Monday, May 29, 2017

An Errant (A Working) Inerrancy Statement for Textual Critics

As a by product of a lengthy and very profitable online discussion of Biblical inerrancy, I decided to formulate my own version of a "Chicago Statement" (that was supposed to be funny) that might appeal (or not) to other evangelicals in academia. The two brief sentences dealing with the writings that form the New Testament are based upon my own publication;

"What are the NT Autographs? An Examination of the Doctrine of Inspiration and Inerrancy in Light of Greco-Roman Publication." JETS 59/2 (June 2016): 287-308.

The sentence dealing with the writings that form the Old Testament is based upon the work of Michael A. Grisanti;

"Inspiration, Inerrancy, and the OT Canon: The Place of Textual Updating in an Inerrant View of Scripture," JETS 44.4 (December 2001): 577-598.

Here is the working (errant) inerrancy statement in less than 250 words;

"As an out working of his holy and perfect nature, God inspired the scriptures by moving the various ancient authors to write his revelation in their own words, using the culture, language, composition, and publication conventions of their times.
"With regard to the New Testament writings, the inspiration of these scriptural works was complete once they were released by their authors for distribution and circulation. Once completed these writings were infallible, and truthful.”
“With regard to the Old Testament writings, these scriptural works were infallible, and truthful after their initial release to the people of God, and after divinely appointed prophetic authorities updated these writings during later stages of Israel’s History.
“Subsequent stages of circulation and copying introduced scribal alterations into the manuscript tradition of both the New and Old Testaments. These alterations were not divinely inspired, though some of these alterations have gained widespread confessional acceptance.”
“Modern printed Bibles are also inspired, infallible and truthful as long as they faithfully reflect, through the tools of textual criticism, the Greek text of the initially released New Testament writings, or the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament writings in their final form. Modern translations also carry this divine inspiration in so far as they faithfully render the original languages."

Now before I am burned at the stake of open academic discussion this post is meant to be somewhat light hearted. Anyone who may have constructive input, please feel free to critique and make suggested changes. I would prefer that this or a similar doctrinal statement be much more brief.


  1. Several years ago, Mike Heiser did something similar as a thought experiment on the Naked Bible Blog, and the “Bellingham Statement” was the result. A number of us had to read through many, many journal articles and papers to be able to comment with some coherency on the matter. Learned a lot about the text, and the manner in which God communicated scripture to us. You might take a look at that conversation in the archives at his current blog ( It’s worth soaking in. I think most of us would radically improve how we communicate this matter after reading through it.

    1. Thank you for the link and for commenting on such a hot topic. I have read through some of the comments etc. It is quite dense and very interesting.

  2. I applaud your courage for attempting such a formulation from an Evangelical perspective. Too many people either are content with a pat answer, or deathly afraid of straying from a pat answer for fear of literally having their very Christian faith called into question.

    1. Thank you John, I appreciate the encouragement. For the record, I largely affirm inerrancy statements like CSBI. But the Chicago statement, unfortunately uses less than clear (an technically incorrect) language, especially Article X. I think that there is room for better clarifications.

  3. "...and after divinely appointed prophetic authorities updated these writings during later stages of Israel’s History."

    And why not also for the production of certain NT materials, e.g., the Pauline Corpus, the two volumes of Luke-Acts, or the Johannine writings as transmissional units? (There certainly were divinely appointed prophets in the first century church that may have taken on a role of editing and smoothing, in preparation for the initial distributed form).

    1. Thanks for your comment Dr. Robinson. As you know, the composition of the NT occurred over a period of about 60 years or so, was written in one language, and basically within the context of only one culture (Greco-Roman). Once the NT writings were released, there was no single recognized authority that had the ability to control a text once released and circulated. True, it is possible that Luke-Acts, etc, could have been updated by the author, but I don't see this as very likely considering the (near) impossibility of controlling a once released text in the Greco-Roman culture.
      With regard to the OT, these writings were written over more or less 1,000 years (if one takes an early authorship of Genesis) using two different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic). Over such a long period of time, the culture, language, and places, etc, would have changed and textual updating would have been needed (Read Grisanti's aricle mentioned above for details). Also, during this time, the manner in which God was dealing with his people was largely different. There were divinely appointed prophets/priests/scribes who would have been recognized by the nation (since Israel was a theocracy). Any changes made by a divinely inspired scribe (such as Ezra for example) would have been nationally recognized and accepted. A figure such a Ezra would have had the backing of a centralized governmental system to control and officially authorize any type of large scale revision (unlike the early Church which had no centralized system of control). Grisanti emphasizes too that these textual updates would have taken place while the OT canon was "still open" (in other words, God was still inspiring new writings for his people).
      I hope that helps clarify. Thanks again for engaging.

  4. Tim,
    Alright, I'll bite, probably my own tongue! I wonder about the use of 'truthful'. This word seems to convey the ideas of trustworthy and accurate which the scriptures clearly are, yet is that sufficient? While infallible certainly should convey unerring, based on the long discussions (read arguments) within evangelical circles (see Frame) about infallible and inerrant I am not sure to many it does.
    As is often the case, I am not sure that with the tendency to redefine words in our post-modern society, that any statement will suffice for most.

    I applaud your effort and even with what I wrote above I can give your statement a hardy Amen!


    1. Haha! Thank you Tim for your nice comment. I agree that the words infallible and truthful are also loaded with baggage unfortunately. As you know, if one were to look up the words/phrases, infallible, truthful, without error (inerrant) one will find that they are all largely synonymous. The English language is running out of adjectives and nouns to describe "inerrancy" baggage free.
      It is so unfortunate that when it comes to certain doctrines such as "inerrancy" Christians (and non-Christians) are not free to discuss them openly without Fundamentalists (whether Christian, non-Chrsitian, Atheist, etc) whipping up into a furry.
      Thanks for being brave and commenting.