Archives For Inerrancy of Scripture

The authority, inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures has been and remains the view of Evangelicals, which is consistent with how the church has understood the Word of God as well.

In the late 1970s a number of Evangelicals were concerned about shifts and changes occurring within Evangelicalism and without regarding the doctrine of the Scriptures. As a response to these moves and in order to articulate a contemporary defense of the church’s view of the Scriptures, these Evangelicals founded the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

When founded, they had a clear goal/purpose and a life-span. They were going to address the issues of inerrancy, hermeneutics and application, and they would do so within ten years after their founding. In the introduction to the final Summit’s document, the following was included as an outline of the goals and history.

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy [ICBI] was founded in 1977, with a planned life-span of ten years. Its goal, under God, was to seek by means of scholarly writing and teaching to restore the ebbing confidence of Christian people in the total trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Because this loss of confidence leads both to loss of clarity in stating the absolutes of authentic Christianity and to loss of muscle in maintaining them, the task was felt to be urgent. The years of special effort to turn the tide of uncertainty about the Bible did not seem to be too much to pledge, nor to ask the Christian public to support. In its tenth year, the Council sees what has been accomplished as cause for profound thanksgiving to God, from every point of view.

The three scholars’ Summits that the Council has mounted were conceived as a logically connected series, each having a unitive as well as a consultative purpose. The 1978 Summit achieved a major restatement for our time of the historic Christian view of Holy Scripture as canonical revelation from God given in the form of composite human testimony in God’s will, works and ways. The 1982 Summit reached a wide-ranging consensus on hermeneutical guidelines and controls for biblical interpretation. The 1986 Summit seeks to show seeks to show the relevance of a rightly interpreted Bible to some key areas of confusion and dispute in North America culture today. The need for the second and third Summits was always clear, for professing belief in an inerrant Bible does us little good till we know how to interpret it, and interpretation involves applying biblical truth to the realities of contemporary life.

Here are the documents from the three Summits.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (October 26-28, 1978)

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (November 10-13, 1982)

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Application (December 10-13, 1986)

There is also a document that contains the three Statements, along with a preface and explanations of each of the Statements.

I include an excerpt, the overview in the form of “A Short Statement,” from the first Summit, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

  1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
  2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
  3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
  4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
  5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

Many know of the Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, but have not read it. However, the numbers of those who are even aware of this document are decreasing. Most are unaware that there are two other Statements there were written as part of ICBI, Biblical Hermeneutics and Biblical Application. Although they can be read with profit individually, there is also a unity and wholeness to reading all three of them. It is really a statement on biblical inerrancy in three parts.

I would encourage you to read these documents and then have your leaders read them. Plan an evening of study and discussion about this important doctrine of the Scriptures.

In relation to ICBI’s time of writing and defense of the Scriptures, it is not the final work or word on inerrancy, hermeneutics or application. It is, however, a timely and needed word. It is also important as a foundation as we ponder a response to and defense of the doctrine of the Scriptures today. ICBI was a response to the height of modernist thinking. It was necessary and sufficient. However, we now live in a postmodern day in which new questions are being asked and new (and some not so new!) issues are being raised against the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. Building on the excellent work of ICBI, we need a present-day response in this new day.

We need not fear this study. God’s Word is true and has withstood all the assaults against it. It will do so again. God has promised his word will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). And all the hammers that have attempted to dismantle and crumble it have instead been destroyed in its attempts (Jer. 23:29).

This is one of the important reasons why we are addressing the theme of The Doctrine of the Scriptures at our upcoming Theology Conference.

One of the hallmarks of an Evangelical view of the Scriptures is that they are inerrant, without error. In our EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 2, The Bible, we affirm the Scriptures are “without error,” that is they are inerrant: “As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.”

What is meant by inerrancy, what we have referred to as “without error”, is vital to grasp. It is one thing to affirm the Bible is inerrant, it is another think to know what we mean by that claim

One of the most helpful and clarifying treatments of inerrancy was written by Paul Feinberg, a former professor of Systematic Theology at TEDS, who is now with the Lord: “The Meaning of Inerrancy, in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 267-304. This work was instrumental in forming and shaping my view of inerrancy during my time at seminary. I have referred to it often since and recommended it numerous times to others. I include a summary of this excellent essay that still warrants a careful read.

Definition

Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.

Two observations

  1. No doctrine of inerrancy can determine in advance the solution to individual or specific problem passages.
  2. Inerrancy is a doctrine that must be asserted, but which may not be demonstrated with respect to all the phenomena of Scripture.

Three qualifications

  1. Inerrancy applies equally to all parts of the Scripture as originally written (autographa).
  2. Inerrancy is intimately tied up with hermeneutics.
  3. Inerrancy is related to Scripture’s intention.

Misunderstandings

  1. Inerrancy does not demand strict adherence to the rules of grammar.
  2. Inerrancy does not exclude the use either of figures of speech or of a given literary genre.
  3. Inerrancy does not demand historical or semantic precision.
  4. Inerrancy does not demand the technical language of modern science.
  5. Inerrancy does not require verbal exactness in the citation of the Old Testament by the New.
  6. Inerrancy does not demand that the Logia Jesu (the sayings of Jesus) contain the ipsissima verba (the exact words) of Jesus, only the ipsissima vox (the exact voice).
  7. Inerrancy does not guarantee the exhaustive comprehensiveness of any single account or of combined accounts where those are involved.
  8. Inerrancy does not demand the infallibility or inerrancy of the noninspired sources used by biblical writers.

Conclusion

The conclusion of this paper concerning the doctrine of inerrancy may be summarized as follows: (1) the term inerrancy, like other words, is subject to misunderstanding and must be clearly defined; (2) inerrancy should be defined in terms of truth, making a number of the usual problems mute; (3) while inerrancy is not the only word that could express the concept here associated with it, it is a good word; and (4) inerrancy is not the only quality of the Bible that needs to be affirmed.

Here are a number of final thoughts.

First, inerrancy has a history which is important to understand as we articulate and give a defense of the doctrine in the present day

Second, there has been confusion regarding what inerrancy means, and that confusion not only persists, it has grown. In the past generation the challenge rose among those who affirmed limited inerrancy. Today a number of challenges have been raised by former Evangelicals who once affirmed but now deny the doctrine of inerrancy.

Third, some claim that the term inerrancy dies a thousand deaths through all of the qualifications, caveats or concessions made in its definition. But that is not the right way to understand it. Rather than qualifications they are applications of the meaning of inerrancy. The applications are what we would expect from God’s revelation written in the Scriptures.

Fourth, though one might use a different term to communicate the same truth about the nature of the Scriptures, I am not sure what that term might be. Thus, I think it is important to continue to use the term, and we must work hard at defining it.

Fifth, it is vital that the term inerrancy does not become for Evangelicals merely a shibboleth, a litmus test and nothing more. In the classic text affirming inerrancy, Paul also states the goal or purpose: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Finally, what is included above is a good working definition and understanding of inerrancy but it is not the final word. Much work remains. As good and helpful as Feinberg’s essay is, and as important as a statement like The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy may be, we are now living in a postmodern day in which new issues and questions have been raised which we must understand and to which we must respond in our defense of the Scriptures.

This important truth is one of the themes we will address in our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. John Woodbridge will address the history of the Scriptures and inerrancy. We will learn this has been the consistent and persistent view of the Church. Kevin Vanhoozer will focus on the meaning and significance of inerrancy and hermeneutics in our contemporary, postmodern day.

 

In the EFCA we believe “the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.” This is the EFCA position, which is consistent with the church’s view of the Scriptures, which is also Jesus’ view of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Ligon Duncan, President of Reformed Theological Seminary, was interviewed regarding the Christian’s view of the Bible, particularly inerrancy and its importance in “Battle for the Bible: Christians must defend inerrancy or watch the church die,” AP (Summer 2013/14). When asked about the importance of inerrancy to individual Christians and the church, Duncan replied,

The importance of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is that it is methodologically essential to the health and ministry of the church. This is not a “slippery slope” argument; it’s an empirical, historically proven fact. One of the lessons of history is that wherever a church adopts a low view of Scripture it is either in the process of dying or, is in fact, dead. Churches that are thriving spiritually are churches that believe that Scripture is absolutely trustworthy and true.

The last century of church history confirms this. Wherever churches in the Protestant world have identified with theological liberalism they have diminished in size or are dying. I can’t think of a Protestant church anywhere in the world that has embraced an anti-inerrancy view that is thriving right now – they just don’t exist in the English-speaking world.

There is another issue in relation to inerrancy that is of vital importance too. What many people don’t realize is that behind your doctrine of Scripture is your doctrine of God. If you have a low view of God you will have a correspondingly low view of Scripture. Of course, the converse is true as well; a low view of Scripture will inevitably give rise to a low view of God and Christianity cannot long survive when it abandons a high view of God. So our supernaturalism and our commitment to the doctrine of God are very much tied to our fidelity to Scripture.

In response to the question of lessons Evangelicals have (or should have) learned in the past 100 years regarding these crises of biblical authority, he stated the following:

The first lesson is that defending the doctrine of Scripture is costly and demands great courage. Let’s face it; it’s painful to engage in polemics especially when many of those who hold a low view of Scripture and with whom we have to disagree are incredibly nice, cultured and intelligent people. . . . You can’t have a gospel without having an inerrant Scripture as the foundation. The gospel, if it’s to have ultimate authority, must be based on a trustworthy foundation. . . . You can’t maintain the gospel and the mission of the church with an untrustworthy Bible. A Bible with errors does sink the ship. Where inerrancy is denied, an authoritative Scripture is undermined, and then the gospel, and the church’s mission of evangelism, is destroyed.

Inerrancy is one of the important doctrines of the Scriptures. Important as it is, it is not the only importance doctrinal matter. In our Theology Conference, we will address inerrancy and other important doctrines related to the Scriptures.

Plan to join us for this important Conference as we address this vital theme: The Doctrine of the Scriptures.