The Dependability of God’s Word: Inerrancy of Scripture
Updated: Jul 5
There is dogma, doctrine, and deduction. Dogma is something for which one would take a bullet. All dogmas are doctrine. Deductions are man’s interpretations of dogma and doctrine. Committed engagements, such as the Christian experience, require a foundation of trust. The Bible is God’s truth, and the trustworthiness of God’s Word is foundational for guiding life and death decisions. “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-3).
Most of the views emphasizing the inerrancy of Scripture are presented by inerrantists who affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Views of some of the opponents of the Chicago Statement are included to further elevate the compulsion for biblical inerrancy. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was created by over 280 evangelical scholars during a three-day summit in Chicago in 1978. The membership collect affirms its errancy along with creeds and other doctrines but steadfastly assert the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is an exceptional eight-page document having clear orthodoxy on inerrancy. It was not created overnight, and in fact, two summits followed the initial convention. Increasing liberal perspectives on the historical and authoritative nature of Scripture fueled the need for a document outlining the nuances of inerrancy.
Biblical inerrancy is distinguished from the fallibility of creeds and doctrines. The biblical autographs are germane to the life of the church and essential for the Christian faith. The purpose of this paper is to emphasize the inerrancy of Scripture. The inerrancy of Scripture defines the authority of the Bible. God cannot tell a lie and Holy Scripture reveals his God-breathed truth; therefore, Scripture is inerrant, and the authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is any way limited or disregarded. Preachers and teachers depend upon the authority and truthfulness of Scripture to shepherd God’s flock. Without the defining authority of God’s infallible, inerrant Word, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).
Contextualization and Inerrancy
Contextualization must not compromise the truth of Scripture. Contextualization affects how we do theology. Christians must adopt cultural ideas but not over Scripture. Biblical truth must be viewed through the lens of biblical times while being contextually applicable in today’s culture. When Christians blend different religions, cultures, or schools of thought in with an established doctrine, it is called syncretism. Recognizing the Bible as the authoritative, inspired word of God can help prevent the pollutions of such amalgamation and shape one’s understanding of contextualization. According to David Sanchez, “Culture and cultural ideas must be judged by Scripture, not Scripture by culture.”
It is inevitable that we begin our understanding of Scripture by first looking at culture. The Bible does not have priority over culture in the sense that culture is to be ignored. Everywhere we look we see God’s general revelation, but it is not subservient to God’s special revelation. God reveals himself in the cultural language and concepts within Scripture. The Bible must make sense within its original setting as well as that for later audiences within the framework of that culture. Scripture conveys core ideas that are truthful and perceptible among all peoples.
We are influenced by our own current day culture, but as students of the Bible, we must discern the significance of words and the meaning of passages in ancient contexts to avoid overlooking meaningful detail. Our theology moves from culture to interpretation to contextualization all while being shaped by our personal perspectives and experiences. Hence, the caution against syncretism. Jackson Wu writes that “Syncretism is one of the most pervasive and pernicious threats against biblical authority.” However, syncretism did not originally have negative connotations. Mika Vähäkangas writes, “It was Plutarch who originally coined the word to describe a tendency among Cretans to lay their own differences aside and stand together whenever foreign intruders came upon them.” It is a given that religious tradition never comes from nowhere and that a certain amount of the combining of parts from one blended with the other. According to philosopher of religion, Hendrik Vroom, the problem arises with the “incorporation of incompatible beliefs from one religion by another.”
Syncretism and Inerrancy
Probably since the Reformation, a subtle form of syncretism, one called “theological syncretism” crept in among the subcultures of churches and denominations. For example, the emphasis on the external ministry (evangelization, feeding the poor) of one church may conflict with the internal ministry (Bible studies, youth programs) of another church. The legitimate concerns and theology in justifying ministry practices should never undermine biblical inerrancy or teaching. The message of the church must be culturally meaningful and biblical faithful. Andrew Messmer notes that biblical inerrancy in the patristic period (2nd and 5th centuries) was confirmed by the church fathers believing the Bible was divinely dictated by God, Scripture did not contradict itself, the Bible was without error, and “authors such as Eusebius of Caesarea, John Chrysostom and Augustine explicitly affirmed that the Bible was inerrant and infallible and that it was true in all its parts.” There is no falsehood in Scripture but explanations are necessary for the oral telling of the Bible story.
It would be impractical to expect a word-for-word oration of a biblical story, but the expectation is for that story to be biblically accurate. The four gospels render a different wording of the board Pilate had posted on Jesus’ cross. According to Norman Young, “the title was in the three languages of Hebrew (Aramaic), Latin and Greek.” Storytellers narrate stories in their own words and the inerrantist will discern if the story is trustworthy. Biblical fidelity does not depend on how precise the words match the written Bible. The historical books Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, report the same stories in dissimilar ways. The stories are culturally and biblically sound but are told from different perspectives, different times in history, and are delivered to different audiences.
Imprecision and Inerrancy
According to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, “nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable . . . we must not regard these things as faults” The Chicago Statement invites reverent biblical criticism, and in a journal article, Clark H. Pinnock rebuffs those who insist that inerrancy is measured by “the perfect errorlessness of each detail in the [biblical] text measured by some modern criteria of precision.” According to him, there is more than one way to read the Chicago Statement but Article XIII makes it clear that inerrancy is not negated by a lack of modern technical precision.
Vern S. Poythress addresses explainable differences between the situation in which the disciples and Jesus were in a boat on the sea of Galilee. In Matthew 8:26, Jesus is recorded as saying “little faith.” In Mark 4:40, Jesus is recorded as saying “no faith.” In Luke 8:25, Jesus is recorded as asking, “Where is your faith?” All three passages are recording the same incident. Matthew also uses “little faith” in 6:30, 14:31, 16:8, and 17:20; therefore, “little faith” can be labeled as a Matthean theme. When Mark 4:40 says, “Have you no faith?,” perhaps Jesus is simply challenging his disciples. He is most certainly not asserting that they have no faith. “Have you no heart?” might be said to someone who has committed or is about to commit a cruel act toward one of God’s creatures who indeed has a heartbeat. Similarly, Luke’s “Where is your faith?” might be slightly modified to “where is your head?” by a teacher to an otherwise straight-A student who, overcome by fear, failed a simple exam. Analogies aside, Poythress claims “different instances of unbelief or struggling belief have an organic relation to one another.”
Inspiration and Inerrancy
John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh.” Jesus is the Word in the flesh. Joel R. Beeke writes, “the Holy Spirit filled Christ’s human nature with truth that was without error.” The incident in the boat can be viewed as simply another occasion where the Word was not trusted. Without trust in the truthfulness and authority of the Bible, individuals and the church cannot hear God’s voice. The faith of the disciples was being questioned. Jude 3 exhorts Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Defending one’s faith requires a commitment to inerrancy of Scripture. According to Lee Allen Anderson Jr., “At a most fundamental level, the inerrancy of Scripture is necessary to understanding the Bible’s authority and message, and thus the theological content that comprises the Christian faith.”
It is fair to assume that the disciples saw Jesus as fully human. Humans err but the Bible does not. Martin Luther and Augustine both agree that humans err, but God’s word does not. Nowhere in the New Testament (NT) does Jesus implicitly state that the NT Scriptures are without error. Nor does Jesus imply that they may have error. In John 8:45-46; 16:7, Jesus claims that he is telling the truth. In John 7:18, Jesus claims there is no unrighteousness in him. Since the NT is written documentation of the divine word of God, and God does not lie, NT Scriptures are without error. Regarding biblical Scripture, Article XII of the Chicago Statement addresses the issue of unintentional falsehood (error) and intentional falsehood (deceit). To say that the Bible is true, according to Armin D. Baum, “includes two subordinate statements, namely that it is free from error and that it is free from deceit.”
Misunderstandings and Inerrancy
There have been misunderstandings in the use of the word “inerrancy” as well as misunderstandings of its use in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy. Nearly 300 framers of the Chicago Statement crafted Article XIII to include, “We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose.” It is not what the Bible intends to affirm but what the Bible actually affirms. Adherents of the Chicago Statement employ grammatico-historical hermeneutics whereas Neo-Evangelicals and mainline denominations engage in historical-critical methods and ideologies.
The Chicago Statement invites genre criticism. Genre, however, especially that from external sources, does not determine the meaning of Scripture. David F. Farnell proposes that a genre theory must come from “studying and comparing individual texts of the Bible by means of the ‘grammatico-historical’ method of interpretation.” Imposing a genre exclusive of the text leads one to read meaning into the text, something called eisegesis, and contrary to the Chicago Statement’s understanding of inerrancy.
Some do not regard the doctrine of inerrancy as an absolute necessary component of orthodoxy. Carlos R. Bovell, for example, reasons evangelical leaders within institutions such as the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society restrain evangelicals from Scriptural criticism. James Beilby writes that Bovell believes the strict formulation of inerrancy “handicaps the capacity of young evangelicals to fully engage critical questions regarding Scripture by placing them in an unnecessary and awkward ‘all-or-none’ position: either inerrancy is true or Christianity is false.” Bovell reasons that if young evangelicals begin with a critical study of biblical Scripture, they are afforded some flexibility not available to them if they had started their study “locked” into the doctrine of inerrancy.
Craig Blomberg writes that Bovell’s work deserves to be heard and refutes Bovell’s concern as one of a generational issue between younger and older evangelicals. While studying for his Ph.D. in Scotland, Bloomberg writes that he experienced evangelicalism “that typically [did] not use the term or concept of "inerrancy" and [found] the debates surrounding it rather uniquely American.” Admittedly a strong inerrantist, he is sufficiently nuanced in its definition. For example, a proverb is a concise simplification of what is usually, but not always, true, and thus its “inerrancy” differs from that of a historical narrative. Blomberg contends that “some evangelical, both in churches and seminaries, weld the doctrine of inerrancy in a heavy-handed way, sometimes entirely unintentionally but often less innocently.” Faith depends upon the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Bible, and the doctrine of inerrancy provides the defining authority for the church. Inerrancy is real but it must be embraced in such a way as to not cause a crisis of faith.
Epistemology and Inerrancy
In contrast to Bovell’s theory for evangelicals to begin a critical study of biblical Scripture before being sheltered into the doctrine of inerrancy, Pinnock, the one who rebuffed those who insist that inerrancy is measured by the perfect errorlessness, initially claimed that the reader who pontificates on alleged errors in the Bible has usurped the Bible’s infallibility and inerrancy. Pinnock eventually departs from his earlier evangelical, even apparently Reformed, confession of Scripture’s inerrancy. In a close examination of Pinnock’s early epistemological outlook, Carlton R. Wynne sets out to establish “that a bare confession of inerrancy, or one that surreptitiously depends upon some extrabiblical authority, is not enough to sustain a lasting Reformed Christian witness to the total truthfulness of Scripture.” Carlton’s focus is on an epistemology that is rooted in the being, knowledge, and revelation of God revealed in his inerrant Word. Biblical literalism is predicated on an epistemological position.
Ethics and Inerrancy
Andrew Smith argues that biblical literalism hinges on the ethical (management of beliefs) rather than the epistemological. In laying out the main empirical and logical challenges confronting biblical literalism, he reiterates that the Bible is not only inerrant, but also infallible. Norman L. Geisler expounds infallibility by stating that “if God has no infallible foreknowledge of future free act, then he cannot make infallible pronouncement about the future.” He explains that total inerrancy involves the free actions of the Bible prophecies as real predictions.
An infallible Bible contains no misleading material. Biblical literalists will “correctly interpret” that the non-misleading material on the endorsement of slavery in Deuteronomy 20:10-15 is explained away with how Paul undermined slavery in the Book of Philemon. The endorsement of genocide in the Books of Joshua and Judges is explained away by stating that the use of the term “genocide” is inappropriate regarding the biblical concepts of the conquest of the Promised Land.
However, Smith writes, “The appeal to correct interpretation is self-defeating, however, for it presupposes that the Bible is indeed apt to mislead.” Leaning on that process for correct interpretation requires too much of a human “hands-on” approach rather than in Scripture itself and does not resolve the question of misleading material. Smith reflects on sociological studies that show degeneration in biblical literalism and a stimulation in the “ethic of certainty,” the degree of certainty required for better probability. The divide between the opponents and proponents of biblical literalism and the issues of moral principles (ethics) and that of knowledge (epistemology) addressed by Smith further elevate the defining authority of biblical inerrancy.
Misleading Material and Inerrancy
The Chicago Statement addresses misleading material and admits that the terms “inerrancy” and “infallible” are negative terms having special value. R. L. Honeycutt opposes both terms and seemingly writes about their negativity as if it were a revelation. Although he states that the Chicago Statement probably offers the greatest clarity of the terms, he writes “There is a better way in which to define the absolute trustworthiness and authority of the Bible than in the inerrantist theory.”
His approach is for a broader view of the Bible, one in which inerrancy comes very close to, and is expressed as a “dynamic theory of inspiration.” Interestingly, the Chicago Statement acknowledges inspiration sixteen times. It appears that Honeycutt is not disputing biblical inerrancy, and when the terms inerrancy and infallibility are properly defined, he acknowledges that they define biblical authority. His issue is when they are used by “divisive inerrantists” which “makes it difficult to use them as legitimate ways of affirming the Bible.”
M. J. McClymond questions the role annotations play in the Bible and alludes to the possibility of footnotes misleading the reader. He questions the hermeneutical and theological functions of annotations in the Bible and posits the “humble biblical annotation may sometimes have as much influence as the biblical text itself in the mind of a reader.” Certainly the doctrine of biblical inerrancy cannot include such annotations. Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921) was a Protestant layman and McClymond admonishes his use of annotations as noted in the introduction of his, the Scofield Bible, to resolve alleged biblical discrepancies. McClymond writes that “the Scofield Bible is cheeky.” The purpose here is not to discuss the Scofield Bible, but to continue the conversation on biblical inerrancy. McClymond writes, “Scofield's affirmation of the inerrancy of the biblical text compelled him to reconcile apparently conflicting passages and to show how the statements of the Bible are compatible with the results of modern archeological, historical, and scientific research.” Annotations, footnotes, Bible commentaries, doctrines, creeds, and all other extra-biblical material must be viewed as fallible and errant but independently dependent upon God’s breathed Word.
Drafted by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, The Chicago Statement provided a helpful reference in this research paper for the defense of and teaching on inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word. Insights from Dr. Messmer’s book regarding four periods of church history helped illustrate the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture. A close examination of Canadian theologian Clark H. Pinnock’s evolving epistemological outlook supplied the necessary context for a robust confession of Scripture’s inerrancy and its relationship with the observable world.
The works of Lee Allen Anderson illustrated that the reliability of Scripture as a standard for Christian doctrine hinges on the fact that God does not lie, and the inerrancy of God’s Word is germane to the life of the church. Armin D. Baum answered that the word “inerrancy” plays a significant role in the New Testament and offered two subordinate statements, namely that the Bible is free from error and that it is free from deceit. David F. Farnell proposed that a genre theory must come from studying and comparing individual texts of the Bible using the ‘grammatico-historical’ method of interpretation. He and Patterson exposed some of the troubling signs that have appeared in recent years.
Quotes from Poythress addressed the explainable differences between the accounts of the same event in the Gospels and in using his work, this research paper aimed at stemming the tide of skepticism. Norman L. Geisler, one of the original drafters of the “Chicago Statement,” made information available for the defense of the traditional understandings of inerrancy and were presented along with that of Carlos R. Bovell’s work on the inerrancy and spiritual formation for younger evangelicals.
Craig Blomberg writes that Bovell’s work deserves to be heard and contends that some evangelicals, both in churches and seminaries, weld the doctrine of inerrancy in a heavy-handed way, sometimes entirely unintentionally but often less innocently. Joel R. Beeke connected the Word becoming flesh in the story about the disciples in the boat and emphasized the significance of truth. James Beilby addressed the handicapping of young evangelicals in questioning Scripture. Views of R. L. Honeycutt, an opponent of the Chicago Statement was included to further elevate the compulsion for biblical inerrancy. Helpful insight from M. J. McClymond challenged readers to question the role annotations play in the Bible.
David Sanchez reminds the Bible scholar that culture and cultural ideas must be judged by Scripture, not Scripture by culture. Andrew Smith explained that total inerrancy involves the free actions of the Bible prophecies as real predictions. Religious tradition never comes from nowhere and Hendrik Vroom contended that the problem arises with the incorporation of incompatible beliefs from one religion by another. Jackson Wu and Mika Vähäkangas explained syncretism and the blending of one religion to another.
Carlton R. Wynne secured attention with assertions that inerrancy is not enough and focused an epistemology that is rooted in the being, knowledge, and revelation of God. Norman H. Young explained the differences between the four gospels regarding the placard on Jesus’ cross. Finally, the doctrine of inerrancy is not a stand-alone doctrine nor is it a gateway to all truth. The doctrine of inerrancy should not be a divisive distraction but an essential feature for evangelical Christians.
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Beeke, Joel R. "Trust in the Incarnate Word." Puritan Reformed Journal 3, no. 1 (2011): 24-40.
Beilby, James. "Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals—by Carlos R. Bovell." Religious Studies Review 35, no. 1 (2009): 35.
Blomberg, Craig L. "Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals." Denver Journal 13 (January 2010): 19.
Bovell, Carlos R. Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelical. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007.
Farnell, F. David, Norman L Holden, Joseph M Roach, and Phil Fernandes. Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2016.
Geisler, Norman L., and William C Roach. Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012.
Honeycutt, R. L. "Biblical Authority: A Treasured Heritage!" Review and Expositor 83, no. 4 (1986): 605-22.
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Jr, Lee Allen Anderson. "The Inerrancy and Authority of Scripture in Christian Apologetics." Journal of Ministry & Theology 21, no. 1 (2017): 46-70.
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Messmer, Andrew. "The Inspiration, Authority and Inerrancy of Scripture in the History of Christian Thought." Evangelical Review of Theology 45, no. 4 (2021): 294-315.
Pinnock, Clark H. "Inerrancy." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24, no. 2 (1981): 173-76.
Poythress, Vern S. Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
—. Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
Sanchez, Daniel R. Contextualization and the Missionary Endeavor. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2015.
Smith, Andrew F. "Secularity and Biblical Literalism: Confronting the Case for Epistemological Diversity." International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 713 (2012): 205-19.
Vähäkangas, Mika, and Patrik Fridlund. Philosophical and Theological Responses to Syncretism: Beyond the Mirage of Pure Religions. Boston, MA, 2017.
Vroom, Hendrik. "Syncretism and Dialogue. A Philosophical Analysis." In Dialogue and Syncretism. An Interdisciplinary Approach, by Jerald Gort, 27, 29. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B.Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1989.
Wu, Jackson. "The Doctrine of Scripture and Biblical Contextualization: Inspiration, Authority, Inerrancy, and the Canon." Themelios 44, no. 2 (2019): 312-26.
Wynne, Carlton R. . "Inerrancy is Not Enough: A Lesson in Epistemology from Clark Pinnock on Scripture." Unio Cum Christo 2, no. 2 (2016): 67-81.
Young, Norman H. "The King of the Jews'; Jesus before Pilate (John 18:28-19:22)."." Australian Biblical Review 66 (2018): 31-42.
 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced employ the New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982).  Daniel R. Sanchez, “Contextualization and the Missionary Endeavor,” in Missiology, ed. John Mark Terry, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2015), 294.  Jackson Wu, “The Doctrine of Scripture and Biblical Contextualization: Inspiration, Authority, Inerrancy, and the Canon.” Themelios 44 (2): 318.  Mika Vähäkangas, and Patrik Fridlund, Philosophical and Theological Responses to Syncretism: Beyond the Mirage of Pure Religion (Boston, MA: Brill, 2017), 9.  Hendrik Vroom, ‘Syncretism and Dialogue. A Philosophical Analysis’, in Dialogue and Syncretism. An Interdisciplinary Approach, ed. Jerald Gort et al. (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1989), 27, 29.  Andrew Messmer, “The Inspiration, Authority and Inerrancy of Scripture in the History of Christian Thought.” Evangelical Review of Theology 45, no. 4 (2021): 300.  Norman H. Young, “The King of the Jews’: Jesus before Pilate (John 18:28-19:22).” Australian Biblical Review 66: 41.  International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 25 (1): 8.  Clark H. Pinnock, “Inerrancy.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24 (2): 174.  Vern S. Poythress, Inerrancy, and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 128.  Vern S. Poythress, Inerrancy, and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 131.  Joel R. Beeke, “Trust in the Incarnate Word.” Puritan Reformed Journal 3 (1): 34.  Lee Allen Anderson, Jr., “The Inerrancy and Authority of Scripture in Christian Apologetics.” Journal of Ministry & Theology 21 (1): 47.  Armin D. Baum, “Is New Testament Inerrancy a New Testament Concept? A Traditional and Therefore Open-Minded Answer.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57 (2): 267.  International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 25 (1): 5.  David F. Farnell, et al., Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016), 6.  James Beilby, “Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals—by Carlos R. Bovell.” Religious Studies Review 35 (1): 35.  Craig L. Blomberg, “Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals.” Denver Journal 13 (January): 19.  Carlton R. Wynne, “Inerrancy is Not Enough: A Lesson in Epistemology from Clark Pinnock on Scripture.” Unio Cum Christo 2 (2): 70.  Andrew F. Smith, “Secularity and Biblical Literalism: Confronting the Case for Epistemological Diversity.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 71 (3): 208.  Norman L. Geisler and William C. Roach, Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 204.  Smith, “Secularity and Biblical Literalism,” 209.  R. L. Honeycutt, “Biblical Authority: A Treasured Heritage!” Review and Expositor 83 (4): 607.  Ibid., 620.  M. J. McClymond “Through a Gloss Darkly: Biblical Annotations and Theological Interpretation in Modern Catholic and Protestant English-Language Bibles.” Theological Studies 67, no. 3 (2006): 478.  McClymond “Through a Gloss Darkly,” 491.  Ibid., 493.