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, 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.”
The correspondence view of truth is in fact the one which the Bibleembraces. 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. 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:
- God cannot error.
- The original Bible is God’s Word.
- 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,
- The original Bible is the utterance of the Spirit of Truth.
- The Spirit of truth cannot utter error.
- 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. 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:
- God’s Living Word (Christ) and His Written Word (the Savior) are similar in that:
- They have a divine and human dimension;
- These two dimensions are combined in one unity.
- Thus, both are without flaw.
- Hence, both God’s Living Word and His Written Word are without flaw morally in that:
- God’s Living Word is without sin:
- Written Word is without error.
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”. 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. 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. . . . ?”
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.” 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  the manuscript is faulty, or  the translation is wrong, or  you have not understood.”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.” The great Greek scholar A. T. Robinson stated that “The real concern is with a thousandth part of the entire text.” 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.” 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.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. Having analyzed some 800 alleged contradictions in Scripture in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, 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.
 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).
 See R.C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary (ICBI, 1980), 31.
 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..
 N. L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002),Vol. 1.
 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.
 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.
 See John R. Rice, The God-Breathed Book: The Bible (Murfreesboro, TN; 1969), 9.
 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).
 St. Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 5.
 J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine (NY: Harper & Row, 1960), 39.
 See St. Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5.
 Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology (NY: Harper, 1940), 288.
 ” Archibald T. Robertson, An Intro to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1925), 22.
 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (NY: HarperOne), 55.
 See The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1983), 40.
 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.
 Baker Books (2008).