In his book Can We Still Believe the Bible? (CWSBB) New Testament Professor Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary) says that the Bible is still trustworthy. He says we can still believe the Bible, but only if we learn to distinguish between inspired fiction and inspired history.
If that sounds a bit puzzling to you, good. It should. In CWSBB Blomberg criticizes Evangelical scholars whom he considers to be “overly conservative [and] judgmental” (p. 217). He specifically names Drs. Norm Geisler, Robert Thomas, David Farnell, and William Roach.
Why Are Some Evangelicals “Overly Conservative [and] Judgmental”?
What is their problem? Blomberg sees two major flaws in their thinking. First, as mentioned above, they fail to adequately distinguish between what the Bible presents as fictional stories and what it presents as actual history. Second, they apply an anachronistic view of what errors are to the writings of Scripture.
Let’s consider each of those points.
Inspired Fiction Versus Inspired History
First, let’s consider fiction versus history. We all know that the Bible has parables in it. While we might not think of parables as inspired fiction, that is essentially what they are. That is, they are non-historical stories that convey important lessons for us.
Some of the things which Blomberg considers to be fictional stories in Scripture might shock you as coming from someone teaching at a fairly conservative seminary.
According to Blomberg, Jonah was probably a real prophet but the book of Jonah is a parable. Jonah was never swallowed by a large fish. He never went to Nineveh. The whole account is just an inspired short story (pp. 157-60). He favorably cites Old Testament Professor James Bruckner (North Park Theological Seminary) who says that Jonah is “a unique parable about a real prophet” (p. 160).
What about Adam and Eve and the six days of creation? Blomberg believes that “Genesis 2-3 cannot be pure fiction” (p. 154). That is comforting. At least there is some kernel of truth there. Blomberg considers Genesis 1-3 to be fiction with a little bit of history underlying it. In his view there were two people named Adam and Eve. But they were not directly created by God. They were chosen out of a group of humans who lived at that time. The universe was not created in six days. But it was created in some fashion. Blomberg says, “The genre of much of Genesis 1-11 remains a puzzle; historical narrative as the ancients would have recognized it begins in earnest only with the call of Abram in Genesis 12” (p. 154).
Does that mean that there was no universal flood? Blomberg doesn’t directly address that issue, but presumably, in light of his indication that “historical narrative…begins in earnest only with the call of Abram in Genesis 12,” the flood as recorded in Genesis 6-9 is more inspired fiction (though presumably there was really someone named Noah who had three sons).
What about Job? It too is inspired fiction, though there might have been an actual person by that name (pp. 155-57).
Blomberg says the account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-21 is a parable, though it is not called a parable by the Lord. The events described never happened. The fact that no other parable lists the specific names of people (this one mentions both Lazarus and Abraham by name), and that it is not called a parable, should not confuse us. This is inspired fiction (p. 150).
Remember the amazing account in Matthew 27 of departed saints in Jerusalem who rose from their graves when Jesus rose from the dead? Matthew says, “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27:52b-53). Blomberg says that Matthew included this account because of “the desire to maintain that Jesus’s [sic] bodily resurrection from the dead guarantees the coming bodily resurrection of all God’s people from throughout human history” (p. 174, emphasis his). He then continues, “But does that mean that Matthew 27:52b-53 must reflect simple history? Or could the text, too, narrate symbolically what Paul phrases more prosaically [in 1 Cor 15:20]?” (pp. 174-75). In his view it is not “simple history.” His point seems to be that this never happened, but that Matthew included it to show that all will rise one day. He even defends a scholar named Michael Licona (Houston Baptist University) who wrote concerning Matt 27:52b-53: “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel” (Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 553).
Licona went on to wonder “if some or all of the phenomena at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same” (p. 553). He goes on to suggest that the answer is no. Jesus really rose from the dead. However, if one adopts the views of Blomberg and other New Testament scholars like him, it would seem that just about anything reported in the Bible might be considered inspired fiction.
How Do We Decide What Would Be an Error in the Bible?
Second, let’s now consider Blomberg’s other contention. He believes that overly conservative Christians are too narrow in what they consider errors in the Bible.
Sadly, some extremely conservative Christians continue to insist on following their modern understandings of what should or should not constitute errors in the Bible and censure fellow inerrantists whose views are less anachronistic (p. 10).
What he is saying is that there are errors in the Bible based on our modern understanding of the reporting of history. However, Blomberg says that the people of the first century didn’t view historical reporting as we do. They felt it was not an error to present miracle stories as history, when in fact they were fiction created by the Gospel writers to express their faith in Jesus.
Blomberg would have us believe that the New Testament authors had a very low view of reporting history. Hence, Matthew can include a resurrection that might never have actually occurred (Matt 27:52b-53; see p. 174-78). John can report that Jesus cleansed the temple at the start of his ministry (John 2:13-20), when in fact, according to most New Testament scholars today, He only cleansed the temple once, at the end of His ministry.1
Blomberg and his non-anachronistic, and not-overly-conservative New Testament colleagues like Bock and Harris (Dallas Theological Seminary) believe that at Jesus’ baptism the Father did not say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” as Matthew reports (Matt 3:17). Instead, He supposedly only said, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 11:11; Luke 3:21-22).2 If anyone suggests He said both, one to Jesus and one to John the Baptist and the crowd, then he is called “ultraconservative” (pp. 176, 214) and “far right” (p. 120). Surely Matthew’s readers knew not to think that the Gospel writers reported what was actually said or done. According to Blomberg, the Gospel writers made things up but that’s OK because they viewed the reporting of history much differently than we do today.
Did Jesus really walk on water, feed the 5,000, heal the sick, and raise the dead? I thought He did. But after reading Blomberg, maybe I should wonder if some or all of those events might be inspired fiction designed to teach me important truths, but not to tell me what was actually said and done.
Inerrancy Is Now a Very Fuzzy Concept
Where do we draw the line? Ah, that is the beauty of the Christian faith and academic freedom. You can draw the line anywhere you want and still teach at leading Evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges. As long as you can affirm there are no errors in the Bible, it doesn’t matter what you mean by that.
Can we still trust New Testament Professors? No, we cannot trust most New Testament Professors. At most leading Evangelical seminaries those who teach the New Testament hold Blomberg’s views. He mentions some of his friends who are New Testament scholars and who, like him, have been criticized for supposedly abandoning inerrancy. Blomberg speaks of “such evangelical stalwarts as Darrell Bock [Dallas Theological Seminary], D. A. Carson [Trinity Evangelical Divinity School], and Craig Keener [Asbury Theological Seminary]” (CWSBB, p. 120).
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.
I was at Dallas Theological Seminary from 1978 through 1985. I received both my Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees there in New Testament studies. Back then we were taught that inerrancy meant that the Bible had no errors in it based on our current view of what constitutes errors. Today the term inerrancy, for most of the New Testament faculty, is essentially meaningless at most leading conservative schools, including Dallas Theological Seminary.3 Almost anything in the Bible could be made up. That includes the creation account, the universal flood, and even the very words of Jesus.
I am grieved that the views expressed by Blomberg are now widely accepted and are even considered conservative. If what he believes passes for inerrancy, then inerrancy no longer has meaning.
We Can No Longer Trust New Testament Professors
If your son or daughter wants to go to Bible college or seminary, you would be wise to check out the schools, and particularly the New Testament departments, very carefully. Most schools do not believe in inerrancy.
If you think that there are no errors in the Bible based on the highest standard of what an error is, then you can’t trust New Testament Professors today.
The Southern Baptist Convention turned the tide when those denying inerrancy were seeking to take it over. They even rid their flagship seminary, Southern Seminary in Louisville, of all the Professors who did not believe in inerrancy.
Some of the faculty at Biola and Talbot Theological Seminary left to teach at The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary. While I do not agree with the Lordship Salvation stance of the President of those schools, I am pleased by their high regard for the inerrancy of Scripture. Drs. Robert Thomas and F. David Farnell, both New Testament Professors there for many years, are among those highly criticized by Blomberg as being “overly conservative [and] judgmental.”
If it could happen for the SBC and some seminaries, it can happen elsewhere. But until it does, I will not be sending students or any financial donations to any school which fails to teach a high view of inerrancy. If enough of us withdraw our support, the schools will make changes. As Blomberg says, if the schools determine that their faculty no longer agree with their doctrinal statement, then many professors will freely move on to other less-conservative schools and some will be fired (p. 120).
Why This Has Direct Relevance to the Promise of Life
If Jonah never really was in a fish for three days, then why did Jesus say, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40)?
The Lord Jesus also considered the following to be actual history: the creation account (Matt 19:4; Mark 10:6; 13:19) the universal flood (Matt 24:38-39; Luke 17:27), the burning bush (Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37), and the manna in the wilderness (John 6:49, 58).
If I cannot believe that what the Lord said about Jonah, the creation account, and the flood is true, then it is hard to see how I can be sure that what He said about everlasting life is true. The promise of John 3:16 hinges on the trustworthiness of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Word of God.
The Lord (Matt 5:18), Paul (2 Tim 3:16), and Peter (2 Pet 1:19-21) all taught that the Bible is without error, that it is God-breathed.
While belief in inerrancy is not a condition of everlasting life, that belief surely moves a person in the direction of believing the promise of life. The one who does not believe in inerrancy must somehow become convinced that John 3:16 is true even if other parts of Scripture are not.
Call me overly conservative and judgmental if you wish, but I am convinced that any seeming discrepancies in the Bible are not actual discrepancies, whether I can explain everything or not. God does not err. Therefore, neither does His Word.
1. Blomberg does not discuss this incident specifically.
2. See, note 3. Bock and Harris specifically say that the Father did not say, “This is My beloved Son.” Blomberg does not mention this incident.
3. For more on DTS and inerrancy see the DTS Cultural Engagement Chapel on “Discrepancies in the Gospels” by Drs. Darrell Bock and Hall Harris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C651fVKKehg. Also see, “Toward a Narrow View of Ipssisima Vox” available at http://www.faithalone.org/journal/2001i/wilkin.html.