Does God Accommodate to Human Error?


Historically, most evangelical theologians have adopted a form of divine condescension to explain how an infinite God could communicate with finite creatures in finite human language. This is often called analogous language (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, chap. 9). However, since the word “accommodation” has come to be associated with the acceptance of error, we wish to distinguish between the legitimate evangelical teaching of God’s adaptation to human finitude and the illegitimate view of non-inerrantists who assert God’s accommodation to human error. It appears that some participants of the inerrancy dialogue fit into the latter category. Peter Enns believes that accommodation to human error is part of an Incarnational Model which he accepts. This involves writers making up speeches based on what is not stated but is only thought to be “called for,” as Greek historian Thucydides admitted doing (Enns, 101-102). This accommodation view also allows for employing Hebrew and Greco-Roman literary genres which include literature with factual errors in them (Enns, 103).

The following chart draws a contrast between the two views:


Peter Enns believes that “details” like whether Paul’s companions heard the voice or not (Acts 9, 22) were part of this flexibility of accommodation to error. In brief, he claims that “biblical writers shaped history creatively for their own theological purposes” (Enns, 100). Recording “what happened” was not the “primary focus” for the Book of Acts but rather “interpreting Paul for his audience” (Enns, 102). He adds, “shaping significantly the portrayal of the past is hardly an isolated incident here and there in the Bible; it’s the very substance of how biblical writers told the story of their past” (Enns, 104). In brief, God accommodates to human myths, legends, and errors in the writing of Scripture. Indeed, according to some non-inerrantists like Enns, this includes accommodation to alien worldviews.

However, ETS/CSBI inerrantists emphatically reject this kind of speculation. The CSBI declares: “We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture” (CSBI, Art. 14). Further, “We deny that Jesus’ teaching about scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity” (CSBI, Art. 15). “We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterances on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write. We deny that finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word” (CSBI, Art. 9). Also, “We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work in inspiration” (CSBI, Art. 4).


There are many good reasons for rejecting the non-inerrantist accommodation to error theory. Let’s begin with the argument from the character of God.

First, it is contrary to the nature of God as truth that He would accommodate to error. Michael Bird states the issue well, though he wrongly limits God to speaking on only redemptive matters. Nevertheless, he is on point with regard to the nature of inerrancy in relation to God. He writes: “God identifies with and even invests his own character in his Word…. The accommodation is never a capitulation to error. God does not speak erroneously, nor does he feed us with nuts of truth lodged inside shells of falsehood” (Bird, 159). He cites Bromley aptly, “It is sheer unreason to say that truth is revealed in and through that which is erroneous” (cited by Bird, 159).

Second, accommodation to error is contrary to the nature of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God. God cannot err (Heb 6:18), and if the Bible is His Word, then the Bible cannot err. So, to affirm that accommodation to error was involved in the inspiration of Scripture is contrary to the nature of Scripture as the Word of God. Jesus affirmed that the “Scripture” is the unbreakable Word of God (John 10:34-35) which is imperishable to every “iota and dot” (Mat. 5:18). The New Testament authors often cite the Old Testament as what “God said” (cf. Mat. 19:5; Acts 4:24-25; 13:34.35; Heb. 1:5-7). Indeed, the whole Old Testament is said to be “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Bird wrongly claimed “God directly inspires persons, not pages” (Enns, 164). In fact, the New Testament only uses the word “inspired” (theopneustos) once (2 Tim. 3:16) and it refers to the written Scripture (grapha, writings). The writings, not the writers, are “breathed out” by God. To be sure, the writers were “moved by” God to write (2 Peter 1:20-21), but only what they wrote as a result was inspired. So if the Scriptures are the very writings breathed out by God, then they cannot be errant since God cannot err (Titus 1:2).

Third, the accommodation to error theory is contrary to sound reason. Anti-inerrantist Peter Enns saw this logic and tried to avoid it by a Barthian kind of separation of the Bible from the Word of God. He wrote, “The premise that such an inerrant Bible is the only kind of book God would be able to produce…, strikes me as assuming that God shares our modern interest in accuracy and scientific precision, rather than allowing the phenomena of Scripture to shape our theological expectations” (Enns, 84). But Enns forgets that any kind of error is contrary, not to “modern interest” but to the very nature of the God as the God of all truth. So, whatever nuances of truth there are which are borne out by the phenomena of Scripture cannot, nevertheless, cannot negate the naked truth that God cannot err, nor can his Word. The rest is detail.