May 7, 2014

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

by Mike Riccardi

Inerrancy and the Prophetic WordLast week, Nate drew attention to the 2015 Shepherds’ Conference Summit, which will be devoted to understanding and defending the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. As we anticipate much conversation related to inerrancy to take place between now and then, I thought it would be helpful to post the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, originally published in 1978, in its entirety.

The CSBI has been a key point of reference in the inerrancy debate, clearly spelling out what its signers believed about the integrity and authority of Scripture, and why they believed “inerrancy” was a necessary designation to use.  Among the original signers were  James Montgomery Boice, John Frame, John Gerstner, Carl F. H. Henry, D. James Kennedy, John MacArthur, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, and John Wenham. (A complete list of the signatories is available here.) The statement also was the frame of reference for the recent book, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy.

Given its great importance to the discussion, I’m surprised at how many people I’ve spoken to about this issue who have heard of the statement but have never actually read it. For this reason, I’ve reproduced the statement in its entirety, which includes a preface, a summary statement, articles of affirmation and denial, and an exposition explaining the framers’ intent. It’s an extremely edifying read, and includes some things that many might be surprised to see. Let us know what you think in the comment thread!

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PREFACE

The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian Church in this and every age. Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word. To stray from Scripture in faith or conduct is disloyalty to our Master. Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.

The following Statement affirms this inerrancy of Scripture afresh, making clear our understanding of it and warning against its denial. We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word that marks true Christian faith. We see it as our timely duty to make this affirmation in the face of current lapses from the truth of inerrancy among our fellow Christians and misunderstanding of this doctrine in the world at large.

This Statement consists of three parts: a Summary Statement, Articles of Affirmation and Denial, and an accompanying Exposition. It has been prepared in the course of a three-day consultation in Chicago. Those who have signed the Summary Statement and the Articles wish to affirm their own conviction as to the inerrancy of Scripture and to encourage and challenge one another and all Christians to growing appreciation and understanding of this doctrine. We acknowledge the limitations of a document prepared in a brief, intensive conference and do not propose that this Statement be given creedal weight. Yet we rejoice in the deepening of our own convictions through our discussions together, and we pray that the Statement we have signed may be used to the glory of our God toward a new reformation of the Church in its faith, life and mission.

We offer this Statement in a spirit, not of contention, but of humility and love, which we propose by God’s grace to maintain in any future dialogue arising out of what we have said. We gladly acknowledge that many who deny the inerrancy of Scripture do not display the consequences of this denial in the rest of their belief and behavior, and we are conscious that we who confess this doctrine often deny it in life by failing to bring our thoughts and deeds, our traditions and habits, into true subjection to the divine Word.

We invite response to this Statement from any who see reason to amend its affirmations about Scripture by the light of Scripture itself, under whose infallible authority we stand as we speak. We claim no personal infallibility for the witness we bear, and for any help that enables us to strengthen this testimony to God’s Word we shall be grateful.

I. SUMMARY STATEMENT

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited of disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

II. ARTICLES OF AFFIRMATION AND DENIAL

Note: the titles of the articles do not appear in the original. I’ve added them as a help for navigation and retention.

Article I: Scripture is the Ultimate Authority

We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.

We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.

Article II: Scripture is the Norming Norm

We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.

We deny that church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

Article III: Scripture is Revelation

We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.

We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

Article IV: Language is an Adequate Medium for Communicating Divine Truth

We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.

We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration.

Article V: Progressive Revelation

We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.

We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.

Article VI: Plenary Verbal Inspiration

We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.

We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.

Article VII: Inspiration and Superintendence

We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.

We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

Article VIII: Concurrence

We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

Article IX: Divine Inspiration Protects against Human Error

We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.

We deny that the finitude or falseness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.

Article X: The Autographa and Derived Inspiration

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

Article XI: Infallibility Necessitates Inerrancy

We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.

We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished but not separated.

Article XII: Exhaustive Inerrancy

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Article XIII: The Qualification concerning Biblical Phenomena

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Article XIV: There are No Contradictions in Scripture

We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved violate the truth claims of the Bible.

Article XV: Inspiration Necessitates Inerrancy; Jesus’ View of Scripture

We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.

We deny that Jesus’ teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.

Article XVI: The Historic Position of the Church

We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church’s faith throughout its history.

We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.

Article XVII: The Spirit’s Testimony through, not apart from, the Scripture

We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.

We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.

Article XVIII: Grammatical-Historical vs. Historical-Critical

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads or relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims of authorship.

Article XIX: Inerrancy Rejected at Great Peril

We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.

We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

III. EXPOSITION

Our understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy must be set in the context of the broader teachings of Scripture concerning itself. This exposition gives an account of the outline of doctrine from which our Summary Statement and Articles are drawn.

A. Creation, Revelation and Inspiration

The God, who formed all things by his creative utterances and governs all things by His Word of decree, made mankind in His own image for a life of communion with Himself, on the model of the eternal fellowship of loving communication within the Godhead. As God’s image-bearer, man was to hear God’s Word addressed to him and to respond in the joy of adoring obedience. Over and above God’s self-disclosure in the created order and the sequence of events within it, human beings from Adam on have received verbal messages from Him, either directly, as stated in Scripture, or indirectly in the form of part or all of Scripture itself.

When Adam fell, the Creator did not abandon mankind to final judgment, but promised salvation and began to reveal Himself as Redeemer in a sequence of historical events centering on Abraham’s family and culminating in the life, death, resurrection, present heavenly ministry and promised return of Jesus Christ. Within this frame God has from time to time spoken specific words of judgment and mercy, promise and command, to sinful human beings, so drawing them into a covenant relation of mutual commitment between Him and them in which He blesses them with gifts of grace and they bless Him in responsive adoration. Moses, whom God used as mediator to carry his words to His people at the time of the exodus, stands at the head of a long line of prophets in whose mouths and writings God put His words for delivery to Israel. God’s purpose in this succession of messages was to maintain His covenant by causing His people to know His name—that is, His nature—and His will both of precept and purpose in the present and for the future. This line of prophetic spokesmen from God came to completion in Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Word, who was Himself a prophet—more that a prophet, but not less—and in the apostles and prophets of the first Christian generation. When God’s final and climactic message, His word to the world concerning Jesus Christ, had been spoken and elucidated by those in the apostolic circle, the sequence of revealed messages ceased. Henceforth the Church was to live and know God by what He had already said, and said for all time.

At Sinai God wrote the terms of His covenant on tablets of stone as His enduring witness and for lasting accessibility, and throughout the period of prophetic and apostolic revelation He prompted men to write the messages given to and through them, along with celebratory records of His dealings with His people, plus moral reflections on covenant life and forms of praise and prayer for covenant mercy. The theological reality of inspiration in the producing of Biblical documents corresponds to that of spoken prophecies: Although the human writers’ personalities were expressed in what they wrote, the words were divinely constituted. Thus what Scripture says, God says; its authority is His authority, for He is its ultimate Author, having given it through the minds and words of chosen and prepared men who in freedom and faithfulness “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). Holy Scripture must be acknowledged as the Word of God by virtue of its divine origin.

B. Authority: Christ and the Bible

Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is the Word made flesh, our Prophet, Priest and King, is the ultimate Mediator of God’s communication to man, as He is of all God’s gifts of grace. The revelation He gave was more that verbal; He revealed the Father by His presence and His deeds as well. Yet His words were crucially important; for He was God, He spoke from the Father, and His words will judge all men at the last day.

As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ is the central theme of Scripture. The Old Testament looked ahead to Him; the New Testament looks back to His first coming and on to His second. Canonical Scripture is the divinely inspired and therefore normative witness to Christ. No hermeneutic, therefore, of which the historical Christ is not the focal point is acceptable. Holy Scripture must be treated as what it essentially is–the witness of the Father to the incarnate Son.

It appears that the Old Testament canon had been fixed by the time of Jesus. The New Testament canon is likewise now closed, inasmuch as no new apostolic witness to the historical Christ can now be borne. No new revelation (as distinct from Spirit-given understanding of existing revelation) will be given until Christ comes again. The canon was created in principle by divine inspiration. The Church’s part was to discern the canon that God had created, not to devise one of its own.

The word ‘canon,’ signifying a rule of standard, is a pointer to authority, which means the right to rule and control. Authority in Christianity belongs to God in His revelation, which means, on the one hand, Jesus Christ, the living Word, and, on the other hand, Holy Scripture, the written Word. But the authority of Christ and that of Scripture are one. As our Prophet, Christ testified that Scripture cannot be broken. As our Priest and King, He devoted His earthly life to fulfilling the law and the prophets, even dying in obedience to the words of messianic prophecy. Thus as He saw Scripture attesting Him and His authority, so by His own submission to Scripture He attested its authority. As He bowed to His Father’s instruction given in His Bible (our Old Testament), so He requires His disciples to do—not, however, in isolation but in conjunction with the apostolic witness to Himself that He undertook to inspire by his gift of the Holy Spirit. So Christians show themselves faithful servants of their Lord by bowing to the divine instruction given in the prophetic and apostolic writings that together make up our Bible.

By authenticating each other’s authority, Christ and Scripture coalesce into a single fount of authority. The Biblically-interpreted Christ and the Christ-centered, Christ-proclaiming Bible are from this standpoint one. As from the fact of inspiration we infer that what Scripture says, God says, so from the revealed relation between Jesus Christ and Scripture we may equally declare that what Scripture says, Christ says.

C. Infallibility, Inerrancy, Interpretation

Holy Scripture, as the inspired Word of God witnessing authoritatively to Jesus Christ, may properly be called ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant.’ These negative terms have a special value, for they explicitly safeguard crucial positive truths.

‘Infallible’ signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.

Similarly, ‘inerrant’ signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.

We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of his penman’s milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise.

So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: Since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.

The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (for example, the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.

Inasmuch as all Scripture is the product of a single divine mind, interpretation must stay within the bounds of the analogy of Scripture and eschew hypotheses that would correct one Biblical passage by another, whether in the name of progressive revelation or of the imperfect enlightenment of the inspired writer’s mind.

Although Holy Scripture is nowhere culture-bound in the sense that its teaching lacks universal validity, it is sometimes culturally conditioned by the customs and conventional views of a particular period, so that the application of its principles today calls for a different sort of action.

D. Skepticism and Criticism

Since the Renaissance, and more particularly since the Enlightenment, world views have been developed that involve skepticism about basic Christian tenets. Such are the agnosticism that denies that God is knowable, the rationalism that denies that He is incomprehensible, the idealism that denies that He is transcendent, and the existentialism that denies rationality in His relationships with us. When these un- and anti-Biblical principles seep into men’s theologies at presuppositional level, as today they frequently do, faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture becomes impossible.

E. Transmission and Translation

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appears to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.

Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autograph. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

F. Inerrancy and Authority

In our affirmation of the authority of Scripture as involving its total truth, we are consciously standing with Christ and His apostles, indeed with the whole Bible and with the main stream of Church history from the first days until very recently. We are concerned at that casual, inadvertent and seemingly thoughtless way in which a belief of such far-reaching importance has been given up by so many in our day.

We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible that God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one’s critical reasoning and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further.

We affirm that what Scripture says, God says. May He be glorified.

Amen and Amen.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • kevin2184

    Thanks Mike for posting this.

  • Steelwheels

    How do you see the ongoing discussion between Geisler et al. and those like Licona, Bird, and Blomberg developing? I sort of follow the discussion but there seems to be a lot of noise but not much substance to their discussions. Seems like a little clarity is much needed.

    • I’m with you, Steelwheels. I don’t think either side is listening to each other very well, but I do believe there is a substantive disagreement. Sometimes in these situations, the two sides can talk past each other while saying the same thing. In this case, I think they’re talking past each other, but there really is a substantive difference between them.

      I hope you’ll pray with me that the 2015 Shepherds’ Conference Summit helps the church chart a faithful way forward on this issue for generations to come.

  • pastorandylynch

    Thanks for sharing this Mike.

  • Dan Phillips

    Franky Schaeffer signed it. Yikes.

    • Good catch, Dan. I must have read, “Schaeffer, Fran-” and just filled in “Francis.” Yikes indeed. A warning to all of us to take heed that we might not fall.

  • Brad

    I find these kind of statements helpful at a certain level, but they don’t really answer the deeper questions people have about the Bible. I think Bart Ehrman is so popular because he writes in an engaging way and provides thoughtful answer to questions people actually have about the Bible.

    On a personal level, my biggest struggle has been how to defend the idea that the Bible is inerrant only in the autographa, which we don’t have. I can’t really explain how we can claim inerrancy if at the same time we recognize that the only copies we have contain errors.

    God must not be too concerned with the preciseness or perfection of language, because he has only communicated to us in imprecise and imperfect language. So, I can see how the Bible I read can be authoritative and true without being inerrant.

    • Brad, as time goes by, your lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture only shows itself to be more and more in line with the unbelief and skepticism of classic liberalism. I worry for you, friend.

      I can’t really explain how we can claim inerrancy if at the same time we recognize that the only copies we have contain errors.

      That’s fine, but at least openly acknowledge this as your own failure, and not necessarily the failure of Scripture or the doctrine of inerrancy. Scripture is not to be impugned because you don’t understand the discipline of textual criticism.

      In fact, it’s precisely because the only copies we have (a mere 5,600+ of the Greek New Testament, by the way, and nearly twenty thousand more in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and Aramaic; and that’s just the NT!) have errors, that we can claim inerrancy. If every manuscript that we had agreed perfectly with one another, we would have to wonder if there was a time at some point that the originals had been corrupted and reproduced according to a standard text. If that were so, we’d have to trust whoever did that reproduction that they were being honest and accurate. This is precisely the problem the Muslims have, since they have what’s called a controlled transmission of their manuscript tradition.

      But it’s precisely because we have so many manuscripts from so many geographical locations with so many variants that we are able to discern what the original readings must have and could not have said. A full explanation of textual criticism is beyond the scope of the comment thread, but I would highly recommend that you get a copy of the second edition of James White’s The King James Only Controversy. You can read the most relevant section on Google Books for free, pages 79-88, here. You should also see chapter 7 of White’s Scripture Alone for a very elementary explanation of how textual variants in manuscripts does not impugn the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. You might also benefit from a thorough discussion of the inerrancy of the autographa by Greg Bahnsen, here.

      God must not be too concerned with the preciseness or perfection of language, because he has only communicated to us in imprecise and imperfect language.

      This is simply the classic heterodox bibliology, that views God as so weak so as to be unable to overcome the finitude of human language to communicate what He has desired to His people. And it is also a non-sequitir and false on its face. God charged His Spirit with the task of so superintending the minds and thoughts of 40 different human authors over the span of 1500 years — without overriding their own personalities so as to make them mere automatons — that what they wrote of their own volition was precisely what God wanted to communicate to His people for all times and ages (2 Pet 1:20-21). All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16), the words of the Lord are pure words (Ps 12:6), and every word of God is tested (Prov 30:5). In the light of these passages, your comment is nothing short of blasphemous.

      So, I can see how the Bible I read can be authoritative and true without being inerrant.

      I’m not sure where you think you’ve proved this in your comment, but you haven’t. This statement is also false on its face. If your Bible is not inerrant in principle, then there is absolutely nothing in it whose accuracy cannot be called into question at some point or another. How could you distinguish from the parts that are in error versus the parts that aren’t? The only answer to that question is, “By my own authority.” Whether it’s subjective criteria of what just seems right and what doesn’t, or so-called “scientific” evidence interpreted according to rationalist presuppositions, the authority lies with you. And therein is human reason exalted over God’s revelation.

      I strongly recommend you carefully research the materials I’ve referenced here, Brad. And it might be best to start with Kevin DeYoung’s recent talk at Together for the Gospel. In it, he shows that Jesus disagrees with your view of Scripture.

      • Archepoimen follower

        Mike,
        I wholeheartedly agree with the truth that we in fact do have the original Word somewhere within the manuscript tradition and that this why textual criticism is both vital and necessary for those of us who hold to inerrant bible. However, it is the insistence in statements like the one above, that inerrancy only pertains to the autographs that causes the confusion in the first place, none of my translations or editions may have only the original Word in their text but this I know, the original is available today within the manuscripts available!

        • Right, but the point is that the very best manuscript tradition presents a 99%+ accuracy rate. That’s an absurdly high number (as this table illustrates), so much so that the difference is negligible. And of course, that manuscript tradition is available to the translators of all of our modern translations.

          So, while we have to affirm the principle of derived inspiration (see Article X above; we don’t believe translations are inspired or inerrant), it’s not that we’re saying that the people of God don’t have the Word of God in the NASB or ESV or NKJV, etc. The statement in the exposition above is true and valid:

          No translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autograph. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

          • Archepoimen follower

            Agreed, it is just that in the attempt to be precise, we give Brad and millions of others the impression that the Word ceased to be inerrant when the originals were no longer available. As both a Pastor and textual critic, I affirm on a consistent basis the truth that God,’s very Word in all its original Glory is available today. Thanks for your commitment to His Word!

          • …in the attempt to be precise, we give … the impression that the Word ceased to be inerrant when the originals were no longer available.

            That’s a good observation, and a good reminder to communicate clearly what we’re saying and not saying. For that, I think we’ve been given a good example in the framers of the CSBI.

            Thanks for your comments, AF!

      • brad

        Thanks for your reply, Mike!

        “But it’s precisely because we have so many manuscripts from so many geographical locations with so many variants that we are able to discern what the original readings must have and could not have said.”

        It seems to me that we can tell what the original readings must have said and could not have said, but we cannot say that we have access to the inerrant autographs. In other words, the differences in the manuscripts don’t radically change the meaning of any text, but we cannot claim that anyone living today knows the exact, inerrant text of Scripture with 100% certainty.

        Let me try to put the discussion on a more practical and every-day sort of level.

        My two practical questions are:

        1) Is the ESV Bible that I read every day inerrant?

        2) Does anyone know with 100% accuracy what the autographa says?

        I do not think we can honestly answer either of those questions with a “Yes.” At the same time we can discern the basic meaning of each text of Scripture and it can remain authoritative in our lives.

        • It seems to me that we can tell what the original readings must have said and could not have said, but we cannot say that we have access to the inerrant autographs. In other words, the differences in the manuscripts don’t radically change the meaning of any text, but we cannot claim that anyone living today knows the exact, inerrant text of Scripture with 100% certainty.

          What you’re talking about here is knowing with 100% certainty whether in one portion of his letters Paul wrote “in Christ” or “in Him.” It’s precisely because the doctrine of inerrancy doesn’t claim to settle that dispute that Article 10 is written. So your two questions are moot. If Paul’s original letter had either of those alternatives, Scripture is still rightly said to be inerrant, as it does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact/reality. So again: Scripture’s inerrancy is not affected by copyist errors or manuscript variants.

          But there are so-called scholars who use the very arguments you’re making to argue that Scripture does contain errors of fact, so that there are certain details in Scripture that might actually be contrary to fact, but, “Hey, it doesn’t matter, since we can discern the basic meaning of each text of Scripture.” Bultmann called it demythologizing the text to find the “kernel of truth.” There’s a universe of difference between that and textual criticism, and it’s unwise and sloppy to present those as if they’re the same thing.

          • brad

            So how would you answer these two questions (perhaps something more than a “yes/no” answer or “those questions are moot” and something less than a technical explanation or link to other sources)?

            1. Is the ESV Bible that I read every day inerrant? Why or why not?

            2. Does anyone know with 100% accuracy what the autographa says?

            My best answers are as follows:

            1) No, my ESV Bible is not inerrant because it is a human translation of an original manuscript that nobody has access to. And God has not promised to see that His word would be preserved perfectly and without error in the translation process.

            2) No, nobody knows the words to the autographa with 100% certainty because 1) nobody has the original copies of any of the books of the Bible and 2) there are two many variants and too many differences of opinion about which variants might be the original.

      • brad

        “All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16), the words of the Lord are pure words (Ps 12:6), and every word of God is tested (Prov 30:5). In the light of these passages, your comment is nothing short of blasphemous.”

        My point is that God has revealed himself to us in a fallen world and in human language that has to be translated on multiple levels for us to understand it. His revelation has to travel from his mind to the human author to Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic to a thousand different languages across thousands of years. That seems very imprecise and imperfect, yet it works!

        • It only works because every word of God is pure, tested, and wholly true. That is guaranteed by the perfection of God Himself, and that’s exactly what 2 Peter 1:20-21 says. Not one word of Scripture is a matter of a fallen human being’s fallen interpretation through his human language in a fallen world, because not one word of Scripture was ever made by an act of human will, but “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

          Whatever error or fallenness or finitude might be inherent in human language in a fallen world is overridden by the sovereign inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

          And to the extent that any translation accurately represents the original, it is not imprecise and imperfect. It is God’s own Word. Again, as the statement itself says:

          No translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autograph. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

          • brad

            Please re-read the very first phrase that you quoted from the CSBI:

            “No translation is or can be perfect”

            So I would say that the CSBI is actually saying exactly what I was saying! In other words, we have imperfect translations, but we can still have confidence that we can understand the true meaning of the text!

          • Archepoimen follower

            Brad,
            Your attempt to couch your unwillingness to acknowledge either the perspicuity or inerrancy in language that is similar to the Chicago Statement indicates that at the least that you are actually aware of the underlying issues and realize that by mimicing them, you can continue to sound Evangelical without actually being such. Why not just acknowledge that, regardless of the evidence , you will not be persuaded.

          • brad

            Hey Archepoimen follower,

            I’m not sure what I am! I definitely love the Scriptures and line up with conservative evangelicals on all of the ethical issues taught in Scripture. Liberal Christianity doesn’t appeal to me at all – they seem to twist Scripture from its plain meaning, eradicate the idea of sin, and don’t need a Savior, though I have learned tons from them about tangibly loving others simply because they are made in God’s image.

            The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture totally makes sense to me…I’d fight for that one. But I wouldn’t fight for the inerrancy or the sufficiency of Scripture.

            The doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture seems so difficult to understand and line up with reality, and the scholars are too technical and abstract in their arguments!

            I can see how the Scriptures are sufficient to reveal God’s plan of Redemption to me, but I can’t affirm that Scripture is sufficient for me to live out the Christian life. When Jesus said He was leaving in the book of John, he promised to leave His Spirit, not His Scriptures. So I see God’s Spirit as just as crucial as the Bible in living the Christian life.

            I’m not really that concerned with being “evangelical” or not. I would probably place myself in the missional camp.

            I love the Cripplegate because I learn so much from the writers, but I am not always persuaded by all of their arguments!

            Blessings!

          • Archepoimen follower

            Brad,
            Again, it is interesting, at least to me, that in your understanding that there is a disconnection between the bible and God’s Spirit. This appears to me to be the crux of our differences! Like the framers of the Chicago statement I believe that scripture not only contains God,s Word but is His Word! Additionally, scholars can be difficult to understand, but the comments here have not been. Simply stated, God has been faithful in preserving the original Word in the vast manuscript record even if fallen man has difficulty in recognizing it. The overwhelming majority of variants , as has been clearly pointed out do not affect meaning, thus our English translations while imperfect in some particulars are indeed God’s original Word in fact. May He whose graciousness extends even to me, use these comments to open your eyes to this Truth! Blessings to you as well. Tim

          • So then what were you originally objecting to, if you agree with the CSBI? It seems like the first time you read the quote I reproduced was in my comment, which pretty clearly indicates that you didn’t read the post before commenting, which makes sense of your lack of understanding of the issue.

            Obviously, and as I repeated in my comments, inerrancy is not speaking about copyist errors and manuscript variants. The CSBI framers understood this, such that they wrote the statement you quoted and affirm the full inerrancy of Scripture. And they would not affirm the comments you made earlier about imperfect language and human error, etc. As I said above, to confuse manuscript variants with errancy is to miss the point of the whole discussion. Please take the time to read some of the materials that I’ve provided so that you understand what is and is not being disputed.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Brad, I apologize in advance if I cover some of the same bases as Mike, but I’m surprised that you make a line to Ehrman.

      He doesn’t engage the questions at all, but rather lies about the Bible and stacks his facts in the manner of a conspiracy theorist. He’s popular because his readers have doubt seeking reason, not vice versa.

      Also, the term “error” is often wrongly applied to the scripture when we’re disusing inerrancy. When talking specifically about inerrancy, the term “error” points to an contradiction in content, not a problem in typesetting or grammar or a variant in the textual manuscript tradition. So understanding that, I can say that the ESV I have in my hand is most definitely inerrant.

      As far as I know, nobody has actually reconstructed the autographa with 100% certainty. In unrelated news, I don’t have 100% certainty that you’re not the primitive form of SkyNet that recently popped up on Facebook and started slamming Phil Johnson and Dispensationalism (we always knew SkyNet would be evil, but even that was a surprise).

      We have reasonable conviction, not Cartesian certainty.

      Where this all comes to a front is when people start trying to pit James against Paul, or suggest (like Ehrman) that Mark 2:26 is an example of Mark actually “screwing up” and confusing Abiathar with Ahimelech. The regular challenges to inerrancy that I run into are almost always excuses for not studying the text of the scripture enough to come up with a reasonable explanation of an antinomy.

      Beyond that, the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture isn’t something that we can rationally ascend to via argumentation alone (like any other tenet of Christian belief); it’s something that we come to understand as God grants us understanding of it.

      We believe that God exists because he grants us the ability to believe that. We believe that God supernaturally spoke through human prophets because he grants us the ability to believe that. We believe that those prophets inscripturated their verbal revelation because he grants us the ability to believe that. Inerrancy is simply a logical extension of inspiration, and if you struggle with inerrancy I’d dare suggest that you’re barking up the wrong tree and need to examine Christ’s own view of inspiration.

      • brad

        Thanks for your reply! In the simplest terms, here is where I get lost with the inerrancy argument…

        1) The original manuscripts are God breathed and without error (that makes sense to me).
        2) I have a translation of, not the original manuscripts, but something very close (inerrantists would agree, I think).
        3) The translation process is not God breathed nor without error (inerrantists would agree, I think).
        4) So, in what way is the Bible I read “inerrant”?

        Maybe the problem is with the word “inerrant”, what it means in common language, and how inerrantists use the word differently and have a whole set of complicated presuppositions behind what they are talking about.

        When I think it through, I think I it is most honest to call the Bible I read “trustworthy and reliable.”

        • Brad, you keep asking questions that have been answered for you, but you refuse to devote the time and energy to read and understand those answers. Why should we expect you to treat our next round of answers any differently?

          Before posting any more of your comments, I’m going to ask you to do three things:

          1. Read the original post in its entirety (I hope you’ve already done this, but I have my doubts).
          2. Read pages 79-88 of The King James Only Controversy that I linked to through Google Books above (free),
          3. Listen to Kevin DeYoung’s message from T4G (also free).

          After you’ve done that, I’d like to know:

          1. How have these resources helped to answer your questions?
          2. What, if anything, in DeYoung’s message did you disagree with?
          3. Do you believe that the Bible, when understood properly, affirms anything, even in minor details, that is contrary to fact or reality?

          It will be fruitless to attempt to continue discussion until you’ve taken these good-faith steps to understand the basic issues.

  • tovlogos

    Great piece, Mike — I will reread for the edification it affords. The quest for precision does keep us on our toes.

    “We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.” Agreed. Ephesians 2:8,9, of course. And Amen to 2 Timothy 3:15.

    “…we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences,” Yes, to say the least. The world for 2000 years demonstrates the consequences.

    Mark

    • Lyndon Unger

      Good word Goodword.

      • tovlogos

        HaHa, Blessings Brother Lyndon.

  • Link Hudson

    I notice that ‘sufficiency of scripture’ is used as an argument for cessationism. The problem is that cessationism relies on not being sola scriptura. It relies on [scripture] + [doctrinal statements of this sort] – [statements of scripture that contradict cessationism].

    I think many cessationists and continatuionists could agree on the statement until this point:

    >>We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.<>When God’s final and climactic message, His word to the world concerning Jesus Christ, had been spoken and elucidated by those in the apostolic circle, the sequence of revealed messages ceased. <<

    This is problematic as well. The 'faith' has been revealed and was before the canon was complete. The doctrines of the faith are not to be added to. But to say that revealed messages did not continue is to contradict scripture, including passages like I Corinthians 12 and also the book of Revelation which shows that there will be the blood of prophets in Babylon, and two witnesses who will prophesy and do miracles after the close of the canon. I Corinthians 1:7 indicates that spiritual gifts will continue until the Lord returns.

    • I notice that ‘sufficiency of scripture’ is used as an argument for cessationism. The problem is that cessationism relies on not being sola scriptura. It relies on [scripture] + [doctrinal statements of this sort] – [statements of scripture that contradict cessationism].

      This is simply not true, Link. Cessationists come to their conclusions based upon what Scripture teaches, not Scripture plus doctrinal statements minus Scripture. Don’t conflate deduction from Scripture with being Scripture-plus. And there are no verses of Scripture that contradict cessationism. We get that you believe that this is true, but there’s the rub of the discussion. Simply asserting that cessationism contradicts Scripture is not helpful; it’s a bare assertion and doesn’t move the discussion forward.

      I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘witness of the Spirit.’ But couldn’t the Spirit be at work on the hearts of jungle tribes not exposed to scripture, in convicting of sin?

      Pay attention to the context. The affirmation says, “We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.” The “witness” in view here is the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the truthfulness of God’s Word. People do not come to this conviction apart from the Word of God, because this conviction is a result of the Spirit’s work in regeneration and illumination, which He does not engage in apart from the Word of God (Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23-25). Now, the Word of God could be spoken; i.e., I could read someone passages of Scripture just as much as they could read them themselves. But Scripture is what is involved here.

      And in scripture, there are plenty of examples of people receive revelation that had not yet been recorded in scripture, and references to people receive revelation from God that was NOT included in scripture.

      No one denies this. Cessationists agree that extra-biblical revelation was being given before the canon was complete. But now that the canon has been completed, and the foundation has been laid (cf. Eph 2:20), the sufficient Scriptures fulfill the purpose of continuing revelation (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3-4).

      But to say that revealed messages did not continue is to contradict scripture, including passages like I Corinthians 12 and also the book of Revelation which shows that there will be the blood of prophets in Babylon, and two witnesses who will prophesy and do miracles after the close of the canon.

      I don’t want to get into a long back-and-forth with you on cessationism on an inerrancy thread. I engage it as much as I have because it is worth it to point out that the CSBI was explicitly cessationist. But I am curious as to which verse in 1 Corinthians 12 says that revelation continues past the apostolic period.

      The passage in Revelation is stipulated by cessationists. We understand that the two witnesses will prophesy. But that is a non-normative occurrence that happens after the close of the church age. Perhaps the statement in the CSBI could have had a footnote speaking of this exception, but it’s absent likely because it’s understood by those who are familiar with the discussion. Surely we can all agree, can we not, that the prophesy of the two witnesses after the close of the church age doesn’t establish a normative pattern for the church age.

      I Corinthians 1:7 indicates that spiritual gifts will continue until the Lord returns.

      Continuationists’ appeals to 1 Cor 1:7 always make me laugh. Here’s what the text says:

      …so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…

      I assume you’ll agree that “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” refers to His second coming. Given that, all this text says is that (a) the Corinthians were not lacking in any spiritual gift — all were operative (the cessationist has no problem with the miraculous gifts being operational before the canon was closed); and (b) they are eagerly awaiting Christ’s return. This passage says absolutely nothing about the gifts continuing until Christ’s return.

      Again, Link, this post isn’t strictly about cessationism, but inerrancy, and so I’m not looking to get into a lengthy-back-and forth. But like I said, the topic is fair-game because the CSBI is explicitly cessationist. I think they were onto something when in fighting for the inerrancy and sufficiency and authority of Scripture they included language that excluded Charismatic theology, seeing that such theology was a threat to the Scriptures they were trying to protect.

      So given all that, your comment is legitimate. But now it’s been answered. The one thing that I’d be interested to know, as I mentioned above, is what passage in 1 Corinthians 12 you think teaches that revelation will continue past the foundational apostolic period.

      Thanks for your consideration.

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