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History of the Doctrine of Inerrancy and Its Importance

Inerrancy  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  56:51
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History of the Doctrine of Inerrancy and Its Importance Lesson # 2

If we look back at church history, we can see the doctrine of inerrancy has only become an issue in modern times because the church fathers accepted completely the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures as a self-evident fact.
They never defended the doctrine in their times because it was assumed.
The early church employed the Scriptures to defend the deity of Christ.
Augustine declared the following statement regarding inerrancy, he wrote “For I confess to your charity that I have learned to defer this respect and honor to those Scriptural books only which are not called canonical, that I believe most firmly that no one of those authors has erred in any respect in writing.”[1]
The doctrine of inerrancy was not developed very much during the medieval period.
Instead, the church concentrated primarily on defining the relationship of the Bible to the authorities in the church such as the pope.
Most Christians and Christian scholars held a high view of inspiration and inerrancy during this period.
However, this stagnation came to an end with the Reformation because the Reformers emphasized the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy even though these subjects were not mentioned often in their writings.
For the Reformers like Luther and Calvin, the Scriptures held the highest authority in the church against the claim of the Roman Catholic church that the pope is the highest authority.
Ryrie writes “Calvin referred to the Scriptures as the ‘sure and infallible record’[2] and the ‘unerring standard.’[3] Luther declared in no uncertain terms: ‘I have learned to ascribe this honor i.e., infallibility only to books which are termed canonical, so that I confidently believe that not one of their authors erred….’[4] It has been in the modern period that the doctrine has of necessity had to be developed. The rationalistic attacks on the reliability of historical matters with a subsequent questioning of the authenticity of the text of Scripture were a denial of inerrancy and rejection of inspiration. It is important to notice that the two doctrines—inerrancy and inspiration—fell together under these attacks. Thus a new theory of inspiration arose which recognized the inspiration of certain truths in general and in so far as they conformed to natural reason. The doctrines of human fallibility in the production of Scripture and the infallibility of human reason in the interpretation of Scripture had gained the day. But God had prepared others to expound and defend the truth. What the church owes to men like Hodge and Warfield can scarcely be measured. Their writings on these matters concerning inspiration are still classics. More recently, and in their train, Thy Word Is Truth by Edward J. Young presents and defends well verbal inspiration and inerrancy.”[5]
In modern times, liberal scholarship has attacked the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible who viewed an inspired experience in place of an inspired text.
Neo-orthodoxy followed by neo-liberalism has been in the forefront of this attack.
Both these schools contend that the Scriptures are fallible.
They both believe that revelation can not be given in propositional truth but instead only in one’s personal encounter with God.
Barth attempted to defend some of the authority of the Bible but failed.
However, he did argue that the Bible does bear witness though fallibly, to Christ who is the revelation of God.
Thus, Barth was heavily influenced by the liberal scholarship in his periphery.
Therefore, these schools do not believe the Bible is inerrant.
Consequently, they view the individual reader’s opinion of a particular text in the Bible as the authority which of course is totally subjective.
This view permeates liberal scholarship even in the twenty-first century.
Therefore, both neo-orthodoxy and neo-liberalism attack the verbal inspiration of the Bible and inerrancy because they realize that both stand together.
Ryrie writes “The importance of Biblical inerrancy can best be seen in its relationships. In relation to the character of God. We believe God’s Word to be infallible simply because God Himself is infallible. God is true (John 3:33; 17:3; Rom 3:4; 1 Thess 1:9), and this true God speaks in the true Scriptures. ‘What Scripture says is to be received as the infallible Word of the infallible God, and to assert biblical inerrancy and infallibility is just to confess faith in (i) the divine origin of the Bible and (ii) the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God.’[6] But, the critics say, fallible men have corrupted what originally came from God in perfect form. Certainly, this need not be true, for God is fully able to preserve the record of His revelation inerrant. Only an examination of the Biblical evidence itself can determine whether or not there are errors, but not only is it not necessary that there be errors, but it is more plausible that the God of truth and power would preserve the record without error. ‘Revelation is but half revelation unless it be infallibly communicated; it is but half communicated unless it be infallibly recorded.’[7] Men were used but they were used by being borne along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21). This is what kept the record from error even though fallible men were used in producing it. In relation to inspiration. A full and high view of inspiration requires inerrancy as a natural and necessary part of it. Errancy and inspiration are incompatible. ‘The real reason why men oppose the doctrine of an infallible Scripture is that they are not willing to embrace the Biblical doctrine of inspiration. There is no such thing as inspiration which does not carry with it the correlate of infallibility. A Bible that is fallible—and we speak of course of the original—is a Bible that is not inspired. A Bible that is inspired is a Bible that is infallible. There is no middle ground.’[8] Sometimes in an attempt to preserve inspiration without infallibility, the latter is limited to matters of ‘faith and practice.’ In other words, the Bible is infallibly inspired in doctrinal areas which concern the Christian’s faith and life, but in ‘lesser’ matters it is only inspired but not inerrant. It is popular, for instance, to exclude today the area of scientific matters from infallibility. ‘The Bible is not a textbook of science’ is the cry. While this is true, such a statement should not be used to deceive people into thinking that when the Bible speaks on a matter that is in the area of science it may be in error. Although the Bible is not a textbook of science, when it records a scientific fact it speaks of that fact with infallible authority just the same as with matters of ‘faith and practice.’ If there are these parts of the Bible which are not inerrant, then the question properly arises, Who decides which parts are true and which parts are erroneous? One cannot hold to inspiration and infallibility of certain parts and only the inspiration of other parts. In relation to the Bible’s witness concerning itself. Below we will seek to show briefly that the Bible witnesses to its own infallibility. Obviously, if it is not infallible, it bears a false witness, and cannot be surely trusted in any of the matters on which it speaks. Its inerrancy, therefore, is vital to its own claims. In relation to authority. As stated above, the authority of the Bible is under attack today by those who charge that such authority is the authority of a ‘paper Pope.’ Instead, they say, authority is in Christ, not the Bible for God’s Word must not be ‘petrified in a dead record.’[9] This is such a superpious statement that it apparently cannot be questioned. But questioned it must be, for how can Christ have any authority if the witness to Him (the Bible) is not infallible? And if it is infallible, then it has authority too. (And of course, the fundamentalist does not say the Bible has authority and Christ does not, although the Barthian tries to make our position appear thus.) There is no other way of knowing about Christ and His authority except through the Bible. If the Bible is subject to error, then conceivably and very likely one of those errors concerns our knowledge of Him. It may concern his supernatural origin, or His deity, or His teachings, or His resurrection. And if in every detail He is not all that He claimed to be (and we would have our doubts if the witness to His claims is not inerrant), then what authority does that kind of person have? Both the authority of Christ and the authority of the Scriptures depend on the inerrancy of the Scriptures, for statements that are not completely true cannot be absolutely authoritative. Furthermore, parts of the Bible cannot be true and thus authoritative while other parts are not. It is not a book that is authoritative only in matters of ‘faith and practice.’ Warfield correctly observed: ‘The authority which cannot assure of a hard fact is soon not trusted for a hard doctrine.’[10][11]
[1] Epistolae, 82. i, 3.
[2] Job, p. 744.
[3] Institutes, I, 149.
[4] M. Reu, Luther and the Scriptures, p. 24.
[5] (1963). Bibliotheca Sacra, 120(478), 138–139.
[6] J. I. Packer, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God, pp. 95-96.
[7] B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 442.
[8] Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth, pp. 108-9.
[9] J. K. S. Reid, The Authority of Scripture, p. 279.
[10] Op. cit., p. 181.
[11] (1963). Bibliotheca Sacra, 120(478), 140–142.
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