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In defending the inerrancy of Scripture and orthodox biblical teachings, it’s imperative to be aware of the scholars who present the most influential alternative viewpoints. These liberal-moderate Bible scholars often occupy academic chairs, have a prolific writing career, and wield considerable influence over the public perception of the Bible. Let’s delve into some of the most prominent figures in this category, examining specifically their views related to biblical inerrancy.
A professor of religion at Princeton University, Elaine Pagels has focused much of her work on Gnostic writings. Her positions undermine the canon of Scripture as she gives undue weight to non-canonical texts. Pagels questions the traditional authorship of biblical books and promotes a subjective interpretation of Scripture, thus attacking its inerrancy.
John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, has propagated the idea that the resurrection of Jesus Christ should not be taken literally. By denying this central tenet of Christianity, he negates the inerrancy and reliability of the New Testament narratives, especially the Gospels.
A fellow member of the Jesus Seminar, Marcus Borg, also contests the literal resurrection of Jesus. He further argues that Jesus was more of a social prophet than the Son of God. Borg’s approach to the Bible is more metaphorical and symbolic, neglecting the inerrancy of the text.
Bart D. Ehrman
Agnostic Bart D. Ehrman is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is widely known for his skepticism concerning the New Testament’s reliability. Ehrman makes claims about supposed contradictions within the Bible, thereby undermining its inerrancy. His works reach a wide audience, making him one of the most well-known critics of biblical inerrancy. He also misleads and misinforms his readers with half-truths. Many conservative scholars have also noted that he will say one thing in front of an audience of scholars with his same level of knowledge but say something quite different to a lay audience.
A professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Amy-Jill Levine specializes in New Testament studies and frequently undermines the traditional Jewish interpretation of Old Testament texts. She argues for an interpretation of the Bible that aligns more with socio-cultural considerations than with absolute inerrancy.
John Shelby Spong
Retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong has written extensively on reinterpreting Christian doctrine and the Bible. He denies essential Christian doctrines like the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ, thereby negating the inerrancy of the relevant biblical texts.
Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar who leans towards a moderate-liberal interpretation of the text. While not as radical as others on this list, he does promote a socio-political reading of the Bible that often takes precedence over textual and contextual considerations.
Karen Armstrong is a former nun turned author who takes a comparative religion approach to biblical studies. Her work often blends various religious traditions and philosophical ideas, making her more of a religious pluralist. This approach inherently undermines the notion of biblical inerrancy.
Richard Elliott Friedman
Known for his work on the Documentary Hypothesis concerning the Pentateuch, Richard Elliott Friedman argues for multiple sources and authors for the first five books of the Old Testament. This perspective undermines Mosaic authorship and therefore challenges the inerrancy of these foundational texts.
Though considered by some to be more moderate than liberal, N.T. Wright’s New Perspective on Paul has been viewed as controversial. While Wright does not outright deny biblical inerrancy, his reinterpretation of Paul’s theology opens the door for questioning the traditional understanding of justification, and by extension, the inerrancy of Paul’s epistles.
The Need for Discernment in Engaging with Liberal-Moderate Scholarship
These scholars vary in their academic focus and religious backgrounds, yet they are united in their inclination to compromise or completely deny the absolute inerrancy of the Bible. As such, they pose a substantive challenge to the conservative understanding of Scripture. Awareness of their views and influences is the first step toward effectively defending the truth of God’s Word against such skepticism.