What inerrancy is not…

Keynote converger and Southwestern trustee — not to mention Criswell College and Southeastern Seminary alumnus — the Rev. Anthony George of Aloma Baptist Church in Orlando, FL, was quite concerned in his address to the Joshua Convergence that doctrinal fellowship with fellow inerrantists could only exist when the definition of inerrancy did not “die the death of a thousand qualifications.”

As an inerrantist who affirms without reservation the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I found this statement to be long on pulpit theatrics and short on careful reason. Any person comfortable with the English language can see that the Chicago Statement is just as concerned to qualify what is not meant by inerrancy as it is to avow what is meant. Consider the following excerpts from the statement:

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

We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations (BFM2000?) have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

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.

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.

We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects of contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings. (Interesting that it denies normative revelation, and not any revelation altogether. Does the Chicago Statement allow for the continuation of the gift of prophecy, tongues and their interpretation, etc.? I would guess so, since Wayne Grudem, among others, signed the document.)

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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 furhter deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

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 the material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

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

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

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

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

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

We deny that such a 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.

The simple fact is that inerrancy is a complicated term, heavy with theological nuance, that requires lengthy description about what it means and does not mean for those who employ it confessionally. My NKJV is not inerrant. Your NIV is not inerrant. Lifeway’s Holman Christian Standard is not inerrant. The Baptist Faith & Message is certainly not inerrant, and neither is the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy inerrant.

I am not discomfited by fellow believers who are themselves uncomfortable using the term “inerrant” because of its complex and necessary theological qualifications or its heavy political baggage. I do not dare suggest that a person has to use the term “inerrant” to describe his or her view of biblical authority. I choose to use the term only because I cannot think of another term that conveys my epistemological confession, yet I am fully aware that the term is not self-explanatory. It is a term, however, that is easily injected into the vocabulary of amateur theologians who possess neither the wisdom to qualify its meaning nor the humility to employ it cautiously.

The Chicago Statement does not suggest that a person must use the term “inerrant” in order to maintain a belief in scriptural authority consistent with it. For this reason, I have found it useful to listen to a man’s description of his view, rather than contenting myself with his usage of a term found nowhere in extant manuscripts of inerrant texts. Likewise, there are certainly those who use the term “inerrant” with every breath, but have little appreciation for the actual lexicography that gives the term its definition.

I believe, therefore, that men who insist that their fellow believers use the term inerrancy in order to maintain Christian fellowship and shared missionary enterprise are using the Bible to accomplish something quite unbiblical: the unnecessary division of the Body of Christ. Such men are, in the estimation of the Apostle Paul, those who “quarrel about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction.”

One final question: Since when did “God-breathed” not suffice to describe one’s view of Scripture? It certainly seemed sufficient for the Apostle Paul.

2 thoughts on “What inerrancy is not…

  1. Amen…

    If it wasn’t for the people that throw the term around so often and so loosely, I might use it myself. Instead, I stay away from it, not wanting to touch it with a “ten foot pole.” I like the Chicago definition, went thru it in seminary. But, so many people use it as a political club, that I just can’t do it.

    Tim Dahl

  2. I’ve always thought of statements like the Chicago Statement to be confessional in nature. It expresses what we believe about the Bible, and is not a commentary on what the Bible says about itself. Paul says the scripture is God-breathed. Peter says that scripture was the product of men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Both of those things tell me that I can trust the contents to be the things that God wants me to know about himself and his redemptive plan, a sufficient revelation.

    The “complex and necessary theological qualifications and heavy political baggage” associated with the term “inerrancy” is exactly the reason I am uncomfortable using it. I also understand the consequences of not using the term.

    Of course, those modern translations that you mention are not inerrant. That’s why we have the KJV, right? ;)

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