Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ten things on Biblical inerrancy

With Chris Tilling at it again (here) and the issue coming up in the Mike Bird interview (below), I thought I'd devote a "ten things" to Biblical inerrancy.
1. The Bible is inerrant because it is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit enabled the authors of Scripture to so write that their words were both fully human and the Word of the Lord. For example, what David said in Psalm 16 is also what God said. Compare Acts 2:25ff with Acts 13:34-35. What David wrote with his poetic skill and spiritual insight, is also the revelation of God.
2. Inerrancy means that the Scriptures as originally given were totally without error. The Bible is true and reliable in whatever if affirms.

3. Inerrancy does not mean that the Bible uses the language of scientific precision and we should not expect it to. Generalisations and approximations are not mistakes.

4. The Bible contains many different types of literature: poetry, proverbs, history, prophecy, letter and apocalypse. Inerrancy will function in different ways according to the literary genre of Scripture. Richly metaphorical poetry speaks of truth in a different way from sober history.

5. A commitment to inerrancy means that the Bible should be interpreted as a coherent whole that does not contradict itself. There is a rich diversity in Scripture, but it is a diversity in unity.

6. The term "inerrancy" was coined in the heat of controversy between evangelicals and liberals in the early 20th century. But the idea that the Bible is without error has been the default position of the church throughout history. The liberal attack on the Bible lead evangelicals to develop a clearer doctrine of Scripture as God's inerrant Word. It is often the case that the church has come to a deeper and more accurate understanding of doctrine in response to error and heresy.

7. Those, like Warfield who defended the inerrancy of Scripture, did not do so primarily because of their commitment to rationalistic "common sense" philosophy. It has been pointed out that liberals who opposed inerrancy also shared that basic philosophical outlook. It was not rationalistic on the part of Warfiled and others to insist that the Bible is true in whatever it affirms. Historically, the church has held that the Bible is without error independently of philosophical undercurrents.

8. Psalm 19:7-11 describes the Word of God in all its diverse forms as, "perfect", "sure", "right", "pure", "true and righteous altogether" etc. The Psalm also insists that God's speech has perlocutionary effects - it "coverts", "enlightens" etc. The Bible is the theodramatic script that the people of God are to perform. If inerrancy is affirmed, but Scripture is not performed, then God is dishonoured. Indeed a commitment to Biblical inerrancy should make believers approach the Word of God with special reverence with a view to living out its teaching.

9. It is not necessary to have resolved all the problems and supposed errors in Scripture to believe in inerrancy. Christ taught that the "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). He is the truth (John 14:6). His testimony to the veracity of the Bible together with the witness of the Spirit are sufficient to convince the believer that God's Word is without error.

10. The most important thing that may be said about Scripture is not that the Bible is inerrant. The primary task of Scripture is not to witness to its own veracity, but to testify of Christ. But we do need a reliable witness to the person and work of Jesus.


Anonymous said...

Yep...I'm with you on this one.


Guy Davies said...

Oh good!

Looney said...

Now if only I could figure out why there seems to be a never ending Jihad against inerrancy ...

Shane said...

The key thing to any doctrine of inerrancy worth it's salt is clarifying what would count as an error.

I take it you think that the Bible saying the earth is 6000 years old when it is really 4.5 million years old doesn't count as an 'error' in the relevant sense because of a consideration about genre. What the Bible is intending to teach (or perhaps more accurately, the world it is intending to set forth) doesn't really have anything to do with the age of rocks.

Ok, that's all fair enough. I think the creationism example is pretty clear. The difficulty is how to separate the case of the virgin birth or the resurrection from the case of creationism. Another problem will have to do with the origins of the genre categories you use to try to get an angle on the message you think the narrative is trying to convey. What is a non-arbitrary way to construe the meaning of the genre of "gospel," for instance?

Presumably the genre of "gospel" means that trifling details like how many times the rooster crowed before Peter denied Christ don't count as errors precisely because they don't have anything to do with the message or narrative of the story. (Or, if so, only in a purely incidental way.) But we need to find independent, non-arbitrary reasons for thinking that the genre of gospel would make things like rooster-crow count non-essential.

Anonymous said...

How are you EP,

I have been reading Calvin's Institutes as of late, and using the Insitutes as a spring board on my blog for theological topics( Calvin of course refers to the word as "God's unerring standard" and sees it as God's word. However, he makes the statement that the truth of scripture needs a higher footing, because if Human reason could judge the word of God it would put some authority above His word. This is were he appeals to the work of the Spirit in seeing the Divine truth of the Holy Scriptures. It takes an act of God for the unbeliever to come to the position that it is in fact of divine origin. Just thought it was of interest. ")

W. Travis McMaken said...

In your forst 'thing', you make use of the Christological formulation 'fully human' and 'fully divine'. Fair enough. If Jesus Christ is God, then we learn from that relation about the pattern by which God relates to we creatures. So, the analogy is fitting. But, there must be a difference here. Christ was fully human and fully divine, and that made him God. Are we saying that the Bible is also God in creaturely form? Ought we to worship it?

Now, I've put things in a bit of an extreme form, but I don't do so to be sarcastic. Analogies have to do with similarities and differences. So, what is the difference between the incarnation and the Bible in terms of the relation of the 'fully human' with the 'fully divine'?

Guy Davies said...


I don't think that views on the age of the earth are directly related to inerrancy. Good 'ol BB Warfield said that the antiquity of man was not a theological issue. But if trying to harmonise Genesis 1 with an evolutionary account of origins also causes problems with the virgin birth and the resurrection, then maybe the science is questionable?

The issue of the genre of the Gospels is an interesting one, because they are a genre in themselves. I don't think that discrepancies over things like roosters crowing are suggestive of errors or inaccuracies in Scripture.

"Love's work",

Thanks for your comments. I mentioned, the witness of the Spirit in point 9. I agree that we accept the Bible as God's Word primarily through the testimony of the Spirit.


Thanks for your question. Christ is fully human and fully divine within the Person of the Son. In my opinion, his hypostatic union may be used as an analogy of the human and divine aspects of Scripture. But it is only an analogy. There are of course important differences between Jesus the Word and the Word of God written.

Jesus is a divine/human Person. The Bible is God's personal self-revelation, but it is a book, not a personal entity in itself. The Bible did not become incarnate, die on the cross, or rise from the dead. The Bible should not be worshipped. That prerogative belongs only to the God of the Bible.

The Bible is both the work of men and the work of God. Holy men wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:21). The Bible is fully human because the Spirit did not bypass the personalities of the human writers. Isaiah wrote as Isaiah, Paul as Paul etc. Their writings bear the imprint of their personalities. But at the same time, what they wrote was the word of God. What Scripture says, God says, as BB Warfield pointed out. The Bible is, therefore fully divine, God-breathed writing.

In putting it in this way, I'm simply trying to do justice to the humanness of Scripture, while accepting that the Bible is the word of God.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I've posted on this here: