The Evangelical View of Scripture: 66 Inerrant Books

Mike Bird graciously invited me to contribute an essay to a volume he is editing entitled The Sacred Text. The book is on Scripture, and my essay is on the evangelical view of Scripture.

My word limit was 5,000 words, and my argument is that the 66 books of the Protestant Canon are inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore inerrant. The good Dr. Bird has given me permission to post my essay here until the manuscript is submitted to the publisher, at which time this PDF will disappear from this post (probably mid to late September). Should you be pleased to read this, I welcome your feedback.

So here’s my essay, “Scripture: The Evangelical View, or, The Sixty Six Books of the Protestant Canon Are Inspired by the Holy Spirit and Therefore Inerrant.”

Join the Conversation


  1. Dr. Hamilton,

    Thank for sharing this research. I look forward to reading the book, as I imagine it will be very helpful.

    I do wish to pose several issues regarding your article. Throughout the article you usually mention the Apocrypha with only a few references to the Pseudepigrapha. Additionally, there was no mention of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the community that authored/edited/collected (whichever you prefer) them. If the view of authority (or canonicity) in DDS was taken into account, I think this would soften some of your claims about the views of second temple Jews on, at least, two accounts. First, the DDS seem to assign as much authority to some so-called pseudepigraphical writings, such as 1 Enoch and Jubilees, as they do to some books that appear in our OT canon. There is also the problem of Esther, which, I would suggest, is not really a major problem for your thesis, but some do consider it to be a challenge to notions of canon and authority. The footnote about 1 Enoch in the Ethiopic church is not sufficient to address this issue. Moreover, it only raises the question of what other minority Christian groups, such as the Coptic or Syriac churches, have historically thought about which books should be considered canonical. Second, if the so-called “hymns of the teacher” in the Hodayot are from the teacher of righteousness, then he does make claims that describe him as a prophet or, at least, fulfilling something similar to the role of a prophet. This would seem to caution against accepting the views of 1 Macc and others that prophecy and prophets were no more. It also indicates that more diversity has to be allowed for. We simply cannot take a statement from one Jewish text and apply it to all of Judaism.

    These two issues need not be major problems for your thesis that the 66 books of the Protestant canon are the only true inspired Word of God, but they are, in my opinion, major obstacles for your article as it now stands.

    Again, thank you for sharing this paper.

  2. Jason,

    Thanks for your note.

    Just yesterday I was looking through an article in the recently published book, Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality: Volume 1, Thematic Studies, and Ian Scott has a good essay there on the closed canon and fixed text in the Letter of Aristeas.

    I’ve recently seen, too, arguments to the effect that the way Scripture is treated at Qumran supports the notion that they viewed it differently than they viewed their own sectarian writings. So maybe I should cite that stuff too.

    Thanks again for your note!


  3. Jim,
    I ran across your article through the Between Two Worlds blog. Because of that I found my way to this site. First, thank you for the article. It is excellent! I have been living in literature and exegetical work on the subject of Scripture for the past 9-10 months in preparation for a book through Evangelical Press (Treasuring God’s Word is the working title). Anyway, your research and conclusions very much resonated with me. Since I am in the process of touching up my manuscript for EP, I most likely will cite your paper as a further resource for readers to look at. I also look forward to visiting your site in the future.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Tom Barnes
    Minden Evangelical Free Church
    Minden, Ne

  4. Hi,

    I have some brief and candid criticism to offer on your essay for what it’s worth:

    In case you’re interested to know: the line in your essay that finally moved me to comment here is: “In addition to this I would observe that a remarkable amount of confidence is necessary to declare the Bible to be in error.”

    I am not sure how such a statement helps your case. Could a critic not just as easily observe that inerrantist evangelicals are placing a remarkable amount of confidence on a rather inconclusive inductive case that they’ve built for their inerrantist position? Some may see in your essay an all-too-willing passing-over of historically conscious exegetical considerations that should normally go into reading scripture, even when trying to figure out what the Bible is. I just mean that in your concern to keep yourself from having to “be absolutely certain that one is correct about so many things” (who would imagine that such a dilemma exists in biblical scholarship except for an inerrantist?) you may come across as deliberately refusing to engage the data on their own terms.

    To similar effect, an overreliance on Beckwith may leave your argument especially vulnerable to criticism.

    For example, L. M. MacDonald writes: “Beckwith’s view that Jude was not appealing to 1Enoch as sacred Scripture is confusing since it is especially in Jude’s appeal to and use of such literature that one can see how the author understood the book. Jude cites the passage as a prophetic text, that is, as a Spirit-led text. By most definitions of Scripture, this is a reference to sacred Scripture. If Jude thought that the passage was spoken through prophecy, then he clearly saw it as inspired and equal to the status of Scripture.” (The Biblical Canon, 106)

    In fact, MacDonald feels compelled to spend several pages critiquing Beckwith’s understanding of a closed canon, explaing that “Beckwith in particular largely ignores the many references in early Christian literature to the noncanonical literature and especially its significant place among the Dead Sea Scrolls.” (108)

    …which is what you appear to do, too, retreating to a curious corner that insists that in order for Jude to consider 1 Enoch scripture it must explicitly say that the whole book (which redaction?) is scripture. By this criterion, you might be encouraging people to inquire further into whether the Protestant canon explicitly refers to each of its individual components as scripture. It certainly doesn’t. Even your inductive case for inerrancy is not as tight as this. In fact, if we approached the issue of canon in the way you (appear to me to) propose, we’d never have a canon then. No matter what tradition one belongs to we have to all concede that it is the believing communities who are the ones who gathered their various books together. Unfortunately, the Protestant canon does not seem to have been the instant winner you make it out to be.

    Along these lines, I should go on to mention that MacDonald is only one of many specialists who see Beckwith’s proposal in a negative light. Compare VanderKam, of whom MacDonald says: “VanderKam argues that Beckwith and sometimes Leiman tend to read their texts anachronistically and try to make what later obtained in Judaism and later Protestant Christianity a reality before the time of Jesus.” (108) Your essay, deriving as it does so much from Beckwith’s presentation, opens itself up to similar unflattering assessments.

    Furthermore, J. A. Sanders helpfully explains that “Most scholars took Lewis’s work to mean that release from the Jamnia mentality signified release from the neat three-stage scheme of the canonization of the Hebrew Bible as well. The terms of the debate were re-formulated, as it were.” (“The Issue of Closure in the Canonical Process,” in The Canon Debate, 254)

    But your essay seems to assume that all is well with the tripartite schema.

    Lastly, C. Allert, an evangelical on all counts, decries the shortcomings of evangelical scholarship covering the NT canon along similar lines, decrying a tendenz among evangelicals to wish present understandings of canon upon the past:

    “Evangelicals seem to have a natural affinity with a closed second-century New Testament canon because of the assumption that, for most of their history, Christians had a Bible to which they could make sole appeal. This foundational presupposition that Christianity always had a Bible subsequently guides all investigation into New Testament canon formation. With this presupposition as a guide, it is only natural, therefore, to conclude that the closing of the New Testament canon must have occurred quite soon after the time of the apostles. But as we have seen, the understanding that the second century had a closed New Testament canon is difficult to maintain.” (A High View of Scripture?, 87.)

    I hope that some of this may prove helpful and wish you well with your continued work in articulating an evangelical view of scripture.

    Grace and peace,

    Carlos Bovell

  5. Carlos,

    Thanks for your note. The fact that I don’t cite the MacDonalds, VanderKams, Sanderses, and Allerts of the world should not be taken to mean that I’m unaware of their arguments.

    I had 5,000 words, and I was already footnote heavy. My short essay says what I think, which is that the evidence, and presentations like Beckwiths, answer them effectively.



    1. I realize that I am picking up on this thread long after it was current. I feel compelled, however, to comment on it. I think that cbovell has offered some significant points in his reply above. Yet, all Dr. Hamilton can offer is that he simply did not have the space to interact with McDonald et. al., but that he had read them. Really? That’s it? Is it asking too much for Dr. Hamilton, since he has read these authors, give at least some sort of reply to cbovell? I would love to here a reply to cbovell’s well-stated criticisms.

      1. Carlos & Craig,

        Thanks again for this interaction, and thanks, Craig, for bringing this back to my attention and asking me to address the concerns Carlos has articulated.

        Basically, the view that the OT canon was closed comes down to two arguments: one historical, one theological.

        The historical argument is that the Jewish synagogue never embraced the apocryphal books as Scripture. The early church quickly became predominantly Gentile, and as this happened the church grew away from its Jewish roots. Some early fathers, in ignorance, used these extra-biblical Jewish writings as Scripture, but those who learned Hebrew and learned from Jews, Origen and Jerome, moved away from that error. At the time of the reformation, too, the Jewish canon was recognized.

        This understanding of the historical development fits best with statements we find in the documents themselves, such as the Prologue to Ben Sira and the statements that about the lack of a prophet in 1 Macc, and statements like the one Josephus makes in Against Apion. There is also the statement about Nehemiah gathering the books in 2 Macc, and it looks like those same books have been preserved and are being offered.

        So in my view the closure of the OT Canon fits best with primary source testimony and Jewish tradition.

        The theological argument is that this view that is supported by Jewish tradition and the primary sources is also the view reflected in the statements the authors of the gospels present Jesus making. So the disciples of Jesus present him assuming this canon and operating on the basis of it, and my view is that current disciples of Jesus should embrace the same view that Jesus held.

        As with most interpretive discussions, others interpret Josephus differently or are less confident about what can be deduced from Jesus referring to the Bible’s first and last martyr (Luke 11:51) and his reference to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). I think the evidence comes together in a powerful synthesis, and I’m convinced that the main stream of the Great Tradition has, with notable exceptions, also seen and embraced the synthesis.

        As for the NT Canon, I find the arguments of Trobisch and Hurtado about scribal practices convincing. Perhaps you’d be interested in a presentation I gave on the Orthodoxy of the Text of the New Testament:

        Every blessing to you both in Christ Jesus!


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