1. Use of Hyperbole and Exaggeration

Just because one believes in inerrancy does not mean that he or she believe in a “technically precise” view of truth. The Bible can and does contain exaggerations and hyperbole while not effecting inerrancy. Take John 4:39 as an example. In this passage, a Samaritan woman spoke of Jesus and said: “He told me all that I ever did” (emp. added). Did Jesus really tell her everything she has ever done? That would take quite a bit of time! As well, Paul says of false teachers that they “understand nothing” (1 Tim. 6:4). Do these false teachers really understand nothing? Nothing at all? Or is Paul speaking hyperbolically concerning their ignorance of truth? The latter is most definitely the case.

2. Speaking According to Cultural Convenience

Sometimes the Bible speaks in accordance with cultural understanding without any attempt to correct that understanding. For example, in Mark 4:31, Christ claims that the mustard seed is the smallest seed in all the earth. This does not necessarily mean that if agricultural science ever found a seed that was smaller (and they have), Christ was wrong. Christ could have just been making a statement that was in concert with the cultural understanding of the day without making a objective universal claim about this seed. The mustard seed was the smallest seed that these Palestinian farmers knew of.

While I don’t have any strong convictions about the age of the earth or how literal we should take the early chapters of Genesis, it is quite possible that much of what is being said is one of cultural convenience. This does not affect inerrancy, but is a matter of one’s hermeneutics (rules of interpretation).

3. Bad Grammar

Some of the writers of Scripture wrote very elegantly and would receive an “A” from their language teacher for not making any grammatical mistakes. For example, the writer of Hebrews not only knew the language well, but wrote very elegantly. Others, however, would not fare to well in their language class. John did not write to elegantly, more like he knew Greek as a second language. Peter was a bit clumsy too. Paul, while he could write well, would often get excited and run into some grammar problems. For example, Paul, in Romans 5:12 introduces a protasis without ever (grammatically speaking) concluded it with the apodosis. The protasis/apodosis usage in grammar has to do with conditionality and its results. It is the if/then statement or (in the case of Romans 5) the just as/so also introduction and conclusion. In Romans 5:12, Paul introduced the argument with “Just as through one man sin entered into the world . . .” but never, (grammatically speaking) gets to the “so also” (even though he does conceptually).

Thankfully, ones mastery of the language does not affect the truth it communicates (it just makes it harder to interpret).

4. Round numbers

The Bible often uses round numbers to communicate truth. In the book of Numbers we are told that Joshua had 600,000 men fighting under him. However, we later find the number to be 601,730. Is the first record wrong? Writers—even inspired writers—can use round numbers. Inerrancy does not require technical accuracy.

5. Summaries of Events

There is no reason to believe that if one summaries an event that they are somehow in error in their reporting. For example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is much longer than it is in Luke (and Matthew’s version itself is probably a summary). This does not make one of them in error as it is the right of the author to record the events as they remember them and for their own distinct purposes. After all, each of the Gospel writers write different Gospels of the same story. Multiple perspectives will always lead to multiple points of view and multiple purposes will inevitably produce unique accounts. All of this adds to the historicity of the story and does not affect inerrancy.

6. Recording Wrong Theology

Each book of the Bible represents God’s truth in its own unique way. There is a wide range of literary types (genres) represented in Scripture. There is national history, chronology, poetry, personal letters, public letters, and prophecy (among others). Each type of literature teaches truth differently. Sometimes its through bad examples and sometimes wrong theology. For example, the friends of Job should rarely, if ever, be quoted for their worldview. It was wrong. Yet the Bible records their words. The Bible also records the words of Satan, most of which are wrong (remember . . . “You shall not surly die”?) As well, it is hard to understand how one is to understand the Book of Ecclesiastes. Is all really “vanity”? Does one really not know whether a man’s soul goes to heaven? (Eccl. 3:21). Yet all this bad theology is recorded in the Bible, but this does not mean the Bible teaches this bad theology.

Remember, just because it is in the Bible does not make it right. Inerrancy does not mean everything in the Bible is true, it just means that everything is accurate and everything being taught is true.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. 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. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    68 replies to "Six Factors that Do Not Affect Inerrancy"

    • JB Chappell

      I can get on board with all but #2. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with using cultural norms as a “convenience” per se, the question is whether or not it is *just* a convenience, or if a truth is trying to be conveyed. For instance, is Paul just using the norm of short hair for men in 1 Corinthians as a convenient example, or is he trying to establish a truth? Likewise, when Jesus is using the example of the mustard seed, is He *just* using a cultural norm or did He *actually* think it was the smallest seed? We already know Jesus wasn’t omniscient, so it stands to reason that He did, in fact, think it was the smallest. In that case, He was factually wrong, even while asserting it as true. This is different than merely using “4 corners” descriptions of Earth – which we still use today, even while knowing the earth isn’t flat.

      In that case, one has to decide whether you are willing to bite the bullet and say scripture isn’t inerrant, or whether you want to move the goalposts and say that isn’t the truth that scripture was trying to communicate, and so it’s still technically inerrant. But that just seems to begin with an end in mind that doesn’t include what the writers were actually trying to communicate.

    • bethyada

      JBC, not certain how much Michael’s example(s) for 2 are actually correct examples of that. It may depend on how central the comment is to the illustration. The example of the seed is that it starts small and gets very big, analogous to faith. If the story was instead about the relative sizes of seeds, then accuracy is more important.

      Consider chronological details. If several events that roughly coincide are mentioned out of order but this is irrelevant, it is not an error. But if a point is made that an event occurred after another because of the former event, then this is not irrelevant. This is similar to our conversations. If we recount our holidays events may be out of order to no consequence, but if we got sick at the restaurant we would probably note that occurred before our stay in the hospital.

    • JB Chappell

      bethyada, I can appreciate what you’re saying, but we can’t simply ignore the precision of language. He did not claim that the mustard seed was small. He did not claim it was the smallest, as far as He knew. In both Matthew and Mark, He is recorded said it was the smallest in existence. Thus, the seed wasn’t chosen because it demonstrated a general point of small becoming big. Central to the point was that it was (considered to be), in fact, the *smallest* seed.

      And I’d agree with what you say about chronological details, insofar as they lack the precise language. The way the Gospels are ordered are fine. Generally, they don’t say “this definitely happened before that”. If they did, then suddenly, chronology DOES become important, such as with the Last Supper in John, as compared to the other Gospels. (And I do realize that a harmonization for this exists, I’m not disputing that. I’m only making the point that added details can make these things important).

      The bottom line is that how these affect your view of “inerrancy” will depend on what you think that actually means.

    • JB Chappell

      Perhaps more important than preserving the label of “inerrancy” (however that’s taken to mean), is the acknowledgment that the Bible gets facts about our world wrong. Which means that you can’t just take everything it says at face value. Which means that you actually have to go and fact-check. Speaking from my own experience, I do not think many/most Christians think they have to do that when it comes to scripture.

    • Aaron M. Renn

      “fair to well” in grammar class. I love it!

    • C Michael Patton


      I have done plenty of fact checking and understand the biggest problems. Yet, as one who does not believe that inerrancy is essential to the Christian faith, I don’t think the problems are that difficult to resolve. It is all about the assumptions one starts with either way and whether they find the theological component of inerrancy as important enough to choose those resolutions. But no one can speak about the probability of any one resolution being right.

    • Dulce Rock

      Even though bad grammar has become rampant, I find it unacceptable that this particular article would contain so many linguistic infractions.
      Your insights are worthy but you would certainly benefit from an editor.
      Hope you won’t find my suggestion offensive.

      • C Michael Patton

        Dulce, it has been this way for seven years! Thankfully, for myself and Paul, truth can be communicated with serious grammatical challenges.

        Yet, I do have an editor. He is just a bit late today.

    • Chris

      J.B. – You said “We already know Jesus wasn’t omniscient, so it stands to reason..”

      I am not sure which Jesus you are referring to, however the Jesus of the Bible was omniscient. He was fully got and fully man and He never stopped being God, who is inseparable from His attributes. Seems to be a paradox, but it is what it is….

    • Steve Martin

      It boggles my mind how Christians have latched onto this needless and errant doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy.

      The Bible is infallible. The Word is true and reliable, even if every jot and tittle is not perfect.

      The Bible is like our Dear Lord Himself. A product of God…and man.

      The finite contains the infinite.

      “The Lord uses earthen vessels to accomplish His will.”

      (except for the book – it has to be dropped out of Heaven with a parachute) (the early Christians NEVER viewed Scripture in that way)

    • C Michael Patton


      I can understand where you are coming from. Often, the defenders of inerrancy do so with such ignorance and misguided theology. However, on the other side, I see the same. Rarely do I see balance and wisdom coming from either side.

      Obviously, people such as myself do not see this issue as “needless,” even if we do acknowledge the doctrines non-cardinal status.

      Maybe we can all begin to work together to see the valid arguments on each side and then express some much needed humility? If one side or the other believes that there are not weighty arguments coming from the opposing view, then I believe that their emotions are clouding their ability to either make sound judgment or contribute to the discussion. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • Michael, I have great respect for the high standard of your reasoning (editor or not!). Very often our views and theology itself is so clouded by our own limited and even distorted views of God and the world around us that our judgement itself on the inerrancy of the Bible changes all the time. What we now might deem correct or incorrect might wave been judges the opposite a hundred years ago, due to our insight and beliefs having changed. I myself had a mind-boggling experience when God opened my eyes for some wonderful ways the fauna and flora of the islands of New Zealand confirm certain Biblical facts in Genesis 1-3. I posted on this subject on my blog at http://bibledifferences.net/2012/09/25/62-new-zealand-and-genesis-1-3/. Do have a look and give me your opinion.
      I love your posts and the depth of your reasoning.
      God bless
      Herman of bibledifferences.net

    • Michael, forgive another comment from me. To me your point $3 is extremely important. The difference in the level of grammar between Hebrews and the letters of Paul is one of the important intrinsic criteria that is applied to prove that Hebrews had not been written by Paul. The same fact is true of the last chapter om Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery, inserted in the middle of a dissertation in John 7:53-8:11 (http://bibledifferences.net/2012/08/10/54-the-woman-caught-in-adultery-john-753-811/) Yet, the fact that the respective authors were not the writers of the said Scriptures, does not take away from the authority or message of that word. God is so much greater than our thoughts, evaluations or judgements of His Word!
      We can only but scratch the surface!
      God bless, Herman.

    • RT


      I have a problem with #4, particularly the part where you say, “Inerrancy does not require technical accuracy.” I understand where you’re coming from in saying this, as I used to say it myself, but how can we say with a straight face that the Bible is “inerrant” if we can’t say, technically speaking, that it is inerrant. It looks like what this approach is trying to do is baptize as “inerrant” a non-inerrant text that is, nevertheless, fairly reliable minus a litany of exceptions (e.g., hyperbole, round numbers, etc.). There has to be a better approach than this.

    • JB Chappell

      Chris, Jesus could not possibly have been omniscient, because He claims to have known less than the Father. Assuming the Father is then omniscient, one cannot know less and also be considered omniscient. This cannot be aolved by appealing to the hypostatic union either (i.e. by saying that Jesus divine nature knew everything, but his human nature didn’t), because according to Jesus, the Holy Spirit doesn’t know as much as the Father either.

      So there is no paradox. Jesus, by His own admission, was not omniscient. The only reason that would be a problem is if you want to claim that ALL persons of the Trinity must also have ALL of the omni-attributes traditionally associated with God-hood, which is certainly nowhere to be found in the Bible.

    • Chris

      JB, please don’t interpret my blunt statement as being rude or arrogant as I surely mean to be neither. However the simple fact is that the Jesus of the Bible is fully God, and fully omniscient. This was clearly defined in the Chalcendonian and Athanasian Creeds. I encourage you to spend some time in study on these. Colossians 2:9 makes it clear in regards to Jesus that “in him THE WHOLE fullness of deity dwells bodily.” There are many scriptures that teach the omniscience of Jesus. If you have one that you think teaches something else, it will have to be interpreted in light of the rest of the teachings about Him. This method of “scripture interprets scripture” was demonstrated by Jesus Himself in Matthew 4:7

      You have two options here. You have can accept the paradox, or you can create a Jesus of your imagination that is conceivable to your finite cognitive abilities. But please know that the Jesus that you can fully comprehend and explain is a figment of your imagination and not the Jesus taught in Scripture, or the Jesus believed in by the Church.

      Now if you want to make the argument that the ONE God of Scripture contains 3 “persons” and that some of them lack divine attributes that are possessed by others, you will have to do more that just assert it. This has been argued over the some of the greatest minds in Christian history and long since condemned. Regardless of that fact, there are numerous scriptures displaying the attributes of divinity to each person of the Godhead.

    • UberGenius

      Great post on inerrancy.

      Found the comments correcting your grammar to be ignorant of the genre and majoring on the minors (run-on sentence was intentional)

      As to the arguments brought up against inerrancy…

      JBC starts us off with a rousing display of reductive thinking…

      He seems to intentionally miss the comment in 2. about context! Every narrative in the Bible has an author with concepts that he is trying to convey to an audience. Just as we need to interpret the narratives of our day based on intent of the author;

      – we would not read a physics text book to be figurative about theory of say Einstein’s special theory of relativity
      – we would not read Ulysses by James Joyce in a completely literal way

      “bite the bullet and say scripture isn’t inerrant, or whether you want to move the goalposts”

      appears you want to misrepresent inerrancy by making it always be literal despite context to the contrary (context you find every day in every other text you read except the Bible). Once you have the reader accept that premise (equivocation) you then can get to the business of showing how it is chalked full of errors.

      Net net a good book on hermeneutics would allow you to exegete the passages more accurately and you would still find some so-called hard sayings that would need work. Your suggestion that many individuals don’t do the hard work is fair but then you have given us a logically fallacious representation so you may have some more work to do as well.

      Finally, as to Jesus not having omniscience and then having it (perhaps before and after his time on Earth in a unregenerate body) the Church ruled this as heretical in 431 AD. (Council at Ephesus). Called Nestorianism, the idea is that Christ had two loosely-united natures, divine and human. Even the modern Syrian Orthodox Church (who love all things from Nestorius) don’t allow this view of Christ to be taught (see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s6-3

    • UberGenius

      Seems like a podcast on the subject might be in order.

      INERRANCY…The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!

      I remember the day I learned that my beloved story of Jesus and the adulteress found in John 7.53–8.11 was not in the earliest versions of the Book of John.

      A method of understanding Canon, textual criticism and then the literary form followed by discussion of hermeneutical principles might help. Tall order for one podcast though.

      On second thought with such a consumeristic Christian population maybe we should skip this topic all together and just tell are church members to continue to outsource their thinking and Christian walk to their respective Pastors. Popcorn…get your popcorn here!

    • JB Chappell

      Chris, at no point here are you willing to consider that a paradox is an indicator of thinking gone awry, which is how reasonable people do think of them. What reason do we have for thinking that Jesus was omniscient? He was wrong about mustard seeds. He was ignorant of when (specifically) He was coming back. Yet you would insist His omniscience MUST be true because of what Paul – a man who never even met Jesus – says in Colossians and because of what creeds that were developed hundreds of years later.

      If “omniscience” means knowing everything that is true, then only one person of the Trinity is omniscient. It’s pretty cut and dry – you cannot be ignorant of a true fact and be omniscient. We can certainly claim that God (being triune, and with the Father having omniscience) is omniscient. But omniscience would not be an essential property of a “divine nature” – whatever that means (and the creeds certainly don’t spell that out).

      There are no scriptures that teach Jesus is omniscient that I know of – but of course I don’t claim to be omniscient, so feel free to enlighten me. Certainly, He seemed to know things that no ordinary human would. But that’s not out of character from many prophets. That He did know some aspects of the future, or the thoughts of certain people, does not entail omniscience.

      So, again I say, there is no paradox. There is no reason to think that Jesus was omniscient (or omnipresent). This neither violates scripture nor the creeds. Whatever “fullness of deity” Colossians refers to does not have to refer to certain attributes that other person of the Trinity have (they are DIFFERENT after all) – THAT would be using scripture to interpret scripture. And that is aside from taking the perfectly appropriate stance that maybe – just maybe – Paul didn’t quite get it right.

      But that couldn’t be possible, because clearly he and the apostles agreed on everything, right?

    • UberGenius


      As to Jesus omniscience this could be a podcast or post all its own. See the site I posted earlier. Also, Jn 1:48; 13:11; 16:30 “”Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.”
      – 21:7; Mt 11:27; 12:25; 22:18; Lk 8:6; Rev. 2:23

      for more on this topic and how divine and human attributes are shared by one person see http://carm.org/how-jesus-omnipresent

      should give you a good start JBC!

      Finally, I don’t know of any Church that holds to your low view of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I’m not disparaging your position (this isn’t a popularity contest) Help us understand the faith tradition you are coming from or if you have developed your theology from your own reading of the scriptures.

      That said we are getting far away from the original post of inerrancy.

    • JB Chappell

      Ubergenius, how have I ignored the context when discussing the mustard seed? Given that Jesus is frequently positing one extreme against another (“First shall be last”), there is every reason to think that He was making a specific point by picking a seed that He thought was the smallest. When He says that it is the smallest seed in existence, there’s no reason to think that what He meant was “fairly small”. And make no mistake: I acknowledge Jesus is frequently being hyperbolic and figurative. For instance, I don’t think we need to take Jesus *literally* when He says we need to “hate” our families. I don’t think that if we literally ask for *anything* in Jesus’ name that we’ll get it. Nor do I think He saw ALL of the kingdoms of the Earth from a mountain (because, you know, the Earth isn’t flat)… because “ALL” is often used in exaggeration. So, no, I do not think inerrancy relies on literalism, and I certainly never said or implied that.

      The context is a parable and parables have a point. The question would be, is Jesus using the mustard seed for a specific reason? Why, yes… and He even tells us why: because it is the *smallest* seed. He could have just described sowing seeds in general, as He does elsewhere, but He didn’t. Given the generalities of so many other parables, or details that are not elaborated on (as in Parables involving Fig Trees), it is striking that He should be so specific and elaborative in this example. Given that He is not recorded as having given an interpretation of this parable, we have no reason to think the specific size of the seed was not crucial to His point. But we do have good reason to think it was.

      Regardless, like I mentioned earlier, my point is not so much that we can’t call the Bible “inerrant”. If you want to claim that Bible gets things wrong, but that it never errs, fine. Whatever. But acknowledging that it gets things wrong is what’s important, as it should establish a fact-checking mindset.

    • C Michael Patton

      We are walking a tricky path here. Christ most certainly had all his divine attributes available to him since he was God. We must realize that having the divine attribute of omniscience and choosing to access it are two different thing. Christ was omniscient, being God, but forfeited his righs to use this, as well as the other, divine attributes.

      As J B (I think already said) Chalcedon said about as much as can be said on this subject and laid down the principles well.

      Therefore, Christ’s willing ignorance of a subject need not effect the doctrine of inerrancy in any way.

    • JB Chappell

      UberGenius, I think this is only side-tracking the thread somewhat. It’s actually illustrating my previous point (on inerrancy) pretty clearly.

      Despite the fact that Jesus not only admits to NOT knowing all things, and that he was mistaken on at least a couple of things, you want to claim that in fact He did know all things. Because of a passage that records a declaration of Jesus’ followers saying that He knew “all things”, and an assortment of other passages that, like I mentioned earlier, reflect that He knew more than an ordinary person. So, it’s a pretty easy fact check: here, the disciples are impressed by Jesus’ prophecy and claim that He knows “all things” and must be sent by God. And, on the other hand, Jesus admits to not knowing everything. Who do you think knows more about what He knows? What’s more likely, that Jesus didn’t realize that He knew everything, or that the disciples were using “all” in the same sense as narratives that claim that Jesus visited “all of Galilee”, “all of Judea” (presumably, He didn’t cover every square foot), or saw “all of the kingdoms” of earth from a mountain?

      As far as “low” Christology, perhaps if you re-read what I wrote, I am not denying the divinity of Christ, I am not denying the hypostatic union, nor am I espousing Nestorianism. All I’m saying is that there’s no (good) reason to think Jesus was omniscient (at least not how it’s normally defined), nor is there any reason to think that this trait is a part of a “divine nature”. And if you can’t accept that, consider this: do you think that the *content/sum of your knowledge* is somehow part of your human nature? If not, then why would you think that is part of the divine nature? And let’s just forget about the whole “natures” reasoning being part and parcel to philosophy that has been long-since discarded, and the fact that whatever properties these natures are supposed to hold is not at all described by the creeds.

    • JB Chappell

      CMP, what about the scripture makes you think that Jesus was willingly ignorant of it? And is the Holy Spirit willfully ignorant of it as well? I don’t think the distinction of “knowing, but not accessing” is valid here. If I knew something, but chose not to access it, I’d hardly describe myself as “not knowing” – that would be a lie. If Jesus was omniscient, presumably He’d know He was omniscient, and that He should know that. Omniscience might be a characteristic of God, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a characteristic of every person of the Trinity. Just as being Triune is a characteristic of God, but not necessarily a characteristic of every person of the Trinity.

      And I agree, just because Jesus might be ignorant of something doesn’t make Him erroneous – those are different things. But it certainly adds the potential – even willful ignorance adds the potential to be wrong.

    • JB Chappell

      *Sorry, by “it” above, I am referring to Jesus’ ignorance of His second coming, not the mustard seed (although might well ask about that too.. would be a weird thing to intentionally refuse to access omniscience on).

    • C Michael Patton


      Although the way you word it (“knowing but not accessing”) and the way I would word it (“not knowing because it was not necessary to know”) are very different, I think you may be getting the essence of what is being said.

      I think that this approach not only solved any issues having to do with inerrancy, but fills a much broader theilological vacuum and is exegetically necessary in many places.

      However , since you are linking this so closely with inerrancy, I am afraid that this theological gig may be one you cannot dance to right now. But, oh how I long for you to. It’s implications in other areas of theology are so much greater and more glorious.

      But the arguments concerning this are too great to confine to a response (and I could never hope you to read). So , here is what I ask my friend: read this as objectively as you can. Someday, maybe we can discuss


      Also, there are so many works out there that most dimly knee exists

    • C Michael Patton

      James Dunn has a great one and Bruce Ware’s The Man Christ Jeus is a little more accessible.

    • Chris

      I know you are getting responses from various people so I trust you know that I am responding to you to continue our discussion and without the intentions of trying to gang up on you or anything of the sort.

      I want to keep this short however I want give a brief insight into my own experience. The divinity of Jesus Christ, and the implications of such, has been the hardest part of mail faith for me to swallow intellectually. I freely admit I believed He was my savior and Lord and I was hopeless apart from Him, while having experienced regeneration to such that I was literally a different person – all the while still not fully grasping His divinity and even having faith in that particular aspect waver from weak to string and back.
      What’s ultimately helped me the most is taking the Bible as a whole. When I look at the big picture, I see the cohesiveness of it all and it makes more sense. Before I elaborate on that let me address a couple points you already made.

      You said: “Chris, at no point here are you willing to consider that a paradox is an indicator of thinking gone awry, which is how reasonable people do think of them.”

      No JB, the paradox as a conclusion is what happens when people are intellectually honest with themselves and identify, evaluate and critique their presuppositions and then examine the cumulative evidence and then, humble themselves and admit that there are things in existence that go beyond our human understanding. The way that light functions as both a wave and a particle is a great example of such paradoxes. Quantum mechanics is another great example. There are MANY things that we don’t understand and when we take the summary of all of our evidence and conclusions, the intellectually honesty man is left with no choice but to confess a paradox. So, the question is, how much more so should it be if we are truly describing the God of the Bible? Cont…

    • Chris

      If we weren’t left with many paradoxes when describing Him I would be certain that we were talking about a completely man-made idea, much like the god of the Koran. Just google the phrase “scientific paradoxes” if you want to see some of the greatest paradoxes known to the greatest minds on the earth today, and then re-evaluate your above quoted statement.
      You said: “Given that Jesus is frequently positing one extreme against another (“First shall be last”), there is every reason to think that He was making a specific point by picking a seed that He thought was the smallest.”
      JB that’s an unsubstantiated conclusion. I would change your statement to read “Given that Jesus is frequently positing one extreme against another (“First shall be last”), there is every reason to think that He was making a specific point by picking a seed that THEY THOUGHT was the smallest.” See, that’s exactly what God would do when dealing with mankind – He would accommodate His message to their level of understanding as much as possible.
      You said: “Ubergenius, how have I ignored the context when discussing the mustard seed?”
      “The question would be, is Jesus using the mustard seed for a specific reason? Why, yes… and He even tells us why: because it is the *smallest* seed. He could have just described sowing seeds in general, as He does elsewhere, but He didn’t.”
      JB Ive pieced together your argument above in a way that I feel is not misrepresenting you, however please let me know if you feel that I am wrong. Here is my response: First off, there are some valid arguments regarding how this greek text should best be translated. Im personally not a greek scholar, and doubt you are either, but there are many who have written on the subject. Here is just one simple and short explanation http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/gtj-nt/sproule-matmustard-gtj-80.pdf


    • Chris

      Next, you’ve left out part of Jesus’ statement! He did not ONLY say : ”it is the smallest seed”, He said “….like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.” See, you left out the QUALIFIER – “that a man sowed in his field.” First, we have to remember that in order to proper exegesis, we have to remember both the original audience of the speaker and the original audience of the Gospel document. To THEM, the mustard seed was the smallest that they would plant. That’s what matters. What would be the point in telling them about the Orchid seed when they would have no idea what He is talking about? The seed example had to be accommodated to their understanding. Again, many people have written about this and in all honesty, this is not even considered a serious issue among scholarly non-believers.
      The next issue here is your understanding of divinity or theism. In classical theism, (what you’d talk about in university philosophy class) which predates the times of Jesus, omniscience is an attribute of God. This is not a “Christian” concept. This is the concept of the greatest philosophers in human history. I encourage you to read up on classical theism. The problem seems to be that you don’t really understand the implications of the argument you are making. My point is that you are essentially trying to make Jesus into more of a demi-god than even what classical theists would call God. You are essentially making up a definition for what it means to be God. If you are going to do that, you are going to have to go back to the original language, and explain how the greek THEOS would have been understood in the way that you are presenting.
      The biggest problem here though, in my opinion, is that you do not really understand about what the Bible teaches about who Jesus is. Allow me to explain. Cont….

    • Chris

      Pt 4:
      You said:
      “And that is aside from taking the perfectly appropriate stance that maybe – just maybe – Paul didn’t quite get it right. But that couldn’t be possible, because clearly he and the apostles agreed on everything, right?”

      Ok, Let’s start in Isaiah 6. If you’ve read the passage, it’s the famous passage of his call to ministry in which Isaiah sees a vision of God. There is no doubt who is seen in the vision as He is called the Lord of Hosts. The book of Isaiah is one of the books that gives us the greatest explanations as to the attributes of God. God’s omniscience is absolutely taught throughout Isaiah. I trust there is no argument there.
      Now heres the kicker. If you want to disagree with Paul, OK, then you’ll also have to disagree with the Apostle John because in John 12:41 he makes it clear that Isaiah say JESUS. So, all the attributes that are given to God in Isaiah, belong to Jesus, according to John.

      If that does not work for you, then we can also see what both Matthew and Mark AND Luke had to say. In the beginnings of their gospels, they talk about John the Baptist. John the Baptist identifies Himself as the voice in the wilderness who is crying to make way for the coming on God on earth. If you haven’t already, read this in Isaiah 40. It’s absolutely clear that the voice is saying that God, will come, to His temple and all flesh will see it. So the issue here is that according to ALL FOUR gospel writers, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament that was going to be coming to the earth as described in Isaiah 40. So now we have the testimony of all four gospel writers and the Paul.

    • Chris


      The bottom line is that you are making a god of your imagination, an idol, you are making a Jesus who does not exist. The Old Testament makes it abundantly clear that the God of the Bible is omniscient. The OT also makes in abundantly clear that that same God was going to come to the earth in human flesh. The New Testament also makes in abundantly clear that man Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, who never stopped being the God of the Old Testament. Anything other than that is a figment of your imagination akin to a cartoon character. The cartoon character may be comprehensible to you, but that is only because you’ve created an idol that you’ve brought down to your own level of finite understanding. This Jesus you are espousing as God does not even meet the definition of God in the philosophical or classical theism sense, much less the Christian or Jewish understanding of God. That should be, as you said “an indicator of thinking gone awry”. Im not being rude, Im just merely pointing out that you are attempting to make Jesus type of God that is not even espoused by non-theistic philosophers…
      Just for curiosity sake, do you come from either a Mormon or Jehova Witness background?

    • JB Chappell

      Chris, I don’t pretend to understand God. Saying that we should avoid paradoxes does not mean that I want to fit God in a tiny box that I understand. I do not understand Trinity. I do not understand omnipotence. I do not understand transcending time and space. Etc. But none of these things are logical contradictions, and if you think that the rationality and coherence of our universe are reflections of its Creator as I do, then you can see why paradoxes should be seen as an indicator that you’re on the wrong path. The law of non-contradiction is a fundamental tenet of reason. If you don’t think God is subject to such rules (or, rather, that such rules flow from His nature), fine, but then we just fundamentally disagree on reality.

      Moving on, I don’t think you appreciate the fact that your exegesis on the mustard seed parable turns Jesus into a liar. He could have just said “the smallest seed” and left it unidentified. He could have identified the smallest seed (leaving no doubt to anyone that He was, in fact, omniscient) and just told them they wouldn’t understand what it is, but He did. But, no, you want to claim that He knew it wasn’t the smallest seed in existence, but that He told them it was anyway. That’s a lie, plain and simple – and a pointless one at that.

      And, yes, I agree that He did not ONLY say “the smallest seed”. Mark (ESV) says it is “the smallest of all the seeds on earth”. Pretty clear.

      You seem to think that I do not understand classical theism. I agree that omniscience is an attribute of God. I have said as much a few times. That does not mean that all persons of the trinity must share all the same attributes. Does being “fully God” mean that Jesus must ALSO be triune? No, obviously not. So it follows that just because God is attributed certain properties, it does not mean that all persons of the Trinity must share them.

    • JB Chappell

      So, Chris, if you can accept that (and if not, why?), then you can see why appealing to the OT as a definitive source of Jesus’ omniscience is misguided. 1st, it’s obvious that not all OT authors thought God was omni-[whatever]. Regardless, even if they all did, they definitely did not conceive of God as triune. So it makes no sense to appeal to Isaiah and John to say “Look, Isaiah attributes these properties to the Triune Deity, and John says Jesus must have all the properties of the Triune Deity. It isn’t nearly that simple (because obviously Jesus doesn’t have all the properties of a Triune Deity), and that is aside from the fact that the Gospel authors are notorious for straining to identify Messianic hints in OT passages.

      Read that passage in John vs. Isaiah again. Let’s see, they could not believe or be healed, because Jesus did not want them to believe or turn to Him? Really? Oh, except for the ones that did believe. Who knew that a message about non-belief prior to the Babylonian exile could be “fulfilled” by there being some who didn’t believe, and some who did, hundreds of years later? Regardless, John says Isaiah said what he did in Isaiah 6 because He saw Jesus’ glory. That is it. Not that every mention of God in Isaiah is actually a reference to Jesus.

      As for Isaiah 40 (and beyond), if we’re to take all references to God as being Jesus, then presumably this whole narrative is being spoken by Jesus. But then that makes nonsense of the beginning of Isaiah 42, which says “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” So it isn’t so straightforward as to assume all references to God in Isaiah = Jesus. And while some things might be clear about Isaiah, the fact that he expected God Himself to come to earth is hardly one of them. Otherwise, messianic claims would have entailed God-hood, but we know that isn’t the case.

    • JB Chappell

      CMP, can you elaborate on what you mean by “exegetically necessary”? From my perspective, it seems like that means “I need it to say this, so it says it”, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you mean. I assume there’s something in the text that is making you think Jesus was being willfully ignorant (that sounds so terrible, but you know what I mean). But it seems to me that because of some theological pre-commitments you are reading it into the text, which is eisegesis, not exegesis.

      I am familiar with the proposal that you offer in the post you link to. The biggest problem, for me, is that this does not explain why the Holy Spirit is also ignorant of the 2nd Coming. There is no need for the Holy Spirit to live a life as a human being, and no dual-nature complexity to introduce a problem. But Jesus is insistent that ONLY the Father knows, and He obviously was not ignorant of the Holy Spirit.

      The only reason to make such an appeal is an insistence that all members of the Trinity must share certain attributes – a claim that I do not follow. Regardless, in making that claim, you are also claiming that the Holy Spirit must be omniscient, yet there is ignorance of the 2nd Coming with the Spirit as well.

      An additional “problem”, it seems to me, is that by drawing the line between the two natures and claiming that they don’t “communicate”, you are doing exactly what Chalcedon says not to – confusing and dividing the natures. That’s not such a problem if you’re unconcerned with orthodoxy, but I’m guessing you are. I would be interested to know how you reconcile that.

      I do appreciate the references, though, and I’ll see if I can’t get my library to get a hold of them.

    • Chris

      JB you said:
      “The law of non-contradiction is a fundamental tenet of reason. If you don’t think God is subject to such rules (or, rather, that such rules flow from His nature), fine, but then we just fundamentally disagree on reality.”

      Just because you say it is contradiction, does not make it so. There are plentiful arguments, several of which are highly accepted by even non-believing scholars, especially among those that have a working knowledge of the greek text. You can choose to reject all those arguments but that puts you in a very, very small minority and while the appeal to the majority can surely be a fallacy, it is not always so.

      “You seem to think that I do not understand classical theism.“

      If you understand it, then why are you denying the basic definition of what it means to be God, to Jesus?

      “That does not mean that all persons of the trinity must share all the same attributes.”

      You are free to deny the implications what it means to be consubstantial with the Father, but again, that does not make it so. It makes you a fringe, heretical minority.

      “1st, it’s obvious that not all OT authors thought God was omni-[whatever]”

      Why would it matter what the other writers thought. Their lack of knowledge about God does not mean that God did not possess the attribute the writer was ignorant of!

      “Regardless, even if they all did, they definitely did not conceive of God as triune.”

      My previous point stands.

      “(because obviously Jesus doesn’t have all the properties of a Triune Deity), “

      Again, you are taking a fringe heretical position, which is wrong and the majority os scholars across the board flat out disagree with you as to the implications of the text are.


    • Chris


      “So it makes no sense to appeal to Isaiah and John to say “Look, Isaiah attributes these properties to the Triune Deity, and John says Jesus must have all the properties of the Triune Deity. “

      You can word it however you like, but the text is clear. John is saying that Jesus is the Lord of Hosts of the OT. All four gospel writers also say that Jesus is the God coming to earth in Is 40. The original audience surely understood that. The folks in the first few centuries clearly understood that as well. And that’s not even getting into Jesus’ “I AM” statements which are either a reference to Isaiah or Exodus.

      “He could have identified the smallest seed (leaving no doubt to anyone that He was, in fact, omniscient) and just told them they wouldn’t understand what it is, but He did”

      You don’t really believe that do you? You are saying that if Jesus had attempted to give his audience a lesson on botany, they would have believed Him without any way to verify what He was saying, (even though His miracels were not enough to convicne them) and then they would have known that He was omniscient? You’re not serious are you?


    • Chris


      “Read that passage in John vs. Isaiah again. Let’s see, they could not believe or be healed, because Jesus did not want them to believe or turn to Him? Really? Oh, except for the ones that did believe. Who knew that a message about non-belief prior to the Babylonian exile could be “fulfilled” by there being some who didn’t believe, and some who did, hundreds of years later? Regardless, John says Isaiah said what he did in Isaiah 6 because He saw Jesus’ glory. That is it. Not that every mention of God in Isaiah is actually a reference to Jesus. “

      You sure are skipping a lot of exegetical steps there! Is 6:11-12 does not say anywhere in the text that the judicial blinding by God is limited in scope to the time of the Exile. Furthermore, Is 53:1 seems to indicate that even as the suffering servant is being revealed, the people would still not believe. So as far as John using that text to demonstrate how the judicial judgment of chapter Is 6 was still being fulfilled in Jesus day, there is not problem with that at all.

      “Read that passage in John vs. Isaiah again. Let’s see, they could not believe or be healed, because Jesus did not want them to believe or turn to Him? Really? Oh, except for the ones that did believe.”

      Honestly, it sounds like you reject God’s sovereignty over the salvation of His creation? If that text bothers you, what do you think about Matthew 11:21 where Jesus says: ““Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” Do you understand the implications of that text? Jesus is acknowledging that certain things could have been done for those two cities, and it would have caused them to repent, however even though Jesus knew this, they did not get those signs. And then in vs 25 Jesus praises for the Father for His decision to hide the message of the Gospel from certain people. Is your theology big enough to…

    • Chris

      Pt 4

      “And while some things might be clear about Isaiah, the fact that he expected God Himself to come to earth is hardly one of them. “

      What Isaiah personally expected cannot be determined with certainty. It really would not matter whether or not He fully understood what was being revealed to him. There was surely a precedent for God taking on flesh and coming to earth. Just read the Torah.

      “Otherwise, messianic claims would have entailed God-hood, but we know that isn’t the case.”

      We know that isn’t the case? Really? Do you really not know all the scriptures that teach the divinity of the messiah? Surely you jest?

      JB I appreciate you taking the time to communicate with me. I am sorry that you are so certain you already possess the truth, even though you know that your position contradicts the professional opinion of many non-believing professionals who’s credentials are way beyond both of our pay grades. Unfortunately the only bar against the truth is the presupposition that you already possess it, so this will be my last response to you. Feel free to respond as you feel necessary.

    • JB Chappell

      Chris, I have already said that the matter of contradiction depends on how we define omniscience. It isn’t because I “say so”. If omniscience means knowing all true things, and it is a true thing that Jesus will come back at X time, Jesus did not know X, and Jesus is supposed to be omniscient… there is a contradiction here. Some use a different concept of “omniscience” to solve the problem, others finagle “did not know X”. I think the latter is more popular and more problematic.

      I reject that we understand “what it means to be God”. That does not mean that I deny God is omniscient. I do deny that all persons of the Trinity MUST all share all omni-attributes. And while I understand (at least some aspects of it) classical theism, that does not make me a classical theist. Understanding does not entail acceptance.

      As for consubstantiality, all it means is that the Persons of the Trinity share the same substance, divine nature, essence… however you want to put it. Once again, no one dares to actually define what that is. You seem to be the only one who claims to know.

      I find it interesting that you claim that I am wrong that Jesus does not share the properties of a Triune Being. God is Triune, correct? Is Jesus triune? If so, how? And if not, then you have made my point.

      You keep making the case that Jesus is the same as the OT God. Presumably, you don’t think the NT God is different than the OT God. Seeing as how they would both be Triune, and Jesus a member of the Trinity, Jesus would not be all 3 Persons. So, again, identifying God as omniscient is not inconsistent with denying that Jesus was omniscient, so long as you acknowledge that this attribute is not part of the “divine [substance/essense/nature]”. That may not be a traditional, or classical, way of looking at it, – but that hardly makes it wrong.

    • RT


      Since you didn’t respond to my previous comment let me approach this issue from another angle.

      Does your commitment to biblical inerrancy require that someone by the name of Peleg lived precisely 239 years as in Gen 11:18-19 and not, say, 238 years? Similarly, does it require that Sheshbazzar brought with him exactly 29 “silver knives” when his company returned to the land as in Ezra 1:9 (NET) and not, say, 28 of them?

      Here’s the problem. I think you want to say that we aren’t necessarily committed to this level of precision (despite the fact that it’s in the Bible) in order to say that the Bible is basically reliable in matters of faith vis-a-vis the character and purposes of God, and I would agree with you. However, I don’t see how we can say the Bible is “inerrant” without also being committed to the exact correctness of the aforementioned numbers, because that level of precision is in the Bible in those instances.

      • C Michael Patton


        Cases such as these will depend largely on one’s hermeneutics that they utilize to interpret them. Do you think the author was attempting to be precise rather than representative? If so, then inerrancy is going to teach that they must be precise. Do you no know for sure how precise the author intended to be? Then you must leave the exact totals of the years and numbers alone and understand that the author’s context may not have been given to technically precise details.

        The probleem is always going to start out as a hermeneutical one. This being the case, we all have the burden of proof to establish a reasonable and justified hermeneutic.

    • UberGenius


      There are many resources available that represent both sides of the argument for precision in the overall discussion of inerrancy. Here is one entire book on the subject just in the synoptics.



      Darrell L. Bock Inerrancy, Precision and Accuracy in the Synoptic Gospels – Dealing with Issues of Harmonization and What Inerrancy Really Means

    • Ubergenius

      When discussing the reliability of scripture there are certain considerations that are important; namely that inerrancy is deductive not inductive (i.e no one would go through the bible and list every detail about every event and determine that they were all exactly the same), despite 400,000 textual anomalies most scholars assume that 97% of the original wording of the autographs has been achieved in current versions and 100% of the meaning.

      Mark Erhman (see JB Chappells comments above) acts like he doesn’t know this but he does (Misquoting Jesus)

      He misrepresents the genre of the text just as JP does above (as if any reader in history thinks that that Jesus’s reference to the Mustard seed in Matthew 13:31–32 was about BOTANY!!!!!) JB Chappell actual supports my point although he seems to be ignorant of that fact.

      That said, the autonomic inerrancy that has been represented by the Fundamentalist camp is not what hermeneutics or exegisis demand. And leads to a fragile epistmology that produces the most strident Athiest (see Charles Templeton, Dan Barker)

      Yes… Straw men set ablaze burn fiercely.

      Finally, all can understand that an oral tradition that starts with narrative that differs slightly from other narrative is just an “eye witness account”.

      A friend was in a serious auto accident years ago and there were 6 people involved. You guessed it, 6 different stories (even though 3 were in the same car), but the crime investigation unit determined that all 6 had core elements about the major details that were completely in common.

      Mark Ehrman pretended in his book Misquoting Jesus that all voices disagreed. And that he was “revealing a closely held secret.” However, who taught him these truths? Metzger and Bruce! The dirty little secret is that orthodox Christians have both known and published the truth that there are both errors in the current Nestle text (compared to the autograph) and that they are inconsequential (that part…

    • JB Chappell

      Inerrancy is either an assumption, or a deduction based off of other assumptions. And I agree it is important to know that, because it’s obvious that no one would conclude the Bible is inerrant based off of reading it.

      I am not sure why you are referring to “Mark” (Bart?) Ehrman. But the 97% and 100% figures are entirely speculative, because we don’t have the autographs, so only the extant texts can be compared to each other. The 100% is entirely subjective.

      As for genre, I have explicitly said the genre is parable. Do you disagree? In the midst of a parable, he made a statement about botany (mustard seeds are the smallest on the planet). Do you disagree? This statement is false. Do you disagree? If you disagree on none of these propositions, then the issue is not genre. The issue is how you define “inerrant”. You will define it so that obviously errant statements don’t count against it.

    • Chris

      JB you said:

      “he made a statement about botany (mustard seeds are the smallest on the planet). ”

      Don’t you have any intellectual integrity? Why do you keep twisting His words? You keep doing this over and over and over. Jesus qualifies His statement by talking about seeds they would sow in a garden. It’s pretty clear. Even the greek exegetes admit the exact translation of the phrase is uncertain – yet you, who are certainly no greek exegete, are continuing to be dogmatic about something based on a TRANSLATION, and you dogmatically disagree with people who study greek for a living.

      Ive heard it said that only a fool has an opinion on something he knows absolutely nothing about. You don’t seem to be a fool but you sure are dogmatic on something you are far from an expert on, and reject what the experts do say.

      Honestly, what would you estimate the possibility is that there is an ellipsis going on there?

      Why haven’t you pointed out the fact that Jesus also says the the mustard grows to be the largest of the garden plants? Based on your hermeneutic, He was flat out wrong there as well as it’s not the largest, and this particular fact would have been plain as day for his audience, who likely could look to the right or the left as Jesus spoke and see a garden with an olive that was larger that ANY of the mustard varieties.. how do you explain that? Why didn’t His audience just laugh at him and say He was wrong? Based on your hermeneutic, thats the implication….

    • JB Chappell

      Chris, see Mark 4:31

      “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the *smallest of all the seeds on earth*”

      (emphasis added)

      That’s ESV, but every other translation has pretty much the same wording. Is that intellectually dishonest, to quote scripture?

      The reason I don’t harp on the tree’s size, is because he is precise in his wording (now, why would he be so precise, unless he thought it was important?). He doesn’t claim it’s the largest in the world, He says (in the ESV) that it is larger/greater than “the herbs” – which as far as I know is correct. I’m not sure which herbs are being referred to, as that is obviously a nebulous term – but “seed” really isn’t. Furthermore, even if your description was correct, that it was the largest tree in the field, considering it is a hypothetical field, who am I to say He’s wrong?

      What this should tell you is that I’m not careless or dishonest with these conclusions. Disagree with me all you want, but trying to claim I’m being dishonest is just wrong.

    • Ubergenius

      Bart Erhman. Not Mark.

      Context of my post above is in extent copies. No one can state those numbers based on a non-existent autograph. And the number is objective not subjective. Out of the 400,000 variants of all but 12,000 have no effect on the message of the passage. Erhman, Bruce, Metzger, Boch, etc.

      Autographs relation to extent copies is another discussion altogether. My point is that Jesus could have mentioned any small seed, that the Jewish audience in Palestine in AD 26 would have been familiar with, and exchange it interchangeably with other small seeds and the meaning of the text would still come out that the Kingdom of God is going to grow from very small to very large. So even Liberal textual critics agree with the 97% number I gave even the one’s that reject the idea of inerrancy as Erhman does.

      Fundamentalist have often been accused of being unable to shed what is known as wooden literalism, ignoring the literary genre, and acting as if meaning in the bible is best understood in some kind of word-based code. On this view one can completely ignore the intent of the author, the literary genre, the audience, or the fact that thought were expressed in sentences, and paragraphs back in both the OT and NT as they are in modern times.

      The views in our day on literary criticism are no less extreme. Deconstruction of the text assumes that there is no meaning or none that we can get to anyways. And further that we are free to do with the text whatever we want.

      Seems that some have adopted the fundamentalist/deconstuctivist (postmodern) approach and said look “Jesus” intends to say whatever I say he intends to say” further, “don’t you people on this post realize that all truth is relative, and If I say Jesus intended to talk about Botany instead of the rapid growth of the Kingdom of God, then for me He intended to talk about Botany!”

      I don’t see this as an integrity issue but difference in literary criticism and understanding of truth.

    • JB Chappell

      Ubergenius, the number of discrepancies is objective, I agree. The “meaning”, however, is something that (I assume) you’re referring to the originals on. Determining the original meaning intended is not a completely objective process, and so that 100% number is simply speculative.

      You still don’t seem to understand what I’m saying about the “botany”, but I don’t how to make this any clearer. I think it’s pretty obvious that Jesus said that a mustard seed was the smallest on earth for a reason – even if the ONLY reason for that was because He thought it was true. Knowing that it isn’t true means both that Jesus was fallible and that scripture contains incorrect statements. Incorrect statements, BTW, that are presented as if they were true.

      The “spiritual truth” vs. botany dichotomy is not necessarily an either-or proposition. It is simply a fact that Jesus asserted a botanical proposition while presenting a parable. Whether that proposition had anything to do with the meaning of the parable, I suppose, is up for debate. The problem for someone contending that it isn’t is that they are, essentially, claiming that they “know what Jesus really meant”. Really? That’s a pretty strong claim.

      If Jesus’ point was ONLY “rapid growth”, then there’s no reason to elaborate on the size of the seed and tree so specifically. On the other hand, if it was related to his point, then there is. Given that Jesus didn’t actually expound on this parable, what’s really occurring here is that certain people just want to extend the benefit of the doubt, because they have motivation to do so.

      The question is what is being preserved. What is “inerrancy”? If it is simply the “spiritual truths” asserted by scripture, then what is being claimed is that the Bible is infallible on points that can never be be proven right or wrong.

    • WhereToNow


      In response to your statement:
      “Determining the original meaning intended is not a completely objective process, and so that 100% number is simply speculative.”

      I am a bit surprised by your use of “speculative”…
      “Speculative: based on guesses or ideas about what might happen or be true rather than on facts” [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/speculative]

      That is a very strong claim: that many experts with extant texts in front of them are deriving meaning* based on guesses and not on facts.

      Certainly the process of determining meaning is not entirely objective, but it is not entirely subjective either: it is a rational and repeatable process which can be corroborated or falsified by facts, as well as by the (subjective) thought processes of others. The 100% figure on “meaning” essentially states that nobody has credibly proposed a meaning with the extant texts that is changed by the variations among those texts. That there *might* exist a possible meaning which is changed and nobody has proposed it (or been able to communicate or verify it in a believable way) is still a possibility, but that does not make the 100% figure “speculative.”

      *Note: we are talking about the meaning of the extant texts, as Ubergenius said: “Autographs relation to extent copies is another discussion altogether” (though I don’t personally agree with everything he has said … follow-up post coming if I have the time)

    • WhereToNow

      Pertaining to Mark 4:31

      Ubergenius already points out that we are having a pretty heated discussion pertaining to a passage that translators have trouble with, so maybe we’re pushing the wrong passage, but here goes another thought:

      Jesus could well have intentionally made a “false statement” about the size of the Mustard seed. That is, he could full well have known about a smaller seed (And maybe some of his hearers did too) but chose to use the mustard seed. (He then explains why he chooses this plant — smallest seed becomes the largest garden plant – this is important to the parable.)

      But even if he deliberately made a “false statement” that is actually just fine with his character and with the inerrancy of Scripture … why? Because he made the statement as part of a parable. Parables posit a particular (hypothetical) world which only needs to correspond to reality in some meaningful way, but not necessarily in every way. For example, consider Matt. 13:3-8: this story talks about a sower and the fate of his seeds and plants. Whether or not a real person exists who actually did those things and had those things happen to his seeds/plants is irrelevant to the parable (and also irrelevant to Jesus’ honesty). Similarly, whether or not the mustard seed is actually the smallest of all seeds is irrelevant, because Jesus tells us that for the purposes of his parable, it is the smallest. That is, in the hypothetical world of Jesus’ parable, it IS the smallest seed – and Jesus makes that clear – but that statement does not have to imply that the mustard seed is the smallest seed, either known to mankind or in all reality.

    • JB Chappell

      Regarding “speculative”, I did not mean to say that determining the meaning of texts is “speculative”. I agree that process is not completely subjective. I understood Ubergenius to be saying (and of course it is possible that I was wrong) that the extant copies we have preserve 100% of the meaning in the originals. (Otherwise, it is unclear which “meaning” is being referred to). It is the comparison, and specifically in assigning a percentage, of the copies to the original text (that we don’t have) that is speculative. If you’re comparing copies to copies, then that figure is patently false, because there are plenty of variations that change the meaning, even if only slightly. The question, of course, is how much significance people want to attach to the difference in meaning. If one wants to claim that no major doctrines are affected, that’s one thing, but to claim 100% of meaning is preserved is quite another.

      Can someone explain what the difficulty is in translating this passage? I have not encountered this claim before, except here. I am no Greek expert, so I have no idea.

      With respect to your “hypothetical world” claim about parables, the problem here is that while it is true that Jesus is spinning a tale to a certain extent, neither is He writing science fiction or fantasy. So I think you are actually deviating from the genre. He is not inventing alternate realities with different rules. The whole point of parables is to be able to identify with them. The reason the Good Samaritan story struck a nerve is because Samaritans had a particular status in the real world, not because one was invented in the parable. The reason the parable of foundations of sand/rock makes sense is because people wouldn’t build on sand in real life.

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