Evangelicals Debate Biblical Inerrancy/Program 3

By: Lee Strobel; ©1982
Are there some stories in the Bible – like Adam, like Jonah and the great fish, like that resurrection of Jesus – that are not intended to be taken as literal?


Are There Things in the Bible We Can’t Believe?

Guests (information was valid at the time this program was taped)

Dr. Jack Rogers – Professor of Philosophical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and a member of the General Assembly’s Taskforce on Biblical Authority and Interpretation of the United Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. He has challenged several well entrenched beliefs among American evangelicals in his book, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible – An Historical Approach. Dr. Rogers received his Ph.D. from the University of Amsterdam.

Dr. Peter Macky – Associate Professor of Religion at Westminster College. He holds that Scripture be interpreted metaphorically and will share his thoughts on how C.S. Lewis interpreted the Bible. Dr. Mackey received his Ph.D. from Oxford University.

Dr. John Woodbridge – Professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He will argue that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God in all matters and that this accurately depicts the historic position of the church and the view that Jesus and the apostles taught. Dr. Woodbridge received his Ph.D. from the University of Toulouse, France.

Dr. Donald A. Carson – Associate Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He will defend the historical-grammatical way of interpreting the Scriptures. Dr. Carson received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

Ankerberg: Usually on the John Ankerberg Show we have non-Christians and we ask them, What is it that you believe? Why would anybody else believe it? What’s the evidence for your belief? And then we share with them our evidence for Jesus Christ, the claims that He made, and the evidence concerning His death and resurrection. Tonight we have four Ph.D.s, some of the best evangelical scholars in America and we’re talking about why they believe, why should anybody else believe that the Bible is authoritative or infallible or is inspired. And gentlemen, I would like to be a non-Christian right now for a little bit and I would like to say that you hold the Bible, so what. Why should I? Too many things in there that I can’t believe. I can’t believe this jazz about Adam, Jonah and this great fish and all this kind of stuff. I mean, come on, do you mean you believe that?
Carson: Yes, yes. On the other hand, what I would do if I were you, is start with the central things, the main things. We’ll worry about those first and then we’ll move out to the difficult bits.
Ankerberg: What would be the first things?
Carson: I think what I would get you to do first is read a Gospel, Mark or John or something like that.
Ankerberg: Why? Why that? What is it going to tell me? Why am I going to change my mind because I’ve read that?
Carson: I don’t know if you’ll change your mind or not. You will either harden your mind and reject it or else you will listen to its truthfulness and you will bow before Him who is the Truth incarnate. That is to say, you will read the text and you will either hear the voice of the Spirit of God speaking through Jesus as He is faithfully recorded in the Gospel pages and hear that truth and be convicted by it and see that in Jesus Himself is the focal point of the Christian religion and come to Him, or else you will walk away from it.
Ankerberg: Hey, we’ve got Cambridge on one side and we’ve got Oxford on the other. Hey, you the Rhodes Scholar over there, do you actually believe that a guy called Jesus actually came forth from the grave?
Macky: I do.
Ankerberg: Why? Come on, that’s a miracle.
Macky: Why do I believe it?
Ankerberg: Right.
Macky: I believe it because any other explanation for the rise of the Christian church makes much, much less sense. You have these disciples who run away when their master is crucified, which is the thing we would expect. And you find them not many weeks later coming out and proclaiming for all the world to hear that their Master has risen and they are willing to be persecuted. They are willing to go to jail. They are willing to stand and say this about everything else, “That this Jesus whom you crucified, God has raised from the dead.” [Acts 4:10] And it seems to me that in order to explain how it could happen, that these men went from cowards to being the changers of the world, no other explanation comes even close to being as adequate as their explanation, which is, “God raised Him from the dead.”
Ankerberg: What does it prove that Jesus came forth from the dead?
Macky: Well, it depends on how you use the word “prove.” In the sense of what it would prove to you, it probably wouldn’t prove to you anything. But what it means to me and what it has meant to Christians down through the ages is that here at this one time in this one man, God has conquered death. And here is the beginning of the end of the reign of death over all of God’s people; and that this event, this Easter event, is the center of all of the history of human kind. This is what God had been aiming for, and from this point on, now instead of death reigning, now life is reigning and it’s going to move on towards the whole of eternity or eternal life is going to be reigning.
Ankerberg: Well, I might be interested. One of my professors told me that death psychologists tell that we think about death on the average four times a day. But if Jesus actually came forth from the dead, are you saying that there is evidence to that effect?
Macky: I think that the evidence is far, far better than anything else I’ve seen. I had a friend who I was with in Germany on an Easter Sunday morning. He had not believed in Christ for maybe five years. He was a very, very bright young man. And he went to church with me on this Sunday morning. We’d been talking together for a long, long time and at the end of that service, he had bowed his head and he said to me when he lifted it up, “Peter, you know that event that we’re celebrating today, it must have happened. There is no other explanation for it.”
Ankerberg: Who is Jesus then?
Macky: Jesus is God Himself made understandable and present and human so that we can know who God Himself is.
Ankerberg: Okay, if He is that, I’ve heard some people say that He said some things about Scripture. Kind of hard to swallow, because if He’s actually God as you just said, and He said some things about Scripture and some of those things are hard for me to swallow, what do I do?
Macky: It depends which ones you are talking about. The most famous line of His on Scripture is that, “All of these things, none of these things will pass away until all is fulfilled.” [Matt. 5:18] Now, it’s an interesting question as to what He means by “all things fulfilled.” I think that what He means is the whole of the Old Testament was looking towards Him, that in Him all of the promises, all of the hopes, all of the laws, were fulfilled and that from henceforth, He Himself is the standard of what God wants His people to be and to know. I think that’s what He was saying. And I think that He was saying that that tradition of Israel from before really pointed towards Him.
Ankerberg: I’d like to ask you, when Jesus said, “The Scriptures cannot be broken,” [John 10:35] what did He mean?
Macky: That’s a hard thing to answer because He of course is using a physical metaphor, something that breaks, and He’s talking about something that’s not a physical thing. In order to understand it, I have to look at it in the light of other things that He said. For example, we have all of His discussion in the Sermon on the Mount, when He was talking about, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you.” For example, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” [Matt. 5:38], a law, which by the way, most of us still believe in; but He said, “But I say unto you” it shall not be this way among you. [Matt. 5:39; 20:26] I think we have to take in the context of Him talking about the dietary laws of the Old Testament when He said very clearly that what comes out of a person’s heart is what matters not what goes into them. [Matt. 15:16-18] And Mark makes this comment, “And so he declared all foods clean.” [Mark 7:19]
Now, I don’t think we can take Jesus words, “The Scripture cannot be broken” to mean that the laws of Israel and the Old Testament are to apply to His followers. I think probably what He means is that the way the Old Testament speaks of God, proclaims God’s actions in history, foretells His own coming, all of that is to be taken as authoritative. That’s how I would read it.
Ankerberg: Okay, Dr. Carson, let’s jump to some of these verses about Scripture that Jesus and the apostles talked about. What do you think that Jesus was saying about Scripture itself? If He’s the chief, if He’s the boss, if He’s very God, I want to know what the boss has to say? What do some of His words mean? Give me some examples.
Carson: Let me take the first one that Peter mentioned regarding, “The Scripture cannot be broken,” or again in Matthew 5:18, “That not one jot or tittle shall pass away until all is fulfilled.” I think that what Peter says regarding the thrust of what Jesus says there is very, very right. That is to say that He is insisting that the Old Testament points to Him and He fulfills it, and He fulfills it in a whole number of different ways including the dietary laws pointing to certain distinctions that God makes and so on and so forth.
But the necessary presupposition for His argument is, “Not even one jot or tittle” – not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen – will in any sense be abolished until it is fulfilled in Him and in what He does and so forth. So He sees the thing as in some sense binding or true, or right, or solid, or substantial, reliable, and it points to Him.
Likewise in the John 10 passage regarding the Scripture cannot be broken, it’s very interesting that He says, “It can’t be broken” as almost a throwaway remark there. “We all know that it can’t be broken, and therefore, certain things that it says must be true.” And then for example when He is answering the Devil in Matthew 4 and parallels, He insists that man’s meat, man’s food, what he really must consume is every word that comes from the mouth of God. [Matt. 4:4] And on the lips of a first century Jew that can only mean Scripture.
And for example in Matthew 22, where He is arguing about who David’s son is for example, His whole argument ultimately turns on one letter in the Hebrew alphabet. [Matt. 22:43-45] “My Lord,” David speaks of Messiah, He insists. So He not only has to affirm in stating Psalm 110 that David actually wrote it for His argument even to be right, but actually the pronoun in Hebrew which is just one letter, has to be right for his argument to be right, for his argument to make sense.
So, I would want to argue, that yes, there are some laws from the Old Testament that will be transmuted in the New Testament. Yes, there will be some changes as you move into a new age of fulfillment, but the presupposition behind all that reaffirmed again and again and again in the New Testament is that God spoke those words of the Old Testament. As the writer of the Hebrews puts it, “In times past God spoke.” He spoke through the prophets. [Heb. 1:1]
Ankerberg: We’ve all heard this thing about verbal inspiration. What do you think that means?
Carson: It simply means that God’s inspiration of the Bible extends even to the words. It does not mean, for example, that the Holy Spirit used some sort of dictation method, so that there’s a flattening out of the way the Greek sounds or something like that. But rather, His superintendence of each writer as each writer wrote extended even to the very words of the text that they wrote so that He identifies that as Truth.
Ankerberg: Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Okay, and if that “spiration,” the product of God’s breath, is the graphe, the writings, and it refers to the Old Testament and the Old Testament was the book that Timothy was having in his hand and Paul sometimes would quote from the Septuagint and sometimes he would quote from the Hebrew text itself, there are probably errors in that text. And when Paul said that about “all Scripture,” did he mean the one that he had in his hand or was he talking about the original autographs?
Carson: Paul does not make a convenient distinction for us. What he does simply speak of is “all Scripture inspired.” What is clear, however, is that there is nothing in Scripture which teaches the inspiration and infallibility of all the copyists. In fact, the idea is almost ludicrous. What you would have to guard against is not only the infallibility of the scribe who was meticulously trying to copy the Word of God but even the one who was perversely trying to change it, so that somehow he couldn’t actually write the word. God’s spirit somehow clamped down and he couldn’t get the thing out. What the Scriptures insist is simply is that what God has given is true and that is all that that statement is interested in making. So, when you move there to transcriptional errors or something like this in copying, you really are moving in a very different category from the kind of thing that Paul is interested in affirming.
Ankerberg: Do we have errors in the text of the copyists right now?
Carson: Of some individual copies?
Ankerberg: Yes.
Carson: Oh, yes.
Ankerberg: How much of the text would you say is polluted?
Carson: Polluted is a hot term. If I may put it this way that 97% or 98% of the New Testament is beyond serious textual disputation and the other 2% or 3% is so textually certain that only relatively small percentage of variants in the manuscripts that have been handed down that are serious.
Ankerberg: Isn’t it a cop out for you to hold the fact that we have autographs that we don’t have that are beautiful, clean, and without error, and when we have autographs right now that have errors?
Carson: Well, let me say two things about that. First, I would want to argue that it is a fairly large categorical difference to argue that on the one hand that there were errors in the originals which have been passed down, versus saying that there are errors in copies that have been handed down. That is, there is a categorical, a conceptual, difference of fairly major magnitude.
More importantly, I would want to argue that where there is a textual variant about which I am not certain, then the most that is entailed by that is an uncertainty about whether this particular verse means this or that, whether it reads this or reads that. Now, no doctrine from any Christian tradition has ever been based simply on one text, so no doctrine is ever jeopardized by that. The only thing that is called into question is the certainty of this reading versus that reading. So, the only alternative to that would have been for God so to have inspired every copyist in every age then every steno at the typewriter or every scribe at his quill pen was infallibly preserved from a copying mistake and that is not taught anywhere in Scripture.
Ankerberg: Alright, we have a question right here.
Audience: After about 60 years of systematically studying and teaching the Scripture, what would you say the verse that says, “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently believe Him,” [Heb. 11:6] how does all of this get twisted around in our modern theological terminology so that we want God to prove first and then we will believe?
Ankerberg: I want to add something to that. Do I have to believe before it’s true?
Carson: I prefer his question first. I think that there’s a sense in which what you are saying is of fundamental importance. That is to say what the philosophers or theologians call epistemology, that is the whole way in which you build your knowledge, the whole way that you think about anything. For a finite human being like you or me it’s in some sense circular, and from God’s perspective what is important for every human being is to start with Him, to start with Him, so that if you don’t believe in Him then you’re already a renegade. If you don’t bow to Him you’re already a rebel. I agree with you entirely in terms of how a Christian builds his epistemology and I think that that verse presupposes that.
On the other hand, what I find interesting is that although a Christian might build his epistemology that way, that is the whole way he thinks, yet when the apostles go to preach, sometimes although they themselves would build their epistemology that way, they’d build their evangelism by starting where their audience is. That is to say, Paul starts for example in the Athens address in Acts 17 with where the people are and starts to make some bridges. And in the early chapters of Acts, constantly there is a preaching on the resurrection, “We are witnesses of these things,” [Acts 5:32] not starting with God, we are witnesses of certain empirical facts. So, since John Ankerberg came at me right in the beginning of this first segment and said, “Look, I’m a non-Christian. Convince me.” Alright, then I have to start in a apostolic, apologetic, an apostolic proclamation. Whereas, if he came to me and said, “Look, I’m a philosopher at such-and-such university. I would like for you to explain to me your epistemology.” Then I would have started with God.
Audience: I’m a theologian too, and sometimes I wish I weren’t. But if it is true as you maintain, that the Holy Spirit breathed this word and then wrote, and Jesus said, “If I go to the Father, I will send the Holy Spirit and he will lead and guide you in all truth concerning me,” [John 13; John 14:26] why do we theologians twist it all up in terminology that the common person can’t understand, when He said that the Holy Spirit would reveal it to us?
Ankerberg: Thank you. Peter, you want to try that one?
Macky: I think that what the Holy Spirit does is to use what God has given us and what God has given us in many, many things. He has given us our minds. He has given us each other. He has given us our tradition. He has given us the church and our own churches. I think that the Spirit works through this variety of things and that we are responsible for doing the best that we possibly can with what we have, with the abilities we’ve been given , with the understanding we’ve been given. And I think each of us is trying to do that, but of course our problem is that always when we are trying to talk about the immensely mysterious realities of God, the Bible, of Christ, we always simplify. We have no alternative. We always simplify. My simplification is different from somebody else’s simplification, and that’s where we get the fighting.
Carson: I think that in the context of that particular section where Jesus is teaching in John 14, 15, and 16, that He’s talking in part about what the disciples are not able to understand. “I have many things to tell you,” He says, “but you are not yet able to bear them.” [John 16:12] And then He promises that when He is ascended, He will send the Holy Spirit who will reveal these further things. So part of what he’s talking about there at least is what the Holy Spirit will propositionally reveal to Christians after the resurrection, ascension, and the descent of the Spirit of Pentecost. But to confuse that with a kind of infallible illumination now, is in jeopardy of making each Christian a kind of infallible interpreter.
What I would want to argue is that the Spirit even now comes and illumines us and helps us to understand, and takes away the scales from our eyes, but as I read Scripture it nowhere promises that the Holy Spirit will come and make either you or me or anybody else an infallible interpreter. Ultimately, the only standard to which I would want to bring everything is Scripture itself, and we may use all other knowledge to try to understand that Scripture better and the Spirit himself helps us, but ultimately the inspiration of Scripture by the Spirit is qualitatively different from the illumination of modern believers as they try to understand that Scripture today.
Ankerberg: Got a question.
Audience: Dr. Macky, a little bit ago, mentioned an illustration concerning the matter of error about Job’s friends and so forth. This is an example that I think most of us would probably all agree upon. I would like to have the men to discuss, either Dr. Rogers or Dr. Macky, one that would be controversial or one that we would not agree upon as an example of error.
Ankerberg: Can I give you one?
Rogers: I’ll have to keep reminding you that I’ve never suggested that there were errors in the Bible, so that makes it a little difficult for me.
Macky: Let me try. That case is exactly right. What I was using that case for is to make the point that we must distinguish between what the Bible teaches and what it simply presents. I would offer a great many examples. For example, Jesus told the story of the prodigal son. Now, that’s the kind of story that could very easily be history. Somebody comes along and says to me that, “Now I know that that’s erroneous, that’s not history. That’s fiction.” Now, I would say that you’ve mistaken the category. That story was not intended to be history, I don’t think. That story was intended to be fiction. It’s not error when the intention of the author is to teach us something by the use of fiction. It’s only error if he intended to be speaking history and he was wrong.
And so it seems to me that a crucial question is, “In the Bible how do we distinguish between those elements that are clearly intended to be historical? A prime place would be 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is saying Jesus’ historical resurrection from the dead matters absolutely. Paul is absolutely certain that the historicity of the resurrection matters. [e.g., 1 Cor. 15:14] Whereas, we have in Jesus’ story, the prodigal son, it seems to me highly likely that He did not intend that to be historical. Now, it seems to me that the Bible has a mixture of forms, some of which are intended to be historical, some of which are not intended to be. And the problem that we have… I wouldn’t see it so much as a problem, the task we have is learning ways to distinguish between those passages in which the intent is historical and those passages in which the intent is not.

Ankerberg: I want to say that the evidence that the Bible is the inerrant, written Word of God is anchored in the authority of Jesus Christ. The basic argument in support of this runs as follows: First, the New Testament documents are historically reliable. Second, these documents accurately present Christ as claiming to be God incarnate and proving it by fulfilled Messianic prophecy by His sinless and miraculous life and by His predicting and accomplishing His resurrection from the dead. Third, whatever Christ teaches is true since He is God. Fourth, Christ taught that the Old Testament is the written Word of God and promised that His Disciples would be guided in writing the New Testament. Fifth, on the confirmed Divine authority of Jesus Christ, it must be true that the Bible is the inspired, truthful, written, Word of God.

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