You’ve likely seen a preacher raise his leather bound copy of the Bible over his head and say something like, “This book is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God.” If you haven’t, welcome to the South. But how many church members have heard these kinds of powerful words and never understood what the preacher meant? What’s inerrancy? Why does it matter?
In 1978 a group of evangelical theologians who were concerned with preserving a high view of Biblical authority gathered at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare (not the most illustrious location for a church council) to set forth a working statement for evangelicals on the doctrine of inerrancy. The statement, known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy represents one of the clearest, modern examples of what is and is not meant by inerrancy. Read the short summary of their document:
Short Summary of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
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 or 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.
In short, the Scriptures are truthful and trustworthy. When interpreted correctly they neither contain nor do they lead to error. If God is the author of the Scriptures as they claim, then God’s truthful character is present in them as his Word. You can read the Scriptures and read the trustworthy Word of God. The doctrine of inerrancy is an anchor holding us steady in a world that abhors authority. The moment we begin to loosen our grip on the doctrines of inspiration, inerrancy, and the authority of the Scriptures, is the moment we begin assuming the place of God. Inerrancy makes us bow before the God who speaks truth.
The Difference Between Inerrancy and Interpretation
Inerrancy refers to the truthfulness of the content of Scripture. Interpretation refers to the rules and methods for understanding Scripture. Notice that summary point #4 affirms that Scripture is no less without error 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.” Understand that many Christians affirm the entirety of the Chicago Statement on inerrancy while disagreeing over how to interpret the biblical passages on historical events, God’s act of creation, as well as many other passages of Scripture. Don’t confuse inerrancy and interpretation.
An Important Note on Textual Transmission
The truth is that our modern English translations contain errors. Take a deep breath. Don’t freak out. These errors are not serious. We don’t have time to cover this in this post, but you can rest assured that your modern English translation is a well preserved transmission and translation of the original writings. Read what the drafters of the Chicago Statement have to say about this:
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 appear 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.
Any questions? Thoughts? I’d love to chat.