Statement of Issue
[F]or if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
John 5:46-47 (NAS)
With these words, Christ Himself framed the debate over the writings of Scripture that has resurfaced with fury in the last 200 years. Do we believe the writings or do we not? Can they be believed? Are they to be trusted? To what extent can they be trusted? The issue of inerrancy impacts directly on these questions. An error-free Bible is completely trustworthy. An error-prone Bible is not. Accordingly, the question to be considered is whether all of Scripture, including its smallest parts, is without error.
Inerrancy, as used herein, does not mean that every statement in Scripture is true. Scripture says, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, NAS) This statement, made by the “fool,” is not true. The recordation of the false statements of others in Scripture is not the same as saying that Scripture contains errors. As used herein, “inerrancy” means that Scripture itself never advances a position as being true, which in fact is not. Stated another way, Scripture “is fully truthful in all that it affirms” (Erickson, 234).
The Inerrancy of Scripture from Scripture
Of the many arguments that may be raised in support of the inerrancy of Scripture, the first and strongest comes from Scripture itself. Although Scripture nowhere uses the term “inerrancy,” is does speak, both directly and indirectly, to the subject. In the very first temptation of mankind, Satan called into question the inerrancy of Scripture with the words: “Indeed, has God said . . .” (Genesis 3:1, NAS) However, it proved to be his modification of God’s word, and not God’s word, that was in error. God’s word came to pass precisely as it was given.
Adam and Eve fell for Satan’s lie. Christ, in contrast, did not. At His temptation, Christ responded to the words of Satan with the very words of Scripture: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4, NAS) Every statement of God is to become the sustenance of mankind. What kind of sustenance is it?
It is in every part God’s word. Its origin is attributed to God Himself. (Mark 12:36, Acts 1:16, 4:24,25, 28:25, Hebrews 1:1, James 5:10) At times, not even the human authors understood what God was writing through them. (Daniel 12:8-9, cf. Colossians 1:26 with I Peter 1:10-12) Nowhere is the divine authorship of Scripture more succinctly stated than in II Timothy 3:16-17. In that passage God states that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (NAS), that is, it is the breath of God. In II Peter 1:20-21, the Bible states that the former prophecy came as men were moved by the Holy Spirit and thus wrote. Thanks go up to God in I Thessalonians 2:13 because God’s word was accepted, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God. Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God spoke through the prophets. Hebrews 2:1-2 emphasizes that the word of the law was unalterable and “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense.” (NAS) The weight of these and the multitude of other references, including Deuteronomy 8:3, Psalm 119, Jeremiah 1:7-9, Ezekiel 2:7, 3:26,27, John 5:38,39, I Thessalonians 4:16, I John. 2:3-5,14 compels the conclusion that Scripture claims to be, in its entirety, God’s word. Even Stephen T. Davis, although holding a limited errancy position on Scripture, states, “Somehow, the Bible’s words are God’s words.” (Davis, 54)
As God’s word, Scripture must partake of the very character of God. A person who speaks or writes dishonestly is not said to be honest. A person who is unkind in action is not known as kind in character. Actions reveal character. Converesly, character determines actions. In Matthew 12:34, Christ notes this truth in saying, “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (NAS) Christ went on to say, “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.” (Matthew 12:35, NAS) See also Luke 6:45.
Again, in John 8:44,45, Christ uses this truth in relation to Satan and to Himself. Christ attributes Satan’s lies to Satan’s character. Christ then speaks of Himself, affirming that He spoke truth, thereby implying that His character was truth. He concludes by stating, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46, NAS) The validity of an inerrancy argument based upon the truthfulness of God, accordingly, is consistent with the teachings of Christ. (see Grudem, 50)
That God is completely truthful is the consistent witness of Scripture. (See Numbers 23:19; I Samuel 15:29; John 3:33; Romans 3:4; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18.) What he writes, flowing out of His nature, therefore, must be completely true. (see Packer, 102) And that is precisely what Scripture affirms. John 17:17 states, “Thy word is truth.” (NAS) (See also II Samuel 7:28; Nehemiah 9:13; Psalm 19:9; 119:142, 151, 160; II Timothy 2:15; Revelation 22:6.)
One small error would mar the integrity and trustworthiness of the whole. God Himself stated that if men violate one point of the law, they are guilty of all. (James 2:10) He also stated that a little leaven (sin) leavens (makes sinful) the whole lump. (I Corinthians 5:6) How much more a single error in what He says would call into question His very character! John Wesley stated, “If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.” (Boice, 37) In likening God’s words to silver refined seven times, Psalm 12:6 creates the imagery of a word that is free from all contamination. The words of the LORD are pure words indeed.
An additional reason for believing in the total inerrancy of Scripture lies in the words spoken by Jesus in the passage known as the Sermon on the Mount. In that passage, Christ stated, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18, NAS) William Barclay states of this passage, “The smallest letter–the letter which the Authorized Version calls the jot–was the Hebrew letter iodh. In form it was like an apostrophe – ‘ – ; not even a letter not much bigger than a dot was to pass away. The smallest part of the letter–what the Authorized version calls the tittle–is what we call the serif, the little projecting part at the foot of a letter, the little line at each side of the foot of, for example, the letter I. Jesus seems to lay it down that the law is so sacred that not the smallest detail of it will ever pass away.” (Barclay, 127)
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones states, “The law that God has laid down, and which you can read in the Old Testament, and everything that has been said by the prophets, is going to be fulfilled down to the minutest detail, and it will hold and stand until this absolute fulfillment has been eintirely carried out. (Llyod-Jones, 186)
Even Dietrich Bonhoeffer held this passage to mean that “every letter of [the law of the old covenant], every jot and tittle, must remain in force and be observed until the end of the world. (Bonhoeffer, 137) That the detail of the fulfillment of the Law includes the smallest marks on the manuscript mandates a conclusion that the Old Testament Law is completely inerrant.
Additional support for Scriptural inerrancy is found in John 10:33-36 where Christ makes the statement that Scripture cannot be broken. The reference by Christ to a relatively obscure portion in the Psalms, when coupled with the statement made as a general truth that Scripture cannot be broken, adds further support to a position that even the obscure, nonredemptive portions of Scripture, are without error.
Finally, there exist the arguments based on the usage of Old Testament texts by New Testament writers. Wayne A. Grudem has listed two pages of such usages, where the New Testament writers rely on the complete truthfulness of some seemingly insignificant details to bring truths home to their readers. (see Grudem, 41-43) Such reliance inferentially presumes the inerrancy of Scripture.
The Inerrancy of Scripture from History
Although material on inerrancy is rare with respect to the first 1700 years of the church, the material that does exist shows inerrancy to be the historical position of the church. Irenaeus stated, “[T]he Scriptures are indeed perfect . . . (Boice, 21). Augustine stated as to the canonical books, “I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.” (Erickson, 226) Thomas Aquinas agrees with Augustine. (see Preus, 369-370) Luther states with respect to Scripture, “He who adheres to the Scriptures will find that they do not lie or deceive.” (Preus, 379) Again, he states, “Scripture cannot err.” (Preus, 379) And again, “The Scriptures have never erred.” (Preus, 179) As stated by Robert Preus, “That the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and of supreme divine authority, was a conviction held by all Christians and Christian teachers through the first 1700 years of church history.” (357) Calvin called Scripture an “inerring standard.” (Gerstner, 391) The view of the church during this period is ably summed up by Professor James T. Burtchaell of Notre Dame: “Since God could not conceivably be the agent of falsehood, the Bible must be guaranteed free from any error . . . [B]oth [the Reformers and Counter-Reformers] persevered in receiving the Bible as the compendium of inerrant oracles dictated by the Spirit.” (Woodbridge, 242)
In more recent times, theologians such as Archibald Alexander, the first professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who defined inspiration as “Such a divine influence upon the minds of the sacred writers as rendered them exempt from error, both in regard to the ideas and words” (Balmer, 265), and his noted successors at Princeton, A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, took up the battle and provided a spirited defense against those who would deny the inerrancy of Scripture. Some contemporary authors have seen the inerrancy battle as a great watershed for Christianity. (Lindsell & Schaeffer) And rightly so, because a view less than the total inerrancy of Scripture would mark a significant shift in the historic position of the church.
Inerrancy has the support both of Scriptural claims and of church history. If Scripture were anything less than totally inerrant, then we would stand on a much weaker foundation. Geisler and Nix stated it this way, “If the Bible is not correct in factual and empirical matters which are verifiable, then how could it be trusted in spiritual matters which are not subject to such tests?” (Geisler & Nix, 26) Francis Schaeffer reaches the same conclusion. (Schaeffer, 46) The foundation of our faith in Christ is our belief in Scripture. To be believed, Scripture must be trustworthy. The inerrancy of Scripture provides for me the trustworthiness necessary for unshakable faith.