testament, however, lays down tests for false prophets, one of which is whether or not the prediction comes to pass. “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” (Deut. 18:22). If the neotheists are correct, however, then this test cannot be valid.

It Undermines the Infallibility of the Bible

Not only does the neotheist’s denial that God knows the outcome of future free acts diminish (or deny) God’s omniscience and omnipotence, but it also entails a denial of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, which some neotheists (e. g., Pinnock) claim to believe. If all such prophecies are conditional, then we can never be sure that they will come to pass. Yet the Bible affirmed that they truly would come to pass. According to neotheist thinking, such pronouncements are not infallible, and they may be in error. On the premise that God is only guessing, it is reasonable to assume that some are wrong. It is begging the issue to assume that it just so happened that all of His guesses turned out to be right. In the end, neotheism turns Deuteronomy 18:22 upside down and makes Moses presumptuous for predicting divinely inspired, infallible prophecy.

It Logically Leads to Universalism

Of course, the neotheist hedges his or her bet by affirming that it is morally right for God to intervene sometimes against free will to guarantee His ultimate desire to provide salvation for humankind. This objection, however, undermines the whole neotheistic position and leads to universalism. For if it is right for God to violate freedom sometimes for our salvation, then why not all the time? After all, neotheists believe God desires all persons to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Consequently, universalism follows logically from these two premises. For if God really wants everyone to be saved and He can violate their will to assure their salvation, then certainly He will do so. Hence, neotheism appears to lead to universalism.

God Cannot Guarantee Ultimate Victory over Evil

As neotheists insist that God does not know the future for sure and that He does not intervene against freedom except on rare occasions, then it seems to follow that there is no guarantee of ultimate victory over evil. How can He be sure that anyone will be saved without fettering freedom? Any limitation on freedom contradicts the neotheist libertarian view of free will (see endnote no. 4).

Such a view is contrary to the Bible, which predicts that Satan will be defeated, evil will be vanquished, and many will be saved (Rev. 20—22). Yet, according to the neotheist, since this is a moral question that involves (libertarian) free will, then it follows that God could not know this infallibly. If neotheism is true, then neither God nor the Bible can be completely infallible and inerrant. Yet, as we’ve noted, some neotheists claim that it is. This is inconsistent.

It Is Contrary to God’s Unconditional Promises

It is clear that not all God’s promises in the Bible are for everyone. Some are intended only for some people (Gen. 4:15). Others are intended only for a certain group of people (Gen. 13:14–17). Some are only for a limited time (Eph. 6:3). Many promises are conditioned on human behavior. They have a stated or implied if in them. The Mosaic covenant is one of this type. God said to Israel, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Exod. 19:5, emphasis added).

Other promises are unconditional. Such was the land promise to Abraham and his offspring. This is clear from the facts that (1) no conditions were attached to it; (2) Abraham’s agreement was not solicited; (3) it was initiated while Abraham was in a deep sleep (Gen. 15:12); (4) the covenant was enacted unilaterally by God, who passed through the split sacrifice (Gen. 15:17–19); and (5) God reaffirmed this promise even when Israel was unfaithful (2 Chron. 21:7). Such unconditional promises that involve free choices would not be possible unless God knew all future free choices.

Neotheists offer 1 Kings 2:1–4 as an example of how a seemingly unconditional promise is really conditional. God promised David concerning his son Solomon, “My love will never be taken from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you” (2 Sam. 7:15–16). Later, however, God seemed to have taken His promise back, making it conditional on whether Solomon and his descendants would “walk faithfully before [Him]” (1 Kings 2:1–4). On the basis of these passages, they argue that all seemingly unconditional promises are really conditional.

This argument fails for many reasons. First, it is a non-sequitur since their conclusion is much broader than the premises. Even if this were an example of an implied condition, it would not prove that all promises are conditional.

Second, it overlooks the many cases in Scripture (see above) where there are unconditional promises. These are counterexamples that refute the contention that all God’s promises are conditional.

Third, it is inconsistent with the neotheist view of God. They insist that God is an ontologically independent Being, yet God’s knowledge is part of His essence or being. How then can God’s knowledge be dependent on anything else?8

Finally, and most significantly, the argument is based on a failure to see that the two texts refer to two different things. In 2 Samuel, God was speaking to David about never taking the kingdom away from his son Solomon. This promise was fulfilled, for, despite Solomon’s sins (1 Kings 11:1–2), the kingdom was not taken from him during his entire lifetime. In fact, the fulfillment is explicitly stated when God said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son” (1 Kings 11:11–12, emphasis added). Thus, God did keep His promise to David about Solomon.

The other text (1 Kings 2:1–4) is not speaking about God’s promise to David concerning His son Solomon. Rather, it refers to God taking the kingdom from one of Solomon’s sons. No unconditional promise was made here. From his death bed David exhorted Solomon, “Walk in [God’s] ways, and keep his decrees and commands…that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 2:3–4, emphasis added). This promise was both conditional (“if”) and limited to Solomon’s sons. It said nothing about Solomon, concerning whom God apparently made an unconditional promise not to take his throne away during his lifetime.

It Undermines Confidence in God’s Promises

One of the practical consequences of making all predictions conditional is that it undermines confidence in God’s Word. If we cannot be sure that even God can keep His word, then it undermines our belief in His faithfulness. The Bible, however, says we can accept God’s Word unconditionally. Sometimes it says this explicitly in the context of affirming that He knows “the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10). In this context Paul wrote, “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Again, he reminds us that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Hence, with regard to these unconditional promises, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

It Hinders Belief in God’s Ability to Answer Prayer

Despite the fact that neotheists make much of God’s dynamic ability to answer prayer, it would appear that their concept of God actually undermines confidence in God’s use of special providence in answering prayer. They admit, as indeed they must, that most answers to prayer do not involve a direct supernatural intervention in the world. Rather, God works through special providence in unusual ways to accomplish unusual things. But a God who does not know for sure what any future free act will be is severely limited in His logistic ability to do things that can be done by a God who knows every decision that will be made. Thus, ironically, the neotheistic God is a liability to answered prayer, which they consider extremely important to a personal God.

It Implies That God Would Not Know Who the Elect Are

If neotheists are correct, then God does not know who will accept His salvation. They opt for a corporate election, in which God knows that Christ is elect and hence all who are in Him will be elect — whoever they are. But there are serious problems with this view. The Bible tells us that there will be some elect, but according to the neotheists’ view God could not even be sure that there will be any elect. The “bus” destined for heaven may be empty if all invited occupants freely choose not to take it.

Furthermore, how could they even be certain that any “bus” is going to heaven? After all, according to their view they cannot even be sure that Christ would choose to resist evil (for presumably He had a libertarian free will, too). No wonder one exponent of process theology, after which their view is patterned, said that God is waiting with baited breath to see how things will turn out!

This conclusion is contrary to the Bible. Scripture informs us that Christ was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) and that some individuals were chosen in Him before the world began (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4). But this would not have been possible to say unless God knew their future free acts.

Finally, Paul included himself among those whom God knew and chose before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). If God cannot know future free acts, this would not have been possible.


In summation, since neotheists assert that God is infinite and omniscient and an ontologically independent Creator of this world ex nihilo, then their belief that He is mutable, temporal, and does not know future free acts is incompatible. Indeed, the only consistent way to believe the latter is for neotheists to forsake theism entirely and adopt panentheism. The neotheistic halfway house is built of cards: it has no consistent structure. Its proponents live in a theological no man’s land. They cannot have it both ways. There is no logical stopping point between classical theism and contemporary panentheism. The traditional attributes of God stand or fall together.

The challenge is this: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). The alternatives are the self-existing I AM of Scripture who says, “I the Lord do not change” (Mal. 3:6) and who “knows the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10), or the Whiteheadian god of process thought who is waiting with baited breath to see how things will turn out. As for me and my house, I will choose the God of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. “Triple A” theism has always been the best way to travel on the theological road!


Norman L. Geisler is the author of more than 100 books, including Creating God in the Image of Man? The New “Open” View of God — Neotheism’s Dangerous Drift (Bethany House, 1997) and co-author of The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism (Kregel, 2001).



1 Clark Pinnock, et al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

2 Those who have written books in favor or sympathy of neotheism include Richard Rice, God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985); Ronald Nash, ed., Process Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987); Greg Boyd, Trinity and Process (New York: Peter Lang, 1992) and Letters from a Skeptic (Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 1994); J. R. Lucas, The Freedom of the Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) and The Future: An Essay on God, Temporality and Truth (London: Basil Blackwell, 1989); Peter Geach, Providence and Evil (Cambridge: University Press, 1977); and Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). Thomas V. Morris, Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), is close to the view. A. N. Prior, Richard Purtill, and others have written articles defending neotheism. Still others show sympathy to the view, such as Stephen T. Davis, Logic and the Nature of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) and Linda Zagzebski, The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

3 Clark Pinnock, “Between Classical and Process Theism,” in Nash; William Hasker, God, Time and Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); David and Randall Basinger, eds., Predestination and Free Will (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986).

4 See Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins, “Panentheism – A World in God.” A Handbook on World Views: A Catalog for World View Shoppers (Matthews, NC: Bastion Books) 2013. Also Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective (Baker, 1980).

5 By the “libertarian” or “incompatibilist” view of free will they mean “an agent” is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that time “it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action” (Pinnock, et al., 136–37). By the “compatibilist” view of free will they mean “an agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that time it is true that the agent can perform the action if she decides to perform it and she can refrain from the action if she decides not to perform it” (137). As they observe, “the difference between the two definitions may not be immediately apparent.” The main distinction is that on a libertarian view, for free will to exist one must have both “inner freedom” (no overwhelming desire to the contrary) and “outer freedom” (no external restraints); on the compatibilist’s view only “outer freedom to carry out the decision either way she makes it” is necessary, even if “the decision itself may be completely determined by the psychological forces at work in her personality” (ibid.).

6 Ibid., 156.

7 Ibid., 52.

8 See R. Garrigou-LaGrange, God: His Existence and Nature (St. Louis: B. Herder Books, 1946), appendix 4, 465–528.



  • actuality: That which is actual as opposed to that which merely has potentiality. Pure actuality is the attribute of God that excludes all potentiality from Him (see aseity), including the possibility of nonexistence.
  • aseity: Self-existence; the attribute of God in which He exists in and of Himself, independent from anything else.
  • contingent: Dependent on another; a contingent being is dependent on another for its existence.
  • free will: The power of human beings to perform certain human actions that are free from external and/or internal constraint; the ability to cause certain actions by one’s self without coercion from another.
  • immanence: God’s presence within the universe as compared with His transcendence over it.
  • necessary being: A being that must exist; it cannot not exist (as opposed to a contingent being, which can not exist).
  • ontology: The philosophical study of the nature of being (from Greek ontos, being).
  • panentheism: The belief that all is in God, as opposed to pantheism, which claims that all is God.
  • potentiality: That which can be; the ability to be actualized.
  • process theology: A form of panentheism that holds that God is finite and constantly changing, having two poles or dimensions (bipolar).
  • theism: The belief in one infinite, personal, transcendent, and immanent God who created the world out of nothing (ex nihilo) and who also intervenes in it supernaturally on occasion.
  • transcendence: That which is more or goes beyond; that fact of God’s being beyond the universe and not only in it.


Ross Rhoads with the Lord

Ross Rhoads with the Lord

My brother, friend, and co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary went to be with the Lord this morning.  Few men have had a greater impact for Christ in Charlotte, NC and around the country  than Dr. Ross Rhoads.  His lasting legacy includes not only a seminary and the 5,000 plus seat Calvary Church, but he was also the inspiration for a Christian school and for many other Christian ministries in the Charlotte area.  His work with Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse is also world-wide.  I personally will be forever grateful to him for asking me to help him found Southern Evangelical Seminary. He was the first president of SES and it continues as an accredited graduate school that sends out pastors, teachers, and missionaries around the globe.

Norman L. Geisler
Something to Think About… Pastor Ross Rhoads 
Ross Rhoads Scholarship

C.S. Lewis on Biblical Criticism


Fern-Seed and Elephants
C.S. Lewis

Originally entitled ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism’, Lewis read this essay at Westcott House, Cambridge, on 11 May 1959. Published under that title in Christian Reflections (1981), it is now in Fern-seed and Elephants (1998).

This paper arose out of a conversation I had with the Principal one night last term. A book of Alec Vidler’s happened to be lying on the table and I expressed my reaction to the sort of theology it contained. My reaction was a hasty and ignorant one, produced with the freedom the comes after dinner. One thing led to another and before we were done I was saying a good deal more than I had meant about the type of thought which, so far as I could gather, is no dominant in many theological colleges. He then said, ‘I wish you would come and say all this to my young men.’ He know of course that I was extremely ignorant of the whole thing. But I think his ideas was that you ought to know how a certain sort of theology strikes the outsider. Though I may have nothing but misunderstandings to lay before you, you ought to know that such misunderstandings exist. That sort of thing is easy to overlook inside one’s own circle. The minds you daily meet have been conditioned by the same studies and prevalent opinions as your won. That may mislead you. For of course as priests it is the outsiders you will have to cope with. You exists in the long run for no other purpose. The proper study of shepherds is sheep, not (save accidentally) other shepherds. And woe to you if you do not evangelize. I am not trying to teach my grandmother. I am a sheep, telling shepherds what only a sheep can tell them. And now I begin my bleating.

There are two sorts of outsiders: the uneducated, and those you are educated in some way but not in your own way. How you are to deal with the first class, if you hold views like Loisy’s or Schweitzer’s or Bultmann’s or Tillich’s or even Alec Vidler’s, I simply don’t know. I see – and I’m told that you see – that it would hardly do to tell them what you really believe. A theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affections and thought have been fastened for nearly two millennia – which either denies the miraculous altogether or, more strangely, after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes – if offered to the uneducated man can produce only one or other of two effects. It will make him a Roman Catholic or an atheist. What you offer him he will not recognize as Christianity. If he holds to what he calls Christianity he will leave a Church in which it is no longer taught and look for one where it is. If he agrees with your version he will no longer call himself a Christian and no longer come to church. In his crude, coarse way, he would respect you much more if you did the same. An experienced clergyman told me that the most liberal priests, faced with this problem, have recalled from its grave the late medieval conception of two truths: a picture-truth with can be preached to the people, and an esoteric truth for use among the clergy. I shouldn’t think you will enjoy this conception much once you have put in into practice. I’m sure if I had to produce picture-truths to a parishioner in great anguish or under fierce temptation, and produce them with that seriousness and fervor which his condition demanded, while knowing all the time that I didn’t exactly – only in some Pickwickian sense – believe them myself, I’d find my forehead getting read and damp and my collar getting tight. But that is your headache, not mine. You have, after all, a different sort of collar. I claim to belong to the second group of outsiders: educated, but not theologically educated. How one member of that group feels I must now try to tell you.

The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century. I want to explain what it is that makes me skeptical about this authority. Ignorantly skeptical, as you will all too easily see. But the scepticism is the father of the ignorance. It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no prima facie confidence in your teachers.

First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgement, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading. It sounds a strange charge to bring against men who have been steeped in those books all their lives. But that might be just the trouble. A man who has spent his youth and manhood in the minute study of New Testament texts and of other people’s studies of them, whose literary experience of those texts lacks any standard of comparison such as can only grow from a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general, is, I should think, very likely to miss the obvious thing about them. If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spend on that Gospel. But I had better turn to examples.

In what is already a very old commentary I read that the fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a ‘spiritual romance’, ‘a poem not a history’, to be judged by the same canons as Nathan’s parable, the book of Jonah, Paradise Lost ‘or, more exactly, Pilgrim’s Progress‘. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim’s Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave our the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass – Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable nv vuz (13:30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read. I would recommend him to read Auerbach.

Here, from Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament is another: ‘Observe in what unassimilated fashion the prediction of the parousia (Mark 8:38) follows upon the prediction of the passion (8:31). What can he mean? Unassimilated? Bultmann believes that predictions of the parousia are older than those of the passion. He therefore wants to believer – and no doubt does believe – that when they occur in the same passage some discrepancy or ‘unassimilation’ must be perceptible between them. But surly he foists this on the text with shocking lack of perception. Peter has confessed Jesus to be the Anointed One. That flash of glory is hardly over before the dark prophecy begins – that the Son of Man must suffer and die. Then this contrast is repeated. Peter, raised for a moment by his confession, makes his false step: the crushing rebuff ‘Get thee behind me’ follows. Then, across that momentary ruin which Peter (as so often) becomes, the voice of the Master, turning to the crowd, generalizes the moral. All his followers must take up the cross. This avoidance of suffering, this self-preservation, is not what life is really about. Then, more definitely still, the summons to martyrdom. You must stand to your tackling. If you disown Christ here and now, he will disown you later. Logically, emotionally, imaginatively, the sequence is perfect. Only a Bultmann could think otherwise.

Finally, from the same Bultmann: ‘the personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma either of Paul or John… Indeed, the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination.’

So there is no personality of our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultmann contra mundum. If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality. There are characters whom we know to be historical but of whom we do not feel that we have any personal knowledge – knowledge by acquaintance; such are Alexander, Attila, or William of Orange. There are others who make no claim to historical reality but whom, none the less, we know as we know real people: Falstaff, Uncle Toby, Mr. Pickwick. But there are only three characters who, claiming the first sort of reality, also actually have the second. And surely everyone knows who they are: Plato’s Socrates, the Jesus of the Gospels, and Boswell’s Johnson. Our acquaintance with them shows itself in a dozen ways. When we look into the apocryphal gospels, we find ourselves constantly saying of this or that logion, ‘No. It’s a fine saying, but not his. That wasn’t how he talked’ – just as we do with all pseudo-Johnsoniana. We are not in the least perturbed by the contrasts within each character: the union in Socrates of silly and scabrous titters about Greek pederasty with the highest mystical fervor and the homeliest good sense; in Johnson, of profound gravity and melancholy with that love of fun and nonsense which Boswell never understood though Fanny Burney did; in Jesus of peasant shrewdness, intolerable severity, and irresistible tenderness. So strong is the flavour of the personality that, even while he says things which, on any other assumption than that of divine Incarnation in the fullest sense, would be appallingly arrogant, yet we – and many unbelievers too – accept him as his own valuation when he says ‘I am meek and lowly of heart’. Even those passages in the New Testament which superficially, and in intention, are most concerned with the divine, and least with the human nature, bring us fact to face with the personality. I am not sure that they don’t do this more than any others. ‘We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of graciousness and reality… which we have looked upon and our hands have handled. What is gained by trying to evade or dissipate this shattering immediacy of personal contact by talk about ‘that significance which the early Church found that it was impelled to attribute to the Master’? This hits us in the face. Not what they were impelled to do but what impelled them. I begin to fear that by personality Dr. Bultmann means what I should call impersonality: what you’d get in a Dictionary of National Biography article or an obituary or a Victorian Life and Letters of Yeshua Bar-Yosef in three volumes with photographs.

That then is my first bleat. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.

Now for my second bleat. All theology of the liberal type involves at some point – and often involves throughout – the claim that the real behavior and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars. Now long before I became interested in theology I had met this kind of theory elsewhere. The tradition of Jowett still dominated the study of ancient philosophy when I was reading Greats. One was brought up to believer that the real meaning of Plato had been misunderstood by Aristotle and wildly travestied by the neo-Platonists, only to be recovered by the moderns. When recovered, it turned out (most fortunately) that Plato had really all along been an English Hegelian, rather like T.H. Green. I have met it a third time in my own professional studies; every week a clever undergraduate, every quarter a dull American don, discovers for the first time what some Shakespearean play really meant. But in this third instance I am a privileged person. The revolution in thought and sentiment which has occurred in my own lifetime is so great that I belong, mentally, to Shakespeare’s world far more than to that of these recent interpreters. I see – I feel it in my bones – I know beyond argument – that most of their interpretations are merely impossible; they involve a way of looking at things which was not known in 1914, much less in the Jacobean period. This daily confirms my suspicion of the same approach to Plato or the New Testament. The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.

Thirdly, I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur. Thus any statement put into our Lord’s mouth by the old texts, which, if he had really made it, would constitute a prediction of the future, is taken to have been put in after the occurrence which it seemed to predict. This is very sensible if we start by knowing that inspired prediction can never occur. Similarly in general, the rejection as unhistorical of all passages which narrate miracles is sensible if we start by knowing that the miraculous in general never occurs. Now I do not here want to discuss whether the miraculous is possible. I only want to point out that this is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon ‘If miraculous, then unhistorical’ is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing. On this they speak simply as men; men obviously influenced by, and perhaps insufficiently critical of, the spirit of the age they grew up in.

But my fourth bleat – which is also my loudest and longest – is still to come.

All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences – the whole Sitz im Leben of the text. This is done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. And at first sight it is very convincing. I think I should be convinced by it myself, but that I carry about with me a charm – the herb moly – against it. You must excuse me if I now speak for a while of myself. The value of what I say depends on its being first-hand evidence.

What forearms me against all these reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.

Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense; by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. The very terms which the reviewers use in praising or dispraising often imply such a history. They praise a passage as ‘spontaneous’ and censure another as ‘labored’; that is, they think they know that you wrote the one currenete calamo and the other invita Minerva.

What the value of such reconstructions is I learned very early in my career. I had published a book of essays; and in the one into which I had put most of my heart, the one I really cared about and in which I discharged a keen enthusiasm, was on William Morris. And in almost the first review I was told that this was obviously the only one in the book in which I had felt no interest. Now don’t mistake. The critic was, I now believe, quite right in thinking it the worst essay in the book; at least everyone agreed with him. Where he was totally wrong was in his imaginary history of the causes which produces its dullness.

Well, this made me prick up my ears. Since then I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author’s mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his overall intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why – and when – he did everything.

Now I must record my impression; then distinct from it, what I can say with certainty. My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as the miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can’t remember a single hit. But as I have not kept a careful record my mere impression may be mistaken. What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong.

And yet they would often sound – if you didn’t know the truth – extremely convincing. Many reviewers suggested that the Ring in Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings was suggested by the atom bomb. What could be more plausible. Here is a book published when everyone was preoccupied by that sinister invention; here in the centre of the book is a weapon which is seems madness to throw away yet fatal to use. Yet in fact, the chronology of the book’s composition make the theory impossible. Only the other week a reviewer said that a fairy-tale by my friend Roger Lancelyn Green was influenced by fairy-tales of mine. Nothing could be more probable. I have an imaginary country with a beneficent lion in it; Green, one with a beneficent tiger. Green and I can be proved to read one another’s works; to be indeed in various ways closely associated. The case for an affiliation is far stronger than many which we accept as conclusive when dead authors are concerned. But it’s all untrue nevertheless. I know the genesis of that Tiger and that Lion and they are quite independent.

Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is after all sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by fact. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask for than to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have facts to check it by? Well, that is what I have done. And we find, that when this check is available, the results are either always, or else nearly always, wrong. The ‘assured results of modern scholarship’ as to the was in which an old book was written, are ‘assured’, we may conclude, only because the men who know the facts are dead and can’t blow the gaff. The huge essays in my own field which reconstruct the history of Piers Plowman or The Faerie Queen are most unlikely to be anything but sheer illusions.

Am I then venturing to compare every whispter who writes a review in a modern weekly with these great scholars who have devoted their whole lives to the detailed study of the New Testament? If the former are always wrong, does it follow that the later must fare no better?

There are two answers to this. First, while I respect the learning of the great Biblical critics, I am not yet persuaded that their judgement is equally to be respected. But, secondly, consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother-tongue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educated like themselves, living in something like the same mental and spiritual climate. They have everything to help them. The superiority in judgement and diligence which your are going to attribute to the Biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race-characteristics, class-characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and instinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter, there will be more pressing matters to discuss.

You may say, of course, that such reviewers are foolish in so far as they guess how a sort of book they never wrote themselves was written by another. They assume that you wrote a story as they would try to write a story; the fact that they would so try, explains why they have not produced any stories. But are the Biblical critics in this way much better off? Dr. Bultmann never wrote a gospel. Has the experience of his learned, specialized, and no doubt meritorious, life really given him any power of seeing into the minds of those long dead men who were caught up into what, on any view, must be regarded as the central religious experience of the whole human race? It is no incivility to say – he himself would admit – that he must in every way be divided from the evangelists by far more formidable barriers – spiritual as well as intellectual – than any that could exist between my reviewers and me.

My picture of one layman’s reaction – and I think it is not a rare one – would be incomplete without some account of the hopes he secretly cherishes and the naïve reflections with which he sometimes keeps his spirits up.

You must face the fact that he does not expect the present school of theological thought to be everlasting. He thinks, perhaps wishfully thinks, that the whole thing may blow over. I have learned in other fields of study how transitory the ‘assured results of modern scholarship’ may be, how soon the scholarship ceases to be modern. The confident treatment to which the New Testament is subjected is no longer applied to profane texts. There used to be English scholars who were prepared to cut up Henry VI between half a dozen authors and assign his share to each. We don’t do that now. When I was a boy one would have been laughed at for supposing there had been a real Homer: the disintegrators seemed to have triumphed for ever. But Homer seems to be creeping back. Even the belief of the ancient Greeks that the Mycenaeans were their ancestors and spoke Greek has been surprisingly supported. We may without disgrace believe in a historical Arthur. Everywhere, except in theology, there has been a vigorous growth of scepticism about scepticism itself. We can’t keep ourselves from muttering multa renascentur quae jam cecidere.

Nor can a man of my age ever forget how suddenly and completely the idealist philosophy of his youth fell. McTaggart, Green, Bosanquet, Bradley seemed enthroned for ever; they wen down as suddenly as the Bastille. And the interesting thing is that while I lived under that dynasty I felt various difficulties and objections which I never dared to express. They were so frightfully obvious that I felt sure they must be mere misunderstandings: the great men could not have made such very elementary mistakes as those which my objections implied. But very similar objections – though put, not doubt, far more cogently than I could have put them – were among the criticisms which finally prevailed. They would now be the stock answers to English Hegeliansim. If anyone present tonight has felt the same shy and tentative doubts about the great Biblical critics, perhaps he need not feel quite certain that they are only his stupidity. They may have a future he little dreams of.

We derive a little comfort, too, from our mathematical colleagues. When a critic reconstructs the genesis of a text he usually has to use what may be called linked hypotheses. Thus Bultmann says that Peter’s confession is ‘an Easter-story projected backward into Jesus’ life-time’. The first hypothesis is that Peter made no such confession. Then, granting that, there is a second hypothesis as to how the false story of his having done so might have grown up. Now let us suppose – what I am far from granting – that the first hypothesis has a probability of 90 per cent. Let us assume that the second hypothesis also has a probability of 90 per cent. But the two together don’t still have 90 per cent, for the second comes in only on the assumption of the first. You have not A plus B; you have a complex AB. And the mathematicians tell me that AB has only and 81 per cent probability. I’m not good enough at arithmetic to work it out, but you see that if, in a complex reconstruction, you go on thus superinducing hypothesis on hypothesis, you will in the end get a complex in which, though each hypothesis by itself has in a sense a high probability, the whole has almost none.

You must, however, not paint the picture too black. We are not fundamentalists. We think that different elements in this sort of theology have different degrees of strength. The nearer it sticks to mere textual criticism, of the old sort, Lachmann’s sort, the more we are disposed to believe in it. And of course, we agree that passages almost verbally identical cannot be independent. It is as we glide away from this into reconstructions of a subtler and more ambitious kind that our faith in the method waivers; and our faith in Christianity is proportionally corroborated. The sort of statement that arouses our deepest scepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date. For this implies that we know, first of all, that there was any development in the matter, and secondly, how quickly it proceeded. It even implies an extraordinary homogeneity and continuity of development: implicitly denies that anyone could have greatly anticipated anyone else. This seems to involve knowing about a number of long dead people – for the early Christians were, after all, people – things of which I believe few of us could have given an accurate account if we had lived among them; all the forward and backward surge of discussion, preaching, and individual religious experience. I could not speak with similar confidence about the circle I have chiefly lived in myself. I could not describe the history even of my own thought as confidently as these men describe the history of the early Church’s mind. And I am perfectly certain no one else could. Suppose a future scholar knew I had abandoned Christianity in my teens, and that, also in my teens, I went to an atheist tutor. Would not this seem far better evidence than most of what we have about the development of Christian theology in the first two centuries? Would not he conclude that my apostasy was due to the tutor? And then reject as ‘backward projection’ any story which represented me as an atheist before I went to the tutor? Yet he would be wrong. I am sorry to have become once more autobiographical. But reflection on the extreme improbability of his own life – by historical standards – seems to me a profitable exercise for everyone. It encourages a due agnosticism.

For agnosticism is, in a sense, what I am preaching. I do not wish to reduce the sceptical elements in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.

Such scepticism might, I think, begin at the very beginning with the thought which underlies the whole demythology of our time. It was put long ago by Tyrrell. As man progresses he revolts against ‘earlier and inadequate expressions of the religious idea… Taken literally, and not symbolically, they do not meet his need. And as long as he demands to picture to himself distinctly the term and satisfaction of that need he is doomed to doubt, for his picturings will necessarily be drawn from the world of his present experience.’

In one way of course Tyrrell was saying nothing new. The Negative Theology of Pseudo-Dionysius had said as much, but it drew no such conclusions as Tyrrell. Perhaps this is because the older tradition found our conceptions inadequate to God whereas Tyrrell find it inadequate to ‘the religious idea’. He doesn’t say whose idea. But I am afraid he means man’s idea. We, being men, know what we think; and we find the doctrines of the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Second Coming inadequate to our thoughts. But supposing these things were the expressions of God’s thoughts?

It might still be true that ‘taken literally and not symbolically’ they are inadequate. From which the conclusion commonly drawn is that they must be taken symbolically, not literally; that is, wholly symbolically. All the details are equally symbolical and analogical.

But surely there is a flaw here. The argument runs like this. All the details are derived from our present experience; but the reality transcends our experience: therefore all the details are wholly and equally symbolical. But suppose a dog were trying to form a conception of human life. All the details in its picture would be derived from canine experience. Therefore all that the dog imagined could, at best, be only analogically true of human life. The conclusion is false. If the dog visualized our scientific researches in terms of ratting, this would be analogical; but it thought that eating could be predicated of humans only in an analogical sense, the dog would be wrong. In fact if a dog could, per impossible, be plunged for a day into human life, it would be hardly more surprised by hitherto unimagined differences than by hitherto unsuspected similarities. A reverent dog would be shocked. A modernist dog, mistrusting the whole experience, would ask to be taken to the vet.

But the dog can’t get into human life. Consequently, though it can be sure that its best ideas of human life are full of analogy and symbol, it could never point to any one detail and say, ‘This is entirely symbolic.’ You cannot know that everything in the representation of a thing is symbolical unless you have independent access to the ting and can compare it with the representation. Dr. Tyrrell can tell that the story of the Ascension is inadequate to his religious idea, because he knows his own idea and can compare it with the story. But how if we are asking about a transcendent, objective reality to which the story is our sole access? ‘We know not – oh we know not.’ But then we must take our ignorance seriously.

Of course if ‘taken literally and not symbolically’ means ‘taken in terms of mere physics,’ then this story is not even a religious story. Motion away from the earth – which is what Ascension physically means – would not in itself be an event of spiritual significance. Therefore, you argue, the spiritual reality can have nothing but an analogical connection with the story of an ascent. For the union of God with Goad and of man with God-man can have nothing to do with space. Who told you this? What you really mean is that we can’t see how it could possibly have anything to do with it. That is a quite different proposition. When I know as I am known I shall be able to tell which parts of the story were purely symbolical and which, if any, were not; shall see how the transcendent reality either excludes and repels locality, or how unimaginably it assimilates and load it with significance. Had we not better wait?

Such are the reactions of one bleating layman to Modern Theology. It is right that you should hear them. You will not perhaps hear them very often again. Your parishioners will not often speak to you quite frankly. Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the vicar; now he tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short.

We wanted to make this somewhat hard-to-find essay easier to find. Dr. Geisler has commented on Lewis’ bibliology in Chapter 8 of his book Is Man the Measure: An Evaluation of Contemporary Humanism and in Norman Geisler and William Nix, “A Liberal-Evangelical View of Inspiration: C.S. Lewis,” in A General Introduction to the Bible, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986), p 176-177. Also see Donald T. Williams “Text Versus Word: C. S. Lewis’s View of Inspiration and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” in Terry L. Miethe, ed., I Am Put Here for the Defense of the Gospel: Dr. Norman L. Geisler: A Festschrift in His Honor (Pickwick, 2016).

An Evaluation of Marxist Humanism (Part 1 of 2)

An Evaluation of Marxist Humanism

Part 1 of 2

by Norman L. Geisler

Judged by the standard of political influence, Marxism is the most widespread form of humanism in the world. Its founder, Karl Marx, was born in 1818 to a German Jewish family which was converted to Lutheranism when he was six. As a university student he was influenced heavily by Georg Hegel’s idealism and he adopted Ludwig Feuerbach’s atheism. After some radical political activity, which resulted in expulsion from France in 1845, he teamed up with Friedrich Engels to produce the Communist Manifesto (1848). With the economic support of Engels’s prosperous textile business Marx spent years of research in the British Museum and produced his famous Das Kapital (1867). These and succeeding Marxist writings have bequeathed a form of humanistic thought that is politically dominant in much of the world.

The Marxist View of God and Religion

Even as a college student Marx was a militant atheist who believed that the “criticism of religion is the foundation of all criticism.” For this criticism Marx drew heavily on the radical young Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach. Engels admitted that Feuerbach influenced them more than did any other post-Hegelian philosopher. [1] He triumphantly spoke of Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity which “with one blow . . . pulverized [religion] . . . in that without circumlocution it placed materialism on the throne again.”[2]

There were three basic premises Marx learned from Feuerbach. First, “the teaching that man is the highest essence for man”[3] was accepted. This means that there is a categorical imperative to over-throw anything—especially religion—which debases man. Secondly, Marx accepted the premise of Feuerbach that “man makes religion, religion does not make man.”[4] In other words, religion is the self-consciousness of man who has lost himself and then found himself again as “God.” Thirdly, Marx also accepted the Feuerbachian belief that “all religion … is nothing but the fantastic reflection in men’s minds of those external forces which control their daily life, a reflection in which the terrestrial forces assume the form of supernatural forces.”[5] In brief, God is nothing but a projection of human imagination. God did not make man in His image; man has made “God” in his image.

Marx’s atheism, however, went well beyond Feuerbach. Marx agreed with the materialists that “matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter.”[6] That is, he agreed with Feuerbach that man in seeking his origin must look backward to pure matter. Marx, however, objected that Feuerbach did not go forward in the social domain. For Feuerbach by no means wished to abolish religion; he wanted to perfect it.[7] Feuerbach, reasoned Marx, did not see that the “religious sentiment” is itself a social product.[8] Hence “he [did] not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’ of ‘practical-critical,’ activity.”[9] Feuerbach did not realize, in the words of Marxism’s famous slogan, that “religion is the opium of the people.”[10] Man needs to take the drug of religion because this world is not adequate to assure him of his complete and integrated development. So he compensates himself with the image of another, more perfect world.[11]

In going beyond Feuerbach, Marx argued that “nowadays, in our evolutionary conception of the universe, there is absolutely no room for either a Creator or a Ruler; and to talk of a Supreme Being shut out from the whole existing world [as deism does] implies a contra-diction in terms.”[12] Hence, concluded Marx, “the only service that can be rendered to God today is to declare atheism a compulsory article of faith and … [to prohibit] religion generally.”[13]

Marx had no illusions that religion would immediately cease to exist when socialism was adopted. Since religion is but a reflex of the real world, religion will not vanish until the practical relations of everyday life offer to man perfect relations with regard to his fellow men and to nature[14]—that is, until the communist utopia is realized.

 The Marxist View of Man

Basically Marxism holds a materialistic view of man’s origin and nature. This, of course, entails an evolutionary concept of man’s origin.

The Origin of Man

Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859. Marx’s Das Kapital came out only eight years later (in 1867). Evolution for Marx was a helpful addition to his materialistic understanding of the origin of man.[15] “Mind is the product of matter,” he wrote; that is, mind has evolved from material stuff. The nonliving matter has always been; it has produced the living, and finally, the nonintelligent has produced the intelligent (man).

Marx had written his doctoral thesis (at the University of Jena, 1841) on the materialistic philosophies of two early Greek philosophers, Epicurus and Democritus. Then with the subsequent support of Darwinian evolution he could explain the origin of human life as the product of evolutionary processes in a material world—there was no longer any need to speak of God.

The Nature of Man

Marx was not interested in pure philosophy, which he dismissed as mere speculation and quite useless when compared to the vital task of changing the world.[16] Hence he was not particularly interested in philosophical materialism. His being designated a materialist, however, does not mean that he denied mind altogether (as he denied life after death). Rather he believed that everything about man, including his mind, is determined by his material conditions. “For us,” said Marx, “mind is a mode of energy, a function of brain; all we know is that the material world is governed by immutable laws, and so forth.”[17] This view would fit with what philosophers call epiphenomenalism, according to which consciousness is nonmaterial but dependent on material things for its existence.

Karl Marx was more interested in man in the concrete, in man as a social being. He believed that “the real nature of man is the total of social nature.”[18] Apart from the obvious biological facts such as man’s need for food, Marx tended to downplay individual human existence. He believed that what is true of one man at one time in one society is also true of all men at all times in all places.[19] Thus it is not [that] the consciousness of men . . . determines their being, but . . . their social being determines their consciousness.”[20] In short, psychology is reducible to sociology, but sociology is not reducible to psychology.

One important generalization Marx makes about human nature is that man is a socially active being who distinguishes himself from other animals in that he produces his means of subsistence.[21] That is, it is natural for men to work for their living. Thus, Marx concludes, it is right for men to have a life of productive activity, to be workers.

The Alienation of Man

Men who do not find fulfillment in industrial labor will experience alienation. This alienation will be eliminated when private property is done away with.[22] Private property, however, is not the cause but a consequence of alienation.[23] The alienation itself consists in the fact that the work is not part of the worker’s nature. He is not fulfilled in work because it is forced on him so that someone else may be fulfilled Even the objects he produces are alien to him because they are owned by another. The cure for this ill will be the future communist society in which everyone can cultivate his talent by working for the good of the whole commune of mankind.[24] It is in this sense that Marxism is appropriately called a humanism.

The Marxist View of the World and History

 The Dialectic of History

 As has been noted already, Marx’s overall view of the world is materialistic. He uses the term historical materialism to designate that view of the course of history which seeks the ultimate cause and the great moving power of all important historic events in the economic development of society.[25] Further, Marx can be classified as a dialectical materialist, following in the tradition of the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.[26] History is unfolding according to a universal dialectical law the outworking of which can be predicted the way an astronomer predicts an eclipse. In the preface to Das Kapital Marx compares his method to that of a physicist: “The ultimate aim of this work is to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society” He also speaks of the natural laws of capitalistic production as “working with iron necessity toward inevitable results.”[27]

The dialectic of modern history is that the thesis of capitalism is opposed by the antithesis of socialism, which will unavoidably give way to the ultimate synthesis of communism. History is predetermined like the course of the stars, except that the laws governing history are not mechanical but economic in nature. Man is economically determined. That is, “the mode of production of material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life.”[28] This, of course, does not mean that man is determined solely by economic factors. Marx means only that the economic is the primary or dominant influence on man’s social character. Engels emphatically proclaimed, “More than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase.”[29]

The Future of Capitalism

 On the basis of his assumption that the dialectic of history is carried out by means of economic determinism, Marx confidently predicted that capitalism would become increasingly unstable and that the class struggle between the bourgeoisie (ruling class) and the proletariat (working class) would intensify. The poor would become larger and poorer until, by a major social revolution, they would seize power and institute the new communist phase of history.[30]

The fact that these predictions did not come to pass remains an embarrassment to Marxist theory. It casts doubt on the scientific and predictive value of orthodox Marxism.

The Future Communistic Utopia

According to Marx, capitalism has internal problems which will eventually lead to a communistic economic system. For as the masses become more numerous and the capitalists fewer, the latter will control great concentrations of productive equipment which they will throttle for their own gain. But the masses will then sweep aside the capitalists as a hindrance to production and seize an industrial economy which has been carried to the edge of perfection by self-liquidating capitalism Thus there will emerge a progressive society with no wages, no money, no social classes, and eventually no state. This communist utopia will simply be a free association of producers under their own conscious control. Society will ultimately realize the communist ideal: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”[31] There will, however, be the need for an intermediate period of “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”[32] But in the higher stage the state will vanish and true freedom will begin.

The Marxist Ethic

There are several characteristic dimensions of the ethics of Marxism. Three of these are relativism, utilitarianism, and collectivism.


 Since Marxism is atheistic, and since, as Nietzsche rioted, when God dies all absolute value dies with Him, it is understandable that Marxist ethics is relativistic. That is, there are no moral absolutes. There are two reasons for this.

First, there is no external, eternal realm. The only absolute is the inexorable progress of the unfolding dialectic of history. Engels wrote, “We therefore reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma whatever as an eternal, ultimate and forever immutable law on the pretext that the moral world has its permanent principles which transcend history.”[33]

Secondly, there is no such thing as a nature or essence of man which could serve as a foundation for general principles of human conduct. Man’s ideas of good and evil are determined by man’s concrete place in the socioeconomic structure. In brief, class struggle generates its own ethic.


On what basis are one’s actions regarded as moral? The answer is, they are regarded as moral if they serve to create a new communist society. Actions can be justified by their end. Lenin once defined morality as that which serves to destroy the exploiting capitalistic society and to unite workers in creating a new communist society,[34] in effect saying that the end justifies the means.[35] This is the communist’s equivalent of utilitarianism’s “greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” Whatever promotes the ultimate cause of communism is good, and what hinders it is evil.


Another feature of Marxist ethics is that the universal transcends the individual. This is a heritage from Hegel, who believed that the perfect life is possible only when the individual is organically integrated into the ethical totality. For Marx, however, the highest ethical totality is not the state (as it was for Hegel) but “universal freedom of will.” Note that this “freedom” is not individual but corporate and universal. The difference from Hegel is that the emphasis is shifted from the state to society, from the body politic to the body public.

According to Marx, in the perfect society private morals are eliminated and the ethical ideals of the community are achieved. This will be accomplished, of course, by material production. For material production determines religion, metaphysics, and morality.[36]

An Evaluation of Marxist Humanism

 Several aspects of Marxism call for comment here. Some comments will be of a positive nature; a large number, however, will point out weaknesses in Marx’s philosophy.

Positive Contributions of Marxism

Marx’s concern for the condition of workers is to be commended. Working conditions in Europe and North America are vastly improved today from those of over a century ago when Marx wrote and this is at least partially due to the pressure applied by Marxists. Likewise, Marx is certainly right in attacking the view that workers are merely a means to the end of capitalistic gain. Thus there has been a significant humanistic contribution in that Marxist philosophy places man over money.

Another positive contribution of Marxism has been its corrective on unlimited and uncontrolled capitalism. Any system which permits the rich to get richer and makes the poor poorer without limits is bound to produce ethical abuses. In the ancient Jewish economy this possibility was checked by the Year of Jubilee (every fiftieth year), when acquisitions were returned to their original owners.[37]

Finally, the millennial aspirations of Marxism are noble. Indeed, the Marxist philosophy of history encourages men to work toward the goal of overcoming the perceived evils of the present world. It is this humanistic vision which has captured the imagination and dedication of many young thinkers.

Negative Features of Marxism

Marxism is subject to numerous critiques. We will briefly indicate some of the more significant ones.

First, the dogmatic atheism of Marxism is unfounded. It is self-defeating to insist that God is nothing but a projection of human imagination. “Nothing but” statements presume “more than” knowledge. One cannot know that God is confined to imagination unless one’s knowledge goes beyond mere imagination.

Second, Marx’s deterministic view of history is ill founded. Not only is it contrary to fact—since things have not worked out as Marx predicted—but it is a category mistake to assume that economic influence works like physical laws.

Third, a materialistic view of man ignores the rich spiritual and religious aspects of human nature, to say nothing of the evidence for man’s immateriality and immortality.

Fourth, in its strongest form ethical relativism is self-destructive. The absolute denial of absolutes cuts its own throat. And to replace one absolute with another (the communist end) does not avoid absolutism. Also, the fallacies of the “end justifies the means” ethic are infamous.

Fifth, Marxism holds out an admirably idealistic goal (a human utopia) but has a miserable record of achievement. Life in Marxist countries has been more like hell than heaven. While the goal of a perfect community is desirable, the revolutionary means of achieving it is highly dubious. Every country that experienced a communist revolution ended up seeing a system that is even more repressive and oppressive than the flawed system it displaced. Where the standard of living improved for some in the short term it was at the expense of the many whose property and wealth was seized while they were murdered, sent to labor camps for reeducation, or sent to collective farms to serve as slave labor. And ultimately the promise of equality for all proved to be equal poverty and oppression for the people while the few at the top enjoyed what little wealth was left over. Also the means for maintaining the system—brainwashing campaigns, fear of the secret police force, networks of secret informers, etc.—after failing to deliver on its promises is dystopian. From a Christian perspective the means of transforming mankind is not revolution and reprogramming but regeneration. It begins not with the birth of a new government but with the birth of new men and new women—that is, the new birth (John 3:5).

Sixth, Marx’s view of capitalistic systems was short-sighted, shallow, and based on a stereotype. While his critique of the unbridled, compassionless capitalism at work England in the nineteenth century was warranted and insightful, it wrongly assumed that capitalist systems were impossible to gently reform in a politically and the only possible option was a violent and bloody overthrow. Marx was wrong. Several capitalistic countries were able to implement several types of reforms and implement controls without violence.[38]

Seventh, Marx’s view of religion is superficial. He should have heeded his father’s exhortation to him at age seventeen: “Faith [in God] is a real [requirement] of man sooner or later, and there are moments in life when even the atheist is [involuntarily] drawn to worship the Almighty.”[39] Or better yet, in view of his later tumultuous life and the revolutions his thought has precipitated in the world, Marx should have applied his own earlier thoughts:

Union with Christ bestows inner exaltation, consolation in suffering, calm assurance, and a heart which is open to love of mankind, to all that is noble, to all that is great, not out of ambition, not through the desire of fame, but only because of Christ.[40]

Karl Marx’s own father feared it was the desire for fame which transformed Karl’s Christian conscience into a demonic passion. In March 1837 he admonished his ambitious son:

From time to time, my heart revels in the thoughts of you and your future. And yet, from time to time, I cannot escape the sad, suspicious, fearful thoughts that strike like lightning: Does your heart match your head and your talents? Does it have room for the earthly but gentler feelings that are such an essential consolation to the sensitive human being in this vale of sorrows? Is the demon, which is clearly not given to or dominated by everybody, of a celestial or a Faustian nature?[41]



[1] See Marx and Engels on Religion, ed. Reinhold Niebuhr (New York: Schocken, 1964), 214.

[2] Ibid, 224.

[3] Ibid, 50.

[4] Ibid, 41.

[5] Ibid, 147.

[6] Ibid, 231.

[7] Ibid, 237.

[8] Ibid, 71.

[9] Ibid, 69.

[10] Ibid, 35.

[11] Ibid, 36.

[12] Ibid, 295. Even agnosticism was rejected by Marx: “What, indeed, is agnosticism but, to use an expressive Lancashire term, ‘shamefaced’ materialism? The agnostic conception of nature is materialistic throughout.”

[13] Ibid, 143.

[14] Ibid, 136.

[15] At Marx’s burial, Engels eulogized him saying, “just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution human history.” Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of Great Economic Thinkers. (Simon and Shuster: New York: 1986) 170

[16] See Marx, Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy, trans. T. B. Bottomore (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 82.

[17] Marx and Engels on Religion, 298.

[18] Marx, Selected Writings, 83.

[19] Ibid, 91-92.

[20] Ibid, 67.

[21] Ibid, 69.

[22] Ibid, 250.

[23] Ibid, 176.

[24] Ibid, 177, 253.

[25] Marx and Engels on Religion, 298.

[26] Hegel himself rejected this dialectic, though it is commonly attributed to him. See Gustav E. Mueller, “The Hegel Legend of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis,” Journal of the History of Ideas 19, no. 3 (1958): 411-414.

[27] Das Kapital, ed. Friedrich Engels, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, in Great Books of the Western World, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 19521, vol.50, 6.

[28] Marx, Selected Writings, 67; cf. 70, 90, 111ff.

[29] Marx and Engels on Religion, 274.

[30] See Marx, Selected Writings, 79-80, 147ff., 236.

[31] Ibid, 263.

[32] Ibid, 261.

[33] Quoted in R. N. Carew Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism. New York: Macmillan, 1962), 87-88.

[34] Ibid, 89.

[35] Some neo-Marxists have rejected this, insisting that means are subject to the same moral principles as the end. But they have thereby departed from orthodox Marxism. See George H. Hampsch, The Theory of Communism (Secaucus, N. J.: Citadel, 1965), 127.

[36] See Marx, The Communist Manifesto, ed. Samuel H. Beer (New York: Appleton Century-Crofts, 1955), 177.

[37] Leviticus 25.

[38] Robert L. Heilbroner. The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of Great Economic Thinkers. (Touchstone: 1986). 166-169.

[39] Letter from Trier, November 18, 1835.

[40] Written by Marx between August 10 and 16, 1835.

[41] Saul K. Padover, Karl Marx: An Intimate Biography. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), 97.

Copyright 1983, 2016 – Norman L. Geisler –  All rights reserved

This essay is adapted from Chapter Five of Norman Geisler’s Is Man the Measure? An Evaluation of Contemporary Humanism (Wipf & Stock: 1983). It will also be reproduced in Norm’s forthcoming book Is Man the Measure: An Evaluation of Contemporary Humanism and Transhumanism (Bastion Books: 2017).

Read Part 2 of 2 here.

The Concept of Truth in the Inerrancy Debate

The Concept of Truth in the Inerrancy Debate

by Norman L. Geisler

(from Biblioteca Sacra, October-December, 1980)


How is it that evangelicals on both sides of the inerrancy debate can claim the Bible is wholly true and yet one side believes that there can be minor mistakes of history or science affirmed by the biblical authors1 while the other side denies that there are any mistakes whatsoever? Some even claim to believe in inerrancy to the point that every word of the Bible is true,2 and yet they hold that Jesus’ statement that the mustard seed is the “smallest of all seeds” is scientifically incorrect.3 Some claim that the Bible is “the only infallible rule of faith and practice”4 but hold that Paul was wrong when he affirmed that the husband is the “head” of the wife.5 One errantist put it bluntly when he wrote. “We can speak of the Bible as being inspired from cover to cover, human mistakes and all.”6

Is this duplicity? Are those who believe the Bible contains errors intentionally deceiving their constituency? Do they hold a double standard of truth? As a matter of fact, it is not necessary to come to any of these conclusions. Errantists do not hold a double standard  but rather a different theory  of truth.

Could it be, then, that the real problem is that a fundamental issue that occasions the difference between the two major camps of evangelicals on biblical inerrancy is that they are presupposing different theories of truth? This writer proposes that this is indeed the case. One thing is certain: Different theories of truth will make a significant difference in what one considers to be an “error,” or deviation from the truth. In fact, what counts as an error on one definition of truth is not an error on another definition of truth.7


Two Theories of Truth


For the sake of simplicity of discussion, only one of several noncorrespondence views of truth will be discussed. One that is used by errantists may be called an intentionality view of truth.8 According to this view a statement is true if “it accomplishes what the author intended it to accomplish,”9 and conversely, a statement is false if it does not. Several corollaries of this view of truth may be stated.

  1. The first corollary is that a statement is true, even if some of its factual assertions do not correspond with reality, so long as the statement accomplishes its intended purpose.10 This means that factually incorrect statements can be true, provided they accomplish their intended results. For instance, the parental exhortation to a young child, “If you are good, Santa Claus will bring you presents,” is factually incorrect but, according to this view of truth, it could actually be true if it helps produce the intended good behavior in children before Christmas.
  2. A second implication of this point is that factually correct statements can be false if they do not accomplish their intended goals. Some parents are driven to negative psychology in saying, “That is bad; do not do that,” because their factual correct statement “That is good” was not accomplishing its intended result.11
  3. A third corollary of the noncorrespondence view of truth is that persons, not merely propositions, can be properly characterized as true.12 A person is true if he accomplishes or lives up to someone’s intentions for him, and persons are not true if they fail to measure up to someone’s expectations (whether the intentions are their own or another’s).



According to this view, truth is “that which corresponds to the actual state of affairs,” to the way things really are. If this theory of truth is correct, then an “error” is that which does not correspond with the facts, with what is really the case.13 Several corollaries of this view may be observed.

  1.  The first corollary of a correspondence view of truth is that a statement is true even if the speaker (or writer) intended not to say it, provided that the statement itself correctly describes a state of affairs.
  2. The second corollary is that one can make a true statement that is actually more  than he intends to say. Everyone has had the experience of accidentally revealing more by his words, to his own embarrassment, than he intended to say. This writer once heard an unfair umpire say, “I umpired against that team once.” He obviously meant, “I umpired a game for that team.” Judging by his highly questionable calls, what he actually said was true, even though he did not mean to reveal as much.
  3. The third corollary of a correspondence view of truth is that, properly speaking, truth is a characteristic of propositions (or other expressions) about reality, but truth is not a characteristic of the reality itself.
  4. The fourth corollary is that reality, or that which is, is neither true nor false as such; it simply is. For instance, a lie can be real but the lie is not true. That is, someone’s lying can be the actual state of affairs. One would not say that the lie is therefore true. It is simply true that he is actually  lying.

Therefore, strictly speaking, it is propositions about states of affairs which are true or false. Truth is found in the affirmation (or denial) about reality, not in the reality itself.

Of course “reality” or states of affairs referred to by propositions can be mental states of affairs (thoughts, ideas, etc.) or even other propositions. But strictly speaking, on a correspondence theory of truth, only affirmations (or denials) are true or false, not the reality about which the affirmations are made. Persons can be called true in the secondary sense that what they say can be trusted to come to pass or to correspond to reality. So they can be called true or trustworthy persons because their statements can be trusted to come to pass, or to correspond with reality.14


Some Implications for Inerrancy

It seems apparent that if one adopts the noncorrespondence (intentionality) view of truth he could easily (and consistently) hold that the Bible is wholly true (as God intends it) and yet the Bible could have many errors in it. For if truth means only that the Bible will always accomplish its intended purpose (regardless of factual incorrectness), say, “to make men wise unto salvation,”15 then it can do that with or without minor errors. Even incorrect maps can get one to the intended destination. In this view, there can be unintentional biblical errors in minor matters, without affecting the author’s main intention to save sinners. These minor errors do not reflect badly on the author’s (God’s) character, since they are not pernicious. In an intentionality view of truth one does not need an inerrant Bible; all one needs is a “reliable” and “trustworthy” Bible.

It becomes obvious that serious implications for the doctrine of inerrancy follow from each of these theories of truth.



With this view several implications follow for inerrancy, two of which will be discussed.

First, factual incorrectness in affirmations is not necessarily an error unless the author intended to affirm it.16 Accordingly neither the so-called “three-storied universe,” the “mustard seed,” nor affirmation about creation (versus evolution) are really errors, even if they are factually incorrect statements. For example, as long as Genesis 1-2 fulfills its intention, say, to evoke worship of God, then — any incorrect scientific affirmations notwithstanding — it could still be wholly true and without error. The same could be true of the Flood, of Jonah and the great fish, of Paul’s view of male “headship,” and of other biblical affirmations of this kind. On an intentionality view of truth these could all be factually wrong and yet the Bible would still be trustworthy.17 As long as the intention of God is being fulfilled through these passages, that is, His redemptive function, then it does not matter whether some aspects affirmed in them correspond with reality.

Second, on an intentionalist’s view, truth, properly speaking, can be personal and not merely propositional. Persons who fulfill someone’s intentions are true or genuine. In this sense Jesus’ claim, “I am the . .. truth” (John 14:6), could mean that He is the one who perfectly fulfills the Father’s intentions for Him.

It should be noted in passing that proponents of this view cannot claim that something is not true simply because it was intended by someone. If this were so, then almost everything ever written would be true, since surely almost every author intended to tell the truth, even though most of them make many mistakes.

In any event, the intentionalist view of truth discussed here holds that true statements are those which faithfully fulfill their author’s intentions. That is, it is not simply a matter of intention but of accomplished intention which makes something true.18 In the case of God’s truth one could say it always accomplishes what God intends (Isa. 55:11). The Bible, then, would be inerrant so long as it always accomplishes its purpose to “make us wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15).



Inerrancy means “without error” or “wholly true.” On the correspondence view of truth, several implications are involved. First, it would mean that whatever the writer of a scriptural book actually affirmed is to be taken as true, even if he personally did not intend to affirm it. That is to say, the Bible could say more than its human authors intended it to, since God could have intended more by it than the authors did.19 Psalm 22 may be an example of this. David may have intended merely to describe his own persecution, whereas God intended to affirm the Cross in this passage. This is what many think happened to the prophets (1 Pet. 1:10-11) when they wrote of things that seemed to go beyond them (cf. Dan. 12:4).

Of course the fact that the authors could say more than they intended does not mean they did. One might hold that God supernaturally restrained the biblical writers from doing so in order that there would always be an identity between God’s intentions and the author’s intentions.20 In any case, an implication of the correspondence theory of truth is that one knows an author’s intentions by his affirmations and not his affirmations by his intentions. This is so because there is no way for one to get at the biblical author’s intentions apart from his expressions of them. A person cannot read a biblical author’s mind apart from reading that author’s writings.21

Second, on the correspondence view of truth an error can occur even when an author intended otherwise, because error has to do with his affirmations and not simply with his intentions apart from his affirmations. In short, mistakes are possible even if they are unintentional. Therefore to prove the Bible in error, one need not prove wrong intentions of the author (which is virtually impossible to do) but simply show that he made an incorrect affirmation.22 Hence any proposition affirmed as true by any writer of Scripture which does not (or did not) correspond with the reality to which it referred would be false and in error even if the author did not intend to so affirm.

For instance, if the Bible actually affirms that hell is geographically down and heaven is up, and if this is contrary to fact, then the Bible would be wrong regardless of what the author may have intended by the passage. Further, if the Bible affirms that God directly created all basic forms of life and if this is contrary to scientific fact,23 then the Bible would be in error. Likewise, if Paul affirmed that a husband is the “head” of his wife and if in fact God does not intend this to be so, then the Bible would be in error here.24

It should be noted in passing that the correspondence view of truth does not have any direct implications as to the beliefs of the biblical authors. They may have believed many false things just so long as they did not affirm any of these false beliefs in Scripture.25 For on this view of truth “whatever the Bible affirms, God affirms,” and God cannot affirm as true what is false.


What Is Truth?

At first one might think that the resolution of the problem as to which view of truth is correct could be achieved by a simple appeal to biblical usage of the terms for “truth,” namely, aletheia and emet.26 However, these and kindred terms are used both ways in Scripture. “Truth” is used of correspondence to reality in Proverbs 14:25; John 8:44-45; Acts 24:8, 11; Ephesians 4:25; and in many other places. On the other hand, God is said to be truthful) (Rom. 3:4) and Jesus said, “I am … the truth” (John 14:6), thus showing that “truth” is used of persons.

How, then, can the problem of the two views of truth be resolved? Is this an irresolvable impasse? This writer thinks not. For one view of truth is broad enough to include the other, but not the reverse. For example, a true statement will always accomplish its intention, but what accomplishes its intention is not always true. Lies and falsehood sometimes accomplish their intentions too. Hence only the correspondence view is adequate as a comprehensive  view of truth. Further, if truth is only personal but not propositional, there is no adequate way of explaining the numerous biblical passages where truth means propositional correspondence?27 In fact, of the some one hundred New Testament occurrences of the word “truth” (ἀλήθεια) only one passage indisputably uses truth of a person as opposed to propositions or expressions about reality (viz., John 14:6). Some other passages speak of truth as being (or not being) in a person (e.g., John 1:14, 17; 8:44; 1 John 2:4), but the latter passage makes it clear that a person is not considered true because he “is a liar,” which involves false propositions (or expressions). In his second epistle John speaks of “walking in the truth” (v. 4) or of continuing “in the teaching” (v. 9) as though truth were personal, but then he explains that this means to “walk in obedience to his commands” (v. 6), which are propositional. Most of the other passages using truth in a personal sense employ words for truth in the adverbial sense of “truly,” not in the substantival sense of “truth.” At least one can safely say that the normal and consistent New Testament usage of “truth” is of truth in the cognitive, propositional sense. Truth is what can be known (Rom. 2:20), what can be thought (1 Tim. 6:5), what can be heard (Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 4:4), what can be believed (2 Thess. 2:12) — in short, it is used of propositions. And any passage where truth is used in reference to a person can be understood as meaning a person who speaks the truth or one whose word can be trusted (cf. Rev. 3:14; 21:5).

Even if some passages are best understood as meaning truth in a personal or practical sense, they still entail a correspondence view of truth. For the person or action must correspond to God’s expectations in order to be true. Furthermore the passages where truth is used propositionally cannot all be explained as truth in a strictly intentional or personal sense, that is, a sense that is not necessarily factually correct. Hence truth — biblical truth understood as primarily (or exclusively) personal or intentional does not accurately represent the teaching of Scripture about the nature of truth.


In Defense of a Correspondence Theory of Truth


There are two lines of argument for a correspondence view of truth — the biblical28 and the philosophical.



The ninth commandment is predicated on a correspondence view of truth. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16) depends for its very meaning and effectiveness on the correspondence view of truth. This command implies that a statement is false if it does not correspond to reality. Indeed this is precisely how the term lie is used in Scripture. Satan is called a liar (John 8:44) because his statement to Eve, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4), did not correspond to what God really said, namely, “You will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

Ananias and Sapphira “lied” to the Apostles by misrepresenting the factual state of affairs about their finances (Acts 5:1-4).

The Bible gives numerous examples of the correspondence view of truth. Joseph said to his brothers, “Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth”(Gen. 42:16).

Moses commanded that false prophets be tested on the grounds that “if what a prophet proclaims … does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken” (Deut. 18:22).

Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple, “And now, O God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father (that there would be a Temple) come true” (1 Kings 8:26).

The prophecies of Micaiah were considered “true” and the false prophets’ words “lies” because the former corresponded with the facts of reality (1 Kings 22:16-22).

Something was considered a “falsehood” if it did not correspond to God’s law (truth) (Ps. 119:163).

Proverbs states, “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful” (14:25), which implies that truth is factually correct. In court, intentions alone will not save innocent but accused lives. Only “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” will do it.

Nebuchadnezzar demanded of his wise men to know the facts and he considered anything else “misleading” (Dan. 2:9).

Jesus’ statement in John 5:33 entails a correspondence view of truth: “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.”

In Acts 24 there is an unmistakable usage of the correspondence view. The Jews said to the governor about Paul, “By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him” (v. 8). They continued, “You can easily verify (the facts)” (v. 11).

Paul clearly implied a correspondence view of truth when he wrote, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25).

The biblical use of the word err does not support the intentional theory of truth, since it is used of unintentional “errors” (cf. Lev. 4:2, 27; etc.). Certain acts were wrong, whether the trespassers intended to commit them or not, and hence a guilt offering was called for to atone for their “error.’9

To summarize, the Bible consistently employs a correspondence view of truth. A statement is true if it corresponds to the facts and false if it does not. Rarely are there even apparent exceptions to this usage.3°

If the biblical arguments are this strong for a correspondence view of truth, why is it that many Christians — even some who believe in inerrancy— claim to hold a noncorrespondence (intentionality) view of truth? Actually the reason is often quite simple: There is a confusion between theory of truth and test for truth. That is, often both parties hold the correspondence theory of truth but differ in their claims that truth is tested by correspondence, by results, or by some other method. In short, truth should be defined as correspondence but defended in some other way.

In summation, there are good reasons for insisting that a correspondence theory (definition) of truth should be accepted, regardless of the apologetic debate about how Christian truth is to be tested.



Several arguments outside biblical usage can be given in support of a correspondence view of truth.

Lies are impossible without a correspondence view of truth. If one’s statements need not correspond to the facts in order to be true, then any factually incorrect statement could be true. And if this is the case, then lies become impossible because any statement is compatible with any given state of affairs.3′

Without correspondence there could be no such thing as truth orfalsity. In order to know something is true as opposed to something that is false, there must be a real difference between things and the statements about the things. But this real difference between thought and things is precisely what is entailed in a correspondence view of truth.

Factual communication would break down without a correspondence view of truth. Factual communication depends on informative statements. But informative statements must be factually true (that is, they must correspond to the facts) in order to inform one correctly. Further, since all communication seems to depend ultimately on something being literally or factually true, then it would follow that all communication depends in the final analysis on a correspondence view of truth.

Even the intentionalist theory depends on the correspondence theory of truth. The intentionalist theory claims something is true if it is accomplishing what it intends. But this means that it is true only if the accomplishments correspond to the intentions. So without correspondence of intentions and accomplished facts there is no truth.



A certain irony is involved in the present debate about inerrancy which illustrates this point. Hubbard, who is apparently an intentionalist and errantist, recently criticized Lindsell, who is an inerrantist and correspondentist, for misrepresenting thefacts about the situation at Fuller Theological Seminary. He provided Lindsell with “a handful of errors”32 in Lindsell’s treatment of the Fuller situation. But why should these be called “errors” on an intentionalist’s view of truth? Surely Lindsell intended well and even accomplished his intentions in arousing awareness of the drift from inerrancy at Fuller. But this is all that one can expect on an intentionalist’s view of truth. In short, why should Hubbard complain about factual misrepresentation unless he really holds a correspondence view of truth? And if he holds a correspondence view of truth, then why should he reject the factual inerrancy of the Bible? The least to be expected is that he be consistent with his own view of truth.

There is more, however, that biblical Christians must expect and even demand. It is this: Every Christian should get his view of truth about the Bible from the Bible. And if this is the correspondence view of truth, as the foregoing discussion indicates, then it follows that the factual inerrantists are right. That is to say, the Bible is inerrant in whatever it affirms.



1 LaSor admits that “those portions where one passage is clearly in disagreement with another (such as the thousands in Kings compared to the ten thousands in Chronicles) cannot be explained as ‘textual corruptions– because otherwise “we could never again use the canons of criticism to support any text against the conjectural reading of liberal critics” (William S. LaSor, “Life under Tension,” Theological News and Notes ‘Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1976], p. 7). This means, according to LaSor, that clear contradictions (such as four thousand stalls in 2 Chron. 9:25 and forty thousand stalls in 1 Kings 4:26) should be accepted as part of the autographs.

2 In a letter to a radio listener Daniel E. Fuller wrote. “I believe that every statement in the Bible is totally without error and every word is equally inspired” (April 28, 1978, italics added).

3 Fuller claims that “although the mustard seed (see Matt. 13:32] is not the smallest of all seeds, yet Jesus referred to it as such” because “to have gone contrary to their mind on what was the smallest seed would have so diverted their attention from the knowledge that would bring salvation to their souls that they might well have failed to hear these all-important revelational truths” (Daniel E. Fuller, “Benjamin B. Warfield’s View of Faith and History,” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 11 (Spring 19681:81-82).

4 From Fuller Theological Seminary’s “Statement of Faith,” Article III.

5 See Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p. 139.

6 Dewey Beegle, The Inspiration of Scripture (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), p. 138.

7 It is clear from the writings of the errantists that this is their belief. Hubbard wrote, “The nub of Lindsell’s quarrel with many of us who have been his colleagues is the interpretation of the word ‘error’ . . Many of us signed, and still could sign, Fuller’s earlier Statement without buying Lindsell’s definition of error” (David A. Hubbard, “A Conflict in Interpretation,” Theological News and Notes, p. 8). Rogers approvingly quotes Bavinck that “the purpose, goal. or ‘designation’ of Scripture was ‘none other than that it should make us wise to salvation.’ According to Bavinck, Scripture was not meant to give us technically correct scientific information” (Jack Rogers. “The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority,” in Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1977], p. 43). In other words, since the Bible accomplishes this soteriological intention, then it is true.

8 This view could also be called a “functional” view of truth since it centers in the saving function of the Bible. Rogers and McKim write, “The authority of Scripture in these [Reformed] confessions resided in its saving function, not in the form of words used” (The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (New York: Harper & Row, 1979], p. 125). Again they state, “It is significant to note . .. that for the Reformation concept of the ‘reliability’ of Scripture in achieving its function of salvation, Terretin substituted a discussion of the formal ‘necessity’ of Scripture” (ibid., p. 175).

9 Fuller (Fuller to Geisler, March 29, 1978) and Hubbard hold this same functional view of truth, namely, that the Bible is true in that it is “able to make us wise unto salvation.” Hubbard contends that “error” in the Bible means “that which leads astray from the truth God is teaching” (“A Conflict in Interpretation,” p. 8).

10 Berkouwer makes it clear he holds this same intentionalist or functional view of truth. He wrote approvingly of Kuyper that “he was not at all troubled by the absence of accuracy and exactness precisely because of the God-breathed character of Scripture: the reliability of the Gospels was guaranteed by thispurpose of the Spirit” (G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, Studies in Dogmatics, comp. and ed. Jack B. Rogers [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975] p. 250, italics added). Berkouwer also stated, “The authority of Scripture is in no way diminished because an ancient world view occurs in it; for it was not the purpose of Scripture to offer revealing information on that level” (ibid., p. 181, italics added).

11 Rogers claims that the redemptive function of the Bible is the locus of truth rather than the verbal form (The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, p. 125). Broadly speaking, the intentional (functional) view is a species of the “pragmatic” theory of truth, along with its sister “personalistic” and “existential” theories of truth.

12 Of course neoorthodox theologians such as Emil Brunner contend that revelation is personal, not propositional (see, e.g., Brunner’s Revelation and Reason [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 19461, pp. 369-70). This neoorthodox view bears a strong kinship with the neoevangelical views of Berkouwer, Rogers, and others.

13 On a correspondence view of truth see Aristotle Categories 1. a.10-4.b.19 and On Interpretation 19.a.10-19.

14 Thiselton gives an excellent discussion of the various theories of truth and of the biblical usage of truth (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. “Truth.- by A. C. Thiselton, 3:874-902).

15 Fuller has stated this point very clearly. “I believe it is a necessary implication of II Tim. 3:15 that the Bible’s truth depends on how well it lives up to this intention, stated explicitly here. I know of no other verse which states the Bible’s purpose so succinctly as 11 Tim. 3:15” (Fuller to Geisler, March 29, 1978).

16 A thoroughly consistent intentionalist’s view of truth, in contrast to a correspondence view. is factually unfalsiflable. For no matter what facts are presented contrary to the affirmation, it is always possible that the author’s intentions were true.

17 Davis is more forthright than most errantists in admitting errors in the Bible (see Stephen T. Davis, The Debate about the Bible ‘Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977]). He tries to preserve the “infallibility” of the Bible in moral matters while denying its inerrancy in historical and scientific matters. But even here he runs into difficulty since some of his illustrations are “errors” and have decidedly moral aspects, for instance, the slaughter of the Canaanites (ibid., p. 97).

18 In this sense the intentional or functional view of truth is akin to or a kind of subspecies of a pragmatic view of truth. As James remarked, “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. … ‘The true,’ to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as ‘the right’ is only the expedient in the way of our believing” (William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking [New York: Longman, Green, & Co, 19131. pp. 201, 222, italics his).

19 Even Hirsch, who places strong emphasis on the intention of the author in interpretation, admitted that “the human author’s willed meaning can always go beyond what he consciously intended so long as it remains within the willed type, and if the meaning is conceived of as going beyond even that, then we must have recourse to a divine author speaking through the human one. In that case it is His willed type we are trying to interpret, and the human author is irrelevant” (E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967]. p. 126, n. 37).

20 Kaiser places great weight on this point. See his recent essay, “Legitimate Hermeneutics,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), pp. 117-47.

21 Phillip H. Payne makes an interesting point of this in “The Fallacy of Equating Meaning with the Author’s Intention,” Thrifty Journal 6 (Spring 19771:23-33.

22 Hirsch contends that there is no meaning apart from the author’s intention of that meaning (Validity in Interpretation, p. 58). But if this claim is not false it is at least in need of serious qualifications. First. It would seem to make all unintentional falsehoods meaningless statements, whereas it seems evident that unintentionally false directions can be clearly understood, even though they are wrong. Second, why cannot a statement be meaningful even if no human has affirmed it? As long as someone could affirm it, even as he reads it. it would seem to be a meaningful statement. In other words, is not its affirmability (not whether it has been affirmed) a sufficient condition for its meaning?

23 This writer believes the Bible does affirm creation and opposes evolution. See the excellent book by A. E. Wilder Smith, Man’s Origin, Man’s Destiny (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publications, 1968).

24 In this sense inerrancy as held by a proponent of the correspondence view of truth is a truly falsifiable position. All one needs to do to falsify the biblical affirmation “Christ rose from the dead” is to produce the body of Christ or good evidence of witnesses who saw it in decay sometime after the first Easter morning (see 1 Cor. 15:12-13).

25 It may even be possible for an author to reveal some of his beliefs through his affirmations without necessarily affirming those beliefs. First Thessalonians 4:15 may be an example (“we who are still alive …”). Paul did not affirm that he would be alive when Christ returned, but he seemed to believe (or hope?) that he would be alive at the Lord’s return.

26 The Hebrew word for truth (r1,415) is used in roughly the same way as the New Testament word. It occurs some 127 times. Often it is used of propositional truth. The Old Testament speaks of true /ces (Neh. 9:13), words of men (1 Kings 17:24), words of God (2 Sam. 7:28; Ps. 119:160), commandments (Ps. 119:151), Scripture (Dan. 10:21), and of the factually correct (Dent. 17:4; 22:20; 1 Kings 22:16; 2 Chron. 18:15). Also “truth” is used of God (2 Chron. 15:3: Jer. 10:10). of value judgments (Ezek. 18:8), and of actions (Gen. 47:29; Judg. 9:16). But even these can be understood in the sense of correspondence to what is or what ought to be. In short, truth is what can be spoken (Jer. 9:5), known (lsa. 10:19), declared (Ps. 30:9), factually investigated (Deut. 13:14), written (Neh. 9:13), or expressed in some way (2 Sam. 2:6), and is what would correctly represent that to which it refers. In view of this it is strange to read that “truth is not measured in the Old Testament by correspondence to a theoretical norm but by its ability to achieve its goal” (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 19791. p. 535).

27 See note 26 for Old Testament examples and the following discussion for New Testament examples.

28 These arguments are basically an elaboration and expansion on some of the same points made by Robert Preus (The Inspiration of Scripture [London: Oliver & Boyd, 19551. p. 24).

29 Of the five times 1111/ (“to err-) is used in the Old Testament (Gen. 6:3; Lev. 5:18; Num. 15:28: Job 12:16; Ps. 119:67). The Leviticus and Numbers references clearly refer to erring unintentionally. Further, the noun riRri, Is used nineteen times and all but two are of unintentional errors (Lev. 4:2. 22.27; 5:15. 18; 22:14; Num_ 15:29. 25 [twice], 26, 27. 28, 29: 35:11 [twice]; Josh. 20:3, 9). Only Ecclesiastes 5:6 and 10:5 could be understood as using rt.nli to refer to intentional errors.

30 John 5:31 (RSV) appears to be an exception. Jesus said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid” (dkriel)c). This would seem to imply that Jesus’ factually correct statements about Himself were not “true.” This, however, would be nonsense on even an intentionalist’s definitions of truth, for surely Jesus intended truth about Himself. What is meant here is that a self-testimony was not established as true. Or. as the NW puts it, such “testimony is not valid,” despite the fact that it is true, since it is only by the testimony of two or three !other] witnesses” that every word is established (Matt. 18:16: cf. John 8:17) and not by one’s own word. Elsewhere Jesus clearly said, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid” (John 8:14). meaning that it is factually correct, even if they did not accept it.

31 Part of the confusion rests in the fact that errantists sometimes confuse “lying” which is always an intentional falsehood and “error” which is just a plain falsehood. Rogers and McKim seem to make this mistake when they said that “error, for Augustine. had to do with deliberate and deceitful telling of that which the author knew to be untrue” (The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, p. 30. italics added). Besides the fact that Augustine is not speaking of a mere error but a lie in this context — a crucial fact which Rogers and McKim mistakenly overlook — their use of the word untrue in the last part of the sentence belies a correspondence view of truth which Is at odds with the intentional view they are proposing in the first part of the quotation.

32 See David A. Hubbard, Theology, News and Notes (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary. 1976), p. 26. Hubbard’s comment is especially strange in view of the fact that he explicitly rejected Lindsell’s view of an “error” or untruth (ibid.. p. 81.



Geisler, N. L. (1999). Truth, Nature Of. In Baker Encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (pp. 741–745). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Truth, Nature of.

Pilate asked: What is truth? Philosophers from Socrates to the last century answered: Is it absolute? Is it knowable (see AGNOSTICISM)? And does it correspond to a referent or, in the case of metaphysical truth, does it correspond to reality?

The Importance of the Nature of Truth.

The nature of truth is crucial to the Christian faith. Not only does Christianity claim there is absolute truth (truth for everyone, everywhere, at all times), but it insists that truth about the world (reality) is that which corresponds to the way things really are. For example, the statement “God exists” means that there really is a God outside the universe, an extracosmic Being. Likewise, the claim that “God raised Christ from the dead” means that the dead corpse of Jesus of Nazareth supernaturally vacated its tomb alive a few days after its burial. Christian truth claims really correspond to the state of affairs about which they claim to inform us.

The Nature of Truth.

What Truth Is Not … Truth can be understood both from what it is and from what it is not. There are many inadequate views of the nature of truth. Most of these result from a confusion between the nature (definition) of truth and a test (defense) of truth, or from not distinguishing the result from the rule.

Truth is not “what works.”

One popular theory is the pragmatic view of William James and his followers that truth is what works. According to James, “Truth is the expedient in the way of knowing. A statement is known to be true if it brings the right results. It is the expedient as confirmed by future experience.” That this is inadequate is evident from its confusion of cause and effect. If something is true it will work, at least in the long run. But simply because something works does not make it true. This is not how truth is understood in court. Judges tend to regard the expedient as perjury. Finally, the results do not settle the truth question. Even when results are in, one can still ask whether the initial statement corresponded to the facts. If it did not, it was not true, regardless of the results.

Truth is not “that which coheres.”

Some thinkers have suggested that truth is what is internally consistent; it is coherent and self-consistent. But this too is an inadequate definition. Empty statements hang together, even though they are devoid of truth content. “All wives are married women” is internally consistent, but it is empty. It tells us nothing about reality. The statement would be so, even if there were no wives. It really means, “If there is a wife, then she must be married.” But it does not inform us that there is a wife anywhere in the universe. A set of false statements also can be internally consistent. If several witnesses conspire to misrepresent the facts, their story may cohere better than if they were honestly trying to reconstruct the truth. But it still is a lie. At best, coherence is a negative test of truth. Statements are wrong if they are inconsistent, but not necessarily true if they are.
Truth is not “that which was intended.” Some find truth in intentions, rather than affirmations. A statement is true if the author intends it to be true and false if he does not intend it to be true. But many statements agree with the intention of the author, even when the author is mistaken. “Slips of the tongue” occur, communicating a falsehood or misleading idea the communicator did not intend. If something is true because someone intended it to be true, then all sincere statements ever uttered are true—even those that are patently absurd. Sincere people are often sincerely wrong.

Truth is not “what is comprehensive.”

Another idea is that the view that explains the most data is true. And those that are not as comprehensive are not true—or not as true. Comprehensiveness is one test for truth, but not the definition of truth. Certainly a good theory will explain all relevant data. And a true worldview will be comprehensive. However, this is only a negative test of whether it is true. The affirmations of that view must still correspond with the real state of affairs. If a view was true simply because it was more encyclopedic, then a comprehensive statement of error would be true and a digested presentation of truth automatically would be in error. Not all long-winded presentations are true and concise ones are not all false. One can have a comprehensive view of what is false or a superficial or incomplete view of what is true.

Truth is not “what is existentially relevant.”

Following Søren Kierkegaard and other existential philosophers, some have insisted that truth is what is relevant to our existence or life and false if it is not. Truth is subjectivity, Kierkegaard said; truth is livable. As Martin Buber stated, truth is found in persons, not in propositions.
However, even if truth is existential in some sense, not all truth fits into the existential category. There are many kinds of truth, physical, mathematical, historical, and theoretical. But if truth by its very nature is found only subjectively in existential relevance, then none of these could be true. What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true. A pen is relevant to an atheist writer. And a gun is relevant to a murderer. But this does not make the former true nor the latter good. A truth about life will be relevant to life. But not everything relevant to one’s life will be true.

Truth is not “what feels good.”

The popular subjective view is that truth gives a satisfying feeling, and error feels bad. Truth is found in our subjective feelings. Many mystics (see MYSTICISM) and new age enthusiasts hold versions of this faulty view, though it also has a strong influence among some experientially oriented Christian groups.
It is evident that bad news can be true. But if what feels good is always true, then we would not have to believe anything unpleasant. Bad report cards do not make a student feel good, but the student refuses to believe them at his or her academic peril. They are true. Feelings are also relative to individual personalities. What feels good to one may feel bad to another. If so, then truth would be highly relative. But, as will be seen in some detail below, truth cannot be relative.
Even if truth makes us feel good—at least in the long run—this does not mean that what feels good is true. The nature of truth does not depend on the result of truth.

What Truth Is.

Correspondence with Reality.

Now that the inadequate views of the nature of truth have been examined, it remains to state an adequate view. Truth is what corresponds to its referent. Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” This correspondence applies to abstract realities as well as actual ones. There are mathematical truths. There are also truths about ideas. In each case there is a reality, and truth accurately expresses it.
Falsehood, then, is what does not correspond. It tells it like it is not, misrepresenting the way things are. The intent behind the statement is irrelevant. If it lacks proper correspondence, it is false.
Arguments for Correspondence. All noncorrespondence views of truth imply correspondence, even as they attempt to deny it. The claim: “Truth does not correspond with what is” implies that this view corresponds to reality. Then the noncorrespondence view cannot express itself without using a correspondence frame of reference.
If one’s factual statements need not correspond to the facts in order to be true, then any factually incorrect statement is acceptable. It becomes impossible to lie. Any statement is compatible with any given state of affairs.
In order to know something is true or false, there must be a real difference between things and statements about the things. But correspondence is the comparison of words to their referents. Hence, a correspondence view is necessary to make sense of factual statements.
Communication depends on informative statements. But correspondence to facts is what makes statements informative. All communication ultimately depends on something being literally or factually true. We cannot even use a metaphor unless we understand that there is a literal meaning over against which the figurative sense is not literal. So, it would follow that all communication depends in the final analysis on a correspondence to truth.
The intentionalist theory claims that something is true only if what is accomplished corresponds fulfils what is intended by the statement. Without correspondence of intentions and accomplished facts there is no truth.

Objections to Correspondence.

Objections to the correspondence view of truth come from Christian and non-Christian sources.
When Jesus said “I am the truth” (John 14:6), it is argued that he demonstrated that truth is personal, not propositional. This falsifies the correspondence view of truth, in which truth is a characteristic of propositions (or expressions) which correspond to its referent. But a person, as well as a proposition, can correspond to reality. As the “exact image” of the invisible God (Heb. 1:3), Jesus perfectly corresponds to the Father (John 1:18). He said to Philip, “when you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). So, a person can correspond to another in his character and actions. In this sense, persons can be said to be true, or express the truth.
God is truth, yet there is nothing outside of himself to which he corresponds. Yet according to the correspondence view, truth is that which correctly represents reality. Since God lacks correspondence, this argument goes, the correspondence theory denies that God is true, as the Bible says he is (Rom. 3:4). However, truth as correspondence does relate strongly to God. God’s words correspond to his thoughts. So God is true in the sense that his word can be trusted. God’s thoughts are identical to themselves, a kind of perfect “correspondence.” In this sense, God is true to himself. If truth is understood as what corresponds to another, then in this sense God is not “true.” Rather, he is the ultimate reality and so the standard for truth. Other things must correspond to him in a limited way in order to be called true, not he to them.
The basic fallacy in this objection that God is truth yet not correspondent is that it equivocates in its definitions. If correspondence relates only to something outside oneself, then God cannot be truth, but the ultimate reality to which truth corresponds. If correspondence can also be inside oneself, God corresponds to himself in the most perfect way. He is perfect truth by perfect self-identity. Consider the following fallacious thinking:

1. All who submit to the authority of the Pope are Roman Catholic.
2. But the Pope cannot submit to himself.
3. Therefore, the Pope is not Roman Catholic.

The mistake is in the second premise. Contrary to the claim, the Pope can submit to himself. He simply has to follow the rules he lays down for Roman Catholics. Likewise, God can and does live in accord with his own authority. In this sense he is true to himself.

The Absolute Nature of Truth.

The relativity of truth is commonly a premise of current thought. Yet orthodox Christianity is predicated on the position that truth is absolute. Thus, the defense of the possibility of absolute truth is crucial to the defense of the historic Christian faith. According to theories of relative truth, something may be true for one person, but not for all people. Or, it may be true at one time, but not at another. According to the absolutist view, what is true for one person is true for all persons, times, and places.
As argued above, there is only one adequate view of the nature of truth—the correspondence view. Other views, such as coherence and pragmatism, describe tests for truth, not an explanation of the nature of truth itself. Factual truth is that which corresponds to the facts. It is that which corresponds to the actual state of affairs being described.

Relative Truth.

The relativity of truth is a popular contemporary view. However, truth is not determined by majority vote. Let’s take a look at the reasons people give for belief that truth is relative.
Of all, some things appear only to be true at some times and not at others. For example, many people once believed the world to be flat. Now we know that truth statement was wrong. It would seem that this truth has changed with the times. Or has it? Did the truth change, or did beliefs about what is true change? Well, certainly the world did not change from a box to a sphere. What changed in this regard is our belief, not our earth. It changed from a false belief to a true one.
Within a statement’s universe of discourse, every truth is an absolute truth. Some statements really apply only to some people, but the truth of those statements is just as absolute for all people everywhere at all times as a statement that applies to all people generally. “Daily injections of insulin are essential for continued life” is true of persons with some life-threatening forms of diabetes. This statement has an applied universe of discourse. It isn’t purporting to be a truth that applies to everyone. But if it applies to Fred, then it is true of Fred for everyone. The caveat that this statement is false for people with a normally functioning pancreas does not detract from the statement’s truth within its universe of discourse—diabetics to whom it is properly addressed.
Some statements appear to be true only for some. The statement, “I feel warm” may be true for me but not for another person, who may feel cold. I am the only one within the statement’s universe of discourse. The statement, “I [Norman Geisler] feel warm” (on July 1, 1998, at 3:37 P.M.) is true for everyone everywhere that Norman Geisler did feel warm at that moment in history. It corresponds to facts and so is an absolute truth.
A teacher facing a class says: “The door to this room is on my right.” But it is on the left for the students. Relativists argue that surely this truth is relative to the teacher since it is false for the class. But on the contrary it is equally true for everyone that the door is on the professor’s right. This is an absolute truth. It will never be true for anyone, anywhere at any time that the door was on the professor’s left during this class on this day in this room. The truth is equally absolute that the door was on the student’s left.
It seems obvious that the temperature frequently is relatively high in Arizona and relatively cold at the North Pole. So, apparently some things are true for some places but not for other places. Right?
Not so. Some things are true concerning some places, but not true in other places where the conditions are different. But that isn’t the point. Within the Arizona weather report’s universe of discourse, the statement corresponds to the facts. So it is true everywhere. The statement: “It is relatively cold for earth at the North Pole” is true for people in Arizona in the summer, or on Pluto where it is colder than on the North Pole. Truth is what corresponds to the facts, and the fact is that it feels cold at the North Pole.
All truth is absolute. There are no relative truths. For if something is really true, then it is really true for everyone everywhere, and for all time. The truth statement 7 + 3 = 10 is not just true for mathematics majors, nor is it true only in a mathematics classroom. It is true for everyone everywhere.


Like an old apple, relativism may look good on the surface but it is rotten at the core. Among its problems:
Absolutely Relative?

Most relativists really believe relativism is true for everybody, not just for them. But that is the one thing they cannot hold if they are really relativists. For a relative truth is just true for me but not necessarily for anyone else. So, the relativist who thinks relativism is true for everyone is an absolutist. Such a person believes in at least one absolute truth. The dilemma is this: a consistent relativist cannot say “It is an absolute truth for everyone that truth this is only relatively true.” Nor can the person say, “It is only relatively true that relativism is true.” If it is only relatively true, then relativism may be false for some or all others. Why then should I accept it as true? Either the claim that truth is relative is an absolute claim, which would falsify the relativist position, or it is an assertion that can never really be made, because every time you make it you have to add another “relatively.” This begins an infinite regress that will never pay off in a real statement.
The only way the relativist can avoid the painful dilemma of relativism is to admit that there are at least some absolute truths. As noted, most relativists believe that relativism is absolutely true and that everyone should be a relativist. Therein lies the self-destructive nature of relativism. The relativist stands on the pinnacle of an absolute truth and wants to relativize everything else.

A World of Contradictions.

If relativism were true, then the world would be full of contradictory conditions. For if something is true for me but false for you, then opposite conditions exist. For if I say “There is milk in the refrigerator” and you say “there is not any milk in the refrigerator”—and we both are right, then there must both be and not be milk in the refrigerator at the same time and in the same sense. But that is impossible. So, if truth were relative, then an impossible would be actual.
In the religious realm it would mean that Billy Graham is telling the truth when he says, “God exists,” and Madalyn Murray O’Hare is also right when she claims, “God does not exist.” But these two statements cannot both be true. If one is true, then the other is false. And since they exhaust the only possibilities, one of them must be true.
No Wrongs and No Rights. If truth is relative, then no one is ever wrong—even when they are. As long as something is true to me, then I’m right even when I’m wrong. The drawback is that I could never learn anything either, because learning is moving from a false belief to a true one—that is, from an absolutely false belief to an absolutely true one. The truth is that absolutes are inescapable.

Answering Objections.

Relativists have leveled several objections to the view of truth as absolute. The following are the most important:

No Absolute Knowledge.

It is objected that truth cannot be absolute since we do not have an absolute knowledge of truths. Even most absolutists admit that most things are known only in terms of degrees of probability. How, then, can all truth be absolute?

We can be absolutely sure of some things. I am absolutely sure that I exist. In fact, my existence is undeniable. For I would have to exist in order to make the statement, “I do not exist.” I am also absolutely sure that I cannot exist and not exist at the same time. And that there are no square circles. And that 3 + 2 = 5.
There are many more things of which I am not absolutely certain. But even here the relativist is misguided in rejecting absolute truth simply because we lack absolute evidence that some things are true. The truth can be absolute no matter what our grounds for believing it. For example, if it is true that Sidney, Australia, is on the Pacific Ocean, then it is absolutely true no matter what my evidence or lack of evidence may be. An absolute truth is absolutely true in itself, no matter what evidence there is. Evidence, or the lack thereof, does not change a fact. And truth is what corresponds to the facts. The truth doesn’t change just because we learn something more about it.

In-between Truths.

Another objection is that many things are comparative—like relative sizes such as shorter and taller. As such they cannot be absolute truths, since they change depending on the object to which they relate. For example, some people are good compared to Hitler but evil as compared to Mother Teresa. Contrary to the claim of relativists, in-between things do not disprove absolutism. For the facts that “John is short in relation to an NBA (National Basketball Association) player,” and “John is tall compared to a jockey” are absolutely true for all times and all people. John is in-between in size, and it depends on which one to whom he is compared whether he is shorter or taller. Nonetheless, it is absolutely true that John (being five feet ten inches) is short compared to most basketball players and tall compared to the majority of jockeys. The same thing is true of other in-between things, such as, warmer or colder, and better or worse.
No New Truth (or Progress). If truth never changes, then there can’t be any new truth. This would mean that no progress is possible. But we do come to know new truths. That is what scientific discovery is all about. In response to this, “new truth” can be understood in two ways. It might mean “new to us,” like a new discovery in science. But that is only a matter of us discovering an “old” truth. After all, the law of gravity was there long before Isaac Newton. Many truths have always been there, but we are just finding out about them. The other way we might understand “new truth” is that something new has come into existence that makes it possible to make a new statement about it that is only then true for the first time. That’s no problem either. When January 1, 2020, arrives, a new truth will be born. Until that day it will not be true to say, “This is January 1, 2020.” But when that happens it will be true for all people and places forever more. So “old” truths don’t change and neither do “new” truths when they come to pass. Once it is true, it is always true—for everyone.
Truth and Growth in Knowledge. It is also objected that knowledge of truth is not absolute, since we grow in truth. What is true today may be false tomorrow. The progress of science is proof that truth is constantly changing. This objection fails to note that it is not the truth that is changing but our understanding of it. When science truly progresses, it does not move from an old truth to a new truth, but from error to truth. When Copernicus argued that the earth moves around the sun and not the reverse, truth did not change. What changed was the scientific understanding about what moves around what.

Narrow Absolutes.

Of course truth is narrow. There is only one answer for what is 4 + 4. It is not 1. It is not 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 or any other number. It is 8 and only 8. That’s narrow, but it is correct.
Non-Christians often claim that Christians are narrow-minded, because they claim that Christianity is true and all non-Christian systems are false. However, the same is true of non-Christians who claim that what they view as truth is true, and all opposing beliefs are false. That is equally narrow. The fact of the matter is that if C (Christianity) is true, then it follows that all non-C is false. Likewise, if H (say, Humanism) is true, then all non-H is false. Both views are equally narrow. That’s the way truth is. Each truth claim excludes contradictory truth claims. Christianity is no more narrow than is any other set of beliefs, whether atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, or pantheism.

Dogmatic Absolutes.

The claim that those who believe in absolute truth are dogmatic misses the point. If all truth is absolute—true for all people, times, and places—everyone who claims anything is true is “dogmatic.” Even the relativist who claims relativism is true is dogmatic. For the person who claims that relativism is absolutely true is particularly dogmatic. This person claims to own the only absolute truth that can be uttered, namely, that everything else is relative.
Something important is overlooked in this charge of dogmatism. There is a big difference between the pejorative charge that belief in absolute truth is dogmatic and the manner in which someone may hold to this belief. No doubt the manner with which many absolutists have held to and conveyed their beliefs has been less than humble. However, no agnostic would consider it a telling argument against agnosticism that some agnostics communicate their beliefs in a dogmatic manner.
Nonetheless, there is an important distinction to keep in mind: Truth is absolute, but our grasp of it is not. Just because there is absolute truth does not mean that our understanding of it is absolute. This fact in itself should cause the absolutists to temper convictions with humility. For while truth is absolute, our understanding of absolute truth is not absolute. As finite creatures, we grow in our understanding of truth.


Truth may be tested in many ways but it should be understood in only one way. There is one reality, to which statements or ideas must conform in order to be regarded as true. There may be many different ways to defend different truth claims, but there is really only one proper way to define truth, namely, as correspondence. The confusion between the nature of truth and the verification of truth is at the heart of the rejection of a correspondence view of truth.
Likewise, there is a difference between what truth is and what truth does. Truth is correspondence, but truth has certain consequences. Truth itself should not be confused with its results or with its application. The failure to make this distinction leads to wrong views of the nature of truth. Truth is that which corresponds to reality or to the state of affairs it purports to describe. And falsehood is what does not correspond.


Anselm, Truth, Freedom, and Evil
Aristotle. Posterior Analytics
Augustine, Against the Academics
A. Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
N. L. Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, chap. 6
J. F. Harris, Against Relativism
C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Plato, Protagoras
———, Theaetetus
Thomas Aquinas, On Truth
D. Wells, God in the Wastelands: No Place for Truth


Was Mark Confused or was it Mike Licona?

Was Mark Confused or was it Mike Licona?

by Norman L. Geisler


The Problem

In his YouTube presentation on this topic, Mike Licona declared that “probably Mark is confused” concerning the location of the Feeding of the 5,000. Later, in his internet article on the topic (8/23/2016) he wrote, “The difficulty appears after the feeding when in Mark 6:45 we read that Jesus told His disciple to cross over the lake to Bethsaida. This seems difficult to reconcile with Luke’s report that the feeding had occurred at or near Bethsaida.”


Proposed Solutions

After reviewing what Licona considers several admittedly “possible” solutions, he dismissed them for various reasons; they were “awkward,” did not solve the “tension,” “a stretch,” or “groundless.” He concludes, “while some are less ad hoc and more plausible than others, none of them enjoys anything close to a scholarly consensus….” He then resorts to his favorite solution—a hermeneutically definitive appeal to extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre and finds similar difficulties when Plutarch tells “the same stories differently.” Thus, Licona concludes that he also is willing here to accept the “confusion” of Mark, and “remain content to live with an unanswered question.”


A Brief Evaluation

First of all, there is no unresolvable problem for an inerrantist here, as even Licona admits there are “possible” solutions.

Second, he even acknowledges that some solutions are “more plausible” than others.

Third, Licona’s problem rests with his acceptance of  Greco-Roman genre which allows for even contradiction in the Gospel, as there are in Greco-Roman literature.

Fourth, he reflects his distaste for some attempts to use the time-honored method of “harmonizing” (which goes back as far as Tatian’s Diatessaron, c. 150-160 a.d.) to reconcile the tension or apparent contradiction. He calls it “hermeneutical gymnastics” and elsewhere refers to similar proceedings by the exaggerated term “hermeneutical waterboarding.”

Fifth, Licona’s confusion, not Mark’s, also stems from the hidden premise that if there is no “scholarly consenses” on a problem, then we must consider it unanswered, if not unanswerable. He seems unwilling to admit the venerable conclusion of St. Augustine who wrote, “If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken; but either: [1] the manuscript is faulty, or [2] the translation is wrong, or [3] you have not understood’” (Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5). But to repeat, “it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken’”—or confused. God is not confused, and He cannot err (Heb. 6:18), and the Gospel of Mark, along with the rest of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16), is the Word of God. Therefore, it cannot be confused or err. If anyone was confused here, then mark it down, it was not Mark.


Copyright © 2016 Norman L. Geisler. All rights reserved.

Explaining Biblical Inerrancy

Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

I am Put Here for the Defense of the Gospel: Dr. Norman L. Geisler: A Festschrift in His Honor


I Am Put Here for the Defense of the Gospel: Dr. Norman L. Geisler:

A Festschrift in His Honor

Edited by Terry L. Miethe

Pickwick Publishers | 2016

480 pages

Order at Wipf&Stock and use “Geisler” as a 40% off coupon code!

Or purchase from AMAZON. 


Preface by Ravi Zacharias · xi

Introduction by Terry L. Miethe · xiii

Tributes to Norman L. Geisler

Thanks for the Memories by William E. Nix · xxi

A Tribute to Norman L. Geisler by Patty Tunnicliffe · xxiii

A Personal Story by John Ankerberg · xxvii

Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Personal Reflections on a Favorite Professor

by Timothy Paul Erdel · xxix

A Tribute to Dr. Norman L. Geisler by Mark M. Hanna · xxxii

Personal Experience with Norm by Grant C. Richison · xxxiv

Biographical Reflections about Norm Geisler by Winfried Corduan · xxxv

Norma Turbulenta: “Stormin’ Norman” by Donald T. Williams · xxxvii


chapter 1: Using Apologetics in Contemporary Evangelism by David Geisler · 1

chapter 2: Distinctive Elements of a Judaeo-Christian Worldview by William E. Nix · 22

chapter 3: Our Faith Seeks Their Understanding: Evangelistic-Apologetics & Effective Communication by Ramesh Richard · 57

Biblical Studies

chapter 4: Beware the Impact of Historical Critical Ideologies on Current Evangelical New Testament Studies by F. David Farnell · 76

chapter 5: Building Babel: Genesis 11:1–9 by Thomas Howe · 99

chapter 6: The Task of Bible Exposition by Elliott Johnson · 122

chapter 7: God’s Ultimate Purpose for Creation by Grant C. Richison · 135

chapter 8: Text Versus Word: C. S. Lewis’s View of Inspiration and the Inerrancy of Scripture by Donald T. Williams · 152


chapter 9: Some Features of Finite Being in St. Thomas Aquinas by Winfried Corduan · 169

chapter 10: Unamuno and Quine: A Meta-Philosophical Parable Concerning Faith, Reason, and Truth by Timothy Paul Erdel · 192

chapter 11: Open Theism, Analogy, and Religious Language by Joseph M. Holden · 204

chapter 12: Defending the Handmaid: How Theology Needs Philosophy by Richard G. Howe · 233

chapter 13: Aristotle: God & The Life of Contemplation, or What is Philosophy & Why is it Important? by Terry L. Miethe · 257

chapter 14: The Enlightenment, John Locke & Scottish Common Sense Realism by Terry L. Miethe · 281


chapter 15: Big Data, Big Brother, and Transhumanism by J. Kerby Anderson · 297

chapter 16: Using Expository Preaching to Address Ethical Issues in Our Day by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. · 307

chapter 17: Moral Absolutes and Moral Worth: A Proposal for Christian Ethics Inspired by Norman Geisler by Richard A. Knopp · 317

chapter 18: A Christian Response to Homosexuality by Patty Tunnicliffe · 346

Other Religions & Cults

chapter 19: Why They Blow Themselves Up: Understanding Islamic Suicide Bombers from a Christian Perspective by John Christian · 370

chapter 20: A Theological and Apologetical Assessment of Positive Confession Theology by Ron Rhodes · 382

Norman L. Geisler’s Impact

chapter 21: The Impact of Norman Geisler on Christian Higher Education by Wayne Detzler · 400

chapter 22: A Detroit Yankee in King Cotton’s Court: Love Expressed in the Thought and Writings of Norman Geisler by Paige Patterson · 417

Tabula Gratulatoria: Testimonials to Dr. Geisler’s Impact on our Time · 427

“Geislerisms” · 431

About Norman L. Geisler · 433


Is the Ark-Like Structure Found on Mt. Ararat a Hoax?

For those who are interested in the search for Noah’s ark, check out the response by Philip Ernest Williams (Mount Ararat Discovery Foundation) to “A Critique of the Claim of Noah’s Ark Ministries International of the Discovery of a Wooden Structure on Mount Ararat” by Dr. Randall Price Ph.D. and Don Patton, Ph.D. Click this link to read it:

For other cutting-edge articles on the search for Noah’s ark, also

please visit