Today I read the June 2018 issue of JETS, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. ETS was started in 1949 to promote the truth that the Bible has no errors in it.
I graduated from seminary in 1982. At that time there were two views regarding errors in the Bible: 1) there are no errors (called inerrancy) and 2) there are errors in the Bible. The Evangelicals who adopted the second position argued that while there are errors, those errors do not impact doctrine or practice. The Bible is still authoritative, even though it has errors in it.
During the past 36 years, a third view has emerged. It is the view that 3) there are no errors in the Bible if we hold the Bible up to the ancient standards of what an error is. The NT, for example, was inerrant when written. And that is what matters. To hold the NT up to the standards of today would be a major error. It would be anachronistic. We cannot hold ancient documents up to the historiography of today. That is expecting more than God intended to give us.
There are many Evangelicals, and many members of ETS, who hold this third view. Indeed, it is probably the leading view among member of ETS.
David Nystrom reviewed a 2016 book by Craig Blomberg entitled, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief (JETS, June 2018, pp. 381-84). I’ve not yet read this book by Blomberg. I plan to read it. But Nystrom’s review raised some interesting points that deserve comment.
First, Nystrom gives this work a glowing review. He ends with these words, “We owe Craig Blomberg a debt of thanks. Wide-ranging, lucidly written, graced with easy erudition, this is a first-rate reference book” (p. 384).
Second, note this comment by Nystrom (p. 382):
He [Blomberg] writes that what matters is not what appears to be an error for us, but rather “what would have counted as an error in the context in which the statement first appeared” (p. 26) and that “concluding that the Gospels are biographical is not the same as deciding that everything in them actually happened” (p. 27). Thucydides can be glimpsed in the background.
That ETS published this review shows that it is comfortable with this understanding of inerrancy. Surely if ETS felt that Nystrom misrepresented Blomberg, it would not have published this. Likewise, if ETS felt that this view of inerrancy was inconsistent with the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, the new ETS standard, then it would not have published this review.
The strength of the view Nystrom lays out is that it relegates all discrepancies in the Gospels to the realm of acceptable loose historical reporting at the time of writing. Thus the interpreter need not even try to harmonize seeming discrepancies.* He can just accept them as the lax historiography of the first century.
Leading Evangelical scholars argue that this view of inerrancy is needed to keep Evangelical seminary students from abandoning the faith. Their experience is that when they teach seminary students this approach, it satisfies them and eliminates any nagging doubts about the Bible.
The weakness of the view Nystrom embraces is that it leaves Christians not knowing what in the NT, and particularly in the Gospels, was actually said or done.
God anticipated this problem and had the NT (and OT) writers write based on the highest standards of what is inerrant. John 14:26 guarantees that when the Apostles quoted Jesus, they did so word for word. Bodycam style.
*Note: Yesterday I received and read the first 85 pages of Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. I was pleasantly surprised that he indeed did try to harmonize some of what he calls “apparent discrepancies” (see pp. 77, 78, 84). And his harmonizations are first rate. Excellent. He sounds like Norm Geisler in these places. Of course, he did bypass many of the “apparent discrepancies” by referring to the acceptable literary practice of the day. For example, he said that Matthew used “a standard literary convention of the day” (p. 71) to say that the centurion spoke directly with Jesus, when in fact, he did not. I plan to review this book for our journal.