Tag Archives: Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy

Inerrancy and Interpretation: An Extended Review of Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy

What is biblical inerrancy? At one level, it is pretty simple and straightforward. As Christian philosopher and apologist Norman Geisler says, “The Bible is the Word of God, and God cannot err; therefore, the Bible cannot err.” If the Bible cannot err, the Bible is inerrant. Broadly speaking, I support this logic.

Such logic, essentially means, that when we read the Bible, we can have the confidence that God is speaking truth to us, through the sacred text. A so called “Bible difficulty” is due to either an error with the translation, a faulty exposition being given about what the Bible says, or because of some misunderstanding on the part of the reader. The problem is never with God’s Word itself.

Pretty clear, right? Well, as they say, often the “devil is in the details.” Different Christians sometimes have different ideas of what they mean by “inerrancy,” and these differences can have diverse consequences in the details.  Digging into those details has led some people to be encouraged in their faith in times of doubt, while raising more doubts in the minds of others, and thereby providing fuel to the skeptics’ fire. How can this be?

It all depends on how “inerrancy” is defined and defended. Have you ever thought about how the four Gospels treat Peter’s “three” denials of Jesus?

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Henry Morris and the Case of the Missing Signature

Henry M. Morris (1918-2006). Along with Grace Theological Seminary's John C. Whitcomb, this engineer was one of the fathers of the contemporary Young Earth Creationist movement.

Henry M. Morris (1918-2006). Along with Grace Theological Seminary’s John C. Whitcomb, this engineer was one of the pioneers of the contemporary Young Earth Creationist movement and a leading figure in the inerrancy crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s.

The pen lay undisturbed on the table. The document needed one more signature. Others had scribed their name in ink. But Dr. Henry Morris had left the room. The hope for having a unified front in defense of the inerrancy of the Bible were dashed at that moment.

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) had accomplished so much. In 1977, this group of Bible scholars and teachers had drafted a document affirming a set of principles that sought to expound on the meaning of Biblical inspiration and authority. Christian leaders from across the widest denominational spectrum had agreed to put aside their relative doctrinal differences to stand on what Francis Schaeffer had understood to be the “watershed of the evangelical world“. Against the tide of a creeping liberalism in the churches that would compromise God’s Truth, these leaders had pinned their hopes on the banner of inerrancy to unite the evangelical church.

But it was now 1982, and despite how well things had gone, the unique opportunity for a consensus was gone. How did we get here, and what went wrong?
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Inerrancy Summits and the Valleys of Interpretation

The saddle between Grays and Torreys Peaks in Colorado.

The saddle between Grays and Torreys Peaks in Colorado. I am the guy in the red jacket.

I love hiking in the Colorado Rockies. In 2006, a buddy of mine and I hiked two of Colorado’s famous “fourteeners,” mountains that rise above 14,000 feet, in one day. In the photo, I am walking up from the saddle connecting these two huge peaks, with Grays Peak to my back and the photo being taken from a few hundred feet below the summit of Torreys Peak. I love this picture because it eerily captures the pure desolation at such heights, with the clouds just crossing this “valley” between the two mountain summits. If you click on the photo for more detail, you can barely make out the dozens of other climbers that day as they made their way between these beautiful peaks.

This camera shot fits well with the topic at hand, the relationship between inerrancy “summits” and the “valleys” of biblical interpretation.
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Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

What does it mean to say that the Bible is without error? For a number of people, the answer is a no-brainer: either the Bible has errors (skeptics) or it does not (Bible-believer). But is it really that simple?

Back in the 1970s, a group of evangelical scholars got together and drafted The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It was an attempt by the best conservative evangelical minds at the time to articulate an understanding of the authority of Scripture that was faithful and consistent with what the Scriptures actually teach. The framers remarkably were able to come together with a unified understanding of what inerrancy means with respect to the Bible. For example, while English grammarians may dispute the correctness of using “regardless” or “irregardless” in a sentence, such similar issues of standardization for ancient Greek grammar do not apply to the concept of inerrancy according to the Chicago framers. In other words, the New Testament was never meant to be a textbook in Greek grammar. While the Chicago Statement was largely accepted within the evangelical faith community back then, there were some rough edges.

Those rough edges are still with us some thirty years later.

In Zondervan’s latest Counterpoint series book, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, we find Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the intellectual leader of the largest Protestant evangelical denomination in North America. He enthusiastically supports and affirms the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to be just as true for us today as it was back in the 1970s. Al Mohler is smart. He is articulate. He is well-read. He is passionate for the truth.

But according to Bible scholar and Ancient Near East literature expert Pete Enns, Al Mohler is also dead wrong. To those familiar with the compromises associated with liberal Protestantism, the complaint registered by Enns is nothing new, except that Pete Enns says that he is still speaking as an evangelical. Enns, formerly an Old Testament scholar at the Westminster Theological Seminary, says that the Chicago understanding of inerrancy advocated by Mohler is flawed and does not do proper justice to how the Bible truly presents itself to us.

In between the above polar opposite positions (further represented with excerpts from the book on the BibleGateway blog by Mohler and Enns) are other contributors, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, and John Franke, each who in their own distinct way think that while inerrancy is still in some sense a useful term for understanding the authority of Scripture, its definition should be carefully reevaluated in view of new challenges to our understanding of the Biblical text.

When thinking about inerrancy, there is a certain sense of nuance involved and attention to what is meant by “inerrancy“. For those who look at the Bible from afar, this may not register too much, but for those who really dive into the Biblical text, as John Paine is encouraging us to do in his recent series on Who Wrote the Bible, it becomes really important.

Inerrant and Infallible

We cannot explain or resolve all parts of Scripture.  However, to surmise that apparent conflicts in the Bible must be ‘errors’ is an arrogant and dangerous supposition.  Too many people give up too easily—if it doesn’t make sense they aren’t willing to dig deeper.  Or to trust. Bible

A couple of years ago I listened as wise, godly friends discussed the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.  All of them are mature Christians.  The issue was not the authority of Scripture for faith and practice.  The issue was whether it is necessary and/or appropriate to include in our statement of faith that the Bible contains the ‘inerrant’ and ‘infallible’ word of God.

While I try not to get too personal with this blog, the most that I can contribute on this topic is personal.  Specifically, the more I study the more it all makes sense.  Not just in a little way, but in one “Oh wow!” realization after another.

Many (not all) passages that at one time confused me or caused me to wonder if the writer was correct, came into sharper focus with deeper study.  This detailed-study-leads-to-edification process has happened so many times that my view on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible has strengthened considerably.

Just one example—I recently audited an apologetics course entitled Creation and the Bible by Reasons To Believe.  Dr. Hugh Ross, a renowned astrophysicist and the founder of Reasons To Believe states in his testimony that he became a Christian by reading the foundational books of the world’s religions and discarding them one by one based upon scientific errors apparent in their text.  When he got to the Bible however, he found 13 scientifically accurate statements about the creation of the universe in the first chapter of Genesis.  If you take the time to dig, the details are amazing and dramatically support the case for ascribing inerrancy and infallibility to the Bible.

There’s no shortage of opinions on the accuracy of the Bible.  Our post-modern culture promotes individual opinions and disharmony over conformity and agreement.  Fine.  Got it.  No one wants to give a straightforward yes or no to the question of Biblical inerrancy, and actually that should be the case.  What do you do with translation differences, poetry, allegorical statements, the use of Koine (slang) Greek, textual criticism, differing accounts of the same events by different authors, a lack of modern technical precision, observational descriptions of nature, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, and so on?  It takes a fair amount of clarification before we can get to a yes or no response.

But the concepts behind these adjectives are extremely important, and there are those who have done a very good job building a case for unity on this topic.  The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a document worthy of very careful reading.  Before I read it, I had my own unfocused views on the subject.  After reading it and thinking it through, I’m in.  I support the Chicago Statement.

So back to the question of whether it is necessary or appropriate to include that the Bible is inerrant and infallible in our statement of faith.  In its constitutional context, the Williamsburg Community Chapel’s statement of faith is reduced to eight points about which we believe so strongly that we would break fellowship with those who would disagree.  In this context, personally I believe it is appropriate—but not necessary—to include these terms (see Article XIX of the Chicago Statement).  In other words, would I break fellowship with someone who was struggling with the genealogies of Christ in Matthew versus Luke?  No.  Would I break fellowship with someone who insisted that the differences in these genealogies prove the errancy of the Bible?  Absolutely.  More importantly, do I believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible, inspired word of God?  Yes.

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