Evangelicals Debate Biblical Inerrancy/Program 4

By: Lee Strobel; ©1982
Evangelicals have different ideas of how certain parts of the Bible should be interpreted. Is it possible for all to reach a consensus on how the Bible should be interpreted? Are there some things we can disagree on but still maintain unity?


Can Evangelicals Unite in Their View of Scripture?

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: I want to ask a question. You’re evangelicals: evangelicals seem to be split in our country even now, and the question is, can evangelicals today unite in their view of Scripture? You’re saying “yes.” I hear a lot of other people saying “no.” What do they have to drop off or add or what have you changed so that we can all unite?
Rogers: John, I’d like to comment to that in this way, that I think recent events since our conference in Toronto last June with a broad spectrum of evangelicals, since Ken Kantzer editorial on Christianity Today in September 1981, we’ve come to realize that we don’t disagree about the authority of the Bible. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is fully authoritative. What we are really wrestling with is where we all have problems, what we’ve just been talking about, how do you interpret particular passages? And I think in the past when we’ve differed on interpretation, people have mistakenly said, “When you don’t agree with me you don’t believe the Bible.” That’s not the case. We both believe the Bible, we just have a different way of interpreting it.
Ankerberg: Where do we step over the bounds in interpretation? It seems like Bultmann and some of these other theologians, they step over the line, because when they come to a spot where they can’t interpret it, in other words they say, “Hey, you know what he’s saying, I just can’t believe that. It might be miraculous. It might be something else.” He just doesn’t want to believe it, and so he gives us an interpretation. And when we look at that interpretation, and as evangelicals we would differ with him, what are the guidelines? Where do we stop? What did Bultmann do that we are not supposed to do?
Macky: I think one central thing here is a way in which I think the four of us generally agree, though I’m not sure on specifics, is over the centrality of the main Christian tradition coming from the early church down to today, where the great orthodoxy’s agree. And they agree on the Trinity, on the centrality of the Cross of Christ, on the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, on the importance of the Spirit, on the authority of the Bible. I think that the place where Bultmann and people like him would move off is that they don’t accept that the great central tradition of the Church is an appropriate help or guide or map to us.
Ankerberg: Okay, Peter, is there anything that should pull Bultmann over to our side? What keeps us over here? Why don’t we join him?
Macky: I think the difference between us and Bultmann is that he thinks that the modern understanding of the nature of the universe in particular – a modern naturalist understanding – is authoritative for modern people and we don’t think so. We think that the biblical supernaturalist understanding of the universe, that indeed nature is only something that was created by God, is a more adequate understanding of the universe.
Ankerberg: So, you’re saying the main bias is that they would hold anti-supernatural bias, therefore, anytime they see the supernatural in Scripture, you’ve got to punt.
Macky: That’s one of the ways that you could identify Bultmann in general, yes.
Ankerberg: Alright. How about for evangelicals? What are the guidelines to keep us so that we don’t read our own particular denominational viewpoints in there?
Macky: There is no way to help it.
Ankerberg: Well, we sure thank you for that comment. How do we get the evangelicals to unite then?
Macky: By talking to each other. The whole problem is how are we going to define error? That’s where we have disagreements. Whose standard are we going to use? Is it erroneous for the Bible to say, “The sun rose.” Some people might say that it’s an error because the sun doesn’t move. Well, our consensus is that this is just a way of speaking to express the experience that people have. But people can argue about whether that’s error or not.
The book of Genesis says in Genesis 1:27 that God said, “Let us make man in our image.” And He made them male and female. The story says He spoke and it was. Genesis 2 says He made male and He did all the rest of this stuff and He made female. Now, if you take those two passages each to be giving an historical account of the order in which God created the universe, they will conflict. I don’t think there’s any error there, because I don’t think the intention of the author was to tell us something historical and scientific. I think the intention of the author was to say, “God created male and female and that we are His creatures and that the appropriate response of us to Him as creatures to Creator.” I think Genesis 2 goes on to give us a story that in many ways an even more powerful expression of our situation as creatures. Some people would say those were errors, because the two stories don’t fit with each other. I don’t think they’re errors, because I think that’s an inappropriate kind of standard to bring to bear upon the passages understanding what they were intended to be.
Ankerberg: You’re bringing out a book on C.S. Lewis, how he interpreted the Scripture, Peter. What would he say if somebody said, “Did the snake speak?”
Macky: He’d say, “Of course the snake spoke in the story.” It’s very important to read the story and get it exactly as it is given to us. The snake in that story is a speaking snake. The story is an ancient story. It is one that is a very powerful story. It has God Himself walking in the Garden in the cool of the evening. It has God not able to see behind a tree. That’s the story. It’s an important story. It’s given that way, but it’s not intended to be history.
Ankerberg: Is part of it history and part of it story?
Macky: My view and Lewis’ view is that it was intended to be a folk tale, a folk tale that’s importance is to speak of the sinfulness of humankind. Now, it would be history in the sense that it records what has always been, and that the first human pair were that way; but it’s not intended to be history in the sense that we’re supposed to ask, “How did this fit with this, and this fit with this, and this fit with this? It’s not intended to be that way. It’s intended to be an account of the nature of human sinfulness.
Ankerberg: Did Jesus and Paul talk like there was a real Adam and Eve then? Was Jesus mistaken?
Macky: I have no idea how they spoke as if there were a real Adam and Eve. There’s no way that we can tell what they were thinking.
Ankerberg: When Jesus talks about Adam, I assume that there was a guy called Adam. And when Paul says, “The first man,” I assume there was a number one guy.
Rogers: Adam is not an ancient Hebrew either, John.
Ankerberg: That’s why I need some help. I need some clarification from you guys. What does that mean?
Macky: We can’t answer that question.
Carson: I can.
Ankerberg: Help us out.
Carson: In all fairness, I don’t want to be unfair to these fellows because they are raising some very important questions of interpretation. That is, how do you ever tell when any particular story, a parable or anything else, is a parable versus something else? And I would want to argue that there are some at least borderline cases that are really tough to call. For example there is Jothan’s Fable. We even have fables in the Bible. Those things are there. On the other hand, I would want to argue that the entire structure of Paul’s argument, for example on Adam and Christ not only in Romans 5 but also in 1 Corinthians 15, presupposes the necessity for an historical Adam. Because if the race is not bound up in Adam as a single individual man, I don’t think his entire soteriology, his whole doctrine of salvation, let alone his doctrine of Christ will stand together. That’s my judgment. I’d be prepared to defend it, but it would take some time.
Ankerberg: Dr. Roger’s, what do you think?
Rogers: I’d just like to ask Don if he could entertain the possibility that an evangelical, based on a study of the Scripture, could view that matter differently?
Carson: Everything depends, then, on how you define “evangelical.” If you simply mean by that somebody who believes that a man is saved by grace through faith, yes, of course.
Rogers: No, I mean a serious student of the Bible who could look at that and look at the notion of corporate personality that the Hebrews held, and things like that and not have to insist that in Paul’s mind was the notion of a single individual. I don’t happen to have a notion one way or another, but it seems to me that one could reasonably argue on the basis of the Bible itself without inserting the notion of single individual.
Carson: Let me put it this way, I would argue the matter of corporate personality, that that whole matter has been largely blown up to a large extent by very careful research done in the whole area, but that’s neither here nor there. What I would want to argue is that it’s possible for an evangelical to hold to a high view of Scripture and to hold to the consistent things of evangelicalism and to be wrong in some area, to be in my judgment just plain wrong in some area. And I think that in that area, that’s one of the areas where I’d say he’d be wrong. I’m not saying that every single element in Genesis 1 and 2 has no metaphor or anything like this. Far from it. All I’m saying that in direct answer to this one question, that is, “Is Adam an historical figure, the head of the race, the beginning of all mankind?” I do not see how you can make much sense out of either Jesus or Paul in terms of all that they taught without seeing that they also held that Adam was historical. So that if a man says otherwise then is seems to me I would want to push him hard on what he thinks Jesus is saying, what he thinks Paul is saying and so on, and see if I could put him into a place where he would say, “Yes, yes. I see that that’s a point. I’ll have to weigh that again.”
Ankerberg: We have a question.
Audience: At first it seemed as the expenditures of thousands and thousands of dollars in the inerrancy debate was kind of useless, because it seemed to be a tempest in a teapot, but now in the final analyses in the final few moments, I think the real matter comes to the floor.
Ankerberg: What do you think is the real matter?
Audience: The real matter is simply. And I’d like to address this in the form of a question to Dr. Rogers. I read his book very, very carefully and there’s no doubt about it in my mind. If I am mistaken, I would like you to show page and the lines that he states that there are technical inaccuracies in the Bible and he quotes Burkauer, he quotes Carl Barth, and he also quotes James Orr and he does it with sympathy. Now, I do not understand how he at this point says that he does not believe that there are errors in the Bible. I personally don’t see that. Secondly, I sense in his whole view of Adam, Barthian view of the Scriptures and in my estimation the Barthian view of the Scriptures destroys the message of the Scripture because every single term in the Scriptures in the Barthian view means something else from a literal signification. So, the whole language garment disappears. It is not accurate. You cannot trust it anymore. And so in my estimation that shows that it is not a tempest in a teapot and I hope for further discussion and further debate on this. Very important issue, to go to the root of the matter.
Woodbridge: John, can I say something?
Ankerberg: Well, sure.
Woodbridge: Jack, I think he stated the case fairly well, because it really would help to get this thing clarified once and for all. Here is a statement, because he wanted perhaps page and verse. “The authors claim that Calvin the scholar discerned technical inaccuracies in the humanly written text.” And in the citation which you have on page 110 to support this, “In his commentary on Acts 7:16, Calvin declared that Luke had made a manifest error as comparison with the text of Genesis 23:9 showed.” Now, it seems to me that the logic of your argumentation is that a technical inaccuracy is what you and I would call today a real, full-fledged error. Now, I think his point, his question is a good one. How do you reconcile this with the statements tonight?
Rogers: Yes, two things. That deals with the first one and let me take that first. For you in the way I’ve understood you, John, in the past and tonight, that raises the question of error for you. It does not raise the question of error for me. In that book I carefully, I thought, defined “error” as being “deliberate deception” from which the Bible is free. So I can say there are no errors in the Bible by that definition of error which I think is a biblical definition of error and it is our own mindset of the 20th century to want to talk about technical questions in a way that ancient people simply didn’t. That’s issue one.
Ankerberg: Jack, right there. Isn’t that sounding a whole lot like Barth? Whether it’s actually historical or not, we still hold it.
Rogers: That’s very different from Barth. I deal with Barthians in the Presbyterian Church off and on and Ed Dowey and I have a running argument. I get to Princeton about twice a year and he always begins the conversation, “The trouble with you Rogers is….” Right there. The Barthians don’t want anything to do with me. They treat me as a fundamentalist. The difference is, the early Barth especially said, “The Bible is not the Word of God. Only Christ is the Word of God and the Bible is a fallible witness to Christ.” I say, “The Bible is the Word of God.” That’s not at issue. What’s at issue is, “How do you understand the Bible correctly?” And I want to say, “You don’t understand the Bible correctly by imposing a 20th century mindset on it, making the biblical writers act like they were doing magic or something.”
Ankerberg: Don?
Carson: May I just come back on something that you said? Are you saying that your definition of error requires self-conscious deception on the part of the author?
Rogers: I guess so.
Carson: Alright. What about the case where a man has actual errors there, that is, historical errors, let us say, where he does not intend to deceive? He’s simply mistaken. Would you say the Bible has mistakes like that? Now, don’t call them errors because you’ve obviously defined it in some other way. But would you say that the Bible has mistakes like that?
Rogers: The Bible bears the marks of being a normal kind of human document, and that is not a problem, that is indeed a significant help, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense to us.
Carson: Do I take that to mean yes?
Rogers: I don’t think I really understand the question. You’d have to give me some specific instances.
Carson: Okay, let me try it. If error is limited to deception, we may agree that there are no errors. But supposing error could embrace a case where a human author of Scripture does not intend to deceive, but he says for example that Jesus said and taught something at a certain place, when in fact that’s not where He said and taught it. And, here, let us agree for a moment that there’s not a question of genre or a question of making an historical statement, but the human author goofed. He read his sources wrong. His eye slipped a line. He misunderstood his sources. He was a false witness. Not intentionally, but he made a mistake. Would you allow for that kind of error in Scripture?
Rogers: Do you think there is anything like that in the Scripture that deals as you suggested with doctrine or anything of significance?
Carson: I would say that the Scripture rules out that as a possibility for both the significant and the insignificant. For example. ..
Rogers: A priori, without even looking at the text.
Carson: Not only because the Scripture teaches it but in every case I’ve looked at in detail where a counterargument is alleged, I’ve not been convinced by the counter argument. Yes, in detail.
Rogers: You know, I spent a month in Egypt living in a tent with Egyptians, building a building with our hands, and I learned there that Egyptians don’t think about things the same way that Americans do. They don’t think about time the same way we do. They don’t think about numbers. If they say, “Lunch will be at 12” and it comes at 3 o’clock, that is not an error.
Carson: But supposing the Egyptian thought that it was lunch today at 12 o’clock on Tuesday, when in fact it was 3 o’clock (which is the time flex that we’ll allow) not this Tuesday but 3 years ago Wednesday that a certain event took place.
Rogers: I think hypotheticals like that are quite beside the point. I’m talking about real things. I’m talking about real people who have a different way of thinking and speaking than we do. And I want to say that God so cared about the people He was talking to that He talked their language and used their thought forms. I’m afraid religiously that kind of view that I’m afraid you guys are holding is one that says, “The Bible was written directly and only to me. We’re the only important folks.”
Carson: God forbid. I insist to my classes in exegesis that students try to understand what that message said to the first readers, what the first writer meant. I insist on it. And within that framework. ..
Rogers: Then you and I share a concern completely and that’s my only concern.
Carson: No, we don’t.
Ankerberg: Okay. If I could have you guys close, each with a closing statement. If evangelicals were to unite, what would you want Jack to change? And Jack, if you’re listening to him, do you want him to change anything or do you like him just the way he is?
Rogers: I’d like evangelicals to go to the Bible itself and not to their arguments about the Bible. And I’d like evangelicals to start majoring in majors, talking about people getting saved, and being related to their neighbor rightly, and not worrying about minor details. I think we have been spending our time and energy on insignificant things that the Bible does not devote significant time and energy.
Ankerberg: Peter?
Macky: I think that I would like us to come to look upon the Bible as God’s love letter to us, that instead of it being an intellectual thing it is the heart of God poured out to us, and that the appropriate response from us is not the essentially intellectual one we have offered but is one of involving ourselves deeply in it.
Ankerberg: Don?
Carson: I agree with both of these gentlemen entirely with respect to their insistence on what is central to Scripture and on the need for participation in worship and obedience to the Lord and so forth. I could not agree more. On the other hand, it is a false disjunction to set that sort of thing over against Scripture self-attestation and the Lord’s insistence that every word even to every letter is originally given by God and true. So, I cannot accept that false disjunction and I would want, therefore, for evangelicals to agree that the Bible is in fact without error. Undoubtedly, understood as first understood, but without error at all whether deceit was involved or whether the error was accidental.
Ankerberg: John?
Woodbridge: I agree with Jack and Mr. Macky. I think that we should look to the Bible as that source of our own salvation. God’s revelation is there. The Holy Spirit works through it. On the other hand, Christianity is an historical religion. I’m not convinced that the position that was advocated by Mr. Rogers holds up, that if you in fact tear away at the shreds of Christianity, that is in historical parts or you allow for error in those particular parts, that in fact you do full justice either to the biblical record or to the defense of Christianity.
Ankerberg: Gentlemen, thank you for tonight and may we try to do this again in the future in continuing this and may we do it in love to each other because we agree on many, many things and we do need to present Christ to our world. Thank you very, very much for being our guests.

Ankerberg: At the conclusion of this debate, I want to express my deep appreciation to all four professors for their participation. I hope they won’t mind if I make a few suggestions.
First, in this sensitive issue of inerrancy Christians should not make the doctrine of inerrancy a test for Christian fellowship. Christ as Lord over the church declares that all those who share in His life and forgiveness by grace through faith alone are within the boundaries of Christian fellowship. They should not be excluded.
Second, Christians must debate in love and honesty. If we cannot do so in this manner, let us step out of the way for others who can. As we defend what we believe to be our Lord’s instructions as to the inerrancy of biblical authority, let us remember we are not out to conquer and destroy others. Rather, we are witnesses seeking to share, convince, and persuade fellow believers in Christ to follow Him.
Third, no new facts about the Bible have caused the issue of inerrancy to reappear. Rather, the challenges come from the new ways of looking at and interpreting the biblical data.
Fourth, evangelicals must not retreat from the academic battlefield over hermeneutics; that is, the question of interpretation. Rather, we must do our homework and set the pace.
Fifth, the case for inerrancy rests precisely where it has always rested: on Christ and His authority. Jesus said, “He who sent me is true and I declare to the world what I have learned from Him.” [John 8:26] Now here we learn the words of Jesus are the words of God. In Mark 7:13, Jesus called Scripture “The Word of God.” He said in John 10:35, “The Scriptures cannot be broken.” Jesus’ attitude was one of total trust in regards to the entire Old Testament history as being factually correct, including the accounts of Adam and Eve, Noah, and Jonah.
Now the apostle Paul teaches us in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The meaning here is clear. The words written were breathed out by God. It was not the apostles who breathed out Scripture. God did not breathe into, that is, inspire the writings. Rather, God breathed out, “spirated,” the writings. This tells us the words themselves, as written, are revelation. The apostle Peter explains that, “No prophesy [that is Scripture] has ever yet originated in man’s will.” [2 Pet. 1:21] With Jesus and Paul, Peter teaches that God is the originator of Scripture not man. God revealed and man recorded God’s Word. This is not mechanical dictation, but a concursive effort so that the end product is the Bible, God’s total revelation.
Sixth, if some claim inspiration and inerrancy for only the so-called salvation parts of the Bible, they should not say they hold to biblical authority but only partial biblical authority. They should also honestly admit they cannot tell us precisely which parts are inspired, where to find these, and how to separate the salvation parts from the uninspired, errant non-salvation parts.

Read Part 3

Leave a Comment