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Should Christians stop defending the Bible? This scholar thinks so.

- Photo courtesy of Eric Demarcq (
 - Photo courtesy of Eric Demarcq (

A battle over the Bible always seems to be brewing among Christians. But one scholar has a new message: stop trying to defend it! – Photo courtesy of Eric Demarcq (

A battle over the Bible always seems to be brewing among Christians. From what the Bible is to what it says to how to interpret, they can’t seem to stop squabbling over the Scriptures. Peter Enns is on the front lines of this conversation with a new message: stop defending the Bible.

As a professor of Biblical studies at Eastern University with a PhD in Near Ancient Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, Enns has done his homework, and he presents it in his newest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Here, we discuss his thesis and how he responds to those who disagree.

DISCLAIMER: Readers will notice that I asked Enns to respond to Kevin DeYoung, whose book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, situates him across the theological table from Enns. My desire was to create a dialogue in this forum where both men’s perspectives were presented as they responded to the other. DeYoung initially agreed to the interview (via his publicist at Crossway), and the questions were drafted accordingly. Upon discovering the other interviewee was Peter Enns, DeYoung said he was too busy to answer the six questions sent to him. Enns, however, completed the interview and his answers are included below.

RNS: Summarize for me what the Bible is and isn’t in a handful of words.

PE: The Bible is holy scripture, not because it achieves some standard of perfection driven by alien theological requirements, but because God in his wisdom—which is inscrutable and no one can question—has given the church a collection of diverse, ancient writings. These writings span as much as 2000 years, arise out of many different contexts, and address a multitude of diverse, concrete concerns of the time. This is the inspired text we have, and we respect it and God when we refrain from imposing upon it modern expectations of systematic coherence and historical accuracy.

[tweetable]The Bible isn’t like an owner’s manual or legal contract[/tweetable], where we follow clearly a set of rules and if we deviate from them we risk spiritual disaster. Neither is it a depository of historical or theological information that conforms to modern alien standards of “perfection,” accuracy, or consistency. I believe that perpetuating these expectations sells the Bible (and God) short, for it spends so much time scurrying about explaining why the Bible doesn’t seem to behave as we “know” it should—which suggests, ironically, that God is not a good communicator.

Image courtesy of HarperOne

Image courtesy of HarperOne

RNS: What is the biggest misconception about the Bible held by Christians who believe differently than you?

PE: The biggest misconception is in expecting of the Bible something it simply doesn’t deliver—or can only deliver through an ingenious array of “defenses” and “explanations.” These tactics are not intentionally deceptive or destructive, but are driven by fear of losing a hold on the only Bible they know, which then threatens their faith in God. The logic is that divine inspiration must necessarily yield an inerrant Bible, and so to speak of inaccuracies and contradictions is seen not only as an affront to God, but in some cases casts doubt on God’s very existence.

[tweetable]The Bible cannot bear the weight of inerrantist thinking.[/tweetable] Expecting it to is the true cause of disquiet and despair for those who have read the Bible and see the cracks in the inerrantist logic.

RNS: Kevin DeYoung has written a book essentially defending the Bible. Your book argues that defending the Bible has made us unable to read it. What is the crux of your disagreement?

PE: I haven’t read Kevin’s book, so I can’t comment on it directly. I am familiar, though, with Kevin’s understanding of the nature of Scripture and his defense of it from his blog. I would surmise that Kevin’s defense of scripture parallels that of others who agree with him. The crux of my disagreement with him would be that the Bible he is defending is not really the Bible so much as it is a defense of a particular brand of inerrantist dogmatic theology that I feel is foreign to the Bible.

Equating that theology with the Bible itself runs into well known problems, and thus leads to the steady stream of books, essays, and even whole encyclopedias offering “defenses” of the Bible. This is geared toward protecting a dogmatic theology and the Bible as some would like it to be, but it actually gets in the way of understanding the Bible we have.

Peter Enns is a professor at Eastern University in Pennsylvania

Peter Enns is a professor at Eastern University in Pennsylvania

RNS: Kevin says, “As the people of God, we believe the word of God can be trusted in every way to speak what is true, command what is right, and provide us with what is good.” What’s your reaction to that?

PE: The people of God are called upon to trust God first and foremost, and that is not the same thing as trusting the Bible. You’ll note how Kevin couples the two. Though the two are not divorced, of course, identifying them that closely threatens to locate true faith in proper exegesis of the biblical text, which I feel is a recurring problem. Such a claim is often used to out flank and render out of bounds any meaningful discussion of the pressing problems of scripture; for to raise the question of historical accuracy in the Bible is to distrust God.

Further, simply saying that the Bible must be “trusted” as “true…right…good” raises inevitable question: “Trusted,” yes, but trusted to do what? “True,” yes, but true in what way? I fear that Kevin would answer those questions by saying the Bible must be trusted to provide historically accurate information, trump science with respect to human origins, and maintain one constant point of view on theological matters—and with that we are back to the problem of false expectations.

And does scripture always command what is “right” and provide us with what is “good?” What exactly does that even mean? Especially in light of well known commands in the Bible that neither Jews nor Christians would normally consider right and good, such as stoning rebellious sons or adulteresses, beating slaves to death, and treating virgin women as property?

Kevin’s statement may appear to hold the Bible in high regard, but without pressing through the very details of scripture, is not an adequate guide for faithful biblical interpretation.

RNS: Kevin argues for the inerrancy of scripture saying, “The dual authorship of Scripture does not necessitate imperfection any more than the two natures of Christ means our Savior must have sinned.” Your thoughts?

PE: It is not entirely clear what Kevin means by “imperfections.” The argument he is mounting is common enough among inerrantists, and there is little question that he is thinking of things like historical inaccuracies, contradictions, theological contradictions, and immoral commands, as “imperfections.”

But to label them “imperfections” largely misses the whole point of the incarnational analogy. These are not imperfections, but properties of a Bible produced in real time and space, and thus no more imperfections than are the olive skin, bearded face, and sandaled feet of Jesus of Nazareth, the languages he knew, and his limited knowledge (like not knowing when the end would come, string theory, Bach, or French).

Christians believe that Jesus is more than human, but he is certainly not less than human either! As fully human, Jesus participated fully in his particular moment in history: first century Judea. The Bible can do no less: it fully bears the marks of its human, historical settings.

These marks are precisely what is so concerning to Kevin because he approaches his reading of scripture with a predetermined view of what a biblical imperfection is. He assumes that a “perfect” scripture would not have certain properties, which does little more than rule out of bounds those very properties the Bible displays, thus causing him to launch a “defense.” [tweetable]Strictly speaking, Kevin Deyoung’s view of “imperfections” is unbiblical.[/tweetable]

The very properties of scripture inerrantists find so troubling should in fact be celebrated and affirmed as very acts of God, who freely and lovingly steps into the human drama in contextually meaningful ways. These qualities can and should be expected and embraced as a theological positive, not a source of doctrinal worry.

Authors note: In the disclaimer above, the phrase “via his publicist at Crossway” was added as a parenthetical. Because it is possible that the Crossway publicist assumed he would be willing to do the interview and agreed to it on his behalf, this is noted above.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • It’s a recounting of the facts as they occurred. I had to explain the situation to readers since I asked about DeYoung’s book and it could appear that I was attacking DeYoung’s book and not allowing him to respond.

    Slander is a word with a definition. You should only use it appropriately.

  • The headline is deeply misleading about what Enns is up to in his book. He thinks that it is a mistake to defend the Bible *as an owner’s manual for life.* In fact, he wants to defend its integrity from the tortured interpretations that many conservatives give it to defend their doctrine of inerrancy.

  • Here’s Webster’s definition: “the act of making a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone”

    You clearly imply that DeYoung was lying about being too busy, in order to avoid interacting with Enns. How does that not fit the above definition?

  • This is a very poorly thought out article, with a misleading title and lousy premise, in which Enns did not even read DeYoung’s book, and DeYoung did not even respond. Maybe RNS has strict submission deadlines and you need to just crank out articles.

  • No false statements were spoken. 1) nothing was spoken; this is a written discussion, so the concept of slander does not apply. Perhaps you are thinking of the term ‘libel’. 2) The author made no false statements. He accurately reported the response (and lack of submission) from DeYoung as well as the timing of that response in relation to the engagement of Enns. The author is accurate in his statements.

  • It is not difficult to understand what DeYoung believes. He has written a blog for years which clearly spell out his thinking on this matter and many others.

    So, unless DeYoung has had a sudden and major change of heart, it is entirely appropriates to extrapolate his thinking on the matter from his extensive writings on his blog.

  • This is a well written article and does a fine job of presenting an iconoclastic and therefore unpopular position from a controversial yet engaging author. His perspective, though not in the majority, is still worthy of consideration and adds to the legitimate debate on biblical inerrancy.

  • I hope you are not accusing Enns of attributing bad faith to DeYoung. Enns clearly states: “These tactics [i.e. those of inerrantists] are not intentionally deceptive or destructive, but are driven by fear of losing a hold on the only Bible they know, which then threatens their faith in God.” He is not accusing DeYoung or those who agree with him of ‘bad faith’, but of being mistaken.

  • Great article and very timely subject!

    This is exactly what I was referring to in my comment on your article about spanking – that you are absolutely right that spanking causes harm, and that it appears that David is right that Bibles encourage physical spanking. That simply means that, like so many other topics, a plain reading of ones Bible gives harmful advice – and that this harmful advice is what was truly meant at the time.

    That’s OK. One can be Christian without being a Biblical inerrantist. If Christians as a whole cannot realize this plain fact, then Christianity becomes tied to Biblical inerrancy, and since it become more clear every day that the Bibles are human products with many failings, then attempts to “defend” the inerrancy of the Bibles will simply mean the end of Christianity.

    I think it is very difficult for any Christian with good morals to support Biblical inerrancy after readying the scriptures say about, and the resulting history of, topics like slavery, women’s rights, warfare, religious freedom, LBGT rights, spanking, racism, and a host of other subjects.

  • The explanation from Jonathan about my lack of response is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. I never received an email or a phone call or any personal communication from Jonathan. I never told him I would do the interview. I was told by my agent (yes I have a literary agent) that Jonathan had spoken with the PR department at Crossway and wanted to interview me and Pete Enns. The questions were attached. I declined to participate because I am, in fact, busy. I get requests for interviews and projects often and almost always decline them. I was also suspicious that Jonathan would not treat me fairly, a suspicion that the explanation in this article has only served to confirm. To suggest I backed out of a prior agreement once I found out Pete Enns was being interviewed is entirely false. I do not know what the PR department may have communicated, but I never agreed to do an interview with Jonathan and will continue to decline interview requests from those whose motives and methods I do not trust.

  • I can’t understand what is wrong with inerrantism. Really, guys – innerantists believe that the original manuscripts of the Bible contain no theological error. What is so scary about this view? Nothing, I guess, so please find some other fish to fry.

  • Please note that Jonathan has now changed his explanation to include “via his publicist at Crossway.” That was not in his original explanation. It also remains the case that I never told my publicist I would do this interview. At no time did I communicate to anyone that I was going to participate in this interview.

  • Claiming that DeYoung “backed out” (when he never agreed to do the interview in the first place) because he was your typical cowardly conservative (which is sneering) is troll-ish. You sound and reason just like Rush Limbaugh.

  • Thanks to DeYoung for an explanation. Mr. Merritt would be wise to respond to DeYoung and clarify. If DeYoung is anywhere close to the truth on this one, Merritt has made a very bad move. Credibility is the only thing a journalist has, particularly a religious journalist.

  • “I was also suspicious that Jonathan would not treat me fairly”

    This adds more to the decline than the “I’m busy” factor and supports Jonathan. Maybe you could take this opportunity to respond now in the comment section? I am genuinely interested in seeing a dialogue!

  • It is totally possible that the Crossway publicist agreed to the interview on your behalf without communicating with you directly and requested the questions to be drafted and submitted. For this reason, I’ve added the note of clarification above in the text, with an author’s note below.

    The disclaimer stands because, as I said, my intent was to allow both sides to share their perspectives and not to only present Enns’ perspective. I want to let readers know that you essentially “declined to comment” for this story. That is your prerogative, of course. But it seemed important to make note of this.

  • Jonathan, even if you acknowledge that it was Crossway and not Kevin who originally accepted your interview request, your author’s note doesn’t correct this misstatement: “But upon discovering that other interviewee was Peter Enns, DeYoung claimed he was too busy to answer the six questions sent to him.” How do you know that Kevin backed out only after he discovered the other interviewee was Peter Enns, rather than his given reason that it was because he didn’t trust you in the first place? Did you speak with Kevin? Did someone at Crossway tell you that Peter Enns was the reason he refused the interview? I don’t see how you can maintain any journalistic integrity and not retract your blatant misrepresentation of why Kevin declined your interview request.

  • I’m a fan of Enns and his book – in fact he was a professor of mine years ago and has greatly influenced my biblical worldview. So I don’t want you to think I’m defending DeYoung when I say this but you are coming across as biased against him. Your language suggests you have a low opinion of him and, as a reader, I am a bit turned off. For example, your ellipsis at the end of this sentence sounds to me like you’re saying “read the bottom, dummy.”

    Especially when dealing with an area of discussion that is particularly polarizing, I think you should take greater care in remaining neutral in your language. Simply stating “DeYoung was offered to do an interview, but declined due to excessive work” would have been enough for the readers and not have made him look lazy or cowardly.

    With that said, you asked very good questions and I enjoyed the article.

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t have responded either. His language definitely suggests he wouldn’t have treated you fairly – however, I hope that in the future you and Enns will dialogue publicly over these very questions.

  • Inerrancy forces its believers to contort facts, create spurious arguments and flat out lie in order to make the hodge-podge that is the Bible into a coherent and consistent work.

    Inerrancy also makes the completely false claim that the Bible is factually true in its assertions. It posits the infantile notion that faith is a house of cards, that all it takes is one instance of showing that an ancient goatherding people were wrong on a given subject and all religious authority is gone. This forces its believers to tell flat out lies in order to support their view. Hence the dishonesty of Creationism.

  • I originally said this would be a multiple person interview, but when the questions were sent with a note that I would be “asking questions of both Kevin and of author Peter Enns,” the interview was declined. I have recounted the situation accurately above.

  • You still claim DeYoung turned the interview down upon finding out Enns as being interviewed as well. Correct this, too?

  • May be semantics, but you imply a rift or some sort of dissension between the two parties involved. If there is tension, good on you. If not, this treatment still seems sort of careless.

  • Jonathan, I usually appreciate your writing even when I don’t agree with it, but this piece and your strategy in putting it together is really disappointing, from both a Christian and a journalistic perspective. Inviting someone privately to engage in a dialog, and then noting their refusal publicly, as if it bears any weight on their position, is just flat out tacky sensationalism. You’re capable of much better. Please think on this, brother.

  • If that’s all you said in your note above, I don’t think Kevin or anyone else in the comments section would have a problem. If you had just said that, you would’ve let the reader decide why the interview was declined. But that’s not what you said. The sentence I quoted above also provides your reason for why Kevin declined the interview (discovering Enns was the other interviewee), something you didn’t in fact know was the case, and something that Kevin denies. As a journalist, I don’t see how that distinction is lost on you. Especially since it’s a distinction that’s not lost on anyone who has commented here. Seriously, as a journalist, and particularly as one who professes to be a Christian journalist, you should issue a retraction. The head in the sand approach isn’t fooling anyone.

  • “…slavery, women’s rights, warfare, religious freedom, LBGT rights, spanking, racism…” and there we go. At least you revealed your cards as a theological revisionist. If Ennis’ ideas lead to theological liberalism then that is a tell tale sign that they likely have no place in the Christian community.

  • Jonathan, while I can see how you technically recount the situation accurately, your word choice is misleading at best
    – The phrase “DeYoung…agreed” implies active agreement on his part, which he denies. It’d be more accurate to say “His publicist agreed”
    – The phrase “Upon discovering…” implies causality, not mere coincidence. It’d be more accurate to say “When he personally received the request, he declined.”
    – Pointing out that he was “too busy” to answer “six questions” implies that this was a simple & quick task for which busy-ness is a poor excuse.

    Essentially, you assume the worst and don’t give the benefit of the doubt (as you rarely do to TGCers). You’re a good writer. You should do better.

  • There is absolutely no question that the wording of the article does great injustice to Kevin, despite Jonathan’s protests to the contrary. I’m guessing Jonathan really believes his defense of it is valid. A leaking bias against biblical conservatives perhaps? I was interviewed by Jonathan once and felt unfairly portrayed as well, although Jonathan did slightly alter his wording at my pushback. Nevertheless, when it comes to being portrayed fairly, this article gives increasing evidence that conservatives would be wise to steer clear.

  • As a journalist isn’t it problematic to call Enns to respond to quotes from a book he’s never read and for which he has no real context?

  • If you’d simply said that KDY was invited to participate in the discussion but declined no one would be objecting. You could even have noted that questions were sent to him and returned unanswered because he was too busy to answer.

    The most objectionable phrase is this: “Upon discovering the other interviewee was Peter Enns . . . .” This statement makes it seem as if KDY’s reason for declining had something to do with Peter Enns being the other interviewee.

    KDY says it wasn’t the reason. Why not just take him at his word and remove that phrase?

  • We Lutherans have our confessions and our own theologians trained in our own seminary’s . so we don’t give any creditable regard to those who disagree with us on the inerrancy and infallibility of holy scripture we would not trust any so called theologians THAT DID NOT GIVE THE HIGHEST REGARD TO HOLY SCRIPTURE,, We Would hate to fling these so called theologians into a manure pile . after all why ruin good manure with the likes of them.. We
    know for sure Gods word will be around long after they are gone .. Holy scripture is the only thing that can be counted on to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth is our pope we need no or care for no other..

  • I suppose I should defend what I wrote manure piles have good use…. those theologians that do not have the highest regard for scripture have no good use..

  • Jonathan,

    When one is walking the road between two opposing parts, one feels the wind most stridently. Doubt is the enemy of the prophet. It is sometimes a need to look bad that others might see good.

    So be it.

    L Thiel

  • I suppose attacking these men’s characters is a legitimate alternative to a discussion about the content of the article?

  • “Stop defending the Bible”, ehh? Seriously?

    Yeah, just go ahead and do Max’s and Larry’s dirty work for them (nothing personal dudes, at least you’ve got some style with your devilment). But meanwhile, Christians are to just just roll over and play dead regarding biblical accuracy and authority and inerrancy?

    Nope. That ain’t no fun. You dump Genesis today, you’ll be dumping the Gospels tomorrow. Darwin went straight down that slimy path, and there’s plenty more ex-Christian roadkills (such as Richard Dawkins and EO Wilson), alongside the road.

    Creation not historically accurate? Then Cross not historically accurate either. John 3:16? Forget it. Instead of being another biblical Barnabas, you’ll just be another Bart Ehrman.

    So let’s teach biblical inerrancy, and model it by God’s empowerment, and have some fun in life by defending inerrancy. As Millard Erickson wrote, inerrancy is a corollary of inspiration, so if you accept that the Bible is inspired, it’s surely okay to accept that it is inerrant.

    Dr. Gleason Archer’s “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties” is a very good resource for further study. Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis (online and books) are also excellent, very worthwhile. Check ’em out!

  • “Nope. That ain’t no fun. You dump Genesis today, you’ll be dumping the Gospels tomorrow. ”

    Because belief in a talking reptile is completely relevant to how you should comport yourself with others. 🙂

    In many ways it shows how much a Christian is willing to lie and act with willful ignorance in support of their faith. Creationism is merely a dishonest expression of faith. One in which dishonest statements, ignorance and willful refusal to accept objective evidence is a sign of religious devotion. It cheapens religious belief and everything else related to it.

    “Creation not historically accurate? Then Cross not historically accurate either.”

    So what. Does a story have to be literally true to have meaning? Of course not. Jesus didn’t even believe that to be true. Hence the constant use of parable as a teaching tool.

    You are doing the work for Max and I far better than a theologian who talks about making reasonable interpretations of the Bible and understanding the power of metaphor. The Bible is factually true because your faith is so weak that you have to pretend factual support exists. You are so unable to use your judgment and cognitive skills to find meaning in literature.

    Btw Ken Ham is a not a useful resource for anything other than unintentional humor.

  • Its certainly easier to do than to justify a position which boils down to,
    “The bible is 100% factually accurate because my faith is weak and it hurts my head”

  • Larry,

    “Because belief in a talking reptile is completely relevant to how you should comport yourself with others.”

    Notice how quiet the room gets?

    L Thiel

  • LOL

    Don’t even get me started on the sanitation issues of Noah’s Ark. Lets just say that barring supernatural miracle (which can never be considered objectively true on its face), the entire crew would have been dead from super-instant cholera within days.

  • Jonathan and Peter- thanks for this article. I have come late to an awareness of what seems to be an area of major disagreement with in some Christian circles and seminaries. (I don’t live far from Westminster Seminary here in Philadelphia) I had been taught by Westminster graduates for decades both at churches I have attended and some conferences. I am realizing now because of all God has brought me through, especially blowing up the boxes I put him in time and time again, that I have moved in how I see the Bible and surprised to find that there have been these voices like Enns and Doug Green out there for quite awhile who have moved there also. I find it is so refreshing especially in the questions that I still bring to God and the Bible and in building not just a faith but a relationship with Jesus. Keep them coming!

  • I will continue to do as Peter instructed us:

    “But sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) 😀

  • Wow, with all the avoiding of the content of this article by panicked folk using the good old “attack the messenger” dodge, you’ve really hit a nerve. Commendable work indeed!

  • I enjoyed the article for what it was, thanks Jon, and in no way felt any type of way about either author or the info presented… based on what I read neither author truly grasps the scriptures, maybe we should blame the schools for improper education. (lol) However whats really amusing to me is the comments, they sound very similar to discussions about the Bible, debating back and forth about context and definitions of words… We even had the author who was to busy to write a few paragraphs have time to chime in, then respond again. (lol) Entertaining to say the least, as is it every time I hear intellects debate the bible without proper understanding, always missing the point. LOVE Justmy2cents!

  • this is silly….let’s just stipulate the offense is real ( I myself am not so sure ), nevertheless, have we forgotten “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” How can “Christians” demand anything when wronged? I don’t get you folks…..just sayin.

  • FYI…..I’ve read Enns’ book. I’ve read most of his books. I have no idea why he is so widely impugned…..I find him to be honest and engaging….I respect the guy!

  • I’ve already acknowledged that Larry has a certain style and all, but his one-liner can easily be turned back on him all the same.

    For the fact is that “the talking reptile” DOES at least explain why humans do not comport themselves well with other humans, and in fact it explains why humans behead humans on viral videos, and commit all sorts of holocausts and mass atrocities if allowed..

    In contrast, if you try to explain the huge landscape of human evils via atheism (Larry’s religion), you’ll simply get NO answer, NO explanatory historical origins, and worst of all, you’ll get NO antidote. Actually you’ll not even get the foundation for an antidote.

    (And this is all the more true because Atheism is forced to borrow from Theism anyway for its ethics and rational presuppositions. Atheism is the ultimate in bankruptcy.)

    So there’s nothing rationally wrong with the (literally and historically accurate) biblical account of the “talking reptile” and what he did.

    After all, regarding the origins of the current human condition, the little beastie is actually a more rational explanation than what Atheism can offer!!

  • The fact that you believe a talking snake to be a real thing kills any potential for credibility the Biblical literalists can ever aspire to.

    Landscape of evils of atheism? That dishonest nonsense where you pretend that communism lacked religious methods and forms of belief.
    More material showing how dishonesty drives your form of Christian belief. Do you ever get tired of showing your ignorance of history?

    “So there’s nothing rationally wrong with the (literally and historically accurate) biblical account of the “talking reptile” and what he did.”

    Except for it being completely irrational, since they don’t exist nor can be ever considered credible for them to possibly exist. The level of dishonesty and ridiculous nonsense required to make such claims undermine belief in Biblical literalism far more than I ever will.

    Being a literalist means taking impossible fantasy as fact and ignoring the meaning of text. It means pretending your faith doesn’t matter yet relying entirely on it. In other words you have to shovel a pretty large pile of horsecrap to make literalism work. It makes such efforts self-defeating.

  • Jonathan,

    I am not a fan of Enns but appreciate the forum for his perspective to be respectfully presented. The confusion over DeYoung’s role, or clear lack thereof, could have and should have been presented in a manner that simply stated he chose not to participate in the article.

    Giving you the benefit of the doubt and a generous reading of the article fails to conceal the obvious bias against DeYoung on display here. If objective journalism is not the goal then I suppose “it is what it is.” If, however, this is to be taken as being an objective piece, it falls far short. You are far too gifted a writer for this.

  • It’s amazing how people think you’ve done some terrible wrong and slandered DeYoung’s character, yet these same people also feel it’s alright to attack your character in their rush to defend DeYoung’s character.

  • Beginning in the 1820s, the Quakers (Society of Friends) schismed toward the same extremes posited in this RNS article: into the followers of Gurney, who were much more conventionally protestant and emphasized the authority of scripture over that of God’s light within (leading to today’s conservative Quakers); and into the followers of Hicks, who saw the authenticity of the inner light trumping any scriptural authority (leading to today’s liberal Quakers).

    Of course, it was not so in the days of Quaker founder George Fox, who showed a well-reasoned understanding of the scriptures from his own extensive reading of them. For example, In one letter from around 1660, Fox exhorted his early Friends to meet in silent worship and

    Wait all on the Lord,
    that you may be settled and stayed in the Lord,
    and to grow up in the light,
    that gave forth the scriptures;
    that there may be no stumbling about the words which came from the light.

    For no creature can read the scriptures to profit thereby,
    but who come to the light and spirit that gave them forth.

    — George Fox (1624-1691) Letter 65.

  • Lol. Stephen Hawking declares there is no God. He is one of the, if not, the smartest guy on the planet. Why don’t we just believe him instead?

    Hoo boy Jonathan you sure stepped in it today. You’ll be immortalized on the Wartburg Watch for putting KDY and his evil ilk in a bad light. #winning

  • If one of the six questions is about the specific book he wrote about defending, you should hope that they both read each other’s books and the need to extrapolate would not be necessary. Nor is it appropriate to extrapolate based on informal blogs when comparing to a book which most likely have more details about a particular response.

  • “DeYoung initially agreed to the interview (via his publicist at Crossway), and the questions were drafted accordingly. Upon discovering the other interviewee was Peter Enns, DeYoung said he was too busy to answer the six questions sent to him.”

    Jonathan – DeYoung has already told you this statement is almost entirely false, especially the imagined motive. Why not just display some integrity and admit what you know to be true?

  • I’m far from sold on the inerrancy argument, but any objective observer can only marvel at how many times the inerrancy folks have come up with plausible explanations for what at first glance seemed to be inaccuracies or contradictions. The shocker is not that there appear to be errors in the Bible — rather it’s how relatively few can be proven to be errors once scrutinized. Old classics like Gleason Archer’s book on apparent errors have worn well with time.

    In other words, the inerrantists have not done badly for themselves.

  • You blew it regarding your handling of the DeYoung matter……But we all make mistakes at times. Admit the obvious and get it behind you.

  • Inerrancy is a mighty challenging doctrine to defend, but your rhetorical overkill takes you to the opposite extreme. An inerrancy defender at least understands the methodology of examining texts for accuracy and how the basic rules of evidence work.

  • I’m not sold on inerrancy, but at least its defenders have taken the time for serious study and engagement with the text. Far too often, its detractors display a lazy ignorance not only of the text, but of the basic rules of evidence and how to apply them to this question. Rather than relying on logic and facts, they deploy cheap rhetorical devices like ridicule and appeals to bias and prejudice.

  • Note how Larry contradicts his own words in his ridicule of “talking snakes.” Larry claims his problem is with biblical literalism, not the meaning behind the text. But his ridicule of a verbal serpent is based on the same literalism he decries. And when Doc Anthony points out the meaning behind the snake, Larry remains locked in his literalistic obsession. Like most other lefties, he has little sense of irony.

  • It would be more accurate to say that most Bible difficulties are hardly difficult at all once one looks at them objectively and fairly — ie without playing “gotcha” games with the texts.

  • The messenger committed a serious faux pas in his bungling of the DeYoung issue. He could have limited the embarrassment by owning up to his mistake and moving on.

  • Being a gifted writer and being a rigorously fair and objective reporter are not one and the same. All too often, for many writers, the opposite is the case.

  • Peter Enns speaks as one who does not have the responsibility of having souls under his care. I don’t always agree with Kevin DeYoung but at least he does approach things pastorally.

  • Phoenix,

    Please explain what you mean by “does not have the responsibility of having souls under his care.”


    L Thiel

  • nothing scary about it. that’s not why we reason against it.

    1. its a claim made on an insistence of original autographs, which cannot be proven because we don’t have them.

    2. modern notions of inerrancy are not the same as the ancients understood it. the ancients understood it as “inspired” and handled the biblical text differently than how modern conservative evangelicals do. the ancients had diversity on when to read the bible woodenly literal and when to read it poetically or as saga, and interpreted everything christologically.

    modern inerrancy on the other hand insists on modern notions of factual accuracy, and imposes scientific expectations on narratives like genesis 1, and so on and so forth.

    those are the reasons why we push back. we’re not scared of an inspired bible. we’re concerned that overly conservative christians cry wolf for sociological reasons that they don’t understand, and end up acting in morally questionable ways because of poor hermeneutics that place their notions of inerrancy over and above practical christian virtues of love and tolerance.

  • “This is the inspired text we have, and we respect it and God when we refrain from imposing upon it modern expectations of systematic coherence and historical accuracy.”

    These are not modern expectations. Jews and Christians in antiquity assumed the systematic coherence and historical accuracy of the Tanakh. On systematic coherence, see for instance the seven middot of Rabbi Hillel.

  • IMHO, the very title of the piece is highly problematic, and I doubt that even PE would want to word his position like that. It would have been better to say, ‘Should Christians stop defending biblical inerrancy?’ Less punchy perhaps, but more accurate. PE would probably say that he IS defending the Bible (from misunderstanding by inerrantists)!

    Furthermore, in the article, Enns affirms biblical inspiration, and presumably would want to defend the Bible’s systematic coherence and historical accuracy to an extent, even though he does not regard the Bible as inerrant.

  • I am a fan of Peter Enns, but Kevin DeYoung? Not so much.
    That being said, this article is not up to to Jonathan Merrit’s usually high quality work. While I imagine Merrit’s discription of the events are most likely accurate, sometimes the best course of events is to just fold your cards and go a different table. What has resulted is that the significance of Enn’s book has been lost to a mud wrestling match with people who enjoy that sort of thing.
    I think you owe one to Peter Enn’s.
    Looking forward to your next article.

  • Phoenix,

    You say:

    “It seems self explanatory, opheliart. To whom is Dr. Enns responsible for his teaching?”

    Wisdom 3.1 states: But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them.

    The souls of the just are in THE HAND OF GOD …

    How would you interpret the hand in this passage, Phoenix? Also, I ask, what of the unjust? Who are these?

    L Thiel

  • An inerrancy defender at least understands the methodology of examining texts for accuracy and how the basic rules of evidence work.

    No they don’t! Evidence has nothing to do with defending one’s religious belief or the Bible.

    They make up stuff and are more than willing to engage in flat out fiction in their Biblical defense. A common tactic is the “Gish Gallop”. Throwing as much nonsense on the wall just to see what sticks. Overwhelm the speaker with a flood of spurious arguments and then make a point that the opposition did not respond to one of them.

  • The difficulties come from people who lack the intellectual flexibility to know when to read the Bible literally, when it is parable or just literature.

    Inerrancy depends on outward denial of faith and making spurious claims of factual accuracy. Neither of which are a real basis for religious belief.

  • Jack, literalists don’t look for meaning behind the text. You do not understand the meaning of contradiction. I am ridiculing literalism by showing how ridiculous a literal reading is.

    There is no subtext, parable, or metaphor when you are making claims that the text is entirely factually correct. Literalism is the denial of acknowledging such things should exist. Either you are a literalist or you are not.

    Doc Anthony undermines his own belief in literalism by looking at the metaphoric/parable nature of the text. Thus his creationism, the taking of Genesis as factually correct and not myth/parable is merely an expression of dishonesty on his part. So even a self-professed literalist is lying when they make such claims.

  • to be fair, wartburg sniffed out the issues, which are far more grave than this, at SGM and Mars hill while KDY and his evil ilk (your words) were still having cj and mark at conferences, or, in the case of KDY, speaking at CJ’s church and writing pre-emptive declarations of innocence that were never retracted. Agree, this looks to have been handled sloppily, but let’s not use it to set up men of straw.

    [Go to the link and you can skip the rest 🙂 ]
    From Richard Hagenston. Hagenston is an ordained United Methodist minister, a former pastor, and the author of Fabricating Faith: How Christianity Became a Religion Jesus Would Have Rejected.

    1) The Apostles of Jesus Seem to Have Known Nothing about a Virgin Birth

    The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus to be written is not the nativity stories in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote it after having met with Peter and others who had known in person not only Jesus but also his mother and brothers. Despite learning from them everything they could tell him about Jesus, Paul shows no sign of having heard of a virgin birth. Instead, he wrote that Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh” and was declared to be the Son of God not through any special birth that Paul mentions but by his resurrection (Romans 1:3-4).

    The nativity stories in Matthew and Luke, suggesting that Jesus had a virgin birth in Bethlehem (the birthplace of David), were composed later and even his own apostles showed no indication of knowing anything about it.

    2) Jesus Said He Wanted to Offer Nothing to Gentiles

    The fact that Christianity has become a religion largely of Gentiles who literally worship Jesus is a huge irony, because in his ministry, Jesus said he intended to offer Gentiles nothing.

    Matthew 10:5 shows Jesus giving his disciples firm instructions to “go nowhere among the Gentiles.” It’s true that Chapter 8 of Matthew and Chapter 7 of Luke show Jesus healing the servant of a Roman soldier. However, this happened only after the soldier said he was unworthy of Jesus’ attention.

    It’s also possible that Jesus assumed the servant was a Jew, because, as shown in Matthew 15:21-28, when a woman who was indisputably a Gentile asked for healing for her daughter, Jesus initially ignored her. She was so persistent with her pleas that his apostles wanted to silence her. But they didn’t ask Jesus to do that by helping her. Instead, knowing his attitude toward Gentiles, they urged him to send her away. When she finally knelt before Jesus, making it impossible to continue to ignore her, he told her he was sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He then made clear that he considered her as a Gentile to be no better than a dog, adding that it wasn’t fair for dogs to receive food intended for children. Only when she pointed out that even dogs eat crumbs from their masters’ table did Jesus praise her for her faith and give her the help she wanted.

    Further evidence that Jesus had a harsh attitude toward Gentiles comes from the fact that, after his death, resistance from his disciples caused Paul problems in his Gentile conversion efforts (see Galatians 2:11-14). Christianity eventually became a religion of Gentiles not because of any personal outreach to them by Jesus during his lifetime, but because of the work of Paul and the fact that most Jews, whom Jesus was really reaching out to, rejected it.

    3) Jesus Tells Everyone Not to Think of Him as God in the First Three Gospels

    The Gospel of John shows Jesus saying he is divine — again and again. But nowhere in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, widely acknowledged to have been written before John and thus closer to the events they describe, does Jesus claim to be a deity.

    In fact, all of those first three gospels show Jesus scoldingly saying that he should never be thought of as God. Mark 10:18 depicts Jesus as saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Obviously, he took offense at the mere thought that he might be considered to have the same righteousness as God. He is shown making the same point in Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:17.

    4) The Resurrection Appearances in the Gospels Have Irreconcilable Differences

    The gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus differ substantially, including where the risen Jesus is said to have appeared to his apostles. The gospels of Matthew and Mark place the appearances solely in Galilee. However, Luke, as well as the book of Acts, has Jesus appearing only in and around Jerusalem.

    To add to the confusion, the Gospel of John shows Jesus appearing in both Galilee and Jerusalem. The actual appearance of a resurrected Jesus would have been so stunning that it raises the question of why there was not even one record of such an event that made a deep enough impression to be passed down in all the gospels.

    5) Jesus Was Against Public Prayer

    Those who argue for public prayer in such diverse settings as government meetings and football games don’t seem to know the Bible.

    If they did, they would realize that Jesus was very much against it. In Matthew 6:1, he warns against practicing piety before others, saying that those who do will “have no reward from your Father in heaven.” In Matthew 6:6, as a preface to the Lord’s Prayer, he says that to pray one should go into a room, close the door, and pray in secret. In fact, the King James Version of the Bible translates that as going into a closet to pray.

    Perhaps even more significant is that in Matthew 6:5 Jesus harshly criticizes those who pray out loud in synagogues, the local worship settings of his day. Based on that, it seems possible, jolting as it may be, that he may have also disapproved of public prayer in churches, much less government meetings.

    6) Some Books of the Bible Are Forgeries

    My seminary professors mentioned that some books of the Bible, notably some letters attributed to Paul, were probably written by people who lied about who they were to gain Paul’s authority for their own ideas. But they never put it that bluntly. They couldn’t even bring themselves to use the word “forgeries.” Instead, they used “pseudepigrapha,” a fancy word meaning wrongly attributed authorship that tells the truth while in its pompousness also disguises it.

    Especially suspect are the so-called pastoral epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Because these made it into the Bible under Paul’s name, some find reasons to insist that they must be authentic. However, there is wide agreement among many Bible scholars that they differ so much from Paul’s vocabulary, style, and teachings that they could not be by him.

    All of this raises the question of how much authority one wishes to give the writings of those who were not truthful even about who they were. For instance, in contrast to the respect that Paul showed toward women, the author of 1 Timothy felt very differently. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 he says they need to be silent and submissive, and will be saved only “through childbearing.” A similar point that women need to be silent in church appears in an authentic letter of Paul as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. However, those verses so thoroughly break the flow of the passage in which they appear, and are so contrary to other things Paul writes, that they seem like they’re a later insertion by another person wanting to claim the authority of Paul for his own repressive attitude toward women.

    And yet those verses in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, apparently by people pretending to be someone they were not, are used even today to justify limiting the leadership roles of women in some churches.

    7) Parts of the Bible Were Intentionally Written to Disagree with Other Parts of the Bible

    Not only does the Bible have many contradictions, some of them are clearly intentional.

    An Old Testament example is found in Psalm 51. That psalm was written after Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem (and its Temple that had been built by Solomon) and led the city’s inhabitants off to exile. Since the Temple was no longer available for sacrifice, the author of Psalm 51 offers comfort in Verses 16 and 17 by saying God does not even desire sacrifice but only a contrite heart.

    But then, in a clearly intentional contradiction, someone who disagreed with that came along and added, immediately afterward, Verses 18 and 19 saying that God would be delighted by sacrifices that would follow a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

    In the New Testament, we see an example in what the gospels say about the message of John the Baptist. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all depict John the Baptist as saying he was offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sin through repentance alone. But, writing later, the author of the Gospel of John didn’t like that at all. He wanted to say that forgiveness comes only through sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. So, in contradiction to the other gospels, he says that the message of John the Baptist was to proclaim Jesus as a pending sacrificial Lamb of God.

    Contradictions such those in Psalm 51 and what the gospels say about John the Baptist, as well as others that can be found in both the Old and New Testaments, show that much of the Bible is an interplay of human agendas which often conflicted with one another.

    8) Apostles Who Had Been Taught by Jesus Himself Insisted that Paul Was Wrong about the Gospel

    The Apostle Paul was a man under attack for his beliefs. In Galatians 1:6-9 he complains about those who thought that his gospel was wrong and were causing people to turn away from what he had taught them. Not wanting to give voice to the opposition, he doesn’t mention the issues in dispute. But he was not one to even consider that he may have been at fault, saying in that same Galatians passage that even any “angel from heaven” who dared disagree with him should be damned.

    As for the identity of Paul’s opponents, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 he calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But who were they? In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he sarcastically calls them “super-apostles.” In that time, “super-apostles” could have meant only one thing: the original apostles.

    This means that apostles who had known, walked with, and been taught by Jesus himself during his lifetime thought Paul was wrong about at least some of what he was teaching.

    This leads to a question: Since Paul’s teachings became a basis of today’s Christian faith, would Jesus have approved of the religion that is today proclaimed in his name? Answering that question is the basis of my book Fabricating Faith.

    I am still a Christian, but I don’t believe we should hide from the facts about our own faith. How many pastors know about these problems, but never mention them in a sermon? How many of them are depriving their congregations of a fuller, deeper understanding of their faith, with all of its complexities? We must be willing to embrace some uncomfortable truths.

  • @Digoenes

    Bilge doesn’t pick up animal poop. That requires shovels. Lots and lots of shovels.

    They also do not prevent animal urine from impregnating the wooden hull to spread pathogens (a common source of disease during the “age of sail”)

    The only way it can possibly be conceived is the little add-on David Aronofsky did with the film Noah. The animals were magically put in stasis. Essentially depending on impossible miracles.

  • The reason he won’t remove the phrase is for the click bait. Just like the misleading title. For the internet, do whatever it takes to get the clicks so advertisers will pay more money to put up their ads. Journalistic integrity gets in the way of the money.

  • That is a preposterous statement. He is a professor at a Christian University. He has the “souls” of hundreds maybe thousands of young adults. I highly doubt he takes that lightly.

  • I’d reframe the question:

    Q. Does the Bible need anyone to defend it?

    A. No. It’s the word of God, for crying out loud. God doesn’t need my puny efforts to defend what he has written.


    P.S. I expect some regular commenters here will now see an opportunity to attack my Q&A on the basis that God doesn’t exist. He doesn’t need me to defend him either, but go ahead – with my blessings, by the way – if you’d like. 😉

  • Inerrantism is a form of idolatry, for it places a hermeneutic of the Bible above the lordship of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. To say the Bible is inerrant, rather than inspired, makes the Bible the Christian Quran. The book becomes the intermediary, rather than Jesus…and we know the dangers of following the book…Al Qaida, ISIS,and rejection of science and its benefits.

  • There’s almost never a completely unbiased, objective time to answer to a question, because kind of like FOX and CNN, there is a conservative and progressive side to Christianity. We need to just suck it up if we’re conservative and post on a progressive site once in a while, and suck it up if we’re progressive and post on a conservative side every once in a while. It’s not that big of deal.

  • Dude. I think Jonathan Merritt is telling the truth. Just look at his quote about the offer/his author’s footnote/and the parenthetical. . . . .Everyone please just shut up! GEESH! I’m not cut out for reading the posts. I’ll just stick to the articles.

  • Come on… Inerrantism does not do that; people do that. And, last time I checked, I thought we lived in a free world, free to express our beliefs. We are fighting here over practically nothing while Christians are being slaughtered in many parts of the world. Do forgive me but the arguments we exchange here appear nonsensical in comparison with the plight of many of our brothers in faith, inerrantist or not…


    What are the facts about Jesus and wine?

    1. Did Jesus drink wine? Yes. Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say , ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard…(NASB) Historians tell us that the alcohol content of Jewish wine in the first century was mostly 2.5% or less. Jesus was not a drunkard. He was sinless.

    2. Did Jesus turn water into wine for the marriage feast at Cana? Yes. (John 2:1-11) Did Jesus turn the water into red wine? No, He did not. Red wine has an alcohol content of between 10 and 15%.

    3. God forbids men from drinking red wine. Proverbs 23:31-34 Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup; When it goes down smoothly;…(NASB). Jesus did not turn water into wine that God has forbidden men to drink.

    Most wines today have an alcohol content between 8 and 22 %. Most beer today has an alcohol content between 3 and 10%.

    Does any honest Christian believe that Jesus and the apostles would be engaged in social drinking in today’s world? The Jews of the first century mostly drank alcohol wine of 2.5% or less.

    Tailgating for Jesus and the apostles, I doubt that would happen.


  • On page 36, Peter Ennis claims, “Even giants live among them, offspring of the ancient union between gods and human women we read about just before
    the story of Noah’s flood.”

    Peter does not explain how it was possible for these giants’ offspring to be living in Canaan after the flood. Why didn’t they all perish along with everyone else on the earth?

    I also do not think that gods and human women produced offspring, but I digress….