Biblical Inerrancy: Understanding the Doctrine

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Opponents of Christianity routinely attempt to undermine the authority and authenticity of the Bible, and given the cultural climate of contemporary America, it is easy to understand why the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy encounters scrutiny. Unfortunately, few Christians consider the theological, historical, and epistemological importance of biblical inerrancy, thus failing to appreciate the fundamental importance of the doctrine, while simultaneously overlooking the ramifications of denying such propositions. Accordingly, the average Christian cannot articulate the doctrine of inerrancy and actively attempt to avoid discussions regarding the topic.

Acknowledging the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is merely to affirm the supernatural origin of Scripture while recognizing the truthfulness of its teachings.1 While the term inerrancy does not appear within the biblical text, the doctrine results from inductive reasoning based upon a systematic collection of Scriptural data, rather than arbitrary conjecture. One could formulate the argument as follows:

1) The Christian Scriptures are a product of divine revelation.

2) God is omniscient.

3) God’s holiness renders Him incapable of prorogating falsehood.

4) Therefore, the Bible is truthful in all that it affirms.2

Regarding the first premise, the Bible explicitly declares its authority—claiming to be the very words of God.3 Expounding upon this concept, theologian John Frame comments, “If Scripture renounced all claim to authority, or even remained neutral on the subject, there would not be much reason for Christians today to claim authority for Scripture.”4 Considering the textual data holistically, it becomes clear that the biblical writers recognize both the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. Moreover, Jesus appears to accept the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, routinely referencing the Old Testament and using it as a basis for His teaching and confirmation of His Messiahship.5

Accordingly, one can conclude either 1) Jesus is correct in His authentication of Scripture, 2) Jesus mistakenly affirms the validity of the Scriptures, although they are false, or 3) Jesus knows the Scriptures are false, yet nevertheless proclaims their authority. If either of the second two options is true, then Christianity crumbles, as Jesus exhibits fallibility and sin, thereby disqualifying Himself as the Messiah. However, if Jesus rightly affirms the validity of Scripture, then the self-witness of the Bible fundamentally receives verification.

The second and third premises do not seem controversial, as God’s self-revelation remains clear in depicting Himself as omniscient, virtuous, and incapable of promulgating fabrications.6 Consequently, if the premises are true, then it seems the conclusion follows, forcing the intellectually honest Christian to acknowledge the doctrine of inerrancy. Furthermore, believers must understand the fundamental importance of the doctrine—as well as the theological and practical ramifications resulting from its denial—and must seek to educate themselves on such issues adequately.

 

 

 

Footnotes

  1. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology: Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 169; 188.
  2. It is vital to note the importance of proper hermeneutical methodologies in theological studies, as inerrancy only applies to Scripture that is “correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given.” Moreover, textual criticism is a crucial aspect as well, since the contemporary “copies and the translations are also the Word of God, to the degree that they preserve the original message.” See Erickson, in Christian Theology: Third Edition, 201-202, 209.
  3. In the Old Testament alone, the Bible employs phrases such as, “Thus says the Lord,” and “God said,” no less than 450 times. Moreover, the Bible claims that the Holy Spirit has spoken through prophets, and the Scriptures record these revelations (cf. 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Samuel 23:2, 1 Kings 22:24, 2 Chronicles 20:14). Also, see H. D. McDonald, “Bible, Authority of,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 153.
  4. John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2010), 440.
  5. Cf. Mark 10:19; 11:17; 12:26; Luke 11:30; 22:37; John 3:14; 6:31.
  6. Cf. 1 John 3:20; Psalm 94:11; 139:1-16; Proverbs 3:19; Romans 11:33-36; Ezekiel 11:5; Isaiah 46:10; Numbers 23:19; 1 Peter 1:25; Psalm 100:5; 145:18; Matthew 5:18; Hebrews 10:23; 6:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:13; John 1:17; 9:42-47; 17:17; 18:37; 1 Peter 1:22; Titus 1:2; Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 65:16.

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