Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | September 3, 2006

Inspiration (Inerrant and Infallible)

Today we would like to conclude our discussion of Article 3 with a brief review of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  Since God is perfect, infallible and without any error, we would expect that His inspired word to men would manifest these same attributes.  As Scripture is the inspired word of God and our only rule for faith and practice we must uphold it to be without any errors.  The terms inerrancy and infallibility are attributes that the Scriptures possess as Dr. RC Sproul writes in the following:      

In addition to affirming the Bible’s infallibility, Reformed theology describes the Bible as inerrant.  Infallibility means that something cannot err, while inerrancy means that it does not err.  Infallibility describes ability or potential.  It describes something that cannot happen. Inerrancy describes actuality. (1)

Apparently, some Evangelical Protestants have struggled with affirming the Scriptures as being inerrant.  Sproul goes on to point out that the term “inerrancy” has a negative connotation for some due to its close relation to its identification with Fundamentalists.  He goes on to indicate that infallibility is a much more accepted term, however concludes that this “hair splitting” over terms may be a disingenuous: 

To escape guilt by associated with anti-intellectual circles, some have retreated from the term inerrancy and taken refuge in the term infallibility.  If in the process infallibility is redefined to mean something less than inerrancy, however, then the shift in nomenclature is a dishonest subterfuge. (2)

Sproul infers that this may be an attempt to profit from the equivocation of the term infallibility to advance a particular agenda.  Nonetheless, some modern day scholars are apparently embarrassed to affirm the doctrine of inerrancy in light of apparent contradictions within Scripture.  For example, in Matthew 13:31-33 the claim that the mustard seed is the smallest seed is a common target for them.  Science has clearly demonstrated that this is not an accurate statement and there are many smaller seeds that exist in the world.  How about this criticism? Should apparent contradictions such as these diminish the Scriptures status of inerrancy?  Well, they should have picked a better example, such as John 10:7, where Jesus claims to be a door.  Obviously, a certain license is taken by the style of language that is used within the Scriptures.  It is extremely important for the readers of Scripture to take this into account.  On the other hand, denying inerrancy while affirming infallibility is an example of affirming a contradiction.  How can you affirm the Scriptures cannot err, yet deny that they do not err? There must be some motivation or agenda, which drives a segment of Christianity to deny the inerrancy of Scripture.  My fear is that it may be to allow the unbridled subjectivism of Scripture to continue.  Or as Luther would say, to enable the ability of the “wax nose” to be shaped in whatever way they please.  However, the orthodox continue to affirm an inerrant Scripture as is stated in the following by BB Warfield: 

The Church, then, has held from the beginning that the Bible is the Word of God in such a sense that its words, though written by men and bearing indelibly impressed upon them the marks of their human origin, were written, nevertheless, under such an influence of the Holy Ghost as to be also the words of God, the adequate expression of His mind and will.  It has always recognized that this conception of co-authorship implies that the Spirit’s superintendence extends to the choice of words by the human authors (verbal inspiration), and preserves its product from everything presupposed in and asserted for Scripture by the Biblical writers (inerrancy). (3)

An inerrant Scripture is a critical component to the hermeneutic known as the “analogy of faith”, where we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.  This principle in understanding the Scriptures relies on the fact that there are no errors or contradictions in Scripture.  Thus, they may be relied upon to have the clear interpret the unclear.  For example, our understanding of the Trinity (the-solution-to-the-problem) is where we allow the clear teachings of Scripture to shape our understanding of the unclear.  This all stem from the affirmation that there are no contradictions within Scripture.  BB Warfield affirms this belief in the following:    

We are again making no new affirmation but only looking from a slightly different angle upon the same proposition with which have been dealing from the first, when we emphasize next the fact, that the state of the case being as we have found it, we approach the study of the so-called “phenomena” of the Scriptures contain no errors, and that any “phenomena” apparently inconsistent with their inerrancy are so in appearance only: presumption the measure of which is just the whole amount and weight of evidence that the New Testament writers are trustworthy as teachers of doctrine. (4)

May the rest of your Lord’s Day be blessed and refreshing.  In our next entry we will begin to review Article 4 and the Canon of Scripture. 

1.  Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, p 48 (Emphasis His)

2.  Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, p 48-49 (Emphasis His)  

3.  BB Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration, New York:  Oxford University Press reprinted by Baker Book House Company 2003, p 173

4.  BB Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration, New York:  Oxford University Press reprinted by Baker Book House Company 2003, p 214 

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Responses

  1. […] It is important to emphasize that the confession states the “Scriptures fully contain the will of God” and all that we need to know concerning salvation are contained within it.  That is the inerrant, infallible (inspiration-inerrant-and-infallible), canonical books (the-canon-all-required-books-are-included), which carry the authority (whos-to-say) to govern the life of the Church and the believer.  If we are to understand that the Scriptures are sufficient or complete then all the special-revelation has reached its culmination (the-nature-of-special-revelation-progressive) after a period of progressive epochs. Although, we affirm that the nature of special revelation is progressive it does not follow that it must continue to be improved to our day.  No, the progress nature has reached a culmination in the compilation of the New Testament as Francis Turretin states in his Institutes as follows:  If the Old Testament was sufficient, then so much the more the Old and New together.  The sufficiency of the Old Testament for its time does not prove the superfluousness of the New, for as the age of the church varies, the grade of revelation also varies; not that it becomes more perfect as to substance of doctrines, but only as to the circumstances and their clearer manifestation.  If the New Testament was added to the Old, it does not follow that another can be added to the New because now the canon of Scripture is perfect in every way, not only as to the substance of matters of faith, but also as to the mode and degree of revelation which we can have in this life.  2.16.17 (Emphasis Mine) […]


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