The Importance of Bible Inerrancy
As I was working a few articles relating to Biblical Apologetics, I couldn’t keep from reflecting on the importance of the doctrine of inerrancy to our apologetics, and to the Christian Faith. I then felt compelled to write this article on the subject in December 2008.
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God's Inerrant Revelation
It follows from the doctrine of inerrancy that the Bible contains the same authority as if God Himself was audibly speaking the words to us. John Calvin stated that “Since the Holy Scriptures is the only record by which God has been pleased to reveal His truths, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not properly and fully recognized by the believer unless they (the Scriptures) are believed to have come from heaven as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them”. Think of the person that you most admire in your life. If he or she was in the room speaking to you, would you flippantly disregard, or even mock what was being said? Now, how much less would we do this if Almighty God was audibly speaking, yet many do this very thing with His Word, his love letter of revelation to us. The writer of Hebrew tells of God’s means of revelation:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Heb 1:1-3).
Thus, our infinite and loving God, having used other means of self-revelation, now speaks to us by His Son through the instrument of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is not merely a historical record of God dealing with mankind, but it is active and breathing as it continues to speak to us today. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12). Jesus constantly upheld the inerrancy of the Scriptures (Mt 5:18, Mt 24:35, Jn 10:35, Jn 17:17 etc). He also appealed to Scripture as the authority on settling doctrinal disputes, telling the religious leaders “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures” (Mt 22:29). When tempted by Satan in the desert, He rejected him each time with “It is written…”. We find this same high regard for the Scriptures among the Apostles and Church fathers.
Since God is a spiritual being (Jn 4:24), and all spirits by their nature are hidden, then God, the infinite spiritual Being must take the first step to reveal Himself. We can know God only to the extent that He voluntarily discloses Himself to us since no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1Cor 2:11). Therefore, if God’s instrument of revelation, the Bible, is not inerrant (see What does Inerrancy Mean?), then we have no true or accurate revelation from God, so we can have no reliable knowledge of Him. We are left with only human reasoning and philosophy, which offers no objective means of verifying truth. Our only other alternative is to seek Him within the creation, which results in a pantheistic rather than a theist view of God. We thus begin to see the importance of the doctrine of Bible inerrancy, and some of the consequences if we deny it.
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The Importance of Bible Inerrancy to our Christian Faith
We’ve seen the absolute critical nature of the role that inerrant Scripture plays in our receiving of God’s self-revelation. Scripture is the method by which Lord Jesus Christ reveals God the Father to us, and the instrument by which our Triune God exercises authority over us. The scriptures are also the means by which God, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, reveals Himself and His redemptive plan through the ages. Thus, Scripture becomes our primary source of Christian theology and doctrine. It then follows, that if the Bible is not inerrant, the foundation of our theology collapses, leaving us with only faulty human reasoning and philosophy.
We’ll explore a few statements which highlight the importance of the doctrine of inerrancy to our theology and beliefs.
We’ve already mentioned that Scripture is the primary source of Christian theology, and that the Biblical authors constantly appealed to Scripture to confirm their teachings. While Jesus sometimes used miracles to substantiate his authority, he repeatedly appealed to the Scriptures in matters of dispute. Even when he appeared to deviate from the letter of the OT law, He qualified this by stating that He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17). He then immediately added that not the least stroke of a pen would disappear from the Law until completely fulfilled (Mt 5:18). Thus, the reliability and certainty of our teachings is based upon the inerrancy of the Word of God. As someone once said, “If there is but one error in the Bible, there might as well be thousands”. We can be confident however, that Scripture can’t be broken (Jn 10:35).
Next, we can assert that any authority of our theology and teachings is a result of (and subjective to) the authority of the Holy Scriptures, whose authority is not intrinsic, but derives from its source, the living God. Our teachings, when consistent with Scripture, are not mere opinions of man, but truths to be proclaimed in the Spirit and power of God (1Cor 2:1-4). Our theology is only as reliable as its source, so an errant source would inevitably lead to false teachings.
Indeed, we could even say that the authority of Jesus Christ is contingent upon the reliability of the Bible. Not only did He believe, expound and obey the Scriptures, he also claimed to fulfill them. If the Bible is not true, not only would we be unsure of the historical Jesus, we could no longer rely on His teachings. He would either be mistaken or a liar. Fortunately, despite constant attacks from the critics, the Holy Scriptures remain inerrant, authoritive and trustworthy.
Before we leave the subject of the authority of Scripture, we should point out the various positions of the Church. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) places the authority of Church traditions on the same level as the Holy Scriptures. There are disagreements within the RCC regarding the Bible and the Church being two sources of inerrant revelation. Some believe that revelation originates in scriptures and the Church merely reiterates these truths, that is, there are two locations of revelation but only one origin. The more fundamentalist Catholic theologians maintain that inerrant truth originates from both the Scriptures and the traditions. This is not to say that the RCC minimized the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. On the contrary, Scripture was held in the highest regard, however human traditions were also considered as possessing the same authority. By contrast, the Reformed and Protestant church generally holds to the doctrinal principle of Sola Scriptura (Latin “by Scripture alone”), which asserts that the Scriptures are self-authenticating, self-interpreting and self-sufficient to be the final authority for Christian doctrine. This principle has been widely interpreted by others that the church rejects all truths except for those contained in Scripture. Sola Scriptura does not discard interpretation, traditions, history, reason or other sources of truth in matters of faith and practice, but proclaims that only the Bible is the final authority over all other sources and methods of revelation.
The Holy Scriptures is the standard that we employ in discerning between truth and falsehood, orthodoxy and heresy. We’ve already mentioned that Jesus repeatedly appealed to the Scriptures in matters of dispute over doctrine and practice (Mt 22:29, for example). We see the same attitude from Paul, who wrote All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2Tim 3:16-17) and, referring to the OT, For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Rom 15:4). Likewise, the Church has appealed to the Bible throughout history as the norm of truth. Only in recent centuries, beginning with the Enlightenment, has man relied on his own faulty rationality and experiences in a vain attempt to determine truth.
From our selfish point of view, perhaps the most devastating effect of an errant Bible is that our redemption, our salvation itself, would be in danger. A certain amount of proper knowledge is a pre-requisite of salvation (2Tim 3:15, Rom 10:13-14, Mt 13:18-19). If not for a reliable Word of God, the idea of the Cross, of someone dying for another would seem foolish to us. We would then be unable to trust in the Christ’s act for our redemption. Similarly, all other doctrines would be in jeopardy, including the Church itself, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone" (Eph 2:20).
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Denial of the inerrancy of the Word of God logically destroys the very basis of our Christian doctrine and theology. Historically, even doubting the reliability of the Scripture has resulted in a weak, ineffective ministry by the church, both in advancing the Gospel and in defending the faith against heretical attacks. Small compromises eventually lead down the slippery slope to complete apostasy. Critics, being aware of this, expend much energy in their quest to discredit the doctrine, but we can be confident that our Sovereign, all-knowing God has inspired an infallible, inerrant revelation to us.
We must pray that the latest generation of Christians will realize the absolute necessity of an inerrant Bible, and return to Scripture as our exclusive source of authority for determining God’s will for our lives.
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