In the May/June issue of Grace in Focus Magazine I reviewed a book by Dr. Craig Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? After the article appeared, I was very sorry to learn that I had misrepresented Blomberg. I made it seem that he personally held to the interpretations of particular passages that he merely presented as possible (and consistent with inerrancy).
My apologies to Blomberg for this serious error.
In his chapter, “Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical?” Blomberg spends thirty pages discussing various historical narratives and favorably quoting views which I mistakenly thought were his own views as well. However, in one paragraph in the conclusion he gives hints as to his own views on these issues.
Here is that paragraph in the conclusion:
By nature I am skeptical of any proposals that seem to have eluded all readers until the last couple of centuries. Where I learn that there were ancient debates over certain issues, I am more open to considering alternative interpretations. I have deliberately not taken a stand myself on any of the problems as I discussed them in this chapter. Because readers seem invariably curious, I will happily disclose where I come down at the moment, given the varying amounts of study I have devoted to each. I would support an old-earth creationism and a literary-framework approach to Genesis 1. I lean in the direction of Kidner’s approach to Genesis 2-3 but am open to other proposals. I suspect that Jonah really intended to recount a miracle that really did happen, but with Job I gravitate more toward Longman’s mediating approach. Despite the overwhelming consensus against it, I still find the arguments for the unity of Isaiah under a single primary author, even if lightly redacted later, more persuasive (or at least less problematic) than most do. I remain pretty much baffled by Daniel 11; it is the issue I have researched by far the least. My inherent conservatism inclines me in the direction of taking it as genuine predictive prophecy, but I listen respectfully to those who argue for other interpretations and continue to mull them over. I reject Gundry’s approach to Matthew as highly unlikely. I have yet to be persuaded by Licona’s initial views of Matthew 27:51-53 but would love to see additional comparative research undertaken. I think good cases can still be mounted for the traditional ascriptions of authorship of the New Testament Epistles, allowing for perhaps some posthumous editing of 2 Peter. I refuse ever to be suckered back into the view of my young adult years, when I actually believed that the end times would play out as Hal Lindsey claimed they would (Can We Still Trust the Bible? p. 177).
Blomberg here indicates that when he was citing various views in the chapter he was not expressing his agreement that the views are correct. What he was expressing is that the views are discussable and that these views fall within what he considers to be the range of inerrancy.1
At one point in the article, after having cited material from Blomberg, I mentioned that he spoke of “such evangelical stalwarts” as Bock, Carson, and Keener, who agree with him. I then wrote the following:
So, if you believe that Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, Jonah, Job, and the creation account are all meant to be history, get your head out of the sand.
Dr. Darrell Bock contacted me after the article and objected to this statement and what it implied about his views and those of the other professors at Dallas Seminary. He objected to the implication that the men I cited believed there was nothing at all historical about the Biblical accounts.
My apology to Bock and the DTS faculty for leaving some readers with the mistaken impression that I was saying they considered the creation account, the worldwide flood, Jonah, and Job as pure fiction. I should have been clearer. What I meant, as I shall now explain, is that they do not consider all of these accounts to be literal history. Like most New Testament scholars, Bock and most DTS professors believe that much of that is poetic history.
I’ve had multiple cordial conversations with Bock and we’ve exchanged many emails about this issue. These conversations have led me to make several clarifications and corrections.
First, Bock indicated that when discussing inerrancy, we should think about passages in terms of three things a person believes about it:
1. what he considers to be true,
2. what he considers to be discussible, and
3. what he considers to be heresy (i.e., outside the edges of inerrancy).
I believe that is a helpful clarification. As I said before, I made the mistake of confusing what Blomberg believed to be true (category 1) with what he considered discussable (category 2), and for that I apologize.
Second, I made it seem that when interpreting the Bible there were only two choices: something is either history or it’s fiction. I did not intend that. I realize that there are genres of Scripture like poetry and apocalyptic that have figurative language that nonetheless conveys history (past or future). However, I did not make that clear.
Bock calls what I failed to make clear the excluded middle. He points out that passages like Genesis 1-3 can be read in three ways: as literal history, as poetic history, or poetic fiction. This is also a helpful clarification.
To read Genesis 1-3 as literal history means that Adam and Eve were historical persons created in precisely the way described by the text. This is my view. However, my view is not mainstream today. Most Evangelical scholars today hold to option two, that Genesis 1-3 is poetic history.
Reading Genesis 1-3 as poetic history means that Adam and Eve were historical persons but the story of their creation and fall is told using poetic (i.e., figurative) language. There has to be a “kernel of truth” (so Blomberg). How much is figurative and symbolic is up for debate.
For example, D. A. Carson says,
I hold that the Genesis account is a mixed genre that feels like history and really does give us some historical particulars [emphasis added]. At the same time, however, it is full of demonstrable symbolism. Sorting out what is symbolic and what is not is very difficult (The God Who Is There, p. 15).
Likewise, Craig Keener wrote,
Apart from some Israelite parables, nowhere else in the Bible do we read anything like this: a talking serpent convinces Man and Wife to pluck a fruit that is Knowledge. Not surprisingly, many biblical scholars, including evangelical biblical scholars, suspect some figurative language here [emphasis added]. Modern questions aside, is it possible that this way of reading the narrative is closer to how it was meant to be read? (http://www.huffingtonpost. com/craig-s-keener/isyoungearth-creationismbiblical_b_1578004.html).
As Keener himself confirmed, “many biblical scholars” hold this view. From my discussions with Bock, this also appears to be the majority position at Dallas Seminary and within the Evangelical Theological Society.
I consider the poetic history view of Genesis 1-3 to be inconsistent with inerrancy. In other words, I do not consider this view to be in the discussable category. I realize that the majority of Evangelical scholars either hold this view themselves or consider it within the boundaries of inerrancy. So I know that I am the one who is out of step. However, I happen to be convinced that I am right!
Reading Genesis 1-3 as poetic fiction means there was no literal Adam and Eve and the whole creation account is a fictional story meant to teach us theological lessons. I consider this view heresy and totally outside the bounds of inerrancy. Most Evangelical scholars, including Bock, Blomberg, Carson, and Keener, would agree with me on this evaluation that taking Genesis 1-3 as poetic fiction is outside the edge of inerrancy.
I Stand By What I Said
As I read Blomberg’s book Can We Trust the Bible? I was struck by how broadly he defined inerrancy. I suggested in my review that most New Testament scholars today, even those who claim to believe in inerrancy, consider the events of Genesis 1-3 as well as Jonah and Job to be historical only in a limited sense.
I see no reason to retract that claim.
In fact, the quotes from Carson and Keener, cited above, and my conversations with Bock, only confirm that most Evangelical scholars hold to viewing Genesis 1-3 as poetic history and almost all think that taking much of Genesis 1-3 as poetic and figurative is a view that is at least discussable within inerrancy.
In his book Can We Still Believe the Bible? Blomberg said:
If Farnell, Thomas, and Geisler and Roach were to be consistent and chastise every Old or New Testament commentator whose views match those they demonize, they would scarcely find a biblical scholar left in the Evangelical Theological Society who would pass muster in their eyes (Can We Still Believe the Bible? p. 142).
A page later he reiterates his point:
But it cannot be stressed strongly enough that the Thomases and Geislers of the world do not speak for the vast majority of evangelicals and inerrantists around the globe” (Can We Still Believe the Bible? p. 143).
I agree with Blomberg on this point. Farnell, Thomas, Geisler, Roach, and I are in the minority, probably the extreme minority among Evangelical scholars. “The vast majority of evangelicals and inerrantists around the globe” agree with Blomberg, Bock, Carson, and Keener.
Of course, the issue I was raising was not based on a poll of New Testament scholars. I was warning about what I consider to be a dangerous view that dominates the ranks of those who affirm inerrancy.
I am convinced that “the vast majority of evangelicals and inerrantists around the globe” are seriously mistaken and their range of inerrancy is too broad. I believe the broad view of inerrancy is not consistent with what the Scriptures teach (cf. Matt 4:4; John 14:26; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16; Titus 1:2; 2 Pet 1:21).2
I think the prevailing view of inerrancy today represents a dangerous downgrading of the doctrine, one that seriously undermines Biblical authority. The meaning of inerrancy has changed so much for so many that—in my understanding of the word—the term inerrancy no longer is meaningful.
Most New Testament scholars think their broader view of inerrancy is a very good thing. They think it is essential to help theological students continue to walk with Christ. The President-Elect of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Dan Wallace, has written:
I tell my students every year…that it is imperative that they pursue truth rather than their presuppositions. And they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration [emphasis added] at the core, then when belief in these doctrines starts to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down. It strikes me that something like this may be what happened to Bart Ehrman…If our starting point is embracing propositional truths about the nature of scripture rather than personally embracing Jesus Christ as our Lord and King,3 we’ll be on that slippery slope, and we’ll take a lot of folks down with us (https://bible.org/article/gospel-accordingbart).
For most Evangelical scholars today inerrancy is not a core belief. It is a “peripheral belief.” Wallace thinks that failing to recognize that leads people to fall away from the Christian faith, as Bart Ehrman did.
I share the concern about falling away from the faith. I just happen to believe that it’s the broad view of inerrancy that is causing people to fall away. How many students have gone to conservative Evangelical schools believing that Genesis 1-3 and Jonah and Job are all literal history and not some sort of poetic history, only to be told that they are badly mistaken? And how many of those students begin to doubt the accuracy of God’s Word? I fear that there are many who fall away from the faith due to being taught a broad view of inerrancy.
Of course, we cannot prove via anecdotal evidence whether the broad view or the narrow view of inerrancy leads people astray. It is the Scriptures which tell us which view is correct and which is not. That is my concern. Let’s go to the Scriptures to find out what the Scriptures say about inerrancy. That is my appeal.
There are many topics to address here. My position needs defending. My conversations with Darrell Bock and others have helped clarify issues for me. I hope to have more fruitful discussions in the future. I plan on addressing inerrancy in greater detail in a future book.
Rest assured, however, that the central issue on which I will write will continue to be the promise of everlasting life to all who simply believe in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26). I am committed to keeping grace in focus. I have chosen to discuss an issue like inerrancy because it is clearly and directly related to the promise of everlasting life. If I know that God’s Word is absolutely true and contains no errors in it, then it is easier for me to believe the amazing promise of John 3:16.
If you are a New Testament scholar who holds the prevailing broad view of inerrancy, I hope this clarification accurately reflects your views. I do not doubt your compassion, commitment, or zeal. I realize you affirm belief in inerrancy. But since I do not consider your affirmation to be based on a reasonable understanding of what inerrancy actually is, I raise the concern. I hope you will be Bereans and evaluate my concerns Biblically (Acts 17:11). After all, we both affirm that God’s Word is true.
1. Blomberg’s expressions of his own views fall short of statements of what he believes is true. Instead he says things like “I suspect that…,” “I gravitate more toward…,” “I still find the arguments…more persuasive…,” “My inherent conservatism inclines me…,” and “I think good cases can be mounted…” These are statements of probability, not certainty. Of course, within a historiographical approach, most scholars today rarely if ever speak of being sure. Things are couched in terms of probability and likelihood.
2. I also believe the broad view of inerrancy is inconsistent with the teaching at Dallas Seminary while I was there (1978-1985). Not only do I not recall a single professor advocating a poetic/figurative view of Genesis 1-11, Jonah, or Job, there are three pamphlets put out by DTS between 1965 and 1976 that reinforce my memory. See Donald K. Campbell’s, We Believe in Literal Interpretation (1974); Charles C. Ryrie’s, We Believe in Creation (1976); and John F. Walvoord’s, We Believe the Bible (1965).
3. Wallace’s comments about whether one starts by embracing propositional truth versus starting by personally embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and King represent a false dichotomy. One can only embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and King by believing those propositions in Scripture which report what He said and did. One cannot existentially encounter Jesus apart from the Word of God. To attempt to start with an experience rather than with God’s Word is to undercut the absolutely vital nature of the Word of God in our lives. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”