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Doug Mangum

To be continued!! Such a cliffhanger! Here I was all ready and excited to hear what you had to say . . . but I have to wait until . . . when??

Seriously though, I'm not sure if this is where you're heading, but I tend to see the attempts at "proving" the history of Joshua or the Conquest as well-intentioned but unnecessary attempts to make the Bible tell us something it never intended to communicate. I agree that it's not necessarily an issue for inerrancy, but it is perceived as one for Wood, et al.


Hi Doug,

I agree with you on all counts, though perhaps I should refrain from saying so, and leave you in suspense.

The other posts in this series will appear later this morning.

J. K. Gayle

You'll probably hear from James McGrath since you accuse him of swapping one fundamentalism for what he won't be able easily to admit is another. (Not many of us are brave enough to be as self-critical and as insightfully de-constructive as Roland Barthes, with his incredible Barthes on Barthes.) Sometimes Bible study and the scholars doing it have a hard time with the notion of a construct, a text (a book) in time and space under God - as if their own writings are inerrantly critical.

Since you and he bring up the Joshua question (and I love how you can agree with McGrath to reject Wood's problems together) - I wonder what you think of Francis Schaeffer's incredible book Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History. I know what Frank Schaeffer today must think about it, sadly. But as a "link between" the (legendary) writings of Moses and "the rest of Scripture," Joshua the book is fundamentally important (even if F. Schaeffer has to say so in his own, sometimes errant, book). The late Schaeffer alludes to but doesn't give citations for "archaeological digs" that help his contemporary twentieth century readers "have a better understanding of what Jericho was like than people did who read the Bible in years past" (110).

James McGrath

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post, John. I suppose that you and Bryant Wood would agree on using the term "inerrancy" while disagreeing on what it means, at least in the case of Joshua. One of my difficulties with the Chicago Declaration, for instance, is that it gives with one hand and takes away with the other - it acknowledges that genre is important, that understanding what an ancient historical work was like and how that differs from a modern one, but then (if I recall correctly) seeks to close debate on certain texts by specifying their genre.

I won't ask "If you don't mean that Joshua consistently provides factual historical information about cities conquered, then why use the term inerrancy at all?" because we've seen a similar debate on my blog about what it means to be a "Christian". What I will ask is, since we agree that the sorts of claims Bryant Wood and others like him make do not match up with the evidence, where (if at all) do you see us to be in disagreement, apart from your embracing the term "inerrancy" and my rejection of it? I think clarifying where you believe we disagree will help with the ongoing dialogue.

Thanks again for this post and for what will follow after the cliffhanger!


In nearly a half century in conservative churches, I have never participated in a conversation regarding inerrancy, nor do I recall hearing a sermon on the subject. I suspect it does happen, but it does seem to miss the point.

What I had felt is that the discussion really should be about the unspoken doctrine of errancy, which asserts systematic error throughout the Bible, and if you can't see it any any particular passage, you probably are just short on imagination! Not that there was ever a formal doctrine of errancy, but there certainly was an attitude of errancy (McGrath being a prime example) and the doctrine of inerrancy developed as a reaction. I can easily pull examples of Errancy from the scholarly works on my bookshelves written a century ago.

It was 1922 that the modernist Fosdick gave his famous anti-fundamentalist sermon, "Shall the fundamentalist win?". This war has been going on a very long time. Is there anything new out there?

Blake Reas


I like a lot of what you write, but you, along with Mike Heiser, are pretty muddled when it comes to inerrancy. On your view, the bible is wrong on matters of history, science, geography (?), and a number of other issues. I know that you would not say that it is "wrong", but, rather, accomadating to the views of ancient ignorance, but what good is this? Wrong is wrong is it not?

It seems that you want to save its moral and spiritual sense, but all of the other stuff is not important. I have been attracted to a view of scripture similar to Donald Bloesch, but I think that his view and yours seem to dodge the important issue of truth and falsehood in propositional statements and how they relate to the being and nature of God.

For instance, if the biblical writers intention was to write propaganda, which does not necessarily correspond to "reality", then why should we trust them, or a god that would allow them to do such a thing? We would not trust Stalinist propaganda even if divinely inspired wuold we? If we did trust such propaganda there would be something malfunctional about us.

Does this make any sense? This is the question that I never see adequately dealt with. I see it brought up but then dodged with vague appeals to God coming to us in the "moment" of reading etc. If that is the case, then I think God spoke to me the other day while I was reading "Calvin and Hobbes". This view makes "inspiration" pretty subjective and meaningless to me. Meaningless in the way that "Christian" is meaningless on Dr. McGrath's "account".

I am not saying that you personally hold to the view above, it is a thought experiment to illustrate the problem.


"James McGrath is a Baptist, but of course that doesn’t say much, since Baptists are all over the map theologically, politically, and in every other way."

The funny thing is that we Baptists are proud of this fact. Our shared belief of the "priesthood of the believer" is about the only thing that you could get me, Jim West, Chuck Gratham, James McGrath, Charles Halton and Alan Bandy to agree about.

We're not big fans of Jesus' prayer for unity unless that unity conforms to each of our individual beliefs, haha.


Hi everyone,

First of all, where I am going with this will be clear by late morning.

In the end, James McGrath and I may differ very little at all about how to read a book like Joshua on its own terms and in terms of its own goals.

The book's terms and objectives, it seems to me, are not those Blake gives the impression of caring most about, for whom it seems to be a make-or-break question whether the author of the book of Joshua got his facts of chronology and historical geography right. Why it is not to be expected that he did will become clear in my subsequent posts.


I wish I knew the book by Francis Schaeffer you mention first-hand. I don't. It's quite possible that Schaeffer taps into the pulsating heart of the book of Joshua's discourse. Most historical-critical discussion of the book of Joshua does not. But I think that will change as more attention is given to the book's history of reception in Judaism and in Christianity. It will then become clear that this book has always had readers who understood its thrust and applied it to their existential and historical circumstances.

Jews and Christians of previous generations didn't have to explore the question of in what sense the book of Joshua is historical before accepting it as truth. Fancy that. They didn't have the means (sufficient extra-biblical evidence) by which to carry out such an exploration.

We don't have enough evidence yet either to reach any firm conclusions. But we can make some educated guesses.

The question then is, can we return to the text with a "second" and "third naivete"? I suggest we can in my Ricoeur post.

Mike Koke

Hey John, you are a brilliant guy and I envy your skill with the languages so maybe you can help me out with this question. In many ways I agree that the truth of the Bible does not depend on the historicity of Joshua or of the Conquest Model. But for those of us who want to hold on to inspiration or "inerrancy" (as long as it is defined in terms of spiritual truths, not always the factual details), what is the "inspired" message of Joshua for Christian believers? I ask it as an honest question as one of my highschool kids in Sunday School asked about the genocide stuff, and I only had time to give a quick answer about God fully revealed in Christ as the standard to judge passages that seem to be immoral.


Hi Mike Koke,

What an excellent question! It matters more than all the others. I take a stab at it in my later post, "In what sense is the book of Joshua historical"?



Sorry I did not reply earlier. To answer your question, no, there probably isn't that much new out there.

True, many of those who hold to the five fundamentals today do not self-identify as fundamentalists. Furthermore, many, including myself, defend the fundamentals, and understand them, in ways at some variance with early 19th century traditional (as opposed to liberal) Christians.

It is also true that traditional Christian preaching, all of which by definition takes the truth claims of the Bible with complete seriousness and represents them to a contemporary audience, does not go on and on, or shouldn't, about how the Bible is inerrant. When I preach on a biblical passage, the underlying assumption is always that it is flawless. I don't take issue with it (though I may compare Scripture with Scripture, and thereby relativize it). I preach it.

With respect to the book of Joshua, old-style fundamentalists and liberals are in agreement. They both choose to read the book of Joshua on their terms, not its own. Said fundamentalists contend that the book of Joshua "gets things right," in the sense we expect contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous sources to get things right. Old-style liberals contend that the book so understood appears to get things rather wrong.

Said liberals enjoy reading the book of Joshua in terms inappropriate to its probable genre and date of composition because when they do so, fundamentalists who do the same are shown to be nit-wits. Liberals of the same sort also love to take potshots at "creation science." Let's face it. It's terribly easy to do.

This is the kind of distinction I think Bible believers need to learn to make.

When we say that book of Joshua is flawless, the contents of which are exactly what God intended to give us, we mean to say that the texts are flawless treatments of conflicts that Israel and God's people however defined faced and continues to face.

We mean to say that the book of Joshua continues to be God's word, a light onto our path and a lamp onto our feet.

The book of Joshua has been and continues to be understood as flawless in the above senses by generations and generations of Jewish and Christian believers. That flawlessness is independent of the extent to which the book of Joshua was able to recapture in terms one would expect to find in contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous sources, details of events that occurred five centuries or more before the book, quite possibly, was written.

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