What is biblical inerrancy?

I thought I’d take the time to explain what is biblical inerrancy.

According to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.” This says the Bible is free of falsehood, fraud and deceit in matters of faith, conduct, and religion, but it also says the same thing of all areas in which it speaks – including history and science.

This means that nothing that was written in the Bible is untrue. Another way of stating this is that everything written in the Bible is true.  This does not say that what was written was not a lie or something deceitful that someone had said or done.

Neither does this say that God does not use hyperbole in the Bible. This is a common literary device that IS used in the Bible. Neither does it say that what was said or done was honest, but that it was accurately transmitted in the Scripture.

What is it saying is that what was written is what happened. If someone lied, that was written. If someone was deceitful, that was written. The truth is what was written in the Bible, even if the truth was of a lie being committed.

So the Bible can be trusted to have in it the accurate transmission of what occurred.

[Editor’s Note: Much of the discussion in the comments deals with the interpretation of Genesis 1. Differing understandings of a specific text does not mean the text was not written exactly as intended. The details and even the words in the text can be understood in different ways, and sometimes a passage is merely a poetic way of saying that something occured. Sometimes a story is poetry only with no details being important (only the ideas expressed being important) and sometimes poetry is exact in its details with both the details and the ideas being important. There are different ways to understand various parts of scripture. Differences in opinion of these sorts of things is what is being discussed in the comments below, not whether the text is inerrant. We must always try to learn and be able to defend what ever position we come to regarding scripture. What follows in the comments are examples of doing just that. Hopefully you will find we disagreed in respectful manners.]


50 Responses

  1. Could you show me that in the bible? I mean, the current notion of inerrancy is not that old, especially in regards to Science. Augusting, Calvin, others have allowed that science and the bible will not be opposed – just out understanding and interpretation, and yet, we are expected only now to believe that the bible is a science text book instead of the theological work which it was always intended to be?

    • Please do not think that just because a doctrine has been formulated and reformulated that it is a recently developed one. The doctrine of inerrancy of the Bible has been only been discussed as a doctrine for 200 year or so. It especially became important when the pope and the church were rejected as being infallible. But the doctrine had to be specified and respecified to deal with people who did not trust God to be able to write accurately. But the idea has always been inherent in what is considered “scripture” and what was not to be considered scripture – some things could be trusted as being from God and others could not.

      I got the idea from scripture itself: “God said” is seen in a multitude of places: Genesis 1:3, 1:6, 1:9, 1:11, 1:14, 1:20, 1:22, 1:24, 1:26, 1:28-29, 2:18, 3:1, 3:13-14, 3:22, 6:13, 8:15, 9:8, 9:12, 9:17, 9:26, 17:1, 17:3, 17:9, 17:15, 17:19….

      Moses said in Deuteronomy 4 that God had created the world.

      Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:20-22 tell us how to tell if a prophet is from God.

      Isaiah 42:5 and 45:17 tells us God told us He created the heavens and the earth. Jesus tells us in Mark 13:18-20 that God created the world. This is both historical and scientific.

      The authors of the various books of the Bible saw themselves as communicating the word of God. This is evidenced in the writings themselves. The prophet Isaiah began his book by proclaiming, “For the Lord has spoken” (1:2). Jeremiah opened his prophecy by saying, “Then the word of the Lord came to me” (1:4). God told Ezekiel to go to his people and tell them, “Thus says the Lord God” (3:11)

      Jesus quoted Deuteronomy when confronting Satan (See Matthew 4:1-10 quoting Deut. 6:13, 6:16, 8:3) – this shows Jesus trusted what Moses wrote as being from God.

      In Matthew 15:3-5, Jesus is shown quoting Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:16, Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9 – showing He considered GOD having said what is written in those three books.

      In Acts 7, Stephen while full of the Holy Spirit tells us of the history of God’s people as described in Genesis and Exodus through the time 2 Chronicles was written as if it is fact.

      Jesus said, in Luke 24:44, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” This indicates He thought of them as Scripture, which is upheld in other places as well (Matthew 4:4,7,10; Matthew 11:10, Matthew 21:13,42; Matthew 22:29; Matthew 26:26,31,54; Mark 7:6-13; Mark 9:12-13; Mark 11:17; Mark 12:10; Mark 12:24; Mark 14:21,27,49; Luke 4:4,8,21; Luke 7:27; Luke 10:26; Luke 24:44-47; John 5:39-40; John 7:38; John 10:34-36; John 13:18; John 17:12; Etc.).

      Paul told us that God created all things (Ephesians 3:8-10; Colossians 1:16).

      John told us God created all things (John 1:1-3).

      2 Peter 1:21

      For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

      Jesus said scripture could not be broken (John 10:34-38), the implication being that it is truthful and will come to pass. That in turns tells us what was spoken of in the past was truthful also. Ie., if scripture is truthful in the facts and details about what WILL happen, then it is truthful in regards to facts and details about what has happened.

      Regarding the New Testament, Jesus saw Himself as speaking the Word of God. John 12:49 reads,

      “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.”

      Indeed, Jesus said that people who choose to do God’s will are the people who will find out whether His teaching is from God or not. John 7:16-18 reads

      ‘Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”‘

      Jesus told the Apostles in Luke 12:11-12,

      ‘”When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”‘

      Peter, who in Luke 9:20 showed he realized Jesus was the Christ, called Paul’s writings scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16.

      15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

      Paul claimed the words he spoke were directly from God (1 Corinthians 7:10, Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

      2 Timothy 3:16 reads,

      All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

      The term translated as God-breathed in the NIV is translated as “inspired by God” in the NASB. But the word, Theopneustos, is literally breathed by God. If God breathed it, then it is truth. So then all Scripture is truth.

      Now for me the clincher is Titus 1:1-3. – God does not lie, and the knowledge He has given us is to help us become godly – this include the knowledge of God creating the universe. We see this same thing in Num. 23:19, 1 Sam. 15:29, and Heb. 6:18.

      1Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— 2a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,

      So, the New Testament is considered to not be erroneous in source because God breathed it, because God does not lie, and because God said.

      Where in the BIble have you found any history that is inaccurate? The creation of the universe and world is also history. The facts are accurate.

      Many modern scientists (although not all) reject the possibility of miracles because they can not be proven. But empirical science can not contest the validity of a miracle because it can not be repeated, which by definition is needed to scientifically test something. Simply because something can not be proven using the scientific method does not mean that thing is not something that is actual, real, or valid. The scientist faces the same thing with any historical event.

      Theologians question the Bible’s inerrancy because they do not trust God, or trust science more than God, or they want to justify their desires or choices or family members’ choices.

      If God is truthful about what will happen, why would He not be truthful about what HAS happened?

      Now, I am not trying to say to ignore the context, history, language, grammar, circumstances, or audience to whom the original were written, nor the context, history, language, grammar, circumstance, or style of the original human author. These will affect the understanding of what was written. But where something is spoken, it is true – regardless of what area of life of which it speaks.

  2. The Roman Catholic Church has the Dei Verbum, which is also worth reading on this subject . . .


    • Fr. Robert,

      I simply reject the church tradition as something to be venerated at the same level as what the Bible teaches,because of the errors of the church. If what the church teaches lines up with Scripture, then I would agree it is truth. When it goes against what the Bible teaches, then it is wrong.

  3. Wb, you jump to conclusions. I never said biblical history was inaccurate. Further, your great wealth of scripture I cannot deny, but application, I question. Yes, God said, and because of that, the bible is true. I have no doubts about that. Further, I affirm inerrancy, although I didn’t realize that the Chicago Statement was canonical. BTW, inerrancy is a many-defined term. A strict definition is not yet developed.

    I agree that God created the world and the universe – but to take Genesis 1 at literal scientific fact? That is only a new approach. Genesis 1 and is about theology in face of the ANE myths and tales about gods and goddesses. Gen 1 is not about Science but about setting the record straight. We have to examine it in context.

    I am simply saying that to take the bible as a science text book is to make the bible something it is not. The Bible is a theological book – and where it intersects with ‘real life’ is it true, but we must be careful not to supplant the theological motivations with scientific ones.

    And yes, it has been recently developed as a reactionary doctrine. Now, literalism is taken as inerrancy, when for centuries, Christians were forced to choose between Science and Religion. The early Christian writers knew the danger in this, and yet, we find too often, people forget that ‘literalism’ rarely takes in context.

    • Um, what is ANE myths?

      Now, to address what I DID understand of what you wrote,

      First, I did not call anything canonical. I simply quoted what they said. I happen to agree with it.

      Second, history speaks of what happened, when and how. Sometimes it is more detailed than other times. But If the history in the Bible is accurate, then so is the science.

      Third, the question about any particular passage must be answered: is this history, hyperbole, poetry, revelation, or what?

      I did not say to take the Bible as a scientific textbook. I said that it is accurate in all areas of which it speaks, including when it speaks of things in a scientific manner.

      Personally, I have no problem considering Genesis 1 as history or as poetry or both. Is it scientific? I see no reason to think it is not (just because it may or may not concur with our current model of astronomy, which changes as we discover more information, is no reason to believe it did not happen exactly as written), and actually think it makes sense to think it is scientific based upon what God wrote elsewhere (the term for day for instance). But I have no problem if it is not scientific.

      You seem to be assuming that Moses presented Genesis 1 as a creation myth, rather than something that actually occurred. But Jesus was clear that God spoke through Moses. So why would God lie about Genesis 1?

      • I think one of our biggest differences in our hermeneutic is that I do NOT think the Bible is a theological book.

        Theology is man’s attempt to study and describe God.

        The Bible is history – of God’s interaction with mankind, of what HAS happened and what WILL happen. It describes who God is, what God has done, what God will do, what God wants from us and what God wants for us. But is is breathed by God. It is GOD who wrote it. It is not man’s authorship alone. It does not study or even merely describe God from man’s perspective.

        Because it is breathed by God and God does not lie, and it is a history of God’s interaction with mankind (past, present, future), I simply accept it as what has or will happen. If what it speaks about does not fit science, then it is supernatural.

  4. W,

    I would read the whole of Dei Verbum before making that judgment myself. Just because its Roman Catholic does not mean it does not have truth and value.

    In the general sense, I would have to agree with Joel here. Its not a question of the authority of Scripture, but the nature in which it was written, and how we use it. And for this, we cannot leave out the Church Itself. Note here too the Eastern Orthodox Church and history. If you have not read it; The Orthodox Church (New Edition), by Timothy Ware is well worth the read. Sadly, too many Evangelicals make simply false and ignorant statements about both Rome and the East, as to both Scripture andTradition, and have not read a line about what they both believe.

    • Fr. Robert,

      I read the link you provided. It said, “both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.” I reject that out of hand because of the errors perpetuated by the Roman Catholic Church.

      I have read the catechism, and it goes against what scripture teaches. I have to distrust any church which teaches things that go against what is in the Bible. Heck, the Roman Catholic Church teaches things its own popes have said to not teach in the past and the present.

  5. ANE=Ancient Near East

    Who said God lied? That’s the problem with abstract literalism. It removes context and God’s intention.

    First, the bible’s history is only concerned with the people of Israel. Did it come the rise of Rome, etc? No. The bible intersects history only when when theology does. The principle goal of the bible is not a historical record, except as a record of the progressive revelation of God to man (Hebrews 1.1-2). The bible has no need to cover science, because it is a theological work. God created everything is not so much science as it is theological, and how we miss the point of Genesis 1 when we deem to destroy it for that which it was first intended.

    The bible does not speak towards Science. If it did, it would tell you how God did such and such, and creation ex nihilo would not have had to be developed long after the Apostles.

    Okay – let’s take your words. you agree that our current notion of astronomy doesn’t match up to Genesis 1 – and yet, somehow you want us to take it as scientific?

    Myth is is not exactly a lie, Wb. ‘Myth’ is a human representation of a supernatural event. To say that Genesis 1 is a myth does not mean that God lied. Instead, it means that God gave to Moses what he could understand, as detailed in Hebrews 1.1-2. Revelation comes in bits and pieces, and what is revelation, but God’s dictates to humanity.

    • I take Genesis 1 as accurate.

      Archeologists and historians often used to (and some still do) claim the BIble was inaccurate in what it wrote. Yet more and more archeology is showing the accuracy of the history of what is in the Bible.

      I do not think the Bible is primarily a scientific text. But where it mentions things, it is accurate. So if God said the universe and world was created in a certain order, I take it as accurate. If this goes against the current understanding of most of the scientific community, then I think they are likely to be wrong or it was done in a supernatural manner.

      It MIGHT be poetry, but I doubt its poetry trying to explain the creation, because of the order of what is said to have occurred. If Genesis 1 is only a story that God gave to Moses in terms he could understand, why would God choose to do so in a way that was not accurate in the order? And surely Moses could understand more than one day, so why not say many days or a long time later, if evolution and billions of years are correct?

      It either happened the way God said it happened, or it did not. Either God said the universe and world was created as stated in Genesis 1, or He didn’t. It COULD be poetry, but if you believe the current scientific thought then its still a lie or an error because the order is wrong. If this is the case, then either God cant be trusted to have written truth in the BIble. If that cant be trusted, then how can you trust any of it?

  6. I take it accurate as well, theological, which is the primary purpose of it. Considering that science and history are two separate things, archeologists findings have no bearing on Creation.

    You present an ‘either or’ scenario which is unbiblical and puts God in a corner. Considering that it does not represent science, you are forcing upon it an interpretation which frankly, is not biblical and forces people to either deny God or create conspiracy theories about science. Neither needs to take place.

    Further, if you take Genesis 1 as literal, as a step by step process, you stand against Scripture. We should remember that Creation is not only accounted for in Genesis 1, but in Ps 74:12-17, 89:9-14 and 136. Each of these creation events present something different than what is found in Genesis 1.

    This is the point of Tradition – it helps to curtail modern innovations to doctrine.

    • As in the case with many things, it seems, you and I disagree.

      If the history of the Bible is being shown to be accurate, so too will the science found in it be shown to be accurate.

      The goal of the Bible to teach us who God is, what God has done, what God will do, what God wants from us, and what God wants for us. Part of this includes the creation of the universe, the world, and mankind. It is either accurate or not.

      Does the sun rise? Yes. Is that scientific? yes and no. It is accurate (given the language used).
      The same is true for the creation of the universe, the world, and mankind.

      I think it is perfectly biblical to take what is written in the Bible as being from God, and accurate. To my knowledge, until current scientific trends began, people did not question how God created the universe – those who had the biblical story simply accepted it as fact. It was just expected that the Bible was accurate.

      I am not creating conspiracy theories about anything and find it insulting for you to claim such.

      None of the passages you quoted disagree with what is written in Genesis 1. By accepting Genesis as historically accurate, I stand with Christ, who knew God had said what was in it. Jesus acted as God had created mankind, as well as man and wife (Mark 10:6-8 and Matthew 19:4-6 quoting Genesis 2:24). Jesus acted as if the story was more than a simply story, but fact.

      And as I said, its possible Genesis 1 is poetry, but then if it is, its an inaccurate image of what happened.

  7. W,
    That’s fine, I am not here to really support Rome. But it is in all the way one looks and reads, i.e. our presuppositions. You can gleen the document, etc. As I said “worth reading”. But the book by Ware is a must read for someone in any Christian blog position. As Joel makes the point, Scripture is itself its own “spiritual” authority, and not a text on everything persay. It teaches the way to heaven, and not so much how the heavens go.

  8. Wb, I wasn’t saying you were. I said that your position will force people to create such things.

    Again, you seem to think that I don’t think the bible is from God or accurate. You want accurate scientific knowledge. I say that it is accurate theological knowledge – as it was intended.

    Christ never mentioned Creationism, Wb, only that certain things were written by Moses. If want an ‘accurate’ line of events, and yet, when shown that other writers wrote different things, then you add those things in here. Do you really think that God killed an animal which produced the waters or that the earth is in the middle of waters?

    It is not mere poetry, but theology. It is not science, but theology.

    Your understanding of accuracy means scientific. I hardly think that Moses would have seen it as such.

    I have no need to prove the bible by scientific theory, because indeed, it is from God, and because of that, it is the word about God and from God.

    I would suggest that you take some time to read about previous Christian theories on the creation of the universe, and interpretation of Genesis 1. Again, a literal, scientific application of Genes 1 is new.

    • Joel,

      Theology is the study of God. The Bible does not study God, but records what God wanted written. There is a distinct difference.

      No, my understanding of accuracy does not mean scientific knowledge – it simply means accurate – this includes the area of science. Those are not the same thing.

      And I have no need to prove the BIble (which is not just about God and from God, but is breathed by God) as scientific theory either. I don’t think it can be done – no one was there and forensic research can only reveal so much, and if it is something that occurred supernaturally, then it is outside the bounds of what science can measure. But even so, I don’t think its a bad pursuit – just in case I’m wrong. :) I think creation scientists are getting closer to forming models of the creation of the universe, world, and mankind which seem to be coherent and take into account many more factors than ever before. I don’t think they’re solid yet, and have no idea if they will ever get there. But that’s neither here nor there.

      As I’ve said, I think Genesis 1 is either scientific or supernatural, or both. It could use poetic language to describe actual events, which I think is likely (as I also believe God used terms Moses could understand). But this does not mean I think its merely poetry or some creation story. I think its accurate in what it states. As for whether I think the earth is in the middle of water, I think the waters is space – so yes, I think its in the middle of space.

      I do not know to what you refer when you mention “God killed an animal which produced the waters.” Could you give reference?

      No, Christ never mentioned creationism – this term is a new invention, since evolution. But Christ believed what Moses wrote as fact. There was no idea of the creation of mankind being poetry or theology, Christ treated it as fact.

      Is the flood merely theology? Jesus treated it as fact (Lk 17:26-28).
      Is the idea that Sodom got wiped out by fire and sulphur from the sky merely theology or did it happen? Jesus seemed to believe it was fact (Lk 17:28-29).
      Jesus trusted what Moses wrote about God creating mankind (Mark 10:6-8 and Matthew 19:4-6 quoting Genesis 2:24). Note: Mark 10:5-6 states,

      5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6″But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE. 7FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER”

      What makes the creation story any different?

      Did God separate the Red Sea (Exodus 14:5-28)?
      Did God separate the Jordan River for Joshua (Joshua 3:14-17)?
      Did God separate the Jordan River for Elijah (2 Kings 2:7-8)?
      Did God separate the Jordan River for Elisha (2 Kings 2:13-14)?

      I think Jesus, Stephen, Paul and James all treated what happened to the nation of Israel, Moses, Joshua, and Elijah as fact, even though that particular story is not addressed in the NT (Luke 4:25-27; Acts 7:45; Romans 11:2-4; James 5:17).

      At what point is a “story” merely “theology” instead of history?

      Augustine believed the BIble should be interpreted as theology when it went against what science said. So he said the BIble should be tested against what man understands of the world and universe. Thus as man learned more then the interpretation of scripture should change. I disagree with this. I believe it should be interpreted as it was written. The majority of it was written as historical fact and/or prophecy, with some apocalyptic, hyperbolic, poetic, and spiritual language. It should be taken as such. The trick is figuring out which is which.

      I think Augustine used a convenient device to be able to justify “trust” in the Bible when it seems to not be consistent with what specialists say by assigning what God has written to being theology, or poetry if you wish, when its evident Christ treated scripture as fact (past or present). The device I would prefer to use is claiming something was supernatural. Just as historians have been proven wrong concerning the accuracy of the BIble, I believe scientists will be shown wrong as well when we go to heaven.

      Is it more important to trust God or to not be seen as ignorant or stupid by people who do not know or trust God? Do we try to reconcile our understanding of the world to the BIble or do we try to reconcile our understanding of the Bible to the world? Either you trust God to have done what He said or you don’t. That’s how I see it anyway.

      Fr. Robert,

      I think Ussher thought the creation story literal, from my reading. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ussher
      It was a common thing at that time to calculate the age of the earth using the Bible as input. Indeed, if I recall correctly, even Isaac Newton calculated the age of the world based upon the BIble.

  9. And, just to be clear, I don’t believe in evolution. It is a current ‘scientific’ trend which requires more faith than all of the world’s religions combined.

  10. W,
    I would agree with Joel here. But I wonder where Ussher would fall in here? Asking both of you?

  11. I mean how each of you see Ussher? We should remember in scripture truth is never encountered in the abstract but in the concrete, the “genre” of its own making. This includes many books in reality, but Genesis is the first, see also Gen. 3:15, called the “Protoevangelium”, the first gospel announcement.

  12. Wb, I hate to say this, but you are really jumping to conclusions based on my point here. I never said that the flood didn’t happen, etc… and yet, you are putting words in my mouth.

    Nor have I ever said that Genesis is not fact, and yet, you seem to make me say it. For do I ever say that Genesis 1 is not accurate. What I am saying is that you are attempting to make it say something which it was not first purposed for and you seemingly have placed your trust in your own understanding. Again, you put God in a corner with your either/or statement which has caused many people to loose faith. Either the bible is all true or nothing is true, by which you mean your understanding and interpretation.

    What I am saying it, again, is that Genesis 1 is hardly scientific and was not intended to be that way. Regarding the ‘young earth’ theories of the Fathers, some thought that the word was 6,000 years – then. Considering have have cultures and recorded history which stretched past that point, someone is wrong. You should really reread Calvin on Genesis who allowed for modern Science in the study of Genesis.

    This is not about trusting God of what men may think, this is about taking the bible for what it was intended. The bible is a theological book. It is the historical record of the people of God and God’s interaction with humanity. It is very much the study of that interaction which is needed. The Hebrews didn’t exist in a vacuum, nor was Genesis 1 written in such. If we compare the creation accounts throughout the bible, we mind a hearkening to those ANE myths but from a godly perspective. It is most certianly the theology of the Ancient Hebrews, in which instead of gods and goddesses battling it out and creation is seen as an accident, etc…, God has a purpose for Creation. The theology of Genesis 1 is infinitly more valuable than any science which would be cleaned from it.

    Genesis 1 is accurate, and indeed, literal in context, but it is not the scientific context.

    You interpret waters as space? Hardly. Space would have been, and was consistently called heaven(s).

    Wb, how old is the earth?

    As Fr. Robert brought up, Ussher said it was 6,000 years, by biblical dating. Yet, as I pointed out, we have civilizations older. So, how old is the earth?

    • arg… had a nice reply almost finished and I hit the wrong key. I hate that.

      I’ll type up something later. But for now, I was not trying to say you said the flood (etc) did not occur. I was using those things as examples of what some people would rather think of as “theological” statements, because they do not match science. If you are OK with the supernatural in those areas, why do you have a problem with it in the creation history?

  13. Maybe God is telling you to take it easy on those replies?

    Wb, you are not getting what I am saying about Genesis 1. I believe that it happened just as God said it did, but the primary purpose of Genesis 1, and indeed, other areas of the bible, is theological. Did God create the Sun? Yes. Did it come first, before life? Yes, it did. Do I think, however, that what God is relating to Moses is more theological than scientific? Yes, of course. When we pigeon hole the bible into certain things, especially when the great wealth of evidence on the scientific side said no, then we are doing something wrong. We have civilizations older than the biblical time frame. Who is wrong? Our interpretation, not the bible or archeology, science, etc…

    Every civilization, I believe, of antiquity, has a few things in common. Pyramids, dragons, and flood stories. Further, we have evidences of floods, etc…

    And, the flood is a theological statement – look at Christ used it. It is a supernatural event as well.

    Considering that Creation is recounted twice, shouldn’t that say something? Further, the structure of Genesis is set up to reflect a succession of stages in story telling. The Scriptures are a masterful work, which is more than a patch quilt of cultures and authors, but a grand solitary tale.

    The point is, I don’t have to have the bible line up to science or science the bible for either to be true. The Bible is about the why, while science is the how.

    • As I wrote earlier, I was not trying to say you said the flood (etc) did not occur. I was using those things as examples of what some people would rather think of as “theological” statements, because they do not match science.

      I really dont understand why we are discussing Genesis 1 if you think it happened just as written.
      You kept trying to say that Genesis 1 is theologically accurate, but seemed reluctant to say you view Genesis 1 as historically accurate – that it happened in the order and time specified in Genesis 1.

      I agree that it is theologically accurate, but it is accurate in all details.

      I am not pigeonholing anything. I am simply saying what God wrote is accurate history (past or future).

      Anything in the Bible tells us what has and/or will happen. The bible has to be understood in context, including language, grammar and history. But this does not mean it is not history. The Bible is used in theology and religion. But if it says the creek rose, then it rose. You can take that as a scientific description or not. The same is true for where it says when and how God created man.

      I disagree that the Bible is only about the why. The Bible is about what, why, when, who, and how. Sometimes one or more of those things are discussed about a given event. Are the details in the what/why/when/who/how explicit? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Does it use scientific language? No. Does that mean it is wrong in the areas of science? No. The Bible is accurate in all areas it touches, using the common language of the day (ie. when it speaks of the sun setting, it is not saying the earth revolved around in such a way so the part of the earth in which the “sun set” was be pointing away from the sun; it merely uses common language to describe what occurred). It is a history book that tells us about God, God’s interaction with mankind in the past, and some of the interaction of God with man in the present and the future.

      You seem to be assigning the purpose to Genesis 1 that it was intended to provide a theological model of creation to refute the religions of the area. Does the Bible state that?

      I am merely saying its history, and showed how people IN the Bible and outside of it held to treating Genesis as history, including the creation story.

      The creation history (as Calvin called it) is accurate in everything it states. We do not know the full purpose of it being incuded in scripture, based on what is in the Bible. Was it to argue against the mythology of the area? I dont know, but it seems likely, and it certainly does that. Was it to tell us something of who God is? I dont know, but it seems likely, and it certainly does that. Was it to tell us something of the creation of the universe, the world, and mankind? I dont know, but it seems likely, and it certainly does that. But I do not know the purpose of the creation history in the Bible – from the Bible – other than to prepare us to be equipped to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

      You said, “if you take Genesis 1 as literal, as a step by step process, you stand against Scripture.” I showed you that you are wrong, in that even Moses considered it factual, literal.

      You told me you wanted to me to review other models for understanding Genesis 1, claiming that the idea of a “literal, scientific application of Genes 1 is new.” But then I showed you from scripture of how Moses considered Genesis 1 to be fact/history. I gave you examples of Peter, Jesus, Paul, Stephen all believing the story concerning the creation of man and woman were true (which would indicate to me that the story concerning the rest of creation was thought to be true as well). I showed Theophilus of Antioch, Basil, Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria, Luther, Calvin, and Augustine all believed in a young earth. Indeed, Theophilus of Antioch, Basil, Calvin all believe in the order of events as well. So no, considering scripture to be actual factual history where it appears to be such is NOT new, and neither is considering Genesis 1 to be the step by step process of what happened in the creation of the universe, the world, and mankind.

      If you had something else in mind, then please provide examples.

      I never said the Bible is a scientific text. I said where it touches on matters of science, it is accurate. Just as it is accurate in all areas it touches upon. I also do not think the Bible and science must be opposed, but I think that history will show the Bible is accurate in every detail in all areas about which it speaks – including science. I believe this even if the current popular models of science do not agree with what the Bible teaches. Apparently I am not alone, as I know of at least three PhD physicists (two personally) who believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is fact.

      If you review Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” I think you will find that Calvin was most definitely someone who believed in a young earth and aggreed the days Moses spoke of were days and even agreed with the order of creation, calling it the history of creation. Indeed, Calvin thought even the order was important to understand something about God. He even said he did not believe the Egyptians when they said their civilization went back to 6000 years before the creation of the world.

      With the same view Moses relates that the work of creation was accomplished not in one moment, but in six days. By this statement we are drawn away from fiction to the one God who thus divided his work into six days, that we may have no reluctance to devote our whole lives to the contemplation of it. For though our eyes, in what direction soever they turn, are forced to behold the works of God, we see how fleeting our attention is, and holy quickly pious thoughts, if any arise, vanish away. Here, too, objection is taken to these progressive steps as inconsistent with the power of God, until human reason is subdued to the obedience of faith, and learns to welcome the calm quiescence to which the sanctification of the seventh day invited us. In the very order of events, we ought diligently to ponder on the paternal goodness of God toward the human race, in not creating Adam until he had liberally enriched the earth with all good things. Had he placed him on an earth barren and unfurnished; had he given life before light, he might have seemed to pay little regard to his interest. But now that he has arranged the motions of the sun and stars for man’s use, has replenished the air, earth, and water, with living creatures, and produced all kinds of fruit in abundance for the supply of food, by performing the office of a provident and industrious head of a family, he has shown his wondrous goodness toward us. These subjects, which I only briefly touch, if more attentively pondered, will make it manifest that Moses was a sure witness and herald of the one only Creator.


      Some perhaps may choose to credit the Egyptians in carrying back their antiquity to a period of six thousand years before the world was created. But their garrulity, which even some profane authors have held up to derision, it cannot be necessary for me to refute.


      2. For the same reason, the world was created, not in an instant, but in six days. The order of creation described, showing that Adam was not created until God had, with infinite goodness made ample provision for him.

  14. Wb, I think we have exhausted this subject. You have no real proof as your assumptions, but intend on making it a literal thing, something which is not very profitable to the faith.

    Tell me, did God bash the heads of the great sea monsters during Creation? And if so, where is this at in Genesis 1? If Genesis 1 is accurate in detail, then why aren’t these details there? Again, you are applying to the Faith something not there from the beginning.

    No, you didn’t show me where Moses took it literal. Nor did you actually answer my points concerning the literal notion. No one is disputing that God created the heavens and the earth, yet you are missing that point and want to go past what I am actually saying.

    Regarding Calvin, http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2009/11/john-calvin-on-moses-science/

  15. Wb, you seem to be of two minds here. First, you aren’t convinced that when Matthew and Luke tell you of the generations from Adam to Christ, which is important, you only allow a ‘thinking’ to occur in assenting to what Scripture says, but on Creation, it has to be accurate and very literal?

    • I’m not of two minds. I’m simply saying I’d have to research it. We have varying generations in the two lists, because of the fact that one is the genealogy of Mary while the other is the genealogy of Joseph. It may be that one or both is a complete list – I’ve never done the comparison between what is in the gospels and what we see in Genesis, Ruth, Chronicles, etc. Then even if both lists are compete, I don’t think we know the age everyone in the genealogies was when the child in the genealogy was born (I’d have to research it). Plus there is the ability to call someone who is an ancestor the ‘father’ of someone, or the fact that to call someone the son of a second person means the first person is descended from that second person (ie. grandson, great-grandson, or even more remotely descended – not necessarily the physical son. The custom of skipping generations has been called generational abridgment. I know this occurred in Matthew 1:1 “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” – making it seem David is the direct son of Abraham, when he was not. This appears to have occurred in Ezra 7:3 as well (compare to 1 Chronicles 6:7-10). Also, “son” can refer to people not directly descended from someone also – as in the case of Zerubbabel, the nephew of Shealtiel being called son of Shealtiel (compare 1 Chronicles 3:17-19 with Ezra 3:2, Nehemiah 12:1, and Haggai 1:12). Also, “son” can mean distant son-in-law, as in the case of Jair (1st Chronicles 2:21-23 and 7:14-15), yet he was called son of Manasseh (Numbers 32:41, Deuteronomy 3:14, 1st Kings 4:13). see http://www.lifeofchrist.com/life/genealogy/interpretation.asp for more info. Sometimes there is more to scripture than first meets the eye. But not always. Most of the time, what is there is simply the facts and nothing but the facts.

      I think that all scripture should be understood using a historical-contextual-grammatical hermeneutic. One must take into consideration the history, the situation, the writer’s style, the audience, the language, the context of what and when and how and why it was written. But where it is possible to take something as literal, one should. If you have biblical evidence that this is not the case, then adjust. I happen to think it makes sense to take Genesis 1-11 as literal.

      In fact, you made the statement, “That’s the problem with abstract literalism. It removes context and God’s intention.” But the context of Genesis is the history of God’s creation of the universe, the world, mankind, and the nation of Israel. The CONTEXT is history. So it makes sense to interpret what God has said in Genesis as history, literally. I think in this instance, you are being influenced by theologists and scientists more than by the BIble.

      And I DID show you where Moses took Genesis 1 literally when I wrote, “Moses said in Exodus 20:11, that God made heaven, earth, sea and all that was in them in 6 days and rested on the seventh”. Sorry if I was not clear.

      And I disagree that interpreting Genesis 1 as it is written is not profitable – it tells us something of God’s care and power and it tells us to treat scripture as history, which is how the writers of the Old and New Testament treated it and it shows God can be trusted.

      The point I am getting from you regarding Genesis 1 is that its purpose is “theological” (what ever you mean by that), and you have to allegorize or parablize it, because you don’t think God could/would have created the universe as it is written – in the order and in the number of days specified. I can only assume its because you do not think it matches science.

      What you linked to regarding Calvin merely shows that he was not against science, but that does not negate that he believed in a young earth and in the order and number of days specified in Genesis 1 (which is what he wrote in his Institutes). I am not against science either. I have a feeling that if he thought it was against what Scripture teaches, then he would dismiss it, just as he dismissed what Egyptians claimed that their civilization was 6000 years older than what he considered to be the age of the earth.

      To be unwilling to state that God did what He said He did in the order and number of days He said He did seems to me to show a willingness to measure scripture by the philosophies of the day (science) rather than the other way around.

      You wrote, “If want an ‘accurate’ line of events, and yet, when shown that other writers wrote different things, then you add those things in here. Do you really think that God killed an animal which produced the waters or that the earth is in the middle of waters?”

      But you never gave a reference to what you were referring when you said “God killed an animal which produced the waters.” And when I said God probably used poetic language to describe space you dismissed it out of hand saying space was consistently called the heavens. In fact, the heavens deal with earth’s atmosphere, outer space (not necessarily the material that makes up outer space), and God’s dwelling place.

      I’ve shown that for the majority of history, people have taken God at His word in relation to the creation – including people in the Bible and church fathers and reformers. Not doing so is a recent invention. You ignored that.

      You seem to be assigning the purpose to Genesis 1 that it was intended to provide a theological model of creation to refute the religions of the area. You often say you want to use biblical language when dealing with theology. Where does the Bible state the purpose of the Bible is theological, and where does it state the purpose of Genesis 1 is theological?

      You mentioned, “God killed an animal which produced the waters.” Could you give reference?

      At what point is a “story” merely “theology” instead of history?

      Do we try to reconcile our understanding of the world to the BIble or do we try to reconcile our understanding of the Bible to the world?

      You have said, “We have civilizations older than the biblical time frame.” Please give examples?

      To my knowledge, you never made any points that needed to be addressed concerning the literal notion. I don’t know to what you are referring, nor do I understand what you mean by the “literal notion.” Plus I thought I have addressed everything you have written on this. Please repeat/expand on what you are asking?

  16. W,
    I’m not sure where this post is going? Since it began about Inerrancy, but has moved along to the whole creation interpretation. And yes, it does appear that you and Joel (as myself) have a real different hermeneutic here. Though again, Joel has spoken well here in my opinion. But we all believe in creation. The signification we would hopefully all agree, but not the explanation. And I know both Joel and I, would never uncut the value of God’s Word. But in the Creation itself, God began his own sort of “theology” (study, living workshop) for us, his redemptive people. And we learn this in the covenants of God, as His covenant people. Indeed it is a progressive revelation, from the OT to the New. And here we can never live without the Apostolic Church and Doctrine, which is the place itself where the Word of God is finally complete and fulfilled. As we see it begin in Genesis, with Israel and the experiences of exile and exodus. Away from the tribal gods, to the Only One God, the Maker of heaven and earth. And on in to the NT, and St. Paul, who said: “For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” ( 2 Cor. 4: 6). Finally the Incarnation itself “the face of Christ” gives us a new “genesis” and a complete and lasting revelation, which ends in redemption and a New Creation! (2 Cor. 5:16-17 / Rom. 8: 22-25)

  17. Wb, read the creation accounts in Psalm 74 and 89. This is a creation account, and yet, you don’t take this literal? And if so, since Genesis 1 is accurate to the detail, where do these details fit in?

    Otherwise, I am done. I prefer my words not to be twisted.

    • Joel,

      Its been a while since I have studied the psalms. Obviously the psalms are poetry. But Psalms 74 and 89 are considered communal laments. I see them as affirming what God has done (“you have …”) in a literal fashion while crying out to God to not forsake Israel using poetic language. But even what is affirmed does not seem to be in any sort of order. As such, I don’t see either of them as a creation account at all.

      I’m not trying to twist your words. I have quoted you, and I have written what I understand you to have said. Feel free to correct me.

  18. Biblical history is not always chronological, but certainly prophetic, and in the OT a kind of supra-history. Do you see this W?

    • Fr. Robert,

      I do not know what you mean that biblical history is not always chronological. Could you give an example?
      I DO agree that biblical history is often prophetic, but I’m not sure I’d say always prophetic.
      And what do you mean the OT is a supra-history? Please give an example of which you speak?

  19. W,
    The two creation accounts (Gen. 1) and then (Gen, 2), are not chronological, but theological. And supra-history is Primeval History…the Hebrew title is ‘bereshith” “in the beginning” prophetic, and known really only to God! It is simply “revelation”, but also God’s “theology” or study to us. Again, out of the primordial, chaotic waters (Gen. 1:2), and then at the re-creation after the flood, (2 Peter 3: 4-5, and then on to judgment (verse 6) “reserved for fire”. Again here is much more the “prophetic word” and supra-history, the “genre” of God’s theology and truth, but in and thru Israel’s history and covenants…the whole Book of Genesis. Creation is also always “theological”!

  20. W,
    We can see also the “theological” use of Adam in St. Paul’s statements in 1 Cor. 15: 45-49 / Rom. 5: 12-21 / 1 Tim. 2: 13-14. This is taken from Gen. 2: 7; 21-22 in the latter. It is all very spiritual and certainly theological, and thus “creational”.

    • I have no problem with using the Bible to teach about God. I personally think that’s part of its intended use, when we are told it is to prepare us for every good work. I also have no problem with something having dual meaings in scripture – the “then” actual/physical meaning and the “spiritual” meaning as well, sometimes use in prophetic ways, such as the proto-evangel. In the cases to which you are referring, Adam was used as a type for Christ. But notice that Paul used the “narrative” found in Gen 2 as history, as fact.

      In the same way, Moses treated the “narrative” in Genesis 1 as fact in Exodus 20:8-11, using ‘day’ as a 24 hour period of time.

      It may be that Genesis 1 is ONLY a poetic story that is supposed to teach that God created the world. It may be that Genesis 1 is that as well as a precursor for what God did during the flood. It may be that Genesis 1 is only a story that is factual in the steps of creation but not the time it in which it occurred. But I think its more likely to be a literal history of what happened, the order in which it happened, and how long it took (with day meaning 24 hour period of time).

      While there are many ways to interpret any writing, the “correct” way to interpret something is how the original author intended. In the case of scripture, we have 2 authors – God and the human author. Its obvious to me that we are to consider what God wrote through Moses in Genesis 1 as fact, since Moses did. We can see that Moses was considering the ‘days’ in Genesis 1 as actual days when we look at what Moses wrote in Genesis Exodus 20:8-11, where he uses ‘day’ as a 24 hour period of time – in reference to people working 6 days and resting the seventh day, just as God did in the creation of the universe.

      Just because something is prophetic does not mean it was simultaneously speaking of current (or past in this case) actual events. It can be both at the same time. One does not have to neglect either, nor does one have to favor one over the other. But both must be observed and indeed taught.

      And just because something is poetic does not mean it is also not literal.

      I disagree the creation accounts are not chronological. I think they are both chronological and theological. It teaches us something of what God has done, and something of who God is and something of what God is capable of and something of what God will do – past, present, future are all there. But the facts of the past are not to be ignored nor should they be turned into fables or euphimisms or parables or alegories.

      As for the creation being a supra-history, I would say it is actual history as well as indicative of what would happen in the future – prophetic and I suppose you could call it supra-historical. But that does not remove any of the actual historicity of the original event nor the literalness of how it is to be interpreted.

  21. W,

    I simply wanted to point out that biblical narrative, as in Gen. 1 & 2, is “theological”. And always what the author has in mind, must be within what God is saying. And since God uses human authorship in scripture, but also moves beyond it, to the place of the “Spirit & Truth”. We must always look within the spiritual reality of God Himself, in both the OT and New.

    But as Joel said, I think too we have somewhat exhausted the subject. I just hope that the idea of the narrative and the theological truth of Gen. 1-3 has been seen? “In the beginning God”. The Hebrew word for God here is a plural form, to emphasize His majesty and divinity. There is no other God! (Dt. 4:39 ; Isa. 40:21,28 / John 1:1 ; Col. 1:17) We always begin and end in God Himself!

    • Fr. Robert,

      I agree, we must keep in mind what the author had in mind, and ultimately the divine author is God. As I’ve said, I have no problem recognizing both the literal/physical truth and the spiritual truth of scripture. Personally, I think the plurality of Elohim in Genesis 1 is indicative of the trinity.

  22. W,
    Well ya know ya get and amen from me on that…God Triune, and always!

    • Joel, Fr. Robert,

      If I came accross harsh or unfeeling or as if I twisted your words, I apologize. That was not my intention.

      I have great respect for both of you. I know you both hold scripture in high esteem. I know you both want to follow God to the best of your understanding and ability.

      Just because I disagree with you guys about something, please do not think I do not repect or admire you.

      In God’s love,

  23. […] Differences in biblical interpretation do not affect biblical inerrancy Posted on February 2, 2010 by wbmoore I recently wrote a post on biblical inerrancy. The conversation that came out of that ended up being in reference to how Genesis 1 should be interpreted. Please see the comments for at least two understandings of the text. […]

    • Guys, I added an editor’s note to this post indicating that differences in interpretation do not affect whether something is inerrant, and I expanded on that note in a new post as well. Please let me know if I am incorrect in how I represent your views and I will address it.

  24. W,
    Ditto mate, as to respect and admiration! It’s all good!

  25. […] about one thing or another. This week, it seems to be Genesis, on some level. First, go here and then here and maybe here as […]

  26. WB,
    Concerning the genealogical record that you wondered about…while almost every one of them is simply a genealogical account that may or may not be missing persons and may or may not list persons as “father” that are really ancestors…there are two genealogies (Genesis 5 and 11) that are curiously actually chronological genealogies which means they specify the EXACT amount of time between the births of individuals in the record. Really the only allowance for time to be other than the Hebrew text has specified (noting that we therefore have the EXACT number of years recorded from Abraham back to Adam) would be if either the LXX or the Samaritan Penteteuch’s numbers are the actual years (since each of these differs in a number of details, but not by much).

    Further, the arguments about Genesis one as only theological (per Joel) based off of reading it as poetic assumes several things. First, it likely assumes that Gen. 1 was a later writing than Gen. 2 and was added (this tends to be what the “poetic” camp assumes). Typically this assumption includes a Priestly redactor of the Genesis account that was writing against the cosmogonies of the ANE. But interestingly enough this chapter does not carry this out as certainly clearly polemical passages in the Hebrew Bible do — such as those referenced already in the comments from Isaiah and the Psalms. Instead, Gen. 1 seems to be a very simple poetic-like account of creation not given to mythologizing or to a thorough-going chaoskampf motif. Second, the genre would have to be proven to actually be poetry which it isn’t clearly. It is definitely poetic, but it is not poetry. The heavy use of waw-consecutives throughout partially demonstrates the narrative nature of the passage, that should probably be called “poetic-like narrative”. Third, the trademark chiasmic structure of poetry is absent through the chapter (with the exception of a couple of very short verses that are ACTUALLY poetry — i.e., Gen. 1:26-27).

    I should add…I really appreciated your brief post on Inerrancy! :-)

    • Rick,

      LOL! Thanks for the kind words regarding the actual post. You really made me chuckle. :)

      I suppose I should have redirected the comments back to the topic, but I tend to like the conversation to go as it will. The post in this case turned out to just be a conversation starter.

      Thank you for the information regarding both the genealogies. I’ve read the genealogies before and I remembered that some of them had ages of the people listed when the child was born, but I couldn’t recall if all of them did or not. Thanks for clearing that up for me and for reminding me we CAN calculate the time from Adam to Abraham.

      Also, thanks for your input on Genesis 1. You have given me food for thought.

      For integrity’s sake, I must say that at this point I don’t think Joel actually thinks the text in Genesis 1 is poetry, but it was hard to get it pinned down in this text based conversation. I hate the web for its ease of misunderstanding. Having read his post on the issue and having discussed it with him offline, my current understanding of Joel’s position is that he DOES believe it happened as written given the understanding of the time and place it was written (I hope I gave his thought justice here). He simply does not want to try to make it match the science of today, nor be dogmatic about it as his emphasis (indeed, I believe he thinks the whole point of Genesis 1) is the theological truths found therein.

      I DO think Father Robert (IrishAnglican) thinks Genesis 1 is solely a theological statement because of the cosmology of the time.

      Thanks again.

  27. […] 2010 by wbmoore As my consistent reads are undoubtedly aware, The comments in my last two posts (here and here) have turned away from the topic of the post and onto the subject of the interpretation of […]

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