The battle for the Bible is far from over. In his book, Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Question, professor Craig L. Blomberg makes some extraordinary (and controversial) claims about what counts as believing in inerrancy, especially in chapters 5 and 6.
Earlier this month, our Editor, Bob Wilkin, wrote a critique of the book in the May/June issue of Grace in Focus entitled, “Can We Still Trust New Testament Professors?” There he charged Blomberg with undermining the trustworthiness of the Bible and for teaching a mistaken view of inerrancy. Blomberg later replied on Facebook saying that Bob either misunderstood or intentionally misrepresented his book. We invited him to write a rejoinder in a future issue of Grace in Focus.
In the meantime, that’s a serious charge. I know Bob would not intentionally misrepresent another person’s position, especially a fellow ETS member. However, anyone could make a mistake in a book review, especially when it is a dealing with a fairly technical topic. I was curious to know if Blomberg’s complaint was justified so I read Can We Still Believe the Bible? for myself. I’d encourage you to do the same. I think you’ll find that Bob’s article was very fair to Blomberg’s approach to inerrancy.
The first few chapters of the book aren’t perfect but they are generally helpful. They deal with issues of textual criticism, the development of the canon, and the accuracy of different Bible translations.
Chapter 4 brings us closer to the issue at hand when Blomberg surveys some objections to inerrancy and introduces some of disagreements he has with “far-right,” “ultraconservative” inerrantists such as Norman Geisler, Robert Thomas, and David Farnell (Bob would fall squarely in the “ultraconservative” camp, although he would just call it “conservative”!). Chapter 4 gives us an interesting glimpse of the some of the fights over inerrancy that have been brewing over the last 30 years.
The really controversial part of Blomberg’s book begins in chapter 5 entitled, “Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical?” Blomberg argues that ultraconservatives do not understand literary genres or how they apply to the Bible or to inerrancy. Examples of literary genres would be historical narratives, legal codes, poetry, and parables. Blomberg’s basic argument is that we should not judge genres like poetry or parables according to the standards of history. For instance, there does not have to be a literal prodigal son for the Parable of the Prodigal Son to be inerrantly true. So long as the message the author meant to convey is true according to the literary standards of the genre he used, parables and poetry are compatible with inerrancy.
Fair enough. I think that point would be uncontroversial, even for “ultraconservatives.”
What is controversial, and what alarmed Bob, is how Blomberg then applies that principle to the historical narratives of Scripture. He faults “ultraconservatives” for taking portions of Scripture as literal history when they should be, or at least can be, understood as nonhistorical genres such as “primeval saga” or “historical parable” (p. 154). Blomberg thinks that while it might be jarring for the average layperson or seminarian to be told that Genesis, Kings, Chronicles or the Gospels are not actual history, but something more akin to Arthurian Romance (my example, not his), that is due to their own literalistic and historical naivety. Moreover, Evangelical Biblical scholars should be free to pursue their studies into the nonhistorical nature of the Bible without non-specialists engaging in political blackballing over the inerrancy issue. Blomberg cites Norman Geisler as exemplifying the kind of behavior he has in mind (see pp. 142-143, 166-168).
Once again, let me repeat that anyone who questions whether or not Bob was fair to Blomberg’s book should read chapter 5. There Blomberg presents several examples of problem passages and the wide range of interpretations he thinks can be consistent with inerrancy (Blomberg divulges his own moderately liberal stances for each problem passage on p. 177). Bob was shocked at the views Blomberg accepted as consistent with inerrancy. I think most conservatives would be too. Judge for yourself. For example, Blomberg states that you can be an inerrantist if you believe…
- in theistic evolution (p. 151).
- that Adam and Eve were “symbols” and not historical figures (p. 152).
- that Genesis 2-3 is not quite “pure fiction” (p. 154).
- that Daniel’s “prophecies” were actually written by a group of people after the events they describe under the “guise” of prophecies (p. 163).
- that Jonah is somewhere between pure fiction and pure history (p. 159).
- that Isaiah was not written by Isaiah, and isn’t even a single work, but a composite work written by two or three authors (pp. 160-163).
- that epistles such as Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Peter are falsely ascribed to Paul and Peter (p. 169).
- that Matthew invented the story of the resurrected saints (Matt 27:52-53) to show that God guarantees that all His people will be resurrected (p. 174).
To be clear, Blomberg does not personally hold to all these positions (see p. 177 for his own views), but he does think each of these positions is compatible with inerrancy. As you can imagine, Bob does not!
In his review, Bob objected to both Blomberg’s specific examples and their implications for interpreting other portions of Scripture. That is why Blomberg brought up those example after all, to suggest how widely inerrantists can diverge on interpretating any portion of Scripture. If what Blomberg implies is true, if, in principle, books like the Gospels might only have a “historical core” where the “accompanying details” are “fully debatable” for inerrantists (p. 154), then inerrancy no longer means what it used to mean when it was defended in the 50s–80s. If that is what inerrancy means today then organizations like the Evangelical Theological Society no longer serve their original purpose to defend the Bible against liberal attacks. If that is what inerrancy means today, then, quite frankly, we cannot trust the Bible or the professors who teach it.
Bob was genuinely shocked by Blomberg’s book. He thinks that many donors to conservative seminaries would be shocked too. I think he’s right.
So here’s the question for our readers. Is Blomberg’s view of inerrancy the one you were taught to believe in church and seminary? Is that the view of inerrancy you wish to see taught today? Would you continue to financially support a seminary that taught those views about the Bible? If not, what are you going to do about it?