What is this post about? It is about the argument between those who use the expression “biblical inerrancy” and those use the expression “biblical literalism”. Those who say we can trust the Bible use the expression “biblical inerrancy”. Those who say we cannot trust the Bible use the expression “biblical literalism”.
Oddly, Bing and Google produce distinctly different search results. That’s is probably because some of the folks who operate Internet search engines have agendas too. So, I used Bing to get a list of hits on “biblical inerrancy” and Google to get a list on “biblical literalism”.
Here are the top three hits on “biblical inerrancy” from Bing.
- Biblical inerrancy (en.wikipedia.org): Here is the basic definition from Wikipedia.
Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching”; or, at least, that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”. Some equate inerrancy with biblical infallibility; others do not. The belief is of particular significance within parts of evangelicalism, where it is formulated in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”. (continued here)
- What’s Inerrancy!? And Why Should I Care? (defendinginerrancy.com/): This article begins with why Inerrancy is important.
It’s been said that a table must have at least three legs to stand. Take away any of the three legs and it will surely topple. In much the same way, the Christian faith stands on three legs. These three legs are the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Take away one, and like the table, the divine authority of the Christian faith will surely topple. These three “in’s” complement each other, yet each expresses a slightly different distinction in our understanding of Scripture. (continued here)
- Why is it important to believe in biblical inerrancy? (gotquestions.org): This article starts with an answer.
We live in a time that tends to shrug its shoulders when confronted with error. Instead of asking, like Pilate, “What is truth?” postmodern man says, “Nothing is truth” or perhaps “There is truth, but we cannot know it.” We’ve grown accustomed to being lied to, and many people seem comfortable with the false notion that the Bible, too, contains errors. (continued here)
Here are the top three hits on “biblical literalism” from Google.
- Biblical literalism (en.wikipedia.org): Here is how this article starts.
Biblical literalism or biblicism is a term used differently by different authors concerning biblical interpretation. It can equate to the dictionary definition of literalism: “adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense”,where literal means “in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical”. (continued here)
- How biblical literalism took root (theguardian.com): The author is not a fan of biblical literalism.
The Bible doesn’t state that it should be read literally – yet an all-or-nothing approach is the core of many Christians’ faith. Where does biblical literalism come from? What is the genesis, if you will, of the habit of mind that makes many Christians read the Bible with a different brain to the one they’d use with any other writing? (continued here)
- Biblical literalism (rationalwiki.org): These folks definitely don’t like biblical literalism. Their article starts with this quote.
If you just close your eyes and block your ears
To the accumulated knowledge of the last two thousand years
Then morally, guess what? You’re off the hook
And thank Christ you only have to read one book
—Tim Minchin, The Good Book (continued here)
So what is going on? Why these two different expressions? It seems to me that “biblical literalism” is a straw man (see the straw man fallacy) for attacking the belief in “biblical inerrancy”.
Note: When I started looking for a good reference for the straw man fallacy, I was taken aback by the examples. The majority of the examples were “Conservatives” using the straw man fallacy to distort the positions of Liberals Democrats. The presence of Conservatives on the Internet is relatively small. Curiously, I ended up referencing the Wikipedia article because it indicated the least bias.
So what is the stance of most evangelicals on the correct way to interpret Bible? That is, what is meant by biblical inerrancy? As it turns out, the concept of biblical inerrancy is easily distorted because the concept of biblical inerrancy requires a careful explanation. To put together such an explanation, over 300 Christian leaders, theologians and pastors met three times in Chicago. The Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) has the records. Here how DTS’ article described what happened.
The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was founded in 1977 to clarify and defend the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The Council sponsored three major “summits,” each producing an important statement.
Summit I met in Chicago on October 26–28, 1978. Over 300 Christian leaders, theologians and pastors attended and adopted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, consisting of nineteen articles with brief exposition. (See signatures and typed list of signatories.) Papers delivered at the conference were published as Norman L. Geisler, ed., Inerrancy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980). Dr. Jay Grimstead, one of the organizers of the ICBI, describes the statement as “a landmark church document” created “by the then largest, broadest, group of evangelical protestant scholars that ever came together to create a common, theological document in the 20th century. It is probably the first systematically comprehensive, broadly based, scholarly, creed–like statement on the inspiration and authority of Scripture in the history of the church.” (continued here)
The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) met three times and produced a document at each meeting. Here are links to those documents.
- Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
- Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics
- Chicago Statement on Biblical Application
What is the lesson here? If we want to find out what people believe, we need to find out what they say they believe. There is no reason we have to trust their detractors, especially when they are biased.
Here is a video by the former president of ICBI.