Inspiration & Inerrancy

Every word is pure

When we speak of the inerrancy of the Bible, some object, saying: “The Bible contains material on doctrinal, ethical, and moral matters and is accurate in what it says about these things. Other material on incidental matters may be inaccurate but that does not interfere with the main message. If we get too excited about inerrancy, aren’t we in danger of losing our focus and majoring on minors? Does it really matter?”

Well, it does matter! If the Bible is not inspired and inerrant, the implications are serious and far-reaching. Here are three:

Rejecting inspiration and inerrancy leaves us without a solid reference point from which to build. In fact, it begs the question, “Why should we read the Bible at all?” Dr. James A. Borror says, “To the extent that you weaken inerrancy, to that extent you weaken inspiration. To the extent that you weaken inspiration, to that extent you have a garbled revelation. To the extent that you have a garbled revelation, to that extent you have a weakened authority. And when you weaken the authority of the Bible, you launch upon a shifting sea of subjective uncertainty.”1

Rejecting inspiration and inerrancy overthrows the biblical idea of faith. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Faith is believing what God has said (e.g., Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6). In the absence of certainty as to what the Word of God is, superstition prevails and not faith.

Rejecting inspiration and inerrancy is historically the first step down the path of departure. Students of history tell us that a denial of inerrancy inevitably leads to further departures from the truth, and to a loss of vital interest in evangelism and missions. Harold Lindsell observes, “From my perspective, God is glorified by the mind-set that attributes perfection to Scripture, rather than by the mind-set that attributes error to the written Word of God and always leads to further concessions until at last, if not halted, it leads to a full falling away from the holy faith.”2

With so much at stake, it is important to ask: What do we mean by inspiration and inerrancy, and what does the Bible tell us about them?

Scripture is Inspired

God took the initiative and was involved in the writing of Scripture “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Literally, this means that Scripture is “God-breathed.” The breath of God elsewhere refers to that which emanates from God and is living and active and powerful. Just as He produced creation by His breath (Ps. 33:6), so He has produced Scripture— all of it. Paul may have had the Old Testament in mind, but we need not limit his statement to the Old Testament, because in his earlier letter to Timothy, he applied the term Scripture to Deuteronomy 25:4 and also to Luke 10:7 (1 Tim. 5:18).

Peter agrees with Paul: “No prophecy is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20). He refers to the origin of prophecy: it did not come about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things; it was not his idea. “For prophecy never came by the will of man; but holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The verb translated moved was used of a ship driven along by the wind (Acts 27:15, 17). The prophets, so to speak, hoisted their sail and the Spirit of God bore them along and directed and controlled them as they wrote. And, if that was the experience of the prophets, it is surely significant that Peter places the writings of New Testament apostles (2 Pet. 3:2), and those of Paul in particular (2 Pet. 3:16), on the same level as those of the Old Testament prophets.

Inspiration must not be confused with revelation

Sometimes the writers were aware that what was written had been revealed directly to them, but on other occasions they wrote about things they already knew or had experienced, and sometimes they used the writings of earlier authors. Luke obtained information from eyewitnesses (Lk. 1:1-2). Paul writes, “Concerning virgins I have no commandment from the Lord…” (1 Cor. 7:25) i.e. there was no previous teaching by the Lord and Paul was conscious of no revelation from the Lord on this particular point.

But whatever the source of the material, inspiration means that the Spirit of God assisted the writers and controlled what was written. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13). William Kelly renders the last part of that verse in this way: “communicating spiritual truths in spiritual words,”3 so that the words they used were God’s words.

Inspiration does not mean dictation

The Scriptures were not dictated by God to writers who were no more than robots accurately writing down what they received. Were that the case, we would expect that the personal element would have been eliminated and that there would be consistency throughout in vocabulary, grammar, style, etc. Inspiration means that the Spirit of God so directed the writers that the finished product was precisely what God intended.

Scripture is Inerrant

Since God is the source of Scripture, and since God does not and cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2; Num. 23:19), and since God is not ignorant in any area but is all-knowing (e.g. Dan. 2:22; Heb. 4:13), it follows that Scripture is perfectly accurate in all that it communicates.

Does the Bible claim to be without error?

An inductive study of Scripture confirms that it is inerrant. Peter describes how he had witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus and then adds, “We have also a more sure prophetic word” (2 Pet. 1:19). i.e. the Word of God is more certain and more reliable than his experience and we should pay attention to it (2 Pet. 1:19-21).

The Lord Jesus had a similar attitude towards Scripture. • He believed Scripture, including the stories about Adam and Eve, Jonah, Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, the Queen of Sheba, etc. And He expected others to believe Scripture, too (e.g. Lk. 24:25).

• He obeyed and fulfilled Scripture (e.g. Mt. 4:3-4; 5:17; Lk. 4:21).

• He taught Scripture (e.g. Lk. 4:16-21; 24:27; Jn 5:39). Perhaps His view is best summarized in His own statements:

• “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Lk. 16:17).

• “Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).

• “The Scripture cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35).

But aren’t there discrepancies in the Bible?

It might be objected that there are discrepancies in the Bible. However, many apparent discrepancies have, with the passing of time and the acquisition of further knowledge, been shown not to be discrepancies at all. There is good reason to suppose that difficulties that remain are difficulties only because of our lack of understanding.

We should look to the Lord to do for us what He did for the disciples when “He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:45).

Our Response

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in its Chicago Statement included the following: “Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.”5

1 Earl D. Radmacher, Can We Trust the Bible? (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1979), p. 10.
2 Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), p. 183.
3 William Kelly, Notes on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: G.Morrish, 1878), p. 51.
4 J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken (Sevenoaks: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1979), p. 141.