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Blog / The Inerrancy Debate, Part 2: Peter Enns on Biblical Inerrancy

The Inerrancy Debate, Part 2: Peter Enns on Biblical Inerrancy

This week, we’re walking through five different views on the question of biblical inerrancy, all of them drawn from the appropriately-named book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Yesterday, we posted the perspective of Al Mohler, who believes that inerrancy is critical to a proper understanding of the Bible. Today, we turn to a very different view: that of biblical scholar and theologian Peter Enns.

Here’s an excerpt from Enns’ essay in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy.

Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does

By Peter Enns. Excerpted from Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Copyright © 2013 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Peter EnnsThe Bible is the book of God for the people of God. It reveals and conceals, is clear yet complex, open to all but impossible to master. Its message clearly reflects the cultural settings of the authors, yet it still comforts and convicts across cultures and across time. The Bible is a book that tells one grand narrative, but by means of divergent viewpoints and different theologies. It tells of God’s acts but also reports some events that either may not have happened or have been significantly reshaped and transformed by centuries of tradition. It presents us with portraits of God and of his people that at times comfort and confirm our faith while at other times challenge and stretch our faith to its breaking point. This is the Bible we have, the Bible God gave us…

The implied premise of the [Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI)] is that God as God would necessarily produce an inerrant Bible, and this premise is the very point coming under increasing scrutiny within evangelicalism. To the minds of many, maintaining inerrancy requires that perennially nagging counterevidence from inside and outside of the Bible must be adjusted to support that premise rather than allowing that evidence to call the premise into question. In my opinion, the distance between what the Bible is and the theological hedge placed around the Bible by the CSBI has been and continues to be a source of considerable cognitive dissonance…

I do not think inerrancy can be effectively nuanced to account for the Bible’s own behavior as a text produced in ancient cultures. In my view, inerrancy regularly functions to short-circuit rather than spark our knowledge of the Bible. Contrary to its intention to preserve the truthfulness of Scripture and the truth-telling God behind it, inerrancy prematurely shuts down rigorous inquiry into what the Bible’s “truthfulness” means, and so interrupts rather than fosters careful reading of Scripture. When inerrancy asks us to override the best historical and scientific inquiry with (what is taken to be) the plain teaching of Scripture, it also hinders us from addressing the more interesting, spiritually edifying, and lovely topic of what kind of a God we have, one who is willing to speak within the limitations of his audience. Indeed, despite its apparent interest in seeing God as so powerful that he can overrule ancient human error and ignorance, inerrancy portrays a weak view of God. It fails to be constrained by the Bible’s own witness of God’s pattern of working — that God’s power is made known in weakness, he reigns amidst human error and suffering, and he lovingly condescends to finite human culture. Ironically, inerrancy prevents us from grappling with the God of the Bible…

The three [biblical] test cases on which we have been asked to comment illustrate the inadequacies of an inerrantist paradigm. They represent challenges to inerrancy — from outside the Bible and from within the Bible itself — that evangelicals are quickly introduced to when they open their Bibles and try to be faithful, responsible, and informed readers…

The pressing issue before evangelicalism is not to formulate longer, more complex, more subtle, and more sophisticated defenses of what we feel God should have done [see C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (San Diego: Harcourt, 1986), 111–12] but to teach future generations, in the academy, the church, and the world, better ways of meeting God in the Scripture we have.

Do you find Enns’ position compelling? Does it challenge your views of Scripture, or make you reconsider your understanding of the Bible? What do you think of his argument that an insistence on inerrancy can actually get in the way of properly understanding Scripture?

And here’s something to think about as you read through the different perspectives this week: given the diversity of opinion on such an important topic within the church, how can and should Christians interact graciously and respectfully with fellow believers who approach God’s Word from different angles?

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