Jesus’ offhanded comment about Scripture in John 10:35 is one of the most important things he ever said.

And one of the most confusing. It helps to know the context.

The Jews were looking to stone Jesus (v. 31) because he, as a man, dared to make himself equal to God (v. 33). In response to this charge, Jesus quotes from Psalm 82. He appeals to Scripture (“law” in this case being interchangeable with “Scripture”) to defend himself against the charge of blasphemy. The Jews were upset that he referred to himself as the “Son of God,” so Jesus reminds them that in their Scriptures the word “gods” (elohim) was used in reference to wicked kings (or judges, or magistrates, or some governing authority). The use of “gods” in Psalm 82:6 seems troubling to us, but the Psalmist, who is speaking for God at this point, is probably using a bit of sarcasm: “Look, I know you are so important that you are gods among men, but you will die like all other men.” Jesus isn’t trying to prove his divinity from this curious reference in Psalm 82. He’s trying to puncture their pretensions. He says, in effect, “You are so hung up on the word ‘God,’ but right here in the Scriptures these men were called ‘gods.’ You’ll have to do better than to prosecute me on such flimsy evidence.”

The part of the argument I want us to notice is Jesus’ rather casual comment that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Here’s Jesus defending himself from the Bible, and he’s not making his point from the Torah or from one of the lofty passages in Isaiah. He’s making his case from one word in an obscure Psalm. And he doesn’t have to prove to anyone that Psalm 82 is authoritative. Jesus doesn’t try to convince his opponents that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He merely asserts the truth as a common ground they can all agree on. Down to the individual words and the least heralded passages, anything from Scripture possessed, for Jesus, unquestioned authority. “According to His infallible estimate,” Robert Watts once remarked about Jesus, “it was sufficient proof of the infallibility of any sentence or phrase of a clause, to show that it constituted a portion of what the Jews called ‘the Scripture.’”[1]

The word for “broken” (luo) in verse 35 means to loose, release, dismiss, or dissolve. It carries here the sense of breaking, nullifying, or invalidating. It’s Jesus way of affirming that no word of Scripture can be falsified. No promise or threat can fall short of fulfillment. No statement can be found guilty of error. For Jesus—just as for his Jewish audience—he believed Scripture was the word of God, and as such, it would be gross impiety to think that any word spoken by God, or committed to writing by God, might be an errant word, a wrong word, or a broken word.

Always Under, Never Over

Inerrancy means the word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the word of God. When we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word. We claim the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. When we deny the complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures—in its genuine claims with regard to history, its teachings on the material world, its miracles, in the tiniest jots and tittles of all that it affirms—then we are forced to accept one of two conclusions. Either the Scripture is not all from God or God is not always dependable. To make either statement is to affirm what is sub-Christian. These conclusions do not express a proper submission to the Father, do not work for our joy in Christ, and do not bring honor to the Spirit who carried along the men to speak the prophetic word and author God’s holy book.

Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool’s errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine strikes at the vitals of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God’s word is to commit the sin of unbelief. “Let God be true though everyone were a liar” must be our rallying cry (Rom. 3:4).

Finding a half-way house where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not, is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible’s own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet. How are we to believe in a God who can do the unimaginable and forgive our trespasses, conquer our sins, and give us hope in a dark world if we cannot believe that this God created the world out of nothing, gave the virgin a child, and raised his Son on third day? “One cannot doubt the Bible,” J.I. Packer warns, “without far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness—that is, the inerrancy—of Holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God.”[2]

A Long Train of Witnesses

Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God, and rebellion against the Scriptures is rebellion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err. This high view of Scripture as the inerrant divinely-spirated word of God has been the position of Christians from the beginning. Clement of Rome (30-100) described “the Sacred Scriptures” as “the true utterance of the Holy Spirit” and that “in them there hath not been written anything that is unrighteous or counterfeit.” Irenaeus (120-202) claimed that the biblical writers “were filled with perfect knowledge on every subject,” and “incapable of a false statement.” According to Origen (185-254), “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.” Augustine (354-430) explained in a letter to Jerome, “I have learnt to ascribe to those Books which are of the Canonical rank, and only to them, such reverence and honour, that I firmly believe that no single error due to the author is found in any of them.” Jerome (393 – c.457) declared the Scriptures to be “the most pure fount. . . .written and edited by the Holy Spirit.”[3]

Likewise, Calvin (1509-64) claimed that if we follow the Scriptures we will be “safe from the danger of erring.” We ought to embrace “without finding fault, whatever is taught in Sacred Scripture.” We “owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God.” In Scripture, God “opens his own most hallowed lips,” and the apostles were “sure and genuine scribes of the Holy Spirit.”[4] It would not be hard to continue to multiply quotations like this from Calvin, and his view of inspiration was far from novel.

Christians of every tradition, until fairly recently have assumed the complete trustworthiness and comprehensive truthfulness of Scripture. Holding to the highest view of inspiration was not the invention of any tradition, theologian, or school. It was simply part of what it meant to be a Christian.

Seeing as how it came from Christ.


[1] Quoted in B.B. Warfield, Inspiration and Authority, 184, fn. 25.

[3] These citations can be found in Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 370-72.

[4] These five quotations come from, respectively, Comm. Matthew 22:29; Inst. 1.18.4; Inst. 1.6.1 (cf. 1.8.5); Inst. 2.12.1 (see also 1.8.5; 3.22.8; 3.23.5; Comm. 1 Peter 1:25); Inst. 4.8.9.

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32 thoughts on “The Christian’s View of Scripture”

  1. Daryl Little says:

    “Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God, and rebellion against the Scriptures is rebellion against God.”

    Just waiting for someone to call that bibliolatry, but in reality it’s as biblical and helpful a statement on the nature of the Bible as there is.

  2. James M. says:

    Nice summation, and thank you for it.

  3. RA Palculict says:

    Justin,

    I am a chaplain in the USAF and a minister in a local body. I am wondering how to answer such charges from other chaplains who say not all of Scripture is from the original writers. For example, I have one that charges the last part of Mark is not from Mark, but a gloss or later addition from a later writer. Do you have any good books to read on this that would hold our position on the matter? This would be greatly appreciated. Saying that the Bible is inerrant and then doing the hard work to show why we hold that position are two important things… I appreciate your comments.

    RA Palculict

  4. RA Palculict says:

    oops… LOL that was supposed to say “Kevin” sorry brother. I thought I was on Justin’s blog. Your response would be helpful!!!

    RA Palculict

  5. Daryl Little says:

    RA,

    Not only the last chapter (or so) of Mark, but also the story of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus line from the cross “Father, forgive them for the know not what they do”.

    I don’t have a list of resources (Kevin probably does) but I encourage you to carry on your study. James White (aomin.org)is a good source on this kind of information as well.

  6. Kyle Hughes says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for your post and your writings, which, on the whole, have a lot to offer. I do think, however, that you have seriously misrepresented the patristic tradition in this post.

    The main problem with your position is that what the Fathers mean as “without error” is very, very different from what I suppose you mean by inerrancy. According to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, “the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis.” Simply put, this means that, genre allowing, we are to interpret Scripture according to its literal sense. For modern-day inerrantists, it is this literal sense of the Bible that is inerrant.

    But the Fathers had an entirely different view. As patristics scholar D. H. Williams summarizes, “As a generalization about the patristic mind, it is fair to say that the fathers affirmed an infallible Bible, although it was not an infallibility of the text so much as much as it was an infallibility of the divine intention behind the text” (Evangelicals and Tradition, 91). Similarly, Frederick Norris observes that “The Fathers’ sense of the trustworthy character of Scripture can hae them speak about its lack of errors, but they never protect the Bible with the doctrine of inerrancy that was developed in seventeenth-century Protestantism” (quoted in ibid.).

    The early fathers observed, like we do, certain historical inconsistencies, conflicting accounts, and even possible contradictions in the biblical text, and tried to harmonize them in light of their view of the Bible as divinely inspired. The quotations you cite exemplify this mentality. But here’s the rub: one of the primary ways that the Fathers harmonized problem passages was to deny the literal sense of the text. That is to say, the “ inerrant truth” of a passage was often found not in its literal sense, but in its moral or allegorical one. Or, to put it yet another way, the Fathers “claimed that points of obscurity or even contradiction within the Bible provided an oppportunity for the Spirit to work in a Christian heart because the dilemma was more than the human heart could comprehend” (Evangelicals and Tradition, 104).

    Examples of this in the patristic literature are abundant. Wherever the Fathers found problems with the biblical text, their way of preserving their version of “inerrancy” was to deny the literal sense of the text (in a sense, admitting the problem is real) and find the “true meaning” in an allegorical interpretation. In their excellent book Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible, John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno give many examples of this phenomenon. For instance, in the first of the Genesis creation accounts, God creates light on the first day, but creates the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. Origen and Augustine, among other Fathers, declared this to be literally impossible. Their solution, though, their way of rescuing the “inerrancy” of Scripture, was to admit the literal sense was unworkable and instead propose an allegorical one. For Augustine, this meant that the light of the first day represented spiritual truth, while the light of the fourth day represented real physical light. Yes, the very order and words of Scripture matter (they matter a great deal!), but they contain real problems that are dealt with in a way that I cannot imagine that you would approve of. I suppose it’s fair to call the Fathers “inerrantist,” but you need to at least qualify that statement with the very important differences between patristic interpretation and our own.

  7. Daryl Little says:

    Kyle,

    There’s a lot there, but just a simple point, are you suggesting that it’s easier for a modern to believe that God is the source of light than it was for the church Fathers?

    You really think that light without sun, when God is making it happen, is an impossibility?

    Beyond that, for myself at least, it’s the witness of Scripture that teaches the the Bible (in it’s autographs) is inerrant. I came to that conclusion long before I’d even heard of the Patristic Faters.

  8. Hal says:

    Back to RA’s question of resources dealing with the end of Mark and the woman caught in adultery–any commentary on Mark or John will address these questions. Any NT Introduction will speak to these matters throughout the NT. D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo’s intro would be my first recommendation, and there are many others (Craig Blomberg, Fee and Stuart, etc.)

  9. Bill says:

    Kevin,

    Amen. But asserting this truth with all your might convinces no one, unless you have some sort of well-reasoned defense. You begin to have one in this article, but you don’t do us any favors in trying to make a case for inerrancy other than to demonstrate that the Bible thinks the Bible is infallible. When you refuse to go in depth and discuss why it makes sense to see the Bible as infallible, you simply convince more people that your reasoning is, “Because I said so!”

  10. Rafael says:

    Scipture cannot be broken doesn’t equal “Scripture cannot be interpolated”

    The Holy Spirit reveals obvious interpolations, but Thank Him(YHWH) for allowing it, Why? Because when something contradictions a Majority of Text, The Majority is The Original Intent/Writing,

    Thus, YHWH(The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit) being Love, Good is what The Bible says, nothing else, He never sinned and will not ever.

  11. Charles says:

    Kyle – Thank you for your comment. The insistence upon the literal reading of scripture caused me to loose my faith. It was only when Christ lead me to the traditional interpretation of scripture not by the letter but by the spirit with Augustine, Origin, and Lewis that the veil fell from eyes.

  12. Paul Janssen says:

    “THE” Christian’s view of Scripture? So, there’s only one view of Scripture that qualifies as “Christian”, and others are “sub-Christian?” You do realize you’re making an argument here (or, as another writer called it even more accurately — making assertions) rather than simply portraying what the Scriptures themselves say, don’t you? And that there is, and always has been, a rather broad variety of ways of reading the Scriptures — some of which, though divergent, remained within the fold of orthodoxy (lower case O intentional), and others which went beyond the pale? It’s a clever polemical tool, of course — defining one’s own position as the only acceptable one, because it allows the person who holds it to consider others as unworthy of being listened to.

  13. Reed says:

    It’s a little too bad you didn’t touch on the fact that the “Scriptures” referred to by Jesus and Paul were the Old Testament. Inerrancy of the New Testament requires a different set of arguments, and cannot be based on John 10:35.

  14. CMM says:

    Bill’s and Reed’s comments above are spot on in pointing out a couple of issues not addressed here. This “argument” really only works if you already accept complete divine authorship and ignore the long list of scholarly questions about the human origins of scripture. In other words, you’re preaching to the choir. Any non-believer, or even believer with doubts/questions about the Bible’s origins will not be effected by this at all.

    The biggest problem here for me is the reference to the “church fathers.” Quoting Augustine, Origen, and Jerome to support this argument is to imply that these men are themselves infallible, or were at least privy to some special infallible knowledge. Quoting early church fathers to make biblical arguments is a favorite method of Reformed guys, though I cannot understand why.

  15. Hal says:

    The reason for using church fathers is that they were the first Christians “like us,” that is–living outside the Biblical time themselves. Their beliefs about Scripture are the starting point for traditional Christianity. We began as a trusting people before our faith was corrupted by skepticism.

    Yes, Kevin has failed to address every conceivable issue … this is a BLOG, not a full blown treatise on apologetics.

  16. Geoff says:

    “But asserting this truth with all your might convinces no one, unless you have some sort of well-reasoned defense.”

    All you have to establish is that the New Testament attests to what Jesus said, not its own inspiration.

  17. Geoff says:

    Just a tangent. I’m not sure Psalm 82 applies to people: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RavGM8l2KbI

  18. CMM says:

    @Hal

    I understand the significance of the fathers’ place in history. This doesn’t mean they were right about everything, or that their beliefs and assertions aren’t subject to scrutiny.

    I don’t expect him to cover everything, but this “The Bible said it, I believe it, and that settles it,” approach isn’t helpful.

    I’ve read more than my fair share of these Reformed blogs and books. They all handle reasonable objections in the same way: not at all. They have the Bible figured out. Also, I used to be like that myself so I’m not singling out Mr. DeYoung here.

  19. Hal says:

    CMM, You said, “I can’t understand why,” and then you said you understand the significance of the church fathers. Which is it?

  20. CMM says:

    I understand their significance in history. I don’t understand why people treat their words and beliefs as if they are inerrant.

  21. RA Palculict says:

    This has been helpful. Thank you so much!

  22. Rafael says:

    Again, Scripture cannot be broken doesn’t at all say, “Scripture cannot be interpolated”

    That is adding to the text, All YHWH(The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit) said is, “Scripture cannot be broken”, ok so Scripture can never be broken down, how does “Scripture cannot be broken(Greek word, luthēnai, meaning, to loose, to release, to dissolve) mean Scripture cannot be interpolated?

    Even Jesus Christ said that it is possible for it to be interpolated, read Revelation 22:18-19, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.”

    It is POSSIBLE to add to the Bible, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be warned and #2 there’s nothing that says The Bible is infalliable, “Scripture cannot be broken” doesn’t mean cannot be Interpolated.

    Infalliablity doesn’t mean Reliablity,The Bible is not a perfect writing but it is indeed Truth and Reliable as Jesus Christ is a proven fact.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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