The Evangelical Doctrine of Inerrancy

by | Mar 30, 2017 | Adult Christian Learning | 0 comments


A Response to Mike Licona, Bill Craig, Andy Stanley, et al.

It is perfectly natural to expect that naturalistic atheistism would oppose the historic Christian doctrine of biblical inerrancy. And no one is taken by surprise when radical skeptics construct a fresh new way to reject the epistemic authority of the Scriptures. But when leading apologists, pastors, and theologians within Christianity, and even within evangelicalism reject the historic Christian doctrine of inerrancy, shockwaves are felt throughout the Christian community. We had rolled up our sleeves and had begun to restore doctrine to its proper place in the wake of Rick Warren’s seeker-sensitive approach that led so many astray regarding the displacement of Christian doctrine in the name of Christian love and for the sake of “Christian relationship.” I believe we were making good progress in some quarters at least. However, the impulse is back with a vengeance and not only that, it has advanced. Previously, it was the product of Scripture, doctrine, that was only seen to be overemphasized by some, now it is Scripture itself that has to be devalued and humbled so that it can take its proper, less offensive, or even perhaps non-offensive place. You see, a high view of Scripture is offensive to the pagans, to the unbelievers. This high view of Scripture is quite frankly, getting in the way of evangelism and apologetics. Not to fear, men like William Lane Craig, Andy Stanley, and Mike Licona have a solution for this problem: lower your view of Scripture and more people will accept Christianity. It is just that easy. Don’t want to believe in six days of Creation? Don’t like the flood of Noah? Does the virgin birth seem ridiculous? No problem! You don’t have to affirm these things in order to be a Christian. It does not matter what the Bible claims, the Bible contains numerous errors. You don’t have to believe everything the Bible teaches in order to be a Christian.

Do not be discouraged! These battles are part of what it means to be called into God’s community of the elect, the chosen ones, the royal priesthood, the chosen generation, a holy nation, the divine army. The purpose of this post is to 1) demonstrate how out of touch this view of Scripture is with ancient Christianity all the way up to the enlightenment period; 2) show that it is a blantant contradiction with what Scripture affirms about itself; 3) explain why the argument itself fails to achieve it’s goal; 4) prove that if taken to its logical end, Christianity should be abandoned altogether by any and every rational human being.

The history of the doctrine of inerrancy in Christian belief

No matter what term it used, the church from its birth was united in its belief that the Word of God is true and contains no error. The first significant challenge to this belief did not arise until the seventeenth century.[1] From Judaism Christianity inherited the conception of the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. Whenever our Lord and His apostles quoted the Old Testament, it is plain that they regarded it as the word of God.[2] Donald Bloesch writes, “Contrary to what is commonly believed in liberal and neo–orthodox circles, there is a long tradition in the church that represents the teaching of Scripture as being without error. References to the Scriptures as inerrabilis are to be found in Augustine, Aquinas and Duns Scotus. The adjective infallibilis was applied to Scripture by John Wycliffe and Jean de Gerson. Luther and Calvin described the Bible as being infallible and without error. Calvin referred to the Bible as “the unerring rule” for faith and practice. The word inerrancy first became current in English in the middle and later nineteenth century. It was first generally used by Roman Catholics and then by conservative Presbyterians.”[3]

Clement wrote, “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them.”[4] Iranaeus believed that the Scriptures were true, “Besides the above [misrepresentations], they adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth.”[5] “We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries.”[6] These views are also reflected in Tertullian, Origen, Theophilus, Justin Martyr, Athansius, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and many others besides these. The point is that from the very beginnings of Christianity, Christians had inherited the doctrine of inerrancy of Sacred Scriptures from the Jews. This only makes sense because the first Christians were Jews. Moreover, Jesus Himself was a Jew and clearly accepted and taught his closest disciples that the Scriptures were perfect, witout error and unbreakable. I will address this in the next section. Suffice it to say that anyone rejecting the doctrine of inerrancy, is as a matter of plain fact, in disagreement with the earliest Church fathers and hence, out of step with early Christianity.

Anselm wrote, “For I am sure that, if I say anything which plainly opposes the Holy Scriptures, it is false; and if I am aware of it, I will no longer hold it.”[7] “And the Scriptures, which rest on solid truth as on a firm foundation, and which, by the help of God, we have somewhat examined,—the Scriptures, I say, show us how to approach in order to share such favor, and how we ought to live under it.”[8] Clearly then, Anselm affirmed the doctrine of inerrancy. Muller writes, “Nonetheless, the fathers do not provide us with a consistent appeal to the inspiration and authority of Scripture throughout their writings and an occasional discussion of their principles of interpretation.”[9] The reason for this is really straightforward and can be easily deduced from the literature: the fathers everywhere presupposed the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures. The focus of this issue only shifted in the Church in response to challenges from the enlightenment period that were epistemological in nature. “The seventeenth century was the period in the history of Christian doctrine during which the prolegomena of dogmatics came to assume a dominant position.”[10] The emphasis on inerrancy then was not something the Church initiated, because she had from her beginning, never bothered to consider any alternatives. It was in response to enlightenment attacks and challenges that the Church was forced to reflect upon the epistemological questions put to her by secular philosophies. In other words, the doctrine of inerrancy was the product of apologetics. The Church was asked to provide an answer for how she knows theological truth. She pointed, without hesitation, to the Scriptures. Pelikan gives us the view leading up to the reformation; Authentically canonical Scripture was self-verifying: it “testifies to its authority by its innate [insita] efficacy, which operates in our hearts with the concurrence of the Holy Spirit.”[11]

Richard Muller observes, “With striking uniformity the medieval doctors declared the authority of Scripture as the divinely given source of all doctrines of the faith.”[12] What does this tell us about the doctrine of inerrancy in the history of the Church. It tells us that there is an unbroken succession from the time of Christ, with roots in ancient Judaism, to the time of the reformation, of a doctrine of inerrancy of the Scriptures that existed in the Church. This means that modern men who have begun to compromise this doctrine in preference for a lower view of Scripture are not only out of step with early Christianity, ancient Judaism, the early Church fathers, but with the entire history of Christianity up to the time of the reformation. This is no small matter.

Aquinas affirmed inerrancy, “other sciences derive their certitude from the natural light of human reason, which can err; whereas this derives its certitude from the light of the divine knowledge, which cannot be misled.”[13] Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ.[14] Martin Luther held that not only has Scripture never erred, but that it cannot err.[15] Calvin thundered, But a most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men![16] When that which is set forth is acknowledged to be the Word of God, there is no one so deplorably insolent—unless devoid also both of common sense and of humanity itself—as to dare impugn the credibility of Him who speaks.[17] Calvin doesn’t soften his tone. If the Church has no say in determining what is to be received as authoritative and what is not, then surely the conscience of unregenerate men cannot have that sort of power over the sacred doctrines of the Christian Church. The early church, the church in the Middle Ages, and the divided church at the time of the Reformation were all united in their belief in the full trustworthiness of Scripture.[18]

What does this mean? What are the implications? Well, the implications are that pastors, professors, and apologists who are now proponents of softening (if such a thing is logically possible) or outright reject the doctrine of biblical inerrancy are, with it, rejecting the historic tradition and teaching of Christian orthodoxy. Men like Craig, Stanley, and Licona are advocating a position that has been, from the inception of the Church and reaching back deep into the historical roots of Judaism, received without controversy until the enlightenment. This is no small matter. Can a reasonable person hold to Christian teaching in a way that is well, Christian, and also hold to this view of the Bible? Not if they are aiming for consistency, they cannot. I will address this question in detail below, in the logical consequences section.

The teachings of Scripture concerning itself

Paul informs Timothy that pasa graphē is theopneustos. What does this affirmation mean? Some have advocated for the view that the text should rendered, “all God’s breathed Scripture” instead of all Scripture is breathed out by God, or God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). Wallace comments, There is very little difference in sense between every scripture (emphasizing the individual portions) and “all scripture” (emphasizing the composite whole). The former option is preferred, because it fits the normal use of the word “all/every” in Greek (πᾶς, pas) as well as Paul’s normal sense for the word “scripture” in the singular without the article, as here. So every scripture means “every individual portion of scripture.”[19] Concerning the view that some take regarding predicate or attributive use of the adjective, Wallace is help here also: Some have connected this adjective in a different way and translated it as “every inspired scripture is also useful.” But this violates the parallelism of the two adjectives in the sentence, and the arrangement of words makes clear that both should be taken as predicate adjectives: “every scripture is inspired … and useful.”[20] Paul is saying that every Scripture, every portion of Scripture is God-breathed, or better, God-speaking. That is the point of the use of the word. Scripture is God speaking. If Scripture is speaking, God is speaking. That is the major premise of this argument. It is what Scripture is testifying to concerning its own nature. Because every Scripture is God speaking, every Scripture is useful for teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness. Follow Paul’s argument closely. Since every Scripture is God speaking, it follows that every Scripture is useful for training, every Scripture is useful for reproof, every Scripture is useful for correction, and every Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. To say that some Scripture contains error is to deny that every Scripture is useful for the things Paul mentions to Timothy.

Second, the unanimous writers of Scripture affirms its total veracity. It claims to be truthful (Ps. 119:43, 160; John 17:17; 2 Cor. 6:7; Col. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:18).[21] The Bible does not just contained the redemptive acts of divine revelation, it is itself the divine interpretation of those acts. Thus the Scriptures represent it, not confounding revelation with the series of the redemptive acts of God, but placing it among the redemptive acts of God and giving it a function as a substantive element in the operations by which the merciful God saves sinful men.[22] Scripture itself is not just a record of the divine redemptive acts in history, but it is one of those redemptive acts itself. So much more could be said about Scripture’s teaching about its own nature but space dictates it will have to wait for another post. Clearly then, Scripture views itself is the authoritative act of divine revelation by which all other acts of divine revelation are to be interpreted and understood. It occupies the most supreme position for the Christian. It serves as the basis for all our epistemic claims.

The logical consequences of denying the doctrine of inerrancy

Andy Stanley has told us that the Bible is not the foundation of Christianity. William Lane Craig is on record as saying that you do not have to believe in the virgin birth in order to be a Christian. Mike Licona has called it a “freeing effect” to believe that the Bible contains errors. I suspect these men have believed these things for a very long time and have wanted to come out of the closet for years. I also suspect that this could be just the tip of the iceberg in evangelicalism. The flood gates are opening. What is the motivation? The motivation is simple: for Craig it is to restore the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith in the academy and other platforms that serve to attrack the intellectually sophisticated. For Stanley, it is to get as many into his version of Christianity as possible. For Licona, it is to free the apologists under his training to be more efficient at removing those obstacles of intellectual offense so that they may become better apologists, more credible, more respected, worthy of a hearing at the seat of the upper crust of society. The problem is that it is an approach that destroys Christianity as a belief system. This is the consequence of an apologetic method that is based on enlightenment and Greek philosophies rather than one that is interwoven with and a product of biblical theology. The best apologetic is sound theology. There is nothing better to defend the Christian faith than Christian theology.

So far it has been demonstrated that the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture extends back deep into the ancient Hebrew religion. The history of this doctrine is long, rich, and enjoys an extensive list of testimonies from both Jewish and Christian leaders. It has also been shown that the Scriptures view themselves as inerrant, God-speaking, and unbreakable truth. Regardless of this seemingly insurmountable evidence from a ground of Christian beliefs, modern apologists, professors, and pastors are attempting to displace this long, rich history with an alternative that, in my opinion, not only has debatable aims, but is wrought with enormously severe defects at its very underpinning.

Norman Geisler writes, “It has been my experience in evangelical circles that godly scholars, unaware of the nature and implications of their scholarly research, sometimes absord into their thinking philosophical presuppositions that are antithetical to the historical Christian position on Scripture.”[23] This seems to me to be the universal issue where the doctrine of inerrancy is concerned. Greg Bahnsen offers what is a devastating critique of the logic behind errantists like Craig, Stanley, and Licona: Evangelicals who believe the Scripture is not inerrant can offer no reason for thinking that copying mistakes must always be restricted to matters of history and science, while being absolutely precluded from texts touching on matters of faith and practice (the alleged exclusive domain of “infallibility” according to many theorists).[24] While Geisler points out the uncritical philosophical assumptions used to embrace the errantist position, Bahnsen offers a stinging criticism directed at its seemingly inconsistent and arbitrary position.

Stanley is on record as saying that people do not have to accept “all of these stories” in the Bible in order to remain Christian. He implores them to come back. In other words, some of these stories are offensive to the modern intellect and this causes people to abandon Christianity. Stanley says they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The driver is an offended intellect. Craig is clearly on record with his view that Christianity must regain the intellectual respectability it has lost in the academy. Again, we have an offended intellect. Licona says it is “freeing” now to know that errors in the text are insignificant so long as we have this massive amount of evidence for the resurrection event. We don’t have to worry about errors. All we need for credibility is the resurrection. Again, we are attempting to overcome an offended intellect. So it seems that the primary driver of the new errantist movement is a desire to make the Bible less offensive to modern intellects. Craig wants to save face in the academy, Licona wants to salvage a troubled apologetic, and Stanley wants he seats filled on Sunday mornings. All three are willing to downgrade the claims of Scripture that each of these respective target audiences find intellectually offensive and unsophisticated. At what price do these men make this concession?

If the autographa were errant, then, as Bahsnen puts it, “It is impossible to maintain the theological principle of sola Scriptura on the basis of limited inerrancy, for an errant authority – being in need of correction by some outside source – cannot serve as the only source and judge of Christian theology.[25] If we follow the errantists line of reasoning, we now no longer have a basis for the analogy of faith, or as it is also know, a self-interpreting Scripture. For if the autographa contained errors, there is no longer a reason to harmonize one erroneous passage with another. Paul and James could be said to truly contradict one another on their doctrine of justification. Grudem notes, “If we begin to examine the way in which the New Testament authors trust the smallest historical details of the Old Testament narrative, we see no intention to separate out matters of “faith and practice,” or to say that this is somehow a recognizable category of affirmations, or to imply that statements not in that category need not be trusted or thought to be inerrant.”[26]

If every Scripture is not inerrant, then it follows that every Scripture is not God-speaking. And if there are some Scriptures that are not God-speeaking, then there are some Scriptures that are not authoritative. And if there are some Scriptures that are not authoritative, then Scripture itself cannot be said to be reliable. You see, Bahnsen is right to suggest that errantists are acting arbitrarily when they mark of the areas of history and science as the only areas for Scripture’s incompetence. According to these men, Scripture could be wrong about how the world was created, the flood, the exodus, the virgin birth, and a number of other details that modern scholarship have called into question and that modern minds simply find offensive. But for some reason, Scripture could not possibly be wrong about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Such thinking is simply naïve. After all, we are talking about the kind of thinking that concludes, based on the evidence, that an actual resurrection is the best explanation for what happened. Or worse, that the resurrection is highly probably true.

We now encounter the problem of the criteria. From the beginning of Judaism and Christianity, Scripture has been God-speaking, and God-speaking in Scripture has been the criteria for epistemic claims. But if the criteria itself is known to be fallible, that is, known to be wrong regarding some claims, then it can no longer serve as the criteria for true belief, or genuine knowledge. Since Scripture can no longer be the final standard, or criteria, or final authority, it will need to be replaced by something else that can be fully trusted. What might that something else be? It seems to me that there is only one possibility: human reason. Human reason must serve as the final arbiter of truth, even revealed truth. So one must ask the question, but doesn’t human reason err as well? Surely it does. This means that not only do we not have a final standard for truth in the Scripture because it is not fully trustworthy, we also do not have a final standard in human reason. This leaves us with no final standard by which true knowledge is possible. We have arrived at the textbook definition of postmodernism. In practice, this thinking simply is impossible to live. Postmodernism is a self-refuting system. It contradicts itself with its own principles immediately. Ask any postmodernist about gender identification views and you will discover that they immediately abandon their postmodernism in favor of absolute truth. In the end, the final arbiter of truth among the errantists is not the Bible. It is human reason that sits in judgment of the Bible. Either God judges man by Scripture, or man judges the God revealed in Scripture by his own standard. One sits over the other. I will deal with the objection of a inerrant autographa and errant copies in my next post as space simply will not permit me to do so here.


What is at stake? “One of the things that is is what Yarborough calles “cognitive reverence,” which is more important, and more demanding, than merely insisting on propositional truth. It is what makes it possible for inerrancy to become “a place to live,” not just a position to hold. And it authorizes the preacher.”[27]

Inspiration, infallibility, authority, and sufficiency all crumble with the errantist view of Scripture. Scripture can no longer be said to be God-speaking, or God-breathed. No longer is Scripture fallible. The claim to authority must be surrendered as well. And finally, in what since could an errant text be considered sufficient for faith and praxis? The most wretched blindness and corruption of man proves that man needed the revelation from God in Scripture.[28] The arrogance that is displayed by men who deny an inerrant text is telling. It places human reason in the judgment seat as if human reason could be reliable as a source to determine what is and is not true in the divine revelation. If the virgin birth is too much for the modern intellect, then you are free (Licona) to reject it. How refreshing! How wonderful! Finally, we have a Christianity that I can accept, a gospel that is not foolish after all, one that is respected by the academy. Such thinking is utterly inconsistent with the New Testament. But since the New Testament has been downgraded to only probably true, and in many places containing error and ridiculous stories, why should that bother anyone?

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Ps. 12:6)

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. (Prov. 30:5-6)

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. (Num. 23:19)

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets. (Acts 24:14)


[1] Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2011), 99.

[2] J N D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (San Francisco: Prince Press, 2003), 61.

[3] Donald G. Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 33–34.

[4] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 17.

[5] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 344.

[6] Ibid., 399.

[7] Sidney Norton Deane with Saint Anselm, Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix, In Behalf of the Fool, by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1939), 220.

[8] Ibid., 285.

[9] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Ca. 1520 to Ca. 1725, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academics, ©2003), 25.

[10] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971-1989), 336.

[11] Ibid., 340.

[12] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Ca. 1520 to Ca. 1725, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academics, ©2003), 37.

[13] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

[14] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

[15] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Ca. 1520 to Ca. 1725, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academics, ©2003), 105.

[16] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 75.

[17] Ibid.,74.

[18] Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2011), 109.

[19] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

[20] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

[21] John MacArthur, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 108.

[22] Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1981, ©1927-&#), 13.

[23] Norman L. Geisler, ed., Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, ©1980), 308.

[24] Ibid., 178.

[25] 183-184

[26] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000), 93.

[27] D A. Carson, ed., The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 39.

[28] François Turrettini, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©1992-©19), 55.


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