Theology Thursday: Inerrancy

hands held together on top of a bible

Christians agree with the Bible’s claim about itself that it is "authoritative" and "infallible" in that the message of the Bible flows directly from God's infinite personality and mind (“inspired” or God-breathed”) to believers via the avenue of our hearts and minds. Because some claim the Bible to be inspired, infallible and authoritative, many other Christians would also admit that it is also inerrant.

What Is Inerrancy?

Inerrancy is a term used to describe Scripture as error-free in the original writings. It implies that the Bible contains neither material errors nor internal contradictions in the original writings. In 1978, a group of highly recognized evangelical scholars and theologians met in Chicago and produced a clear, concise statement on the importance and meaning of inerrancy in regards to Biblical authority.

However, because inerrancy was not thoroughly defined until the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, some have felt that the concept of inerrancy is a modern concept, something neither Moses, Jesus Christ, the early Church, nor Scripture itself ever intended to apply to the Biblical text.

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright believes inerrancy is an important enough issue but believers need not subscribe to it. Wright believes in the infallibility of Scripture but stops short of admitting inerrancy. He believes the authority of Scripture comes from God. Wright points to Hebrews 1:1-2 which ascribes to God as Scripture's final authority, in other words, authority away from itself (God, not the text, is inerrant). Many evangelicals who hold to an inerrant view have used Jesus' words in Matthew 5:18 as proof that Jesus affirmed the concept of inerrancy.

Matthew 5:18 no doubt, emphasizes the authority of Scripture. Inerrancy deniers point out that Jesus violated several Sabbath laws. This disregard for law signified a negation of an inerrant inclination towards the scripture. They also point out Jesus also promised his Holy Spirit to his disciples that would “teach them all things” (John 14:25-26). He did not promise his followers a new set of writings that would be inerrant and legally binding.

Since very early after its inception, the Church has lived under the authority of the Scriptures. Scripture formed and regulated church life and it supplied the Church with the essential message to proclaim. The Church was under the direction of the Scripture in its daily life as well as its prayer life. Both John Calvin and Martin Luther had a high view of the authority of the scriptures.

Both believed that Christians should hold the Bible as the Word of God with a relational kind of belief, that is, we relate ourselves to the Bible as our authority because we recognize it as God addressing us. Proponents of inerrancy do not propose a mechanical dictation of the scriptures by God to the writers of the Bible. Article VIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy addresses this issue and rejects a dictation method by stating,

"We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared. We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities."

While most premodern Christians would not have used the term inerrant, it is probably safe to say that that they considered the Bible the final authority and without error. Many Christians, who promote inerrancy, assumed the Biblical writers, Church fathers, and men who held the Word of God in high esteem have held to the doctrine of inerrancy even though no written evidence is found.

These biblical writers, Church fathers, and leaders held a high view of scripture and its authority but one cannot ascribe inerrancy as part of their belief. Scriptural inerrancy is a necessary and logical consequence of biblical authority and infallibility. Commenting on this text, John Calvin writes, “The word of God is pure, and without any mixture of fraud and deceit, like silver which is well refined and purified from all its dross.”

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