I have three kids: that means three different opportunities for random diseases and injuries and weirdness to pop up. When there are spots on my 3-year-old’s arms, when my 1-year-old’s hair smells like it’s burning, or when my five-month-old is eating twice the amount his formula says he should, I always turn to Google. I plug in my keywords and get 345,289,293 results, and after reading four or five answers, I wonder why I ever bothered. What does Buzzfeed know about spots on my kid’s arms? How do I know who wrote this journal on a baby’s intake? And this chat room about burnt-smelling hair is terrifying. How can I believe anything I read!?! Even if I read something that is true, I’m skeptical because I found it on the internet! It’s far better to talk to my pediatrician or my mom. In the same way that we should go to right and authoritative sources about our kids’ health, we should do the same in our spiritual lives.
God wants us to know Him and provided set ways to learn about Him; the primary way is through His written Word. But, what good is it to base everything you believe on a book that may contain errors? This is where the doctrine of inerrancy comes into play. While not as glamorous as some other doctrines, inerrancy is the necessary precursor to all other doctrines. It is the basis upon which we can speak with confidence, as it gives us the ability to know God’s Word is true. Inerrancy says that “being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching” (The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy).
The Chicago Statement was drawn up in 1978 by about 300 biblical scholars, pastors, and professors. These men were on the front lines protecting the written word of God. Scripture was under attack. Liberal scholars claimed that it was full of errors and could not be trusted. They said the incarnation and resurrection were scientifically impossible, so it must all just be illustrative. These men who attended the conference on Biblical Inerrancy understood that to deny the Bible’s veracity on any single matter would be to deny its dependability in all areas. After three days, they signed their finished product: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the foundational and decisive document for evangelicals on the topic.
What Inerrancy Means
In essence, when we say that the Bible is inerrant, we mean that it is without error because it is the very word of God. How is it that God’s words came to be written? The Chicago Statement affirms the “verbal plenary inspiration” of scripture. It states:
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 DENY that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.
In other words, God spoke through the human authors of Scripture as they wrote what God communicated to them (2 Peter 1:19-21). They were not in a trance or in an altered state of consciousness, but instead, they received truths from God that they put down in their own words and in their own style. In God’s power and sovereignty, human authors communicated God’s words. We know that our God is perfect, without fault or failing. He cannot lie or be untrue. Because of His perfection, we know that what He says is reliably true. He is the one who created everything in the world and rules over it all.
Again, the Statement says:
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.
An autograph is the original text of Scripture. Until the 1500s, there was no way to mass produce books, so each book was copied by hand by scribes. These were called manuscripts. The original texts have been lost to history, but many manuscripts have been preserved. It is from these manuscripts that we get as close as we can to the original autographs. Our Bibles are translations of the manuscripts. What inerrancy DOESN’T mean is that our translations are without error. We believe, however, that God wants us to know Him and has therefore preserved His Word in such a way that any errors would not compromise theology. Perhaps a name would be messed up or a detail out of place but nothing that would compromise our understanding of God.
What Inerrancy Means for Us
If the Bible is the very word of God then:
- It requires our Devotion. As followers of God, it is our joy and delight to spend time listening to Him and what He has to say with diligence, commitment, and devotion. Do you protect your time in God’s Word?
- It has Authority. We need to apply God’s Word to our lives as authoritative. Authority means “the right to rule or control.” Do you submit to Scripture and its right to rule and control your life, or do you make excuses for why its commands don’t apply to you?
- It is Pre-eminent. There is nothing else in life so useful or helpful, or more full of truth and direction, than the Word of God. No self-help books can show you how to become a better person like Scripture can. No book on how to love people can instill a love for people in your heart like the Word of God. We must look to God’s Word first, and everything else is only helpful if it agrees with God’s Word. Do you look to God’s Word or books about God’s Word for answers?
The beautiful truth in all of this is that GOD WANTS US TO KNOW HIM. Learning about God isn’t googling “God” and reading millions of opinions on God. Instead, we open His Word, and we hear His very words breathed out. All other doctrines hinge on a sure source of evidence, a witness that we can trust. Without inerrancy, we cannot know anything about God with any certainty, and the “study of God” would be a guessing game, just like trying to figure out why my kid’s hair smells. Instead, with inerrancy, we can approach God and His Word with certainty, eager to learn of His ways and discern how to live faithfully in the world.
Because Scripture is God’s Word and has no errors, when we read it we are changed. We are spoken to by God. We are instructed, we are corrected, and we are discipled. A faithful reading of God’s Word sanctifies us, teaches us about God, makes us more like Christ, and prepares us for the good works we are called to in obedience to God (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Editor's Note: This originally published at Thinking & Theology.