Special Revelation - Part III
The Doctrine of Complete Inerrancy
Contrary to the perspective of limited inerrancy, the Bible makes no distinction between inspired and uninspired texts or topics nor does it place any restrictions on the kinds of subjects on which it speaks truthfully. See esp. Acts 24:14; Luke 24:25; Romans 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11. The word “infallibility” comes from the Latin infallibilitas = the quality of neither deceiving nor being deceived. “Inerrancy” comes from the Latin inerrantia = freedom from error. This means that Scripture does not affirm anything contrary to fact. Together they express the idea that all Scripture comes to us as the very words of God and are thus reliable and true and free of error. Here are four explanations of the concept of inerrancy as it is applied to all of Scripture:
“Inerrancy will then mean that at no point in what was originally given were the biblical writers allowed to make statements or endorse viewpoints which are not in conformity with objective truth. This applies at any level at which they make pronouncements” (Roger Nicole, “The Nature of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy and Common Sense, 88).
“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 the social, physical, or life sciences” (Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” 294).
“When all the facts are known, the Bible (in its original writings) properly interpreted in light of which culture and communication means had developed by the time of its composition will be shown to be completely true (and therefore not false) in all that it affirms, to the degree of precision intended by the author, in all matters relating to God and his creation” (David Dockery, Christian Scripture, 64).
“Except for the types of textual corruption that can arise in the course of repeated copying, the Bible offers an accurate, though not comprehensive, description and interpretation of the world and human history from the creation to the rise of the Christian church, as well as a reliable record of divinely revealed truths about God and his plans for humanity, which careful exegesis can demonstrate to be internally consistent and concerning which, through fair and informed analysis, plausible solutions for apparently fundamental conflicts between it and objective extra-biblical data can be suggested” (Richard Shultz).
2 Timothy 3:16-17 is crucial to the doctrine of inerrancy:
(1) “all” or “every” – The word “all” has a collective sense and means the whole of Scripture; the entirety of the Bible, inclusive of all its parts. The word “every” has a distributive sense and means each Scripture individually, the various parts of the Bible of which the whole is comprised. Whether it be “all” Scripture or “every” Scripture Paul is saying that whatever is Scripture is God-breathed.
(2) “Scripture” – In v. 15 the words “sacred writings” refer to the OT. On what grounds, then, do we extend the affirmation of inspiration to the NT writings? a) Peter refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture in 1 Pt. 3:14-16. b) Paul directed that his epistles be read publicly for instruction in the church, presumably along with the OT – Col. 4:16; 1 Th. 5:27. c) He called his message “the word of God” in 1 Thess. 2:13. d) in 1 Cor. 2:13 he refers to what God has revealed to him as “words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.” e) in 1 Tim. 5:18 Paul indicates that there is more to Scripture than the OT: he places Luke’s gospel (or at least the materials from which Luke’s gospel was to be composed) on a par with Deuteronomy.
(3) Is it “all God-breathed Scripture is also profitable . . .” (or “all Scripture which is God-breathed is also profitable . . .”) or “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable . . .”? The former might (but need not) suggest that only some of Scripture is God-breathed, not all, and hence only some Scripture is profitable. The latter, however, is more likely. It is a double predicate adjective connected by kai (“and”).
(4) Meaning of theopneustos? The word “inspiration” can be misleading, for it might suggest to some an already existent text into which God breathed or to which he imparted some special spiritual or divine quality. The word actually means “breathed out from God” not “breathed into by God”. The Scriptures are a product of the divine breath (origin). The Scriptures find their origin in God, not in the creative genius of humans. In the OT the “breath” of God is his creative power (cf. Job 32:8; 33:4; 34:14). See also Gen. 2:7; Ps. 33:6.
(5) Lastly, it is difficult to see how error can be “profitable” and contribute to our “instruction” in righteousness. According to Packer, “authority belongs to truth and truth only. . . . I can make no sense – no reverent sense, anyway – of the idea, sometimes met, that God speaks his truth to us in and through false statements by biblical writers” (Truth and Power, 46).
The inerrant perfection of God’s written Word is clearly affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 5:18. The word translated “smallest letter” is literally iota, the tiniest letter in the Greek alphabet. We use it in such statements as: “It doesn’t make an iota of difference to me!”
Point: not a “t” will remain uncrossed nor an “i” undotted! Not the slightest part of God’s Word is insignificant. Not the slightest or smallest part will prove untrue or fail of its purpose. See also John 10:35; Mt. 24:35.
There are several factors in the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy:
· It is no objection to inerrancy that God used sinful, error-prone human beings in the process of inscripturation. It is one thing to say that because we are human we can make mistakes. It is another thing to say we must. See esp. 2 Pt. 1:20-21. The doctrine of inerrancy, therefore, does not diminish the humanity of Scripture any more than the deity of Christ diminishes the reality of his human flesh.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that sometimes the Bible describes things as they appear, i.e., phenomenologically, rather than as they really are. However, “if the Bible taught that things appeared one way and they did not appear that way, that would be an error. Or, if the Bible taught that things were one way and they were not that way, that would also be an error. But for the Bible to teach that things appear one way when they actually are another way is not error” (John Gerstner, “The Church’s Doctrine of Biblical Inspiration,” in The Foundation of Biblical Authority, 25).
· It is no objection to inerrancy that God often accommodates himself to human language and experience when making known his will and ways in Scripture.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the Bible contains figures of speech. Some erroneously believe that inerrancy requires that everything in the Bible be taken literally, as if to suggest that this doctrine means that God literally has wings and that mountains literally leap for joy, etc. But truth is often expressed in non-literal language.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the Bible emphasizes certain concepts or doctrines more than others. Some have drawn the unwarranted conclusion that since the Bible does not emphasize, say, geology, that on those occasions when it does speak geologically it speaks erroneously. It is true that the declaration “Jesus Christ, [is] risen from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8) is more important than “Erastus remained at Corinth” (2 Tim. 4:20). But the comparative unimportance of the latter does not necessitate its falsity.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that we engage in textual criticism of the NT documents.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the authors of Scripture make occasional errors in grammar. A statement can be ungrammatical in its style while entirely true in its content.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that our interpretations of the Bible are less than uniform. The explanation for disparate interpretations must rest with the interpreter, not with the text.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the Bible is not equally clear in every place. In other words, the inerrancy of Scripture does not guarantee its complete lucidity.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the Bible records lies and unethical actions. We must distinguish between what the Bible merely reports and what it approves, between descriptive authority and normative authority.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that authors of the NT cite or allude to the OT with less than verbal precision.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the authors of Scripture round off or approximate numbers and measurements. Alleged “inaccuracies” must be judged by the accepted standards of the cultural-historical context in which the author wrote, not by the scientifically and computerized precision of 21st century technology. “The limits of truthfulness,” notes Grudem (91), “would depend on the degree of precision implied by the speaker and expected by his original hearers.”
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the recorded account of certain events is not exhaustive in detail. That the description of an event is partial does not mean it is false. Inerrancy simply means that when Scripture does speak, however, extensive or minimal it may be, it speaks accurately.
· It is no objection to inerrancy if two authors record the same event from differing perspectives and for different purposes.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that the biblical authors used uninspired and errant material in composing Scripture. Inerrancy simply means that when they do quote or borrow from uninspired sources they do so accurately.
· It is no objection to inerrancy that we cannot, at this time, harmonize all allegedly disparate events or data. This would make the authority of the Bible depend on the resourcefulness of humans. It would also indicate that we have learned little from history, for on countless occasions historical, archaeological, exegetical, and scientific discoveries have resolved what were apparent contradictions in the Bible.
So, why is this doctrine or concept of Scripture as verbally, plenarily, and inerrantly inspired so critical? Two answers may be given:
First, in the words of J. I. Packer,
“biblical veracity and biblical authority are bound up together. Only truth can have final authority to determine belief and behavior, and Scripture cannot have such authority further than it is true. A factually and theologically trustworthy Bible could still impress us as a presentation of religious experience and expertise, but clearly, if we cannot affirm its total truthfulness, we cannot claim that it is all God’s testimony and teaching, given to control our convictions and conduct” (Truth and Power, 134).
Second, we should subject our souls to the infallibility and authority of the Scriptures, immerse our minds in its truths, and bathe our spirits in its teachings because the inerrant special revelation of God in Scripture has the power to change human lives and to transform the experience of the church.
· The Word of God is the means or instrument by which the Holy Spirit regenerates the human heart. That is to say, the proclamation or communication of the Word is the catalyst for the inception of spiritual life. See 1 Peter 1:23-25. Observe that this "word" which brings life is a "preached" word!
· The Word of God is the power of God unto salvation. See especially Romans 1:16-17; 10:14-15; and 1 Cor. 1:18-25.
· The Word of God is the spring from which the waters of faith arise. Paul says in Rom. 10:17 that "faith comes from hearing" and that hearing comes "by the word of Christ."
· It is from or through the Scriptures that the Spirit imparts perseverance and encouragement: "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).
· It is from or through the Scriptures that joy, peace, and hope arise. How so? Paul prays in Romans 15:13 that God would "fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Both joy and peace are the fruit of believing, which in turn yields hope. But believe "what"? Belief is confidence placed in the truth of what God has revealed to us in Scripture about who He is and our relationship to Him through Jesus. Belief does not plant itself in mid-air, but in the firm foundation of inspired, revelatory words inscripturated for us in the Bible.
· It is the Word of God that accounts for the on-going operation of the miraculous in the body of Christ. Again, how so? We read in Galatians 3:5, "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" The instrument God uses is the faith that we experience upon hearing the Word of God! When we hear the Word of God (in preaching and teaching), our thoughts and hearts become God-centered; our focus is on His glory and and thus our faith in His greatness expands and deepens, all of which is the soil in which the seeds of the supernatural are sown. Apart from the truths of preached texts, there can be no genuine, long-lasting, Christ-exalting faith; and apart from such faith there can be no (or at best, few) miracles.
· It is the Word of God, expounded and explained and applied, that yields the fruit of sanctification and holiness in daily life. Consider the following:
"And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe" (1 Thess. 2:13).
"In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following" (1 Tim. 4:6).
"Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2).
"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
Question: “What would have to happen in order for you to reject inerrancy? What would you have to see or discover in your study of Scripture for you to reject this doctrine? Or is there no amount or kind of evidence that would lead you to redefine your concept of Scripture?”