The belief in the Bible’s inerrancy has long been under attack not just from outside the church but also from within.
Today there is an increasing number of pastors, theologians, churches, and theological institutes that use the term inerrancy, but it may well be a redefined meaning. Much of this is due to the compromise on the Bible with secular ideas like millions of years.
This is because there are evangelicals (like Dr. Mike Licona) who, because of the human element of Scripture, want to define inerrancy as: “God inspired the biblical authors with the concepts, . . . and He wasn’t concerned with peripheral details. He wanted to make sure that the concepts and the teaching . . . [were] preserved without error.”1 The outcome of this definition is the belief that the Bible’s authority is not found in its words but only through its intention.
However, the key to understanding the nature of Scripture is to look at what Jesus believed about Scripture. If you adopt a position on Scripture that is different from Jesus’ position, you have the wrong position. The idea that only the intention or the concepts of the authors of Scripture are inerrant and not the words of Scripture themselves is contrary to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.
The Sixty Six Books of the Protestant Canon Are Inspired by the Holy Spirit and Therefore Inerrant
Evangelicals are first and foremost people of the gospel. With Jesus at the Father‘s right hand and the Apostles gone to their reward, we evangelicals hold that our sure source for knowledge of the gospel is the Bible. The Bible is, in the well known words of catechism and confessional statement, ― the only infallible rule of faith and practice. In other words, what we believe (faith) and what we do (practice) comes from the Bible.
In this essay I will argue that the evangelical view of Scripture is derived from the Bible alone. In keeping with the Reformation cry of sola scriptura (Scripture alone), evangelicals believe the Bible‘s own assertions about itself. Rather than being a philosophical or theological construct, the evangelical doctrine of Scripture arises inductively from the text of Scripture itself. More specifically, the understanding of the Bible to which the Bible itself bears witness is this: the sixty six books of the protestant canon are inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore inerrant. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit results in written communication that is totally true and trustworthy.11 This is the Bible‘s own claim about itself, as this essay will attempt to demonstrate. It is beyond the scope of this essay to demonstrate that the evangelical view of Scripture is the historic position of orthodox Christianity, but it is worth mentioning that we evangelicals believe this to be so.
My attempt to demonstrate the thesis that the Bible itself claims to be inspired and therefore inerrant will be presented in three parts. First I will seek to show that the sixty six books of the protestant canon have been recognized as inspired. This recognition can be seen within the texts of these canonical books, and extra-canonical literature also testifies to this reality. That is, both biblical and non-biblical writings recognize only the sixty six books of the protestant canon as having been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Second, I will seek to show that the Bible itself claims to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, flawless, totally true, and completely trustworthy. In three words, the Bible claims to be inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Inspiration points to the role of God‘s Spirit guiding those who wrote (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20–21). Inerrancy points to ―the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake. Infallibility points to ― the quality of neither misleading nor being misled…Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters. In the necessarily brief third section of the essay, I will seek to address key objections to the doctrine of inerrancy. To be clear about what is at stake, if my thesis is demonstrated to be true, then rejection of the evangelical view of Scripture (that the sixty six books of the protestant canon are inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore inerrant) is rejection of the Bible‘s own claims about itself.
The Sixty Six Book Protestant Canon
The Witness of the OT to Its Own Canonicity
The Old Testament bears witness to its own canonicity by evidencing a recognition of certain writings as those in which God has spoken. The Old Testament itself then shows that these writings were set apart in ways that reflect their uniqueness and authority. For instance, Exodus 24:7 states, ― “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Three points inductively arise from this text. First, the description of what Moses read as ― the Book of the Covenant shows that Moses presented this information in his own language and in accordance with the literary forms of his culture. Second, the text depicts the people themselves recognizing that what Moses had read to them had been spoken by God. Neither Moses nor a group of elders around him told the people that what they had heard was the word of the Lord, the people recognized it for themselves. Third, the people‘s promise to obey the word of the Lord shows their understanding of its binding authority.
The issue of inerrancy has and continues to remain a foundational element of the fundamentalist movement. It is from the doctrine of inerrancy that most of the accepted fundamentalist beliefs such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the vicarious atonement, and the bodily second coming of Christ were founded upon. As noted by fundamentalist scholar and author George Marsden, “Inerrancy, which was to become a code word for much of the fundamentalist movement, had a scientific quality that was related to the view of truth as directly apprehended facts.” As such, inerrancy drove fundamentalist doctrine in a number of key areas as well as the fundamentalist response to modernism, liberalism, evolution, and later efforts at separatism.
Biblical stalwarts such as the Princeton theologians stood against the growing tide of higher criticism and theological liberalism that seemed to be crashing from Europe against the shores of the American theological establishment. As numerous denominations and religious institutions succumbed to the influence of modernism and liberalism, it was conservative scholars such as A. A. Hodge, C. I. Scofield and institutions such as the Princeton Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute who, at least for a time, tried to stem the tide of attacks against the inerrancy of scripture. Scholars such as J. Gresham Machen “who only reluctantly bore the name of fundamentalist,” “fully supported the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.”
A belief in inerrancy by most fundamentalists greatly contributed to the development of various doctrines of the movement in an effort to demonstrate the trustworthiness of scripture. Additionally, this belief provided a means by which to engage the influence and spread of Darwinian evolution and it continues to this day to be a foundational element for interpreting scripture. Fundamentalism and fundamentalist doctrine has centered largely on the issue of inerrancy and the response to those who seek to denigrate scripture by questioning inerrancy as a necessary and prominent issue of the faith. This paper will focus on the development of inerrancy as a fundamental doctrine of the fundamentalist movement, strategically important documents and events which helped shape inerrancy as a vital issue in the fundamentalist perspective, as well as modern trends in the fundamentalist approach to inerrancy. Continue reading “Michael Boling – Inerrancy as an Issue in the Fundamentalist Movement: 1900 to the Present”
The gist of this new book by Peter Enns is that evangelicals should revise their expectations of Genesis and Paul—with reference to Adam and the fall—in order to relieve perceived tensions between Christianity and evolution. This thesis turns out to be controversial.
On the one hand are evangelicals who disagree with Enns and judge his basic argument a capitulation to modern science. If Enns is right, then present-day conservative evangelicals are wrong, the early twentieth-century fundamentalists were wrong, pre-nineteenth-century Protestant Christianity was wrong, the post-Reformation scholastic tradition was wrong, the Reformers were wrong, and the entire medieval and patristic tradition was wrong. And why? Because Darwinian natural science and the biblical criticism that emerged with the rise of historical consciousness in the eighteenth/nineteenth century are right.
On the other hand, those sympathetic with Enns are worried that old bugaboos like inerrancy are tearing apart the evangelical movement and bringing unnecessary disrepute to the Christian faith. This also places an unbearable strain on younger evangelicals who seek to cultivate the best Christian minds as they follow Christ: Are they to play the ostrich, bury their heads in the sand and deny what every sane, intelligent person believes in the twenty-first century?
That is the situation—alas—and Enns is brave enough to begin a conversation (p. 112). Taking him up on this, this brief reflection offers a perspective on why many Protestants, myself included, have significant reservations about his arguments. I shall simply assume that readers have already read the book; specific details of Enns’s argument can be found in other reviews (e.g., see countless print, online and blog reviews).  Better yet, read the book for yourself. It is well-written, accessible, and provocative. My main purpose is to dialogue with Enns from my location as a Reformed systematic theologian. Like Enns, these reflections “are an outworking of my own Christian convictions” (p. xii, with italics); I have good friends who disagree with some of the claims I make here. Further, this review is not comprehensive since there are vital matters I do not touch on—not even to wave as I drive by. Instead, (1) I begin with initial observations before broaching a few areas worthy of discussion: (2) the doctrine of Scripture, (3) natural science and historical criticism, (4) further theological concerns, (5) a methodological aside, and (6) concluding thoughts.
Friedrich Schleiermacher was born November 21, 1768 and died February 12, 1834. Mr. Schleiermacher was considered the father of liberal theology. Schleimacher’s began not with the Bible, a creed, or revelation, but with personal experiences that happen to the individual and the community. The influence of Schleiermacher is felt today among those who deny inerrancy by placing their opinions about science over the truth of Scripture.
Liberalism, the Church and Inerrancy
At the end of the day what theological liberalism and what biblical Christianity offer are in conflict. Friedrich Schleiermacher is a perfect example of this as he believed that the stories that Moses wrote in Genesis were myths. Schleiermacher was known to place a high emphasis on how he felt rather than on what the Bible teaches. At the heart of this argument by theological liberals is the belief that the Bible is a book full of errors.
Theological liberalism follows in the pattern of Schleiermacher today by placing an emphasis on what they feel rather than on what the Bible teaches. Such errors according to them are either stated or implied by those who deny inerrancy and for many of them the conviction that there are some actual errors in Scripture is a major factor in persuading them against the doctrine of inerrancy. In response to this Christians should challenge this position by asking, “What specific verse or verses do these errors occur?” Asking this question will help to understand whether the person has little or no biblical literacy, but believes there are errors in the Scriptures, because others have told them so.
The Christian fundamentalist movement in America has been maligned, stereotyped, lampooned, and mocked. Fundamentalists have been compared to Muslim terrorists and called right-wing bigots and homophobes. 1 Most fundamentalists would often be the first to declare their imperfections, but these descriptions are typically over the top. Although there may always be some people who fuel these stereotypes, as properly defined, a Christian fundamentalist is simply a person who holds to the fundamental truths of their faith as revealed clearly in the Bible.
In 1910, five principles were identified by the Presbyterian General Assembly as comprising the fundamentals of the Christian faith. According to this assembly, a fundamentalist is one who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, His bodily resurrection, and the authenticity of miracles.2 Some would add a sixth point to this list: the imminent and physical return of Christ to earth.
While each of these points is vitally important to the fundamentalist mind, the first point has risen to the forefront in their ongoing struggle with a secular culture. The doctrine of inerrancy has come to define the movement, and, as such, it deserves special attention. This paper will examine the role inerrancy has served in the fundamentalist movement during the 20th and early 21st centuries.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, adopted at a meeting of more than two hundred evangelical leaders in October 1978, rightly affirms that “the authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian church in this and every age.” But authority cannot stand in isolation, as the Statement shows. The authority of the Bible is based on its being the written Word of God, and because the Bible is the Word of God and the God of the Bible is Truth and speaks truthfully, authority is linked to inerrancy. If the Bible is the Word of God and if God is a God of truth, then the Bible must be inerrant – not merely in some of its parts, as some modern theologians are saying, but totally, as the church for the most part has said down through the ages of its history.
Some of the terms used in the debate about the authority and inerrancy of the Bible are technical ones. Some show up in the Chicago Statement, but they are not difficult to come to understand. They can be mastered (and the doctrine of inerrancy more fully understood) by a little reading and study. This commentary on the Chicago Statement attempts to provide such material in reference to the Nineteen Articles of Affirmation and Denial, which form the heart of the document. The full text of the Statement appears as an Appendix.
SIR:—In to-day’s SUN Mr. W.R.L. calls for a ”champion of orthodoxy” to “step into the
arena of the SUN, ” and give him some “facts.” Here are some facts:
1. The first 17 verses of the New Testament contain the genealogy of the Christ. It
consists of two main parts: Verses I-II cover the period from Abraham, the father of the
chosen people, to the Captivity, when they ceased as an independent people. Verses 12-
17 cover the period from the Captivity to the promised Deliverer, the Christ.
Let us examine the first part of this genealogy.
Its vocabulary has 49 words, or 7 X 7. This number is itself seven (Feature 1) sevens
(Feature 2), and the sum of its factors is 2 sevens (Feature 3). Of these 49 words 28, or 4
sevens, begin with a vowel; and 21, or 3 sevens, begin with a consonant (Feature 4).
Again: these 49 words of the vocabulary have 266 letters, or 7 x 2 x 19; this number is
itself 38 sevens (Feature 5), and the sum of its factors is 28, or 4 sevens (Feature 6), while
the sum of its figures is 14, or 2 sevens (Feature 7). Of these 266 letters, moreover, 140,
or 20 sevens, are vowels, and 126, or 18 sevens, are consonants (Feature 8).
That is to say: Just as the number of words in the vocabulary is a multiple of seven, so is
the number of its letters a multiple of seven; just as the sum of the factors of the
number of the words is a multiple of seven, so is the sum of the factors of the number
of their letters a multiple of seven. And just as the number of words is divided between
vowel words and consonant words by seven, so is their number of letters divided
between vowels and consonants by sevens. Continue Reading
Ever since the serpent in the Garden of Eden asked Eve, “Hath God said”, Scripture has been under attack. Unfortunately, this attack is not merely coming from outside the walls of Christianity. Increasingly, the questioning of the inerrancy of Scripture in particular has reared its ugly head within the Christian blogosphere, and also within many so-called “Christian books”— written by pastors who claim to preach the gospel. Perhaps more than ever, it is vital for believers to understand why Scripture is the Word of God, why it is the authority in all matters of life, and most importantly, why it can be completely trusted as the foundation for truth. The Scripture Cannot be Broken: Twentieth Century Writings on the Doctrine of Inerrancy edited by John MacArthur is an excellent collection of essays that addresses this vital issue.
Building on the work of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the essays provided in this timely book look at the historical elements of inerrancy, engage what Scripture has to say about itself, explore the issue of inspiration, outline what inerrancy is all about, concluding with a brief yet important look at biblical infallibility. Each essay is thorough, well-written, biblically rooted, and well worth taking the time to read.
Dr. John MacArthur is a champion of engaging the issue of biblical inerrancy as attested by the recent Inerrancy Summit that was the focus of the 2015 Shepherds Conference. Gathering pastors and church leaders together to discuss biblical inerrancy reveals the continued importance of ensuring the challenges to this all important doctrine are addressed. The Scripture Cannot Be Broken is appropriately edited by Dr. MacArthur and each contributor to this effort does a marvelous job of engaging and outlining in a lucid yet approachable manner why believers should understand what inerrancy is all about and why it is so important to hang our proverbial hat on this doctrine.
I appreciated that the entire spectrum of this doctrine is addressed, notably beginning with the historical basis for this doctrine to include the various controversies that faced theologians throughout the years. One can quickly see that attacks against the inerrancy of Scripture are really nothing new. Challenges to inerrancy will continue to present themselves and the conversations that continue to swirl around a number of topics related to Scripture and the repeated attempts by liberal scholars to diminish the historicity and authority of Scripture will not cease. It is absolutely essential that believers remain cognizant of these attempts and books such as this one perform a valuable function in providing believers with the tools to understand such attacks and the means to combat with historical fact and most importantly from the pages of Scripture itself those who seek to treat Scripture as nothing more than a collection of moral stories.
This is a book I highly recommend to be in the collection of all believers but especially as a resource for pastors and Bible College/Seminary students. Regardless of whether one is a scholar engaging liberal attempts to push against the foundation of biblical inerrancy or whether one is a layman who may run across someone who has questions about this issue, we have to understand and be able to elaborate why God’s Word is inerrant and what that means. The outstanding essays provided in this book will go a long way to informing and empowering the body of Christ to declare that God’s Word is indeed inerrant and how to cogently and powerfully defend the doctrine of inerrancy.
This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”