Kevin Vanhoozer provides a helpful introduction:

What is explicitly expressed in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, however, is not a theological novelty so much as an articulation of what was implicitly, and virtually always, presupposed through most of church history.

What then does the doctrine of biblical inerrancy explicitly articulate? We can refine our provisional definition of inerrancy in terms of truthfulness as follows: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms.

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13 thoughts on “What Is Biblical Inerrancy?”

  1. Lou says:

    Amen! Thank you for that link. Peace and Grace in Christ.

  2. Daryl Little says:

    So in order for the Bible to be infallible it needs to be perfect? And God can do that?

    Who’da’thunk?

  3. Bruce Russell says:

    Don’t take Vanhoozer’s word for it, study the Bible hard and long, and it’s exquisite perfection will prove itself.

  4. Daryl Little says:

    Sorry for not being clear…that was intended to be sarcastic…against those who argue for mistakes in Scripture.

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      The most convincing argument: Acts 9:5

  5. Simon says:

    Biblical inerrancy, as stipulated by modern evangelicals, was not implicitly or explicitly believed by the Church through all times. It is a modern conception and seeks to answer modern questions.Vanhoozer recognizes anachronistic attempts to make Scripture answer modern questions about science and history, yet insists that this is what Scripture is doing! Citing the pre-Enlightenment Augustine as proof that evangelical use of Scripture is valid. At the same time he chastises other Fathers for allegorising the text (perhaps he’d chastise St Paul as well for explicitly using allegory in Galatians!). He’s right that doctrines arise out of controversy. But inerrancy is a rather clumsy attempt to deal with modern evangelical anxieties. Other conservative Christian traditions felt no need to resort to such an extreme (i.e. Catholics and Orthodox).

    We can all affirm that the Scriptures provide us with the spiritual tools with which to live our lives. But to suggest that every assertion, whether historical or scientific, must be without error is something that we ought not make dogma. Sometimes evangelical ideas about Scripture can be elevated to the level of idolatry. There is a reality beyond the book: That is the living and reigning Holy Trinity. Words can only point us to this reality, God can not be contained in a book. To make the Scriptures the only point of revelation is flirting idolatry.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Simon, you may be interested in John Woodbridge’s book on Biblical Authority, which argues against your first sentence in some detail.

    2. Simon,

      In addition to the book Justin recommends, here’s an essay by Woodbridge that demonstrates the concept of inerrancy is anything but “modern.”

      http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/evangelical_self-identity_and_the_doctrine_of_biblical_inerrancy

      Blessings in Christ,
      Matt

  6. Ken Stewart says:

    Simon:
    I am troubled that you treat Catholic theology as ‘unsullied’ from the excess of affirming biblical inerrancy. I was intrigued recently to find that the 19th century pope Leo XIII had explicitly affirmed inerrancy in his 1893 Encyclical ‘Providentissimus Deus’ which you can read online here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_18111893_providentissimus-deus_en.html

    Meanwhile, as regards Protestant theology, it was completely common place well into the nineteenth century for writers to affirm that the Scriptures had been kept free from error — and this in advance of the actual coining of the term inerrancy.

  7. T.C. says:

    “What is explicitly expressed in the doctrine of … , however, is not a theological novelty so much as an articulation of what was implicitly, and virtually always, presupposed through most of church history.”

    Sounds very Catholic ;-)

  8. Leon Merrell says:

    Dr. Vanhoozer is one my favorite authors. Thanks for the helpful and insightful introduction.

  9. Andy Rowell says:

    Is there a typo in the last line or perhaps it is intentionally awkward? I think Vanhoozer is trying to get at the speech/act dynamic that he usually emphasizes. Not a big deal.

    “Together, the terms inerrancy and infallibility remind us that the Word of God is wholly reliable not only when it speaks, but also when it does the truth.”

    What is off-putting about “inerrancy” is not the doctrine but how it is used as a shibboleth to exclude people who actually agree with it because they don’t know the term or are reluctant to affirm inerrancy because some of inerrancy’s defenders interpret it literalistically or as a justification for proof-texting as Vanhoozer and the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy say they should not. So functionally the doctrine of “inerrancy” functions as bulwark in the American conservative/liberal fundamentalism/modernism battles but its use unintentionally lops off a huge chunk of faithful Christians as the demographic at Evangelical Theological Society attests.

  10. A.M. Mallett says:

    Inerrancy is an empirical term and not theological. That 19th century theologians began to incorporate it’s use as an apologetics device does not validate the use of it. Infallibility has been the orthodox standard and infallibility can be defended beyond dispute. If the discussion is “in house” among evangelicals, inerrancy might be acceptable given Vanhoozer’s definition. However, when disputing with those who deny the infallibility of scripture, inerrancy is immediately falsified, empirically. The mustard seed is absolutely not the smallest of seeds no matter how many times the evangelical dismisses the skeptic’s argument. Those who stick to infallibility can argue the truth of Jesus’ statement when Vanhoozer’s definition is applied i.e. “when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms”.

    I have witnessed people dis-fellowshipped and dismissed for rejecting the term inerrancy even though those persons believed very much the same things as the zealots who dismissed them. It is an unnecessary argument.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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