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Is the Bible Inerrant? Guest Post by Mike Licona

This now is the second of three posts by Mike Licona, Associate Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University.  Mike has a PhD in New Testament studies and is a committed evangelical apologist, who has written a recent book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels (Oxford University Press, 2016), and is also the author of Evidence for God. He does indeed admit there are differences in the Gospels, which some people would claim are actually contradictions; but he continues to believe the Bible is “inerrant.”  What does he mean then?  In this clear and lucid post, he explains his views.

NOTE: Mike’s first post generated lots of comments, and it was a bit overwhelming.   He will be willing to answer questions/comments over the next four days, but not afterward.  That in itself is amazingly generous.  Please don’t ask tons of questions in one comment — that (I can say from experience) is hard to deal with!   Moreover, he and I both know that many people on the blog have a different perspective from his.  But please be respectful and courteous, even in your disagreements. .


Is the Bible Inerrant?

Just as the term “divine inspiration” needs clarification, so does the term “inerrant.” “Inerrant” means without error. So, a simple way of explaining what it means to say the Bible is inerrant is to assert that it contains no errors of any kind. One can imagine a preacher holding up his Bible during his Sunday morning sermon and saying, “This is God’s inerrant Word. Every word in it’s true!” For that, the argument is given, “If the Bible is divinely inspired, it must be inerrant, since God cannot err.” However, as I noted in my previous post, that argument only works if either (a) God dictated the words to the biblical writers who acted merely as scribes or (b) God, in a manner unknown to us, used their personalities and various writing styles to pen every word as He desired. As we observed, neither are likely, given the Bible that we have.

If by divine inspiration we mean that God actuated circumstances whereby the authors of the biblical literature wrote what they did using their own words, arguments, and logic, and that God ultimately approved what they wrote, despite the presence of human imperfections, then the doctrine of biblical inerrancy may be understood in a number of ways.

For example, Vatican II views inerrancy as follows: “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation [emphasis mine]” (Dei Verbum 11). In other words, the Bible is inerrant in everything it teaches pertaining to salvation.

Perhaps the definition most commonly accepted by evangelicals around the world is …

This is an intriguing post with a view that will strike many of you as unusual.  If you want to read the rest, you will need to belong to the blog.  So why not join?  It doesn’t cost much, and every nickel goes to those in need.

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Final Tribute To Larry Hurtado
Setting Dates for the Gospels



  1. Avatar
    Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  December 5, 2019

    4º Likewise, there are apologists who try to save themselves from the possible wreck of their faith, resorting to the idea of ​​a “web of beliefs”, in whose center would be what they call core beliefs and on their periphery other beliefs that could be false, such as inerrancy , without affecting his deep Christian faith.
    But this is a self-deception. Without the inerrancy of the Bible, no one can be sure that true and basic beliefs can be separated from the others that can be wrong. There is no human way to confirm that these basic beliefs are true since it is impossible to verify that they correspond to reality. Of course, there are apologists like Richard Howe who resort to extremely ridiculous criteria of correspondance with reality with all the passages in the Bible (Howe’s list of criteria is as follows: 1.-Literally, 2.- Allegorically, 3.- Metaphorically, 4.- Similarly, 5.- Analogically, 6.- Symbolically, 7.- Hyperbolically, 8.- Phenomenologically, 9.- Informally, 10.- Synecdochically, and 11.-Metonymically. (I think one is missing: 12. – “Because I, Richard G. Howe declare it that way.”).

    5º It is strange to read that “if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true, period”, especially considering the more than 10 episodes of resurrections that appear in the Bible. Why is Jesus’ special? It will be argued that Jesus, as the second person of the Holy Trinity, was resurrected by himself, while the others were resurrected by God the Father or by Jesus himself. But that is not what the Bible says: Jesus was resurrected by the Father (Acts 2:24) or by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11 and 1 Peter 3:18).
    Regarding the data that Mr. Licona argues in favor of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus as a result of his investigations, unfortunately for him it is obvious that they are much less relevant, documented and convincing than the data that exist that make it highly unlikely that the resurrection, post-mortem appearances and ascension to the heavens (to the third heaven? to which?) of Jesus are historical facts, real facts.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

      Fernando: You think there’s a better explanation for the widely agreed upon data than the resurrection hypothesis? It’s one thing to make an assertion to that effect. It’s an entirely other thing to demonstrate it. I’ve assessed the leading ones offered by critical scholars in my book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” by subjecting them to strictly controlled historical method. They all come out on the short end.

  2. Mike Licona
    Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

    Everyone: Thank you for your challenging comments and questions this week! It has been fun! And I appreciate the collegiality as I’ve stepped into your lion’s den. As agreed beforehand with Bart, I’m only engaging for the first four days of the post. I hope to see many of you next week to discuss my third and final article. Have a great weekend!

    • Avatar
      Gary  December 6, 2019

      Thank you, Dr. Licona, for braving the lion’s den. Yes, some of us have been tough on you, however, I don’t think any of us have anything against you personally. It is your belief system that deeply disturbs us.

      You have expressed in discussions on Christian websites that you having frequently experienced serious doubts about your conservative Christian beliefs. That is a good sign! That is a sign of just how intelligent you are! Questioning is good. Please explore those doubts more. Read more books by skeptics. I would especially encourage you to read the recently published book entitled, “The Case Against Miracles”. It is a devastating rebuttal to the Christian belief in miracles, and therefore, a devastating rebuttal to the belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

      Peace and happiness to you and your family.

  3. Avatar
    Ficino  December 5, 2019

    The Bible is said to be unique among all ancient writings. It is inspired, inerrant, authoritatively transmitting God’s revelation. No other ancient collection of writings is so.

    But what if there seems to be something erroneous in the Bible?

    When there is an alleged “error” or “contradiction” or what have you in the Bible, it is explained away by appeal to the passage’s LIKENESS to writing of other ancient authors.

    But when there is a doctrine or precept that Biblical supporters believe is authoritative, the Bible passages alleged to express it are appealed to as inspired and inerrant, UNLIKE writings of other ancient authors.

    When the Bible is embarrassing, the embarrassment is explained away by appeal to how the human writers were like other ancient human writers – so their embarrassing writings really aren’t embarrassing. When the Bible supports a teaching valued by a Christian group, on the other hand, then it’s appealed to as unlike other ancient writings, as uniquely transmitting truth from God.

    This doesn’t compute. It’s moving the goalposts to say that embarrassing passage X is LIKE other ancient writings, and therefore not really asserting the embarrassing thing, and to say that valued passage Y – or even X read on another register – is UNLIKE other ancient writings, inspired and inerrant and therefore incumbent upon our consciences, as no other ancient writing is.

  4. Avatar
    dominchowles@gmail.com  December 6, 2019

    Hi Mike
    Many thanks for the reply. I am not for moment denying that Plutarch wrote “Lives” although there is debate about some of his other work. What is interesting about him is that he is a historian of that time and it gives us an insight into what people of that time thought of certain events or people . He may not be always historically accurate but that dosen’t matter. For the Resurrection on the other hand it does matter.
    I think Bart Ehrman would dispute that you are on good ground re “thinking the attributions of the Gospels to their traditional authors are correct.” Also the validity of eye witness testimony is not uncontested ,as Bart has explored in his work.Are they writng close to the event ? if I write about events that happened in 1979 just from stories that have been handed down I wonder how accurate they would be.
    If you are going beyond the Gospels then I would like Paul to say more about Jesus’s ministry and be clearer about what “Scriputres” mean ,Gospel writings or Old Testament?
    Having seen all your debates with Bart that are online I don’t feel you have made the Historical case for the Resurrection but look forward to when you do. I think what happened in the first 30 years after Jesus died is hughly important and it’s a shame that we don’t have more evidence for sects like the Ebionites for example. Are we just left with Paul’s version of Christianity ?

  5. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  December 6, 2019

    I’d like to sum up the history and etiology of Christianity with one Carl Sagan quote:
    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

  6. Avatar
    joemccarron  December 6, 2019

    Who is “Gary” and why does he get to post a seemingly endless number of times per day but I am limited to 3?

    Dr. Licona I think this is a great perspective and I wish you well as you defend it against anti-theists and Christians alike.

    I imagine some people seeing God after they die and and somehow coming to know that Jesus did these miracles and accurately taught us how we should live etc. But then they ask God “Do rabbits chew the cud?” And God says “no they don’t the old testament author got that wrong” with a slight shrug. And then the outrage comes and they refuse to accept God!

    Of course, I suppose they imagine me seeing God. And when we see God our innermost beliefs are seen to us both. God knows I believed in Jesus message of love and am sorry when I fell short of living up to it. And then suddenly it becomes clear that I somehow didn’t quite believe the mustard seed was the smallest seed. And then the trap door under my feet is triggered!

    You would think the Nicene creed would be at least 66 books long if every word had to be believed. The more I think about these positions the more bizarre they seem.

    I get asked frequently how I know what the authors of scripture intended. And my answer is: context. Context is how we know what modern authors intend and there is no easy 3 step formula to know what was intended even today. But when we look at the intent of ancient authors when we may not even know who they were other than they lived in a very different world than today, then yes it can be hard to know for sure what was intended. John and Luke help with context by explaining why they are writing. But, of course, it can be difficult to know for sure what the intent of the author was in every passage of the old and new testament. And there is no reason we should think it has to be obvious to every person of every age.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 8, 2019

      I’m not sure! I’ll look into it. I thought we had an automatic mechanism that stopped a commenter at three….

      • Avatar
        Gary  December 8, 2019

        I have been limited to three comments per day as well. But I have used my “limit” every day since the post was published. I will do the same on Dr. Licona’s third post until he answers my question:

        “Is it true that since you were ten years old, you have believed that the spirit (ghost) of an executed first century peasant lives inside your body and communicates with you in some fashion that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact?”

        He has dodged this question over and over again.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 9, 2019

          Maybe if you ask him just this one question, and say it’s the only question you’ll ask, he’d be more likely to respond? Not sure!

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 9, 2019

            I’ll try it. I will only post this one question under his third and final post—-under one condition: If he refuses to answer the question or gives an evasive answer, will you challenge him to explain why he doesn’t want to answer it? 🙂

            Dr. Licona has repeatedly responded to my question by saying: “We all have biases”. That is dodging the question.

            Wouldn’t you agree, Dr. Ehrman, that if someone believes that the spirit (ghost) of the man whose resurrection is in question lives and communicates with him inside his body, it is impossible for this person, however intelligent, to set aside such a bias?

  7. Avatar
    rjackson@cscos.com  December 6, 2019

    I highly suspect that Dr Ehrman allows you to comment on his blog not because you can add anything to his scholarship (you can’t) but because your disciples might follow you here and Dr Ehrman will make more money for his causes. That’s fine. I support Dr. Ehrman’s good works. Here’s my problem with your comments. You (and other innerrancy believers) dance and dance around the hot coals of truth so as not to burn your toes. Dr. Ehrman doesn’t have to do any gymnastics to make his point. You need 5000 words just to end with “well this is so because I want it to be so”. I just re-listened to a 2018 debate you had with Dr. Erhman “Are the Gospels Historically Reliable”. Once your thesis is shattered you revert to childish dodges and refusal to directly answer questions. Maybe you could write a post on how your views have changed since you started having these debates with Dr. Ehrman?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 8, 2019

      Actually, that hadn’t entered my mind at all! I need to learn to be more crafty!

    • Avatar
      Gary  December 8, 2019

      Amen, brother! Michael Licona does NOT want to talk about the “testimony of the Holy Spirit in his heart…here…with skeptics. He knows it makes him look foolish. But on Christian websites he preaches that the work of the Holy Spirit is the “essential” evidence that brings a sinner to belief in the resurrected Jesus, and, that historical evidence is simply a “tool” in the defense of that belief.

      Mike is a nice guy but he has been very disingenuous with us. He wants us to believe that he can set aside his bias that a communicating spirit (ghost) lives inside him whispering secret wisdom and insight—but his scholarship is based solely on historical evidence. Baloney.

      I am shocked that some skeptics on this site want to treat Dr. Licona with kid gloves as if he were presenting a lecture on climate change. This man’s belief system is responsible for the ongoing repression of women, gays, lesbians, and the imposition of Bronze Age morality upon people all over the world. We must vigorously, but politely, oppose him, not engage in flowery platitudes about his scholarship.

      • Avatar
        RICHWEN90  December 10, 2019

        I do agree with you. I always wonder whether anti-psychotic meds would have an impact on those whisperings of the holy spirit. And I’m not accusing Mike Licona of being psychotic. It’s just that the experiment would be interesting. Whatever mechanism might be responsible for these vivid interior voices, it ought to respond to a particular class of psychotropic drug. If it didn’t, that would be interesting too, and perhaps point to some other kind of neural activity. If some supernatural entity really existed and it could communicate with us in the form of an interior voice, could it do so in a way that did not involve any material medium, any brain structure responsible for cognition or speech? It’s the old problem of dualism. Of the angel riding a bicycle.

  8. Avatar
    ddorner  December 8, 2019

    I just want to add that, Mike Licona, you are a gentleman and a scholar. I appreciate tremendously your contribution to this blog. It may seem a lions den, but I myself feel enlightened by reading differing perspectives. I’ve loved this blog for a few years now, and it’s tremendously valuable when it challenges us with alternative ways of thinking. Many thanks to you and Dr. Ehrman for displaying great sportsmanship. May the the debates rage on!

  9. Avatar
    Lebo55  December 24, 2019

    This is a question for both Mike and Bart, it might be off topic but not by much, I’m going on another book splurge and while looking at what books about the Bible to get I came across the eth Cepher, it includes all books of the Bible but also Enoch, jubilees and Jasher (Jasher I thought was lost but OK) have either of you heard and/or read this book, it got mostly positive reviews.

    I’m new to Textual criticism, history and archeology are my main, I recently purchased : The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, Aland’s The Textual History of the Greek New Testament: Changing Views in Contemporary Research (Text-Critical Studies) and Epp’s Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (STUDIES AND DOCUMENTS).

    I was going to purchase : The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings
    7th Edition, Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire and The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (New Testament Tools, Studies, and Documents) in addition to the eth cepher but wanted your opinion on this or any title I’ve mentioned.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 25, 2019

      I don’t believe the Cepher is a work of scholarship. If you are interested in textual criticism you will also want to read Bruce Metzger’s book The Text of the New Testament; it is the standard introduction to the field. If you’re not familiar with the field at all, one eye-opener is David Parker’s Living Text of the Gospels.

      • Avatar
        Lebo55  December 25, 2019

        Good how about parkers most recent work “Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament”

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2019

          I find it more problematic, not as accessible. But he’s a massively learned scholar.

  10. Avatar
    Lebo55  December 26, 2019

    Is there any interest in scholarly circles with the Ethiopian Canon, I read your post on Enoch but how about jubilees, kebra nagast, or other books of their Canon?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 28, 2019

      Mainly among scholars of Ethiopic Christianity. Jubilees of course is a major work of Jewish antiquity, much studied.

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