Monday, February 05, 2007


Here is the revised version of what I had earlier. Thanks to Tom Gee for the suggestions (see comments below).

Definition: The Scriptures are the plenary verbally inspired inerrant word of God written, in the original autographs.

2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.[1]


2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” By stating “all,” it is saying that all Scripture, whether prophecy, or poetry, or law, or history, is inspired equally; it is all breathed out by God. There is not one aspect that is more inspired than another. There is not one part that is not divine, but only human words. A denial of the biblical doctrine of plenary inspiration is often shown in misinterpreting what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, when he says: To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord)” (1 Cor. 7:10), and “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever” (1 Cor. 7:12). In the first instance he is saying that Jesus has something specific to say about “the married” where in the second instance Paul is saying that Jesus does not have a specific saying in relation “to the rest” of the people. These passages have nothing to do with the inspiration of Scripture. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 7:10, Gordon Fee says the following: “But in saying ‘I give this command,’ he remembers that Jesus himself spoke to this question, so he appeals to his authority. It is not ‘not I’ from whom this command comes, ‘but the Lord.’ This is one of the rare instances in Paul’s extant letters when he appeals directly to the teaching of Jesus (cf. 9:14; 11:23; 1 Tim. 5:18), which fact means neither that Paul lacks authority nor that Jesus does not ordinarily count as authority for him.”[2] The converse would likewise apply.


It is trendy today to say that the ideas of the Bible are inspired, but not the very words and letters themselves. This is faulty logic, because ideas are composed of sentences and sentences are composed of words, and words are composed of letters. Also, this has no clear biblical warrant. In fact, to hold this view would be to oppose Jesus’ own view of the inspiration of the letters of the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, in Matthew 22:44-45, Jesus proves that David calls the Messiah “Lord” from Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand…” Two different persons are implied by the two uses of the word Lord: the first is God the Father whom the Jews acknowledged; the second is the Messiah, whom David calls “my Lord.” In order for this argument to work, Jesus relies on the fact that Psalm 110:1 has David calling the Messiah “my Lord.” Otherwise the text would not prove that the Messiah was David’s Lord. Now the word my is signified by only one letter (y) in the consonantal Hebrew text: “my Lord” is ynIdoa. A slight lengthening of the final consonant to w would make “his Lord”; a bit more lengthening to d would make “your Lord.” In either case, the argument would no longer work. Here Jesus’ argument depends on the reliability of one letter of the written Old Testament” (see elsewhere also: for example: Matt. 2:15; 4:10; 13:35; 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 4:8; Gal 3:16).


The ESV correctly translates the greek word qeo,pneustoj, theopneustos, as “breathed out by God.” It is not as if the writers of Scripture wrote, and then God breathed into their writings to inspire them, but God breathed out and what was written was exactly what God wanted written, down to the last letter, but through the personality and style of the human author.

Also, 2 Peter 1:20-21 says the following: “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (NET). Commenting on this verse, Gleason Archer states: “As they wrote down God's revelation, the Old Testament authors were supernaturally borne along (like sailing vessels impelled by the wind, pheromenoi) to record God's truth. Despite all the imperfections of the human writers of Scripture, the Lord was able to carry them along into his infallible truth without distortion or mistake.”[3]


It is becoming more widespread to view the Scriptures as infallible, but not inerrant. These terms used to be used interchangeably, but now in theology circles they mean different things. John Wenham says: “Infallibility is taken to mean that Scripture is factually true and authoritative in all matters of crucially relevant to Christian faith and practice,’ but not in peripheral matters.”[5] However, Jesus did not treat the Scriptures this way. He received every last word of the Old Testament, whether ethics or history or prophecy as coming from God. He received the whole of the Scriptures in the same way as the Jewish church of his day did, as inspired in its whole and in its parts. The attempt to discriminate between the crucial and the peripheral appears to be a relatively new phenomenon starting in the nineteenth century (for more on this see below: “Only of Faith and Practice?”). For example, Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy, says the following:

I am most comfortable using the language of the Bible to talk about the Bible. I tend not to use words like "inerrant" because these words are part of a modern Enlightenment philosophical system called "foundationalism." Because Evangelicalism was born in a foundationalist environment, these words are very important – even sacred - to traditional Evangelicals. Out of respect for foundationalism and those for whom it provides the intellectual framework for faith, I don’t want to ever speak against these words or deny them. But I don't use these foundationalist terms normally because my ministry setting is more postmodern, which is post-foundationalist. To use these words in my setting would actually decrease people's respect for the Bible, and would cause an obstacle to the gospel. [6]

However, to say that the term inerrant, which simply means “without error,” is merely an enlightenment category is simply not true. The term “inerrant” itself has been used in the history of the church (and even when the specific term “inerrant” has not been used, the historic church has always believed the same thing, that the Bible is without error). For example, Martin Luther points out approvingly that Augustine says the following, in the letter to St. Jerome, which Gratian also quotes:

I have learned to hold the Scriptures alone inerrant; all others, I so read that, however holy and learned they may be, I do not hold what they teach to be true, unless they prove, from Scripture or reason, that it must be so.’ Furthermore, in the same section of the Decretum is St. Augustine’s sayings, from the preface to his book De trinitate, ‘Do not follow my writings as Holy Scripture. When you find in Holy Scripture anything that you did not believe before, believe it without doubt; but in my writings, you should hold nothing for certain, concerning which you were before uncertain, unless I have proved that it is certain.’ Many more sayings of this kind are in other passages of his writings. He says, for example, ‘As I read the books of others, so will I have mine read.’[7]

Calvin described the Bible as: “The sure and infalliable record,” “The unerring standard,” “The pure Word of God,” “The infallible rule of His Holy Truth,” “Free from every stain and defect,” “The unerring certainty,” “The certain and unerring rule,” “Unerring light,” “Infallible Word of God,” “Has nothing belong to man mixed with it,” “Inviolable,” and “Infallible oracles.”[8]

But more specifically, why did Augustine, Luther, and Calvin use the term inerrant (without error)? This is because this is the Scriptural view itself. Because the Biblical writers knew the character of God as one who does not lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2a), they knew that every word from God’s mouth was true. Proverbs 30:5 says: “"Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (NIV). Psalm 119:160 says: “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (NIV). Psalm 33:4 says “For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does” (NIV). Jesus himself affirms the inerrancy of the Scriptures. In John 17:17 Jesus says: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” He also says: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The belief in the errancy of the Scriptures is tied closely to a belief that there are genuine errors in Scripture, specifically, more often than not, contradictions. However, solid academic evangelical scholars have dealt with every supposed contradiction in a very adequate way.[9] When dealing with supposed contradictions, it is important to keep the following hermeneutical, interpretive, statements in mind: 1. The unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable. 2. Partial information is not false information. 3. Understand a text in its context.

However, I think the real reason why some post evangelicals and emergent evangelicals like McLaren oppose the inerrancy of Scripture is that it implies certainty. And certainty is seen as wrong because they have bought into the philosophy of postmodernism, which exalts uncertainty. It is false humility to imply that Scripture is uncertain, when God has made it clear. It is false logic to state that because there are so many interpretations of Scripture, they must all be right or equally valid to hold; they must all be wrong, or one must be right. This is the sad state of much of evangelicalism today: theological relativism. This leaves people with the wrong belief that Scripture does not have anything objective to say and echoes the serpents words to our first parents: “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). Doubt is not a virtue: “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6).

Word of God Written

Some people today say that the Bible can not be God’s Word, because Jesus is the Word (John 1:1, 14), and therefore to say that the Bible is God’s Word is to make the Bible equivalent with Jesus; they call this bibliolatry: worship of the Bible. However, although Jesus, as God the Son, is the fullest and most complete revelation of God the Father, for Jesus said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b), the Bible still claims to be the very words of God.

The Old Testament itself affirms that it is God’s very Word. In the Pentateuch (Exod. 4:30; Deut. 18:21, 22, and the numberless instances in Leviticus), but also throughout the prophets we meet with such affirmations as "The LORD has spoken [the following words]," "The mouth of the LORD has spoken," "The word of the LORD came to saying" (Josh. 24:2; Isa. 8:11; Jer. 7:l; 11:1; 18:1; 21:1; 26:1;27:1; 30:1,4; 50:1; 51:12; Amos 3:1; passim). Hosea begins, "The word of the Lord that came to Hosea....".

Jesus himself used the human authors and God interchangeably. In Mark 7:6 NIV, Jesus replied: Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ However, in the original context, Isaiah 29:13 NIV states:The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’”

The New Testament writers clearly saw the Old Testament as God’s very word. Speaking of the Old Testament Paul says the following: they [the Jewish people] have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 12:2; cf. 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21. NIV). In the book of Acts, Peter and John say: “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: "'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Acts 4:25, NIV); Paul said:The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: "'Go to this people and say, "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving" (Acts 28:25-26, NIV). The Gospel writers often say something like: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the Prophet" (Matt. 1:22; cf. 2:5, 15, 23; 13:35, NASB). Again, we see God speaking his very Word through human prophets who wrote down Scripture: “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture (profhtei,a grafh/j,, prophteia graphs) ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21, NET). This verse clearly affirms that this it did not come from human origin, as if invented or thought up by the human author on his own initiative, but only as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit did he say what God wanted said.

Based on Christ’s commission to the apostles (Mt. 28:18, 18; John 20:21-22; Mt. 16:18-19; John 14:26; 16:13-15), the apostles affirmed that they wrote and spoke God’s Word. 1 Corinthians 14:37 NIV says: “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 says: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Paul, when writing to Timothy equates a passage quoted from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament with a passage quote from Luke in the New Testament as equal, as both God’s word, as both Scripture: “For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," {18 Deut. 25:4} and "The worker deserves his wages." {18 Luke 10:7}” (1 Timothy 5:18, NIV). 2 Peter 3:2 NIV says: “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. Peter calls Paul’s words Scripture as well:Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16, NIV).

In conclusion, we must see that these inspired Scriptural writings are truly the words of God, even though conveyed through human instrumentality.

Only of Faith and Practice?

It is quite common to say that the Bible inspired “in matters of faith and practice.” For some this means only matters of faith and practice, and for others, it is a matter of emphasis: its purpose is with matters of faith and practice. However, Jesus, the apostles, and the biblical writers of the New Testament clearly assumed the errorlessness of the Old Testament in everything it stated and affirmed, even in the areas of science and history. For example: in the area of history, consider all the following affirmations made by the New Testament itself:

Matthew 12:3-4

(Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-4) David ate the bread of the Presence.

Matthew 12:40 Jonah was in the whale.

Matthew 12:41 (Luke 11:30, 32) The men of Nineveh repented.

Matthew 12:42 (Luke 11:31) The Queen of the South came to hear Solomon.

Matthew 23:35 (Luke 11:51) Zechariah was murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

Luke 4:25-26 Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephath

Luke 4:27 Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy.

Luke 17:29 On the day Lot left Sodom fire and brimstone rained down from heaven.

Luke 17:32 “Remember Lot’s wife” (who turned to salt for looking back at Sodom).

John 3:14 Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.

John 4:5 Jacob have a field to Joseph.

Acts 13:14-23 Several details of the history of Israel are cited by Paul.

Romans 4:10 Abraham believed and received the promise before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:19 Abraham was about a hundred years old

Romans 9:10-12 God told Rebecca before her children were born that the elder child would serve the younger.

Romans 11:2-4 Ejiah spoke with God, as recorded in 1 Kings 19:10, 18.

1 Corinthians 10:11 The people of Israel passed through the sea, ate and drank spiritual food and drink, desired evil, sat down to drink, rose up to dance, indulged in immorality, grumbled, and were destroyed (vv. 1-11).

Then Paul says that these things “happened” (synebainen, vs. 11). The verb synbaino is commonly used to refer to historical events that “took place” or “happened” (Luke 24:14; Acts 3:10; 20:19; 21:35; 1 Peter 4:12; 2 Peter 2:22). Paul has no hesitancy in affirming that even extremely obscure details of the Old Testament (“the people sat down to eat and rose up to dance”) both happened and were written down for our instruction.

Hebrews 7:2 Abraham gave a tenth of everything to Melchizedek.

Hebrews 9:1-5 Detailed descriptions of the Old Testament tabernacle are reported.

Hebrews 9:19-21 Moses sprinkled the people and the tabernacle vessels with blood and water, using scarlet wool and hyssop.

Hebrews 11:3 The world was created by the word of God. This is not a “minor” detail, but it is useful as an example of a “scientific” fact that is affirmed in the Old Testament. The author says that we know this scientific/historical fact “by faith.” Faith here is explicitly said to involve trust in the truthfulness of a scientific and historical fact recorded in Old Testament Scripture.

Hebrews 11, passim Many details of the lives of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and others are recounted as events that actually happened.

Hebrews 12:16-17 Esau sold his birthright for a single meal, and later sought it back with tears.

James 2:25 Rahab received the spies and sent them out another way.

1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5 Eight persons were saved in the ark.

2 Peter 2:6-7 God turned Sodom and Gommorah to ashes but saved Lot.

2 Peter 2:16 Balaam’s donkey spoke.[10]

Commenting on this, Wayne Grudem states:

This list indicates a willingness on the part of the New Testament writers to rely on the truthfulness of any part of the historical narratives of the Old Testament. No detail is too insignificant to be used for the instruction of New Testament Christians. There is no indication of any thought that there was a certain category of Old Testament statements that were unreliable and untrustworthy (such as ‘nonrevelational statements’ or ‘historical and scientific’ statements, as opposed to doctrinal and moral passages). In fact, the statement of the purpose of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16 certainly is not intended to limit the types of statements in the Old Testament that can be relied on; it is ‘all scripture’ that is ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ For the instruction and edification of the early Christians the New Testament authors were willing to use any historical (or ‘scientific’) statement of the Old Testament, to affirm that it happened as God said in His written words, and to draw lessons from it for contemporary hearers. ‘All scripture,’ every detail of Scripture, is useful for this purpose, says Paul.[11]

[1]All Scripture verses are in the English Standard Version (ESV), unless stated otherwise.

[2]Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 291.

[3]Gleason L. Archer, “The Witness of the Bible to Its Own Inerrancy” in James Mongomery Boice, ed., The Foundation of Biblical Authority (London & Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis, 1979), 95.

[4]Inerrant in the original documents, also known as autographs; the copies themselves are not inerrant, although we are 99% sure that what we have now is the autographs because of textual criticism. See Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament : Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) and Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Augsburg Fortress, 2004).

[5]John W. Wenham, “Christ’s View of Scripture” in Inerrancy edited by Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 22.

[6]See “Soft on Scripture” (

soft_on_scripture_46.html). Accessed on January 31, 2007.

[7]“On the Councils and the Churches,” Works of Martin Luther, Vol. V, pp. 147 f (Kerr 16, emphasis mine).

[8]John H. Gerstner, “The View of the Bible Held By the Church: Calvin and the Westminster Divines” in Inerrancy edited by Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 391.

[9]See for example see specifically Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996) and Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982). Most problems are dealt with in the NIV Study Bible and good commentary series like the Tyndale New and Old Testament (Eerdmans) or the New International Commentary on the New and Old Testaments (Eerdmans).

[10]Taken from Wayne Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation and the Problem of Formulating a Doctrine of Scripture” Scripture and Truth edited by D.A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), 42-43.

[11]Ibid., 43-44.