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January 16, 2008

Today brings us to the eighth day of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour. For those who were concerned about the fact that we missed the planned stop at SharperIron, you’ll notice in the schedule below that we’ve added one more date to the tour and we’ll finish up at SharperIron on Monday.

Today I stop by for a visit with the Pyromaniacs. I’ve been reading this blog since it first came into existence—back when Phil Johnson was the only contributor. But, as you may know, Phil eventually decided to rename the blog and to take on a team of people to blog with him. Thus Dan Phillips, Frank Turk and Pecadillo came on the scene. Earlier this week Frank Turk took the opportunity to ask me quite a few questions about the sources I relied on, about my hermeneutic, about the use of humor and levity in discussing serious topics, and about which of the Pyro team is my favorite.

Read my answers here

And here, once again, is where the tour has gone and where it will go in the days ahead…

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 15, 2008

The blog tour for The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment marches on and today makes a stop at Between Two Worlds, the blog of Justin Taylor. Chances are that if you read my blog, you also read Justin’s or are, at the very least, familiar with it. Justin’s site is an indispensable source for news and good links to other resources and it’s a blog I recommend above just about any other.

Here is what Justin asked me:

As the World’s Most Famous Canadian Reformed Blogger, you seek to practice discernment as you critically engage culture and review books. Having now extensively studied the concept of biblical discernment, I wonder what implications you think this has for “discernment blogging”? In part, I’m thinking of “watchdog” blogs and bloggers that have “discernment” as their primary focus. Speaking generally, what are they doing right, and where do they need correction?

Read my answer here

Here again is the schedule for this tour.

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 14, 2008

This is the third and final article in this short series dealing with inerrancy and with the Bible’s supposed errors and contradictions. In the last article we defined what inerrancy is not and then attempted to adequately define the term. I suggested the following definition: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Today we will look at some common objections to this doctrine as well as some problems that may arise if we deny it. Here are links to the first two articles: Are There Errors in the Bible? and What Does “Inerrant” Mean?

Problems With Denying Inerrancy

We turn first to problems that may arise when we tacitly or expressly deny inerrancy.

First, if we deny inerrancy, we make God a liar. If there are errors in the original manuscripts, manuscripts that testify they were breathed out by God, one of two things must be true: either God purposely lied or he mistakenly lied. Either way this would indicate that God is capable of making or of producing errors. Needless to say, this would destroy our ability to trust any of God’s revelation and cause us to doubt God Himself.

Second, if we deny inerrancy we lose trust in God. If there are errors in Scripture, even if in the smallest detail, and these were placed there intentionally by God, how are we to maintain trust that He did not lie in other matters? When we lose trust in the Scriptures, we lose trust in God Himself and we may consequently lose our desire to be obedient to Him.

Third, if we deny the clear testimony of Scripture that it is inerrant, we make our minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible. At the outset of this series I indicated a concern I felt towards those who deny inerrancy is when they indicate that the doctrine does not “feel right.” But nowhere does the Bible appeal to our feelings or our reason for its authority or inerrancy. We must submit to the Word, for it will not submit to us. We must give to the Bible the place it claims for itself. We cannot stand in judgment over it.

Fourth, if we deny inerrancy, and indicate that small details are incorrect, we cannot consistently argue that all the doctrine the Bible contains is correct. Admitting error in even the smallest historical detail is only the thin edge of the wedge, for we then allow the possibility that there may be error in doctrine as well. And when we allow this possibility, the Christian faith soon crumbles into a mess of subjectivity and personal preference.

So inerrancy is not an optional doctrine—one we can take or leave. Rather, it is a doctrine at the very heart of the faith and without it we impoverish our faith and destroy our ability to trust and honor God.

Objections

There are many objections that are commonly raised against inerrancy. For the sake of brevity I will address only the most common objections, and the ones I have encountered in recent discussions on this topic.

We Do Not Have The Original Manuscripts - The first objection has to do with the transmission of Scripture. Many people argue that since we no longer possess any of the original manuscripts, it is irresponsible to speak of inerrancy. What is the purpose in affirming an important doctrine based on documents we no longer have? I answered this, in part, in the first article of this series, when I quoted John MacArthur. “We possess a wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. John MacArthur writes, “With this wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages and with the disciplined activity of textual critics to establish with almost perfect accuracy the content of the autographs, any errors which have been introduced and/or perpetuated by the thousands of translations over the centuries can be identified and corrected by comparing the translation or copy with the reassembled original. By this providential means, God has made good His promise to preserve the Scriptures. We can rest assured that there are translations available today which indeed are worthy of the title, The Word of God.” We can be certain that we have accurate copies of over 99% of the inerrant words as they were first transcribed. When we focus on the less than 1% of the text that contains errors, we must realize that these are human errors and that God is in no way responsible for them. The fact that there are some errors in Scripture as we have it today, does not negate inerrancy which speaks only of the original documents. The Bible as we have it today is worth of our confidence.

Inerrancy is a Poor Term - Generally people who make this objection believe that inerrancy is too strong a term. They believe that such a word demands a type of scientific precision. And furthermore, they may claim that this term is not used in the Bible and was unknown through much of the history of the church.

To the first objection, I point again to the definition of inerrancy, and that it refers to truthfulness and not precision. The Bible claims to be perfectly true, but nowhere does it claim to contain perfect precision. As we saw in the second article, the Bible may round numbers, speak in human terms and contain odd grammatical constructions and still be inerrant. In response to the second objection I would point to any number of terms we use that are foreign to Scripture. The word “Trinity” does not appear within the pages of Scripture, yet the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly affirmed in the Bible and the term is very useful in summarizing the doctrines of the persons of the Godhead. The doctrine of inerrancy is taught within the pages of the Bible as clearly as if the word “inerrancy” was used.

Proving Inerrancy is a Circular Argument - The fourth objection is that we can only prove Scripture’s inerrancy by circular argumentation. After all, we say that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible tells us it is inerrant. This poses a problem for some. In Reason to Believe R.C. Sproul addresses circular argumentation in proving the Bible’s infallibility and we can extend this line of reasoning to inerrancy. Consider the following premises and the subsequent conclusion:

  • Premise A—The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
  • Premise B—On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
  • Premise C—Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an inerrant authority.
  • Premise D—Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
  • Premise E—The word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
  • Conclusion—On the basis of the inerrant authority of Jesus Christ, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy; i.e., inerrant.

Where this model of linear reasoning may break down, is that some of what we accept about the Bible we accept by faith. Faith does not render reason invalid, but the Holy Spirit helps us believe in what our sinful, human minds will not accept. Therefore, I do not believe that an unbeliever—one who does not have the Spirit’s help—can accept the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. But this line of reasoning ought to be sufficient for the believer. I trust that all Christians believe in the first premise, as even most non-Christians, who have made the effort, can see that the Bible is basically reliable and trustworthy. But what the unbeliever cannot do is accept that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is thus an inerrant authority.

The Bible is Full of Errors and Contradictions - This is a common objection that has been leveled at the Bible too many times to count. It has been answered just as often. It is the question that motivated me to post this series.

As often as not, this objection is made by people who really have no clear idea of where these errors can be found, as they are merely passing along what they have heard from others. They read a web site with a long list of contradictions and allow that to feed their disgust for the things of God. For those who are honestly seeking information on the alleged contradictions, there is a wealth of resources available to prove that there are no errors or contradictions within the text of the Bible. For example, Answers in Genesis answers many of these objections. So many of the objections can be answered so easily. For example, here is one I have seen on some sites:

[The Bible claims that] one day can last 930 years.

  • “And YHWH God commanded the human, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’” [Genesis 2:16-17]. The original text makes it clear that God is not speaking metaphorically or spiritually. Isn’t it lucky that since death hadn’t been invented yet, the human (“ha’adam,” pronounced “ha ah DAHM”) had no idea what God was talking about! “When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years.”— Gen. 5:3-4

This, of course, ignores the obvious—that humans really did die on the day they ate of the fruit. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they died spiritually and made physical death a horrible reality. They did not drop dead at that very moment, but already, at that very moment, death had begun to stalk them. And their perfect communion with God had been killed. When we see that inerrancy allows for normal human speech and that it relates to truthfulness more than precision, we see that it can easily account for such “errors.”

Many of the alleged errors within the Bible have to do with historical facts. Allow me to provide one example. Only a couple of generations ago, scholars pointed to the Bible’s claim that there was a king of Assyria named Tiglath-Pileser as an obvious error, for archaeological evidence had not proven that any such king existed. But a few years later, archaeologists excavated Tiglath-Pileser’s capital city and found his name carved into bricks which read, “I, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria…” It is a fact that “the results of sound scholarship have not tended to uncover more and more problems…Rather they have tended to resolve problems and to show that what were once thought to be errors are not errors at all” (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace). R.C. Sproul writes, “The Christian has nothing to fear from rigorous historical research. Rather, we have everything to gain” (Reason to Believe, page 27).

Consider the following quote from Dr. William Foxwell Albright. “For much too long a time the course of New Testament scholarship has been dictated by theological, quasitheological, and philosophical presupposition. In far too many cases commentaries on New Testament books have neglected such basic requirements as up-to-date historical and philological analysis of the text itself…The result has often been steadfast refusal to take seriously the findings of archaeological and linguistic research. We believe that there is less and less excuse for the resulting confusion in this latter half of the twentieth century. Closely allied with these presuppositions is the ever-present fog of existentialism, casting ghostly shadows over an already confused landscape. Existentialism as a method of interpreting the New Testament is based upon a whole series of undemonstrable postulates of Platonic, Neo-Platonic, leftwing scholastic, and relativistic origins. So anti-historical is this approach that it fascinates speculative minds which prefer cliches to factual data, and shifting ideology to empirical research and logical demonstrations” (emphasis mine). The Christian has nothing to fear from scholarship, science or archeology.

Truly, in my experience, the vast majority of supposed errors and contradictions fall into the realm of what we saw in “What Inerrancy is Not.” They point to a lack of precision that may be found in ordinary language or in a language that had no capacity to provide verbatim quotes. Those that do not fall into this category, most often simply reflect a misunderstanding of the Bible’s historical context or language. There are some that really are difficult and for which there are no easy answers. But even then, they have been dealt with by scholars and have been answered well.

So how do we answer charges of error and contradiction? First, I think we assure ourselves that the Bible is inerrant and then we ensure that what we believe about inerrancy is correct. We read what the Bible says about itself and express faith that what God says in Scripture is true. Having done that, it is often valuable to turn to the many resources available for those wrestling with apparent errors or contradictions. Most of these questions have been dealt with very well in the past—well enough to give you assurance that they reflect contemporary arrogance or misunderstanding more than error. When challenged with a list of contradictions I believe there is often little value in answering the charges of error point-by-point and engaging in lengthy dialog about each of them. Anyone who is really seeking the truth will find not only the contradictions but the many answers to them. Rather, it is better, I think, to point people to what is true. Point people to the Bible’s claims of truth—what it claims about us, as humans, and what it claims about God. Point people to the gospel and ask God to do His work in them.

Conclusion

My intent for this series was to do two things. First, I wanted to define inerrancy and separate it from the other doctrines of Scripture such as authority, inspiration and transmission. While the basic sense of the word “inerrancy” is clear, the theological meaning is not always so easy to grasp. Second, I wanted to answer some objections to inerrancy and show why this is a critical doctrine and why it is important that the church continues to affirm it.

Ultimately, inerrancy is true because perfection is consistent with God’s character and because He has told us it is true. We must be careful with any objections to this doctrine, for if we indicate that we believe there are errors with the original manuscripts, we strike at the very character of God. The Bible is inerrant because it was breathed out by an inerrant God. Because of this we can have full confidence, today and always, that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.

January 14, 2008

The blog tour for The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment continues today with a visit to Jollyblogger. If my memory serves me well (never something I can take for granted), Jollyblogger is one of the first blogs I began to read on a regular basis. David Wayne, a pastor in Maryland, doesn’t blog quite often enough, but when he does, his articles and reflections are always worth reading.

Reflecting his vocation, David asked the following:

In our denomination we ask those seeking to join our church to take five vows, the last of which reads:

Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

As discernment is a discipline most often associated with protecting the purity of the church, how might this discipline be used to protect the peace of the church? Along with that it might be helpful to note whether you see peace as a subordinate attribute to purity, and therefore contingent on purity, or vice versa, or whether you see these as separate attributes which are equal in importance, or if the two have some other type of relationship I haven’t thought of.

Read my answer here

Here is a list of the tour stops from last week and those still to come:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 13, 2008

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. It is a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every now and again I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is TheResurgence. Resurgence is “a movement that resources multiple generations to live for Jesus so that they can effectively reach their cities with the gospel by staying culturally accessible and Biblically faithful.” It is a ministry connected to the teaching ministry of Mars Hill Church (i.e. Mark Driscoll’s church). It covers an eclectic range of topics, though most are connected to ministry in general and missional ministry in particular. Regular contributors to the blog include Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer, Anthony Bradley, and others. Beyond the blog, TheResurgence offers all sorts of good articles dealing with all kinds of good and important theology and much of site’s best content can be found in this articles section. It is a good site with a growing body of content and is well worth adding to your RSS reader.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.

January 12, 2008

Yesterday I began a short series on the inerrancy of Scripture, looking at whether there are errors and contradictions in the Bible. You can read the first article and the response to it here: Are There Errors in the Bible?. When I first began to develop and understanding of this doctrine, I found that the doctrines of Scripture cannot be neatly separated, one from the other, for they are intertwined and interrelated. So in the first article I wrote about inspiration, canon, transmission and authority. Today I will turn to inerrancy, first explaining what it is not (often a good place to begin, I find) and then providing a working definition.

What Inerrancy Is Not

I find it is often useful to define what a term does not mean before I learn what it does mean, and I will do that with inerrancy. So let’s look at four statements dealing with what inerrancy does not entail. I should note that there is no authoritative body to which we can appeal to define what inerrancy means, for it is not a term that is neatly defined in Scripture. Thus I am presenting information consistent with the way it has been defined by scholars who have pursued the study of this doctrine over the past century and who have drawn what they believe from the Bible.

First, inerrancy does not preclude the use of ordinary language. A clear example of this in the Bible is where it speaks of the sun rising. We know that the sun does not rise at all but that the earth rotates to bring the sun into view. However, we can be consistent in our belief in the inerrancy of Scripture despite this type of ordinary, human, geocentric language (the kind of language we continue to use today).

Another way this happens in the Bible is with the use of numbers. Some time ago a friend was given some tickets to see the Toronto Rock, our local professional lacrosse team, and asked me to go along with him. Never having attended such a game before, I had no idea what to expect. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed the sport and was amazed at how many people were there to cheer on the team. At some point there was an official announcement of that evening’s attendance and I made a rough mental note of it. Later, after I got home, my wife asked how many people were at the game and I told her “10,000.” Now the actual number may have been closer to 10,243 or 9,678, but yet I had not told her a lie. My wife was clearly not interested in an exact number, but rather a useful gauge to know how many people attend such games. So when the Bible says that Jesus feed 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish, He may have actually fed 4,998. Yet the Bible would still be inerrant when it says 5,000.

In the same vein, consider measurements. As many of you know, I live in Toronto, Ontario and my family lives near Atlanta, Georgia. When I make the long drive to visit them, people sometimes ask me how long the journey takes and I tell them it takes me 14 hours. Or they may ask me what the distance is, and I’ll tell them 900 miles. In reality the drive time varies every time we do it based on traffic, weather, the behavior of children, the anger of the border guards, the health of my car, and any other number of factors. In reality the distance, according to Mapquest, is 931.96 miles. And while we are clarifying, both my parents and I live in suburbs of our respective cities and I have offered Toronto and Atlanta simply because people generally know the locations of big cities but not smaller towns and suburbs. And I don’t drive a car, but a van. But have I lied in any of this? Is any of this truly contrary to fact or have I been inerrant in what I have said? Here is the crux of the matter and this is particularly important to our discussion: Inerrancy speaks of truthfulness, not the degree of precision with which events are reported. When I say that I drive 14 hours and 900 miles to get from Toronto to Atlanta, I have not lied. I have been truthful, but not perfectly precise. This is consistent with inerrancy.

Second, inerrancy does not preclude the use of loose and free quotations. Wayne Grudem makes a critical distinction between our culture and the New Testament Greek culture when it came to reporting the words of another person. In our culture we consider it a terrible sin to misquote another person; we believe that precision in quoting a person’s exact words is of tantamount importance. The Greek language, at the time the New Testament was written, had no quotation marks and really no similar construct. What was considered of utmost importance was to accurately represent the content of what a person said. There was no expectation that a writer needed to transcribe the speaker’s exact words when quoting him. Thus the Bible is inerrant if it accurately and truthfully describes the content of what a speaker said. Whether the actual words Jesus spoke are “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” or “I am The Truth, the Way and the Life,” the Bible is still inerrant in how it transcribed these words, for the content remains intact.

Third, the Bible can be inerrant even if it contains unusual grammatical constructions. It is commonly known that there are various writing skills represented in the Scripture. Some authors were stylistically excellent while others were much more rough and common in their style. Sometimes this means the writers did not follow the accepted rules of grammar or used stylistic irregularities. Once more, the issue of inerrancy is not precision but truthfulness.

Fourth, Scripture is inerrant only in its original autographs. It is critical to note that, strictly speaking, inerrancy does not apply to the transmission of Scripture through the ages and its translation into other languages. We affirm that only the original autographs, or original manuscripts, are inerrant. What we enjoy today is very good translations of very accurate reconstructions of the biblical text. We do not have any of the original documents—none of Paul’s original letters and none of the actual gospels written by the hands of the Apostles have survived. Yet through the science of textual criticism we have very accurate reconstructions of those texts and through translators we have excellent translations of them. So while we do not affirm inerrancy for any particular English translation of Scripture, we do have great confidence in the best translations available to us.

The impetus for this short series was a series of questions regarding so-called errors and contradictions in the Bible. Keep these four points in mind as you’ll see in our next article just how many of these errors are demolished simply by a proper understanding of inerrancy.

A Working Definition

Now that we know what we should not expect in inerrancy, let’s attempt to define it. I was surprised to find, as I consulted many books on this issue, that very few clearly and concisely defined inerrancy. Most use the term without defining it (or without thoroughly or accurately defining it). For example, James Boice, in Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace writes several pages on the topic, but provides no definition. In Scripture Alone, James White refers to the Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the desire of the participants to create a “concise statement on the meaning and importance of inerrancy” (page 68). He turns to and provides commentary on the council’s definition, which may be precise by theological standards, but still extends to 24 articles. Nowhere does he provide a concise definition. Of the few definitions or attempts at definition that I found, Wayne Grudem’s definition in his Systematic Theology seemed most clear. Here is a solid working definition of inerrancy: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” It is that simple. So what we affirm in this definition, is that a perfect God moved human authors, by His Spirit, to perfectly transcribe what He wanted to communicate. This definition is based on the clear teaching of Scripture, several passages of which I presented in the previous article, as well as the character of God. If God is unable to lie and if he inspired Scripture, it must have been completely consistent with fact at the moment of transcription.

Conclusion

At this point we have defined our terms and indicated what we mean and what we do not mean by inerrancy. In the third (and final, I believe) installment in this series, we will turn to common objections and to the problems that may arise if this doctrine is denied. And then I’ll provide some thoughts on how to respond to those who are so eager to pull out the lists of supposed errors and contradictions.

January 11, 2008

A few days ago I received an email from a reader of this site who was concerned about how to answer those who claim that the Bible is a book filled with error and contradiction. Such claims are common and, sadly, are more and more being put forth even from within evangelical circles. This reader affirmed his belief in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture but was looking for some guidance on how to answer the multitudes of claims against the Bible.

I’d like to take that on. At first I was going to do that in a single, short article. But as I thought about it and as I began writing, I determined it would be best to first lay some groundwork. I’ve written about this subject in the past and find it a deep and fascinating one. I think I would do well to revisit some of the doctrine of Scripture and from there to examine the question this person has asked me. So we’ll likely make this a three-part series.

The doctrines regarding the Bible have been discussed and debated at length throughout the history of the church. At the time of the Reformation, the main thrust of the debate had to do with the Bible’s authority, and whether the Bible would be the sole ultimate authority over the lives of Christians over against popes, creeds, councils and the Catholic Church. In more recent days, the doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy came under intense discussion and scrutiny. In response, several evangelical leaders, including Francis Schaeffer, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, Roger Nicole and James Boice, created an organization called The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. This organization had as its purpose “elucidating, vindicating and applying the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as an essential element for the authority of Scripture and a necessity for the health of the church of God” (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, page 68”). Three gatherings were held which produced three scholarly documents, the first of which was “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” The second dealt with principles of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) and the third with the application of Scripture. These documents still stand as pillars on the subject. Though the majority of Christians agree with them, it is becoming increasingly common today to doubt or question such fundamental doctrines.

In his book Scripture Alone, James White has a chapter entitled “Definitions: More Than Half The Battle.” He is absolutely right that properly defining terms is often more than half the battle. Whenever I discuss this subject of inerrancy, I find that very few terms receive any clear definitions. While a term like “inerrancy” has a consistent theological meaning, this does not indicate that every person who uses the word means the same thing by it, and that the person truly understands it. I will suggest an appropriate definition of inerrancy shortly.

I found also that the issues at stake go far deeper than merely the inerrancy of Scripture. They extended to areas such as the canon of Scripture, the authority of Scripture and the inspiration of Scripture. Perhaps this is because, although inerrancy stands on its own biblical merits, it is also a doctrine constructed from other doctrines. While the Bible contains many passages that prove it true, it is also true that it follows logically from other doctrines of Scripture. So before we can approach inerrancy, I believe we need to step back and examine aspects of these other doctrines. We will do that briefly in this article. Certainly there is much more that could be said about any of these subjects, so understand this as a mere introduction.

Authority

When we examine the Bible’s authority, we must begin by answering the question of, “What does the Bible say about itself?”. We find throughout Scripture that the Bible claims for itself a position of unique and supreme authority. In doing so it appeals only to its own authority for proof because there is no greater authority to which it can appeal. After all, if something is the ultimate authority, to what else can it appeal? Were the Bible to appeal to our reason to substantiate its authority, it would implicitly show that human reason is a higher authority. In an article written a couple of years ago by a popular blogger I found cause for concern when he expressed one of his main disagreements with inerrancy is that it did not “feel right.” “My problems with inerrancy have been going on for a very long time, and I’ve heard it presented and taught by the best. It’s never sat well with me, probably because I have a lot of literary interest in the text of scripture, plus I don’t like to be bullied. I get a rash.” But as I indicated, the Bible does not appeal to our feelings or our reason for its authority. Nor could it while remaining Scripture.

We can define the doctrine of Scripture’s authority as follows: “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 73). I do not know of any Christians who claim that they have the right to disbelieve or disobey what God has taught in Scripture. They may do this in their lives (and we all do, at times) but I do not know of any who believe Scripture gives us such license. This doctrine forms the basis of apologetics, for we can only appeal to the Scripture when we trust its authority.

Inspiration

Closely related to the authority of Scripture is the inspiration of Scripture. Inspiration tells us how the Bible was transmitted from God to men. We find that the Bible draws its authority and inerrancy from the indisputable fact that it is inspired by God. The Bible teaches that “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). The words the ESV translated as “breathed out by God” are also translated “inspired” and this is the basis of inspiration. This is explained further by the apostle Peter who writes, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20,21). The Holy Spirit was actively involved in bringing God’s words to humans.

The actual form this inspiration took is much disputed. We know from reading the Scripture and observing the different styles of writing and differing levels of expertise in writing, that God did not merely use men as automatons. If He had done this, we would expect to find a consistent writing style throughout. Somehow God used the specific skills, backgrounds and situations of the authors to transmit His words. Zechariah 7:12 sheds light on this. “…lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets.” We see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit extended to the whole and to the individual parts (…the words that the Lord of hosts…).

The Testimony of Scripture

If it was God who inspired men to write the Bible, what does that teach us about Scripture? Is it possible that Scripture, as it was given from God to men, can be anything less than perfect? Would God lie? Would He write in only half-truths? The Bible tells us otherwise:

2 Samuel 7:28 - “And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.”

Numbers 23:9 - “God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

Psalm 12:6 - The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.

Proverbs 30:5 - Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

We find a consistent Scriptural witness that God does not lie, for He is incapable of telling falsehood. The men who wrote God’s words, had supreme confidence in the rest of His words. If God is incapable of telling a lie, it follows that the words He spoke to those who wrote the words of Scripture must also be perfectly true. At this point, I trust we have sufficient Scriptural basis to conclude that Scripture is authoritative and that the words given by God to men were without error. But how can we know that the words we have today accurately represent those words?

Canon

Many people do not understand the concept of canon and this is especially true in the fallout of The Da Vinci Code and hundreds of similar books. There seems to be a misconception that when the Bible was compiled as one book made of many different books and letters, people were engaged in gathering together some writings attributed to God and publishing them in one volume, much as one might do with the writings of a favorite poem or play-write. But this is not how the canon came together. The Bible is more than a “best of” compilation of God’s writings.

The term “canon” originally referred to a stick which was used for measurement. It later came to describe a standard or rule. By extension, it came to describe an authoritative list of something. In the case of Scripture, it speaks of the authoritative list of God’s writings, yet it is more than a mere table of contents. It refers to all the writings that were breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Thus without the act of inspiration, there could be no canon.

As we have seen, canon refers to the entire body of an author’s work. Allow me to provide an example. If we look at the canon of a man like John Piper, we would say that it includes Desiring God, The Passion of Jesus Christ, Don’t Waste Your Life and so on, from the first book he wrote to the last. The canon of John Piper would only be complete when it included every word he had ever written. But who can infallibly know a person’s canon? In truth, only the author really knows what he or she has written. John Piper may have many books available to us, but who is to say that every word of his has been made available to us? Who is to say that he has not released other books under a pseudonym? Only he infallibly knows his canon. Similarly, it is only God who infallibly knows all He has written. The Scriptural evidence compels us to believe, then, that if we have the complete canon, God helped people find out what it includes. When the Bible was compiled into the book we know and love today, it represented every word God had ever written. So there is a sense in which the primary task of the men who compiled the Bible was to find the complete canon of God. The primary measure they used was whether a book was inspired by God.

This is a topic that could (and perhaps should) be covered at length, but I am not writing today to defend the canonicity of Scripture. As far as I can tell, most people who struggle with inerrancy, do not deny that the canon of Scripture represents God’s words to us.

Transmission

The final topic I will write about in this opening article is transmission which describes how the words of God were transmitted from the original documents to what we have today. This is a topic that can only be done justice in a much longer treatment, so allow me to merely point to some of the facts. We possess a wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. John MacArthur aptly summarizes as follows: “With this wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages and with the disciplined activity of textual critics to establish with almost perfect accuracy the content of the autographs, any errors which have been introduced and/or perpetuated by the thousands of translations over the centuries can be identified and corrected by comparing the translation or copy with the reassembled original. By this providential means, God has made good His promise to preserve the Scriptures. We can rest assured that there are translations available today which indeed are worthy of the title, The Word of God” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Handbook, page xxii).

And Now…

Having begun to define terms and provide background to the study of inerrancy, I will turn at last to the doctrine in the next article.

January 11, 2008

This morning I continue with The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour by answering a question at Gender Blog, the official blog of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The question is one that is important, interesting and, I found, quite difficult to answer adequately and sensitively. Here is what they asked:

It is not an uncommon experience reported by female pastors today that they believe they have received an actual call from God to become a pastor. Here are two recent examples from the newspaper:

  • Jacci is not a rebel. She didn’t want to break new ground for those “crazy feminists.” She only wanted to follow God’s leading. After much study and soul-searching, Jacci’s thoughts became clear during a college trip to the Holy Land. “It was a call,” she stated. “It was quite amazing. I turned to a friend and said - I think God is calling me to be a minister. I was waiting for God to strike me dead. It was a huge shift in my thinking. That was not in the realm of possibility for my life the way I had grown up and had been taught.”

  • There was no writing in the sky, no voice from heaven. “I would have loved that,” said the Reverend Keri, “but that doesn’t happen. At least, it didn’t happen to me.” Nevertheless a bolt of some sort caused Pastor Keri to suddenly quit her job and go to seminary. She is now the new shepherdess of a 266 member church..

How would you help a woman discern whether or not she is receiving an actual “call from God” to become a church pastor?

Read my answer here

The tour will go on a weekend hiatus before continuing next Monday with visits to Jollyblogger, Justin Taylor, the Pyromaniacs, the Internet Monk and 9 Marks Ministries. And the questions just keep getting tougher! Here is the schedule:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters