Archives For Doctrine of Scripture

In various quarters and in myriad ways the Scriptures are being questioned, undermined, reinterpreted, and denied. Many desire to update the Bible to ensure its truth and teachings remain relevant. But to update the Scriptures to ensure they speak “truth” is to step away from the God’s authoritative Word.

This assault on God’s Word was at the heart of the initial temptation of Satan in Eden, when the serpent asked his question: “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1). This question was the means by which Satan sowed seeds of doubt in the minds and hearts of Adam and Eve.

To continue reading, go to The Gospel Coalition.

The Biblical “canon” refers to the books inspired by God which are inerrant and which are received as such by the church. The church received the inerrant canonical Scriptures, she did not determine them.

Canon originally referred to a measuring rod and the word became a technical term for the books of the Bible that are God’s Words. The biblical canon, the Word of God, is the norma normans, the norming norm of everything else.

In the providence of God, he inspired and inscripturated the words. Here is some of that historical process in which God uses humans to accomplish his purposes.

Old Testament

  • Jews (BC): TaNaK – Torah (law/teaching), Nevi’im (prophets) and Ketuvim (writings)
  • Jesus (1st century): Law, Prophets, the Psalms (Lk. 24:25-27, 24:44)
  • Melito of Sardis (AD 170): Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament

New Testament

  • Peter (1st century): Paul’s letters (2 Pet. 3:16)
  • Muratorian Canon (2nd-4th centuries): Canonical list that distinguishes between books that ought to be read in the church and in personal/private
  • Justin Martyr (2nd century): Four Gospels
  • Athanasius (4th century, Thirty-ninth Letter on the Paschal Festival [367]): lists the 27 books of the New Testament
  • Council of Carthage (397): Only canonical writings ought to be read in the church

In reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, J. R. McRay writes “They were brought together evidently as an act of God’s providence, historically prompted by the emergence of apocryphal and pseudepigraphical literature in the intertestamental period and the increasing need to know what the limits of divine revelation were.” Something similar could be said for the New Testament.

The Canon of the Scriptures has often been an issue of question and contention. The Jewish canon consists of 39 books (the Old Testament). The Protestant canon consists of 66 books (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament). The Roman Catholic canon consists of 80 books (66 books of the Old and New Testaments, and also 14 books of the Apocrypha). The Orthodox canon is similar to the Roman Catholic canon (though the former follows the Septuagint [LXX], the latter the Masoretic text [MT]).

The issue of the canon of Scripture has been raised afresh with the publication of various Gnostic gospel texts such as The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, and The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Although these gospels are 2nd century texts, some claim they are as early and ought to be considered as authoritative as the original four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Although God providentially directed this, there was a means of recognition/acknowledgement of the texts God inspired compiled in the canon, the norming norm for all truth of God and his ways. What was that criteria?

Main Criteria for Canonicity

  1. The Authority of Jesus
  2. Conformity to the Rule of Faith
  3. Apostolicity (and thus antiquity)
  4. Acceptance and Usage by the Church (churches)

Another summary of canonicity in the early church was written by Vincent of Lérins (died c. 445). This became known as the Vincentian Canon: “that which that which has been believed everywhere [ubique], always [semper], and by all [ab omnibus]” (cf. Chapter 4 of The Commonitory (or The Commitorium), AD 434).

In sum, the church did not create the New Testament canon (contrary to the RCC), but rather acknowledged the documents that God had inspired as authoritative for the faith and practice of Christians, that which was orthodox.  It was the gospel in these Texts that God used to birth the church.

The canon of the Scriptures is one of the important contemporary issues Graham Cole will address at our Theology Conference: “The Theology of Canonicity: Why a Book, Why this Book, Why this Sequence of Books within the Book.”

In our EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 2, The Bible, we affirm the Scriptures are “the verbally inspired Word of God” and because of this “the Bible is without error in the original writings.” What does it mean that the Scriptures are “without error in the original writings?” Why is it important to state there are “original writings” and what is the significance of affirming they are “without error” or inerrant?

We unequivocally affirm inerrancy. However, we do not often focus on its qualifier, “in the original writings.” One of the best explanations of this affirmation and qualifier along with its importance is written by Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Inerrancy of the Autographa,” in Inerrancy edited by Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 151-193.

Here are six reasons for the importance of the inerrancy of the autographa/original writings (summarized from the Bahnsen statement below).

  • Copies of the Bible can serve the purposes of revelation and function with authority only because they are grounded in the autographic (original writings) text.
  • Present copies and translations are inerrant to the extent that they accurately reflect the biblical originals.
  • Apart from the inerrancy in the original writings, we cannot consistently confess the truthfulness of God, be assured of the biblical promise of salvation, or maintain the epistemological authority and theological principle of sola Scriptura.
  • The original writings are without error, for errors in the original would not be correctable, unlike those in transmission.
  • The manuscripts in transmission provide overwhelming evidence of an original writings and through textual criticism we can affirm that the text we have in translation is substantially identical with the autographa.
  • Therefore, the evangelical restriction of inerrancy to the original writings is warranted, important and defensible, and, additionally, it does not jeopardize the adequacy and authority of our present Bibles.

This is the full statement/summary taken from Bahnsen’s “Chapter Summary” (150, paragraphs mine).

While the Bible teaches its own inerrancy, the inscripturation and copying of God’s Word require us to identify the specific and proper object of inerrancy as the text of the original autographa.  This time-honored, common-sense view of evangelicals has been criticized and ridiculed since the days of the modernist controversy over Scripture.  Nevertheless, according to the attitude of the biblical writers, who could and did distinguish copies from the autographa, copies of the Bible could serve the purposes of revelation and function with authority only because they were assumed to be tethered to the autographic text and its criteriological authority.

The evangelical doctrine pertains to the autographic text, not the autographic codex, and maintains that present copies and translations are inerrant to the extent that they accurately reflect the biblical originals; thus the inspiration and inerrancy of present Bibles is not an all-or-nothing matter.  Evangelicals maintain the doctrine of original inerrancy, not as an apologetic artifice, but on sound theological grounds: (1) the inspiration of copyists and the perfect transmission of Scripture have not been promised by God and (2) the extraordinary quality of God’s revealed Word must be guarded against arbitrary alteration.

The importance of original inerrancy is not that God cannot accomplish His purpose except through a completely errorless text, but that without it we cannot consistently confess the veracity of God, be fully assured of the scriptural promise of salvation, or maintain the epistemological authority and theological axiom of sola Scriptura (for errors in the original, unlike those in transmission, would not be correctable in principle).  We can be assured that we possess the Word of God in our present Bibles because of God’s providence; He does not allow His aims in revealing Himself to be frustrated. Indeed, the results of textual criticism confirm that we possess a biblical text that is substantially identical with the autographa.

Finally, contrary to recent criticisms, the doctrine of original inerrancy (or inspiration) is not unprovable, is not undermined by the use of amanuenses by the biblical writers, and is not contravened by the New Testament use of the Septuagint as “Scripture.”  Therefore, the evangelical restriction of inerrancy to the original autographa is warranted, important, and defensible; further, it does not jeopardize the adequacy and authority of our present Bibles.  Accordingly, the doctrine of original inerrancy can be commended to all believers who are sensitive to the authority of the Bible as the very Word of God and who wish to propagate it as such today.

Evangelicals affirm that the Scriptures are both inerrant and infallible. If there is misunderstanding of the term inerrancy, that misunderstanding and confusion multiples when you add the word infallible.

Many today conclude inerrancy is the stronger term, infallibility the weaker. Many believe that the term infallible is a way of avoiding inerrancy, of affirming the authority of the Scriptures though without needing to affirm they are inerrant, i.e. without error. This is related to and a carry-over of the inerrancy debates in the 1960s when the expression “limited inerrancy” was used in relation to the Scriptures.

Is this accurate?

It is actually a misunderstanding. Both terms affirm the authority of the Scriptures and that they are without error. Inerrant means there are no errors, they are without error; infallible means there can be no errors, it is impossible for them to have any errors. The Scriptures are both inerrant and infallible.

John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, helpfully defines the terms (169):

To say that a text is inerrant is to say that there are no errors in it. To say that a text is infallible is to say that there can be no errors in it, that it is impossible for that text to contain errors. . . . Inerrant means, simply, ‘without error.’ Infallible denies the possibility of error. . . . Scripture is both inerrant and infallible. It is inerrant because it is infallible. There are no errors because there can be no errors in the divine speech.

One of the criticisms of inerrancy is that the reality of what the term means dies a thousand deaths through caveats, concessions and qualifications. To claim a text is inerrant and then to follow that up with all the qualifications seems to undermine the very definition. But this is to misunderstand the nature of God’s revelation in written words, the Bible.

Once again Frame provides an important answer to this objection by distinguishing between qualifications and applications of inerrancy (174).

So I think it is helpful to define inerrancy more precisely [!] by saying that inerrant language makes good on its claims. When we say that the Bible is inerrant, we mean that the Bible makes good on its claims.

Now, many writers have enumerated what are sometimes called qualifications to inerrancy: inerrancy is compatible with unrefined grammar, non-chronological narrative, round numbers, imprecise quotations, prescientific phenomenalistic  description (e.g., “the sun rose”), use of figures and symbols, and imprecise descriptions (as Mark 1:5, which says that everyone from Judea and Jerusalem went to hear John the Baptist). I agree with these points, but I do not describe them as “qualifications” of inerrancy. These are merely applications of the basic meaning of inerrancy: that it asserts truth, not precision. Inerrant language is language that makes good on its own claims, not on claims that are made for it by thoughtless readers.

The Scriptures are both inerrant and infallible. Because the Scriptures are infallible, they are inerrant. In the EFCA we affirm both truths as they relate to the Scriptures.

When considering the history of the doctrine of the Scriptures, what are specific issues considered to be important?

In light of our upcoming Theology Conference, I pondered this question and listed a number of issues I believe are important.

  • Accommodation: This is a big push among many today, particularly OT scholars addressing creation and Adam and Eve, e.g. Kenton Sparks, Peter Enns, Denis Lamoreax, John Walton, et al., who claim that God accommodated himself in his revelation but he did so through the cultural conventions of the day, even though they were inaccurate. This is contrary to the way accommodation has historically been understood. (I will address this in a future post.)
  • Inerrant and authoritative in faith and practice and history and science: Claiming the former and not the latter affirms a limited view of inerrancy, which was the view of Rogers and McKim, who were soundly refuted by John Woodbridge, one of our speakers. This view persists today.
  • Sola scriptura/absoluta scriptura, not nuda/solo scriptura: In a desire to affirm the sole and absolute authority of the Scriptures sometimes Evangelicals affirm it as if it is the only authority, which means other authorities cannot be consulted or used. Interestingly, the Reformers who affirmed sola Scriptura and absoluta Scriptura consulted and used the Church Fathers to support their view.
  • Scripture and tradition: Related to the previous point, this is an important rediscovery by Evangelicals. We are part of a rich tradition that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ that goes back to the New Testament. But it does not necessitate affirming Tradition as the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Sufficiency: This is a major issue today in that many are seeking something more – more personal, more direct, more existential, more situational, etc. Consider the significant influence among Evangelicals of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. This is related to one’s understanding and expectation of the Scriptures.
  • Ministry of the Word in the local church is not limited to a pulpit ministry: Though the Reformation rediscovered the place of the preaching of the Word, the fallout since has been seeing a pulpit ministry not only as preeminent but almost the exclusive place the ministry of the Word is done. This view has been heightened with some of the excellent conferences as of late which attendees take away that preaching equals a faithful ministry of the Word. Certainly a ministry of the Word in a local church is that, but it is that and so much more. A ministry of the Word also includes the prayer meeting on Monday morning, and the counseling session on Tuesday, and the elder meeting on Wednesday, etc.
  • Major challenges since the Reformation: I highlight just a few: Enlightenment (18th century), Descartes (1596-1650), Kant (1724-1804), Schleiermacher (1768-1834), Feuerbach (1804-1872), Harnack (1851-1930), Darwinian Evolution and German Higher Critical thinking, modernism and liberalism, postmodernism, etc. Much could be written about each and every one of these.

How would you have answered the question? What specific issues would you have included?