In this session of Secret Church 17, Pastor David Platt explains what Christians mean when we claim that the Bible is true. In order to clarify some important aspects of Scripture’s truthfulness, Articles I–XIX of the document titled “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” are used throughout this session.
The following three questions are a sample of the kinds of issues covered: (1) “Does Scripture contain errors?” (2) “Is every word of the Bible inspired by God, or does inspiration only relate to the ideas and concepts revealed in Scripture?” (3) “Is it accurate to refer to our current Bible translations as the Word of God?” Such questions must be addressed in each generation as the authority of Scripture is constantly under attack. If we believe that God is true, then we must affirm that his Word is true.
- Three Foundations
- One Implication
- Affirmations and Denials
Our second question is certainly related to the first: is the Bible true? Can we trust it? Can we trust that every word in this Book is true? Can we trust that every story in this Book is true? Can we bank our lives on every single thing this Book says? That is a huge question, because that affects the way we approach this Book. If I’m banking my life, my family, my health, my happiness, my future, my eternity on this Book, I want to know it’s true. I don’t want to base my life on a lie, my family on a lie, my future, and my eternity on a lie.
Answering this question is dependent on our answer to the first question: is the Bible divine, given by God and not merely created by man? And if the answer to that question is yes, then we come to three essential foundations. I’ll put them out there, and then we’ll unpack them and even test them.
God is true.
God, by His very nature, is true. Titus 1:1-3 says God cannot lie. By His very nature, God defines truth. He is true.
The Bible is the Word of God.
We’ve just seen that. All Scripture is breathed out and inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). So if God is true and the Bible is word of God, then we have our third foundation…
The Word of God is true.
Jesus teaches in John 17:17, “Your word is truth.”
One Implication: the Bible is true
These foundations lead to one clear implication: the Bible is truthful and without error in all of its teachings. In the word of David in 2 Samuel 7:28, “O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true.” God’s Word is truthful, without error, in all of its teachings. So let’s test and see whether or not that is indeed the case. And let’s think about what we even mean when we say, “The Bible is truthful and without error in all of its teachings.”
Affirmations and Denials about the truth of the Bible
We’re going to look at a series of affirmations and denials from the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (meaning without error). Back in 1978, the year I was born, about 200 evangelical leaders came together to make a clear statement on the truthfulness of the Bible in light of increasing trends in the church to doubt, question and even deny the Bible’s truthfulness. Men like J.I. Packer, James Boice, Francis Schaeffer, John MacArthur, Carl Henry, Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson and many others said, “We want to be clear on the truthfulness of the Bible and what that means.”
So they articulated 19 Articles or statements concerning inerrancy, the truthfulness of the Bible. Each Article contains both an affirmation about Scripture, saying what’s true about Scripture, and a denial that addresses either false teachings or misunderstandings about Scripture. Some of these we will reiterate, things we’ve already looked at regarding inspiration, so we’ll go quickly through those. But then we’ll camp out on the Articles that take us in directions we haven’t gone yet.
Article I, from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.
We saw this in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, which says we are to receive Scripture as God’s authoritative Word in and of itself.
We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.
This is what we talked about when it comes to God revealing His Word and man recognizing that revelation. Man doesn’t give the Bible authority; the Bible has authority in and of itself. The Bible doesn’t receive its authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source. If that were the case, then the Church or tradition or people would be a higher authority than God’s Word, which is not true.
This is so important, here and around the world, because the Catholic Church has basically asserted that since the Church identified the canon of the Old and New Testaments, there’s a sense in which the authority of the Bible is dependent on the Church. But that is not true. It’s why we need to rightly understand all we talked about when it comes to inspiration and authority. The Church does not have authority over God’s Word. God’s Word has authority over the Church. God’s Word triumphs our traditions (Mark 7:6-13). God’s Word is supreme over every single one of us. We do not stand as authorities over God’s Word. It stands in authority over us.
If you go back to the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 3 when sin entered the world, it all started with a question: “Did God say…?” And all of a sudden, the evil idea crept into the human mind that the Word of God is subject to the judgment of man. Eve should have been suspicious when the first words coming out of the serpent’s mouth were, “Did God say…?” Well, she should have been suspicious when a snake was talking to her. But besides that, what it said should have made her suspicious, because that’s the idea that we have the authority to judge what God has said. It’s not true. The Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.
Related to Article I, Article II says this:
We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.
Now pay attention closely to the denial that accompanies this:
We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.
So throughout history, despite warnings from the Bible like the one in Revelation 22:18-19, people, even in the church, have taken the Bible and sought to add authoritative teaching to it. This is evident in various cults. Again, one of the primary examples of this is the Roman Catholic Church, which has not only added books of the Bible—the Apocrypha as we discussed—but it’s elevated Church tradition and teaching to the authority of the Bible. So when a council makes a declaration in the Catholic Church, or when the pope speaks ex cathedra, then the Catholic Church views those declarations from the councils or from the pope ex cathedra as authoritative and binding in the same way the Bible is. But when we say the Scriptures are true, we’re saying that they’re true and authoritative in a way that nothing else whatsoever is. Nothing else.
We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.
So there’s a lot that’s important in these. There are some people who have taught in the church that the Bible only becomes a revelation of God when it’s received a certain way, or the Bible is simply a record that tells us things about God, but it’s not directly revealed by God. Neither of those is true. God’s Word is God’s revelation, period. It’s not just parts of God’s Word that are God’s revelation and other parts that aren’t. We can’t pick and choose which parts we like or don’t like, based on what we think God has or has not revealed. Rather, we affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God, regardless of how well it’s received by us or anybody else.
We affirm that God Who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.
This affirmation is important, because people have said that God can’t speak divine truth through human means, through human language, because human language has limitations. So even if the Bible was inspired by God, it was written by human writers. And human writers are imperfect. They have limitations. So that introduces imperfections and limitations into the Bible. But if we’re going to say that human language is unable to be a conduit for communicating divine truth, then there would be no possible means through which God could reveal anything about Himself to us.
But we see from the beginning of the Bible that God has chosen to speak to us in language we understand. He’s chosen by His grace to convey divine truths through human language. So we affirm that God Who made mankind in His image, with the capacity to relate to Him, has used language as a means of that relating in His revelation.
We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration.
So yes, human writers—just like all of us—have limitations. They’re sinners. But that doesn’t mean they can’t speak truth. You can speak truth—I can speak truth—despite our limitations and our sinfulness. What we need then is God by His Spirit to speak truth through us, which is exactly what He’s done through biblical writers through the use of human language. This is what we see in 2 Peter 1:21.
We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.
In other words, everything we need to know about God is not in the first book or chapter of the Bible, but in the totality of the Bible as a whole. It’s evident in the progression of the Bible all the way from Genesis to Revelation. The author of Hebrews talks about this when he says in Hebrew 1:1, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” That’s a picture of progression in the Bible.
As we’ll see in a minute, so much of the story of the Bible builds and builds and builds, coming to a climax in Christ. It’s even evident the shape of the Bible with two Testaments: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word “testament” is a word for covenant. The way God reveals Himself and relates to His people in the old covenant builds until it is fulfilled in Christ in a new covenant and in the way it plays out in the days after Christ. So we affirm that God’s revelation in the Bible is progressive.
We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.
So two things are important there. One, we don’t see things in the New Testament as a correction of the Old Testament or a contradiction to it, but rather as one building upon the other. Jesus says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). In His teachings, Jesus wasn’t contradicting Old Testament Law. He was fulfilling it and taking it to a whole new level. This is evident in the verses following Matthew 5:17 in the Sermon on the Mount.
The other important denial there is that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings. People might say, and historically have said in various cults and in the Catholic Church, that since God’s revelation is progressive, then He’s still giving new revelation today. We’ll talk about this more later, but this has a huge effect on how we understand the sufficiency of the Bible, and even how we understand preaching in the church. The implications are huge, so hold on to this.
We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.
We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.
So obviously the emphasis here is in the fact that every word of Scripture, as it’s originally written, is the Word of God, inspired by God. So it’s not just overall thoughts or ideas that are important, but every single dot (Matthew 5:18).
We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit,
through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
We’ve talked about inspiration, so I won’t spend a lot of time here. But I do appreciate how this statement acknowledges mystery regarding how inspiration happens. How exactly did God inspire, by His Spirit, the writing of Scripture in such a way that it’s completely His Word and yet communicated through different people’s personalities and different styles? Some people, in response to that question, have posited that the biblical authors achieved some heightened state of human insight, but that’s not what the Bible teaches.
We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to
heightened states of consciousness of any kind.
So yes, there’s mystery as to how these authors “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). But the process of inspiration was less about the writers being raised to some other level as it is about God, in His grace, communicating in our level of language and understanding in order to give us truth about Who He is and how He works.
We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.
So divine inspiration doesn’t mean God eliminated the human element from Scripture. Biblical writers are not robot-like machines or automatons, just mechanically receiving a dictated message. They were communicating God’s truth in and through the personality God had given them.
We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.
We see this in different styles. For example, in the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each write differently. It’s the same truth about Jesus, but from different perspectives, in different styles, through different personalities. One of the things I love about 2 Peter 3:15-16 is when Peter says, “Even I have a hard time understanding how Paul writes.” Sort of like, “Ah, it’s Paul. It’s just kind of hard to understand.”
Somebody came up to me during the break and said, “You’re using some words to put in the blanks that I don’t necessarily know how to spell. So if you could maybe help on a couple of these.” So, that’s the way it works—sometimes we just don’t understand.
So Articles I through VIII basically summarize a lot of what we’ve taught. Articles IX through XII specifically address inerrancy. Follow closely.
We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.
When God inspired human authors to write Scripture, He wasn’t making them omniscient in that moment like He is. But He was guaranteeing that what they wrote was true and trustworthy when it came to everything they wrote. Everything. But someone might say, “Human writers are limited. They don’t know everything.”
Well, sure they don’t. But think about this—you don’t know everything either. But you can make a true statement, right? So of course, you can make true statements without being omniscient. You can say this night will be a long night. It’s a true statement. You could say you’re getting tired. That would be potentially a true statement. You could say the buddy next to you is pulling a Eutychus—like, that might be a true statement. But you’re not omniscient. You’re just tired.
So it’s entirely possible to make true statements without knowing everything. When we say the Bible is true, we’re affirming that everything the biblical writers assert is true. Here’s what we’re denying.
We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.
In other words, just because human writers were involved in writing God’s Word doesn’t mean that God’s Word is automatically false.
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
This is really important, because when we’re talking about inspiration and inerrancy—the Bible being without error, the truthfulness of the Bible—we need to be clear that what we’re talking about is the original documents, the original autographs. What we’re saying is the original autographs of Scripture are completely inspired. But the problem is we don’t have original autographs. What we have are subsequent manuscripts.
So people have said, “Oh, well then the Bible’s been changed. It’s been edited. Therefore what we have is not even a reflection of what was originally inspired.” Or maybe some have said, “Edits were made to correct falsehoods in the original autographs.” But when we say the Bible is inspired by God and totally true in all it says, we’re saying these original autographs of Scripture are completely inspired, and at the same time, we know that the subsequent manuscripts are extremely accurate.
We may not have the original autographs, but thousands more manuscripts exist for the Bible than any other ancient writing. The earliest manuscripts are dated to within decades of the original autographs. These manuscripts are approximately 99.5% textually consistent. In other words, it’s not like you have two manuscripts that are totally different, so you have to reconcile the two. They’re 99.5% the exact same. Norman Geisler writes:
For the New Testament, beginning with the second century ancient versions and manuscript fragments and continuing with abundant quotations of the Fathers and thousands of manuscript copies from that time to the modern versions of the Bible, there is virtually an unbroken line of testimony. Furthermore, there are not only countless manuscripts to support the integrity of the Bible (including the Old Testament since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls), but a study of the procedures of preparation and preservation of the biblical manuscript copies reveals the fidelity of the transmission process itself. In fact, it may be concluded that no major document from antiquity comes into the modern world with such evidence of its integrity as does the Bible.
In a similar way, New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce writes, “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” As a result, then:
We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected
by the absence of the autographs.
In other words, even the textual variants we have don’t affect major issues of doctrine or Christian belief. Those variants are minute.
We further deny that this absence renders the assertions of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
On the contrary, in light of the textual validity of the manuscripts we do have, we can know that to the extent these manuscripts faithfully represent the original autographs—which we can know with 99.5% certainty—then we can be sure those copies represent the true and inspired Word of God. Paleographer Sir Frederic Kenyon writes from the early 20th century:
The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.
That assertion of inerrancy then leads to an assertion about infallibility.
We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
For Scripture to be infallible means that Scripture is not only true, but it’s impossible for it to be false. As a result, it’s totally reliable in everything it says. This is important, because some people in church history have distinguished Scripture’s inerrancy from its infallibility, saying that Scripture is infallible but not inerrant, which makes no sense. If Scripture is infallible, meaning it cannot err, then by necessity it’s inerrant, meaning it does not err.
We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.
In the words of Psalm 19:7-9:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
So not just that Scripture is inspired, but that all Scripture is inerrant—without error. Follow this. Some people have claimed that the Bible is true when it comes to spiritual things and how God saves, but it’s not necessarily true when it comes to assertions it makes about science or history. Some of those explanations, some of those details, aren’t true or reliable. This is a claim I’ve heard popular, well-known, even well-respected preachers and pastors make today. I’m tempted to throw out names, but I just want to call you to be on guard.
I hear people in large churches say, “We can trust what the Bible says about salvation, but do we really have to believe that God spoke and creation came into being? Or that the entire earth flooded and one family was spared on a boat? Did Jonah really spend three nights in a fish? Were over 5,000 people really full after eating what started as five loaves and two fish? These might be fanciful stories—you don’t have to believe them in order to believe what the Bible says about salvation. The Bible speaks truthfully about that, but maybe not about all these other things.” But that kind of thinking, in essence, asserts that the Bible is not true and it cannot be trusted in all that it says.
We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
In other words, we assert that the biblical assertions in the fields of history and science are true. The Bible always tells the truth, period, regardless of what it’s talking about. We have reason to be confident in this. In the words of archeologist William Albright, “There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.”
Nelson Glueck, an authority on Israeli archaeology, wrote:
No archeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries.
Norman Geisler concludes, “There have been thousands—not hundreds—of archeological finds in the Middle East that support the picture presented in the biblical record.” So this is not stepping out into thin air with blind belief. The Bible has been proven to be accurate—archeologically, historically, scientifically. And think about it—you can’t just discard historical details or scientific facts in the Bible and the Bible still hold together. If historical details and scientific facts in the Old Testament are untrue, then the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament are untrustworthy. This is huge. Jesus references history in the Old Testament as true, including the story, for example, of Jonah and the fish. If these stories aren’t historically accurate, then what does that say about Jesus? Again, He’s at best deluded and at worst a liar. Either way, He’s not speaking truth.
So many of Jesus’ teachings and other teachings throughout the New Testament are based on historical and scientific facts in the Old Testament. Think about it. If controversial stories in the Bible are untrue, then spiritual redemptive assertions in the Bible are untrustworthy. If the creation account in Genesis 1 is untrue, then so are the assertions about God and the way He created things. Go to Colossians 1:16. If the introduction of marriage between Adam and Eve is untrue in Genesis 2, then we call into question all kinds of teachings about marriage, men, women, like we see in 1 Timothy 2:13-14.
If the account of the flood in Genesis 7 is untrue, then Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17:26-27 is untrue. The same can be said about Rahab and the spies, Jonah and the fish—even the historical resurrection of Jesus. If the resurrection of Jesus isn’t true, then the entire Christian faith falls apart. I hope it’s clear: you cannot disconnect the history of the Bible, the stories of the Bible, and the scientific statements in the Bible from the redemptive theological truths of the Bible. They’re intertwined together in a way that if one falls, they all fall.
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
So it’s good and right to say the Scripture is inerrant—without error. At the same time, we do need to understand what we’re saying when we use that word “inerrant.” That’s the reason for the denial here in Article XIII:
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose.
What that means is it would be inappropriate to evaluate the truthfulness of Scripture based on definitions of truthfulness that are beyond the purpose of Scripture. I’ll keep reading here, and then I’ll explain this.
We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, or variant selections of material in parallel accounts.
Let’s take those one by one.
“Lack of modern technical precision.”
Some people might say that in the case where the Bible doesn’t use the precise number, that’s an example of error. But that’s not true. Look at 2 Chronicles 4:1-2, where it’s talking about measurements. It records something that was described as round, and we know mathematically that precise measurement would involve a multiple of pi, i.e. 3.14 and so on. But just because the text doesn’t say the circumference was exactly 3.14 times the diameter, and instead uses a less precise numeric description, that doesn’t make that description untrue. So yes, that precision would be important if we’re describing the final specs for a computer in a rocket that’s going off to space. But that’s not what’s happening in 2 Chronicles 4. The purpose of this passage is not to identify with technical precision a precise measurement down to the smallest possible decimal. Instead what it gives is a true representation without technical precision.
“observational descriptions of nature.”
Or think about “observational descriptions of nature.” Joshua 1:15 and Psalm 113:3 talk about the rising and setting of the sun. So does that mean the Bible is falsely reporting planetary motion, because actually the earth revolves around the sun? No. Nobody’s calling the weatherman a liar when he tells us the sun is going to rise and set at certain times. He’s often misled in other ways, but when he’s talking about the sun rising and setting, he’s normally making a pretty true statement—even though it’s not astronomically precise.
“the reporting of falsehoods.”
Or think about “the reporting of falsehoods.” Sometimes in Scripture we see people say things that are false in the context of a story, which means what they said is false, but just because the Bible reports that lie or falsehood doesn’t mean the Bible is lying or saying something false. The Bible is actually saying that it’s true that someone said something false. Right? You got it?
Think about “the use of hyperbole and round numbers.” A hyperbole is a literary device that’s used to make a point, not an attempt to mislead or deceive. So when Jesus talked in Matthew 12:42 about the Queen of Sheba coming from the “ends of the earth” to hear the wisdom of Solomon, that does not mean the Bible is asserting a flat earth, and Jesus believes the Queen of Sheba came from the edge of it.
Or take round numbers like you see in Numbers 25:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:8. These are two different events, by the way, but one is talking about the death of 24,000 people and the other 23,000 people. Does that mean exactly 23,000 or exactly 24,000 people—not one more or one less? No. Just like here in Atlanta the other day, the news said 40,000 people gathered together in the Braves baseball stadium for the first game of the season. So the news wasn’t lying, even though there were actually, what?, 41,139 people there. And not as many people there after that. I went a couple nights ago, and sheesh, it’s going to be a long season for the Bravos. Nice stadium—long season. But we’ll get there. Anyway, the news was true. You see what I mean.
“The topical arrangement of material.”
Two more examples. “The topical arrangement of material.” This is something you see, for example, in different Gospel accounts, where the Gospel writers will intentionally arrange their material not just chronologically, but actually topically. I chose Mark 11:12-21 because that’s an instance where Mark intentionally sandwiches the story about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple in between His cursing the fig tree right before that and then the fig tree withering right after that. In its arrangement, he’s actually communicating a point about the dead fruit of religion that’s being practiced at that time at the temple. But just because Mark arranges it this way doesn’t mean it’s untrue.
“variant selections of material in parallel accounts.”
Related to that, “variant selections of material in parallel accounts.” For this I chose Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Luke records the crowd saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). But then Matthew records them saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Does that mean one of these is untrue? Or maybe the crowd sang two songs that day and they’re both true.
The Bible is inerrant in all it says, and we “deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, or variant selections of material in parallel accounts.”
But what about problem passages? Aren’t there a few places where these kinds of explanations still don’t answer our questions? Enter Article XIV.
We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
Which means Scripture doesn’t contradict Scripture. Scripture supports Scripture. Now there are some passages that challenge us in a sense. Yet in those passages:
We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.
People often say, “Well, the Bible is full of contradictions.” To which I always respond, “Ah, okay. Name one.” Most people can’t—because there are relatively few even apparent contradictions, at least at first sight. And any such instances are relatively minor. But we’re affirming the total truthfulness of the Bible here down to the minor details, so let’s go there. Second Samuel 24:9, talking about David’s census, says, “Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.” then in 1 Chronicles 21:5 we read, “And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword.”
If you compare the last two numbers—500,000 and 470,000—that might just be a case of rounding a number. But the difference between 800,000 and 1.1 million seems pretty significant, particularly when you’re talking about a census that counts people. So is this a contradiction? Is this untrue? Well, not so fast. If you keep reading in 1 Chronicles 21:6, you find out that the tribes of Levi and Benjamin were omitted in that number. Or others who have studied this passage have shown differences in censuses like this between a public list and a private list to be used in different ways.
We’re not really 100% positive why this discrepancy is there, but it certainly seems possible that both of these statements can be true at the same time and are not indeed contradicting one another.
Three Approaches to contradictions regarding the truth of the Bible
So how do we approach situations like this in Scripture? I’ll put three potential approaches on the table.
- The harmonizing approach. This means we should force a resolution, no matter how fanciful it might seem. In other words, we do whatever it takes to reconcile two texts—even if we have to jump through some major hoops in the process—just so it will make sense to us.
- The heretical approach. This means we deny the truthfulness of one or both passages. We say, “Okay, if I can’t figure it out, then it must not be true. End of story.”
- The humble approach. In this approach, we work to resolve the alleged discrepancy, but we do that with the realization that we don’t know everything. We may not be able to bring it to total resolution to our satisfaction. We don’t however sit back lazily and pretend like the details aren’t important. But neither do we try to force those details in a way that has to make sense to us. Instead, we consult resources, basically trying to learn the background and information from people who’ve studied these passages a lot more than we have. In the above situation, they might point us to the next verse in 1 Chronicles. They might help us to see what we might not have seen without their help.
In the end then, we can have confidence. Even if we don’t have all the facts, but in light of the clear truthfulness of the Bible in all the matters it addresses from cover to cover, we can trust that a few small details here that we don’t understand have a good explanation for them in the end. It’s what I love about this quote from TIME Magazine, dated December 30, 1974. In the midst of modernity and rationalism and science and all the attacks on the Bible, this quote from a secular magazine says:
After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived—and is perhaps the better for the siege. Even on the critics’ own terms—historical fact—the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack.
We can have confidence that the Bible is inspired by the God Who is true and that He will indeed prove it to be true in the end.
The last few Articles connect this all together.
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.
People have said, “Because the Bible never uses the word ‘inerrant,’ it’s not inerrant.” But as we’ve already seen, the inerrancy of the Bible is a natural conclusion from the inspiration of the Bible and specifically from Jesus’ view of the Bible. We saw when we talked about inspiration that Jesus viewed the Scriptures as divinely inspired. So:
We deny that Jesus’ teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.
People have actually said that “Jesus was merely a product of His times. He couldn’t have known all the problems and questions that might be raised by Bible critics in the centuries to come. So He accepted the Scriptures as inerrant because basically He didn’t know any better. He didn’t know what we know now.” I don’t even know where to start in responding to that. That’s a whole ‘nother Secret Church on the identity and integrity of Jesus.
Suffice it to say, if Jesus was wrong about the Bible, who’s to say He wasn’t wrong about a host of other things? And the implications of that for our salvation are huge. If Jesus spoke in error about the Bible out of ignorance—as if He didn’t know any better—then He would be guilty of sin for claiming to know truth that He didn’t know. Or if Jesus spoke in error and knew He was speaking in error, then He would be guilty of sin for lying. Either way Jesus is guilty of sin and unable to pay the price for our sin—then we would all be stuck in our sin forever.
So be careful. Please, please be very careful not to step down a slippery slope in statements about what seem to be like small things that lead to dark and extremely dangerous conclusions. We can believe what Jesus said about the Bible and its total truthfulness. In John 3:12, Jesus said, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church’s faith throughout its history.
This is not a new doctrine.
So this is not a new doctrine.
We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by Scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.
In other words, inerrancy isn’t just something we’re talking about today because of criticism of the Bible in the 20th and 21st centuries. Inerrancy—while that exact word hasn’t necessarily been used throughout history—this doctrine most definitely has been asserted from the beginning of Christian history. Clement of Rome in the first century said, “The Sacred Scriptures are ‘the true utterances of the Holy Spirit.’ You know that in them there hath not been written anything that is unrighteous or counterfeit.” Irenaeus in the second century wrote, “The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit.” Origen, in the third century, said:
The sacred volumes are fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, and there is no passage either in the Law or the Gospel, or the writings of an Apostle, which does not proceed from the inspired source of Divine Truth.
In the fourth century, Augustine wrote this:
I have learnt to ascribe to those Books which are of Canonical rank, and only to them, such reverence and honor, that I firmly believe that no single error due to the author is found in any of them. And when I am confronted in these Books with anything that seems to be at variance with truth, I do not hesitate to put it down either to the use of an incorrect text, or to the failure of a commentator rightly to explain the words, or to my own mistaken understanding of the passage.
This certainty continues all the way up to the Reformation, when Luther said, “The Scriptures have never erred….The Scriptures cannot err….It is certain that Scripture would not contradict itself; it only appears so to the senseless and obdurate hypocrites.” I praise God for statements like these asserting inerrancy in our day, and I am convinced that it is our responsibility to pass on this truth to those who come behind us. The doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the church’s faith throughout its history and will be integral to the church’s faith throughout its future.
This starts to hit on the relationship between the Spirit and the Word.
We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.
We don’t just believe the Bible because of its archeological or historical evidence. We believe the Bible because it’s true, because the Spirit of God testifies to us the truthfulness of it as we read it. This is what I love about John Piper’s new books on the Bible, A Peculiar Glory and Reading the Bible Supernaturally. They emphasize the work of the Spirit in revealing the glory of God in the Word of God in a way that causes us to see the truth and the beauty of the Bible. So we affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, and:
We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.
It’s important that we see the Holy Spirit working in and through Scripture—never in isolation from or in contradiction to Scripture. Practically, this is important. People sometimes say, “God is leading me to do this or that.” But “this or that” goes against God’s Word. People say, “Well, I just want to follow the Spirit’s leadership,” but they aren’t reading the Word consistently. If that’s the case, then people aren’t following the Spirit or the leadership of God, because God’s Word and God’s Spirit always go together.
We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
Well, what in the world does that mean? We’ll actually dive into this more later, but this is basically just saying how we understand and interpret the Bible is not by reading our thoughts into it but by taking God’s thoughts and truths out of it. That mean we need to understand how Scripture speaks grammatically and historically in different ways through different genres and literary devices. We’ll talk about all of that and how we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. We need to be clear though about what we deny.
We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship
In other words, we don’t study the Bible with a critical focus on discounting, discarding or diluting it.
Then finally, Article XIX, and this is really a summary.
We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith.
In other words, this is not just a side issue—this is a central issue. And it’s a personal issue.
We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.
When 2 Timothy 3:14-17 talks about how Scripture is inspired by God, look at why this is important for Timothy. Paul’s instruction is this:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
So realize what that’s saying. If we deny inerrancy—if we deny that the Bible is without error—then we cannot trust the Word of God. How do we know it’s true? And if that’s the case, how do we know how to really have salvation? And how will we be trained, corrected or taught by that which isn’t true? If we deny inerrancy, then we cannot trust the Word of God. Even more important, if we deny inerrancy, then we cannot trust the God of the Word. This is huge!
So we come back to our initial three foundations. If the Word of God is not true, then the God of the Word is not true, and the entire foundation of our faith falls. “We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith.” At the same time:
We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation.
So follow this. What is required for somebody to be saved? Think Romans 10:9. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We’re saved by turning from our sin and ourselves, trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Which means you don’t have to be able to state the doctrine of biblical inerrancy in order to be saved.
However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.
In other words, yes, you don’t have to believe the doctrine of inerrancy in order to be saved from your sins, but as a follower of Christ, beware. If you reject inerrancy, then you are undercutting the entire foundation of your faith and the essential facets of your faith that are built upon the truthfulness of the Bible.
I love the way theologian Millard Erickson puts this:
The best way to proceed is to observe what tend to be the implications for other areas of doctrine when biblical inerrancy is abandoned. There is evidence that where a theologian, a school, or a movement begins by regarding biblical inerrancy as a peripheral or optional matter and abandons this doctrine, it frequently then goes on to abandon or alter other doctrines which the church has ordinarily considered quite major, such as the deity of Christ or the Trinity. Since, as we argued in the opening chapter of this book, history is the laboratory in which theology tests its ideas, we must conclude that the departure from belief in the complete trustworthiness of the Bible is a very serious step, not only in terms of what it does to this one doctrine, but even more in terms of what happens to other doctrines as a result.
Conclusion: The Bible is true
This is why these Articles on Bible Inerrancy are so important, why it’s so important for us to ask and answer the question, “Is the Bible true? Can we trust it?” So listen to this conclusion from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. And if they were saying this in 1978, how much more should we be shouting this today?
In our affirmation of the authority of Scripture as involving its total truth, we are consciously standing with Christ and His apostles, indeed with the whole Bible and with the main stream of Church history from the first days until very recently. We are concerned at the casual, inadvertent, and seemingly thoughtless way in which a belief of such far-reaching importance has been given up by so many in our day. We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible which God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one’s critical reasonings and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further.
In other words, don’t miss the danger. I urge you, don’t miss the danger in our day and begin to “go light” on the Bible. Don’t say, “Well, that story is a bit fanciful” or “That detail may not be true,” and in the process step down a slippery slope that leads to abandonment of the truth and trustworthiness of God in His Word. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bible is true and it can be trusted.
Session 4 Discussion Questions
Study Guide pp. 60-77
1. What evidence have you heard people cite to argue that the Bible contains errors?
2. Why is it inconsistent to say that God is true but Scripture contains errors?
3. Respond to the following statement: “I believe the basic ideas of Scripture are true, but not necessarily every word.”
4. Does the fact that Scripture contains many literary styles undermine the claim that it is God’s Word? Explain your answer.
5. Given that we don’t have access to the original manuscripts of the Bible, how can we have confidence in the truthfulness of our English translations of the Bible?
6. The Bible refers to the rising of the sun (Psalm 113:3), but science teaches us that, technically speaking, this is not an accurate description of what happens. Why isn’t this evidence of an error in God’s Word?
7. How should we approach alleged errors in Scripture? What’s the danger of trying to force a solution that might not be accurate?
8. Is the concept of Scripture’s inerrancy new? Defend your answer.
9. What would you say to another believer who is contradicting Scripture and yet claims to be led by the Holy Spirit?
10. What are some practical ways you can grow in your confidence in God’s Word?
Key Terms and Concepts
- Three Foundations
- God is true. (Titus 1:1–3)
- The Bible is the Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16)
- The Word of God is true. (John 17:17)
- One Implication
- The Bible is truthful and without error in all of its teachings. (2 Samuel 7:28)
- See Articles I–XIX of “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” for affirmations and denials related to the truthfulness of the Bible. (This document can be downloaded for free at radical.net.) The following terms from the Chicago Statement are in alphabetical order, and the articles in which they appear are italicized below each term.
- accommodation: to claim that Jesus accommodated his teaching on Scripture is to claim that, regardless of what He actually believed, Jesus was willing to speak as if He accepted the authority of the Scriptures so that His contemporaries, who did believe in the authority of the Scriptures, would be more open to receiving His message. One danger with appealing to accommodation is that it presents Jesus as being untruthful in his teaching. In addition, Jesus was often willing to oppose the teachings and assumptions of his contemporaries, so it is not convincing to dismiss His statements about Scripture by claiming that He was simply accepting false views for the sake of making His point. – Article XV
- autographs: the original biblical writings, which were written in Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament). A good Bible translation will aim to be as faithful as possible to the original autographs and their copies. – Article X
- exegesis: “the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning.” – Article XVIII
- fallenness: a reference to man’s condition as a result of sin’s corruption. Sin has corrupted everything about us, including our desires, motivations, and actions. – Article IX
- finitude: a reference to man’s limitations as a creature who lacks God’s knowledge, power, and other attributes. Even prior to sin’s corruption, man was designed to live in dependence on his Creator. – Article IX
- grammatico-historical exegesis: study of Scripture that takes into account its wording/grammar and historical context. – Article XVIII
- hyperbole: a literary device in which an exaggeration is used for a particular purpose or effect. Nearly all forms of literature use hyperbole. For example, to say, “I love chocolate chip cookies so much that I could eat a thousand of them,” is not an inaccurate statement, but rather an attempt to state how much one loves chocolate chip cookies. – Article XIII
- inerrant: without error. To say that Scripture is inerrant is to say that it has no errors. – Articles X, XI, XII, XIII, XV, XVI, XIX
- infallible: incapable of erring or failing. To say that Scripture is infallible is to say that Scripture is incapable of erring.4 – Articles XI, XII
- internal consistency of Scripture: the idea that no part of Scripture contradicts or disagrees with any other part of Scripture. – Article XIV
- manuscript: a writing. Written copies of the biblical text are referred to as manuscripts. – Article X
- modern technical precision: to say that a passage or a verse lacks modern technical precision is to say that it does not intend to be exact in its description. For instance, Scripture may say that an army had 600,000 men, not because the biblical author was unaware that the actual number of men was either more or less than this number, but rather because he was attempting to give an approximate count. We do something similar when we say that there were 5,000 people at the game, knowing that the actual number may have been slightly higher or lower. – Article XIII
- omniscient: all-knowing. When we say God is omniscient, we are affirming that He knows everything. – Article IX
- progressive revelation: to say that God’s revelation was progressive is to say that God made known more of himself and his ways over time. Later revelation builds off of earlier revelation. – Article V
- revelation: that which God chooses to make known to us. (See the previous session for more on the two different types of revelation: (1) general communication and (2) special communication.) – Articles III, IV, V
- Scholastic Protestantism: an attempt by Protestants beginning in the early-to-mid seventeenth century to take the teachings of the Reformation and put them into a more organized, or systematic, form. The Protestant Scholastics gathered the teachings of the Reformation and evaluated how those teachings answered common theological questions. – Article XVI
- tradition: in the context of Scripture’s authority, tradition refers to the way the church, or certain segments of the church, has understood and articulated the teaching of Scripture. – Article I