[Editorís note: This interview was taped in 1982.]
Dr. John Ankerberg: Tonight we have a very
important program. Weíre going to be talking about, "Is
the Bible the inspired, inerrant Word of God?" Where do
we stand on that?
Gentlemen, Iím going to come right to you tonight. We
have very distinguished men with us and one of them is
from Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr. Jack Rogers has
written a book that has challenged the beliefs of
evangelicals in America. Maybe, Dr. Rogers, you might
start off with a "hello" as well as some primal
definitions of inspiration, what you hold; authority;
and so on? Would you do that for us?
Dr. Jack Rogers: Thank you. Itís a good
opportunity to be here and especially with friends and
to have a chance to carry on the kind of discussion that
weíve been having personally and to get a chance to
interact with the audience, too.
My view is that when we say "authority," that means
that the Bible, for a Christian, is the bottom line, is
the final word. When, as a Christian, I know what the
Bible means to say to me, I am obligated to believe it
and to obey it.
Ankerberg: The book, Dr. Rogers, that you wrote,
The Authority and Interpretation of the BibleóAn
Historical Approach, in 1979 was voted book of the
year by Eternity Magazine.
In that book you made some statements, and Iíd like
to read just a few of those so we can acquaint our
audience with that. You said, "Few have dared to
challenge the Princeton Theologyís Post-Reformation
Scholastic Theory." Sounds great. What does that mean?
That namely, "the Bible is infallible. It extends to all
the words of the Bible; and specifically, only those in
the original autographs of the Bible, that they are
inerrant." Thatís that view. Youíve said nobody has
challenged that view, or few have challenged that view,
but you are going to. And you hold that those that do
hold this view, namely that the Bible is the inerrant
Word of God in all matters, that those folks are the
ones who have the novel approach. Is that correct?
Rogers: Yes. Iím glad that you point out that
itís the theory of Princeton that Iím
challenging, not the Bible itself, but their particular
way of talking about it.
Ankerberg: Alright. And secondly youíve also said
that you view the Bible,Ö or the central purpose of
Godís written communication, is to reveal salvation
truth about Christ and not to present infallible data
about aspects of human history, geography, and science.
Is that correct?
Ankerberg: Alright. And then you went on to say
that itís your belief that your view, which we just
stated, reflects really the authentic, historic position
of the church, and that those who hold to a biblical
view of inerrancy really are innovative.
Rogers: Thatís correct.
Ankerberg: Now, before we have the man that
challenged you in that in a book review, Iíd like to ask
you about one pivotal idea that you had in your book,
and that is, this idea or concept of "accommodation".
What is that? We need to know what that is before we
start in tonight.
Rogers: I think Don McKim, my co-author, who
teaches at the Dubuque Seminary in Iowa, and I, I think
felt that the most important thing we learned in our
research was the idea of accommodation. And really
forget the word "accommodation" and think of the word
"incarnation." It refers to the way in which God
communicates His Divine Word through human words and
Iíve tried to explain it to people by saying, "Think
of a parent talking to children." I have three boys.
They are four years apart, each of them, and I naturally
talk differently to the 11-year-old than I talk to the
19-year-old, and about some different things. I never
lie to them. I never tell them whatís untrue, but my
vocabulary and style and manner of approach changes. God
does that in the Scriptures as well: adapting,
incarnating His message into ordinary human language and
Ankerberg: All right, Dr. Woodbridge, you wrote a
74-page book review. You know, most people write 2
paragraphs for a book review. Iíve never read a 74-page
book review. Thatís like a book itself.
Woodbridge: Iíd never written one before.
Ankerberg: But you wrote it in the Trinity
Journal, which I am holding in my hand. And in this
youíre saying about the view that weíve just talked
about with Dr. Jack Rogers, that there are a few things
that you disagreed with. First, is that you said, "There
was an arbitrary selection of the documentation in his
book to support the view that heís espousing," namely
that his view reflects the authoritative, historic
position of the church. Secondly, youíre saying that he
has made what you call a series of "historical
disjunctions." What in the world is a historical
Woodbridge: Well, an historical disjunction is
this. It is to say that the Bible has as its chief
purpose to teach us salvation; and then to think that if
a person advocates that, they donít believe in complete
biblical infallibility or inerrancy. One of the themes
in Jackís book is this; that there were people
throughout the history of the church who said that the
Bible teaches salvation truth, but they didnít hold to
infallibility, or complete biblical infallibility. So I
went through his documentation and I found that they
did. And I found that they held what I guess you and I
would call the doctrine of inerrancy; that is, that the
Bible tells the truth, not just for salvation, faith and
practice matters, but it also tells the truth when it
talks about history and when it talks about science. So,
if youíd care to, sometime, weíll go through and take a
look at a few of these people.
Ankerberg: Okay. Letís go on, though. You say,
though, something else that bothered you is, you have
this habit of checking footnotesÖ
Woodbridge: I do.
Ankerberg: Solid professor! And you said that
when you checked the footnotes that it didnít support
that which was up above. In other words, the paragraphs
up above didnít jibe with the documentation down below.
Woodbridge: On occasions. Many occasions.
Ankerberg: Because of that, you are saying that
the conclusions that Dr. Rogers reached are inaccurate?
Woodbridge: I would have to say that flat out.
Ankerberg: All right, so letís take a period. You
and Jack have ripped through 2,000 years of church
history, both claiming that your view is supported by
those in church history.
Ankerberg: And what we want to find out... Letís
take the first area, the Patristic Period, alright? And,
Jack, if I can come back to you, letís take Augustine.
We could have taken Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr,
Origen, or somebody else. Letís take Augustine. Most
people know St. Augustine, and let me give you a few
quotes here and letís see what youíre saying.
First of all, youíre saying that he did not believe
the Bible was completely infallible or inerrant. But
hereís Augustineís statement. He says (this is quoting
Augustine), "It seems to me that the most disastrous
consequences must follow upon our believing that
anything false is found in the Sacred Book. If you once
admit into such a high sanctuary [or authority] one
false statement there will not be left a single
statement of these books."
Or else take another statement here, "The authority
of the Divine Scriptures becomes unsettled if it once be
admitted that the men by whom these things have been
delivered unto us could, in their writings, state some
things which were not true."
Or finally here, "I have learned to yield with
respect and honor only to the canonical books of
Scripture. Of these alone do I most firmly believe that
the authors were completely free from error."
In light of those statements from Augustine, how can
you say that he didnít believe in the infallibility of
the entire Bible?
Rogers: Well, I think if I were sitting out in
the audience now and heard these things back and forth,
I would have to conclude that there must be something
wrong with one or both of these guys if they can both
read the same stuff and come to such widely different
And I think that is the key issue that really
is before the house. Itís not a question of the
particular text; itís a question of how we understand
history, and how we go about interpreting them.
Both you and John [Woodbridge] have attributed to me
things that I do not hold, you see. I have never... that
book... this is the book that weíre talking about here.
Itís got 480 pages in it and it has nearly 2,000
quotations from other sources, you see.
Now, obviously my colleague and I are not infallible
and never claimed to be and we can have made mistakes
Ankerberg: But can I ask you this? Do you believe
then, that if what weíve just said, if youíre saying
that what weíre accusing you of writing is not true,
what are you saying that Augustine actually said?
Rogers: I believe that all of the major biblical
people believed in what John [Woodbridge] calls "the
complete infallibility of the Bible." They thought it
Woodbridge: Thatís right.
Rogers: And Iíve never said anything other than
Ankerberg: But how aboutÖ
Rogers: However, when I use the word "inerrancy,"
I apparently mean something very different by it than
John [Woodbridge]. Because I mean that Augustineís
mentality, as he approached things, was not the same a
century or a 20th
century mentality. That seems to me just to be obvious.
People at different periods in history, because of their
historical context, look at things differently.
Ankerberg: Okay, Dr. Woodbridge.
Woodbridge: Thatís very interesting, but Iíd like
to suggest that the same exegetical problems that
Augustine deals with, and deals with them as being
errors, or potential errors, and he tries to reconcile
the issues, are the same ones that Luther deals with,
the same ones that you deal with, the same ones that
Charles Hodge dealt with. Such that I think that youíre
overstating the case to say that, somehow, these people
were in a different time frame than ourselves. They
reckon on the same sort of biblical problems that we do.
Ankerberg: Can I interrupt you there, because you
quote from Bruce Vawter in your book to support your
view. And this is what Bruce also says in his book that
Dr. Woodbridge brings out in his review. Vawter says,
"It would be pointless to call into question that
biblical inerrancy in a rather absolute form was a
common persuasion from the beginning of Christian times
and from Jewish times before that. For both the Fathers
and the Rabbis generally the ascription of any error to
the Bible was unthinkable. If the Word was God, it must
be true, regardless of whether it made known a mystery
of divine revelation or commented on a datum of natural
science; whether it derived from human observation or
chronicled an event of history."
Now, what heís getting at here is the fact that
youíre using him on the other side of the fence, but a
few paragraphs down he says that about this patristic
Rogers: Okay, now letís go back to the thing
about accommodation that we talked about right at the
beginning. When I talk to my 11-year-old differently
than I talk to my 19-year-old, I am not committing an
error. When Augustine talks about the Scripture, he does
not talk about it the same as a 19th
century person named B. B. Warfield. Both of them
believed the Bibleís authoritative, but Warfield
believed, for example that the Bible predicted 19th
century science. Augustine said, "Donít talk to people
from the Bible about science, because thatís not the
purpose of the Bible. The purpose of the Bible is to
bring people to salvation and to let them live the life
Ankerberg: Dr. Woodbridge, would you like to
Woodbridge: Yes, I would to. This is what
Augustine says, "Whatever they, the men of physical
science, can demonstrate to be true of physical nature,
we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our
Scriptures. And whatever they assert in their treatises
to be contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is, the
Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we
can to be entirely false; or at all events we must
without the smallest hesitation believe it to be so."
What Iím suggesting to you is this, that Augustine
didnít put the area of science beyond the purview of
biblical infallibility. Iím not here to defend B. B.
Warfield, but what I am suggesting to you is this, that
the history of the doctrine of inspiration and of
infallibility has included science and history within
its purview. Consequently, I do not think that Augustine
is a live person to suggest as one who excludes those
Ankerberg: Alright, we want to go to the
Reformation. You can, Dr. Rogers, can comment on what
Dr. Woodbridge just said there. Iíd like to just have a
comment on what you believe Lutherís view of Scripture
actually was. A lot of people claim Luther, all
different persuasions. What do you think he was actually
Rogers: I want to go back to Johnís comment about
science because I think thatís a good illustration of
the difference between us. When I say "science," and
when I say the Bible does not address science, Iím
talking about something that is distinctly a modern
phenomenon. When I say "science" I mean something that
began in the 17th
century and that came to fruition in the 20th
century. I mean a contemporary technological way of
looking at nature. Sure, people in the Bible observed
nature like you and I did in an ordinary way, but thatís
not science. So thatís what Iím talking about. And I
would say that Luther, Calvin, the reformers are still
Ankerberg: But Jack, to the extent that they did
know about science and the world, arenít they saying
that the Bible agrees with that?
Rogers: They donít know anything about what you
and I mean by "science."
Ankerberg: All right, the question that would
come back, it would be something like this, if there was
something that they did know, would they have
held biblical authority over that?
Rogers: The whole point that Iím trying to make
is that one need not deny biblical authority to admit
that people in different periods of history have
different understandings of what authority is. Luther is
one of the slipperiest guys in the whole world. For him
authority was that the Bible showed him how to find a
gracious God. And I donít think heíd like to be put any
box narrower than that.
Ankerberg: All right, can I have a little comment
from Luther? "Itís impossible that Scripture should
contradict itself. It only appears so to senseless and
obstinate hypocrites." I just didnít bring that up,
Jack. Iím just simply saying thatís what he said.
Rogers: And I would agree with him 100%.
Ankerberg: Dr. Woodbridge?
Woodbridge: First of all, there was science
before the 17th
century. This is a book by Neugebauer; itís called
The Exact Sciences in Antiquity. Itís hard for me to
believe that we actually think there was not science in
the Middle Ages, or that there was no connection between
the science or the science that takes place a little bit
But to talking about Luther, Luther says even some
stronger things too, like you quoted, John, goes like
this; "But everyone indeed knows that they, at times
[the fathers], have erred as men will. Therefore, I am
ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions
from Scripture which has never erred."
But listen to this, "Whoever is so bold that he
ventures to accuse God of fraud and deception in a
single word, and does so willfully again and again after
he has been warned and instructed once or twice, will
likewise certainly venture to accuse God of fraud and
deception in all of His words. Therefore, it is true,
absolutely and without exception, that everything is
believed or nothing is believed."
I would suggest to you that, indeed, Christ is the
great authoritative figure for Luther, gives authority
to the Word of God, but Luther also holds that the Bible
is without error. And thus I think he is definitely in
line with those of us who would say that the Bible is
Ankerberg: Would you agree with that, Jack?
Rogers: If you listen carefully to what Luther
says, that makes my point, I think. Namely, that he
says, "You can never accuse the Bible of fraud and
deceit." Error, biblically defined and defined as the
early church fathers and reformers defined it, means
"deliberately telling what is untrue." The biblical
writers never do that. The theologians do not allege
that they do. What Iím talking about is people who,
because the Bible talks in an ancient middle eastern
way, say, "Well, that has to be an error. We have to
prove that that isnít an error." That has nothing to do
with error, thatís just a different way of talking due
to their cultural period.
I think that itís unhelpful to confuse deliberate,
moral error from different kinds of ways of describing
things in different periods of history.
Ankerberg: Last comment, Dr. Woodbridge?
Woodbridge: Jack, youíre just wrong. Thatís all I
can say. That is to say, youíre basing your analysis on
some correspondence between Augustine and Jerome.
Augustine says to Jerome, "Look, Jerome, you donít want
your writings to be treated as Bible," that is to say
without error. Then he goes on to say to Jerome, "Look,
Jerome, you have never had any deceits in your
writings." Now if he had been using only deceits as
definition of error then he would have been saying to
Jerome, "Look, Jerome, your just a deceitful person. You
have errors, etc." No, he says flat out in his
correspondence at 405, "Jerome, you donít want to see
your writings to be like the Bible. And the Bible is
free from error." I think youíve badly misunderstood
what the concept of error is in the Patristic Age.
Dr. Ankerberg: How should we define error?
Dr. Woodbridge believes that Christians throughout
church history have held that the Bible tells the truth
in all matters.
Dr. Rogers believes that the biblical authors wrote
falsely only if they deliberately intended to
deceive: "Now if a biblical writer made a factual
mistake," he says, "but did so unintentionally, that
material is still Ďwithout error.í"
Dr. Rogers claims Augustine and Luther viewed the
Bible this way. Rogers writes, "Error for Augustine had
to do with deliberate and deceitful telling of that
which the author knew to be untrue." Rogers goes on to
say further, "Augustine did not apply the concept of
error to problems that arose from the human limitations
of knowledge, various perspectives in reporting events,
or historical or cultural conditioning of the writers."
But did Augustine actually hold to this definition of
error? Dr. Rogers cites Augustineís letter #82 to Jerome
as proof that he did. I think that it proves just the
opposite. Letís take a look at the evidence.
First, Augustine writes to Jerome, "Knowing as I do
your life and conversation, I do not believe in regard
to you that you have spoken of anything with an
intention of deceit." Notice, Augustine believed Jerome
did not intend to deceive, but he goes on to say that he
still made errors.
Second, Augustine reminds Jerome, "I do not need to
say that I do not suppose you wish your books to be read
like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which
it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from
Notice here that Augustine believed only the biblical
writers were free from unintentional errors. This is
proved by Augustineís further word in the same letter
when he says, "I confess that I have learned to yield
this respect and honor only to the canonical books of
Scripture. Of these alone do I most firmly believe that
the authors were completely free from error."
Finally, in his Harmony of the Gospels
Augustine writes, "The evangelist could be guilty of no
kind of falsehood, whether it was of the type designed
intentionally to deceive or was simply the result of
Now it seems evident that Augustine and Jerome agreed
that the Bible is free from all intentional and
Dr. Jack Rogersó[at the time of this taping was]
Professor of Philosophical Theology at Fuller
Theological Seminary and a member of the General
Assemblyís Taskforce on Biblical Authority and
Interpretation of the United Presbyterian Church of the
U.S.A. He has challenged several well-entrenched beliefs
among American evangelicals in his book, The
Authority and Interpretation of the BibleóAn Historical
Approach. Dr. Rogers received his Ph.D from the
University of Amsterdam.
Dr. John Woodbridgeó[at the time of this taping
was] Professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical
Divinity School. He argues that the Bible is the
inspired, infallible Word of God in all matters and that
this accurately depicts the historic position of the
church and the view that Jesus and the Apostles taught.
Dr. Woodbridge received his Ph.D from the University of