Ten Reasons for the Historicity of the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

Ten Reasons for the Historicity of the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

Norman L. Geisler 2011

      The text in question reads: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27:50-53).

In The Resurrection of Jesus, Mike Licona denies the historicity of what he calls this “strange little text” (548), claiming that it is not to be “taken literally” (527) but is “legend” (34) or a “poetical device” (553) in “eschatological Jewish” (552) language, providing “special effects” (552) for His death and the “impending judgment” (553).

    However, there are many good reasons to reject this “dehistoricizing” of the text:

1. This passage is part of a historical narrative in a historical record—the Gospel of Matthew. Both the larger setting (the Gospel of Matthew) and the specific context (the crucifixion and resurrection narrative) demand the presumption of historicity, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary in the text, its context, or in other Scripture—which there is not.

2. This text manifests no literary signs of being poetic or legendary, such as those found in parables,  poems, or  symbolic  presentations.*  Hence, it should be taken in the sense in which it presents itself, namely, as factual history.

3. This passage gives no indication of being a legendary embellishment, but it is a short, simple,  straight-forward account in the exact style one expects in a brief historical narrative.

4. This event occurs in the context of other important historical events—the death and resurrection of Christ—and there is no indication that it is an insertion foreign to the text. To the contrary, the repeated use of “and” shows its integral connection to the other historical events surrounding the report.

5.  The resurrection of these saints is presented as the result of the physical historical resurrection of Christ.  For these saints were resurrected only “after” Jesus was resurrected and as a result of it (Matt 27:53) since Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the dead (1Cor 15:20).  It makes no sense to claim that a legend emerged as the immediate result of Jesus’ physical resurrection.  Nor would it have been helpful to the cause of early Christians in defending the literal resurrection of Christ for them to incorporate legends, myths, or apocalyptic events alongside His actual resurrection in the inspired text of Scripture.

6. Early Fathers of the Christian Church, who were closer to this event, took it as historical, sometimes even including it as an apologetic argument for the resurrection of Christ (e.g., Irenaeus, Fragments, XXVIII; Origen,Against Celsus,  Book II, Article XXXIII; Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chap. XIII).

7. The record has the same pattern as the historical records of Jesus’ physical and historical resurrection: (a) there were dead bodies; (b) they were buried in a tomb; (c) they were raised to life again; (d) they came out of the tomb and left it empty; (e) they appeared to many witnesses.

8. An overwhelming  consensus of the great orthodox teachers of the Church for the past nearly two thousand years supports the view that this account should be read as a historical record, and, consequently, as reporting historical truth.

9. Modern objections to a straight-forward acceptance of this passage as a true historical narrative are based on a faulty hermeneutic, violating sound principles of interpretation. For example, they (a) make a presumptive identification of its genre, based on extra-biblical sources, rather than analyzing the text for its style, grammar, and content in its context; or, (b) they use events reported outside of the Bible to pass judgment on whether or not the biblical event is historical.

10. The faulty hermeneutic principles used in point 9 could be used, without any further justification,  to deny other events in the gospels as historical.  Since there is no hermeneutical criterion of “magnitude,” the same principles could also be used to relegate events such as the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Christ to the realm of legend.

   Six Reasons Why Denying the Historicity of this Text is Contrary to the Doctrine of Inerrancy

1.  The historic doctrine of Inerrancy affirms the complete truthfulness of all of Scripture “in all matters upon which it touches” including “the events of world history.”  Thus, the Gospel narratives (of which Matthew 27:50-53 is one) should not be “dehistoricized” (see ICBI “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy,” Article XVIII and “A Short Statement” nos. 2 and 4).

2.  Affirming the historical truth of this text in Matthew 27 has been the overwhelming consensus of the great orthodox teachers of the Christian Church for the past nearly 2000 years.  So, any denial of its historicity has virtually the whole weight of Christian history against it.

3. The largest organization of scholars in the world who affirm inerrancy (The Evangelical Theological Society) declared that views like this that dehistoricize the Gospel record are incompatible with inerrancy, and, hence, they asked a member (Robert Gundry) to resign by an overwhelming vote (in 1983) because he had denied the historicity of sections in Matthew.  The only real difference to Licona’s approach in Matthew 27 is one of the type of extra-biblical literature used— apocalyptic vs. midrash.

4. The official statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), the largest group of international scholars to formulate an extended statement on inerrancy, explicitly exclude views like this that “dehistoricize” Gospel narratives.  As a member of the ICBI drafting committee, I know for certain that views like Robert Gundry’s were a specific target when it declared:  “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching…” (“Chicago Statement on Inerrancy,” Article XVIII), and “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightfully be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics, XIII).

5. The ETS has adopted the ICBI understanding of inerrancy as their guide in determining its meaning.  And the ETS excluded a member who dehistoricized sections of the Gospel like this. And it was because of instances like this, where members redefine doctrinal statements to suit their own beliefs, that the International Society of Christian Apologetics (www.isca–apologetics.org) added this sentence: “This doctrine is understood as the one expressed by the Framers of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in its ‘Chicago Statement’ and as interpreted by the official ICBI Commentary on it.”

6.  Neither the Evangelical Theological Society nor ICBI, in their official statements and actions, have allowed divorcing hermeneutics from inerrancy by making the vacuous claim that one could hold to inerrancy regardless of the hermeneutical method he employed and the conclusions to which it leads, even if it dehistoricized the creation story, the death of Christ, or His resurrection.  If they did, then they would no longer be an “Evangelical” theological society.

*One figure of speech, “asleep,” is used which means literal death (John 11:11, 14; 1 Thess. 4:15, 16).

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

A Response to Mike Licona’s Defense of Dehistoricizing the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

A Response to Mike Licona’s Defense of Dehistoricizing the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

Norman L. Geisler

I wish to express my appreciation to Mike Licona for his belated response to some of the issues I raised about his view over two months ago.  While this response was no doubt prompted by the superb treatment of the matter by Dr. Al Mohler that was just placed on his web site, Licona’s response is better late than never. Before addressing Licona’s defense of this view, it is noteworthy that he acknowledges that it is a denial of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 and says clearly, “which is my position.”  Indeed, he has still not retracted his in-print view that this event is a “legend.” As for Licona’s defense of his view, he offers several arguments.  Let me address them briefly.

First, he claims that his view is in accord with the doctrine of inerrancy. However, the Evangelical Theological Society, which is the largest group of scholars in the world based on inerrancy, pronounced the same kind of dehistoricizing of the Gospel record as incompatible with its view on inerrancy. Indeed, they requested that Robert Gundry resign (by an overwhelming vote) for holding a similar view which dehistoricized sections of the Gospel of Matthew.  Licona makes no mention of this crucial fact, but insists on redefining inerrancy to fit his errant view. However, in the light of the Gundry decision, Licona has no grounds on which to stand to claim his view is consistent with the historic view of inerrancy, which was embraced by the founders of ETS.

Second, Licona appeals to the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) statements on inerrancy to support his view of “deshistoricizing” Matthew’s account.  However, the ICBI statements on this matter specifically refer to this process as being contrary to inerrancy.  Indeed, as one of the framers of the ICBI statements, I can verify that we explicitly had Gundry’s views in mind when we condemned dehistoricizing the Gospel record. An official ICBI statement declared, “All the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (Sproul,Explaining Inerrancy (EI), 43-44).  Also, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis…and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture,” not extra-biblical texts used to determine the meaning of the biblical text.  Further, the ICBI framers said: “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing,dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII). Also, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37). Again, “When the quest for sources produces a dehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship [then] it has trespassed beyond its proper limits (Sproul, EI, 55). Also, “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Explaining Hermeneutics (EH), XIII). “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (EH XIV bold added in all above citations). Clearly, Licona’s views are not exonerated, but condemned, by the framers and commentaries of the ICBI statements.

Third, Licona begs the question by assuming that we should approach the Gospel record by not prejudging whether it is historical or not.  However, it is not a bias to consider the Gospel records as historical for several reasons: (1) They present themselvesto be giving history (cf. Matt 1:1, 18; 2:1). Luke, for example, claims explicitly that he is recording accurate history (Luke 1:1-4), and Matthew records the same basic historical events as Luke; (2) Luke also provides historical crosshairs with eight historical figures (Luke 3:1-2), all known to have lived at that time; (3) All the main events of Matthew are taken to be historical, even by Licona, including the birth, life, works, words, death and resurrection of Jesus. Why then should not the rest of the book be considered historical as well? Thus, the burden of proof rest on anyone who denies the historicity of a section of the Gospel.  And to comb through contemporary extra-biblical sources, as Licona does, to find legendary material that seems similar to something in the Gospels and then use it as hermeneutical determinative of what the Gospel writer meant is a completely misdirected way of interpreting Scripture. What is more, the presumption of the historical nature of the Gospel is supported by the weight of nearly two thousand years of the Christian Church.  Furthermore, as I mentioned in a previous Open Letter, there are crucial differences between this type of extra-biblical literature and the biblical text?

Fourth, Licona refers to using “authorial intent” to determine the meaning of a statement, but he refuses to take the “authorial intent” of the meaning of ETS and ICBI statements on inerrancy seriously.  If authorial intent is definitive in the meaning of a text, then as an ICBI framer, I can verify that Licona’s Gundry-like views of dehistoricizing Matthew 27 are not compatible with the ICBI statements.  In fact, we had the very thing in mind when we spoke against “dehistoricizing” the biblical narrative by that very name.

Fifth, what is more, Licona violates another standard hermeneutical principle by taking ICBI texts out of contexts.  The ICBI statements only allow the use of extra-biblical data to “clarify” the meaning of words in the biblical text and “prompt” a reexamination of the biblical text itself, which is the final authority.  ICBI never allowed extra-biblical data to be hermeneutical determinative of the meaning, nor of the historicity of the text. As Dr. Mohler correctly noted, they cannot be used to “invalidate” the teaching of a biblical text.  In fact, ICBI explicitly condemns this extra-biblical practice used by Licona and affirms that “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” and that by the “grammatico-historical” method alone. Nowhere did ICBI claim that extra-biblical writings were to be used to override the meaning of biblical writings as understood in their context and by other Scriptures.  In fact, it stated just the opposite (see above).

Sixth, not only does Licona violate sound interpretive principles, but he draws a false analogy between using symbolic language and dehistoricizing a text.  For example, simply because the Bible speak of Satan under the figure of a “dragon” (an example Licona gives) does not mean there is no literal Satan, nor a literal fall of Satan and a third of the angels (Rev. 12).  In fact, the book of Revelation even interprets these symbols as referring to literal persons and event (cf. Rev. 12:9).  Therefore, the use of symbolic language and figures of speech in the Bible in no way justifies taking the individuals and events as non-historical and legendary, as Licona does with the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27. The ICBI statements make this very clear.  What is more, no such language is used in the simple unembellished accounts of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, which Licona denies as historical.

Seventh, Licona ignores virtually all the arguments we presented for the historicity of the resurrection of these saints in Matthew 27 and then claims that we beg the question in favor of the historicity of the event in question. To state just a few of these arguments given in favor of historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27: (1) It occurs in a book that present itself as historical (cf. Matt 1:1,18); (2) Numerous events in this book have been confirmed as historical (e.g., the birth, life, deeds, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ); (3) It is presented in the immediate context of other historical events, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ; (4) The resurrection of these saints is also presented as an event occurring as a result of the literal death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Matt. 27:52-53); (5) It has all the same essential earmarks of the literal resurrection of Christ, including: (a) empty tombs, (b) dead bodies coming to life, and (c) these resurrected bodies appearing to many witnesses.  In view of all of this, there is simply no reasonably way one can dehistoricize the resurrection of these saints, particularly based on alleged similarities with extra-biblical stories and expressions.  Indeed, to dehistoricize the resurrection of these saints is to dehistoricize the resurrection of Christ which is said to be the cause of it.

Eighth, Licona claims the extra-biblical literature containing phenomena similar to the raised saints in Matthew 27 may provide insights pertaining to how Matthew intended for us to interpret his raised saints. However, in support Licona offers more false analogies such as the use of figures of speech of events today.  But no one claims that the “earth-shaking” events of 9/11 were non-historical or poetic devices used to describe what every eye-witnesses knows to have taken place in the actual space-time continuum. We validate the historicity of this event by the eyewitnesses who experienced the event  and who recorded it as actual history. If someone 2,000 years from now interprets the events from 9/11 as apocalyptic or legendary, then they will be in error.

Ninth, it is understandable that Licona would be “grateful to the Southeastern Theological Review for their invitation to participate in a round table discussion on the meaning of this text and the solution” that he proposed.  However, we must be careful not to place too much weight on such a meeting, particularly because some of those involved have already placed approval on his view in a recent Open Letter released by Licona. Hence, it may be a case of the fox guarding the hen house!  There are far bigger and better scholarly circles than this, such as, the nearly 300 international scholars who formed the ICBI statement on inerrancy and its statements which declare that views like Licona’s were incompatible with the view of full inerrancy which declared that the Bible is wholly and completely without error and denied all dehistoricizing of the Gospel record.

Tenth, Licona claims that to reject a view like his is to “stifle scholarship.”  In response, we do not wish to stifle scholarship but only to reject bad scholarship.  Further, as Evangelicals we must beware of desiring a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship, which is riddled with presuppositions that are antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity. Indeed, when necessary, we must place Lordship over scholarship (2 Cor. 10:5). We do not oppose scholarship, but only scholarship whose presuppositions and methodological procedures are opposed to the Faith once for all committed to the saints.

Unfortunately, Mike Licona refers to Dr. Mohler and me as “detractors.”  In response, I would like to repeat that I have both love for Mike as a brother in Christ and respect for him as a scholar.  However, I have a higher respect for the truth of God’s inerrant Word and for my duty to defend it.  And I am firmly convinced that the Gospel record is seriously undermined by this kind of Second-Temple, pro-legendary interpretation that denies the sufficiency of the historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture and flies in the face of nearly two centuries of Christian consensus on the historicity of the Gospel record. Hence, while I am not a detractor, I do believe that Dr. Licona needs to be a retractor of this serious challenge to the complete historicity and full inerrancy of the Bible.  Since he has expressed some doubt about his own view in his previous Open Letter, I would hope that his doubt about his own hermeneutics would not decrease and that his certainly about the inerrancy of the whole Gospel record, including this text, would increase.  I am praying to that end.


Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter

A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter

Norman Geisler (Sept 8, 2011)

                On July 3, 2011 I wrote Mike Licona expressing my deep concern about his denial of the historicity of the saints in Matthew 27.  I waited in vain for a whole month for a response to my questions about this denial of the full inerrancy of Scripture.

On August 3, 2011, I wrote again, saying, “Mike: I wrote you a month ago.  I am very disappointed that I have not heard back from you yet—even a brief response.  This is a serious issue.  It is the same thing Gundry was asked to resign from  ETS over.  Please respond.  In all fairness, I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond.  I did not want to go public with my critique of this until I heard from you.  I hope you will change your view.  I like you and respect you, but you owe me a quicker response than this.  Sincerely, Norm. ”

On August 4, 2011 Lincona replied that he did not have time to respond, saying that when He “revisit[ed] the passage” he would consider my points.  And he indicated that it might still be a longer time before he responded, saying, “my investigation will be a lengthy process.”  I responded that in the meantime, since his view was in print, that it was open to scholarly critique, and he agreed in writing that this was so.  Only then did I release my “Open Letter to Mike Licona.”

Finally, two full months after my first letter (of July 3) on September 8, 2011 I received “An Open Response to Norman Geisler” (dated “August 31, 2011).  His response is disappointing for several reasons:

First, Licona has not recante his denial of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  At best, he is no longer as certain of the view as he once was.  Further, whatever his final thoughts, he is convinced that this published view is compatible with inerrancy.  Yet this kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospels is the same reason that Robert Gundry was asked by an overwhelming majority to resign from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), of which Licona is a member.

Second, even in his belated “Open Letter” to me Licona has not yet responded to any of the arguments I gave for the historicity of Matthew 27 resurrection saints. Nor has he responded to any of the reasons I gave as to why his view is incompatible with the ETS and ICBI view on inerrancy.  In short, after two months, I still have a mere reply but not a real response to the issues I raised.  And this reply is something that could easily have been written two months ago.  Apparently, the pressure from Southern Baptist sources that preceded his resignation from his position at their North American Mission Board helped convinced him to resign and reconsider writing a reply.

Third, Licona claims, “I still hold to biblical inerrancy,” yet his “dehistoricizing” this part of the Gospel of Matthew is exactly the issue that prompted ETS to ask Gundry to resign over, namely, because it was inconsistent with the ETS inerrancy statement.  But Licona is also a member of ETS. Why is his view any less inconsistent with the ETS view of inerrancy?  Just saying a view is consistent with the historic view on inerrancy does not make it so.

Fourth, in 2003 ETS adopted the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) view on inerrancy as their guide in understanding what inerrancy means for ETS.  Yet, as I showed in my “Open Letter,” the ICBI framers clearly denied that views like Licona’s are compatible with inerrancy.

Fifth, Licona has not yet recanted his published view denying the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 but, rather, he has attempted to restate it, saying, “one could have articulated a matter more appropriately.”  Furthermore, presenting other possible options, as he does in his “Open Letter,” is not a denial of what he said in his book, namely, the resurrection of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is not historical.

Sixth, listing some scholars who agree with him misses the point.  First, as he admits, most of them do not agree with his unrecanted in-print view.  Further, the fact that they say they are “in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy” misses the point entirely.  For it does not answer the question of with whose view of inerrancy it is in agreement?  As we all know, the term “inerrancy” can be twisted to mean many things to many people.  In my “Open Letter” I affirmed only that Licona’s view was not in agreement with the ETS (of which Licona is a member) view of inerrancy as expressed in the Gundry case.  Of course, one can always find a number of people with whose views on inerrancy it is in agreement.  But that is not the point.

Nor is Licona’s view in accord with the ICBI view on inerrancy (which ETS has adopted as a guideline in understanding the topic), as I showed in my “Open Letter.”  In fact, as one of the framers of the ICBI statement, I can testify to the fact that it was Gundry’s view (and others like it) which we were specifically condemning when we spoke against “dehistoricizing” the Gospel record as Licona has done.

Seventh, this is not, as Licona asserts, merely a hermeneutical issue on which any one can take his own views.  As was pointed out in our debate with Gundry (in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society), one’s hermeneutics or methodology cannot be totally separated from his view on inerrancy.  If it were, then people like Karl Barth could be said to be consistent with inerrancy, even if they believed the Bible was not without error in certain facts of history or science.  Indeed, as Gundry was forced to admit, even Mary Baker Eddy could consistently sign an inerrancy statement (on Licona’s argument), while she was allegorizing away, not just the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 but also allegorizing away all the stories in the Bible, including the resurrection of Christ!

Indeed, contrary to Licona’s claim that this Matthew 27 issue “was outside the primary thesis of the book,” for the resurrection of these saints was directly connected to the resurrection of Christ and listed as a result of it (see Matthew 27:50-53).  So, the two events are interwoven.  Hence, to deny the literal historical nature of the saints who were resurrected as a result of Christ’s resurrection, is also to deny the literal historical nature of the cause of their resurrection, namely, Christ’s resurrection itself.

Eighth, Licona reveals the basis of his own problem when he admits that his view on Matthew 27 “is based upon my [his] analysis of the genre of the text” and that this was based on a comparison with “similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general.”  But this is clearly not the way to interpret a biblical text which should be understood by the “historical-grammatical” method (as ICBI held) of (a) looking at a text in its context and (b) by comparing other biblical texts, affirming that  “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (as ICBI mandated).  The proper meaning is certainly not found by superimposing some external pagan idea on the text in order to determine what the text means.  By this same kind of fallacious hermeneutic one can also conclude that other biblical stories, like the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Christ, are just legends too, along with the creation record in Genesis 1-2.

So, it matters not how many scholars one can line up in support of the consistency of their personal view on inerrancy (and many more than this can be lined up on the other side).  What matters is whether Licona’s view is consistent with the view of full inerrancy held down though the ages (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church) and as expressed by the ETS and ICBI framers and as expressed and confirmed in the official ICBI commentaries on the matter.  For once we begin to neglect the “authorial intent” (to use a phrase from Licona’s “Open Letter”) of the ETS and ICBI statements, and replace it with what we think it should mean, then “inerrancy” is a wax nose that can be formed into almost anything we want it to mean.  Sadly, many names on Licona’s list of scholars are members of ETS (some of whom are on the faculties of evangelical seminaries that require their faculty to sign the ICBI view of inerrancy).  What is more, their approval of Licona’s view reveals they are not signing the doctrinal statement in good conscience according to intention expressed by the framers.  The ETS and ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand, and Licona has clearly stepped over it.  Only a clear recantation will reverse the matter and, unfortunately, Licona has not done this. Let’s pray that he does. 

Sincerely disappointed,

Norman Geisler

Copyright © 2011 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved


A Second Open Letter to Mike Licona on the Resurrection of the Saints of Matthew 27

A Second Open Letter to Mike Licona

on the Resurrection of the Saints of Matthew 27

Professor Norman L Geisler, Ph.D.

August 21, 2011


Almost two months ago, I wrote Mike Licona a private letter expressing my concerns about his published view in The Resurrection of Jesus (RJ) that the story of saints resurrected after His resurrection in Matthew 27:52-53 was not historical.  He spoke of it as a “strange little text” (548 cf. 556).  Indeed, he called it “poetic” or a “legend” (185-186).  He appears to include the angels at the tomb (Mk. 16:5-7) in the same category (186).  He speaks of it as similar to Roman legends with “phenomenal language used in a symbolic manner” (552).  He adds, “…it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ‘special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible” (552).  He says that by this legend “Matthew may simply be emphasizing that a great king has died” (552).  He adds, “If he has one or more of the Jewish texts in mind [that contain similar legends], he may be proclaiming that the day of the Lord has come” (552).  He concludes that “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel” (553).

In my Open Letter to Mike Licona a few weeks ago (see www.normangeisler.com) I spoke of how this dehistoricizing of Matthew’s inspired account was contrary to the stand of The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) which asked Robert Gundry to resign by an overwhelming vote of the membership in 1983 for the same basic reason.  I also pointed out that this kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospel record is contrary to the statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) whose statement was accepted by the ETS (of which Mike Licona is a member) in 2003 as a guide in understanding of what their inerrancy statement meant.


Unfortunately, since Mike has chosen not to respond publically to my Open Letter, or to me privately, I wish to appeal again for him to reconsider his view.  There are two major points I wish to express.  First, there is no good grounds for taking Matthew 27:15-53 as not historical.  Second, this dehistoricizing of sections of a Gospel inconsistent with the standard view on inerrancy as held by the Evangelical Theological Society and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

On The Inconsistency of Licona’s View with the Text of Matthew 27:50-53

            This text at issue is in Matthew 27 which affirms that when he died “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and  yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (vv. 50-53 ESV).  Now there are many reasons this text in this context should be taken as historical and not as a legend.


First of all, in this very text the resurrection of these saints occurs in direct connection with two other historical events—the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 50, 53).  There is no reason here to take the resurrection of Jesus as historical and the resurrection of the saints as a legend. Hence, to borrow the subtitle from Licona’s book, it appears that this “New Historical Approach” which employs extra-biblical sources to determine the meaning of this text has led him astray.  Indeed, there are many reasons in the text itself to take these resurrections as a literal events, including the terms like “earth,” “quake,” “temple,” “veil,” “rocks,” “tombs,” “bodies,” “asleep” (dead), “raised,” and “appeared”—all of which speak of a physical event elsewhere in the New Testament.  Indeed, the crucial word associated directly with the resurrection of these saints resurrection (viz., “raised”—egiro) is also used of Jesus’ resurrection in the 1Corinthians  when Paul speaks of Jesus dying for our sins and being “raised” (egiro) again (1 Cor.15:3-4).  And the word for “appeared” (Mt. 27:53) after his resurrection is an even stronger word than usual,meaning”become visible, appear…make known, make clear, explain, inform, make a report esp. of an official report to the authorities” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Geek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 257, emphasis added).


Second, there is a direct connection between the resurrection of these saints and Jesus’ resurrection.  For the text is careful to mention that they did not come out of the tombs until “after” Jesus’ resurrection (v. 53).  Indeed, Paul calls Jesus’ resurrection “the firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23), so, it is only proper that He should emerge from the dead first.  Thus, speaking of the resurrection of these saints after Jesus’ resurrection and as a result of it makes no sense, if their resurrection, unlike Jesus’ resurrection, is a mere legend.


Third, this text lists the same kind of evidence for the resurrection of these saints as is listed elsewhere for Jesus’ resurrection: [1] the tombs were opened; [2] the tombs were empty; [3] the dead were raised; [4] there were physical appearances; [5] many people saw these resurrected saints (cf. Mt.27; 1 Cor. 15).  In brief, if this is not a physical resurrection, then neither was Jesus’ resurrection (that preceded and prompted it) a physical resurrection.  Or, conversely, if Jesus’ resurrection was physical, then so was the resurrection of these saints in Matthew 27 a physical resurrection. Thus, denying the physical resurrection of these saints undermines belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus.


Fourth, as Ellicott’s Commentary puts it, “the brevity, and in some sense, simplicity, of the statement differences [sic] it very widely from such legends, more or less analogous in  character… and so far excludes the mythical elements which, as a rule, delights to shows itself in luxuriant expansion” (vol. VI, p. 178).  In brief, the typical characteristics of a myth as found in apocryphal and other literature of that time is not found in this text.

Fifth, some of the elements of this story are confirmed by two other Gospels.  For both Mark (15:38) and Luke (23:45) mention the renting of the veil in the temple (Mat. 27: 51) as a result of Jesus’ death as well.  But Luke’s writings in particular have been historically confirmed in nearly one hundred details (see Colin Hemer, Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History). There is no reason to believe he is less historically accurate in mentioning this detail.  And if this part of the story is factually confirmed, there is no good reason to reject the rest of it.


Finally, the cumulative evidence for the historic and non-legendary nature of this text is strong.  In fact, the story is interwoven with the historic evidence surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ in such as manner that the denial of the resurrection of the saints undermines the historicity of the resurrection of Christ in the same text.


 On the Inconsistency of Licona’s View with the ETS and ICBI View on Inerrancy


The Evangelical Theological Society is on record in the Robert Gundry case as rejecting this kind of dehistoricizing of the Gospel record as inconsistent with their view of the inerrancy of Scripture.  In 1983 by an overwhelming vote the ETS members Robert Gundry was asked to resign from the ETS for holding a similar view in which he dehistoricized sections of Matthew’s Gospel.  Since Mike Licona is a member of ETS, it follows that his view is inconsistent with the ETS stand on inerrancy.

Of course, Licona can argue that it is not inconsistent with his personal or private view on inerrancy, but that is not the point we made in our Open Letter, nor is it the point here.  The fact is that the society of scholars to which he belongs has already ruled against the view which he embraces.  Further,  Licona is on record affirming that a text should be interpreted in accord with the “author’s intent” (RJ, 85) or “authorial intent” (RJ, 195).  Thus, it would be inconsistent, if not dishonest, to reject the ETS and ICBI framer’s intent when interpreting its inerrancy statement.  Unfortunately, it is this kind of dishonesty that erodes the integrity of a doctrinal statement.  For example, in 1976 the ETS Executive Committee confessed that “Some of the members of the Society have expressed the feeling that a measure of intellectual dishonesty prevails among members who do not take the signing of the doctrinal statement seriously. Other members of the Society have come to the realization that they are not in agreement with the creedal statement and have voluntarily withdrawn. That is, in good consciencethey could not sign the statement” (1976 Minutes of the ETS Executive Committee, emphasis added).  If one cannot sign a statement in good conscience according to the intent of the framers, then, of course, resigning is the honest thing to do.

Furthermore, in 2003 the ETS accepted the ICBI interpretation as the guideline for interpreting what inerrancy means by an overwhelming 80% vote.  Thus, it too can be used as a test of whether Licona’s view is consistent with what the framers mean by inerrancy.  And an examination of the following citations from official ICBI statements and official commentaries on them make it clear that denying the historicity of sections of the Gospels is inconsistent with its view on inerrancy.

Consider the following ICBI statements (emphasis added):  “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Article XII).  And “By biblical standards of truth and error (in Article XIII) is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality” (Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy (EI), 43-44).  Thus, “… all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (Sproul, EI, 41).


ICBI added, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.”  Hence, “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII).  The official ICBI commentary adds, “Though the Bible is indeedredemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37).  “When the quest for sources produces adehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship [then] it has trespassed beyond its proper limits” (Sproul, EI, 55).  Also, an official commentary titledExplaining Hermeneutics (EH). It reads: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (EH, XIII).  Further, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (EH,  XIV).


As one of the framers of the ICBI statements, I can say with certainty that our expressed intentions of the ICBI framers is directly contrary to Licona’s dehistoricizing of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-53.  In fact, Robert Gundry, who was asked to resign for a similar view, came up by name to the framers when we penned our statements.


Objections Sometimes Raised Against the ETS and ICBI View of Inerrancy


Those who defend the Gundry-Licona type view of “dehistoricizing” parts of the Gospels have offered several objections to this kind of critique over the years.  These will be brief addressed here.

Objection One: ETS and ICBI are not the Final of Infallible Word on Inerrancy


Some have disowned the ETS and ICBI statements on inerrancy.  After all, as these objectors correctly point out, these statements are not infallible.  This is true, but then too no creedal statements are infallible, even The Apostle’s Creed is not infallible. Only the Bible is God’s infallible written Word of God.  Nonetheless, there are good reason to accept these early creeds as a guideline for Christian belief.  And, since there were no explicit early creedal statements on the Bible, there are several reasons to accept the ETS and ICBI statements as guides on this inerrancy issue.


First of all, it is the standard to which Licona and supporters refer when they claim his view is consistent with inerrancy.  After all, Licona is listed as a member of the ETS which has adopted the ICBI statement as a guide to understanding inerrancy.  So, he is being judged by his own standard.


Second, it has been well established that the total inerrancy view expressed by  the ICBI has been the historic view held by the great church teachers down through the centuries (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church; John Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: The Roger/McKim Proposal).


Third, ETS is the largest conservative scholarly society in the world (with some 4000 members).  Hence, it statement on inerrancy carries more weight than any private opinions on the matter, even among some of its members.

Fourth, since the ETS statement is short, its members decided to accepted the ICBI statement on inerrancy as a guide to its meaning in 2003 by an overwhelming 80% vote.


Fifth, the ICBI statement has been the standard view on the topic among American evangelicals for the last generation.  Hence, there is no need to reject it now, particularly for “a new historical approach” that is contrary to the historical-grammatical approach which has been at the basis of orthodoxy down through the centuries.


So, in view of the foregoing evidence, the burden of proof  falls on any individual who pit their private view of inerrancy against the historic view down through the centuries, as is expressed in the ICBI statements on the issue.  And, as we have shown, Licona position clearly contradict what the ETS (to which he belongs) and ICBI framers meant by inerrancy.


Objection Two: Matthew 27 is the Only Reference to this Event


It is objected that since the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is based on a single text, its historicity is in doubt.   However, from an evangelical view of Scripture (which Licona claims to hold), this is a clearly an unjustified assertion.  How many times does an inspired record have to mention an event for it to be true?  Many historical events in the Gospels are mentioned only once, including Jesus talking to the woman at the Well (Jn. 4) and his speaking to Nicodemus (in Jn. 3) in which He used the famous words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3).  Also, the encounter with the Rich Young Ruler and the story about Zaccheaus are only mentioned once (Lk. 19), as are numerous other things.  Further, as noted above, there are some aspect of this story (namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus and even the renting of the temple veil which is confirmed by both Mark  (15:38) and Luke (23:45).


Furthermore, many events from the ancient world survive by only one record.  So, by the logic of this objection, we would have to eliminate much of ancient history, to say nothing of much of the Bible!


Objection Three: Open Genealogies Support a Non-Literal View of Matthew 27


Robert Gundry raised this objection when he was asked to resign from ETS in 1983. In short, it is argued that Matthew 1:8 leaves out three generations when it lists Jesus’ ancestry (cf. 1 Chron. 3:11-12).  Hence, it is argued that that there is no reason to take passages like Matthew 27:51-53) as historical.  However, as any student of logic can quickly determine, this conclusion does not follow from the premises. For there is a big difference between abbreviation in a literal genealogy and taking the persons listed in it as non-literal.  Summarization of historical factsand dehistoricizing of themare really different things.  Thus, this objection is based on a false comparison.


Objection  Four: Many Inerrantists take Sections of Prophecy as Non-literal


It is sometimes objected that if some prophetic events can be taken in a non-literal way without denying inerrancy, then why can’t some events in the Gospels (like Matt. 27:52-53) be taken as non-literal and this view still be considered consistent with the doctrine of inerrancy?  Here again, we have a misplaced analogy for several reasons.


First of all, there is a difference between history and prophecy.  The question in Matthew is about a historical book, not a prophetical book.  Even if apocalyptic language can sometimes be taken to refer to non-literal events, it would not necessarily follow that this is true of historical sections of the Bibleespecially those directly connected with the resurrection of Christ.


Second, the use of figures of speech in apocalyptic discourse does not necessarily mean that it is not referring to literal events.  For example, speaking of the Devil as being “chained” (as a figure of speech) does not mean there is no literal Devil (Rev. 20:1), nor that he won’t be restrained in some manner.  Likewise, other figurative language need not be taken to mean it does not refer to literal events.


Third, consistent evangelical inerrantists (whether Pre- Post or A-millennial) do not deny the literal, historical nature of the Second Coming regardless of whatever figures of speech may be used to describe it.  But what Licona has done is to deny the very historical nature of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  And he has done so with a text that does not use figurative, apocalyptical language, but refers to literal events like Christ’s death, resurrection, and bodies being raised from tombs and appearing to many in the city of Jerusalem.  Thus, it makes a big difference when one denies the historicity of this kind of event, as Licona has done.


Objection Five: Taking Matthew 27 as Non-literal is no Different than Accepting an Old Earth View


It is argued that if one can take the “days” of Genesis in a non-literal way and yet be considered consistent with inerrancy, then why can’t they take a section of Matthew 27 non-literally also be considered consistent with inerrancy?  It is a known fact that many strict inerrantists from B.B. Warfield and A.A. Hodge to the modern ETS fathers and ICBI framers hold an “Old Earth” view which they believed was consistent with a strict view of inerrancy.  However, this too is an unjustified comparison.  For the Hebrew the term “day” (yom) is used of a literal but longer period of time than twenty four hours in many places in the Old Testament.  This is true of numbered series of days (cf. Hosea 6:1-2) and days with “evenings and mornings” (Daniel 8:14, 26) connected to them.  It is also used in the Genesis creation record (Gen. 2:4) of more than one twenty-four hour day, referring as it does to all six days of creation.

However, in none of these cases is “day” used of non-literal events.  Thus, ICBI inerrantists insist that denying the literal historicity of Genesis 1-3 and beyond is inconsistent with inerrancy.  Indeed, Article XII of the ICBI “Chicago Statement” reads: “We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”  And Article XIII of the ICBI statement on Hermeneutics reads: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”  Thus it rejects the view of “Some, for instance, [who] take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.”  And indeed it should reject those views that deny the historicity of the Genesis record since many crucial New Testament teachings are based on it, including the Fall  (Rom. 5:12-17), and Christ’s called the “Last Adam” after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:45).


So, while the age of the earth is not a test of inerrancy orthodoxy, the literal historicity of Genesis 1-3 and following is.  So, contrary to this objection, accepting the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 as legend is contrary to orthodoxy, but accepting the Genesis record as history (regardless of the age of the earth) is not.  Indeed, there are many orthodox ways to hold an “Old Earth” view and still believe that the “days” of Genesis are literal historic days, whether solar days or longer (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, Appendix 4).

Objection Six: Other Inerrantists Agree that This View is Orthodox

Sometimes others who claim to believe in inerrancy, even ETS and ICBI kind of inerrancy, are cited in support of Licona’s view.  Dr. William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas have been put in this category.  However, it is important to note that neither of these men—nor others like them—accept Licona’s view that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is a legend.  And as for believing that Licona’s view is consistency with inerrancy, as we have shown above, they cannot mean consistent with what the ETS and ICBI framers meant by inerrancy, and the ETS is the organization to which Licona belongs.  And, as Licona himself holds, the intent of the author is definite for the meaning of a text.  Further, as we have shown, the ETS rejected Gundry’s view and adopted the ICBI interpretation of inerrancy which explicitly rejects dehistoricizing the Gospel record such as Licona does. Indeed, there is no real grounds for claiming that Licona’s view is consistent with the framer’s intent of ETS or ICBI.

Concluding Comments

In conclusion, Licona has not publically recanted his published view denial of the historicity of  the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  Until he does so, his view on this matter should be considered unorthodox, non-evangelical, and a dangerous precedent for the rest of evangelicalism. And what is so sad is that his view is unnecessary.  Actually, his otherwise generally good treatment of the resurrection of Christ would be enhanced, not diminished, by holding to the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 which, indeed, is listed as one of the literal fruits of Christ’s own resurrection.  My prayer is for Mike to make this change, improve his tome on the resurrection, and make his view consistent with his claim to believe in inerrancy.  I like Mike as a person and love him as a brother in Christ, and it would be a shame to see him fall permanently from the ranks of consistent biblical inerrantists.

With over a half century of experience in the scholarly world, I would also add one last word to other young evangelical scholars: resist the desire to be an Athenian (Acts 17:21).  There is something more important than having a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship; it is putting Lordship over scholarship when necessary.  Further, there is something more important than “a new historiographical approach”;  it is the “old” historical approach which takes the Gospel record—all of it—as historical.  It has served the Church well for nearly 2000 years, and there is no good reason to change it now.



Copyright © 2011 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved


An Open Letter to Mike Licona on his View of the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27:52-53

An Open Letter to Mike Licona on his View of the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27:52-53

by Norman L. Geisler


Dear Mike:

I have examined your work on the resurrection (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP, 2010).  Overall, it is a massive (718 pages), scholarly resource, and I commend you for your efforts and for your defense of the bodily resurrection of Christ.

There is, however, one thing I found in it that raises some serious questions.  You speak of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52-53 after Jesus’ resurrection as a “strange little text” (548 cf. 556).  Indeed, you call it “poetic” or “legend” (185-186).  You appear to include the angels at the tomb (Mk. 16:5-7) in the same category (186).  You speak of it as similar to Roman legends that use “phenomenal language used in a symbolic manner” (552).  You add, “…it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ‘special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible” (552).   You say that by this legend “Matthew may simply be emphasizing that a great king has died” (552).   You add, “If he has one or more of the Jewish texts in mind [that contain similar legends], he may be proclaiming that the day of the Lord has come” (552).  You conclude that “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel” (553).

Then you address the obvious problem that “If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same” (553, emphasis added).  This is a very good question.  However, your answer is disappointing.

First, you say that “There is no indication that the early Christian interpreted Jesus’ resurrection in a metaphorical or poetic sense to the exclusion of it being a literal event that had occurred to his corpse” (553).  But neither is there any indication in the text that a historical understanding of the resurrection of the saints should be excluded from this text.  Indeed, the reference to these saint’s “bodies” coming out of “tombs” and going into the “holy city” (Jerusalem) and “appeared” bodily to “many”—all as a result of Jesus’ literal death and physical resurrection—are too many physical details to take this as purely poetical.    And just because one event (Jesus’ resurrection) is a bigger event would not, by the same reasoning, make it any less a legend.   There is no less evidence in the text that the smaller event (the resurrection of the saints) is any more metaphorical, to the exclusion of life returning to their dead corpses as well than there was Christ’s resurrection which was the cause of it.

Your second reason is even less convincing.  You argue that Jesus’ resurrection must have been literal (and the resurrection of these saints was not) since “no known Christian opponent criticized the early Christians or their opponents for misunderstanding poetry as history” (553).  But this is a well-know fallacy of an argument from silence.  Further, why should the enemies of Christians focus on this relatively minor byproduct of Christ’s resurrection when the major issue was whether Christ had risen bodily from the grave.  Neither did they concentrate on attacking the resurrection (resuscitation) of Lazarus or others who came back from the dead by the hands of Jesus and the apostles.  After all, the essential truth of Christianity did not rest on these resurrections, as it did on the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Finally, the same mistake seems to be occurring in your interpretation of this text as is made by many current liberal scholars in dehistoricizing other biblical texts, namely, using extra biblical sources as determinative for understanding a biblical text.  So what if other Roman or Jewish legends are similar?  The context of biblical text and other biblical texts are the best way to understand what a given passage is teaching.  And both of these favor a literal interpretation of the resurrection of these saints as a “firstfruits” of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20).  Using extra-biblical sources in this way is similar to the false analogies used to deny the Virgin Birth of Christ because there are similarities with other non-Christian “virgin birth” stories.  They both overlook crucial differences!  None of these legends involve   the Second Person of the Triune God  becoming incarnate in human flesh as the New Testament does.

In short, dehistoricizing a seemingly incidental event in the biblical record may seem to be a relatively minor issue , but it is in fact very important.  This is so for several reasons.

First of all, what is being done here is the same basic thing that Robert Gundry did in dehistoricizing sections of Matthew and for which he was asked to resign from the Evangelical  Theological Society in 1983.  How then can another evangelical interpretation of the same kind be overlooked as unimportant to orthodox Christianity?  In fact, being one of the ICBI framers, I can tell you that we had Gundry in mind when we framed Article XVIII of the famous “Chicago statement” (which speaks against “dehistoricizing” the Bible).  And even The Evangelical Theological Society has adopted the ICBI statement as its guideline for understanding inerrancy.

Second, the size and relative significance of the event that is being dehistoricized is not relevant to the importance of the hermeneutical issue, namely, the principle being used to undermine the historicity of biblical events.  Once upfront genre decisions are made based on extra-biblical legends, then one has adopted a hermeneutic that can undermine orthodox Christianity

In brief, I heartedly agree with the first part of your title (“The Resurrection of Jesus”) but cannot concur with the last part of it (“A New Historiographical Approach”).  We don’t need a “new” historical approach.  The “old” historical-grammatical approach is sufficient, as it has been down through the centuries.  Indeed, if the principles of your historical approach (of using extra-biblical material as determinative of the meaning of a biblical text) were used consistently on the Bible, then it would undermine orthodoxy by dehistoricizing many crucial passages of the Bible.

Your brother in Christ,
Norm Geisler



*I sent a copy of the letter to Mike over a month ago.  He has not yet responded to its points but said he is still considering the matter, though he anticipated that it would take him some time.


Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved


Methodological Unorthodoxy

Methodological Unorthodoxy

by Dr. Norman L. Geisler



Is unorthodoxy limited to doctrine or does it also include methodology? Or, to focus the question: Is there ever a time that one should be disqualified from an organization committed to inerrancy (such as the Evangelical Theological Society) because his theological method is inconsistent with his conscientious claim to believe in inerrancy?

  1. Methodology Examined

We will limit our discussion to the doctrine of inerrancy, although the same reasoning could be applied to other doctrines.

  1. Is confession a sufficient test for orthodoxy? Let us consider the question: Is conscientious confession of the doctrine of inerrancy solely in terms of what the confessor takes it to mean a sufficient grounds for determining orthodoxy on this doctrine?[1] We suggest that the answer to this is negative for several reasons.

First, making conscientious confession of inerrancy the only test of orthodoxy is tantamount to saying that sincerity is a test for truth. But as is well known even the road to destruction is paved with good intentions (Prov. 14:12).

Second, a statement does not mean what the reader takes it to mean to him. It means what the author meant by it. If this is not so, then a statement can mean anything the reader wants it to mean, including the opposite of what the author meant by it. If this were the case then neo-orthodox theologians and liberals could also belong to ETS, since many of them believe that the Bible is inerrant in some sense (usually in its purpose).

Third, no theological organization has integrity without some objective, measurable standard by which its identity can be determined. In the case of ETS the standard is the stated doctrine of inerrancy: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” But if anyone can take this statement to mean that the Bible is true in any sense he wishes—as long as he believes it sincerely—then our organization has no doctrinal integrity.

So we conclude that sincerity is an insufficient test for orthodoxy. In addition to sincerity there must also be conformity to some objective standard or norm for orthodoxy, for truth is conformity with reality.[2] And without such conformity one is not truly orthodox, regardless of his confession to the contrary. Our Lord made it clear that mere confession of him was not enough, for he denied those who confessed “Lord, Lord” but did not “do the will of the Father” (Matt 7:21). Likewise, saying “I believe, I believe” (in total inerrancy) is not sufficient. One’s beliefs must truly conform to the fact that all of Scripture is true before he is considered orthodox on this point. So it is not mere subjective confession but objective conformity that is the sufficient test for orthodoxy.

  1. Are there unorthodox methods? By doctrine we mean what one believes, and by method we mean how one arrives at this belief. The question, then, is this: Can one’s method be contrary to his doctrine? Can one deny de facto (in fact) what he affirms de jure (officially)? If so, then would not the methodology he utilizes undermine or negate the theology he confesses?

Let us take some examples. The first two cases will be taken from Church history, and then three examples from contemporary evangelicalism will be used.

(1) The Averronian double-truth method. Thirteenth-century followers of Averroes were condemned for holding a double-truth methodology whereby they could confess the truth of revelation at the same time they held truths of reason that contradicted it.[3] Should an Averronian belong to the ETS? That is, should one belong to ETS if he holds that the Bible is wholly true from the standpoint of faith, yet from the standpoint of reason he also holds many things to be true that contradict truths of Scripture? I should hope we would say “no,” simply because this methodology contradicts the theology (i.e., bibliology) he confesses. Despite the fact that they could confess revelation to be inerrant, Averronians held things to be true (by reason) that were contradictory to this revelation. Thus the alleged confession to inerrancy is actually negated by other beliefs, and the denial of inerrancy flows logically from their method.

(2) The allegorical method. How about Origen? He confessed the inspiration of the Bible. In fact he can be understood as believing the inerrancy of Scripture, for he said:

That this testimony may produce a sure and unhesitating belief, either with regard to what we have still to advance, or to what has been already stated, it seems necessary to show, in the first place, that the Scriptures themselves are divine, i.e., were inspired by the Spirit of God.[4]

On the other hand Origen claimed that to take the story of Adam and Eve as literal is absurd and contradictory.[5] He believed this because he adopted an allegorical methodology. Could an Origenian, then, belong to ETS? I should hope not, because his methodology is contrary to his theology—that is, while he confesses a belief in total inerrancy his actual beliefs (resulting from his allegorical method) do not conform to an adequate understanding of total inerrancy, for he denies the truth of some parts of Scripture. In short, his methodology undermines his bibliology. He claims to believe what the Bible presents as true, but as a matter of fact he does not believe everything in Scripture.

The same logic could be applied to a modern allegorist—for example, a Christian Scientist. There is no reason that Christian Scientists could not sincerely confess to believe the ETS statement of inerrancy. Yet by their allegorical method they deny the humanity of Christ, the historicity of the resurrection, and many other Biblical teachings. Let us ask again: Should we allow a Christian Scientist to join ETS? If not, is it not because his methodology is inconsistent with his confession? Does he not, in effect, take away with his left hand (hermeneutically) what he confesses with his right hand (bibliologically)?

Now let us discuss three contemporary examples: Jack Rogers, Paul Jewett and Robert Gundry. Let us ask whether their methodology is consistent with their theology (particularly their bibliology). All three of these men confess to a belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. At least two of them deny that there are any errors in the Bible (Rogers and Gundry), and one (Gundry) belongs to ETS.

(1) Jack Rogers believes that the Bible is wholly true. He even went so far as to say that he was “in agreement with the view of inerrancy set forth in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy [1978].”[6] However, Rogers really denies inerrancy and allows for the possibility of factual mistakes in the Bible.[7]Would we allow Rogers to join ETS? If not, why not? If so, then the ETS statement is vacuous, for it would be possible to believe that the Bible is without error and yet that is has errors in it. Again, is not the reason for excluding Rogers that he denies in practice what he confesses in theory? He has a theological procedure that allows him to believe that the Bible is true, even though not all statements in Scripture need to represent things as they really are—that is, some statements in Scripture may be mistaken.

Indeed, Rogers disavows the classic statement of inspiration: “What the Bible says, God says.”[8] This means that the Bible could affirm what God denies. So if there is significant content in the ETS statement, then someone like Jack Rogers should not be included in its membership.

(2) Paul Jewett is another case in point. Jewett claims to believe in the inspiration of the Bible. He also acknowledges that the apostle Paul affirmed that the husband is the head of the wife (1 Cor. 11:3). However, argues Jewett, Paul is wrong here—that is, God does not affirm what the apostle Paul affirms here. Indeed, God denies it, for according to Jewett the truth of God is that the husband is not the head of the wife as Paul affirmed him to be.[9]

What implications does Jewett’s view have for inerrancy? Simply this: He has denied in principle the classic statement of inerrancy: “What the Bible affirms, God affirms.” For he believes this is a case where Scripture affirms as true that which is not true. If Jewett is right, then in principle when the interpreter discovers what the Bible is saying he must still ask one more very significant question: “Hath God said?”

In view of this denial that “what the Bible says, God says,” surely we would not allow Paul Jewett to join ETS. But why not? Again the problem is methodology. Despite Jewett’s claim to orthodoxy he has a method that is inconsistent with his confession. What he gives with the right hand confessionally he takes away with the left hand hermeneutically. His unorthodox methodology belies his confession to orthodoxy (on the doctrine of Scripture). Indeed, we would say that he is methodologically unorthodox.

(3) The case of Robert Gundry is interesting and more crucial to ETS because he not only confesses to inerrancy but he also belongs to ETS. Yet like the other examples he holds a methodology that seems inconsistent with the ETS doctrine of inerrancy.

In many respects Gundry holds a limited form of the allegorical method. Like Origen, he confesses that the Bible is inspired. Yet like Origen, when there are parts of the Bible that if taken literally seem to him to contradict other parts of Scripture, Gundry rejects their literal truth and takes a kind of allegorical (i.e., midrashic) interpretation of them.[10] For example, Matthew reports that wise men followed a star, conversed with Herod and the scribes, went to Bethlehem, and presented gifts to Christ. Gundry, however, denies that these were literal events. He denies that Jesus literally went up on a mountain to give the sermon on the mount as Matthew reports it. He denies that the saints were literally resurrected after Jesus died as reported in Matthew 27, and so on. So while Gundry confesses to believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, he denies that these events reported by Matthew are literally and historically true.

But to deny that what the Bible reports in these passages actually occurred is to deny in effect that the Bible is wholly true. As the 1982 “Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics” declares, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (Article XIV). This is precisely what Gundry does—namely, he claims that some events reported in Matthew did not actually occur but were invented by the gospel writer.

The question, then, naturally arises: Should Gundry be a member of ETS? Is not his actual methodology inconsistent with his confessed bibliology? Does it not also, like those previously discussed, take away hermeneutically what he confesses theologically? And if others with unorthodox methodologies would be excluded from membership in ETS, then the question arises: Why should Gundry be included?

Surely it is insufficient to say that Gundry should be included because he conscientiously confesses inerrancy whereas others do not. For, as previously noted, it is not mere confession of a doctrine that is the test for the truthfulness of a belief but actual conformity to what that doctrine means.

Neither will it suffice to point out that Rogers and Jewett officially deny the classic formula of inerrancy—”What the Bible says, God says”—but that Gundry does not officially deny it, for Origen and Christian Scientists could hold this formula too. Denial of the formula renders one unorthodox, but affirmation of the mere formula does not necessarily make one’s view orthodox.

As a formal principle, “What the Bible says, God says” is empty and content-less, for it leaves wide open the question of just what the Bible is saying. The mere formula means only that “if the Bible affirms something, then God affirms it too.” As a mere formula it does not imply that the Bible actually affirms anything in particular. But surely the ETS doctrinal statement is not a mere empty formula. The very name “Evangelical Theological Society” implies that we believe the Bible affirms an evangelical theology, which implies that certain basic content is included in our confession.

Nor is it sufficient to point out that while others deny inerrancy de jure,Gundry does not. Gundry’s is a de facto denial of inerrancy, for he denies that some events reported in Scripture did in fact occur. But our ETS statement insists that we believe the entire Bible is true.

We summarize the argument this way: (1) The ETS statement demands belief in the entire Bible; (2) Gundry denies part of the Bible; (3) therefore Gundry’s view does not really conform to the ETS statement.

Still, some may insist that the implied evangelical content as to what the Bible is affirming should not exclude those whose method does not entail the denial of any major doctrine of Scripture. But Gundry affirms all major evangelical doctrines, such as the deity of Christ, his atoning death, his bodily resurrection, etc. Surely, then, Gundry’s unorthodox methodology is not tantamount to unorthodoxy. Or is it? In response let us note several things.

First, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is a major doctrine, and Gundry’s method is a de facto denial of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Even if his method never leads him actually to a denial of any other doctrine, it does deny one important doctrine, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, as far as ETS is concerned this is the only explicitly stated doctrine by which one is tested for membership. So Gundry’s denial of the occurrence of some events reported in the gospel of Matthew is a denial of the ETS doctrine that all Scripture is true.

Further, it can be argued that Gundry’s position does lead logically to a denial of other teachings of Scripture even if Gundry does not personally draw these conclusions. It should be remembered that Jewett’s methodology has yet to lead him actually to deny any major doctrine. The method itself, however, leads logically to a denial of a major doctrine—i.e., the doctrine of Scripture. For Jewett’s method denies the principle of inerrancy that “what the Bible says, God says.”

Just because Jewett did not apply his own implied principle (“What the Bible says, God does not necessarily say”) elsewhere does not mean it is not applicable. The fact remains that the principle is applicable, and if it is applied it will lead logically to denial of another major doctrine. For example, if Paul can be wrong (because of his rabbinical training) in affirming the headship of the husband over the wife, then logically what hinders one from concluding that Paul is (or could be) wrong in the same verse when he affirms the headship of Christ over the husband? Or if rabbinical background can influence an apostle to affirm error in Scripture, then how can we trust his affirmations about the resurrection in the same book (1 Corinthians 15)? After all, Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in the resurrection. If he had been a Sadducee perhaps his view on the resurrection would have been different. How then can we be sure that Paul is not also mistaken here on the major doctrine of the resurrection?

Now what applies to Jewett seems to apply also to Gundry. Although Gundry does not apply his allegorical (midrashic) interpretation to any major doctrine, the midrash methodology seems to be applicable nonetheless. For example, why should one consider the report of the bodily resurrection of the saints after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27) allegorical and yet insist that Jesus’ resurrection, which was the basis for it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23), was literal? By what logic can we insist that the same author in the same book reporting the same kind of event in the same language can mean spiritual resurrection in one case and literal bodily resurrection in another case? Does not Gundry’s method lead (by logical extension) to a denial of major doctrines of Scripture? And if it does, then there seems to be no more reason for including Gundry in ETS than to include Origen, Rogers or Jewett. They all do (or could) affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, and yet all have a method that actually negates or undermines inerrancy in some significant way.

Even if one could build safeguards into the midrash method whereby all major doctrines are preserved from allegorization, there is another lethal problem with Gundry’s view. The ETS statement on inerrancy entails the belief that everything reported in the gospels is true (“the Bible in its entirety”). But Gundry believes that some things reported in Matthew did not occur[11] (e.g., the story of the wise men [chap. 2], the report of the resurrection of the saints [chap. 27], etc.). It follows therefore that Gundry does not really believe everything reported in the gospels is true, despite his claim to the contrary. And this is a de facto denial of inerrancy.

It will not suffice to say that Matthew does not really report these events, for he reports them in the same sense that he reports other events that Gundry believes actually occurred. In fact some stories that seem more likely candidates for midrash (for example, the appearance of angels to the Jewish shepherds in Luke 2) Gundry takes as literal, whereas the earthly pilgrimage of astrologers following a sign in the sky he takes as purely imaginary (i.e., midrash). Regardless, the fact of the matter is that Gundry denies that certain events reported in Scripture (Matthew) actually occurred. This means in effect that he is denying the truth of these parts of Scripture. And if he denies in effect that the Bible is true “in its entirety,” then he has disqualified himself from ETS.

  1. An Objection Considered

Does not the above argument prove too much? Granted the finitude and fallibility of man, is it not a reasonable presumption that we are all inconsistent in our beliefs in some way or another? Therefore should we not all be excluded from ETS?

Several crucial differences between common inconsistency of belief and a conscious commitment to a methodology that undermines our beliefs should be noted, however. First, the common inconsistencies with which we are all plagued are unconscious inconsistencies. When they are brought to our attention we work to eliminate them. On the other hand a theological method such as Gundry’s midrash method is a conscious commitment on his part.

Further, and more importantly, common inconsistencies are not recommended as a formal method by which we are to interpret Scripture. Hence they have no official didactic force. They do not purport to teach us how to discover the truth of Scripture. Gundry’s method, however, entails a crucial truth claim. It claims that by using this method we will discover the truth that God is really affirming in Scripture. After all the mere formula, “What the Bible says, God says,” is empty in itself. Gundry’s method proposes to tell us what it is that the Bible is actually saying and thus what God is actually saying. This makes a conscious commitment to a theological method a very serious matter, for a hermeneutical method purports to be the means by which we discover the very truth of God.

Further, there is another possible difference between common inconsistencies and the serious inconsistency in which Gundry engages. The former do not necessarily lead logically to a denial of major doctrine, but the latter can. As was noted earlier, unorthodoxy in methodology leads logically to unorthodoxy in theology. This is true regardless of whether the proponent of the method makes this logical extension himself. For example, a double-truth method or an allegorical method leads logically to a denial of the literal truth of Scripture.

III. Conclusion

Assuming that there are some methods that are inconsistent with a belief in the ETS statement on inerrancy, where should we draw the line and why should we draw it there?

In the above discussion I have offered a criterion for drawing such a line—that is, for determining methodological unorthodoxy. Briefly it is this: Any hermeneutical or theological method the logically necessary consequences of which are contrary to or undermine confidence in the complete truthfulness of all of Scripture is unorthodox. The method can do this either de jure or de facto.

It seems to me that if we do not accept some such criterion we are admitting the emptiness of our ETS confession. For if the ETS statement of faith does not exclude any particular belief about Scripture, then it includes all beliefs about Scripture. And whatever says everything, really says nothing.

My plea, then, is this: In order to preserve our identity and integrity as an evangelical group that confesses an inerrant Word from God, we must define the limits of a legitimate methodology. If the one I have suggested is inadequate, then let us find a sufficient one.

One thing seems safe to predict: Granted the popularity of evangelicalism and the degree to which the borders of legitimate evangelical methodology are now being pushed, the Evangelical Theological Society will not long be “evangelical” nor long believe in inerrancy in the sense meant by the framers of that statement unless we act decisively on this matter.

In short we would argue that, since methodology determines one’s theology, unless we place some limits on evangelical methodology there will follow a continued broadening of the borders of “evangelical” theology so that the original word “Evangelical” (in “Evangelical Theological Society”) will have lost its meaning. After all, even Barth called his neo-orthodox view “evangelical.” Is this what the word “evangelical” meant to the founders of ETS? Or have we already conceded so much to the “new hermeneutic” that it does not really matter what the words “evangelical” or “inerrant” meant to the authors of the statements, but only what they mean to us? On the other hand, if we reject this kind of subjective hermeneutic (and we most certainly should), then it behooves us to draw a line that will preserve our identity and integrity as an “evangelical” theological society. Such a line, we suggest, need not entail a change in (or addition to) our doctrinal statement but simply the explicit acknowledgment (perhaps in the by-laws) that the denial of the total truth of Scripture, officially or factually, de jure or de facto, isgrounds for exclusion from ETS.[12]


[1] It is assumed, however, that a conscientious confession is a necessary condition for membership in ETS even though it is not a sufficient condition.

[2] That truth involves conformity to reality is argued in our article, “The Concept of Truth in the Inerrancy Debate,” Biblioteca Sacra (October-December 1980) 327–339, reprinted in The Living and Active Word of God (ed. M. Inch and R. Youngblood; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1983) 225-236. The 1982 “Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics” has a clear and succinct statement on this point: “WE AFFIRM that the Bible expresses God’s truth in propositional statements, and we declare that biblical truth is both objective and absolute. We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts. WE DENY that, while Scripture is able to make us wise unto salvation, biblical truth should be defined in terms of this function. We further deny that error should be defined as that which willfully deceives” (Article VI).

[3] In 1277 Siger of Brabant and followers were condemned by the Church for teaching that “things are true according to philosophy but not according to the Catholic faith, as though there were two contradictory truths.” See “Averroism,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingston; Oxford: University Press, 1974) 116.

[4] Origen, De Principiis 4.1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4 (ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).

[5] Ibid., 4.1.16-17.

[6] Cited in Christianity Today (September 4, 1981) 18.

[7] Rogers is able to claim that the Bible is wholly true and yet it may contain some mistakes because he redefines “error” to mean what misleads rather than what is mistaken. See the article in n. 2 for a refutation of this position.

[8] J. B. Rogers and D. K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (New York: Harper, 1979) 315.

[9] See P. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 134, 171.

[10] See R. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

[11] Since a “report” is “a statement of facts” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary,unabridged), Gundry has denied the fact stated in the report. It is futile to say that Matthew does not report these events, for he reports them in the same sense that he reports other events (sometimes in the same chapter) that are taken to be literally true by Gundry.

[12] vol. 26, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 26, 1 (Lynchburg, VA: The Evangelical Theological Society, 1983), 86-94.



Copyright © 2013 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

A Band-Aid on Cancer: Comments on the Recent ETS Decision to Accept ICBI Statement (2004)

A Band-Aid on Cancer:

Comments on the Recent ETS Decision to Accept ICBI Statement

by Norman L. Geisler, former president of ETS

November 29, 2004



At its November 2004 meeting in San Antonio, the members of the Evangelical Theological Society voted to approve the following statement:

For the purpose of advising members regarding the intent and meaning of the reference to biblical inerrancy in the ETS Doctrinal Basis, the Society refers members to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). The case for biblical inerrancy rests on the absolute trustworthiness of God and Scripture’s testimony to itself. A proper understanding of inerrancy takes into account the language, genres, and intent of Scripture. We reject approaches to Scripture that deny that biblical truth claims are grounded in reality.

While on the surface this may appear to be a significant clarification of the ETS understanding of inerrancy, in reality it is little more than a Band-Aid on cancer for many reasons.

First of all, the statement is not binding on members since it is not part of the ETS bylaws. At best it is only informative, not normative.

Second, even if it became part of the Bylaws, it is not binding. In its own words it is only “advising” members. Good advice is nothing more than a bite without teeth. Members need to be instructed, not merely advised, about its expressed meaning.

Third, the statement contains the ambiguous word “intention” which leaves the door open for those, like Pinnock, who affirm only the inerrancy of intention, not all facts, in the Bible. But this is clearly not what either the founders of ETS mean or the framers of ICBI. “Intention” often means merely purposed or unexpressed intent, neither of which is what is meant by inerrancy.

Fourth, it does not address the real problem, namely, that ETS knowingly allows people to be members who do not hold what the framers meant by its statement. Why then should they accept the framers meaning of the ICBI statement.

Fifth, a new statement was not necessary. ETS needs only to enforce the framers meaning of the statement it has. But ETS refused to do this when all the living framers petitioned ETS a few years ago, insisting that the Open Theism view on inerrancy is not what the framers meant. That should have ended the issue right there. It is like rejecting the understanding of the Gospel by Peter, Paul, and John while they were still alive in favor of a broader view by some younger converts.

Sixth, both Clark Pinnock and John Sanders were on record in advance, saying they would sign the ICBI statement on inerrancy. As a framer of the ICBI statement who has read carefully Pinnock’s writings, I can assure you that he does not agree with the ICBI meaning of its statement. Indeed, the ICBI expressed what it meant by its Chicago Statement in an official commentary: Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary by R.C. Sproul. It defined truth as “a correspondence view of truth,” namely “that which corresponds to reality” (p. 31). Pinnock flatly denies this of the Bible as I documented in the four pages of unrecanted quotes presented to the ETS at its annual November meeting in 2003.

If ETS desires to do something useful and not just put a Band-Aid on cancer, it should embrace a statement like this:

For the purpose of instructing members of the official and binding meaning of its inerrancy statement, ETS adopts the ICBI Chicago Statement on Inerrancy as understood by the ICBI framers and expressed in its official commentary: Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary by R. C. Sproul. All members are required to accept the ICBI statement as meant by its framers and expressed in its official commentary or be subject to dismissal from ETS membership.

Don’t hold your breathe on this one. It would take a miracle to get the needed two-thirds vote to add this to the ETS Bylaws. And the membership could not even muster that many votes to oust Pinnock and Sanders who denied what its framers meant by its inerrancy statement.

The sad truth of the matter is that passing this statement was worse than doing nothing because it gives the appearance of doing something when in fact it is doing nothing–except leaving the wrong impression that something important was done. It is in fact doing nothing more than perpetuating the hypocrisy of allowing members to sign a statement and belong to an organization which claims to believe in inerrancy when in fact they do not.

This is not to say that there are not many other worthwhile organizations that do not have inerrancy statements. It is simply to point out that it is a matter of integrity to insist that all members of an organization actually believe that for which the organization stands. And when any member can no longer in good conscience sign the statement as meant by its framers, then integrity demands that they leave or be asked to leave.

Why I Resigned from The Evangelical Theological Society (2003)

Why I Resigned from The Evangelical Theological Society

Norman L. Geisler

November 20, 2003


Today, I tendered my resignation from ETS.  It was a painful decision for many reasons.  First, I have been attending the Society for forty-four years.  In addition, I served as a past president, and I was founder and first president of a daughter organization, the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS).  What is more, I love the organization and that for which it once firmly stood–the total factual inerrancy of the written Word of God.

Many things occasioned my decision to leave ETS, all of which came to a climax at the annual conference of ETS in Atlanta.  Since many will wonder why I resigned, I would like to make it clear to all.

1.  ETS Has Lost Its Doctrinal Integrity

First and foremost among my reasons for resigning is that ETS has lost its doctrinal integrity.  For decades it has had a single “Doctrinal Basis”: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” With the official decision to retain in membership persons who clearly deny what the ETS framers meant by this statement, ETS has lost its doctrinal integrity.  By a vote of 388 to 231 (nearly 63%) Clark Pinnock was retained in the Society.  John Sanders was also retained but by a lesser vote.  In view of Pinnock’s blatant and unrecanted written views that contradict the meaning of the ETS framers, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

2.  ETS Has Adopted a Revisionist Interpretation of Its Own Doctrine.

Further, the society has knowingly adopted a revisionist hermeneutic that undermines all for which it stands. For the report of the Executive Committee, confirmed by the membership vote, knowingly allows in its membership persons who do not hold the same view on inerrancy as that of the framers of the doctrinal statement.  This they have knowingly done since 1976 when the Executive Committee confessed that “Some of the members of the Society have expressed the feeling that a measure of intellectual dishonesty prevails among members who do not take the signing of the doctrinal statement seriously.”  Other “members of the Society have come to the realization that they are not in agreement with the creedal statement and have voluntarily withdrawn. That is, in good consciencethey could not sign the statement” (1976 Minutes, emphasis added). By this criterion then we now have nearly 63 percent of the Society who approve of persons who are not signing the statement “in good conscience,” since they voted to retain Clark Pinnock whose views are clearly not in accord with what the ETS framers meant by their Doctrinal Basis.  For in November 2000, all the living Founding Fathers signed a statement that “The denial of God’s foreknowledge of the decisions of free agents is incompatible with the inerrancy of Scripture.” 

Further, an ETS Ad Hoc Committee recognized this problem when it posed the proper question in 1983: “Is it acceptable for a member of the society to hold a view of biblical author’s intent which disagrees with the Founding Fathers and even the majority of the society, and still remain a member in good standing?”  The Society never said No.  And now in effect, the Society has given a resounding Yes in response with a 63% majority vote to retain Clark Pinnock in its membership.

3.  ETS is Now Operating Contrary to Its Own Historic Precedent

The 1970 Minutes of ETS affirm that “Dr. R. H. Bube, who [sic] has for three years signed his membership form with a note on his own interpretation of infallibility. The secretary was instructed to point out that it is impossible for the Society to allow each member an idiosyncratic interpretation of inerrancy, and hence Dr. Bube is to be requested to sign his form without any qualifications, his own integrity in the matter being entirely respected” (emphasis added). This makes it clear that members cannot give their own meaning to the statement but are bound by what the framers meant by it.  But Open Theists hold views contrary to what the Founders meant by the doctrinal basis of ETS, and they have just received strong approval of the Society.

4.  ETS is Logically Inconsistent with Its Own Doctrinal Basis

The ETS statement affirms: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs” (emphasis added).  The word “therefore” logically connects the word of “God” and “inerrant” to make it clear that neither God nor the Bible errs.  This meaning of the word “therefore” is confirmed by the living framers of the statement.  But Open Theists confessed both God and the Bible err in the sense understood by the framers of this doctrinal statement, namely, they believe that the Bible affirms some things that are not factually correct.  John Sanders agrees that there are unconditional prophesies that go unfulfilled.  And Pinnock confessed that Chronicles gives exaggerated numbers that do not correspond with the facts.  But these count as errors according to the understanding of the ETS founding fathers.  All the living founders expressed this in writing to ETS and those not living have expressed this same view in their writings.

5.  ETS Acted Inconsistently with Its Long-Standing Journal Policy

In 1965 ETS Journal policy demanded a disclaimer and rebuttal of Dan Fuller’s article denying factual inerrancy published in the ETS Bulletin. They insisted that, “that an article by Dr. Kantzer be published simultaneously with the article by Dr. Fuller and that Dr. Schultz include in that issue of the Bulletin a brief explanation regarding the appearance of a view point different from that of the Society”(1965).  But with the favorable vote on Pinnock’s and Sander’s membership, ETS has now officially approved views similar to and even more radical than Dan Fuller’s denial of factual inerrancy.

6.  ETS Has Acted Contrary to Previously Approved Presidential Decisions

Speaking of some who held “Barthian” views of Scripture, the Minutes of the ETS Executive Committee read: “President Gordon Clark invited them to leave the society” (1983).  But Clark Pinnock holds an unrecanted Barthian view of Scripture.  He said flatly: “Barth was right to speak about a distance between the Word of God and the text of the Bible” (The Scripture Principle, 99, emphasis added). But if Barth was right, then the ETS statement is wrong since it claims the Bible is the written Word of God.  Even the minority of the ETS Executive Committee who refused to vote to expel either Pinnock or Sanders from the Society admitted that a Barthian view of Scriptures would be grounds for dismissal (October 23 Report, p. 6).  Yet Pinnock expressed this unrecanted written view, and they refused to expel him.

7. ETS Refused to Consider Pinnock’s Major Work on the Topic

While many praised the Executive Committee for the fairness of their procedure, they turned a blind eye to the arbitrariness of it.  The Committee knowingly refused to consider any quotations from a major work of Clark Pinnock on the topic, The Scripture Principle. In spite of the fact that a former president (me) provided them in advance with four pages of damning quotations from this book, any consideration of it was ruled out of order in considering Pinnock’s innocence or guilt.  Whatever the alleged technical merits of the decision, it was a practical disaster.  Their decision to exclude citations from this work because they were not presented in the original complaint is akin to claiming that the testimony of a prime witness of a murder cannot be allowed to testify since they were not cited in the original brief to the court.  This was a tragic and arbitrary decision that led to the Pinnock exoneration of the charges and made a sham out of the proceedings.  How can a man be considered innocent of the charges when a prime work of his on the topic was knowingly and deliberately not considered?  This is an especially grievous error since this work contains at least four pages of citations which show the incompatibility of his views with that of the framers of the ETS doctrinal statement.

Other reasons could be stated, but these suffice to provide the grounds for resigning from an organization that I have loved and served for forty-four years.  It is for me a tearful and tragic day; I deeply regret the moral compulsion to resign, but it had to be done.



An Exposition and Evaluation of the McGowen View on the Inspiration of Scripture (2009)

An Exposition and Evaluation of the McGowen View on the Inspiration of Scripture

by Norman L. Geisler



In his book The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging Evangelical Perspectives (Inter Varsity Press, 2007) Scottish Reformed theologian A. T. B. McGowen provides a thought-provoking evaluation of the ongoing debate between the infalliblist and the inerrantist positions. A careful reading of his proposal reveals many positive contributions.

The Positive Contributions of McGowen’s Work

There are many commendable features of this book that are well worth contemplating. First of all, it sees this as a “watershed issue” (9). Further, it observes that theopnuestia in 2 Timothy 3:16 should be translated as “spiration” or breathing out is a better rendering. It also affirms the value of the word “infallible” (39, 48). The term “inerrancy” alone is insufficient. After all, there can be inerrant phone books-with no errors-that do not thereby have divine authority. It also sees the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) statement as a “most significant” statement (104) and would chose it, if necessary, over the errancy view of Rogers and McKim (212). Likewise, McGowen would choose B. B Warfield over Jack Rogers of Fuller Seminary (161). He even cites favorably both John Woodbridge’s critique of Rogers and McKim (99) as well as that of Donald Bloesch who agrees (100, 125). Nor does McGowen deny that God can, if He chooses, produce an inerrant text (113-114), as inerrantists have long held.. Furthermore, he even says the Bible is a “co-authored” book by both God and human beings (148). Then too, his definition of inspiration hits some important key notes of the doctrine when he affirms that “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God”(43). He is certainly right in denying the “mechanical dictation” of Scripture(163).

Further, the book is on track in rejecting the neo-orthodox view of Scripture that the Bible merely “become the Word of God” in a moment of encounter with Him through the Bible (29). It is not the Word of God subjectively but is God’s Word objectively (73). Likewise, revelation is not merely an event as many neo-orthodox claim (21). McGowen is also correct in affirms that inspiration is verbal (136) and that there are any degrees of inspiration (134).and that it is not the authors of Scripture that are inspired (39, 133) but the Scriptures they wrote. McGowen also makes an often overlooked but important distinction. He points out that it is not the Bible that needs’ illumination, but only human minds (45-47). Another crucial point is that one should not claim for the Bible what it does not claim for itself (121). Nor does he reject the view there are implicit or logically entailed claims in Scripture. Indeed, he says the use of logic is “appropriate” (117) and “contradictions” should be avoided (212). More could be added.

An Evaluation of McGowan’s Basic Proposals on the Nature of Scripture

McGowen’s proposal is the first direct and serious proposal by an otherwise conservative Reformed scholar since the ICBI “Chicago Statement” (in 1978) As such, McGowen’s proposals demand attention.

The Claim That the Word “Inerrancy” Should be Discarded

McGowen argues that the term inerrancy should be discarded by evangelicals (13). He offers several reasons for this, one of the most often repeated of which is that the term “inerrancy” implies scientific precision (117). He also believes it is recent in origin, not being found in early creeds but being a result of heated battle between early 20th century Fundamentalist and Liberals (121). Neither does he believe the term is biblical, but he calls it a “violent assumption” (135) of Fundamentalist thinking. “Inerrancy,” he believes, is an apologetic response to the Enlightenment (50, 115). He also argues that it does not have the weight of history behind it.

First of all, in response it is important to note that both sides of the debate can agree that there is nothing sacred about the word “inerrancy.” Indeed, it is not the term so much as the truth of inerrancy that is important to preserve. The basic question is whether or not the Bible is completely without error in all that it affirms. This can be said in more than one way. But before we hasten to throw away the term “inerrancy,” let us remind ourselves of the strength of the word and the weakness of the suggested alternative terms.

Second, we can readily discard the argument that the word “inerrancy” is not biblical. By that same logic, the word “Bible” is not biblical for it is nowhere used of the Bible in the Bible. Further, it too does not have the weight of early history behind it. So should we discard it too? Indeed, the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible and did not appear in the earliest ecumenical Creeds such as the Apostles Creed (2nd cent), the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325), or the Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451). Does that mean we should discard it? The answer is “No,” and the reasons are that while the term is not biblical, nonetheless, the truth is biblical, and the term is a good term to describe it. The same is true of the word “inerrancy.”

Third, the term inerrancy need not mean “scientific precision,” as is wrongly alleged by anti-inerrantists. Every term should be understood in its context and with the qualifications given to it by its users. Even McGowen agrees that the ICBI statement makes numerous qualifications on the meaning of the term (106). These qualifications clearly deny the misimplications of modern “scientific precision.” Article XIII of the ICBI “Chicago Statement” declared plainly: “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision. . ..” (Emphasis added).

Fourth, it is well to remember that the term inerrancy also has some strong features in its favor. For one, it is negative, and negative terms are powerful. Consider, the force of the Ten Commandments many of which are stated in negative terms, like: “You shall not murder” or “You shall not bear false witness” or “You shall not commit adultery. Further, “The Bible is true” is not nearly as strong as “The Bible is without error.” Even McGowen appears to commend the ICBI statement for having “denials” as well as “affirmations” (106). But denials are negative which is the reason they help in clarifying the point at hand. Inerrancy, as a negative term, does the same thing. As is readily apparent the statement “The Bible is without error” is clearer and stronger than the statement “The Bible is true.” For the latter does not make it clear whether the Bible is completely true.

Considering the Alternatives

We readily grant that no term, including inerrancy, expresses all that the Bible claims about itself. Nonetheless, by comparison the term stands tall as compared to most of the alternatives offered.

The Term Infallible

McGowen favors the word “infallible” over the word “inerrant” (48, 123, 125,162). He insists that the word “infallible” is “more dynamic (or organic) and is a less mechanical view of authority” (49). It carries with it the idea that “the Holy Spirit infallibly uses God’s Word to achieve all he intends to achieve” (49). However, this use of the word “infallible” is precisely why the term “inerrant” is also needed.

In response, we acknowledge the strength of the term “infallible,” if it is used the sense of “unerring” in connection with the word “inerrant.” However, the term “infallible” has been rendered fallible by the intentionalist sense in which it is used by non-inerrantists. My Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary gives the primary definition of “infallible” as “incapable of error; unerring.” In this sense of the term, inerrantist have no problem since it is perfectly compatible with the term inerrant. It is the secondary sense of the term which the inerrantists reject as inadequate, namely, “not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint.” Indeed, McGowen speaks of Scriptures which “infallibly achieves God’s purposes” (149). He quotes Bavink’s view with approval,[1] saying: “In his organic view, Bavink focuses not on the text of Scripture as such but upon its meaning and purpose” (158, emphasis added). Likewise, he affirms “that intention [of Scripture] is no other than that it should make us ‘wise unto salvation'” (159, emphasis added).

However, focusing on the intention or purpose of the Bible, rather than its affirmations and denials, does not necessitate the Bible is without all errors in all that it affirms. Many statements with good intentions, even those that achieve their intended results, contain errors. So, by that definition of “infallible” one could have an infallibly correct error. But this is nonsense. Since the term “infallible” carries these connotations for many, it is necessary to add the word “inerrant” to make clear what the Bible teaches on the topic.

Of course, in the good sense of the term “infallible”(i.e.., incapable of error), it is not an either/or situation. The Bible is both infallible and inerrant. But, unlike McGowen’s implication, the Bible is not merely infallible in itsintentions and achievements but also in its affirmations (and denials). Truth is not found in intentions because humans can, and often do, utter errors with good intentions. So, defining either infallibility or inerrancy in terms of intentions, achieved or not, does not measure up to what the Bible claims for itself which is that truth must be judged by its correspondence to the facts. Indeed, even McGowen seems to admit this elsewhere when he commends “modes of rationality that actually correspond with the nature of its objectively given reality. . . “(73, emphasis added). Indeed, ICBI clarified the meaning of “truth” as correspondence in an official authorized commentary on “The Chicago Statement,” affirming that “By biblical standards of truth and error [in Article XIII on “Truth”] is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.”[2]

The correspondence view of truth is in fact the one which the Bible[3]embraces. For example: It is implied in the ninth command (“You shall not bear false witness”), i. e., don’t misrepresent the facts. It is also entailed in Acts 24 when it says you can “learn the truth” when you “verify [the facts]” (vs. 8, 11). Further, it is manifest in Genesis 42:16 when Joseph said they should look at the facts “so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth.” In addition, it was employed in the test for a false prophet whose prophecy was considered false “if the word does not come to pass or come true” (Deut. 18:22). It is also utilized in everyday conversations when we consider something false if it misrepresents the facts (e.g., we say “check the facts” or “check it out for yourself” and the like). Indeed, the correspondence view of truth is essential to a legal oath when one promises “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

One can and does agree that the word “inerrancy” alone is insufficient to describe what the Bible is.[4] It also has sanctity, infallibility, indestructibility, indefatigability (can’t be worn out), indefeasability (can’t be overcome). Indeed, it can save (1 Pet. 1:23), nourish (2 Pet. 2:2), wash (Psa. 119:9), purify (Jer. 23:29a), shatter (Jer. 23:29), cut deeply (Heb. 4:12), prevent sin (Psa. 119:11), illuminate (Psa. 119:105), comfort (Rom. 15:4), and predict (2 Pet. 1:19). The truth is that no one word covers all that the Bible is, just like no one attribute exhausts all that God is. However, this is not to say that the Bible is not inerrant as well. Nor is this to say we can rob it of this characteristic any more than we can strip it of infallibility.

McGowen Prefers the Word “Authentic”

McGowen prefers the word “authentic” (213) to “inerrant.” However, the term “authentic” as used of Scripture is theologically anemic. The Bible claims much more than this for itself. Jesus refers to the Bible as indestructible (Mt. 5:17-18), unbreakable (Jn. 10:35), the “Word of God” (Jn. 10:35), and as coming “out of the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). Paul said, it is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). These concepts are insufficiently described by the term “authentic.” After all, one can have an authentic coin minted with mistakes on it or an authentic copy of the famous “Wicked Bible” that translated Exodus 20:14 as “Thou shalt commit adultery”! There is also “authentic” Confederate currency and persons with authenticity-all of which falls far short of what is perfect.

The same goes for terms like “trustworthy” and “reliable.” The Bible is trustworthy like a good friend, but even trustworthy friends make mistakes. It is reliable like a good map, but even good maps can have errors on them. These terms are far too weak to describe what is meant by a God-breathed book that was joint-authored by God. So, both of these terms fail to measure up to what the Bible claims for itself.

Having said all this, there are other good ways to describe what is meant by inerrancy. “Totally free from all error in everything it affirms” is a good phrase. But for a single word it is difficult to beat the word “inerrancy.” And as defined by the ICBI statement, it is clearly the best single word available in English. And it would be unwise to discard it for words like trustworthy, reliable, authentic, or even infallible in purpose. Of course, the proper use of infallible and inerrant in all it affirms is a good and powerful way to express the biblical doctrine.

The Claim That Inerrancy Does not Follow From God’s Nature

Typical of strong Calvinists, McGowen embraces a form of divine voluntarism. Ethical voluntarism declares that something is good because God wills it; God does not will it because it is good. However, this would make all the moral commands of God in Scripture arbitrary. For example, according to voluntarism, God could will that love is wrong and hate is right. But this is not only counter-intuitive, it is morally repugnant, to say nothing of being unbiblical since God is by nature Love (1 Jn. 4:16). Further, voluntarism would undermine unconditional election, a doctrine dear to the heart of a Reformed theologian. For if voluntarism were true, then God could change his mind about who the elect are or even whether the elect will ultimately be saved.

This same kind of voluntarism is evident in MeGowen’s argument against inerrancy. In one of the most important sections in the book, he writes: “inerrantists make an unwarranted assumption about God. The assumption is that, given the nature and character of God, the only kind of Scripture he could ‘breathe out’ was Scripture that is textually inerrant. If there was even one mistake in the autographa, then God cannot have been the author, because he is incapable of error” (113). Thus, MeGowen says inerrancy is not a legitimate inference from the Bible (115) but is merely an “a priori” argument (131).

McGowan goes on to say that “the argument of the inerrantists is that God is unable to produce anything other than an inerrant autographic text . . . I agree with the inerrantists that God could have brought into being inerrant autographic texts, had he chosen to do so, but I reject their argument that he must have acted in this way” (113-114). He concludes, “I think it is wrong to prejudge the nature of Scripture through some deductivist approach, based on what we believe inspiration must mean, given God’s character” (136). We cannot “assume that they must be inerrant because God cannot lie” (137). This could hardly be more clear and, in my view, more faulty. Several observations are in order in this regard.

First, MeGowen is a voluntarist on what God could or could not do in producing a God-breathed book. That is, he affirmed that God was free to make an original Bible with or without errors in it. He was under no necessity imposed upon him by his own nature to produce an errorless original. As incredible as this may sound, McGowen’s biblical voluntarism entails the claim that speaking the truth is optional, not necessary, for God! If ever there was a misdirected and over-stated view of God’s sovereignty, this is it.

Indeed, this is precisely where inerrantists sharply disagee with non-inerrantists like MeGowen. This disagreement is reflected in the basic statement on Scripture of the Evangelical Theological Society to which McGowan refers. It reads, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs” (emphasis added).” The word “therefore” logically connects the word of “God” and “inerrant” to make it clear that neither God nor the Bible errs. This meaning of the word “therefore” has been confirmed by a living framer of the statement, namely, Reformed theologian Roger Nicole.

Further, and more importantly, the Bible makes it clear that God cannot choose, even if He desires to do so, to produce an imperfect original. Why? “Because it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Paul speaks about “the God who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). He adds, “God cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Numerous other Scriptures speak of God’s unchanging nature (Num. 23:19;1 Sam. 15:29; Psa.102:25-27; Heb. 1:10-12; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17. No serious examination of all these Scriptures in context can support a voluntarist interpretation that God can change his essential nature, even if He wanted to do so. If this is so, then McGowen’s central thesis fails, and the inerrantists argument stands firm:

  1. God cannot error.
  2. The original Bible is God’s Word.
  3. Therefore, the original Bible cannot error.

To deny this conclusion, as MeGowen knows, one must deny at least one or the other of the two premises. McGowen’s attempt to deny the first premise failed. It goes against the grain of God’s very nature as truth to presume that such an unchangeably true Being can error, if He wishes. God is truth (Deut. 32:4; Psa. 31:5) by His very unchangeable nature and, as such, He “cannotlie” (Titus 1:2); “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). To do so, would be to deny Himself, and “he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

Further, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (Jn. 15:26). And the Word of God is the utterances of the Spirit of Truth. Jesus said, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). Peter added, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). David confessed, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Now by simple logical inference,

  1. The original Bible is the utterance of the Spirit of Truth.
  2. The Spirit of truth cannot utter error.
  3. Therefore, the original Bible cannot utter err.

Here again, to deny inerrancy one must deny at least one or more of the two premises. McGowen’s attempt to deny the first premise fails. Truth is not an option with God. It is a necessity.

MeGowen also believes that the copies of the Bible are inspired (159). Given that inspiration means “spirated” or “breathed out” of God and given that he recognizes errors in the copies, MeGowen is left with explaining just how God can breath out errors. Indeed, according to this analysis, it is not only possible for there to be errors in what God breathes out, but it may be actual as well. But this is contrary to the very nature of God as truth to breathe out error. He cannot overrule his unchangeable nature by his sovereignty any more than He can will Himself out of existence!

An Implied Accommodation Theory

Upon closer analysis MeGowen also seems to reject the second premise of the argument for inerrancy as well, namely, that “The Bible is the Word of God.” According to this view, God must accommodate Himself, not only to human finitude, but to human error in the production of Scripture. But nowhere in Scripture is there support for the view that God accommodates Himself to human error rather than merely adapts Himself to human finitude. In short, a truly human book, such as the Bible is, can still avoid errors. Were this not so, then by the same logic, one must conclude that the divine accommodation in the Incarnation means that Christ sinned. This is the way MeGowen attacks the so-called incarnational model often used by evangelicals to illustrate their view.

The err at the root of this view appears to be based on a Barthian and neo-Gnostic view of human fallenness in which any contact with this fallen human world makes sin unavoidable. It is to argue that since the Bible was written by fallen human beings in fallen human language, it too must inevitably partake of errors as well.

There is another serious problem with this radical view of divine accommodation.[5] If contact with a fallen world makes error inevitable, then not only does this mean there can be (and probably are) errors in the original Bible, it also means that the Incarnate Christ too must partake of both the same proneness to error and to sin. But the New Testament makes it very clear that Jesus did not sin (Heb. 4:15: 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 Jn. 3:2). Likewise, it would mean that the very teachings which came from Jesus lips would have been tainted with error since he too was speaking in a fallen human language. But this belief would precipitate a Christological crisis unacceptable to orthodoxy. Surely, no one who believes in the union of two natures in the one Person of Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, thereby affirms error in his human words. Hence, McGowen’s view of divine accommodation to err in the production of Scripture must be rejected. The fact is, however, that finitude does not necessitate fallenness. If it did, then not only would the Son Himself have partaken in sin and error, but the beatified saints in heaven would not be free from sin and error, as the Scriptures teach they will be (1 Cor. 13:10;1 Jn. 3:2; Rev.21:4).

Rejecting the “Incarnational” Analogy

According to this inerrantists reasoning, just as God in His Living Word (the Savior) has united with the human nature of Christ without sin, even so God is united with His written Word (the Scripture) yet without error. MeGowen objects to this analogy with two basic arguments (118-121).

First, he argues that unlike Christ whose two natures are united in one person, there is no such union of the divine and human in Scripture. But McGowan misses the point, even on his own grounds. For elsewhere he speaks of a co-authorship of Scripture (148). He cites with approval the following: “This enables Bavink faithfully and clearly to emphasize both sides of any orthodox doctrine of Scripture, namely that God is the author but yet the human beings are the authors” (148). This would mean that both the human and divine aspects of Scripture are united in one set of propositions(better, sentences) or verbal expression in like manner to the divine and human being united in Christ in one person. This conclusion is borne out also by the fact that MeGowen holds to “verbal” inspiration by affirming that “I disagree with him [James Orr] on [his denying] verbal inspiration. It seems to me that there is no good reason for arguing that the content but not the form of the Scriptures have come to us from God” (136). But if the verbal form of Scripture is “breathed-out” from God, as MeGowen claims it is, then there is a propositional (better, sentential) unity that combines both the divine and human elements of Scripture in one and the same verbal structure.

Even McGowen’s own definition of Scripture supports the Incarnational model for he says “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (43). Again, there is a unity between the human and divine in God’s written Word (the Scripture) that is analagous with the union of the divine and human in His Living Word (the Savior).

Further, MeGowen argues wrongly that the word “divine” does not apply to Scripture, as it does to the divine nature of Christ in the Incarnation. He wrote: “Only God is divine and therefore only God can have a divine nature” (120). But in a very important sense this is not so. Even Peter affirmed that in some real sense “we are partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Surely, this is not in a metaphysical sense (e.g., we can’t be infinite) but in a moral sense (we can be true). MeGowen seems to unwittingly answer his own question when he admits that “I am not denying that the Scriptures (like human beings) can share some of the divine attributes” (120). But that is all that is necessary for the analogy to be a good one, namely to have strong similarities which it has.

As for the Bible not being God, of course it is not. That is why the Incarnational model is an analogy (similar but not identical). No informed evangelical ever held that the Bible was God and should be worshiped. The Bible is like God in his moral attributes (like the necessity to be truth and holiness), not in his non-moral (metaphysical) attributes (like infinite and eternal). In view of this, the Incarnational reasoning can be stated as follows:

  1. God’s Living Word (Christ) and His Written Word (the Savior) are similar in that:
    1. They have a divine and human dimension;
    2. These two dimensions are combined in one unity.
    3. Thus, both are without flaw.
  2. Hence, both God’s Living Word and His Written Word are without flaw morally in that:
    1. God’s Living Word is without sin:
    2. Written Word is without error.[6]

The remaining question is: How can the effect (an inerrant Bible) be greater than the cause (errant humans)? Of course, it cannot, but the ultimate (primary) Cause is God; the human writers are only the secondary causes. Their imperfection and tendency to err does not bleed through to the effect because God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick! Or, in biblical terms: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21). In theological terms, to cite MeGowen himself, “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (43). Since the Scriptures did not originate from “the will of man,” but of God, and since the superintending Spirit of truth “cannot lie,” then what He uttered in these human words cannot err.

McGowen’s Neo-Barthian Implication

Although MeGowen rightly disowns some neo-orthodox beliefs such as a denial of objective propositional revelation and revelation coming only in acts and not words, nonetheless, he is not without Barthian influence in this matter. In fact, I would call his view neo-Barthian in some significant respects. First, as already noted (and discussed more fully below), MeGowen allows for the possibility of errors in the original text of the Bible-the one breathed-out by God. Second, he speaks of the Bible as an instrument through which God speaks-rather than the Bible being the voice of God itself. As to the first he says, “The Scriptures are the record of the revelation that God has given to his church . . . ” (21). He adds, “Our knowledge of the love of God in Christ comes to us through the voice of God speaking in the Scriptures” (31). Again, “God’s Word came to us in the form of human witness” (112). Finally, he cites James Orr with approval, saying, “God has given a historical, supernatural revelation and . . . the Scriptures are the ‘record’ of this revelation” (132). But what is this but a more euphemistic way to affirm Barth’s scratched record analogy of one hearing his master’s voice through an imperfect recording. This is contrary to Scripture which describes itself as “perfect” (Psa. 19:7) (Hebrew: tamiym, without flaw) which is the same word used of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:5) that was to be “without blemish.” But the Bible speaks of itself as the revelation of God itself (the very Word of God), not a faulty record of it.

This conclusion is also supported by McGowen’s claim that the Bible has no authority in itself, only God does (45). But if the Bible is the Word of God written, then it has the authority of God in it since it is God’s voice speaking in the words of Scripture. One would think that with McGowen’s emphasis on the “dynamic” nature of inspiration (49), to wit that God is continually speaking through His Word (155), that he would not have fallen into the Barthian error of claiming the Bible is not the revelation of God but merely a human record of it through which God speaks to us. This is undoubtedly why MeGowen also claims there is some truth in the Barthian claim that “the Bible becomes the Word of God” to us or is “a subjective revelation” to us (156).

Finally, this neo-Barthianism in MeGowen is also supported by his contention that the Bible is only an instrumental revelation. He writes, “the purpose of Scripture is instrumental to the work of the Spirit” (24). Likewise, he speaks with approval that “Barth was arguing that our knowledge of the love of God in Christ comes to us through the voice of God speaking in the Scriptures” (31). Thus, God speaks “by His Spirit through His Word” (31). So, the Bible is “the means” by which he communicates with us (31). In short, the Bible is not the revelation of God; it is the instrument through which God’s revelation comes to us. But once this distinction is made and the wedge is driven between the words of the men who wrote the Scriptures and the voice of God that speaks through these fallible human voices, then we cannot have a true revelation from God.

Faulty Logic in the MeGowen Analysis

Part of the reason MeGowen is able to come to these wrong conclusions about inerrancy is the faulty logic he employs. A few examples will suffice. Many of them are forms of the notorious “Straw Man” fallacy. First, hee false charges that inerrantist hold to mechanical dictation is even rejected by the Fundamentalist John R. Rice repudiated who admits to holding “verbal dictation”.[7] Indeed, no Calvinist, like McGowen, who believes in iresistable grace should have any problem believing that God can work on different persons with their unique styles to produce exactly what God wanted to say.

Second, he alleges a “straw man”of atomistic view “that every isolated word of Holy Scripture is inerrant”” (65). This word-by-word revelation which is found primarily in cultic dictation or in orthodox Muslim’s beliefs about the origin of the Qur’an, not in an evangelical view of inspiration who believe is in wholistic inspiration. That is a word taken properly in the context of a whole sentence and a sentence taken in the whole context of a literary unity (and ultimately that taken in the context of the whole Scripture) is inspired and inerrant. In brief, a whole sentence (with all of its parts) is an inerrant revelation from God if understood in its proper contexts. Paul stressed the importance of a singular “seed” in contrast to “seeds” (Gal. 3:16). The absence of a letter can change the whole meaning of a doctrine, as the early Creed discovered. The Greek word for “same” (homoousion) differed from the word for “similar” (homoiousion) by only one letter, the letter “I” (the letter iota in Greek). This one tiny letter was the difference between orthodoxy and heresy on whether Christ was the same or only similar to God. So, in this sense, even letters are inspired, not in isolation from words, sentences and the overall context but as a crucial part of the whole-the wholistic meaning.

Another “straw man” created by MeGowen is what he calls “inflexible literalism” (65, 103). He equated ICBI with fundamentalists (103, 123). However, the ICBI “Chicago Statement” on inerrancy went to great lengths to deny this charge-so detailed were the statements that, strangely, MeGowen criticized it for being so careful to define its meaning this precisely. Article XIII declared: “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.” Article XVIII adds, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatical-historical exegesis; taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.” Likewise, Article VI declares: “We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration. We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole” (emphasis added). What is this but a whole-istic inspiration?

McGowen also contends that God’s revelation “can never become mere data to be processed by the theologian, rather than the means by which God confronts and communicates to us.” But once again, whoever said that the Bible is “mere data” for us to process. The Word of God is not merely an object to be studied (73). It also the Word of God to be obeyed (Js. 1:22). The very ICBI statements (which MeGowen rejects) states the contrary in its very first statement, saying:”God, who is Himself Truth and speaks the truth only, has inspired Holy scripture in order to reveal Himself to lost mankind Jesus Christ . . . Holy scripture is God’s witness to Himself.” (No. 1). Article III declares: “We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.” How can one conclude from this, as MeGowen does (117), that inerrantists believe the Bible is viewed merely as an object to be studied, rather than a revelation to be obeyed?

Fourth, it does not seem to concern MeGowen admits to logical fallacy of “circular reasoning” in his apologetic (32). This begs the question by saying in essence: “We know the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible (as the Word of God) tells us so.” MeGowen cites Bavink with approval that “Holy Scripture is self-attested (autopistos) and therefore the final ground of faith. No deeper ground can be advanced. To the question ‘Why do you believe Scripture?’ The only answer is: ‘Because it is the word of God.’ But if the next question is ‘Why do you believe that Holy Scripture is te word of God’ a Christian cannot answer?” (31) Even Van Til, whom MeGowen cites favorably (37), could offer a transcendental argument in response, namely, because nothing else in the world makes sense apart from positing that the Triune God is revealed in canonical Scripture. However, one can be sure that neither MeGowen nor any other fideist would accept this reasoning when a Muslim says, “Why should we believe the Qur’an is the Word of God? The only answer is: Because the Qur’an says it is the Word of God.” I am sure MeGowen would want some good evidence and reasons before he accepted the Qur’an as the Word of God, regardless of what the Qur’an says about itself.

As for the claim that in such an answer “we are setting these things as a higher authority than the voice of God speaking in Scripture” we point out that besides confusing epistemology and ontology, he is overlooking the fact that the Bible itself commands us to use “reason” (1 Peter 3:15) and evidence (Acts 1:3) to test truth claims. Moses gave tests for a false prophet (Deut. 13 and 18). John exhorted us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn. 4:1), and Paul “reasoned” (Acts 17:2, 17) with the Jews and Greeks to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. Indeed, Jesus himself used reason and evidence to substantiate his claims to be God.[8] As Augustine said, “Who cannot see that thinking is prior to believing? For no one believes anything unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. . . . ?”[9]

Fifth, MeGowen is also guilty of taking a text out of its context. He does this with a statement made by B. B. Warfield, the great Princetonian defender of inerrancy. Warfield is careful to stress the humanity of Scripture as well as its divine origin. In so defending the humanity of the biblical authors, Warfield and Hodge state that the authors of Scripture were dependent on human languages that “bear everywhere indelible traces of error” and on human “sources and methods in themselves fallible” and personal knowledge that was “defective, or even wrong” (211). But using this to support McGowen’s errant view of inerrancy is totally unjustified for two reasons. First, it omits the crucial point, namely, that God in his providence overrules these human weaknesses and produces an inerrant product through their human pens. To repeat, this only proves the point that God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. Second, even in this quote McGowen overlooks the fact that Warfield is not saying that these human sources always err. Indeed, he qualifies it by the phrases “in large measure” and “in many maters.” Finally, Hodge and Warfield clearly say that they are referring to these human sources “in themselves,” not as superintended by a God who cannot err.

Sixth, MeGowen sometimes throws the baby out with the bathwater. For example, he lumps “propositional” revelation with the alleged necessity of “scientific precision” and rejects them both together. Thus, propositional truth gets thrown out with modern “scientific accuracy.” But most inerrantists, indeed all who signed the ICBI or ETS statements as defined by ICBI, do not believe that one has to believe in “scientific accuracy” in order to believe in propositional revelation (117). This same unnecessary lumping occurs with “inerrancy” and “fundamentalism” (103, 123) as well as inerrancy and “literalism.” This, in spite of the fact that inerrancy proponents explicitly deny such implications (see above).

Answering Other Objections to Inerrancy Raised by MeGowen

There are many other objections MeGowen raises to inerrancy. Several call for a brief response since they are held by many as significant obstacles to belief in inerrancy.

Death of Inerrancy by a Thousand Qualifications

Strangely enough MeGowen criticizes the ICBI and ETS inerrantist for having so many qualifications to their view. This is odd in view of the fact that the non-inerrantist holds the opposite on all these points and yet they are not criticized for all their qualifications. Further, MeGowen actually commends the ICBI statement for making things clearer by having “denials” as well as “affirmations.” But these additional negative qualifications make the doctrine, even clearer.

Basically, inerrancy does not die a death by “a thousand” qualifications for two reasons. First of all, the so-called qualifications do not kill it but enhance it and, thus, keep it alive. In short, they do not negate all meaning in the original claim; they clarify it by negating things from it that do not belong to it.

Second, there are not “a thousand” qualifications; there really are only two: 1) Only the original text is inerrant; and 2) Only what is affirmed as true in the text, is true and not any thing else. The rest of the so-called “qualifications” are not really qualifications by inerrantists but misunderstandings by non-inerrantists. Hence, the re-wording is necessary only because opponents have misunderstood or mischaracterized the doctrine. This calls for a denial by inerrantists that helps one to understand what was implied in the original affirmation that everything affirmed as true in the text, is true (and everything affirmed as false, is false). Just as the early Creeds had to grow in order to explain what they meant in earlier more simple forms because later heretics misunderstood, distorted, or challenged it, even so later inerrantists have had to add more “qualifications” to explicate the original meaning as opposed to the heretical challenges of their day.

For instance, it should have been sufficient to simply say: (1) The Bible is the Word of God. This really should be sufficient, but because some have denied the obvious, it is necessary to add (2) the Bible is the inspired Word of God. However, when some use inspired in a human sense, it is necessary to say (3) The Bible is the strong>divinely inspired Word of God. But since some deny such a book is infallibly true, it is necessary to add (4) the Bible is the divinely inspired infallible Word of God. Likewise, when some claim it is only infallible in intent but not in fact, then it is necessary to clarify that it means (5) the Bible is the divinely inspired infallible and inerrant Word of God. Even here some have argued that it is only inerrant in redemptive matters, hence it is necessary to add (6) the Bible is the divinely inspired infallible and inerrant word of God in all that it affirms on any topic. And so on. There is no apparent end to this process. Why? Because when someone denies the obvious, it is necessary to affirm the redundant. It is the not inerrantists’ fault that he seems to be adding when he is explicating what the original statement meant. So, the inerrantist cannot be blamed for the alleged “qualifications” (really, further of the original meaning in the light of later denials). It is the opponents of inerrancy that should be blamed for denying the obvious. If “(1) The Bible is the Word of God,” then of course it is divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant, etc. But if one denies the obvious, then inerrantists must affirm the redundant to make our view clear.

There is No Mention of Inspiration and Inerrancy in the early Creeds

In response to this charge, it is crucial to remember that the belief in a divinely authoritative Bible is everywhere presupposed by the Creeds. Almost the entire The Apostles’ Creed (2nd cent.) is made up phases that are dependent on the Bible. Likewise, the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325) uses many of the same phrases and adds explicitly states that these truths were “spoken through the Prophets.” The Chalcedonian Creed (A. D. 451) uses many of the same phases from the previous Creeds and adds explicitly that “we have the prophets of the old” (in the Old testament) and what “the Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught” through the apostolic writings in the New Testament. The divinely authoritative basis for the teaching of the Christian Church is evident both implicitly and explicitly in the earliest general Creeds of the Church.

Second, there was little need to mention the Bible more explicitly since it was not seriously challenged. The Creeds grew out of needs. The needs of the day were centered more on the deity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity, and the resurrection. Hence, they were highlighted. Creeds grew out of controversy, and there was no serious controversy in the early church on the divine origin of Scripture.

Third, it is well established that the view of the early Fathers were strongly in favor of inerrancy. Noted authority on the early Fathers, J. N. D. Kelly, characterized the view of the early Fathers when speaking of Tertullian’s view that “Scripture has absolute authority; whatever it teaches is necessarily true, and woe betide him who accepts doctrines not discoverable in it.”[10] St. Augustine summed up the early Fathers well when he declared: “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.”[11]What is this but an affirmation of the inerrancy of the original text of the Bible.

Why Did God Not Preserve the Autographs?

McGowen asks: “If textual inerrancy is so vital to the doctrine of Scripture, why did God not preserve the autographs of precise copies of the same?” (109). He adds, “What was the point of God acting supernaturally to provide an inerrant text providentially if it ceased to be inerrant as soon as the first or second copy was made?” (109).

In response, evangelical scholars have long pointed out several things which McGowen nowhere addresses at any length or refutes. First, there are important reasons to have a perfect autograph, the foremost of which is that the God of absolute truth cannot utter error (see above). For “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). The “Spirit of truth” (Jn. 16:13) cannot utter untruths.

Second, since God did not breathe-out the copies, it is possible for them to error. However, God has providentially preserved them as a whole from any substantial error. In short, we have good copies of the original autographs. Noted scholars have substantiated this. Professor Frederic Kenyon stated, “The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”[12] The great Greek scholar A. T. Robinson stated that “The real concern is with a thousandth part of the entire text.”[13] That would make it 99.9% free of significant variants. Others have noted that these minor variants do not affect an essential teaching of the Christian Church. Even agnostic Bible critic Bart Ehrman admits: “In fact, most of the changes found in early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes pure and simple slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”[14] So, we have 99+ percent of the text and 100% of the essential truths of the Christian Faith. Hence, we do not need the autographs.

Third, there may be a good reason why God did not preserve the autographs. Knowing the human tendency to worship relics, imagine what would happen to the original Bible breathed-out by God! Look what happened to the brazen serpent in the wilderness years later (2 Kgs. 18:4). Further, knowing the human tendency to distort truth and corrupt doctrine with an alleged divine authority, think of what could happen to the autographs if they fell into human hands. But with the autographs preserved in some 5700 mss. that are spread all over the world there is no human way possible that any essential truth of the Christian Faith could be distorted in all these copies.

If Imperfect Copies are Adequate, Why not Imperfect Originals?

Perhaps an illustration will help answer this question. It is not difficult to understand the biblical story of God making a perfect Adam, allowing him to fall and reproduce other imperfect copies of the original Adam. Now all these copies (descendants) of Adam are 100 percent human and imperfect as we all are. So, essential humanity has been preserved even through generations of imperfect copies. Likewise, with Scripture it was essential to have an original that was perfect since a perfect God cannot make an imperfect original. For example, it is inconceivable that a perfect God could have made the first man with a deformed body with cancer growths already on it. But it is not inconceivable that he would make a perfect original man, endow him with free choice, allow him to sin and bring imperfections to his posterity while God, nonetheless, preserves his essential human nature in his posterity. It is for this same reason that God produced a perfect original Bible, and yet preserved the copies of all minor errors so as to protect all the essential truths for posterity.

In short, an adequate but imperfect original is not possible for a perfect God to make. There are many things that God cannot do, even by His sovereignty. He cannot change (Mal. 3:6; Js. 1:13, 17). He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). He cannot cease being God (Heb. 1:10-12). He cannot break an unconditional promise (Rom. 11:29). He cannot lie (Heb. 6:17-18). And, as an absolutely perfect God, He cannot produce an imperfect product either in the realm of truth or morals-because it is contrary to His very nature to do so.

Calling arguments like this “a priori” (111) or purely “deductive” (136) do not make them invalid or false. They are based on the very revealed nature of God in Scripture, and there is nothing wrong with making logical deductions from biblical truths. The Trinity is such a deduction since nowhere does the Bible explicitly teach in any text that there is one God in essence who is three in Persons. Rather, it teaches: (1) There is only one God, and (2) There are three Persons who are God (i.e., who share this one nature). The doctrine of the Trinity is a necessary logical inference from these two clearly biblical premises. Inerrancy, fits into this same category. There are two premises clearly taught in Scripture: (1) God cannot error and (2) The original Bible is the Word of God. The necessary logical conclusion to draw from this is: (3) The original Bible cannot err.

The Argument from Alleged Errors and Contradictions in Scripture

MeGowen is believe that there could be errors in the autographs. He says, “if God is able to use the errant copies . . . that we do have . . . why invest so much theological capital in hypothetical originals that we do not have?” (113). He adds, “The autographs (if we could view them) might very well look just like our existing manuscripts, including all the difficulties, synoptic issues, discrepancies and apparent contradictions . . . ” (119).

Elsewhere, he concludes with Bavink that “the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to the church does not exclude the possibility of human error”(158). He seems to be fearful of saying there are “actual contradictions and errors,” but it follows from the very logic of his comparison. For the copies have actual errors and contradictions and God uses them for His purposes. Further, since he claims that the copies are inspired (159), he is faced with the contradictory belief in God-breathed errors anyway. Again, he says that he “reject[s] the implication that thereby the autographs must be inerrant” (124). That certainly means that they can be errant. Again, there is not a “third way.” Either the original can have errors or else they cannot have errors. The undeniable Law of Non-Contradiction (see above) demands this conclusion

Before concluding it will be instructive to examine McGowen’s example of an alleged error in the Bible which he gets from I. Howard Marshall (112). He calls it “a very good example” of an error in the biblical text. He alleges that Jairus told Jesus in Matthews 9:18 that his daughter was dead. But in Mark and Luke Jairus told Jesus she was only “at the point of death” (Mk 5:23) but not dead. Luke said she was only “dying” but not yet dead (Lk. 8:42). MeGowen hastily concludes that “there is a clear contradiction between the initial words of Jairus as recorded by Matthew and the other Evangelists” (113).

However, there is in actuality no contradiction between anything Jairus is recorded to have said. For this apparent discrepancy can be explained by the fact “while he [Jairus] was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, Your daughter is dead'”(Lk. 8:49). Matthew did not mention that detail, but included the report of the girl’s death in Jairus’ request.[15]The fact is that Matthew did not say Jarius said anything that in fact he did not say. He merely combines the two parts of the conversation, thus stressing the point that the girl actually died by that time.[16] Having analyzed some 800 alleged contradictions in Scripture in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties,[17] I have concluded after a half century of study that the Bible is without error but the critics are not.


McGowen offers many positive insights into the nature of Scripture that are worth pondering (see above). However, in attempting to offered a “middle way between inerrantist and errantist he falls into serious errors. For one, he adopts a radical voluntaristic view of God being sovereignly able to utter error in the original mss. This is combined with an unbiblical view of divine accommodation to error, rather than divine adaptation to finitude without error. This is connected with his rejection of an “incarnational” model of inerrancy which rejection, if applied consistently to Christ, would lead to the conclusion that even the human words and actions of Christ would not be without sin and error.

As for his offer that Americans forsake their long-standing commitment to inerrancy for the weaker European non-inerrancy view, we would remind him of the decline of a vital European church based on the latter and the greater vitality of the American church based on the former. In brief, McGowen’s proposal to reject the term (and concept) of inerrancy should be graciously but firmly rejected because of its unbiblical, unreasonable, and unorthodox implications. In spite of the above stated positive aspects of his view, his central theses may seem more broad and attractive (neither of which is a test for truth), but in the end it is a dangerous deviation from the orthodox view of inerrancy taught in the Bible, affirmed by the church down through the centuries, demanded by orthodox theology from time immemorial, and which has provided a fruitful basis for a vital Christian church. Hence, rather than tempt one to give up either the concept or term inerrancy to describe God-breathed Scripture, McGowen’s gives us more reason to hold on to them.

[1] McGowen agrees with Herman Bavink more than almost any other author, saying, “My argument, then, is that Herman Bavink . . .[who] offers the finest model for an evangelical doctrine of Scripture” (212).

[2] See R.C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary (ICBI, 1980), 31.

[3] For a defense of the correspondence view of truth see the article titled “Truth, Nature of” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999) by N. L. Geisler..

[4] N. L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002),Vol. 1.

[5] It is acknowledged that many orthodox theologians have used the word “accommodation” to mean adaptation to finitude, but it is denied that they meant this to include error or sin. However, since the term “accommodation” now carries this connotation for many, I recommend that we speak of divine “adaptation” to finitude and leave the word “accommodation” for the neo-orthodox (and neo-Gnostic) view of God acquiescing to error.

[6] I would argue that the Bible “cannot” err insofar as its divine dimension is concerned and “did not” err insofar as its human dimension is concerned.

[7] See John R. Rice, The God-Breathed Book: The Bible (Murfreesboro, TN; 1969), 9.

[8] For a treatment of the many ways in which Jesus used reason and evidence to substantiate his claims see our book, The Apologetics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009).

[9] St. Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 5.

[10] J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine (NY: Harper & Row, 1960), 39.

[11] See St. Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5.

[12] Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology (NY: Harper, 1940), 288.

[13] ” Archibald T. Robertson, An Intro to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1925), 22.

[14] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (NY: HarperOne), 55.

[15] See The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1983), 40.

[16] For McGowen’s to insist that it is an error because Matthew’s record represents the ruler saying it at a different time is and example of the very “literalistic” view he elsewhere deplores in inerrantists. Further, it begs the question by assuming that conflation is not a legitimate literary style which the ICBI view on Inerrancy allows.

[17] Baker Books (2008).

Explaining Hermeneutics: A Commentary on The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics

Explaining Hermeneutics was the official ICBI sponsored commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutic. We combined it with R. C. Sproul’s Explaining Inerrancy, the official ICBI sponsored commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutic, and titled it Explaining Biblical Inerrancy.

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You may use the coupon-code of “Free-EBI” (case sensitive) to get the e-book for free when checking out.


What does the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy *really* mean? We’re excited to announce that the newest e-book at Bastion Books, titled Explaining Biblical Inerrancy, is a combination of two classic, priceless, hard-to-find, strategic, profound, must-have resources! In it we’ve got forty pages by Dr. R.C. Sproul explaining the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, twenty-two pages by Dr. Norman Geisler explaining the articles of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, and ten pages by Dr. Geisler outlining the challenges to and misunderstandings of the ICBI standards of inerrancy that have been common in the last thirty years. Please spread the word and help us get this e-book onto the computers and e-readers of every seminary professor, Bible teacher, and Bible student. Link: