Posts tagged Inerrancy
Reading Outside Your Tribe

The Bible is inerrant. Because it is the inspired Word of God, it is incapable of communicating falsity. While being kept from error, the human authors of the Bible were moved by the Holy Spirit so that all they wrote (in their own words) fully encompassed all he desired for them to write. What happens, then, when we read about their misgivings and failures? Does God’s inerrancy suffer at the hands of his people’s errors? My issue is how easily some unintentionally apply this supernatural activity of the Spirit with respect to the doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration beyond the text, and extend it to the authors themselves. 

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)

When these certain men came from James, the brother of Christ and leader of the Jerusalem church, Paul was forced to confront Peter (Cephas). Paul opposed Peter, the rock on whom Christ promised to build his church (Mt 16:18), for acting in a manner that was out of step with the gospel. It’s baffling that two of the “super-apostles” (cf. 2 Cor 11:5) are indicted in these four verses: the former for propagating (enforcing?) ethnic division in the church, the latter for sheepishly cowering to the forces of sinful peer-pressure. The moral of the story: everyone (even the Apostles!) is susceptible to theological blind spots. 

The crusades don't rebuff the wisdom of Aquinas. The burning of Servetus doesn't nullify Calvin's contributions. Whitefield's pension for slavery doesn't overturn his homiletical genius. Again, we are all susceptible to theological blind spots. One way we can remedy this is by reading outside of our tribes. While it would be incredibly convenient, Christendom does not neatly divide along the lines of theological good guys and theological bad guys. We must be Bereans. We are big boys and girls. If there are bones in the fish, pick them out and feast on the meat.  

Barth, Swiss Reformed, was an ostensible universalist; yet he taught me a great deal about Christian ethics and the highest good. Lewis, an Anglican, was an errantist; yet he tutored me in the school of Christian imagination and what it means to have an awakened mind. Mary Prokes, a Roman Catholic, was a Franciscan nun; yet her prose on human embodiment—specifically on the true purpose and meaning of sexuality—was outstandingly illuminating and edifying. R.C. Sproul Jr., a Presbyterian, believes that God created sin; yet he taught me much on trusting in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness in the midst of the storm.

Isaac Newton, arguably the most influential scientific figure of all time, once penned to a friend, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This was Newton’s way of acknowledging that his accomplishments were due in large part to those who went before him. This maxim has been adopted to comment on the invaluable contributions of the Christian tradition. We are recipients of a rich and diverse tradition of theological formulation. This gift is to be received with thanksgiving, as an extension of God's promise to be with us always and to build his church. My only problem with the co-option of this quote is the imagery. If we are standing on the shoulders of giants, then when they fall we all fall. As Protestants, we stand on the Bible. Because the Bible is inerrant, I don’t need Luther to be. And neither do you.

What is the Inspiration of Scripture?

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The English language recognizes two primary definitions of the verb inspire. The first definition denotes creating a feeling in people that both urges them and gives them the ability to do something. The second definition denotes the act of blowing out, or the exhalation of breath. Both of these definitions aptly describe the dual nature of authorship of the written Word of God. These authors did not write only from their minds or personal interpretations but wrote and spoke “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20). With their own words and hands these authors of Scripture wrote down God’s breathed out Word, which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Because the Bible has the Holy Spirit as its author, a Christian can be certain that it is both divinely inspired–therefore authoritative–and wholly true.

The inspiration of the Holy Spirit means that a Christian can have total confidence in the truthfulness of the words written and events recorded by the authors of Scripture. Because the words of the Bible are inspired, the words of the authors are the very words of God. The question naturally arises, How can fallible men author an infallible document? While the logic of this argument is substantial, it does not account for the superintendence of the Holy Spirit on the authors as they recorded the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit safeguarded the authors and made certain they would not err.

This guidance did not, however, come in the form of an ethereal, ambiguous prodding. The inspiration of the Spirit extended to even the preciseness of the words chosen. For example, in Matthew, when Jesus quotes from Exodus 3:6 and Psalm 110:1, He makes an argument for His deity by nuancing the present tense of “I AM,” (Matthew 22:32, cf. Exodus 3:6) and by emphasizing the possessive suffix of Psalm 110:1 (Matthew 22:43-45). Jesus teaches His audience and the later reader that every word of Scripture is significant when He reveals His deity simply by stressing the precision of a verb and a suffix. From this one can surmise that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the authors was not limited to assisting them in stating propositional truth claims but pervaded their writing, even to the point of the nuances of their verbs.

One can accept God’s Word as inspired only after experiencing regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Even though a Christian apologetic can fend off the flaming arrows of the evil one, human reason can never convince someone of the inspiration of the Word of God. On this Calvin wrote, “The testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.”[1] If the Spirit alone illuminates the mind of the unregenerate to see the truth of the gospel, how then can human reason convince them to accept the testimony about Him? Explaining the divine inspiration of the Word to a person whose heart is hostile to the things of God is as futile as describing color to a blind man. This, however, does not mean that the arguments for divine inspiration are moot. Through the Scriptures, God commands His people to be prepared to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:25). To assume that defending the faith does not equate to defending the Scriptures is to betray one’s true sentiments, as the distinction then is wrongly drawn between God and His Word. Furthermore, one cannot defend God but not His Word since all salvific knowledge of Christ is found only in the Scriptures.

By God’s testimony, Christians believe the Word of God to be fully and absolutely inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In the Old Testament, God spoke to His people through the mouths of the prophets (Luke 1:70). Their words and writings, however, were not wholly their own, for they spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16). The psalmist, David, declared, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). But in these last days, God no longer communicates through the mouths of the prophets, for He has spoken by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). It was this Son who taught that all of the Scriptures bear one over-arching meta-message: the entirety of Scripture testifies about Him (John 5:39). Hence, “the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose Word it is.”[2]


[1]John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. Mcneill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, paperback (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1:79.

[2]Ibid., 78.

What Has Been Is What Will Be...

Spurgeon640.960This selection is from an article written by Charles Spurgeon speaking out against "modern thought" in the life of British Nonconformist churches of the 19th century. Today, just like in Spurgeon's day, many denominations that seek to embrace "modern thought" or adapt to the current cultural ethic at the expense of biblical orthodoxy find themselves shrinking in size, even though the message they preach is a popular one. Why is this? Spurgeon's last line is hauntingly telling:

A new religion has been initiated which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion. being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as tho old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for Gospel preaching. 'l'he Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them!... The fact is, that many would like to unite church and stage, cards and prayer, dancing and sacraments. If we are powerless to stem this torrent, we can at least warn men of its existence, and entreat them to keep out of it. When the old faith is gone, and enthusiasm for the gospel is extinct, it is no wonder that people seek something else in the way of delight. Lacking bread, they feed on ashes; rejecting the way of the Lord, they run greedily in the path of folly.

C.H. Spurgeon, “Another Word Concerning the Down-Grade”, The Sword and the Trowel (August, 1887), 397-8, emphasis mine.

There is nothing novel about a denial of the Gospel, no matter how inclusive it becomes.

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

- Ecclesiastes 1:9, ESV

Do You *Really* Believe the Bible is Inerrant?

I have been asked this question a number of times. Shockingly, the last few times it has been posed to me, it originated on my side of the fence. More and more I am meeting self-professing Christians, who can sincerely recite the Apostles' Creed, unashamedly scoffing at the idea that the Word of God is in its entirety the Word of God. Rather than bore you with my standard line of questions, I will cite a response from Paul Feinberg’s contribution to Geisler’s compilation– Inerrancy.

While the evangelical who believes the Bible is not inerrant may want to free us from the burden of defending the historic accuracy of the accounts of Pekah’s reign because he cannot believe the accounts, the unbeliever cannot accept the historical nature of a resurrection. Why defend one and not the other? Certainly, the latter is much more difficult to accept than the former.

He goes on to write:

Suppose for a moment that I am an unbeliever. You have just told me that the Bible has numerous inaccuracies of a historical, scientific, and possibly even ethical nature, but that it is absolutely without error in all of those wonderful, “unbelievable” things about God and heaven.

Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1980), 280-281.

Doesn't the Bible says something about not building your house on sand?