WHAT IS INERRANCY?

by | Mar 2, 2021 | 300SOT

What else comes from Chicago besides hotdogs and deep-dish pizza?

Back in 1978 in the Windy City, 268 evangelical scholars signed on the line to affirm their belief in the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy means the Bible is free from error (597). And this document they signed is called the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” I’ll spare you the 5,000 words of the statement and just give you their summary in five short points. 

First: God, who only speaks truth, has inspired Scripture to reveal Christ to sinners.

Second: The Bible, “written by men, prepared and superintended by the Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches.

Third: The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine author, illumines readers and authenticates Scripture. 

Fourth: The Bible is without error in all its teaching (170–171). Scripture is God-breathed. The very words and all the words are from God. That’s the doctrine of inspiration. 

But inerrancy says that God’s Word is completely true and free from error. Therefore, the Bible is completely true and free from error because it’s God’s Word (92). Scripture, itself, says that it’s true. King David prayed as such in 2 Sam. 7:28.

O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true…

God’s Word is true. Jesus concurred in His prayer to God the Father when He said: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). God’s revelation is true. But just how true is it? Is it fully inerrant even when it comes to what it says about matters of science and history? Or is it just free from error when it comes to what it says about salvation? Or is the truth of the Bible a nonissue so long as it accomplishes its purpose of bringing people into fellowship with Christ?

And for an initial answer, we turn to our featured theologian: Augustine. The life of this ancient theologian from North Africa spanned the fourth and fifth centuries. And his influence has been huge. He started out as a teacher of rhetoric, but after a lengthy spiritual pilgrimage, became a Christian and eventually, a bishop known for his writings: Confessions, The City of God, and On the Trinity (19–20). Here’s kind of a long quote from him, stating this doctrine of inerrancy: 

I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.

Augustine is saying that only those books that are Scripture—the Word of God—are free from error. And he goes on to say: 

And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it” (Augustine, Letter 82.3).

Basically, if there’s something in Scripture that doesn’t seem to be true, the problem isn’t with Scripture. And it’s important to keep in mind that Scripture does not draw a dividing line between sacred and secular matters. It’s inconsistent of us to recognize its inerrancy on matters of salvation but then not also history or science. God’s Word cannot be partially true. That doesn’t mean we won’t run into difficulties. 

Like what do we do with the molten sea in 2 Chron. 4:2? The Bible says its diameter was ten cubits and its circumference was 30. But high school math taught me that the circumference of a circle is π times circumference so shouldn’t the circumference of the molten sea be 31.4159265358979323846 cubits (191)? And why does Mark 1:5 say “all the people of Jerusalem went out” to see John the Baptist and that they were being baptized by him? Come on, Mark. Was everyone really going? John Frame hits the nail on the head when he points out that “Inerrancy means the Bible is true, not that it is maximally precise” (173). It’s sufficiently precise. It can approximate and still be true. It can give us different accounts of the same event so long as they don’t contradict (93). That doesn’t mean it will be as precise as its readers might demand. Because the Bible is written in ordinary language. And I love how Frame sums up his point: 

The inerrant language of the Bible makes good on its own claims, not on claims that are made for it by thoughtless readers (600).  

What major doctrine of the Bible doesn’t seem to have difficulties? Sure there are puzzles and conundrums. We don’t ignore them. But we believe God’s Word despite these unresolved difficulties (603). One theologian used this analogy: Those who try to understand the entire process by which food arrives at their table before they eat are going to starve to death. And it’s the same for anyone who refuses to believe the Word of God until they see all the problems resolved. They will spiritually starve to death (1:442). 

There are difficulties. There are challenges. But there is no error. We’re the ones with problems and limitations. We’re sinners. We’re finite. And our attitude towards the inerrant Word of God ought to be humility. It’s not our place to pick and choose the areas we think God can speak authoritatively. How arrogant can we be that we would take issue with God’s words and think we know better? (598, 602). It’s okay not to have the answer to every apparent problem. Be humble before God who has spoken. We have His authoritative Word. As Rolland McCune put it: The kind of Bible one believes in is directly proportionate to the kind of God one believes in” (1:92). 

Do you believe in a God who only speaks truth? Everything He says. It’s all there for our teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness that you might be complete, equipped for every good work. Can you be a Christian and deny inerrancy? Sure. But you’re an arrogant one who thinks they know better than God. Like it says in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. We deny that such confession [of inerrancy] is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church” (171).

 

 

 

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Associate Pastor at Victory Baptist Church in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.

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Brent Niedergall