This article is about the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. The Bible has authority and is sufficient because it is wholly infallible and inerrant. In relation to this, the author speaks about God’s providence in the inspiration, transmission, and translation of Scripture.

2014. 13 pages. Transcribed by Jeanette de Vente. Transcription started at 0:31 and stopped at 56:36.

The Bible: Infallible and Inerrant School of Theology Series: Lecture 5

We are talking tonight about the Bible. Last week we were talking about inspiration, but this evening I want us to think about the perfection of Scripture, and in particular, the attributes of infallibility and inerrancy. But before we actually get there, there are some other steps that we need to climb. You will see on the opening page [of your handout] some statements from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and I will be referring to some of those statements a little later in the lecture.

So we are on the perfection of Scripture. “The Bible is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Or the text in Peter that we have been looking at, that “holy men of old wrote as they were borne along,” carried along, “by the Holy Spirit.” “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” And now we want to ask, If the Bible is God’s Word—if all the Bible (we talked last week about plenary inspiration; that is, Latin “plenus,” meaning full), all of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is the out-breathing of God, so that the Bible is God speaking—it necessarily follows that we need to consider therefore the quality of that which is breathed out by God as being perfect.

Definition - 1🔗

So let us begin with a classic statement from the Westminster Confession Chapter 1, Section 6: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” Now let us flesh that out a little.

The Bible Does Not Contain All Truth🔗

The Bible does not contain all truth. That sounds like something that could get me into a lot of trouble, except that you need to hear carefully what I am saying. There is more truth than there is contained in the Bible. So, for example (and forgive me, but I was a mathematician at one time), Laplace transformations. That is a formula and it is true, but it is not in the Bible. You all know E = MC2, the so-called mass-energy equivalence. It is now regarded as one of the foundation stones of science. It is regarded as truth. It’s true, but it is not in the Bible. Or the chemical formula of Benzene, C6H6. That also is true, but it is not in the Bible. Or that Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on 30 November 1874 is also true, but it’s not in the Bible. So the Bible does not contain all truth. What the Bible contains is true, but it does not contain all truth.

The Bible Does Not Contain All Religious Truth🔗

The Bible does not contain all religious truth, in the sense that there is more religious truth than is actually found in the Bible. God only reveals a little of himself. Our minds are finite; they could not possibly contain all that there is to know of God and his ways. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

The Bible is a Perfect Rule of Faith and Life🔗

The Bible is a perfect rule of faith and life directing the church how to glorify and enjoy God. The Bible is adequate for every area of life. For doctrine: what it is that we need to believe. The Bible is perfectly adequate to tell us all the things that we need to believe. The Bible is perfectly adequate to tell us all that we need to experience. I am thinking here of our affectional response to truth. The Bible is perfectly adequate to tell us all that we need to do in terms of behavior, in terms of ethics, in terms of what is right and what is wrong, what constitutes correct behavior. The Bible contains and is adequate for worship, whether that is corporate worship or familial worship or private worship. Or church government and the organization of the church. I am just giving a few examples here of the kinds of things that the Bible is authoritative in. It is a source of authority in doctrine. It is a source of authority in ethics. It is a source of authority in worship and in church government.

The Bible Contains All that May Be Imposed upon the Conscience🔗

Then again, we are still elaborating this statement of the confession. The Bible contains all that may be imposed upon the conscience. Now, this is a very important concept. It is particularly important actually in the history of this nation and in the Founding Fathers. It was a principle that was very important to the Pilgrim Fathers in particular. That only God is Lord of the conscience. The most important statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith is this: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men.” That which I may impose and insist upon, and impose sanctions for non-compliance—only God can do that. “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” There is in Scripture what is known as a regulative principle (we sometimes think of that in particular in relationship to worship, but actually it is a much broader principle than that): that God alone can dictate what is right and wrong. God alone can dictate what is true and untrue.

So in particular if we apply that in the area of worship, as the confession does in Chapter 21, “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will.” So what the divines are saying is that we can’t insist on the consciences of others a form of worship that God himself has not laid down in his Word. And God has laid down in his Word certain principles about worship, and those alone are the principles that you can insist upon and enforce sanctions for non-compliance. We will come back to that issue of worship much later on. Here we are only thinking about how the Bible operates as a system of authority. God alone is Lord of the conscience. So God alone can dictate the way of salvation, or the way of worship, or what constitutes valid membership within the church of God.

I remember when I was a student back in 1977 or so, I was going to preach at this church. I wasn’t ordained; I was a student for the ministry. I was going to preach at this country church, and in the little footnotes was a little proviso: he may not preach if he has a beard. This was a violation of the regulative principle. They were enforcing something upon the consciences of individuals over and above what God had laid down in his Word. Now that is legalism. When you impose something over and above what God has laid down in his Word.

The Bible is the Only Rule of Faith and Practice🔗

One further point here about how the Bible operates as a system of authority. The Bible is the only rule of faith and practice. Now, we have confessions. And the statement that I have just been citing from the Westminster Confession (“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men”) is a confessional statement. It comes from the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith. But confessions and books of church order and the like may be constitutional documents of a church, but they are subordinate documents. In other words, they can be amended. The Confession of Faith is not infallible. Only the Scriptures are infallible—it is the only rule of faith and practice. Now, confessions have their place; creeds have their place; books of church order have their place. We have to do things decently and in order in the church. But they are subordinate to the Scriptures.

Definition - 2🔗


Now, when we talk about the perfection of Scripture (let us build a little here. I’m aiming at a definition), strictly speaking we are talking here about the perfection of the original autographs. We are talking about the perfection as they were originally written in Hebrew or in Aramaic (bits of Ezra and bits of Daniel were written in Aramaic), or in the case of the New Testament, in Greek. We are not talking here about the perfection of any given translation of Scripture; we are talking as they were originally written by Moses or David or Ezekiel or Matthew or Paul or John. So we are talking about the autographer, meaning the originals—none of which we have. We don’t have a single original. But when we talk about the perfection of Scripture, we are actually talking about the perfection of the autographer. So the Confession puts it this way: “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old),”—they probably should have also added Aramaic, because bits of it are also in Aramaic—“and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God…” So it is the original autographers that were inspired.


Now, from the original autographer, we have to talk about another technical term here: the transmission of Scripture. How do you get from the original autographer (none of which we have) to the Bible in our hands? And we have to talk about the transmission. And here we are governed by a doctrine of providence. “…By his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical.” Now, that is an awkward statement—it is a subordinate clause of a much longer section of the confession. I have just pulled that out. But that is what the Confession is referring to. That in the providence of God there has been a singular care in the transmission of Scripture.

Now, what you have are copies of copies of copies. You have documents that go back to the fourth century or the fifth century which are copies of copies of copies. And you have got people—monks and others—who have been by hand copying from other documents, and eventually they go back to the original autographs, which in God’s providence we actually don’t have. Now, in the process of that transmission, all kinds of things can and actually do go wrong. I can give you a whole list of the kinds of things that do go wrong. Dittography—writing twice what should have been written once. A good example would be writing “latter” instead of “later.” Latter means nearest the end, later means after something else. So inserting another letter into the word. Or fission—improperly dividing one word into two words. For example, “nowhere” into “now here.” We have all done this. (Transcription of audio file from 14:48 to 15:12 omitted.) Fusion, haplography, homophones—writing a word with a different meaning for another word when both words have the exact same pronunciation (i.e. meet and meat have the exact same sound but different meanings.) And so on. So in the transmission, the copying of manuscripts, all kinds of things go wrong. You take your eye off the page and the last word was the word ‘here’, and then you look back at the page and you see the word “here,” but actually it is three lines further down, and you have just missed an entire sentence. You understand now these errors in transmission.

Now, in actual fact, what you then have to do is to engage in a science of comparing these manuscripts to try and ascertain what the original might have been. And there is an immense amount of agreement—there is a 99.5% agreement—as to what the original would have been simply through this meticulous science of textual criticism. Look at the table there [in the handout]: of Homer’s Iliad, for example, we have 643 copies. These are manuscripts, not the original; we don’t have the original of Homer’s Iliad. What we have are copies from several centuries later. Or from Aristotle, we have 49 copies spanning 1400 years. Of the New Testament, we have 24,000 manuscripts! Now, some of these manuscripts are only of particular verses. Some of them are of chapters; some of them are of several chapters. Some of them are quotations of Scripture in other people’s writings. But as you can see, we have got a much better degree of certainty about the original when it comes to the New Testament than Euripides or Aristotle or Plato or Homer or the Gallic Wars of Caesar, or whatever. So there is absolutely no place here for skepticism about the science of textual criticism. So there is the autographer. There is the transmission process, in which in God’s “singular care and providence” we may engage in an enormous amount of certainty about the original text.


And then thirdly, there is translation. No single translation (and forgive me if I step on toes here, but not even the venerable King James Version of 1611) can claim to be infallible. (And indeed, in the King James Version there was no manuscript available to them for the final few verses of Revelation, and they had to revert to the Latin Vulgate, the Catholic Bible, in order to get some kind of translation for the final verses of Revelation.) Now notice what the confession says (bottom of handout, page 4): “Because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come.” Vulgar here meaning common or everyday language. Not a language that nobody speaks anymore, but the language that everybody speaks. The common language of the day. This is what the confession says is an obligation that rests upon the church. The church must translate the Scriptures. So there is an imperative then on the church to translate the Scriptures.


Now, a couple of qualifications. The need for the illumination of the Holy Spirit. In order for us to ascertain the perfection of Scripture, we need more than just the phenomena of Scripture, about which we can be certain, but we also need the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “We acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.” And then it adds, “There are some circumstances…to be ordered by the light of nature, (light of nature meaning here the use of reason and reasonableness) “and Christian prudence.” The Bible does not tell us absolutely everything; some of the things have to be worked out. The Bible gives you principles. It tells you, for example, to be wise. It tells you to put others before yourself. It gives you these general principles, and it is using and employing those general principles that we ascertain God’s guidance. Now, you know, we could go off now on a tangent (I just don’t have enough time now) about guidance. But guidance is employing the principles of Scripture—the general principles of Scripture—and applying them to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I am there to be guided by the light of nature—by what is reasonable, employing a standard of reasonableness—and Christian prudence.

Scripture Plus Nothing🔗

So let me move on. Scripture plus nothing. “Unto which nothing at any time is to be added.” And the Confession here makes a statement: “whether by new revelations of the Spirit.” In the seventeenth century—in the 1640s—they were thinking of people like Quakers, and Shakers, and Ranters, and various kinds of occult folk that were about in the 1640s that were claiming direct revelations of the Holy Spirit. “God is saying to me.” Well, if God is saying to me, then I have absolutely no room here except to say, “I must obey, I must comply.” That is why I don’t think preachers should say, “God has told me to preach on this text.” Actually, it is more likely to be that he had Saturday night fever—the text that he was going to preach on and had announced that he was going to preach on just did not come, it did not flow—and therefore to baptize this last minute sermon that has been pulled out of the barrel he sort of baptized it with the aura “God has spoken to me.” God speaks to us in the Scriptures. God speaks to us by his word. And a confessional statement here is that nothing is to be added to that. We can claim no direct revelations of the Holy Spirit. Now, God speaks to us in providence, he nudges us in providence, but nothing is to be added to the Scripture that has the same corroborative evidentiary support of a “thus saith the Lord.”

It goes on to say “or traditions of men.” And here of course it is talking about the way the Roman Catholic Church in the Medieval Era added not just the Bible, but also the traditions of the Church and the interpretations of the Church. And when the Pope speaks, for example, ex cathedra and makes ex cathedral statements that have the same weight and bearing as the Scriptures. So it is denying that there is any other source of perfection or any other source of authority over and above the Word of God.


Now, we segue to another area: perspicuity. To be perspicuous is to be clear. It’s from the Latin “perspicare,” “to see through.” This is a statement about the clarity of Scripture. And the Reformers here, and the Westminster Divines, the Puritans that followed them in the seventeenth century, emphasized the clarity of Scripture. That the Bible is to be put into the hands of common people, of unlearned people. That “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means”—one of the means would be something like this: going to church and listening to a sermon, going to a Bible study, buying a commentary, reading a commentary, asking questions of somebody who has done some study in this area. All of those are due use of ordinary means—“may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

Now, you understand what is going on here. The Roman Catholic Church in the Medieval Period had said that the Bible was not to be translated into the vulgar tongue. It was to be kept in the Latin Vulgate. Hardly anybody read Latin except learned folk. The common person who went to Mass on Sunday would only know a few words of Latin—the Ave Maria and the Pater Noster perhaps, and that by rote rather than actually understanding what it is they were saying. And that gave power, and it certainly gave control into the hands of the Church. The Church was in control of the people. The Reformation turned that upside down and said no, the Bible is to be put into the hands of the unlearned. And Tyndale of course was burned for translating the Bible into English.

Now, not everything in Scripture is clear in itself. I have no idea what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 11 about the covering of the woman’s head. I can give you three or four different opinions that have been put forth, but I have absolutely no certainty whatsoever what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 11. It is one of those top fifteen questions I want to ask the apostle Paul when I see him in heaven; “Paul, what in the world were you talking about in 1 Corinthians 11?” Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38. I have a little more certainty about the thousand years in Revelation 20, but perhaps it is the certainty that is my opinion rather than the certainty of it actually being correct. I have actually written a book on Revelation 20, so I have committed my certainty into print. But not everything in Scripture is clear. And not every Scripture is equally clear to everybody. Some people have greater clarity about some passages than other Christians do. Scripture’s perspicuity does not mean that the church does not need theologians. The doctrine of perspicuity does not mean that you don’t need preachers or you don’t need theologians or professional theologians like Dr. Ferguson. Nor does it mean that reflective study is needless. It does not mean that you don’t have to sit down and think and read commentaries and pray and ask for wisdom and seek, using reasonableness and diligent study, what this passage actually means.

But what it does mean is this: everything that is essential to believe, everything that is essential, essential for salvation is propounded somewhere in Scripture very clearly. The so-called hierarchy of doctrines. Substitutionary atonement—that Jesus died in my room and stead. That my sins were reckoned to him, and his obedience, his righteousness is reckoned to my account. That is an absolutely essential doctrine. It is an absolutely essential doctrine. I cannot understand how somebody can be a Christian and not have some understanding of that basic truth of substitutionary atonement. That is propounded somewhere in Scripture very clearly. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 would certainly meet that. Or justification by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone—that we are saved not by works but through faith. And that faith is not of our own, “it is the gift of God.” Not a work, “lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2. Or the doctrine of the resurrection. It seems to me that’s an essential doctrine to believe, and somewhere in Scripture that doctrine is clearly expounded. It ensures then a sufficient understanding.

Well, let me move on. All the perspicuity of the Bible is trying to say is that the Bible is a book for the people. It is not a book for the academy; it is a book for the people. That is why I love it when people bring their Bible, their own Bible, to church. I love it when I see Bibles that are written on and the pages are turned down and they have got sticky notes, because this is a Bible that is being used and is being studied. The Bible is for the people. And remember, folk like William Tyndale were burned at the stake just to provide a Bible in the English language. He was prepared to die in order that the common man would have a copy of the Scriptures in his own tongue.


Now, let us move on to infallibility and inerrancy. The Confession here talks about infallibility. Inerrancy is a twentieth century (actually, it is a mid-twentieth century) term. It is a term that has become crucially important. It is a term now that is being used. I have to subscribe, as a professor for Reformed Theological Seminary, a document—I have to sign a document—every April in order to continue to do what I do. And on that is a statement about the inerrancy of Scripture. I regard functionally infallibility and inerrancy to be the same thing. In a dictionary they mean slightly different things, but functionally, when it comes to an attribution of Scripture, infallibility and inerrancy function in precisely the same way. This very famous statement of John Wesley: “If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that Book, it did not come from the God of truth.” That is a very famous often-cited remark from the journals of John Wesley.


Now, a syllogism! You all know what a syllogism is. In Philosophy there is a major premise and a minor premise and a conclusion. The major premise is, “All of Scripture is God-breathed.” The minor premise is, God only speaks truth. The conclusion is: Therefore, all Scripture is true and trustworthy. I mean, if all of Scripture comes from God, and God can only speak truth, then all of Scripture is true. That is a syllogism. And that is how theologians have got to the point of insisting that the doctrine of infallibility, or the doctrine of inerrancy, is an essential doctrine. It is a corollary of the inspiration, or the God-breathed nature of Scripture. Because all of Scripture is God-breathed, all of Scripture is true. There can be no mistakes in the Bible. That is the syllogistic logic of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.

History of the Debate🔗

Now, a little bit about the history of the debate here. And I am talking about the recent debate in the last fifty years, and why the doctrine of inerrancy is become a flashpoint—and it has become a flashpoint in churches and it has become a flashpoint in seminaries. And two major seminaries within in the last eighteen months have had flashpoints on inerrancy. Reformed Seminary, where I teach: Bruce Waltke, a very famous name, a man I dearly love, who made a statement on Youtube that seemed to deny inerrancy and was let go (let me put it that way). And Peter Enns at Westminster Theological Seminary wrote a book in which he said a number of things denying inerrancy, and he no longer teaches for Westminster Theological Seminary. So the issue of inerrancy is a flashpoint, and it is still a flashpoint today in 2012. So let’s look a little bit at the history of it.

In 1983 (that’s not so long ago, we are barely talking 25 years here), the national meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention met in Pittsburgh. The year before, some of you will remember, in Chicago a number of people had died because they had taken Tylenol that had been spiced with cyanide. And the next year in the pastor’s meeting that begins the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the preachers produced a bottle of Tylenol and he held it up and he said (and 25 years ago inerrancy was a flashpoint in the Southern Baptist Convention, and still is today), “If I thought there was one tablet in here spiced with cyanide, I would throw the whole bottle away.” And then he picked up his Bible and he said, “If I thought there was one error in this Bible…” and the whole audience shouted, “I would throw the Bible away.” I mean, it was a very classic Southern Baptist kind of illustration, a sort of gut-string illustration for sure, but actually that is the point, that is what Wesley was saying.

If there is one error in the Bible, how do you know where that error is? How do you assign the error to be something that is inconsequential? If there are errors of inconsequence—you might say there are numbers in the Old Testament that are wrong. Is the house going to come down because somebody has inserted 45,000 when actually it was 25,000? He made a mistake. That’s kind of an inconsequential error. But how are you to assign—if you are saying the Bible is in its totality breathed out by God, if there is one error there might as well be a thousand errors—how do you assign errors only to matters that are inconsequential but not to things that are of some consequence?

Well, the kinds of things that are being spoken of today in the flashpoint of inerrancy are the historicity of Adam. You know, we are not talking anymore about whether it should be 45,000 or 25,000 and some numbers somewhere in 2 Chronicles. We are actually talking about an issue like: was there in fact a historical Adam? So yes, it is a slippery slope kind of argument here. And Wesley was saying, “If there is one error in the Bible, there might as well be a thousand.” If there is one untruth in the Bible, it did not come from the lips of Almighty God.

Going back a century, the so-called Briggs trial. Charles Augustus Briggs. He is being inaugurated as the Professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary. He is having a little bit of a spat with Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield on the side; that issue is taking place on the side. Somebody had donated something in the region of a quarter of a million dollars (which a century ago was a lot of money) to give this chair at Union Seminary. And Briggs’ opening inaugural lecture (when you are made a full professor at a seminary or a university you have to give this lecture): Briggs gave the lecture, The Authority of Holy Scripture, and it set the place on fire. This is what he said, “But on what authority do these theologians drive men from the Bible by this theory of inerrancy? The Bible nowhere makes this claim. The creeds of the church nowhere sanction it. It is a ghost of modern evangelicalism to frighten children.” Well, the PCUSA (which a hundred years ago was more conservative than it was liberal) dismissed Briggs, and Union Seminary severed its ties with the PCUSA, and Briggs was ordained an Episcopalian, and the rest as you say is history.

Then Daniel Fuller (then a faculty member at Fuller Seminary) addresses the Evangelical Theological Society in 1967. And he says that there are two kinds of Scripture. One is called revelational, and that is inerrant; and the other is non-revelational, and that is not inerrant. So he is propounding, at the floor of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1967, a two-fold view of Scripture. A limited view of inerrancy. There are parts of Scripture that are inerrant. And who is to decide which parts are inerrant and which parts are not is anybody’s guess. The long and the short of it, the conclusion of it, is that Scripture contains errors.

I will skip over Robert Gundry. His commentary on Matthew was a turning point in 1982. He said the Bible uses all kinds of myths and spurious genre, so you can’t trust the gospel story of the incarnation of Jesus, for example. It is just pure mythology. And Gundry of course was a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, one of the most conservative bodies of professional theologians in the country. And he was summarily dismissed.

And today you have got others chipping away at the doctrine of inerrancy. My own dear friend, Andrew McGowan (he was my doctoral advisor), wrote in 2007, just five years ago, The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging Evangelical Perspectives, and again regards the doctrine of inerrancy as unnecessary and perhaps even irrelevant to the discussion about the Bible. He has a very high view of Scripture, but at the end of the day can live with the idea that there are perhaps some errors of some kind, of an irrelevant kind, in the Scriptures somewhere.

And then Peter Enns. And you have only to google his name and it will send you to masses of talk and blogs and tweets and other things about Peter Enns. He has now joined with BioLogos, and BioLogos is mainly concerned with issues about creation and evolution, and is calling the Church to embrace a form of evolution—at best, theistic evolution, and at worst, a wholesale Darwinian form of evolution.

Enter the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It was a long statement, but it included nineteen statements, and articles eleven to nineteen governed inerrancy. They are in the form of positive and negative statements. We affirm; we deny. You might want to look at some of the names involved in that council: Carl Henry, James Boice, Packer, MacArthur (both of them, senior and junior), Francis Schaeffer, Paige Patterson of the Southern Baptists, Criswell, Sproul, Montgomery, Roger Nicole, and others (those names are very familiar to you) were some of the original drafters of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Let us look at some of these statements.

“We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.” It is nuanced language because it wants to understand that the Bible uses different genres. There are parables in the Bible that are not necessarily historically true, they have specific story forms. There is poetry in the Bible and it uses the language of poetry, and can use non-exact language, because that is the nature of poetry. And so on. “We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished but not separated.”

“We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.” Now, that is not telling you how old the earth is. It is simply saying that the Bible teaches a doctrine of creation and the Bible teaches a flood.

Well, there are nine of these (from 11-19) articles on inerrancy. There are worthy of a couple of hours study alone. You may download the entire Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from the website. It is a much longer statement than I have inserted here.


Now, let us give a definition of inerrancy. What do we mean by the inerrancy of Scripture? “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 social, physical, or life sciences.” If the Bible is making a scientific statement, then it is true. What you have to ask yourself is, Is the Bible at this point actually making a scientific statement?

Why is it Important?🔗

Why is inerrancy important? It is important because, as Jim Packer says, “A factually and theologically untrustworthy Bible”—you know, it could do still a whole lot for us. It could still move us like a Brooklyn Symphony can move me. It can have a tremendous impact on you—but it cannot claim that what it is saying commands the authority of Almighty God. And it cannot be a source for a final authority in conviction in doctrine or in conduct, in ethics. That is why it is important. I would add to that: it is important because it seems to me Jesus believed in the total inerrancy of the Old Testament Scriptures, when he says that “Scripture cannot be broken.” You cannot tear it apart. You cannot assign bits of it that are authoritative and bits of it that are not. It was in its total package something that was an authoritative thing for Jesus. And I think there is a Christological dimension here to the affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture.

Implications of Inerrancy🔗

Now, let me talk briefly about the implications of inerrancy. Number one: we may not deny or disregard or arbitrarily relativize anything that the biblical writers teach. Now, the question that you have to ask yourself are things like the Flood: does Genesis speak of a universal flood or is it a local flood? If (and I am not committing myself here and now on this issue) the Bible commits to a universal Flood, then you have no basis to disregard it or to relativize it, even if modern science is against you. The call to be a disciple of Jesus means, epistemologically, we commit ourselves to the authority of Scripture no matter what. Even if science appears at this stage in history (and it may be something else at another stage in history) to be against you.

Or the issue of young earth or old earth. Now, conservative Christians who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture have read Genesis and have said, “A commitment to a young earth is not absolutely necessary. The day in Genesis can mean a long period of time. So the earth, at best (even if you add into the genealogies of Genesis), you can get around 50,000 years. Let us be generous. Let’s say half a million years. Let’s be absolutely generous here. Half a million years. That is a long way from, “The universe is 13.5 billion years old,” which is current scientific view! So these two are at odds here. (Transcription of audio file from 50:11 to 20:24 omitted.) Christians who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture have been on many different viewpoints as to the age of the earth and the understanding of Genesis, but there are lines over which you cannot cross.

One of those lines would be the historicity of Adam. That there is no humanoid of any description that precedes Adam. That there is a moment in the history of the world when there are only two people: Adam and Eve. And that the whole of humanity has descended from Adam and Eve. Now, if you deny that—if you think that Adam and Eve is just a blurry line spanning perhaps a million years in development from various kinds of hominids to something that looks like a human being—then Romans 5 makes absolutely no sense. The whole basis of Romans 5 is, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The doctrine of original sin in Romans 5 theologically is based on the premise that Adam was a historical figure. If you deny the historicity of Adam, the theology of Romans 5 goes out the window. So the historicity of Adam is a line in the sand. Commitment to inerrancy does not commit you to a singular understanding of every conceivable passage in Scripture. (Now, I have my own view. I am still a Young Earth-er. I have seen nothing in science that has moved me. I still believe in a relatively young earth, but we will come to that when we talk about creation a little further down the line.)

I would draw your attention to another (top of page 13 in the handout): commitment to inerrancy means that you cannot cut the knot of any problem of harmony. Let me put it in a different way. You may want to write this in a different way. A commitment to inerrancy commits you to harmonizing Scripture. When you see two passages that seem to be in contradiction, you presuppose that they cannot actually be in contradiction. Your basic belief in inerrancy commits you to harmonization. Whether you can do the harmonization is irrelevant. You are committed to a principle of harmonization. Now, I have given you some examples on page 13. The healing of the Centurion’s son in Matthew 8 and Luke 7. Matthew has the centurion speaking directly to Jesus; Luke has him send emissaries to speak on his behalf. Matthew often compresses accounts. When the emissary (a technical term in Aramaic: shaliach) spoke on behalf of someone, it was as though the person himself spoke. So when Luke says, “He sent emissaries,” that was true. And when Matthew says, “The centurion spoke,” in the custom of the day, when the emissary spoke, it was as though the centurion himself spoke. So something of a contextual understanding of the day harmonizes those two passages. Now, there are other examples here that I’ve given. There are hundreds of them in the Gospels. But what I am saying here is that a commitment to inerrancy—that the whole Bible is the Word of God and therefore the whole Bible is true; there can be no errors in the Bible—commits you in advance (right, it is an advanced commitment) to harmonization.

On page 15 I have given you a kind of table and a summary. It moves from left to right. I deliberately put it that way. On the left are those for whom inerrancy is irrelevant, and on the right you have got those who are committed to total inerrancy. And the pastors of this church (lest you be wondering) are on that right-hand column; we are committed—and actually, by vows that we took. And in my case, vows that I take annually at the Seminary in addition to that; I am committed to a view of total inerrancy. But as you can see, this is a flashpoint today, and it is a flashpoint in the Church. It is a flashpoint in our own church, I am sure. It is a flashpoint in every conceivable conservative denomination that I know of. And it is a flashpoint in conservative seminaries up and down the land. The battle for the Bible, the battle for the inerrancy of the Bible, is still with us today. And it is my view that it is a battle that has to be fought and a battle that has to be won. Because a Bible that has errors in it, you might as well toss out. You cannot commit your life, you cannot commit your entire life and eternity on something that may have errors in it. Because where are those errors? Who is to say that those errors are only in matters that are relatively trivial, and not in fact in matters that are of some consequence, and of some salvific, redemptive consequence?

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