Synopsis of Misusing Scripture: What Are Evangelicals Doing with the Bible?

The question at hand is whether an approach to the Bible that presupposes the faith-based doctrine of biblical inerrancy and stands before the text with “reverence and awe” is a legitimate form of academic and scholarly pursuit? 

See Misusing Scripture: What Are Evangelicals Doing with the Bible? Edited by Mark Elliott, Kenneth Atkinson, and Robert Rezetko. Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies. London: Routledge, 2023.

By Mark Elliott 
University of Arizona

By Kenneth Atkinson
University of Northern Iowa

By Robert Rezetko
University of Copenhagen and University of Sydney
August 2023

How do conservative evangelical biblical scholars approach the Bible? This is the question that Misusing Scripture scrutinizes and evaluates. The conversation isn’t new, but we hope our volume will stir the fire and elicit more open and public debate among evangelicals and non-evangelicals about how the Bible should and should not be studied within the Academy in academic and scholarly venues.

Before summarizing the contents of Misusing Scripture, let’s remind ourselves how evangelicals evaluate the character of the Bible and approach it in their scholarly work. The two main professional academic societies of evangelical biblical studies in the United States are the Evangelical Theological Society and the Institute for Biblical Research. The ETS, founded in 1949, declares “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” [1] The IBR, founded in 1973, asserts “The unique divine inspiration, integrity, and authority of the Bible.” [2] While the IBR statement does not specifically mention the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, most of its members will hold to it, and in any case many, perhaps most evangelical biblical scholars are members of both societies and/or are affiliated with theological seminaries or Christian colleges/universities that affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. Turning to how evangelical biblical scholars treat Scripture, Wheaton College professors Daniel Block and Richard Schultz probably speak for most when they say, “For many of us, our faith commitments are primary, and we approach the Scriptures with believing reverence and awe.” [3] 

The question at hand is whether an approach to the Bible that presupposes the faith-based doctrine of biblical inerrancy and stands before the text with “reverence and awe” is a legitimate form of academic and scholarly pursuit? We do not think it is, and obviously we are not the first to raise doubts about these and other related beliefs and approaches in contemporary American evangelical biblical scholarship. In recent times, two of the most vocal critics of such scholarship have been Michael Fox and Ronald Hendel. Fox declared that “faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship, whether the object of study is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Homer. Faith-based study is a different realm of intellectual activity that can dip into Bible scholarship for its own purposes, but cannot contribute to it.” [4] In the same vein, and in a widely discussed piece, Hendel also critiqued the faith-based scholarship of evangelicals, using the specific example of a publication by evangelical Bruce Waltke that “feature[s] explicit condemnations of the ordinary methods of critical scholarly inquiry, extolling instead the religious authority of orthodox Christian faith.” [5]

Hence the first line of our Misusing Scripture: “Faith-based biblical scholarship: What is it? Is it legitimate? Is it possible?” And, more specifically, the book examines various questions related to evangelical biblical scholarship: How does it work? Is it legitimate? Is it possible? Is the evangelical commitment to biblical inerrancy a valid presupposition? All scholars have presuppositions, but how does especially this one impact scholarly inquiry? (Besides inerrancy, belief in divine revelation, inspiration, infallibility, and the absolute and final authority of the Bible, must also be considered.) Are there topics and fields where evangelicals can and cannot make valid contributions to academic research and debate? Are “evangelical” and “academic” an oxymoron? Always? Sometimes?

The editors’ introduction to Misusing Scripture looks at these issues and related matters. Following presentations of the book’s background, rationale, and objective, attention is paid to defining “evangelical” and examining notions of fundamentalism and biblicism, and scriptural fundamentalism and biblical inerrancy in particular. The central and longest part of the chapter evaluates what scholarship is, or at least is supposed to be, and then offers a dozen specific criticisms of evangelical biblical scholarship that raise red flags about the entire enterprise. For example, the first point underlines the apologetic approach to the Bible that is evident in much evangelical biblical scholarship, and this stands in contrast to the skeptical attitude subsumed within other types of scholarship generally. The introductory chapter then moves on to brief surveys of how “biblical” archaeology is misused by evangelicals to bolster their biblical interpretations, and how their biblical interpretations are misused to impact issues in the public square. The chapter concludes with abstracts of each of the other eleven chapters in the book.

The eleven chapters that follow the introduction are written by the three volume editors and nine other scholars (chapter 7 is co-authored) with expertise on the Bible, religion, history, and/or archaeology. These chapters examine a variety of topics, including inerrancy and textual criticism, archaeology and history, and the Bible in its ancient and contemporary contexts. These chapters are not intended to be a comprehensive review of evangelical biblical scholarship in every aspect and on every topic; rather, they are an illustrative collection of contributions that look at how evangelicals approach, interpret, and use the Bible. Some of the chapters are quite broad, for example Rezetko’s chapter on evangelical Old Testament textual criticism, or Bowen’s on Old Testament violence and evangelical morality, or Scholz’s on evangelical interpretations of women in the Bible, whereas others are narrower in scope, such as Schroeder’s on Deuteronomy 22:13-21 and evangelical purity culture, or Keddie’s on Luke 22:35-53 and evangelical gun culture. The complete lineup of chapters is:

1 Introducing Misusing Scripture: What are Evangelicals Doing with the Bible? — Robert Rezetko, Mark Elliott, and Kenneth Atkinson

2 The Error of Biblical Inerrancy: The Bible Does Not Exist! — Kenneth Atkinson

3 Building a House on Sand: What Do Evangelicals Do When They Do Textual Criticism of the Old Testament? 95 — Robert Rezetko

4 Christian Fundamentalism, Faith, and Archaeology — William G. Dever

5 The New York Times and the Sensationalizing of Archaeological Stories from the Holy Land, 1920–1930 — Mark Elliott

6 “Your Eye Shall Have No Pity”: Old Testament Violence and Modern Evangelical Morality — Joshua Bowen

7 Avoiding the Apocalypse in the Book of Daniel — Ian Young and Thomas J. Elms

8 A Resurrection Fallacy — Bruce Chilton

9 Why Academic Biblical Scholars Must Fight Creationism — Hector Avalos

10 Second-Amendment Exegesis of Luke 22:35–53: How Conservative Evangelical Bible Scholars Protect Christian Gun Culture — Tony Keddie

11 Virginal Blood of the Marriage Covenant: Deuteronomy 22:13–21 in Evangelical Purity Culture — Joy A. Schroeder

12 Essentializing “Woman”: Three Neoliberal Strategies in the Christian Right’s Interpretations on Women in the Bible — Susanne Scholz

We believe the volume provides plenty of food for thought, and we hope it will generate cordial conversation and vigorous debate on these matters and others.

Readers may preview (and purchase!) the book on the following websites:

Misusing Scripture: What are Evangelicals Doing with the Bible?


Google Books


[1] The Evangelical Theological Society

[2] IBR Confessional Basis

[3] From Christianity Today. Print: Daniel I. Block, “Introduction,” in Sepher Torath Mosheh: Studies in the Composition and Interpretation of Deuteronomy (ed. Daniel I. Block and Richard L. Schultz; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2017), 1-6 (3).

[4] From SBL Forum. Print : Michael V. Fox, “Scholarship and Faith in Bible Study,” in Secularism and Biblical Studies (ed. Roland Boer; London: Routledge, 2010), 15-19 (15).

[5] From Biblical Archaeology Review. Print: Ronald S. Hendel, “Farewell to SBL: Faith and Reason in Biblical Studies,” Biblical Archaeology Review 36.4 (2010): 28, 74 (74).


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