Today’s post features Al Mohler on the classic doctrine of biblical inerrancy. It is sponsored by Zondervan Academic.
Sola scriptura, Scripture alone, was the formal principle of the Reformation, and it’s also the fundamental principle of evangelical Christianity. We’re the people of the Bible. That’s where it all starts. And that’s where it all ends in this life. All that we have revealed in Scripture is given to us by God.
The question is, how do we understand that Scripture?
Every Word of Scripture is Inspired
The classical evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture comes down to a simple formula: when the Scripture speaks, God speaks. That’s an easy way to understand exactly what we’re seeking to affirm here. This means we can have the confidence that whenever we read the Bible—any text of Scripture—God is speaking. It’s not just Isaiah speaking. It’s not just Mark or Luke speaking. It’s not just the apostle Paul or Ezekiel speaking. It’s God speaking.
Even more fundamental than the inerrancy of Scripture is understanding what’s behind it. And that is how God gave us the Bible. This is referred to as a theory or a concept of inspiration: how did inspiration happen? There are different variants held by different people throughout time. But what I’m going to contend for is what evangelicals have long prized: the verbal inspiration of Scripture, which is formally called the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture.
It comes down to this. The Holy Spirit as the Scripture tells us moved “men of old”—that’s how they’re described in the New Testament—to write exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted written. That means right down to the words. Every word of Scripture is inspired—that’s verbal inspiration. And plenary verbal means “fully”—that’s what plenary affirms. Every word of Scripture is inspired. And every word of Scripture is fully inspired.
The Church Doctrine of Scripture
Let me tell you how that liberates us. First of all, it liberates us to understand that we’re not looking for the Word of God in Scripture. We’re not reading a text of Scripture or hearing a text of Scripture and trying to listen for where in those words is the Word of God. Instead, we are affirming that the words themselves are the Word of God, that the Scripture is nothing other than the Word of God in written form.
B. B. Warfield, one of the great defenders of Scripture in the nineteenth century, rightly articulated this. He called it “the church doctrine of Scripture.” Why would he call it that? Because, as Warfield said, it’s the church’s historic understanding of what Scripture is, how Scripture came to us, and the perfection of Scripture in its truthfulness and in its trustworthiness as we know it now. The church doctrine of Scripture can be traced throughout the history of the church. The church doctrine of Scripture is grounded more than anything else in the words of Scripture, in the very claims that the Word of God makes concerning itself.
Biblical Inerrancy in the Modern Age
One of the things we need to note is that the conversation we’re having is on the other side of the advent of the modern age. If you were to go back to the time before the Enlightenment—if you were to go back before the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—there would have been an overwhelming consensus that the Bible, verbally inspired, is the Word of God.
The arrival of the modern age changed the conversation about inspiration. With the modern age came arguments that led to innovations in Christian doctrine. There was a tremendous sea change in the way human beings thought. The Enlightenment was a more human-centered way of looking at the entire universe. And eventually, this human-centered view began to affect how some people understood the Bible, too.
This explains why some people in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries want to argue that the Bible is just ancient literature. It’s ancient religious literature. The Bible was changed from being understood as the Word of God to being understood as the witness of ancient Israel, or the story of the unfolding nature of the early church.
Who is Speaking
But this is where Christians have to understand exactly what B. B. Warfield was emphasizing. We hold to the church doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of Scripture that has marked to the Christian church, and is foundational for our understanding, our confidence, not only of what the Bible is, but of who’s speaking. Is it merely Paul? Is it merely Ezekiel? Is it merely Moses? Well, Paul and Moses and Ezekiel do speak in Scripture. But more importantly, God speaks.
Where does God speak in Scripture? Everywhere, in every word.
Learn more about the classic doctrine of biblical inerrancy by watching Dr. Mohler’s lecture in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, A Video Study, stream the entire lecture on MasterLectures, or sign up for the online course.