There are numerous statements on inerrancy floating about, and the last thing the world needs is one more thrown onto the pile. Still, a word or two seems to be in order.
I affirm that I am committed to the Bible’s inerrancy as a function of its divine origin. If I may offer a thumbnail definition, the Bible as it is is without error because the Bible as it is is God’s Word.
This is not the type of definition of inerrancy that will satisfy everyone, but it strikes at the heart of the matter for me: my belief in Scripture is rooted in my belief in God, and whatever he has deemed good and right to give us is where any discussion begins. Such a confession does not predispose us to affirm in what way Scripture is without error. Rather, it puts us in a position of reverent expectancy to see what the Spirit will teach us from and about Scripture, to be self-reflective enough to allow the very categories about which we speak of Scripture to be driven by Scripture. Our own frames of reference, however unavoidable and even valuable as they might be, must be trained to take a back seat.
To put it another way, a belief in Scripture as God’s word is an article of faith, a gift of the Spirit, and is confirmed by faithful study and following Jesus within a community of believers. It is not where we end up after some rational proofs. It is where we begin so that we can end there.
This is why, as we try to understand and articulate the nature of Scripture, we must be engaged in areas of study that include (though not to the exclusion of other fields) the historical study of Scripture, i.e., Scripture in context. I am convinced that clearer and clearer notions of Scripture’s nature will result from biblicists, theologians, practitioners, etc., working together to bring their own areas of study and experiences to bear on the matter.
I would certainly expect some to object that such a “minimalist” definition of inerrancy leaves the Bible open to what I want to find there. I feel the opposite is the case, and I hope my points below will dissuade such a conclusion. I might also add that any definition of inerrancy, even the strictest ones, ultimately runs into the same problem, that of conforming the Holy text to our own notions rather than the other way around.
So, I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, existing as they do by God’s design and at his pleasure, are precisely what he intended for his people to have, and are therefore the only infallible rule of faith and practice. This affirmation includes:
- a pre-committment to receive as truth all that Scripture is found, upon careful study and reflection, actually to teach;
- submission and reverence to wisdom and condescension of God in giving a word that is both a product of and a witness to his redemptive activity in human history—an activity in history that culminates in the “summing up all things in the Messiah”;
- a study of Scripture that is diligent, humble, receptive, and honestly descriptive, recognizing that God has providentially given us information about the environment in which the books of the Bible originated, information that at times enables us to deepen and even challenge our understanding of the Scripture as his “incarnate” word;
- a conviction that the central message of the Bible is clear without either knowledge of the historical and cultural background of the biblical books, or of Church History or Dogmatics. [WCF I.7: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”];
- a conviction that, as all human beings, we are quite capable of erroneous interpretations, of drawing invalid inferences, of imposing on Scripture constructs of our own making, or in other ways falling short of a full discovery of God’s truth;
- gratefulness to God for the aid of his Spirit and the interpretive wisdom of his church though the ages, as those who confesses faith in the crucified and risen Christ, confidence that it is only in the light of Christ and the Gospel that the majestic coherence of the Old and New Testaments will be fully displayed.