Added to my “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series.

Consider this story (adapted from a true story):

Greg Jones was an evangelical Christian, active in his church, a regular preacher, teacher and served on the elder board. He says that he was addicted to fundamentalism. He slept, ate, and drank the truths of Christianity. After a decade of faithful service to the church, he is now a professing atheist who rejects the naivety of all that he held to so dearly. Why? Well, as he tells the story, he says that he was awakened out of his slumber of fundamentalism through many encounters with “the truth.” Chief among these encounters was when he finally realized that the Bible was “full of errors.” He describes his turn by referencing the discrepancies that he found throughout Scripture and being unable to come to a way to reconcile them. “For years,” he describes, “I was the best at answering the skeptic with regards to any objection that he could levy against the Scriptures. I knew how to reconcile any supposed contradiction. It became like an art form that I was proud of. No matter how difficult the problem, I could find a way out. After a time, I don’t know why, but I began to reflect upon the lengths that I had to go to make it all fit together. I realized that the art of answering the contradictions became a subjective smokescreen that I raised not only to those I was responding to, but also to myself. I had to be honest with myself. John says ‘No one who is born of God sins,’ then turns around and says “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father.” Which one is it? There are literally hundreds of problems like this in Scripture. My answers may have satisfied those I taught, but they no longer satisfied me. Eventually I realized (sadly, I might say) that I had to let go of the inerrancy of Scripture. Once I did that, I had to let go of Christianity all together.”

This description is a common testimony of many who have walked away from the faith. But this blog is not about walking away from the faith per se, but with the danger of the doctrine of inerrancy. When Greg rejected the doctrine of inerrancy because of his inability to reconcile the discrepancies, did this necessarily mean that he had to walk away from the faith?

Here is the question: Is the doctrine of inerrancy so central to the Christian faith that if one were to deny it, he or she should pack their bags and search for a new worldview? In other words (and let me be very clear), if the Scriptures are not inerrant, does that mean the Christian faith is false?

Most of you know that I hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. I call my view “reasoned” inerrancy which does not suppose a particular wooden hermeneutic to be tied to it. (You can read more about it here).

Having said this, I believe that this doctrine, while important, is not the article upon which Christianity stands or falls. I believe that the Scriptures could contain error and the Christian faith remain essentially in tact. Why? Because Christianity is not built upon the inerrancy of Scripture, but the historical Advent of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ became man, lived a perfect life, died an atoning death, and rose on the third day not because the Scriptures inerrantly say that these events occurred, but because they did, in fact, occur. The truth is in the objectivity of the event, not the accuracy of the record of the event. The cause and effect must be put into proper place here. The historical event of the incarnation caused the recording of Scripture, Scripture was not the cause of the events. Again, Christianity is founded upon the Advent, not the inerrant record of the Advent.

Think about this: Do we only trust the historical records of those accounts that have an inerrant witness? Are the ancient histories inerrant? I have never heard anyone say that Polybius (c.200-after 118 BCE) was inerrant in his records of Roman history, yet we treat him as generally reliable. As well, Josephus (37- after 93 CE) is seen as a generally reliable Jewish historian, but not inerrant. Those who write history books for our schools today do not have to submit a resume with credentials of inerrancy before they are approved by the publishers to write upper-level history textbooks do they? No. Why? Because it is a well accepted understanding that people can give a reliable and truthful witness, even if they are not inerrant. What if we followed the example set by Greg in the above story. Once we find a discrepancy of any kind in any work, this renders the entire work untrustworthy. If this were our method of historical inquiry, we would be completely agnostic to all of history. We would end up saying that all works written by historians of past are complete lies and fabrications, because they are not inerrant. 

Thankfully, this is not the dilemma that is presented to us in understanding history (or any other discipline). We understand that people, while errant, can give us generally trustworthy accounts. Those who hold positions as university professors, scientists, engineers, historians, mathematicians, politicians, and just about every other career must rely upon the general trustworthiness of the witness of other errant individuals.

Let’s take this same approach with the Scriptures for a moment. Let’s assume that the Scriptures are not inerrant. (Please, at least attempt to go there with me!). Let’s take it a step further and say that the Scriptures are not inspired at all. Here then is the situation: the Scriptures are a collection of 66 ancient historical records, given through various types of literature. The records, like any other record, may have errors-historical, scientific, or otherwise. Now that we are rollin’, let’s say that John did indeed make a mistake about the number of women who came to the tomb of Jesus after His resurrection. Does this make the testimony of John completely false? Does this mean that the entire testimony of John is now wrong at every turn? Of course not! Any historian who followed this methodology would quickly find himself out of a job, for he would have no sources for his research. If the Scriptures were like any other records of history with minor discrepancies, then this would not justify a total rejection of the events they record. Their credibility is based upon the assumption of general historic reliability as evidenced through the rules of historic inquiry—which do not include a criteria for inerrancy.

Let me take this one more step further. The fact is that we don’t even need the Scriptures in order for Christianity to be true. Remember, the Christian worldview is Christocentric (centered around the Advent of Christ), not bibliocentric (centered around the Bible). It is because of God’s grace that we even have the record of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. But if for some reason God had decided to withhold His grace and not record these events in Scripture, does this mean that the events did not take place? Of course not. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are historical events that happened whether or not we have inspired records.

You may say to me, how would we know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ had it not been recorded? This is a good question, but you must first take this next step of concession. Not only is it true that Christianity is not dependent upon inerrancy, inspiration, and recording of the events, but it is also not reliant upon our knowledge of the events. Theoretically speaking, God could have sent His Son to die for the world and raise from the grave and not told anyone at all and Christianity would still be true. The point is that Christianity stands or falls upon the historical truth of the Advent of the Son of God, not the record of these events through Scripture. How God decides to communicate these events, should He choose to do so, is not the issue. I suppose, for the sake of arguement, God could have used unwritten tradition, the testimony of angels, dreams and visions, or direct encounters.

Now, apologetically speaking, there is no reason whatsoever, I believe, for one to reject the general historical reliability of the Scriptures if presented as such. If one were to accept the Gospels, for instance, like any other historical writing, then they would have to be persuaded of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth based upon honest and solid historical inquiry. If they did not, then, in my opinion, their methodology is flawed by other unjustifiable presuppositions such as the impossibility of miracles.

Why did Greg feel compelled to reject the entirety of Christianity because of a few supposed errors? Because that is what he was taught by conservative, well meaning Christians. I believe that we often times, in our zeal for the Scriptures, create a false dilemma suggesting that belief in inerrancy and total rejection of the Christian message are the only two options. These are not the only two options. The Scriptures can be generally reliable historical accounts and the Christian faith still be true.

To those of you who are struggling with or reject the doctrine of inerrancy, while I believe you are wrong, this does not mean that you have grounds to reject the historicity of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God as recorded in Scripture. There are 27 ancient documents that have historical credibility that must be referenced just like any other ancient document (not to mention the witness of dozens of first and second century historical documents that are not included in this New Testament canon). If you reject Christianity based upon your belief of the errancy of these documents, you must also reject all the records of ancient history.

To those of you who believe in inspiration and inerrancy, your belief is on solid ground. But please be careful not to create a false dilemma concerning a strict adherence to your persuasion. While the authority of God’s word is of central importance, Christianity is Christocentric, not bibliocentric. Christ is still Lord, even if the Scriptures were never written.

What is the danger of inerrancy? Making it the doctrine upon which the Christian faith stands or falls. Again, while I hold to this doctrine, I am not even convinced that it is a linchpin of Evangelicalism.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    62 replies to ""If the Bible is Not Inerrant, then Christianity is False" . . . And Other Stupid Statements"

    • […] evening I was doing a search regarding the Bible and inerrancy after reading a good post on the subject at Parchment and Pen. One site I landed at was Dr. Platypus, and for a while I got […]

    • anonymous

      Let me describe two Christians both are Gay (or perhaps bisexual) and I have every reason to believe are (or were) God fearing:
      One man fights the passions that he believes are sinful but occasionally falls to temptation. When he fails it is inevitably in cheep casual relationships of the most sorted type. After each affair he is overcome with guilt repents and promises God and Himself he will not fall again. Sadly he does again and again.
      The Second Man accepted that his homosexuality was the result of a broken and fallen world where no mere human being could hope to be truly holy in the sight of God apart from Christ’s sacrificial blood. He determined to live a life of love and faithfulness to a man that he loves and try’s to be faithful to him.
      I knew both of these men the first was my Uncle the Second was (for a brief time my Priest). The first man dead of Aids nearly 20 years ago he left a wife and three children behind and he was as an aside a pillar in his local Baptist Church.
      The Second Man ministers to a small working class Anglo Catholic inner-city parish and is a chaplain at a local mental hospital. To this day he serves faithfully his partner, His church and his community.
      Which of these men are the most faithfully Christian I once knew and am now no longer sure.

    • Jason C

      fundamentalist young earther who wants nothing to do with anything even remotely intellectual

      Gee, thanks for the ad hominem.

      As for the matter of copying errors, a textual critic looks at the letters used in the two competing references and sees if it is possible to go from one to the other by dropping a line or stroke. Or whether the reference is from the Hebrew or Greek copies of the first testament.

      Harmonizing difficulties in two texts is common enough among scholars not to arouse any comment. For example, comparing 420 and 450 the difference between kaf and nun (20 and 50) is a small tag on the side of the kaf. The original number was probably 420 but a copying error turned it into 450. Scribes were careful, but they weren’t infallible.

    • Seth R.

      The problem with the Chicago Statement is that it posits a qualified view of inerrancy where the qualifications basically strip the idea of inerrancy of any force it ever had.

      Dr. Craig Blomberg summarized the Chicago Statement’s definition of inerrancy thus:

      “Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical or life sciences.”

      If this is an accurate summary, basically the Statement claims that the Bible texts are perfect and inerrant, but that you can only obtain that inerrant interpretation when you, in fact, achieve omniscience yourself.

      “When all the facts are known…”

      Pray tell, when exactly will “all the facts” surrounding the Bible be known?

      Convenient to have a statement of dogma that can never be objectively tested, isn’t it?

      Thus, the Chicago statement becomes an essentially meaningless and useless statement of an unverifiable theory of the Bible. We really are left with nothing more than a pious-sounding noise.

    • Mike P


      Thank you for a well-reasoned and thoughtful article. I share your position on the concept of inerrancy… this is all too often a stumbling-block for free thinkers who are interested in a real relationship with Christ, but are frequently met with senseless Church-speak and false dilemmas.


    • philwynk

      That fellow Greg, who became an atheist after he admitted the discrepancies, apparently never really believed in God. He believed in the Bible; the Bible was a substitute for God. If he had believe in God, when he discovered the weaknesses in the Bible he would have turned to God and asked “What about this?” And he would have gotten an answer.

      As Christians, our relationship is not with a book, it is with a living God who communicates. Those who trust in the book are committing idolatry even while they claim to remain faithful; Greg was only marginally more a Christian before the change than after. Our reliance is not on our correct interpretation, but on the real grace of a real God who really intervenes in our lives. It is an error ever to forget this.

    • Nick Peters

      This is excellent and as one of the main contenders against people like Geisler and Mohler, I find it revealing that they say the church will fall away if we do not hold fast to inerrancy.

      It’s the opposite. It’s because of our stance on inerrancy that many are falling away from the church. I encounter them most every day.

    • Kyle Peters

      This article fails to understand the nature of scripture as opposed to other historical documents. Since the scriptures are God’s chosen method of revealing himself to the world, and not just historical records, they are inherently theological. Which means that if there’s a possibility of errors, then there’s a possibility that the bible contains inaccuracies about God himself, which would in essence limit God’s ability to reveal himself based on the fallibility of the human instrument. Moreover, if the scriptures are indeed “God breathed” then you have to ask the question of whether or not it’s possible for God to breathe our errors. It seems as though C. Michael Patton does not have an issue adding a “might be” in front of “God breathed” at 2 Tim. 3:16. And again it implies that God is limited by the human instrument.

    • Jeff C.

      “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical;…” (Westminster Confession 1:8)
      Presbyterians cannot claim to hold to the Westminster Confession and proudly use the myriad of new-fangled manuscripts and “scholarly” translations since Westcott and Hort… this means that God FAILED, by his singular care and providence, to keep the Scriptures pure in ALL ages, at least until recently!
      My pastor recently preached through Mark, and decided to drop the ending of Mark found in the Received Text. But virtually nobody noticed how impotent it made our Almighty God look. K-Funk’s suspicions are reasonable. You can’t have your textual criticism cake and eat it, too. Today’s nagging doubts about inerrancy are the bitter fruit of post- Westcott and Hort textual criticism.

      • Jim

        @Jeff C

        Logically, does the position adopted in your last post not logically lead to locating inerrancy in some particular text, edition, translation or version ?

        If so – which one ? The AV(KJV) ? Or some other ? And how does one identify which set of texts is the unique locus of inerrancy ?

        I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant – “useful”, certainly. but no more flawless than any other human book. STM that Warfieldian inerrantism makes it into a Protestant Koran.

    • Ken

      Someone noted a discrepancy in an amount of gold, 420 versus 450. If one has 450, then one has 420. Also, 420 could have been brought, then another 30 brought later. As long as there is a possible explanation, then I don’t see an error or contradiction. If it had been stated that 450 had been brought into the temple at 4:55 pm on the 22nd of March (just an example), and it was stated elsewhere that 420 had been brought in at 4:55 pm on the 22nd of March, that would be a clear error or discrepancy.

      The question that brought me to search for explanations on the web and finally here to this page concerns David, Son of Jesse. The law stated that a murderer should be executed. In essence, David put out a contract on Uriah to have him “pinched.” By modern standards such a hit is considered despicable. He got off the hook, wasn’t executed and it seems that others took the fall, the baby dies, Bathsheba loses her husband and is forced into the arms of a murderer (David) to survive in a patriarchal society of ruffians and violent men. (She was in rough company, very politically charged, and extremely dangerous. She must have had some savvy.) So I was questioning the Bible from its double standard. Even the Bible states that everyone, rich and poor, weak and powerful, needs to (positively) get justice, and negatively, not be denied punishment when it should be delivered. At first I thought that the Bible showed that it wasn’t serious about fairness under the demanding law, as if rules were for other people and not kings. But…

      Tentatively, I have concluded that the Bible is accurate, and that it presents us the facts and we are to draw the untidy conclusions such as (in David’s case), that David didn’t receive the justice demanded by the law for his murderous ways, and in this case, it was, in my consideration, due to the weakness of the people around him to take him to task. The Bible presents the good, bad and ugly. The murder was ugly, the adultery was ugly, the complicity of Joab was ugly, and the lack of accountability was also ugly. But as was pointed out to me by bro
      so and so even though man didn’t carry out the law’s demands, God took David to the wood shed. It was the whitewashed story of a man’s wicked deeds, of the weakness of men to bring a killer to justice, not only that to collude with him, and of a prophet who exposes the crime, but doesn’t bring him to full accountability. In God’s sovereign decree, He decreed that men would show weakness, and that He would deal with the man–thou art the man, David.

      Short of it is that David was a murderer, the people were cowardly in not bringing full and swift justice, and God let David reap what he had sown. Man is shown in all his weakness and God shows that He is inscrutable and that His justice never sleeps. The command to stone the murder was a command given to men to carry out. God is not under that command himself.

    • Tom

      The specter of bible inerrancy, with its stranglehold on fundamentalists, might be sufficient to render reasonable the unbeliever who thinks allowing themselves to become interested in biblical religion is to risk a very big danger that they, like millions of others, will become seriously deluded…with the probability that they will then start spreading their false fantasies to other people. This is confirmed to me from the countless times I’ve tried to engage inerrantists in scholarly debate, and they skip town right exactly when they discover their smoke and mirrors doesn’t last long in cross-examination. Not only is bible inerrancy an authoritarian cult, its members live with constant cognitive dissonance: they ‘know’ bible inerrancy is true, but they also ‘know’ they wouldn’t stand a chance with a properly informed skeptic.

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