The Biblical Inerrantist’s Double Standard & Controlling Presupposition.


Commonly the biblical inerrantist (those who believe that the Bible is without error in all that it teaches) will accuse those who disagree with him to have degenerate motives. They will, as Barr notes, claim that “opponents, in arguing from empirical evidence, are in fact not motivated by a zeal for empirical evidence but by a theological hostility to the truth gospel” (1). According to the inerrantist’s of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy any reading of the text that finds a contradiction, an error or discrepancy must begin with some type of anti-Bible faithless presupposition. For example, article 19 of the CSBI identifies “naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism” as “alien pre understandings” that inevitably result in the misreading of the text (2). Henry explains that “When these un-and anti-biblical principles seep into men’s theologies at the presuppositional level, as today they frequently do, faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture becomes impossible” (3).

In other words, the inerrantist accuses the non-inerrantist of operating under presuppositions that distort accurate readings of the text. So, for example, if a historian sees a conflict between Matthew and Luke’s theology or between Ecclesiastes and Daniel it is not because such a conflict actually exists but because the scholar is imposing his own theological ideas upon the text. The inerrantist believes that the scholar wants to see a conflict because it serves his own agenda. Even more, if the historian disagrees with the inerrantist it is because he is arrogant, and is no longer a historian but an enemy.

However, as Christian scholar Thom Stark notes, “It is the inerrantists who are guilty of allowing their controlling presuppositions to interfere with the proper processes of historical-grammatical exegesis. Before the interpretative process even begins, the inerrantists rule out the possibility that the text can be wrong, in any way. This, might I add, is very definition of a controlling presupposition” (4). This is point-in-case a double standard for the inerrantist accuses those he disagrees with of having controlling presuppositions when he, himself, holds to one too. Stark:

“In reality, the vast majority of critical scholars are not motivated by any hostility to the Christian faith. Inerrantists accuse critical scholars of rejecting inerrancy so that they can believe whatever they like; but the truth is that inerrantists have no problem believing whatever they like and forcing their view onto the text” (4).

This is not to deny that it is possible for a critical historian to ascribe an error to the text where there is none, however there is no reason why the critical scholar is required to ascribe error to the text. It is also not to deny that there are those out there who do have an axe to grind against the Bible, but it is wrong to assume that it is the case whenever someone disagrees with inerrantist presuppositions; as Stark notes:

“Critical scholars regularly point out when and where the text is accurate, or is supported by external evidence. Conversely, it is the inerrantists who in principle is required to deny the existence of errors. Although both sides sometimes fail to live up to their own ideals, the ideal of the critical scholar is a degree of objectivity; the ideal of the inerrantist is bias” (5).

But what about the inerrantist’s painting of critical scholarship as the enemy? This is something I can understand, and it is also something that I’ve experienced. For example, when I have shared my conclusions that do not agree with what that of an inerrantist’s I will be accused doing God a disservice, reading the Bible unfaithfully, or putting my views above God’s etc. There are several replies one could make to this, but on the notion of scholarship Stark notes:

“First, the attempt to paint ordinary critical scholarship as negative, as if biblical critics were motivated by the need to prove the Bible wrong. This is pure fantasy. The historical critic (in any field) is not motivated to prove historical sources wrong or right. The only objective is to achieve perspicuity on what the texts are saying and how that relates to the other historical evidence, so that valid conclusions may be drawn and valid assumptions revised. Conceptions of the “hostile liberal” who is out to attack scripture and “rebel against the God of the Bible” are purely imaginings of conspiracy theorists” (5).


1. Barr, J. 1977. Fundamentalism. p. 71

2. Radmacher, E. & Preus, R. Hermeneutics, inerrancy, and the Bible. p. 886.

3. Henry, C. 1999. God who speaks and shows. p. 218.

4. Stark, T. 2011. The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals when it Gets God Wrong (and why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It).p. 60.

5. Stark, T. ibid. p. 44.


6 responses to “The Biblical Inerrantist’s Double Standard & Controlling Presupposition.

  1. Glad to see that more and more faithful born again believers actually leave that inerrantist position – it is my case.
    Don’t get me wrong, as an exegete, I find the other exegetes sometimes too critical and arguing without actual, demonstrable basis. Nevertheless when they point to a tension in the text and I cannot make sense of why that tension is there, I’ll always recognize the existence of the tension – I prefer the word tension to “error”, most of the time, it’s more a “tension” than an “error” or a “contradiction”.
    For example, the differences of the accounts of John’s gospel with the Synotpics are numerous. And there is no problem if one considers anew the importance of the Holy Spirit in the act of reading the Word and in the writing of that Word – some evangelicals and non-evangelicals even think of the Gospel of John as claiming “prophecy inspiration”, that is that the writer believed – rightly for us ! – that the Spirit inspired him all the so special and johannine in style discourses that we can find only in John’s Gospel. If it is so, I will even go to the point to say that knowing if those words were historically said by Jesus is irrelevant for the Gospel of John : what counts is that Jesus, by his Spirit, actually inspired those words to John. The Gospel of John obviously knew the traditional gospel narrative and wanted to give it anew to his late first century communities. Just put the four gospels side by side for the episode of the arrestation and you’ll see how different – but still amazingly concordant ! – the gospels are – look at what Jesus is saying in John and compare it to the synoptics. It didn’t weaken my faith to note that and it should not weaken yours. I’m writing all that with great fear, not wanting to weaken the faith of any that will read me. But yes, the problem is that the Spirit has been led aside of evangelical theology and so they developed a theology of the Word securing this Word without the Spirit. With the new Charismatic and Pentecostal renewals, we now know of how important it is to actually read and consider the Word through the lens of the Spirit. He is the one who must give us the absolute certainty that the Word is really of God and perfect according to its purposes, not some heavy and double “standarded” evangelical scholarship. I know they want to honor God, but they don’t take the right way, in my opinion, to do so.
    Sorry for the long comment ! 🙂

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