The battle over the inerrancy of Scripture hasn’t and isn’t going away. We must decide how we will approach the Bible – what our working assumptions will be. If “all Scripture is God-breathed” then all Scripture has the insignia of God upon it. This would be the bare-bones theological deduction from the relationship between the two.
For the human element to be lifted above the Divine element so as to enjoy equal ultimacy over the resultant production of Scripture requires an alteration to Scripture’s own self-witness. This is the reason why those who reject the idea of inerrancy (and I am far from rejecting all their work on account of their error), often plead in the vacuum of unaided reason.
Taking one prominent broadly evangelical theologian as an example, Donald Bloesch wrote,
While we grant that in one sense the Bible is the revelation of God to men, this revelation is in the form of human witness and is therefore to a degree hidden from the sight and understanding. The bane of much of modern evangelicalism is rationalism which presupposes that the Word of God is directly available to human reason. It is fashionable to refer to the biblical revelation as propositional and in one sense this is true. The Bible is not directly the revelation of God, but indirectly in that God’s Word comes to us through the mode of human instrumentality. (Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology – Volume I, 75-76)
This quotation shows us how the human element can be stressed so as to compete with the divine element. To wit, the doctrine of inspiration must be accommodated to include the “human witness.” This means that the claim to “direct revelation” from God to man is excluded (or, at the very least, camouflaged). And then we are laid open to the philosophy of God’s free action reaching us through the Bible but only by His choice to employ it as His Word.
What we must say … is that in the case of Scripture just as surely as in preaching, ‘fallible men speak the word of God in fallible human words’ (Trevor Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.)
Taking this tack immediately places one on the horns of a dilemma. For the Bible stresses many many times its God-givenness. If it is produced by the combination of God’s out-breathing and the Spirit’s direction, and if every word of God is true, then unless we are prepared to engage in the futile task of separating God’s words from man’s words we shall have to decide to be those who accept a form of inerrancy, or else those who fail to find God’s prints on the Bible at all.
For this reason contemporary attempts to rid evangelicalism of inerrancy are doomed. One such attempt is by A.T.B. McGowan:
Having freely chosen to use human beings, God knew what he was doing. He did not give us an inerrant autographical text, because he did not intend to do so. He gave us a text that reflects the humanity of its authors, but that, at the same time, clearly evidences its origin in the divine speaking. Through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, God is perfectly able to use these Scriptures to accomplish his purposes. ( A.T.B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture, 124, emphasis added)
What we have here is a pragmatic God at work. Even the originals of the various books of the Bible were not inerrant, but they accomplished God’s purposes. There are clear evidences of God’s “speaking” so Scripture has a “Divine authenticity.” It is, says McGowan, “infallible” but not “inerrant.” But talking about an “infallible” Bible while denying an “inerrant” Bible, or limiting inerrancy to the conceptual world of the biblical writers is playing with words. And the one doing the playing is very often the one hiding his tracks.
Finding God’s involvement under such an outlook will, let us be frank, involve weighing every historical and scientific Bible assertion against the pronouncements of “experts” and consigning Scripture to a slow death by degrees. Not, I should say, because the experts are right – they often are not. Besides, ones choice of experts usually reflects which “expertise” one wants airing. But where the voice of men is allowed to judge the voice of Scripture the voice of men is often given preference.
While history, science, and archaeology provide obvious instances where Divine authenticity could be obscured, the prophetic element of Scripture might be appealed to. Yes, but many evangelicals (McGowan would be one of them) who refuse to interpret the prophecies at face value because it crosses their theological predilections. No, even allowing for the either/or fallacy, going down McGowan’s road is taking a road to nowhere.
What road is the right one to take? It is the same one which should be taken in formulating every doctrine – we see how Scripture itself attests to it.
For present purposes, I will take my own basic formulations of inspiration and inerrancy as a starting point.
The Inspiration of Scripture – Proposition: “The Scriptures come from the God who breathed them out and caused them to be inscripturated through men who were ‘borne along’ by the Spirit. That is what makes them Scripture.” (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Matt. 4:4; Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:89-91)
Inerrancy – Proposition: “The inspired Scriptures are the Word of God before they are the words of men. They must be up to the job of transmitting truth from He who is True. This truth will be as reliable in one area of knowledge as in any other, even if exact precision is not necessary.” (2 Tim. 3:16; Psa. 12:6; Jn. 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21)
Both doctrines appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16. The verse presents us with the clearest statement about the inspiration of Scripture. But this statement is in direct continuity with very many statements in both Testaments regarding the Bible’s Divine provenance. Scripture itself always stresses its God-givenness far more than it does its human provenance; a fact hardly ever given the attention it deserves. Paul views the Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.
This is why Paul can praise the Thessalonian believers for receiving the spoken Word of God, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13b).
In the production of the Scriptures, the roles of God the Holy Spirit and the roles of the human authors bear an asymmetrical character which must never be brought into equal balance. Assuredly, this was not done by Jesus (cf. Matt.4:4 and Jn. 17:17), or the OT prophets, or the Apostolic authors: why then should we be out of step with them?
Carl Henry wrote of the doctrine of inspiration:
Inspiration is primarily a statement about God’s relationship to Scripture and only secondarily about the relationship of God to the writers. (Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 4.143)
This is most important for us to understand as conservative evangelicals. B.B. Warfield recognized the same truth.
These acts could be attributed to Scripture only as the result of such a habitual identification in the mind of the writer of the text of Scripture with God as speaking, that it became natural to use the term ‘Scripture says’ when what was actually intended was ‘God has recorded in Scripture said. (B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 299-300)
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.