Eisegesis Unplugged – Acts 26:28

The Passage

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28 ESV)

This passage is sometimes used to support the duty and ability of believers to ‘persuade’ non-believers to become Christians by using their personal testimonies as evangelistic tools. If Paul tried to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian with his testimony, shouldn’t we also try and persuade others? If that’s what Paul was trying to do, certainly! But is that what was really going on in that encounter? Let’s look at the text and context, shall we?

Our story begins back in Chapter 25, with Festus, procurator of Judea presenting Paul to King Agrippa, in Cesarea where Paul was being held. Festus had tried to convince Paulo to be tried in Jerusalem, but Paul appealed to Rome, as was his right being a Roman citizen. Festus speaks:

“And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write.” – Acts 25:24-26

The drama continues:

So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.” Acts 26:1-3

Paul then proceeded with his personal testimony, however with the principle objective to defend himself against the accusations of the Jews. That eloquent discourse covered Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, the call to repent and turn to God, and the proclamation that the death and resurrection of Christ pertained to both Jews and Gentiles. In addition to being a ‘defense’ that would make Perry Mason envious, it was indeed a clear presentation of the gospel message.

It is important to note that Paul did not offer his ‘changed life’ as the message of the gospel, and that God would change Agrippa’s life for the better also. That would have been ridiculous! Paul was standing there bound in the chains of a prisoner bound for Rome.

Paul’s testimony and presentation of the call to repentance and belief resulted in Festus calling him ‘out of his mind’, as well as the question from King Agrippa:

“In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” – Acts 26:28

Apparently, Paul’s testimony, presented primarily as a legal defense, caused Agrippa to think Paul was intentionally trying to persuade him to become a Christian. It would not be surprising that Paul was using the occasion to present the gospel to Agrippa, however other scripture from Paul tells us clearly that he did not consider himself the ‘persuader’.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Cor 3:6-7

Paul did express his desire that Agrippa would become a Christian, but he didn’t offer him a better life. After all Agrippa’s life was getting along very nicely, thank you! We could learn something from that, I think. A ‘gospel’ based on a changed life, or that offers ‘your best life now’ is lost on those who already have a great life! We would add that there is not a single instance of that approach in all of scripture.

Finally, after agreeing among themselves that Paul had done nothing deserving of imprisonment, Paul was sent to Rome, as protocol required, where he lived under house arrest until his execution.

So what are we to take from this account?

First, that even the direst of circumstances in our lives present opportunities to deliver the precious message of the gospel of Christ’s death for our sins.

Second, that presenting the gospel message will get us accused of trying to persuade others to become Christians. And yes, Paul did say “we persuade men’, but to what end? He tells us.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” – 2 Cor 5:10-11

We present the gospel message as if lives depend upon it – and they do – eternal lives.

Third, while we deliver the gospel message with persuasive speech, we need to be mindful that our efforts are merely planting ‘seed’ that needs watering and nourishing,but it is God who is the ‘great persuader’. Of course we should be enthusiastic in presenting the gospel, but in the end it is God alone who saves. Ours is the great privilege of being used to provide the message to hearts He has opened to hear and respond. It is God who both ordains the end (salvation) and the means (preaching the gospel).

And last, this Paul’s encounter with Agrippa does not imply that we, as believers, have the ability to personally persuade non-believers to hear and receive the gospel message. That attitude, when adopted, usually results in us omitting the ‘offense’ of the gospel (man’s sin), and our trying to ‘attract’ people to Jesus. Paul’s discourse before Agrippa did present his personal testimony, but it also addressed the need to repent of sin and return to God.

If we use personal testimony in our witnessing, we should be speaking of having faced our sin in all its ugliness, repented of it and turned to God, trusting in Christ for our salvation.

Our duty is to present the truth in love, call sinners to repentance and belief in Christ, and leave the ‘persuading ’to God.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
with Exposition


The "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" was produced at an international Summit Conference of evangelical leaders, held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago in the fall of 1978. This congress was sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. The Chicago Statement was signed by nearly 300 noted evangelical scholars, including James Boice, Norman L. Geisler, John Gerstner, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, Harold Lindsell, John Warwick Montgomery, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, Robert Preus, Earl Radmacher, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, and John Wenham.

The ICBI disbanded in 1988 after producing three major statements: one on biblical inerrancy in 1978, one on biblical hermeneutics in 1982, and one on biblical application in 1986. The following text, containing the "Preface" by the ICBI draft committee, plus the "Short Statement," "Articles of Affirmation and Denial," and an accompanying "Exposition," was published in toto by Carl F. H. Henry in God, Revelation And Authority, vol. 4 (Waco, Tx.: Word Books, 1979), on pp. 211-219. The nineteen Articles of Affirmation and Denial, with a brief introduction, also appear in A General Introduction to the Bible, by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix (Chicago: Moody Press, rev. 1986), at pp. 181-185. An official commentary on these articles was written by R. C. Sproul in Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary (Oakland, Calif.: ICBI, 1980), and Norman Geisler edited the major addresses from the 1978 conference, in Inerrancy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980).

Clarification of some of the language used in this Statement may be found in the 1982 Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics

A Short Statement

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

Read the entire Statement with Exposition here.

Revelation, Inspiration & Illumination

Revelation is a supernatural communication of divine truth presented to men (Deut 29:29), of that which they otherwise would not know, the Scriptures (Old and New Testament) the chief locus (Ps 138:2) of the Revelation.

Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Psalm 138:2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

Inspiration is the term used to describe how the Scriptures were given by God, men supernaturally guided to express exactly what God intended (verbal-plenary), therefore that word spoken in old time by holy men of God is infallible, and preserved for us today (2 Pet 1:19-21; 2 Tim 3:16; Jer 1:9; Ps 100:5; Ps 12:7).

2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.

Psalm 100:5 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Psalm 12:7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Illumination refers to the Spirit enlightening the understanding of man whereby the meaning of Scripture is understood by the believer (1 Cor 2:10-14; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 1:18; 2:1; John 16:13; Isa 29:18). The Spirit of God acts immediately upon the soul (John 3:7).

1 Corinthians 2:10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

Ephesians 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

Isaiah 29:18 And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.

John 3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

The Truthfulness of Scripture – Inerrancy

I found the following an excellent article concerning the history of the doc trine of the inerrancy of Scripture:

The Truthfulness of Scripture


Michael S. Horton

Against the repeated claim that the doctrine of inerrancy, unknown to the church, arose first with Protestant orthodoxy, we could cite numerous examples from the ancient and medieval church. (1) It was Augustine who first coined the term "inerrant," and Luther and Calvin can speak of Scripture as free from error. (2)

Down to the Second Vatican Council, Rome has attributed inerrancy to Scripture as the common view of the church throughout its history. According to the First Vatican Council (1869-70), the Old and New Testaments, "whole and entire," are "sacred and canonical." In fact, contrary to the tendency of some Protestants (including some evangelicals) to lodge the nature of inspiration in the church’s authority, this council added,

And the church holds them as sacred and canonical not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without errors, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their Author. (3)

Successive popes during the twentieth century condemned the view that limited inerrancy to that which is necessary for salvation, and Pope Leo XIII went even further than the inerrancy position by espousing the dictation theory of inspiration. Undoubtedly, this mechanical theory of inspiration is what most critics have in mind when they encounter the term "inerrancy." Nevertheless, it does demonstrate that inerrancy is not an invention of Protestant fundamentalists. Quoting the Second Vatican Council, the most recent Catholic catechism states, "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." (4)

The Princeton Formulation of Inerrancy

Although inerrancy was taken for granted in church history until the Enlightenment, it was especially at Princeton Seminary in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that it became a full-blown formulation. This view is articulated most completely in Inspiration, a book coauthored by A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield and published by the Presbyterian Church in 1881. Their argument deserves an extended summary especially because it remains, in my view, the best formulation of inerrancy just as it anticipates and challenges caricatures.

First, they point out that a sound doctrine of inspiration requires a specifically Christian ontology or view of reality: "The only really dangerous opposition to the church doctrine of inspiration comes either directly or indirectly, but always ultimately, from some false view of God’s relation to the world, of his methods of working, and of the possibility of a supernatural agency penetrating and altering the course of a natural process." (5) Just as the divine element pervades the whole of Scripture, so too does the human aspect. Not only "the untrammeled play of all [the author’s] faculties, but the very substance of what they write is evidently for the most part the product of their own mental and spiritual activities." (6) Even more than the Reformers, the Protestant orthodox were sensitive to the diverse means used by God to produce the Bible’s diverse literature. This awareness has only grown, Hodge and Warfield observe, and should be fully appreciated. God’s "superintendence" did not compromise creaturely freedom. In fact, "It interfered with no spontaneous natural agencies, which were, in themselves, producing results conformable to the mind of the Holy Spirit." (7) Just as the divine element pervades the whole of Scripture, so too does the human aspect.

Far from reducing all instances of biblical revelation to the prophetic paradigm, as critics often allege, Hodge and Warfield recognize that the prophetic form, "Thus says the Lord," is a "comparatively small element of the whole body of sacred writing." In the majority of cases, the writers drew from their own existing knowledge, including general revelation, and each "gave evidence of his own special limitations of knowledge and mental power, and of his personal defects as well as of his powers….The Scriptures have been generated, as the plan of redemption has been evolved, through an historic process," which is divine in its origin and intent, but "largely natural in its method." (8) "The Scriptures were generated through sixteen centuries of this divinely regulated concurrence of God and man, of the natural and the supernatural, of reason and revelation, of providence and grace." (9)

Second, Warfield and Hodge underscore the redemptive-historical unfolding of biblical revelation, defending an organic view of inspiration over a mechanical theory. They note that many reject verbal inspiration because of its association with the erroneous theory of verbal dictation, which is an "extremely mechanical" view. (10) Therefore, theories concerning "authors, dates, sources and modes of composition" that "are not plainly inconsistent with the testimony of Christ or his apostles as to the Old Testament or with the apostolic origin of the books of the New Testament…cannot in the least invalidate" the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy. (11) While higher criticism proceeds on the basis of anti-supernatural and rationalistic presuppositions, historical criticism is a valid and crucial discipline.

Third, the Princeton theologians faced squarely the question of contradictions and errors, noting problems in great detail. Some discrepancies are due to imperfect copies, which textual criticism properly considers. In other cases, an original reading may be lost, or we may simply fail to have adequate data or be blinded by our presuppositions from understanding a given text. Sometimes we are "destitute of the circumstantial knowledge which would fill up and harmonize the record," as is true in any historical record. We must also remember that our own methods of testing the accuracy of Scripture "are themselves subject to error." (12)

Fourth, because it is the communication that is inspired rather than the persons themselves, we should not imagine that the authors were omniscient or infallible. In fact, the authors themselves seem conscious enough of their limitations. "The record itself furnishes evidence that the writers were in large measure dependent for their knowledge upon sources and methods in themselves fallible, and that their personal knowledge and judgments were in many matters hesitating and defective, or even wrong." (13) Yet Scripture is seen to be inerrant "when the ipsissima verba of the original autographs are ascertained and interpreted in their natural and intended sense." (14) Inerrancy is not attributed to copies, much less to our vernacular translations, but to "the original autographic text." (15)

Fifth, the claim of inerrancy is that "in all their real affirmations these books are without error." (16) The qualification "real affirmations" is important and deserves some elaboration. The scientific and cultural assumptions of the prophets and apostles were not suspended by the Spirit, and in these they were not necessarily elevated beyond their contemporaries. Nevertheless, that which they proclaim and affirm in God’s name is preserved from error. For example, critics often point to Matthew 13:32, where Jesus refers to the mustard seed as "the smallest of all seeds." From the context it is clear that Jesus was not making a botanical claim but drawing on the familiar experience of his hearers, for whom the analogy would have worked perfectly well. If every statement in Scripture is a propositional truth-claim, then there are obvious errors. A reductionistic view of language is implied at this point both in many of the criticisms and defenses of scriptural accuracy. It is unlikely that in his state of humiliation, in which by his own admission he did not know the day or hour of his return, Jesus had exhaustive knowledge about the world’s plant life. Whatever contemporary botanists might identify as the smallest seed, if it were unknown to Jesus’ hearers, the analogy would have been pointless. We have to ask what the biblical writers are affirming, not what they are assuming as part of the background of their own culture and the limitations of their time and place.

If we do not hold ourselves and each other to modern standards of specialized discourse in ordinary conversation, we can hardly impose such standards on ancient writers. As Calvin observed, "Moses wrote in the manner of those to whom he wrote." If one wants to learn astronomy, Calvin adds, one must ask the astronomers rather than Moses, since his purpose was not to deliver supernatural information about the movement of planets. (17) Inerrancy requires our confidence not in the reliability of Moses and his knowledge of the cosmos but in the reliability of the historical narratives, laws, and promises disclosed in the Pentateuch. Even then, it is truthfulness, not exactness, that we expect when we come to the biblical text. (18)

To supplement their account, one could add that there are obvious discrepancies in biblical reports concerning numbers. However, these can be explained by recognizing the different methods of accounting, which are better known now than in the past. For example, on the basis of calculating the generations in Genesis, Archbishop Ussher concluded that the world was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C. However, we know more now about ancient Near Eastern genealogies, which were not exhaustive but singled out significant and transitional figures. Similarly, Matthew’s list is selective, highlighting the crucial (and sometimes surprising) links in the genealogy that led to Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1-17). Their goal (or scope) is to highlight the progress of redemption, not to provide general historical or scientific data. It is impossible to know how many generations are missing from such genealogies, and therefore efforts at calculating human history from them are always bound to fail. The fact that evenhanded historical research has resolved apparent discrepancies such as this one cautions us against hasty conclusions. Many of the alleged conflicts between Scripture and science have turned out to be founded on flawed biblical exegesis. In every science, anomalies are frankly acknowledged without causing an overthrow of an entire paradigm or settled theory that enjoys widespread consensus on the basis of weightier confirmations.

On the one hand, we must beware of facile harmonizations of apparent contradictions. It is sometimes said that the Bible is not a book as much as it is a library. We have to resist the long-held assumption in our intellectual culture that plurality reflects a falling away from the oneness of being. God is three persons in one essence. Analogously, this triune God reveals the one truth of the gospel in a plurality of testimonies. Furthermore, God spoke through prophets and apostles in many times and places, each of whom was shaped by various circumstances of God’s providence, and the variations even between the four Gospels enrich our understanding of the different nuances and facets of Christ’s person and work.

On the other hand, we must beware of equally facile conclusions that depend on naturalistic presuppositions or our own incomplete knowledge. Like the biblical authors, we are not omniscient and must with patient reserve anticipate fuller research and explanations. This does not require a dualistic conception between "religious truth" (faith and practice) and "secular truth" (history and science), as theories of limited inerrancy hold. (19) If we cannot trust God as Creator, then we cannot trust God as Redeemer. Instead of this sort of a priori division, we must recall the purpose or intent of a biblical passage. Once again, it is a question of scope–what is being claimed rather than assumed. As Warfield explains, "It is true that the Scriptures were not designed to teach philosophy, science, or ethnology, or human history as such, and therefore they are not to be studied primarily as sources of information on these subjects." (20)

Sixth, these theologians also denied that inerrancy was the foundation of our doctrine of Scripture, much less of the Christian faith. (21) We must first begin with the content and claims of Scripture, centering on Christ. Christianity is not true because it rests on an inspired and inerrant text, but vice versa. In fact, the redemption to which Scripture testifies and that it communicates would "be true and divine…even if God had not been pleased to give us, in addition to his revelation of saving truth, an infallible record of that revelation absolutely errorless, by means of inspiration." (22)

The Original Autographs

The appeal to the inerrancy of the original autographs has been a bone of contention in this debate. After all, what does it matter if inerrancy is attributed only to the original autographs if we no longer have access to them? But this is not as abstract or speculative a point as it might first appear. We have to distinguish between the original autographs and their copies in any case, since the valid enterprise of historical-textual criticism presupposes it. The very attempt to compare textual variants assumes that there is an original body of documents that some copies and families of copies more or less faithfully represent. Errors in these myriad copies are a matter of fact, but they can only be counted as errors because we have ways of comparing copies in a manner that gives us a reasonable approximation of the original autographs.

Even if we do not have direct access to these original autographs, we do have criteria widely employed in all fields of textual criticism that give us a good idea of what was originally written. (23) However, the methodological assumptions of textual criticism are quite different from those of higher criticism, which as an apparatus of theological liberalism follows naturalistic presuppositions. Where real discrepancies and doubts remain as to the authenticity of certain sayings, on the basis of textual-critical rather than higher-critical analysis, they do not affect any point of the church’s faith and practice. (24) The very fact that textual criticism is an ongoing field yielding ongoing results demonstrates that reconstructing or approximating the content of the original autographs is a viable goal and that, for the most part, it has already achieved this goal.

The Faithful Inspirer

In evangelical circles generally, inerrancy was assumed more than explicitly formulated until it was challenged. Warfield and Hodge helped to articulate this position, which is more formally summarized in the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (see page 30). (25) Like any formulation developed in response to a particular error or area of concern for faith and practice, the inerrancy doctrine invites legitimate questions and critiques. However, its alternatives are less satisfying.

Whatever the holy, unerring, and faithful Father speaks is–simply by virtue of having come from him–holy, unerring, and faithful. In addition, the content of God’s speech is none other than the gift of the eternal Son who became flesh for us and for our salvation. Revelation therefore is not merely an ever-new event that occurs through the witness of the Bible, it is a written canon–an abiding, Spirit-breathed deposit and constitution for the covenant community in every generation. Thus, the Christian faith is truly "a pattern of the sound words" and "the good deposit entrusted to you" that we are to "guard" by means of "the Holy Spirit who dwells within us" (2 Tim. 1:13-14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20). It is an event of revelation that not only creates our faith–fides qua creditor, the faith by which we believe–but, according to Jude 3, contains in canonical form "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints"–fides quae creditor, the faith that is believed.

1 [ Back ] See Robert D. Preus, "The View of the Bible Held by the Church: The Early Church through Luther," and John H. Gerstner, "The View of the Bible Held by the Church: Calvin and the Westminster Divines," in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980); John A. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982); G. W. Bromiley, "The Church Fathers and Holy Scripture," in Scripture and Truth, eds. D. A. Carson and John A. Woodbridge (Leicester: IVP, 1983).
2 [ Back ] Klaas Runia, "The Hermeneutics of the Reformers," Calvin Theological Journal 19 (1984), 129-32.
3 [ Back ] See Alfred Duran, "Inspiration of the Bible," in Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8 (New York: Robert Appleton, 1910).
4 [ Back ] Dei Verbum (Constitution on Divine Revelation), Art. 11, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, MO: Liguori, 1994), 31.
5 [ Back ] A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, Inspiration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 9.
6 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 12.
7 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 6.
8 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 12-13.
9 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 14.
10 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 19.
11 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 25.
12 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 27.
13 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 27-28.
14 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 27-28.
15 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 42.
16 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 42.
17 [ Back ] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, trans. John King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 1:86.
18 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 28-29. The Princeton theologians pointed out, "There is a vast difference between exactness of statement, which includes an exhaustive rendering of details, an absolute literalness, which the Scriptures never profess, and accuracy, on the other hand, which secures a correct statement of facts or principles intended to be affirmed….It is this accuracy, and this alone, as distinct from exactness, which the church doctrine maintains of every affirmation in the original text of Scripture without exception."
19 [ Back ] Advocates of this position include G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); Dewey Beegle, The Inspiration of Scripture (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963); Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979). Although somewhat dated, the arguments offered in Vern Poythress, "Problems for Limited Inerrancy," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 18:2 (Spring 1975), 93-102, remain relevant.
20 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 30.
21 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 6-7.
22 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 8-9.
23 [ Back ] For a careful analysis of this process, see esp. Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987); F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988).
24 [ Back ] One example is the ending of the Lord’s Prayer: "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever."
25 [ Back ] Among other places, the full Chicago Statement may be found in R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 177-93.


Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, and Too Good to be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype.

Issue: "Inspiration and Inerrancy" March/April Vol. 19 No. 2 2010 Pages 26-29

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The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years’ War and Counting

We are entering a new phase in the battle over the Bible’s truthfulness and authority. We should at least be thankful for undisguised arguments coming from the opponents of biblical inerrancy, even as we are ready, once again, to make clear where their arguments lead.

Monday, August 16, 2010 – Al Mohler

clip_image001Back in 1990, theologian J. I. Packer recounted what he called a “Thirty Years’ War” over the inerrancy of the Bible. He traced his involvement in this war in its American context back to a conference held in Wenham, Massachusetts in 1966, when he confronted some professors from evangelical institutions who “now declined to affirm the full truth of Scripture.” That was nearly fifty years ago, and the war over the truthfulness of the Bible is still not over — not by a long shot.

From time to time, the dust has settled in one arena, only for the battle to erupt in another. In the 1970s, the most visible battles were fought over Fuller Theological Seminary and within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. By the 1980s, the most heated controversies centered in the Southern Baptist Convention and its seminaries. Throughout this period, the evangelical movement sought to regain its footing on the doctrine. In 1978, a large number of leading evangelicals met and adopted a definitive statement that became known as “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.”

Many thought the battles were over, or at least subsiding. Sadly, the debate over the inerrancy of the Bible continues. As a matter of fact, there seems to be a renewed effort to forge an evangelical identity apart from the claim that the Bible is totally truthful and without error.

Recently, Professor Peter Enns, formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has argued that the biblical authors clearly erred. He has argued that Paul, for example, was clearly wrong in assuming the historicity of Adam. In Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, published in 2005, he presented an argument for an “incarnational” model of biblical inspiration and authority. But in this rendering, incarnation — affirming the human dimension of Scripture — means accepting some necessary degree of error.

This argument is taken to the next step by Kenton L. Sparks in his 2008 book, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship. Sparks, who teaches at Eastern University, argues that it is nothing less than intellectually disastrous for evangelicals to claim that the Bible is without error.

His arguments, also serialized and summarized in a series of articles, are amazingly candid. He asserts that Evangelicalism has “painted itself into an intellectual corner” by claiming the inerrancy of Scripture. The movement is now in an “intellectual cul-de-sac,” he laments, because we have “crossed an evidential threshold that makes it intellectually unsuitable to defend some of the standard dogmas of the conservative evangelical tradition.” And, make no mistake, inerrancy is the central dogma he would have us let go.

God’s Word in Human Words is an erudite book with a comprehensive argument. Kenton Sparks does not misunderstand the evangelical doctrine of biblical inerrancy — he understands it and sees it as intellectually disastrous. “So like any other book,” he asserts, “the Bible appears to be a historically and culturally contingent text and, because of that, it reflects the diverse viewpoints of different people who lived in different times and places.” But a contingent text bears all the errors of its contingent authors, and Sparks fully realizes this.

The serialized articles by Sparks appear at the BioLogos Web site, a site with one clear agenda — to move evangelicals toward a full embrace of evolutionary theory. In this context, Sparks understands that the affirmation of biblical inerrancy presents a huge obstacle to the embrace of evolution. The “evidential threshold” has been crossed, he insists, and the Bible has come up short. The biblical writers were simply trapped within the limits of their own ancient cosmology and observations.

But Sparks presses far beyond this argument, accusing the Bible of presenting immoral teachings, citing “biblical texts that strike us as down-right sinister or evil.” The Bible, he suggests, “exhibits all the telltale signs of having been written by finite, fallen human beings who erred in the ways that human beings usually err.”

When Peter Enns and Kenton Sparks argue for an incarnational model of inspiration and biblical authority, they are continuing an argument first made long ago — among evangelicals, at least as far back as the opening salvos of the battle over biblical inerrancy. Sparks, however, takes the argument further. He understands that the incarnational model implicates Jesus. He does not resist this. Jesus, he suggests, “was a finite person who grew up in Palestine.” While asserting that he affirms the historic Christian creeds and “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” Sparks proposes that Jesus made routine errors of fact.

His conclusion: “If Jesus as a finite human being erred from time to time, there is no reason at all to suppose that Moses, Paul, [and/or] John wrote Scripture without error.”

That is a breath-taking assumption, to say the very least. But, even in its shocking audacity, it serves to reveal the clear logic of the new battle-lines over biblical inerrancy. We now confront open calls to accept and affirm that there are indeed errors in the Bible. It is demanded that we accept the fact that the human authors of the Bible often erred because of their limited knowledge and erroneous assumptions about reality. We must, it is argued, abandon the claim that the Bible is a consistent whole. Rather, we are told to accept the claims that the human authors of Scripture were just plain wrong in some texts — even in texts that define God and his ways. We are told that some texts are just “down-right sinister or evil.”

And, note clearly, we are told that we must do this in order to save Evangelicalism from an intellectual disaster.

Of course, accepting this demand amounts to a theological disaster of incalculable magnitude. Rarely has this been more apparent and undeniable. The rejection of the Bible’s inerrancy will please the evangelical revisionists, but it will rob the church of its secure knowledge that the Bible is indeed true, trustworthy and fully authoritative.

Kenton Sparks and the new evangelical revisionists are now making some of the very arguments that earlier opponents of inerrancy attempted to deny. In this sense, they offer great clarity to the current debate. Their logic is clear. They argue that the human authors of the Bible were not protected from error, and their errors are not inconsequential. We are talking about nothing less than whether the Bible truthfully reveals to us the nature, character, acts, and purposes of God.

As Dr. Packer said years ago, “[W]hen you encounter a present-day view of Holy Scripture, you encounter more than a view of Scripture. What you meet is a total view of God and the world, that is, a total theology, which is both an ontology, declaring what there is, and an epistemology, stating how we know what there is. This is necessarily so, for a theology is a seamless robe, a circle within which everything links up with everything else through its common grounding in God. Every view of Scripture, in particular, proves on analysis to be bound up with an overall view of God and man.”

The rejection of biblical inerrancy is bound up with a view of God that is, in the end, fatal for Christian orthodoxy. We are entering a new phase in the battle over the Bible’s truthfulness and authority. We should at least be thankful for undisguised arguments coming from the opponents of biblical inerrancy, even as we are ready, once again, to make clear where their arguments lead.

Eisegesis Unplugged – Luke 22:32

This example of reading into scripture was, until today, unheard of by this old soldier.

The Passage

“…but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. . .” – Luke 22:32a

The suggested meaning was that since Jesus told Simon that he had prayed Simon’s faith would not fail, it necessarily means that genuine faith originates in men, and can be repudiated (fail), sending a person who had genuinely believed into eternal Hell.

The first thought that came to mind was “Wait a second, WHO did the praying?” followed by “If the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16), how much more will the prayer of the perfect God-man ‘avail’?”

We’ve heard it said that God answers all our prayers by either ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Wait’ and we know it’s because our prayers are at best, still imperfect. The perfect prayers of the perfect Savior, and our mediator, will always be answered ‘Yes’! How could it be otherwise?

The Passage in Context

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”

Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” – Luke 22:31-34

The man who told me that Simon’s faith could fail, completely forgot to mention that Jesus also said “And WHEN you have turned again. . .”! One has to wonder if he even read it, because the simple use of the word WHEN, signals the certainty of turning back and blows the implied possibility of faith that fails completely out of the ocean!

Then when Peter said he was ready to go to prison and die with his Lord, Jesus (knowing Peter’s heart) called him a liar!

Well, we know the rest of the story. Peter denied Christ, later ‘turned again’ and became a leader in the apostolic church.

So What?

We are told in Scripture:

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; – 1 Tim 2:5

Just as Jesus was the mediator between Simon and God, and the guarantor that Simon’s faith would not fail, He is also the guarantor that in the end, our faith will not fail either. Jesus Christ, mediating before the Throne of Grace 24/7 on our behalf, guarantees that genuine believers WILL persevere.

How comforting a truth, knowing that even when we feel the weakest in our faith, we have the perfect intercessor!

Eisegesis Unplugged – Matt 12:31-32

To refresh your memory:

Eisegesis (from Greek εἰς “into” and ending from exegesis from ἐξηγεῖσθαι “to lead out”) is the process of misinterpreting a text in such a way that it introduces one’s own ideas, reading into the text.

What follows is from an actual forum thread about the Eternal Security of the Believer:

The passage in question:

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” – Matt 12:31-32

The ‘no kidding’ comment from  an adherent of the ‘you can ‘jump’ out of the Father’s hand’ school of thought:

This passage indicates that the unforgivable sin of blasphemy can be committed only by someone who was a true Christian or truly saved.”

In context, we have Jesus speaking to some Pharisees after he cast a demon out of a person and they (the Pharisees) said it was by the power of Beelzebub that Christ did it. the blasphemy charge was directed to those who rejected Christ! Wondering how anyone could make such a ridiculous claim?

Well……there was a ‘companion passage’ from Hebrews:

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance..” – Heb 6:4-6

The ‘companion’ verse is of course only about genuine believers and taken ‘together’ they ‘prove’ that a genuine believer in Christ can blaspheme the Holy Spirit, remain unforgiven, and of necessity end up in Hell. Never mind that the passages are set in two completely different contexts, one is the opposite of the ‘point’ being made, and the other has been fought over for a couple of centuries.

What we have here is an all to common attempt to prove what someone ‘needs’ to believe about the Eternal Security of the believer (it’s not possible) to support the concept of ‘self-determining’  free will.

It’s not the first time someone has approached scripture in order to ‘prove’ a particular point. I do however think this one rather ‘clumsy’, especially with the Matthew passage turned upside down like that. I have never heard that  passage used to prove only Christians can blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I think I’d have a better shot at ‘proving’ that Ezekiel’s Wheel was the Starship Enterprise.

Eisegesis Unplugged – Jeremiah 29:11

The Passage

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11

I’m old enough to remember a particular radio spot about a superhero, in which the phrase “He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere!” introduced each little episode of his interesting adventures. Today’s contribution to the ‘Eisegeses Unplugged’ Series has it’s own version: “It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!”

This passage has been claimed as universal promise for each and every Christian, in evangelical circles across the land. It’s also used quite frequently in by hose engaged in ‘wooing’ people to Christ. But is that the original context in which it was used? Who spoke those famous words, to whom, and why? Let’s take a look.

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (v 1).  . . .  “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (v 4). . . . “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you (vv 10-12)

The passage under discussion was originally spoken via letter to children of God from Jerusalem, living in exile in Babylon because of their unfaithfulness and idolatry, reminding them that the exile would not last forever, but there was hope for the future. that’s the context.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I believe that God does have plans for all of His children, and that God offers us all relief from the ‘stuff’ of life that we face. However, I don’t think it’s wise to claim universal individual ‘promises’ from passages of scripture into which we tend ‘fit’ our own aspirations and dreams.

The Eisegesis

The ‘eisegesis’ involved with this passage, along with many others, is at least 1) reading into the context that which is not there and 2) the fleshly tendency to define what we want God’s provision to look like. And if we never experience what we think we have been promised, the enemy has a field day with our faith, if not the assurance of our salvation.

Oh, I almost forgot. There’s also the little issue of those throughout the history of the church who might disagree with the ‘wonderful plan’ idea. You can start with the disciples and move forward in time. Don’t forget the Apostle Paul, Fox’s Book of Martyrs, many who served on the mission field (Jim Elliot comes to mind), Richard Wurmbrand , and those whose torture, persecution and death are reported almost daily in this, the ‘enlightened’ 21st century.

Once again, we report, you decide.

‘Eisegesis’ Unplugged – Revelation 3:20

Revelation 3:20

Might as well begin with an “oldie but a goodie’, and possibly a ‘greatest hit’ and future member of the Eisegesis Hall of Fame (EHF). It used to be one of my favorites!

The passage:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.“ (NIV)

This single passage might just be the inaugural member of the EHF! It has been used in gospel presentations for years, most often after the “Romans Road” is travelled. If you are unfamiliar with it, The Romans Road to Salvation consists of 6 6-10 passages from the Book of Romans that accurately present the problem we all face (sin) and God’s solution to the problem. Once the prospective convert knows the problem and God’s solution, all that is left is how to appropriate the solution. Rev 3:20 is the perfect verse! The explanation goes like this:

clip_image002‘Jesus is standing forlornly at the door of your heart, wanting to come in and dine with you, but you must open the door! There is but one door latch and it’s on the inside, where you live, and Jesus can’t enter no matter how desperately He wants to!

I even heard a local pastor, whose sermon was about Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall and city gates, tell the congregation of several hundred that there was one gate that God could not open, the door to the human heart. I also cannot dispute that there have been many genuine decisions for Christ after hearing about the ‘one-way door’.  But we still ask the question:

“Is that what the passage really means? Lets take a look.

Revelation Chapter 3 is a continuation of Chapters 1 & 2, in which the Apostle John, in a vision on the Lords day, was commanded to record what he saw and write letters to seven churches of what he saw about each of them. Our passage is from one of those letters to a Christian church:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and he with me. (vv 14-20, NIV)

The text immediately preceding ‘The Greatest Invitation for Salvation Ever Written’ clearly depicts Christ standing at the door of a church that appears to have shut Him out. Jesus plea is that if even one member of that church would open the door, He would enter and dine with him.

The picture we paint in our ‘invitation’ is not the picture painted in the context of the passage of scripture from which it was extracted. I have no idea who first changed the meaning of this passage or when it happened. But I do know that the picture of Jesus standing at a one-way door and asking to be let in supports the idea that after all God has done to make salvation possible through the death of His Son, human decision is the ‘determining’ factor in anyone’s actual salvation.

I won’t jump into ‘that’ particular debate here. Nor will I begin a discussion about ‘evangelical ethics’. I’ll just say that there was a time when I thought it was a really great invitation, and if the passage really meant what we would like it to mean in our zeal to see souls saved, I would still be using it! At some point though, the fact that the a passage of scripture was often ‘quoted’ and given meaning not in the original text. That bothered me.

Will it bother you who read this, or will it seem like this is an ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” moment? I don’t know. Am I saying that it should bother you? Nope. But it should say ‘something’. What exactly it does say  is between you and God.

Proof of the Resurrection – The Empty Tomb

In addition to the motives of followers of Christ and secular corrborating evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection, we have a third proof, indeed the most compelling and irrefutable – the empty tomb! As in the last two posts, we present only a small amount of the available historical data to support the proof presented.

Justyn Martyr, 165 AD, cites a letter circulated by Jews in Jerusalem that were antagonistic to Jesus.

“A godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 108 –Apologetic Press)

Here we have a record of Jewish unbelievers, unwittingly affirming what was written in Matthew 28:13 (Chief priests to the soldiers): “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’”

Toledoth Yeshua, a derogatory account of the life of Jesus, written around 600 A.D, records:

“Diligent search was made and he (Jesus) was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden. (Apologetic Press.org)”

Jesus enemies didn’t even refute the resurrection empty tomb!

Additional food for thought:

1. If the disciples stole the body, and grave robbing was a crime under roman law, why no arrests?

2. If, on resurrection morning, the women went to wrong tomb, why didn’t the Jews produce the body?

4. If a gardner stole body, why did the Jews initially claim that disciples stole the body?

5. If Jesus didn’t really die, what about the blood and water pouring from the spear wound? 

Peter preaches in Jerusalem during Pentecost

If the above questions don’t arouse your curiosity, consider Peter’s sermon (Acts 2) in the streets of Jerusalem to a large crowd of what had to be nearly all Jews:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know– this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (vv 22-24)

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (29-36)

The response of the crowd accused of sending Christ to his death:

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v 37)

A final question:

If the death and bodily resurrection of Christ was not true, why would even a single person in the listening crowd be cut to the heart and cry “…what shall we do?”


It is our hope that in reading these last few posts, you have been encouraged to conduct your own research into proofs for the resurrection of our Savior, both for personal edification and to become better equipped to defend your faith in the ‘marketplace’.

God Bless!