Inerrancy of Scripture – Part Two
This is part of a series on “Theology of the Bible”. For part one on inerrancy, click here.
In the first post on the inerrancy of Scripture, I wanted to focus on a high-level survey of answering what Biblical inerrancy is. I provided some Scriptural arguments along with theological implications as why the doctrine of inerrancy is so vital to Biblical study. For this post, my hope is to provide some additional context around the topic of Biblical inerrancy. I thought the best way to do this would be by briefly discussing several different theories of inerrancy.
As I am sure most of you are aware, not every person who reads the Bible can come to agreement on everything it says or how it should be interpreted. The same can be said about the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. There are different levels and theories of inerrancy that certain people hold to. These seem to fall on a spectrum of how inerrant one believes the Bible to be. Is it inerrant in literally everything it says? Can we believe inerrancy if the Bible was recorded by human authors?
These types of questions have led to the development of the aforementioned theories of inerrancy. The idea of different theories or levels of inerrancy may seem like a strange topic. Would there not just be two choices as far as inerrancy? It either is, or it is not. How can there be different levels of inerrancy? What we will see as we work through these theories is that inerrancy is applied to different aspects of the text. The way inerrancy is applied can affect how the text is understood.
Before we get started, let me briefly comment on how this impacts our theological study. This doctrine is moving from answering the question of if you believe in inerrancy, to what extent do you believe it. If you were to claim a belief in Biblical inerrancy, but only for certain things such as teaching on church or family, but you deny its inerrancy on matters about money, that is going to impact your application.
Going a step further, how does Biblical inerrancy play a factor in our beliefs about Christ? We cannot deny certain aspects of inerrancy and expect our essential doctrines to stand firm. They are affirmed solely by the inerrancy of God, which is expressed through the inerrancy of the Bible. These brief examples help illustrate why understanding inerrancy is essential for proper Biblical theology. With that said, here are a few key theories of inerrancy.
- Absolute or Full Inerrancy – “The Bible, which includes rather detailed treatment of matters both scientific and historical, is fully true.”This would be the furthest one can go as far as how they view inerrancy. The Bible is inerrant in ALL things, not just spiritual, but in empirical matters such as science and history. God fully provided His completely true and infallible message as it relates to humanity in every aspect. One should not separate out matters of faith and matters of science and history. R.C. Sproul wrote, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world.”We can trust that what the Bible recorded happened and it happened as it was recorded. It is fully and absolutely without error, failing, or falsehood.
- Limited Inerrancy – Limited inerrancy is the belief that the Bible “is infallible only when it speaks of faith and practice.”Put another way, limited inerrancy would claim the Bible is only inerrant on matters of faith. Think of the foundational doctrines of Christianity: triune God, salvation through Christ, etc… This view of the Bible is not concerned with any perceived scientific or historical inaccuracies. That is not the reason for the Bible. The reason for the Bible is a matter of faith and how we live out that faith. This is not a denial of inerrancy, but rather a belief that inerrancy is reserved for what matters most.
- Inerrancy of Purpose – This view on inerrancy holds that the Bible “faithfully accomplishes its purpose, which is to bring people into personal fellowship with Christ, not to communicate truths.”It is here we begin to really see a movement away from true inerrancy in the Bible. When compared to full inerrancy, which claims the Bible is true in all things, this claims there are not actual truths but rather a purpose the Bible is working towards. The language in the text is almost a means to the end of accomplishing this purpose. Those who hold to this viewpoint would most likely argue that stating “factual inerrancy” in Scripture is inappropriate in light of its purpose.
- Accommodated Revelation – With this view, any notion of inerrancy is stripped away as one works through the Bible. Accommodated Revelation theory places more emphasis on the human element of the recording Scripture, and thus assumes errors and fallible qualities. Wayne Grudem writes that proponents of this theory “would say that when the Biblical writers were attempting to make a larger point, they sometimes incidentally affirmed some falsehood believed by the people of their time.”While the Biblical authors were attempting to write the Scripture as revelation by God, this theory assumes their own non-revelatory message or presuppositions were included. As such, the Bible cannot be considered inerrant due to the human element. It can though be considered as revelation in certain areas and matters.
- Not inerrant/not revelation – The final theory of inerrancy is really no theory at all. It is the claim the Bible is not inerrant and not revelation. Millard Erickson described it this way, “The Bible contains errors, but these are not the Word of God, they are merely the words of Isaiah, Matthew, or Paul.”In other words, the Bible is a book written by men with no special characteristic, either inerrant, infallible, or revelatory. This theory does recognize the “usefulness” of Scripture in certain aspects, but this is merely from a functional standpoint.
I’m sure you could have guessed this, but what I provided is just a sliver of the discussion around the theories of inerrancy. Consider it a starter kit for entering into the conversation of Biblical inerrancy. There are even some additional theories that fall in between the ones presented, but for the purpose of this post, they were not necessary to cover. I would encourage you to refer to some of the readings I referenced for further independent study over the theories of inerrancy. It is a fascinating topic.
Now though, we are left with the question of “What do we do this information?” I think that you must try and figure out where you fall. This may seem like a trivial thing to do, but it will greatly impact how you approach the text. In their volume on Biblical Interpretation, Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson write, “…we are seekers of truthand…we realize that truth sets free while error enslaves.”Understanding and interpreting the Bible properly is tied to how you view it. We either believe that is the Truth and full of truth or we doubt it. It’d be difficult to have one foot on both sides of this debate.
To illustrate this, let’s briefly look at what happens when you deny inerrancy of the Bible.
- If we deny inerrancy, we inadvertently claim God has misled or provided falsehood to us
- If we deny inerrancy, we begin to question whether God can be fully trusted
- If we deny inerrancy, we make our human minds a higher standard than God’s truth and word
- If we deny inerrancy, we must also say the Bible is wrong in minor details and in doctrinal issues.
As you can see, when we try and pluck at the thread of inerrancy, it can make our entire faith unravel. We must stand firm in our belief that the Bible, in truth, word, action, practice, and all things, is inerrant. There is not a second option. The theories presented were created by men to try and comprehend what inerrancy looks like, but short of full/absolute inerrancy, they fail. And this is because ONLY God understands and is capable of truly inerrant character. He is never in error, never proven false, never failing. We see these same qualities in His word.
The adherence to the inerrancy of the Bible is really a confession. It’s a confession about who God is and how God operates. It is also a confession about how that should impact our lives. R.C. Sproul wrote, “Confession of the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture should lead us to increasing conformity to the image of Christ, which is the God-ordained goal of every Christian.”Understanding that the Bible is fully inerrant is an integral part of how we are sanctified. How we can better know and adhere to God’s design for our lives.
At this point, I think it is only appropriate we let God’s word speak for itself in regard to its absolute inerrancy. This passage is out of Psalm 19:7-10, NRSV:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine fold; sweeter also than honey,and drippings of the honeycomb.
God’s word is perfect, sure, right, clear, pure, enduring, true, righteous, and to be sought after by us. Only something that is free from error, free from failure, and free from falsehood would have that kind of impact on our lives. A proper theology of the Bible begins with confessing its full inerrancy and letting that inform how you approach the rest of the text.
Next post, we will look at the theology of the inspiration of the Bible. This is tied closely to inerrancy, but it focuses on how we received the Bible. How did God move and act in the delivering of His word? As we look at inspiration, we’ll see how it connects to our belief in the doctrine of inerrancy. I am looking forward to continuing this discussion and thank you for taking part in it with me.
Written by Zach Stallings
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rded. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 191.
R.C. Sproul, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine, (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 152.
R.C. Sproul, Everyone is a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology,(Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2014), 31.
Millard Erickson, 192.
Millard Erickson, 192.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 97.
Millard Erickson, 193.
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, An Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology, (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 2011), 59.
Wayne Grudem, pgs. 99-100.
R.C. Sproul, Scripture Alone, pg. 167.