This post was reposted on July 13, 2007 

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 some time” he describes, “I was the best at answering the skeptic with regards to any objection that he could levy against the Scripture. 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 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 Christ.” (This was adapted from a true story).�

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 dangers 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? 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. Not only this, but I believe in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (a very conservative document). Each year, I sign the required membership form for the Evangelical Theological Society, reaffirming my belief that the Scriptures, in the atographa, are without any errors whatsoever- historical, scientific, or theological.

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 because 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 universities 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 does 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 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 communicates these events, should�He�choose to do so,�is not the issue. I suppose He could have used unwritten�tradition, the testimony of angels, dreams and visions, or direct encounters.

Now, apologetically speaking, there is no reason whatsoever 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 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 the�inspiration and�inerrancy, your belief is on solid ground (see here for videos defending inspiration and inerrancy). But please be careful to not to create a false dilemma concerning a strict adherence to the Evangelical 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.

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

    26 replies to "The Danger of Inerrancy"

    • kolabok21

      I can only imagine that whether we had scripture or not to testify to the core beliefs we have come to know as Christianity would affect one

    • tnahas

      Michael, I agree with the evidences you are appealing too. But the evidences only appeal to Christians who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. We are not the Jews of old wherein we were chosen by birth into nation of Israel. In any event, they also believed in the Scriptures as well. The scribes were so meticulous. Why? They were transcribing the word of God not just some ancient text. The Lord Himself appealed to the Scriptures. How can we know who and what does

    • C Michael Patton

      Taffy, I agree that, theologically speaking, those who turn away from the faith after a time are among those who were never really of the faith (1 John 2:19; Matt. 13:29; 2 Pet. 2:20-21). But I have a hard time leaving this problem there. To me, this response, practically speaking is the same as me saying since God is going to save the elect, I don’t have to concern myself with evangelism. We don’t know who God has chosen and who He has not. Therefore, we have to be diligent in our understanding of culture, presuppositions, apologetics, and the situation of the unbeliever so that we can present the Gospel more persuasively and relevantly. I believe that it is the same in the case of those who “walk away from the faith.” I don’t know who has true faith and who will be among those whose faith was never truly rooted in the soil. Remember in the parable, their are four seeds that are liberally spread. One of them took root, one never did. But two took root and then died. What does this mean to me? That there are a lot of people who are like this gentleman who will reject in the future that which they profess in the present. I think that we, as Christians, even though we don’t know who are the true believers and who aren’t, need to be diligent to make sure that we have presented the Gospel clearly. If they are going to reject the faith, let’s make sure that they don’t do so off of faulty presuppositions such as If the Bible has an error, the Christian faith is not true.

    • tnahas

      Yes, Michael. I agree but we must hold to inerrancy so that we can show them we are dealing with God

    • C Michael Patton

      Exactly Taffy. Now apply that Spurgeon quote to the present issue and you will see what I mean. We must do all we can to have an accurate presentation of the Gospel, putting all things in their place. That way when people are in hell they will see the teeth of our diligence marked in their arm. Make them jump into hell for rejecting the essential, not rejecting the essentials based upon secondary issues that, while extremely important for the Christian life and authority, do not effect the essence of the Gospel.

    • kolabok21

      you said it best on one the TTP sessions,

    • forhisglory

      Great post, Michael. This is a critically important topic.

      It seems like some churches might as well change their Easter Sunday confessions from

    • wjrjde

      How does the Holy Spirit work in a person’s life?

      John 16:7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment

    • C Michael Patton

      Hi Joanne,

      Historic Christianity, along with ETS, has always believe that in the incarnation that Christ had a subordinate position to the Father in functionality. In other words, the Father was greater than Christ in his current role, not in essence. A good modern analogy would be between me and the President of the US. President Bust is greater than me in position, but not in essence.

      GREAT question. Hope this helps.

    • C Michael Patton


      Great post. I understand the issues that you raise and have the same questions. I think that we must present the doctrine of inerrancy and at the same time represent a moderate position on its centrality. I do believe that inerrancy is important (have I said that :)) and should continue to be taught. But we have to ask ourselves are we teaching it in such a way where the listener sees its rejection as the same as a total rejection of the Christian faith? If so, then we have too many eggs in that basket. Thanks for the continued encouragement!!!

    • C Michael Patton

      forhisglory, I am laughing…thanks!

    • wjrjde

      How does one validate Christ

    • C Michael Patton


      I agree with you about the truthfulness of Scripture and its vital importance for the Christian faith in general, but that was not the topic of this post exactly. The point that I was making is that if someone is not convinced that the Bible was without any errors whatsoever, this is no reason to give up the faith. The Christian faith

    • wjrjde

      So, who chooses what is an error and what is not? Is the Jesus Seminar an accurate critique of the Bible? Maybe we should use the Jeffersonian Bible.

      I said,

    • Scott Arnold

      It seems to me, and maybe I’m not getting it here… but it seems the point of this post is being lost in an argument of whether Christianity stands of falls on inerrancy. I would largely agree that if there were proven errors that my faith would be shaken. But Greg’s inability to reconcile apparent contradictions does not prove errors.

      So sure in my opinion, if that atographa contains errors of any kind – then we have major problems. But to me the point is that we are limited in our understanding and ability to reconcile all Scripture that may seem to contradict. For us to throw away our faith because of our human limitations is simply not worth it – because as we mature as Christians we see God in so much in addition to Scripture. To me, that is the point that Michael is making here.

      If we build our theology around inerrancy, especially with Christians newly maturing in the faith – we risk “losing” them when the find the first supposed error (I put losing in quotations because I’m not making a theological statement here, i.e. I know most of us here would probably say “they were never of us”). We have to persevere, and not become so prideful that we think we must be able to solve all the apparent contradictions.

      In one of the TTP videos Michael admitted not understanding what it means to be “baptized for the dead”. It’s OK if we don’t understand some things. It’s also OK if we’re too fallible to reconcile all Scripture.

    • C Michael Patton

      Once again, we must understand that the Christian faith is based upon the Advent of Christ, not the inerrancy of Scripture. It is historical first. Our records of history do not have to be inerrant before they are trustworthy. Therefore, there is no excuse for leaving the faith if the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds.

      This does not mean inerrancy is not important, or that our faith is completely unaffected if the Bible were not inerrant. It just means, once again, that the Christian faith does not stand or fall on the doctrine of inerrancy.

    • Scott Arnold


      What would they have said if Christ would have called the South American Orchid seed the smallest of all seeds – that would have caused some confusion!

    • sellison

      I personally think you have nailed this post Michael. I too believe the bible is inerrant, but I can’t put it it into my circle of essentials.

      Probably the greatest thing I’ve learned from TTP thus far is that it’s OK to admit I don’t understand it all. The more I surround myself with Him in various forms (study, fellowship with believers, christian music, etc…), the more at peace I am in humbling myself and giving him all the glory. To tie this back in, whom am I to say His words are inerrant?

      I’m even starting to sound like a Calvinist at times… oh my 😉

    • C Michael Patton

      Walk into the light…be not afraid…we will not harm you. 🙂

    • wjrjde

      What are the practical out-workings of your belief for the Christian who rejects inerrancy? What are the side effects on the Church “the Christian faith is based upon the Advent of Christ, not the inerrancy of Scripture. It is historical first.?”

      Are you really saying that historic documents alone are sufficient to maintain a Christian faith? If not, what other resources do you believe will be necessary for use? Is it necessary for this person to attend an orthodox (don

    • wjrjde

      A couple of other questions occurred to me.

    • C Michael Patton

      “Are you really saying that historic documents alone are sufficient to maintain a Christian faith?”

      I would say that the historical documents alone provide enough evidence to be persuaded of the historical Jesus and His word and works. This is the basis for the Christian faith.

      That being said, the Scripture has been given to us by God, not simply to affirm the truths of the historical events, but to give us all that is necessary for people to live a life for God.

      Therefore, if the history is true, then the Christian faith is true and demands our belief. The next step is to begin to understand the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God.

    • C Michael Patton
    • wjrjde
    • paul ernst

      What about 2 Tim 3:16? It says “God breathed”. We read into that what we think it means. I hold some sort of ‘weak actualization” or Molinist approach to providence, including Scripture. Perhaps that is all God intends. Besides, I think messianic prophecy is a good argument for inspiration and it avoids getting caught up in jot and tiddle arguments.
      not a Barthian!

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