The Ongoing Battle for the Bible

From on Aug 17, 2015


Note: Steve Lagoon, BA, MATS, MDiv, is Editor of The Discerner, the Voice of Religion Analysis Service (info@ras.org), Chaska MN. This article is printed here from the Discerner by permission.


Accommodation or Compromise: The Ongoing Battle for the Bible

By Steve Lagoon

One of the doctrines most precious to Bible-believing Christians is the doctrine of inerrancy. Essentially this means that we accept the Bible as the very word of God, and therefore trustworthy in all that it affirms and teaches (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

Defining Inerrancy and Infallibility

Now the terms infallible and inerrant are sometimes used synonoumously and at other times they are distinguished. Kevin Bauder says, “Nor is it relevant that the NAE [North American evangelicalism] statement refers to infallibility rather than inerrancy. Most evangelicals of the 1940’s simply did not distinguish these concepts.”[1]

But as times moved on, some scholars began to distinguish the terms infallibility and inerrancy. When they are distinguished, usually inerrancy is the stronger term. That is, sometimes infallibility is meant to mean that the Bible is true and without error when it speaks to spiritual matters, but may contain mistakes in other matters such as geology, history, or science.

Steve Lagoon, BA, MATS, MDiv, is Editor of The Discerner, the Voice of Religion Analysis Service.

Steve Lagoon, BA, MATS, MDiv, is Editor of The Discerner, the Voice of Religion Analysis Service.

On the other hand, inerrancy usually means that the Bible is true or without error in all that it affirms including not only spiritual matters, but geological, historical, or scientific. Kevin Vanhoozer notes that:

The problem, however, is that that many people in my context (North American evangelicalism) use the term infallibility as a contrast term to inerrancy, meaning something like ‘true in matters of faith and practice.’ In other words, in my context, infallibility often means ‘limited inerrancy’ (i.e. limited to matters concerning God and Salvation.[2]

Because of the variation in usage, one must be careful when studying this issue in how the terms are being used and defined being aware that sometimes infallibility is used with essentially the same meaning as inerrancy and at other times it is used for a more limited sense of infallibility that applies only to spiritual matters addressed in the Bible.

Inerrancy Logically flows from Inspiration

Harold Lindsell describes well how the truth of Scripture’s inspiration logically leads to inerrancy:

However limited may have been their knowledge, and however much they erred when they were not writing sacred Scripture, the authors of Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, were preserved from making factual, historical, scientific, or other errors . . . God the Holy Spirit by nature cannot lie or be the author of untruth. If the Scripture is inspired at all it must be infallible.[3]

Likewise, Mennonite scholar J. Otis Yoder:

Biblical inerrancy means the Bible contains no error. It is without error in faith and fact. If we have the self-disclosure of the holy God, it cannot be mixed with error. Error and truth cannot be contained in the same document which claims to be a self-disclosure of a holy, righteous God. If error is mixed with truth, then that is deception which violates the character of God.[4]

The Baby in the Crib Analogy

I once had a pastor in the American Baptist USA tradition tell me, “If you love the Bible, you have to throw away that inerrancy stuff.” He held to the view that the Bible’s relationship to revelation or truth was comparable to how a cradle holds a baby. The Bible may well contain errors, but within it there is God’s truth.

There are at least two obvious problems with this analogy. First, it is difficult to accept that God allows fallible truth to be contained in his word along with His truth. How can this be a trustworthy guide for His saints?

More importantly, there is the question of how the Christian is to determine which parts of the Bible are inspired truths from God and which parts are the fallible errors of men.

Harold Martin explains:

If in the Scripture God is not always speaking (The Scriptures are partly of God and partly the ideas of mere men), then the reader himself is required to determine where God speaks and where He does not. This makes an idol out of the human mind.[5]

The View of Religion Analysis Service

It should be clear from the outset that Religion Analysis Service affirms belief in the full inerrancy of Scripture. Of course, this inerrancy is true of the original auto graphs and to our Bibles today as they faithfully represent the original autographs.

In other words, we endorse the view of Scripture that the apostle Paul held, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God”(1 Thessalonians 2:13).

We agree with Harold Martin:

The inspiration and authority of the Bible is the foundation upon with the entire edifice of Christian truth is standing. If this foundation falters the whole Christian faith goes with it. Thus it is against this foundation, the reliability of Scripture, that Satan launches his most vicious attacks.[6]

Inerrancy as the Historic View of the Christian Church

There can be no question that this has been the view of the historic Christian Church all down through the centuries, even if the modern term of inerrancy was not itself used.

Southern Baptist leader R. Albert Mohler Jr. stated: “Only since the very end of the seventeenth century, with the rise of biblical criticism, has the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture been widely challenged among Christians.”[7] In The Battle for the Bible, Harold Lindsell stated: “From the historical perspective it can be said that for two thousand years the Christian church has agreed that the Bible is completely trustworthy; it is infallible or inerrant.”[8]

But in the modern period, many Christians in the mainline protestant traditions have abandoned the inerrancy of Scripture in reaction to the many false claims of higher criticism and evolutionary science.

Enemies in the Camp

What is even more troubling is when those in fundamentalist and evangelical circles begin to make the same compromises on Scripture that their counterparts in the mainline liberal churches have done. While desiring to still be identified as conservative and Bible believing, yet they find ways to interpret the Scriptures that are a sell-out to the claims of Scripture itself.

It seems that each generation of conservative Bible believing Christians will have to fight the fight anew to defend the authority, reliability, and inerrancy of the Scriptures. In the last generation, Harold Lindsell’s book The Battle for the Bible was “The book that rocked the evangelical world.” Looking back, Mohler says:

Revisionist evangelicals have argued that the doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy can or should be abandoned in light of modern challenges or postmodern structures of thought. Heated costly battles over biblical inerrancy marked evangelicalism in the 1970s and thereafter. The strident warning issued in the 1970s by Harold Lindsell, a former editor of Christianity Today, in The Battle for the Bible presaged the battle lines that continue today. Though Lindsell was often criticized as alarmist at the time, developments within the evangelical world vindicated his warnings in short order.[9]

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Roger Nicole tells us:

On October 26-28, 1978, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy held a summit meeting near the Chicago airport. At that time it issued a statement on biblical inerrancy which included a Preamble, a Short Statement, Nineteen Articles of Affirmation and Denial, and more ample Exposition . . . A draft committee of Drs. Edmund P. Clowney, Norman L. Geisler, Harold W. Hoehner, Donald E. Hoke, Roger R. Nicole, James I. Packer, Earl D. Radmacher, and R. C. Sproul labored hard.[10]

Their efforts led to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which has become a standard guide for many in the evangelical movement. It is essential for our pastors and leaders to study this document and materials that flowed from it such as Explaining Inerrancy[11] by R. C. Sproul; Inerrancy[12]edited by Norman Geisler, and Inerrancy and the Church[13] edited by John D. Hannah. These works contain a wealth of scholarship giving reasons for the faith we have in God’s word.

What’s Happening in the Evangelical Seminary?

Sadly, these attacks on scriptural inerrancy are increasingly being taught by professors in our conservative seminaries. Such professors have essentially capitulated to evolutionary science and hence have rejected a literal interpretation of Genesis.

In addition to the acceptance of evolution, another common idea among these teachers is that the creation and flood stories of Genesis are simply reflections of the cultural environment in which they were written, a product of their time, in short myths.

It must be repeated that we are not concerned that evangelical students are informed about these theories, but what is troubling is that these attacks on the veracity of Genesis are being taught as truth in Evangelical schools.

Harold Martin captures these concerns:

Many who are paid to stand in our pulpits and to teach in our colleges, whose duty it is to teach and to proclaim God’s truth, are instead sowing seeds of unbelief, and in the name of science and of scholarship these persons are gradually destroying the faith of those to whom they minister.[14]

The Edenic Battlefield

Perhaps ground one for this battle between those who espouse inerrancy, and those compromising evangelicals is how they interpret the early chapters of Genesis. It is amazing to me that self-identified evangelicals are debating whether Adam and Eve were literal, real, and historical persons or not.

For instance, in Four Views on The Historical Adam, the book’s editors Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday assess the views of scholars within the evangelical movement. About Peter Enns, they say:

Enns instead argues that ‘the special creation of the first Adam as described in the Bible is not literally historical.’ Enns has been at the forefront of the discussion over Adam in part because of his contention that the apostle Paul should be viewed as a first-century man who incorrectly believed in Adam’s historicity.[15]

Indeed, Enns makes his view of inerrancy clear, “Put another way, inerrancy is a theory . . . Inerrancy should be amended accordingly or, in my view, scrapped altogether.”[16]

Barrett and Caneday add, “Denis O. Lamoureux, agrees with Enns and Collins in rejecting a historical Adam.”[17] Lamoureux himself states: “Real history in the Bible begins roughly around chapter 12 with Abraham. Like many other evangelical theologians, I view Genesis 1-11 as a unique type of literature (literary genre) that is distinct from the rest of the Bible . . . I do not believe that Adam was historical.”[18]

And again, they state:

Various interpretations are given of Adam and Eve. Typically, they are seen as a group of people or as names (symbols) used to refer to humanity as a whole, but not as a single pair from whom all humanity originates. Rau indentifies several advocates of this view, including Howard Van Till and Kenneth Miller as well as Francis Collins and the BioLogos Foundation.[19]

They sum up Greg Boyd’s position, “Boyd argues that our faith is secure whether or not there was a historical Adam.”[20]

It is important to remember that all these scholars are not considered liberals, but evangelical scholars teaching at “conservative” Bible colleges and seminaries!

The denial that Adam and Eve were literal historical founders of the human race is incredible in light of the clear teaching of the Bible. To the people of Athens, the apostle Paul declared, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26).

To the Romans Paul said, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men . . . Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam”(Romans 5:12,14).

Peter Enns suggests that Paul was just plain wrong, though his writings were inspired by God, or God-breathed if you will. We cannot fathom that God would allow Paul to write and teach falsehood under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Peter Enns stated, “The premise that such an inerrant Bible is the only kind of book God would be able to produce, or the only effective means of divine communication, strikes me as assuming that God shares our modern interest in accuracy and scientific precision.”[21]

We can either choose to follow the uninspired teachings of Peter Enns or the God inspired teachings of the apostle Paul. We can bow with Enns at the altar of modern naturalism or bow before our holy God. The choice should be clear.

The Conservative Reaction

Thankfully, there are many in our current generation dedicated to the truth of the inerrancy of Scripture. A great place to become informed on this movement is the Defending Inerrancy website (http://defendinginerrancy.com) which contains great articles and links to conferences promoting biblical inerrancy.

This website agrees that one of the major battlegrounds over the question of Biblical reliability is the proper interpretation of the biblical book of Genesis. For instance, Dr. William C. Roach says:

Scholars claim research indicates humanity is merely the byproduct of evolution or that Adam is merely a hominoid representative for the rest of humanity. Others will claim Jesus was merely reflecting the cultural customs of his day, or Paul was merely a pre-literate man saturated in the false views of his day; therefore, he was not really qualified to speak about the historical Adam or the truthfulness of gender roles.[22]

That ideas like these are penetrating evangelical institutions of higher learning should be raising great alarm. Too often, evangelicals are compromising on truth in order to find more acceptance in academia.

A Personal Example

Let me give you a personal example from my own experience. While working on my Master of Divinity degree, one of my professors was teaching a view of Genesis that rejected the literal view of Adam and Eve as actual historical persons. In a private conversation, I asked what I thought was the obvious question. Didn’t Jesus treat the stories of creation including Adam and Eve as real historical events, even basing his marriage teachings upon them?

The Professor’s answer threw me for a curve, as much for its cleverness as for its horrifying implications. He said that Jesus was merely accommodating to the beliefs of his first century (or 2nd Temple period) Jewish audience. Since they believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis, it was simply practical or prudent to go along with their mistaken beliefs in order to teach his views concerning the sacredness of marriage (Matthew 19:1-12).

In other words, rather than correcting what he knew was their false understanding or interpretation of Genesis, Jesus not only left them in their ignorance, but used their wrong understanding as a basis for his teaching. Yes, such things are actually being taught in our evangelical colleges and seminaries.

There Be Dragons!

I quote at length Garrett Deweese’s assessment to the so-called accommodations of Jesus:

Thus some Christians have maintained that moral understanding can grow, mature, and become more refined, through years of thoughtful reflection on moral philosophy. So presumably, we should realize that we may well be more enlightened with respect to many contemporary issues than were the New Testament authors.

The upshot of this approach is that the ‘authority’ of Jesus (or Scripture) is subject to revision as contemporary culture ‘advances’ . . . Two strategies are on offer that allow an interpretation to reject what seems to be explicit teaching and still affirm Jesus’ authority. The first says that Jesus knew that some of what he said was false, but he was accommodating his teaching to the common cultural beliefs of his day [the 2nd approach is to appeal to the kenosis of Christ to show he actually didn’t know he was wrong due to his self-limitation during the incarnation.] . . .

Accommodation? It might well be that Jesus (and indeed the Holy Spirit), inspiring the authors of the books of the Bible, accommodated his teachings to popular belief . . . Parents often accommodate beliefs of their children (whether to Santa Claus, or where babies come from, or Uncle Dave being as strong as a Superhero), without thereby endorsing them as true. So too, the claim goes, Jesus sometimes accommodated the false beliefs of his audience in his teachings. And the same would go for the inspired writers of Scripture.

We need to tread very carefully here; this is territory that should be marked as some medieval maps were, with the warning, ‘there be dragons!’. . . And if he knows it to be false, it’s a deception. He is either asserting what he knows to be false (and thus a lie), or using an unsound argument (and thus sophistry). In that case, I’ll say that it is not a benign but a malign accommodation.”[23]

Garrett Deweese does well to warn us of the dragons ahead with the hermeneutical approach of accommodation advocated by these scholars because as he points out, it leads to the conclusion that our Lord and savior Jesus Christ was “asserting what he” knew to be false. It is simply incredible that in order to seem more acceptable and sophisticated to academia, these so-called evangelical teachers actually suggest Jesus the God-man was a liar and deceiver.

What About Jonah?

I asked the same professor about the prophet Jonah since Jesus refers to him and uses his example as a prophetic illustration of His own coming death, burial, and resurrection:

He answered, ‘a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matthew 12:39-41).

My professor suggested that Jesus was again merely accommodating to the beliefs of that culture though He knew full well that the story of Jonah was nothing but a big fish story for pious teaching, but not ever meant to be taken as literal history.

This is an amazing hermeneutical tool for those Bible scholars who had been formally embarrassed by the miraculous narratives in the Bible. No longer need they be ridiculed by their fellow biblical scholars in academia. No, all they have to do is reinterpret historical narratives into a different genre, and claim that they are still being true to God’s word.

The Magic Hermeneutical Wand

Just wave the genre wand and presto, history becomes mere story. Oh, but Genesis sure seems like history. But our compromising professors tell us that it is a different kind of history written from the point of view of ignorant men unaware of modern science, much less of modern standards of history.

In other words, much of early Genesis was simply lifted from the cultural environment of the ancient Near East and modified by the editors of the Torah. Since the author(s) of Genesis were writing from their pre-scientific ignorance, their narrative of origins cannot be taken seriously, most especially because they collide head on with the one source of truth they accept without exception . . . evolutionary science.

And so evolutionary scenarios for origins are enshrined as inerrant while the Biblical account of Origins is set aside as nothing more than ancient tales from ignorant men.

What does all this mean for inerrancy? Everything, for it assumes that Genesis was not the product of a man writing under the inspiration of God, writing just what God wanted him to reveal to mankind, but is instead just a good inspirational story with some kernel of truth that can be gleamed from the errant shell.

We Must Decide

I do not at all object to being taught about these views of Genesis. But what I object to is that these views are being taught as truth in evangelical institutions. These supposed new hermeneutical tools are in truth merely ways to sneak dead liberalism into the backdoor of evangelicalism.

The great theologian Gresham Machen battled these same issues of accommodation during the modernist controversies of the of the 1920s and 1930s and his word are prophetic for today:

Our principal concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity . . . In trying to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science, in trying to bribe off the enemy by those concessions which the enemy most desires, the apologist has really abandoned what started out to defend.[24]

Deconstruction, Reconstruction, and Faithfulness

While I was going through college and seminary, I often heard the doctrine of inerrancy attacked and even ridiculed in light of the challenges from postmodern thinking. Indeed, at one institution, I was encouraged to go through a process of deconstruction in which one systematically rejected all their conservative ideas about the Bible, chief among them that allegedly worn out monstrosity called inerrancy.

May it never be! Rather, it is my prayer that these sincere men I studied with will eventually go through a process of reconstruction and return to the Bible and truths that God has revealed. To our readers, we encourage you to retain your faith in God’ word and not be upset by those who wish to distort God’s word.

Note: Steve Lagoon, BA, MATS, MDiv, is Editor of The Discerner, the Voice of Religion Analysis Service (info@ras.org), Chaska MN. This article is printed here from the Discerner by permission.


  1. Kevin T. Bauder, in The Spectrum of Evangelicalism, Andrew David Naselli & Collin Hansen, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan, 2011) 189.
  2. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy, J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan Publishing, 2013) 188.
  3. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible: The Book that Rocked the Evangelical World, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, 1981)30-31
  4. J. Otis Yoder & Harold S. Martin, Biblical Inerrancy and Reliability, Harrisonburg VA (Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, 1985) 9.
  5. J. Otis Yoder & Harold S. Martin, Biblical Inerrancy and Reliability, Harrisonburg VA (Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, 1985) 38.
  6. J. Otis Yoder & Harold S. Martin, Biblical Inerrancy and Reliability, Harrisonburg VA (Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, 1985) 30.
  7. R. Albert Mohler Jr., Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy, J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan Publishing, 2013) 41.
  8. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible: The Book that Rocked the Evangelical World, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, 1981) 19.
  9. R. Albert Mohler, in The Spectrum of Evangelicalism, Andrew David Naselli & Collin Hansen, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan, 2011) 90.
  10. R. C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy, 1980 by the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy/ Orlando FL (Ligonier Ministries, 1996) 5.
  11. R. C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy, 1980 by the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy/ Orlando FL (Ligonier Ministries, 1996)
  12. Inerrancy, Edited by Norman L. Geisler, Grand Rapids MI (Academie Books, 1980).
  13. Inerrancy and the Church, Edited by John D. Hannah, Chicago IL (Moody Press, 1984).
  14. J. Otis Yoder & Harold S. Martin, Biblical Inerrancy and Reliability, Harrisonburg VA (Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, 1985) 30.
  15. Four Views on the Historical Adam, Matthew Barrett & Ardel Caneday, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan, 2013) 27. They cite the Peter Enns quote from: Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins, Grand Rapids MI (Brazos Press, 2012) xvi.
  16. Peter Enns, Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy, J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan Publishing, 2013) 84.
  17. Four Views on the Historical Adam, Matthew Barrett & Ardel Caneday, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan, 2013) 27.
  18. Four Views on the Historical Adam, Matthew Barrett & Ardel Caneday, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan, 2013) 44.
  19. Four Views on the Historical Adam, Matthew Barrett & Ardel Caneday, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan, 2013) 21.
  20. Four Views on the Historical Adam, Matthew Barrett & Ardel Caneday, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan, 2013) 34.
  21. Peter Enns, Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy, J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, General Editors, Grand Rapids MI (Zondervan Publishing, 2013) 84.
  22. Dr. William C. Roach, John MacArthur’s Recent Conference on Inerrancy, http://defendinginerrancy.com/2015-inerrancy-summit/
  23. Garrett J. DeWeese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian, Downer’s Grove IL (Inter-Varsity Press, 2011) 97-98.
  24. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Grand Rapids MI (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1923) 6.