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 ( 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? ( 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? ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.

Records of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy

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.

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.


  1. Pingback: THE INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL ON BIBLICAL INERRANCY — On the Pilgrim Road – Citizen Tom

  2. Those who say we can trust the Bible uses the expression “biblical inerrancy”. Those who say we cannot trust the Bible uses the expression “biblical literalism”.

    Yes. There is little agreement on what these ‘terms’ actually mean between believers and the secularists. In my experience, I’m most accustomed to Biblical literalism being a term used for fundamentalism– an expression that every word from the Bible is how it happened. I recently came across a podcast from the Lutheran Missouri Synod that the professor used the term to describe what I would describe as a historian as “historicism.” Professor Mitchell explained that the Bible is different genres and we have to take into account what the authors are trying to express and their audiences. I said wait a second–that’s not how I’ve traditionally understood literalism or even the LCMS understanding of it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. @Phillip

      The way the different sides use those two expressions, biblical inerrancy and biblical literalism, is something I only recently figured out. If we are not paying much attention to the efforts of Christianity’s opponents, we can miss the way the manipulate the language.

      A good debate should begin by defining the terms of the debate. Unfortunately, some people try to use the opportunity to define the terms of the debate so that the definition of the terms settles the debate. When that happens, the natural reaction is to say our opponent has defined the terms of the debate incorrectly. Hence,instead of just saying how we interpret scripture, the natural thing to do is to get into an argument over Biblical literalism, but the argument just obscures the truth.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Considering St. Robert Bellarmine’s De Controversiis refutation of Pt. 2 – On the Pilgrim Road

  4. What’s ironic about all these defenses (or denials) of Scripture is that Scripture does not define itself as inerrant or infallible. It defines itself as God-breathed, or God-inspired. So, yes, it can absolutely be trusted on this basis. We don’t need to prop it up with human defenses.

    The only question is, is our interpretation inspired? Can it be trusted? The Word of God is a Person–He’s the living Word that breathes life in the texts, able to penetrate even the deepest motives of our hearts and transform our souls. This is why, as theologian, Walter Wink, said, historical criticism is bankrupt. It critiques what it fails to understand.

    Our interpretation of the text is where we need to show grace for one another when we see the same thing differently. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about being like Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Mel

      Agreed! Our interpretation can be quite faulty. It is actually kind of silly when people complain Bible because we have trouble understanding it. The Bible says we need to be redeemed. Creatures who need redemption need redemption because they lack understanding, wisdom and various other virtues.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nicholas

    This post strikes at a significant part of my Christian journey in recent years, which readers at AATW could chart following my exposure to Dr Heiser’s work and my own exploration. The short summary is I went to the more nuanced view and came to accept viewpoints I had previously decried from my former perch. I have often found in my Christian journey that key points of growth involve accepting teachings I don’t like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Nicholas

      As I observed to Mel (above), creatures who need redemption need redemption because they lack understanding, wisdom and various other virtues. Redemption requires us to learn to prefer what our Lord wants for us. Easier said than done.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jock McSporran

    Citizen Tom – I’ve only once come across `inerrancy’ and this Chicago Summit (which presumably convened at the Hawthorne Inn, with Al Capone present and with Fats Waller playing the piano) and it looked like bad news. I read the first few articles and then put it in the bin, because it looked like a bunch of intellectuals trying to push a `flat earth society’ agenda with their understanding of the beginning of the book of Genesis.

    Sure, there are certain things that are clearly fixed here – there clearly existed a real person Adam, otherwise Romans 5 doesn’t make an awful lot of sense – but these `inerrancy’ people seemed to be bringing in a degree of swivel-eyed weirdness that would make anybody run a mile.

    Consider one of your quotes about inerrancy, that `the Christian faith stands on three legs’. Really? As I understand it, the Christian faith has exactly one leg; Jesus Christ. In the crucifixion, we see that our sins have been dealt with and in the resurrection we see that our sins have been dealt with.

    I do have serious problems with much of Scripture. For example, Ezra and Nehemiah seem to be a pair of deeply unpleasant racists; in Ezra 10, he is duffing up stable marriages because the women are foreign. There is much in Scripture where we would hope that `Christians’ would not take what is written as an explicit blue print for Christian living.


    1. @Jock

      What should I say about your first paragraph and the “inerrancy people” in your second paragraph? Well, I will republish an old post here next Monday that addresses my own biases. Other than that I suggest you study the Bible as much as you can. Even if you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, any reasonable person must admit the Bible is the most important literary work ever written.

      Where should we go for help when we try to understand the Bible? I have my own preferences. You have yours. These preferences are our biases. Some of these biases are just a matter of taste. Others prevent us from knowing the Truth. Pray that the Holy Spirit helps you to distinguish the one from the other and guides you to the Truth.

      Only if we love God can we can overcome our biases. Why? Because we cannot help seeing the world from our own point of view — from our self — we cannot avoid being biased. To overcome our bias (pride of self) we must strive to see the world from the perspective of others, and we can only do that well when we adopt the viewpoint of someone we love.

      There is only One who knows the Truth. That is God. That is why when we love Him we can begin to know the Truth.

      What about your third paragraph? To make the point that we weaponize phrases, I posted the first three hits from two different search engines. That said, God does seem to have an affinity for the number “three”. Jesus is God, but He is also a member of the Trinity. Anyway, I suggest you give the authors of that article the kindness of little understanding. Do you actually think that they intended to diminish the importance of Jesus Christ?

      What about Ezra and Nehemiah? Were they bigots? Or were they just obeying God’s commands? Is God a bigot? Did God choose the people of Israel, or did Ezra and Nehemiah just behave like bigots?

      Some of the stories in the Bible are puzzling. Like it or not, God chose the Jews. Yet He did so for our salvation as well as the salvation of the Jews. So we read that story, and it grates on our biases, we need to remember God saved us too.

      When we consider the history God’s chosen people, we see much suffering. The honor God bestowed upon the Jews came with a high price.

      The Bible is also straightforward about this fact. If the Jews are special, it is only because God chose them. Otherwise, there was nothing special about them.

      Anyway, worrying about other people’s biases doesn’t accomplish much. If we are striving to overcome our own biases, we usually have more than enough to do.

      What were Jesus’ last words to Peter in the Book of John? “You follow Me!”


  7. Pingback: REVILING CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISM – On the Pilgrim Road

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