Today’s post continuing our series on the doctrine of inerrancy is by Dave Jenkins, Director of Servants of Grace.
The doctrine of inerrancy means that the Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in its original manuscripts. The Bible does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. As Aaron pointed out last week, the Bible’s authority is derived from the character and authority of God. A tree has a root structure that supports the base and the weight of the tree. Inerrancy is the root structure and base upon which the doctrine of Scripture is built. God has given special revelation of Himself, and inspired His servants to record it. Believers want assurance that the Bible is a dependable source of revelation from and about God. The doctrine of inerrancy gives believers the assurance that God’s Word is without error, and entirely reliable in all that it teaches.
Inerrancy, the Church and Cults
There is evidence that when a theologian, school or a movement begins by regarding biblical inerrancy as unimportant or optional, and abandons this doctrine that such a move is frequently joined by other doctrines such as the deity of Christ or the Trinity. Church history is the laboratory in which theology tests its ideas. From church history one learns that moving away from the doctrine of inerrancy is to move away from the complete trustworthiness of Scripture. This move away from the doctrine of inerrancy is a serious step not only because of what it does to one’s doctrine of Scripture, but because of what happens to other doctrines as well.
Some may object at this point that I am overstating my case about inerrancy. Inerrancy is a test for orthodoxy, but it is not a test for salvation. One can deny inerrancy and be saved, but he/she is being inconsistent in his/her beliefs. All salvific truths are found in the Bible, but how can one trust those salvific truths without inerrancy? What if the salvific statements are wrong? To be consistent in her/her beliefs, one should affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. Further, one can be orthodox or evangelical in all other areas and still be unorthodox on inerrancy. For example, the neorthodox theologian Karl Barth affirmed the Virgin birth, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and Christ’s bodily resurrection, but denied the inerrancy of Scripture.
Inerrancy is not only an issue that is facing the Church, but it is also one that is under attack from cults. The Mormons teach that the Bible is correct only so far as it is correctly translated. It is basically trustworthy according to them. It is the only one of the four standard works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) and is not considered infallible. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God but only in so far as they use their own translation (New World Translation) as the basis of their belief in inerrancy.1
Over and against all of these views is what the Word of God says about itself. The Bible teaches that it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, most prominently in 2 Timothy 3:16—“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” All Scripture in distinction “from the sacred writings” in 2 Timothy 3:15 means everything which, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the church, is recognized by the church as canonical, that is, authoritative. Paul is referring here to the Old Testament, and later “all scripture” at the close of the first century A.D. had been completed.
The Word “God breathed out” occurs only here and indicates that all Scripture owes its origin and contents to the divine breath, the Spirit of God. The human authors were powerfully guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. As a result, what they wrote is not only without error but of supreme value for man. It is all that God wanted it to be. It constitutes the infallible rule of faith and practice for mankind.
The word “God-breathed” that is inspired by God occurs only in 2 Timothy 3:16 but the idea is found in many other passages (Ex. 20:1; 2 Sam. 23:2; Is. 8:20; Mal. 4:4; Matt. 1:22; Luke 24:44; John 1:23; 5:39; 10:34, 35; 14; 16:13; 19:36-37; 20:9; Acts 1:16; 7:38; 13:34; Rom. 1:2; 3:2; 4:23, and many more). By virtue of the fact that “all scripture” is God-breathed, it is useful or beneficial or profitable. It is very practical, yes an indispensible, instrument or tool for the teacher. Timothy and believers today should make good use of Scripture, Paul says for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
The whole purpose of Scripture is to teach and proclaim the whole counsel of God to the people of God. Every one of God’s words in Scripture was given by Himself and is therefore important for God’s people. God issues severe warnings to anyone who would take away even one word from what He has said to His people (Deut 4:2; 12:32; Rev. 22:18-19), we cannot add to God’s words or take from them, for all are part of his larger purpose in speaking to His people. Everything stated in Scripture is there because God intended it to be there: God does not say anything unintentionally! Thus, objections to inerrancy incorrectly attempt to impose artificial limits on the kind of topics which God can speak truthfully and authorative to His people about. All of Scripture is inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authorative for the people of God, which means all Scripture ought to be studied, taught, proclaimed and enjoyed by the people of God to learn about God, His Ways, and especially His Son Jesus Christ.