If there is one subject that has caused division amongst Evangelicals today, it is the authority of Scripture. Although the word “Evangelical” usually meant that this particular person believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, this can no longer be assumed. But the “Bible debate” is not just a product of this century. In fact the authority and inspiration of Scripture has been challenged since the Enlightenment period. No longer was God’s Word seen without error or “inerrant.”
Today, inerrancy usually is associated with fundamentalism1, or close-mindedness, or even anti-intellectualism. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Inerrancy believes that our only standard of truth is the Word of God. In presupposing that God is perfect, the result of that perfection is the Word He gives. This definition has often led to much confusion and therefore, many misinterpretations of what evangelicals define as inerrancy.
The ultimate question is, “If the Bible says it, can I believe it, and can I base my life around it?” There is nothing more central to the Christian faith than the infallibility of Scripture. Millard Erickson writes:
Our basis for holding to the truth of any theological presupposition is that the Bible teaches it. If however, we should conclude that certain propositions (historic or scientific) taught by the Bible are not true, the implications are far-reaching. We cannot then continue to hold to other propositions simply upon the grounds that the Bible teaches them. It is not that these other statements have been proved false, but that we cannot be certain that they are true. We either must profess agnosticism regarding them or find some other basis for holding them. Since the principle has been abrogated that whatever the Bible teaches is necessarily true, the mere fact that the Bible teaches these other propositions is insufficient grounds in itself for holding them. One may continue to hold these other propositions, of course, but he does not do so because of the authority of the Bible.2
It is the principle, “False in one, uncertain in all.” If even one word in Scripture was an error, that leaves the door open for all of Scripture to be erred. Who is to say what becomes the final arbiter of what is true and what is false in Scripture?
May today’s study bring you back to God’s Word, and cause you to savor and delight in His Word, believing that His Word is Truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).
Every person lives with a “presupposition,” or a standard by which a person views the world. If a person assumes that only women drivers are bad drivers (a presupposition), it will be that very presupposition (which is obviously not true!) that will emerge the next time that person (the man) is cut off the road. He will remark, “That woman cut me off the road,” even if he has no idea whether it was a man or woman. The presupposition leads that person to assume that the driver was a woman.
There is no such person as a completely unbiased person. All people perceive the world through lenses. It is no different with Christianity. The person who rejects Christianity on the basis that the Christian faith cannot be proven is not devoid of presuppositions. He might say, “I refuse to believe in any religion or any God.” But by that statement, they have contradicted themselves, because they have chosen to believe in a religion, the religion of atheism. Non-faith is a faith as much as Christianity is based on faith. Since there is no means to prove or disprove God, their desire to cling to atheism is a faith that God does not exist. This is a presupposition.
Atheists and agnostics try to disprove Christianity by attempting to disprove God, and the baselessness of Christianity. However, they fail to realize that their own presupposition is far weaker than anything Christ had ever professed. Francis Schaffer writes: “An inclusive sense is a system whereby man, beginning absolutely by himself, tries rationally to build out from himself, having man as his integration point, to find all knowledge, meaning and value.”3 Humanity refuses to believe God, and therefore decides to create their own God, the self. The movie Contact, which conveyed the anti-God philosophy of Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan, supported the premise summarized by the line, “If nothing is out there [meaning alien life], then it’s just a waste of space.” This rejection of anything supernatural is a continuation of the presupposition that humanity reigns supreme, and ultimately reigns as gods.
The study of Scripture cannot be viewed without the light of presuppositions. Every reader will have an interpretation, but there is only one true meaning. One of the first steps of faith is to recognize that having a presupposition is not a leap of faith, a “stab in the dark.” In essence presuppositions permeate all logic, and it in no way assumes blind faith, or anti-intellectualism. Cornelius Van Til was a great proponent of presuppositional faith, and he wrote: “To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.”4 Therefore, the study of God’s Word integrates faith, reason, and experience to understand the full breadth of Scripture (which remains an inexhaustible treasure).
The Authority of Scripture
1. The Bible receives authority from God Himself
Presuppositions then, are the key interpretive grid upon which the Bible must be viewed. Without a presupposition of faith in God and His Word (which can only come by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13-14)), Scripture cannot be read in full light and authority. Instead, arguments will seem merely tautological.
In order to establish the inerrancy (without error) of Scripture, we must first examine the authority (with power and inspiration) of Scripture. The Bible’s primary claim to authority comes from within. The assumption is that when Scripture notes that God speaks, it speaks the very Word of God. So when the prophets say, “The Lord says…,” they are actually speaking God’s Word. 2 Timothy 3:16 is a wonderful text that supports the authority of Scripture: “All Scripture is God-breathed…”
2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” There is nothing that is within Scripture that is simply human thought. Many other texts of Scripture uphold the authority of Scripture5, which means when the authors of the Bible wrote the particular books of the Bible, there was the understanding that they were indeed writing the very Word of God.
2. The Bible receives authority as it is read
Every Christian believes that not only is the Bible God’s words, but that His words have life, and the ability to transform lives. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The Bible, in and of itself, is convincing. Jesus also said, “27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) The Bible teaches about the person of Jesus Christ and His work. It not only is God’s Word but has the power to “teach, rebuke, and correct” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
3. The Bible does not need anything else to substantiate its views for it to be authoritative
Scripture only needs itself as the final authority for its truthfulness. Nothing can be added to Scripture to make it true (Rev. 22:19). Although extrabiblical books can add certain nuances of truth, it cannot reveal truth itself.
4. The Bible is the final authority
If it is true that the Bible is indeed God’s true Word, then there is absolutely nothing that should determine truth except for Scripture. The Bible should be our standard for our thoughts, our worship, our way of life. Jesus said:
21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. (John 14:21)
The person who loves Christ is the one who trusts His words and obeys His Word.
What Inerrancy Is Not…
1. The Ecstatic Theory
This theory believes that the Biblical writers were somehow empowered with supernatural powers leading to a mystical experience. In a moment of human suspension, God inspired the authors by giving them a different conscience. Therefore, in this suspension from reality, God gave them the ability to write and record Scripture.
2. Dictation Theory
This theory holds to the belief that God dictated the Bible, word for word, to the biblical authors. The personality and individuality of the authors were suppressed for the sake of the transmission of Scripture. Most fundamentalist Christians believe inerrancy is defined like this. Liberal Christians also assume that Evangelicals hold to the dictation theory as their primary understanding of inerrancy.
3. Negative Assistance Theory
This is the belief that the Holy Spirit “supervised” the writing of Scripture, but in reality, distanced Himself from the writing, and therefore human personality is quite prevalent throughout Scripture.
What Inerrancy Is…
A simple definition of inerrancy is: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.”6
The Evangelical doctrine of inerrancy holds to the confluence (joining and intermeshing) of the activity of the Holy Spirit and the human authors.7 It believes that God and the authors worked together, utilizing the personalities, experiences, and conditions of each human author to produce the Bible as we know it. Other words to describe this union could be “partnership” or “synergy.” How this process actually worked is a mystery, but what we do know is that Scripture as the end product, is the perfect revealed Word of God without error or contradiction in theology, doctrine, science, and history.
Benjamin B. Warfield and Alexander A. Hodge were 19th century theologians from Princeton Seminary who cogently articulated the doctrine of inerrancy and inspiration, wrote:
But simply that the divine superintendence, which we call inspiration, extended to the verbal expression of the thoughts of the sacred writers, as well as to the thoughts themselves, and that hence the Bible, considered as a record, an utterance in words of a divine revelation, is the word of God to us. Hence, in all the affirmations of Scripture of every kind there is no more error in the words of the original autographs than in the thoughts they were chosen to express. The thoughts and words are both alike human, and therefore subject to human limitations, but the divine superintendence and guarantee extend to the one as much as the other.8
There is no suspension of human thought. God utilized the authors lives for the sake of writing His Word. Hodge and Warfield add:
All parties of believers admit that this genesis of Holy Scripture was the result of the co-operation, in various ways, of the agency of men and the agency of God…The human agency, both in the histories out of which the Scriptures sprang, and in their immediate composition and inscription, is everywhere apparent, and gives substance and form to the entire collection of writings. It is not merely in the matter of verbal expression or literary composition that the personal idiosyncrasies of each author are freely manifested by the untrammeled play of all his faculties, but the very substance of what they write is evidently for the most part the product of their own mental and spiritual activities. This is true except in that comparatively small element of the whole body of sacred writing in which the human authors simply report the word of God objectively communicated, or, as in some of the prophecies, they wrote by divine dictation. As the general characteristic of all their work, each writer was put to that special part of the general work for which he alone was adapted by his original endowments, education, special information, and providential position. Each drew from the stores of his own original information, from the contributions of other men, and from all other natural sources. Each sought knowledge, like all other authors, from the use of his own natural faculties of thought and feeling, of intuition and of logical inference, of memory and imagination, and of religious experience. Each gave evidence of his own special limitations of knowledge and mental power, and of his personal defects as well as of his powers. Each wrote upon a definite occasion, under special historically grouped circumstances, from his own standpoint in the progressively unfolded plan of redemption, and each made his own special contribution to the fabric of God’s word.9
Another important element of the doctrine is that only the “original autographs” are inerrant. The Bible, because it was originally written in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, is not perfect in its translations. Although an overwhelming percentage of Scripture is accurate in translation, and no major doctrine is effected by these differences, it must always be remembered that only the original writings are inerrant.
Challenges to Inerrancy
1. Science and Scripture
Science has often been used to “debunk” the doctrine of inerrancy. Contradictions seemingly abound, particularly evolution vs. creation, which seem to undermine the Bible’s dependability and inerrancy. First, one must remember that presuppositions often dictate a reader’s views. So when a person “finds” an apparent contradiction between science and Scripture, they already come to both science and Scripture with a worldview that presupposes a rejection of God. Thus, it becomes a test of gods, the Christian God and the science god. It is quite clear that evolution itself10 is a faith that is presupposed to be true in light of a lack of cogent scientific truth.
What is true is that God has revealed Himself through nature (Rom. 1) and Scripture. Scripture does not contradict science. However, it is true that God does work beyond scientific law (miracles). Yet, this suspension of scientific law does not mean that there is an inherent contradiction. If God is the standard of all laws, whether scientific or ethical or moral, then it is not contradiction, but complement.
Many times, what might seem like a contradiction, can actually be an approach in understanding genre.11 Other “clear contradictions” can be explained by simply using correct biblical exegesis (seeing what Scripture actually says).
2. Differences Between Biblical Books
The Gospels sometimes have seemingly contradictory accounts of a similar event. Many skeptics believe this “contradiction” undermines inerrancy. John Stott contends that authors can and do “condense speeches, paraphrase them, and translate them into a different cultural idiom, without thereby falsifying their meaning; to change the sequence of events, deliberately subordinating chronology to theology, without by this practice committing an error, etc.”12 Differences in reporting can represent different perspectives, styles, and angles without necessarily making an error.
3. Other “Problems”
Many times, scholars find certain parts of Scripture that are seemingly inconsistent and label it an error. But for two thousand years, the Bible has weathered constant accusations as a flawed document. For example liberal scholars noted that in Luke 17:6, 8 Luke used the word “politarchs” to describe the city’s rulers. However, the word is never used elsewhere in the NT or in any other Greek literature and so it was deemed Luke was careless and ignorant. Liberal scholars immediately pointed out the “error” until recent archeological discoveries have found the word inscribed on artifacts, dispelling the proven error.
What is notable is that if a person desires to find errors, they will. Not because the errors are present, but if a person’s presuppositions are geared towards an anti-God, anti-supernatural bias, they will always find what they want to believe.
The Canon of Scripture13
One critical question is, “What determines the different books of the Bible to be authorized as the legitimate Word of God?” This question is based on the “canon” of Scripture. The word “canon” comes from the Semitic word meaning “reed.” From this nuance of the word, came the understanding that a reed was used to measure standards. Hence, canon refers to a standard upon which all other documents are measured. So Scripture is a closed collection of books which all truths are measured, also known as the canon of Scripture.
The Old Testament Canon
The Old Testament is a compilation of books, which record, in many different genres, the Word of God. An early recording of God’s Word shows His complete dictation of words when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 31:18). Eventually, not just the dictation of God’s Word, but even those words which authors like Moses composed, entered into the canon as God’s Word (cf. Ex. 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:2; Dt. 31:22). Joshua also was commissioned to write the Word of God: “26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God” (Joshua 24:26). Others contributed to the writing of the Word in its entirety.14 The prophets used the phrase, “Thus, says the Lord” over 1900 times, claiming that their words was actually God’s spoken Word.
The New Testament also confirmed the authority of the OT canon. In Acts 4:25 Luke writes: “25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David.” The myriad of prophecies that the NT refers to confirm the OT’s pertinence as God’s Word. Jesus Himself believed the OT to be the Word of God, and His mission was not to destroy those words, but to fulfill it (cf. Mt. 5:17-19).
Perhaps the greatest confusion concerning canonicty comes from the Apocrypha.15 These are certain books, which are included in the Roman Catholic Bible, but excluded from the Protestant Bible. Here are some reasons why the Apocrypha is not included in the Protestant canon:
1. The early church did not regard the Apocrypha as Scripture; however, later traditions began including it into the canon.
2. Although Jerome put the Apocrypha in the Vulgate (the Latin Bible), he did not deem it to be Scripture.
3. There also is no Hebrew original and the Apocrypha is also excluded from the Jewish canon.
4. There are doctrinal and historical fallacies within the Apocrypha. One scholar, E. J. Young writes:
There are no marks in these books which would attest a divine origin…. both Judith and Tobit contain historical, chronological and geographical errors. The books justify falsehood and deception and make salvation to depend upon works of merit…. Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon inculcate a morality based upon expediency. Wisdom teaches the creation of the world out of pre-existent matter (11:17). Ecclesiasticus teaches that the giving of alms makes atonement for sin (3:30). In Baruch it is said that God hears the prayers of the dead (3:4), and in I Maccabees there are historical and geographical errors.16
5. The Apocrypha has only been recognized by the Catholic Church as Scripture since the Council of Trent (1546), which was convened to counteract the spread of Protestantism. The same Council also supported justification of faith by works and prayers for the dead, both of which the Apocrypha teaches to be true.
6. The Apocrypha does not claim authority like the OT does.
7. Jesus and the apostles never use the Apocrypha17 and therefore there is no further revelation and fulfillment of the validity of the Apocrypha.
8. Finally, the Apocrypha is inconsistent with the entirety of Scripture.
The New Testament Canon
The New Testament is a completion of the Old Testament, a “further revelation of truth from the Holy Spirit.”18 The apostles are authorized to speak the Word of God, as the Holy Spirit inspires them to lead, direct, and build the Church. Paul says, “37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul also claims that “Christ is speaking through me” (2 Cor. 13:3).
The New Testament also uses itself to substantiate its canonicty. In 2 Peter 3:15-17, Peter says: “15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.” The clear reference to Paul’s writings to like “the other Scriptures” assumes that the apostles believed that what they were writing was truly Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 Paul refers to two references of Scripture: “17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” The first reference comes from Dt. 25:4, but the second reference comes from Luke 10:7 where Jesus says, “The worker is due his wages.” Already, Luke’s writings are considered to be Scripture.
The main question is what allows a book to be a part of the canon?
Criteria of Canonicity
1. Authorship – The primary criteria is authorship. If God truly spoke using human authors, then the authors He chose were the ones who were inspired by the Holy Spirit (i.e. OT patriarchs, prophets, NT apostles). However, there is clear evidence that some of the books of the Bible (such as Hebrews), were no authored by known apostles. So how does one affirm the canonicty of such a book? Which leads to point number two.
2. Doctrinal Consistency – The book is consistent not just within itself, but throughout the whole breadth of Scripture. Therefore, the book firmly upholds the major doctrines that the rest of Scripture teaches.
3. Self-Attestation – The book affirms its place and authority as Scripture. Unlike the Apocrypha which never assumes any authority, Hebrews writes, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 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.” There is a clear understanding that the means of communication between God and humanity has changed and this letter would fill in the gaps.
4. Church Witness – This is not the ultimate criteria, but it is an important one. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice.” In light of 2000 years of faithful witness, the church has recognized the current books of the Bible as true, and any attempt to rid the canon of any particular book has been thwarted. There is no doubt as to whether the church recognizes any of the books as God’s legitimate Word.
Further Additions or Subtractions to the Canon
Revelation 22:18-19 says: “18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” This is a warning bearing eternal consequences that must not go challenged. To attempt to undermine these words carries too grave of circumstances to be taken lightly.
The Sword of the Spirit
Paul writes in Ephesians 6:17: “Take…the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.” Out of Paul’s list of spiritual armor in this text, it is Scripture which is the only offensive weapon against the wiles of Satan. Jesus Himself proved this in his confrontation with Satan in the desert. When tempted Jesus responded in Matthew 4:4: “4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
It is also clear that the Bible is what gives the Christian the desire and delight to worship God. So the Psalmist writes:
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb. (Psalm 19:7-10)
May you always relish His Word as it revives your soul, brings joy to your heart, gives light to your eyes, and becomes sweet to the heart!