Editor’s Note:

The purpose of this series is to help Christians think through the doctrine of Scripture and provide practical guidance on not only how to read the Bible but to deal with objections and attacks on the Bible.

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The past few years have seen an increase in attacks on the doctrine of inerrancy. These attacks on inerrancy have mostly been focused on the term “inerrancy” itself, or on whether its’ biblical or was even taught throughout Church history. In a fairly recent article David Loose author of Making Sense of Scripture argues that, “At no place in its more than 30,000 verses does the Bible claim that it is factually accurate in terms of history, science, geography and all other matters (the technical definition of inerrancy).”[i]

Before I get into the heart of my response, I appreciate that Mr. Loose accurately represented my position which is the verbal plenary and total inerrancy of Scripture. Mr. Loose says, “Inerrant” itself is not a word found in the Bible or even known to Christian theologians for most of history. Rather, the word was coined in the middle of the 19th century as a defensive counter measure to the increased popularity of reading the Bible as one would other historical documents and the discovery of manifold internal inconsistencies and external inaccuracies.”[ii]

The argument advanced by Mr. Loose are common among those who say that the term inerrancy is too precise and that in an ordinary usage it denotes a kind of absolute scientific precision that we do not want to claim for Scripture. Furthermore, those who make this objection think the term inerrancy is not used in the Bible itself. Therefore, they think it is probably an inappropriate term for Christians to use.

Dr. Wayne Grudem notes, “First, the scholars who have used the term inerrancy have defined it clearly for over a hundred years, and they have always allowed for the “limitations” that attach to speech in ordinary language. In no case has the term been used to denote any kind of scientific precision by any responsible representative of the inerrancy position. Therefore those who raise this objection to the term are not giving careful enough attention to the way in which it has been used in theological discussions for more than a century.”[iii]

Grudem continues, “Second it should be noted that Christians use nonbiblical terms to summarize a biblical teaching. The word Trinity does not occur in Scripture, nor does the word incarnation. Yet both of these terms are very helpful because they allow us to summarize in one word a true biblical concept, and they are therefore helpful in enabling us to discuss a biblical teaching more easily.”[iv] Grudem sttes, “It should also be noted that no other single word has been proposed which says as clearly what we want to affirm when we wish to talk about total truthfulness in language. The word inerrancy does this quite well, and there seems to be no reason not to continue to use it for that purpose.”[v]

Grudem concludes, “Finally, in the church today we seem to be unable to carry on the discussion around this topic without the use of this term. People may object to this term if they wish, but, like it or not, this is the term about which the discussion has focused and almost certainly will continue to focus in the next several decades. When the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) in 1977 began a ten-year campaign to promote and defend the idea of biblical inerrancy, it became inevitable that this word would be one about which discussion would proceed. The “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” which was drafted and published in 1978 under ICBI sponsorship, defined what most evangelicals mean by inerrancy, perhaps not perfectly but quite well, and further objections to such a widely used and well-defined term seem to be unnecessary and unhelpful to the church.”[vi]

Mr. Loose claims that the term “inerrant” itself is not a word found in the Bible but the real question we need to ask ourselves is if his contention is true or whether it is false. Inspiration is an attempt to translate a word that occurs only once in the New Testament. The word is found in 2 Timothy 3:16. The Greek word used in 2 Timothy 3:16 is theopneustos. This term is made from two words, one being the word for God (Theos, as in theology) and the other referring to breath or wind (pneustos, as in pneumonia and pneumatic). It is significant that the word is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 passively. In other words, God did not “breathe into” (inspire) all Scripture, but it was “breathed out” by God (expired). Thus, 2 Timothy 3:16 is not about how the Bible came to us but where it came from. The Scriptures are “God-breathed.”

Two words are sometimes used to explain the extent of biblical inerrancy: plenary and verbal. Plenary comes from the Latin plenus, which means “full,” and refers to the fact that the whole Scripture in every part is God-given. Verbal comes from the latin verbum, which means “word”, and emphasizes that even the words of Scripture are God-given. Plenary and verbal inspiration means the Bible is God-given (and therefore without error) in every part (doctrine, history, geography, dates, names) and in every single word.

The Old Testament writers saw their message as God-breathed and utterly reliable. God promises Moses he would eventually send another prophet (Jesus Christ) who would also speak God’s words like Moses had done.  “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deut. 18:18) Jeremiah was told at the beginning of his ministry he would speak for God “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”  (Jer. 1:9)

Peter and John saw the words of David in Psalm 2 not merely as the opinion of the King of Israel, but as the voice of God. They introduced a quotation from that Psalm in a prayer to God in Acts 4:25 by saying, “Who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things?’”

Similarly, Paul accepted Isaiah’s words as God Himself speaking to men: “And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet” (Acts 28:25).  So convinced were the writers of the New Testament that all the words of the Old Testament Scripture were the actual words of God that they even claimed, “Scripture says,” when the words quoted came directly from God. Two examples are Romans 9:17, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh,” and Galatians 3:8, in which Paul wrote, “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand..” in Hebrews 1 many of the Old Testament passages quoted were actually addressed to God by the Psalmist, yet the writer to the Hebrews refers to them as the words of God.

In John 10:34 Jesus quoted from Psalm 82:6 and based His teaching upon a phrase: “I said, ‘You are gods.’” In other words, Jesus proclaimed that the words of this psalm were the words of God. Similarly in Matthew 22:31-32 He claimed the words of Exodus 3:6 were given to them by God. In Matthew 22:43-44 our Lord quoted from Psalm 110:1 and pointed out that David wrote these words “in the Spirit,” meaning he was actually writing the words of God.

Mr. Loose believes that “inerrant” itself is not a word found in the Bible or even known to Christian theologians for most of history.” Rather, according to him, “the word was coined in the middle of the 19th century as a defensive counter measure to the increased popularity of reading the Bible as one would other historical documents and the discovery of manifold internal inconsistencies and external inaccuracies.”[vii]

The problem with the claim by Mr. Loose that “inerrancy was not known to Christian theologians for most of history” and “the word was coined in the middle of the 19th century as a defense counter measure to the increased popularity of reading the Bible as one would other historical documents and the discovery of manifold internal inconsistences and external inaccuracies” is that it is completely false and fails to actually understand that the Christian church has always affirmed the verbal plenary inspiration and total inerrancy of the Word of God.

Dr. Feinberg notes, “The Church has historically acknowledged that the Scripture in its original manuscripts and properly interpreted is completely true and without any error in everything it affirms, whether that has to do with doctrine, moral conduct, or matters of history, cosmology, geography, and the like.”[viii]

The early church fathers to the 16th century Protestant Reformers across Europe, and up to the present day conservative evangelicals, have all affirmed verbal plenary inspiration, and inerrancy. While not all used the terms “infallibility” or “inerrancy” many expressed the concepts, and there is no doubt they believed it.  It was Augustine (354-430 A.D.) who first coined the term “inerrant,” and Luther and Calvin (16th Century) who spoke of Scripture as free from error.”[ix] Augustine in a letter to Jerome said “Scripture has never erred” and “I have learned to hold only the Holy Scripture inerrant.”[x]

Clement of Rome in the first century said, “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them.”[xi] Clement of Rome (A.D. 80-100 taught, “You have looked closely into the Holy Scriptures, which are given through the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unrighteous or falsified has been written in them.” (1 Clement, XLV. 2.3.) Justin Martyr (165 AD) spoke of the Gospels as the “Voice of God” (Apology 65). He stated, “We must not supposed that the language proceeds from men who were inspired, but from the Divine Word which moves them” (1.36). Irenaeus (202) added that the Bible is “above all falsehood” (Against Heresies 3.5.1) and we are “most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect since, they are spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit” (2.28.2; 2.35). A century later, Irenaeus concluded, “The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and his Spirit.”[xii] Augustine wrote to Jerome (A.D. 394), “It seems to me that most disastrous consequence to follow upon our believing anything false is found in the sacred books, that is to say, that the men by whom the Scriptures have been given to us, and committed in writing, did not put down in these books anything false.” (Cited by James Olive Buswell, Outlines of Theology, 24.)  Calvin thought of Scripture as “the sure and infallible record,” “the inerring standard,” “the pure Word of God,” “the infallible rule of His Holy Truth,” “free from every stain or defect,” “the inerring certainty,” “the certain and unerring rule,” “unerring light,” “infallible Word of God,” “has nothing belonging to man mixed with it,” “inviolable,” “infallible oracles.” Inerrancy was the view of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, as well as of the entire church; inerrancy is the ‘central church tradition.” (John D. Hannah, ed., Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody, Press, 1984), ix.). The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) was founded in 1949 and had a singular doctrinal statement at its founding that affirmed inerrancy: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. (“Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His Views on Matthew,” Christianity Today, February 3, 1984.)

The Chicago Statement on biblical Inerrancy (1978) was the written outcome of a consultation by leading evangelicals concerned about the defection among Christians—even a significant number of evangelicals—from belief in Scripture’s complete truthfulness. The statement said much about the doctrine of inerrancy and defined it very clearly arguing for the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. The Chicago Statement linked the inspiration of Scripture and its inerrancy: “We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the bible authors were moved to speak and write. We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.”[xiii]

Indeed, the Chicago Statement affirmed “that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.”[xiv] “In response to criticism that he term inerrancy is a poor one—it is the negative idea (“without error”)—the Chicago Statement urged the continued use of the term. It also emphasized that contemporary challenges to inerrancy have not defeated the doctrine.”[xv]

During his ministry Charles Spurgeon the “Prince of Preachers” faced attacks on the doctrine of Scripture on every front but stood firm for the complete trustworthiness of the Word of God. Spurgeon’s example is instructive for evangelicals and evangelicalism at large because if Church history has taught us anything it should be that when a high view (the biblical view) of the Word of God is upheld then Jesus will be brought glory. The example of Spurgeon is especially important in this regard as he had a high view of God’s Word and of His Son Jesus Christ. Spurgeon proclaimed the Word of God in a time when truth was under attack, much like today, but did not compromise.

Spurgeon continues to make an impact even though he’s been dead for one hundred and twenty years, because he did not compromise on the Gospel or the Word of God. Spurgeon was a man aflame with the glory of the grace of God. Spurgeon made an impact because of his passion for and stance on evangelical truth, which he contended for, defended, and proclaimed with all of his might to the glory of God. Men of passion and conviction are needed in evangelicalism today, men and women who will contend, defend and proclaim the truth of substitutionary atonement, the authority and inspiration of Scripture, eternal punishment for unbelievers, original sin, and the absoluteness of Christianity.

Every generation of believers must determine if they are going to stand for biblical truth or lay down their swords and accept the lie of liberalism. While David Loose claims that the Bible and church history doesn’t teach total inerrancy by emphasizing only his opinion in his comments and no serious engagement with what Scripture teaches, or what the Church has taught in its history, he bases his view not on the Word of God but on the shifting sand of his opinion.

David Loose is not alone in questioning the doctrine of inerrancy as many others are questioning the authority of the Word of God either through how they use the Bible, what they think about Adam as a historical person or their stance on gender roles. This generation of believers will have to decide– as did Spurgeon– if they will stand on the Truth of the Word of God and lift up the Son of God among the nations, or whether they will lay down their sword and succumb to the lie of liberalism.

At the end of the day, Spurgeon was right “believers must never adjust the Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible.”[xvi]  Believers have been given the Word of God not to speculate on, but to study, to mediate upon, contend for, defend and proclaim to the nations. The Word of God always stands in judgment of men never do men stand in judgment of it. This fact reveals the fundamental problem going on inside and outside the church by exposing as Spurgeon knew in his time that the issues of today are old issues rooted in who is authoritative, God or man. As with every generation before and everyone after it, the Truth of God’s Word will remain authoritative, unchanging and unrelenting as it seeks to lift high the name and glory of Jesus among the nations.

As the Word of God did its work in Spurgeon’s time so today evangelicals can be encouraged that the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is the means God uses by His Spirit to pierce the heart of the convinced atheist, rejecters like Judas, and deniers like Peter. Evangelicals today need to stand firm in the grace of God and the Word by looking to the example of men like Spurgeon and be encouraged that God by His grace is still working to bring people to Himself and build His church for His glory and praise.


[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, 2000), 95.

[iv] Ibid, 95.

[v] Ibid, 95.

[vi] Ibid, 95.

[viii] Paul D. Feinberg, “the Meaning of Ierrrancy,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (Grand rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 294.

[ix] Klaas Runia, “The Hermeneutics of the Reformers,” Calvin Theological Journal 19 (1984), 129-32.

[x] Augustine, Letters of St. Augustine.

[xi] Clement of Rome First letter to the Corinthians XLV.

[xii] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, HVII.2.

[xiii] The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, art; 9, in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, 2000), 1205.

[xiv] Ibid., art. 15, in Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1206.

[xv] Ibid., art. 13, in Grudem Systematic Theology, 1206. In pointing this out, the Chicage Statement was keeping with a tradition among evangelicals that recognized this point. John Murray affirmed: “In maintaining and defending biblical inerrancy it is necessary to bear in mind that our concept of inerrancy is to be derived from Scripture itself. A similar necessity appears in connection with the criteria of truth and of right. We may not impose upon the Bible our own standards of truthfulness or our own notions of right and wrong. It is easy for the proponents of inerrancy to set up certain canons of inerrancy which are arbitrarily conceived and which prejudice the whole question from the outset. And it is still easier for the opponents of inerrancy to set up certain criteria in terms of which the Bible could easily be shown to be in error. Both attempts must be resisted.” John Murray “Inspiration and Inerrancy,” in Collected Writings (Carlisle, Pa..: Banner of truth Trust, 1976, 4:25-26.

[xvi] Charles Spurgeon, An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1906), 230.