Posted On November 14, 2014

Both Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke often of their view of Scripture. Luther’s understanding of biblical inerrancy, like his predecessors (in the early church and middle ages), grew from his belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture. As Lutheran historian Robert Preus summarizes, “Luther’s notion of biblical infallibility arose from his firm belief that the Bible is the Word of God and that God spoke to him there powerfully and authoritatively” (Preus, “Luther and Biblical Infallibility,” in Inerrancy and the Church, 110).

Also like his historical forerunners, Luther does not dedicate a particular volume or treatise to articulating a formal doctrine of Scripture; his commitment to divine inspiration is assumed throughout his writings. Nevertheless, as Preus observes, “one can find scores of statements of Luther’s in which he expressly asserts that Scripture is God’s Word” (Preus, 110). Furthermore, Luther’s commitment to biblical inerrancy followed the tradition established in the early church through the middle ages. That is, Luther believed that Scripture could not contradict itself and that it was truthful in all it affirmed—in matters historical, geographical, scientific, and spiritual.

Several statements from Luther illustrate such a commitment. For example, Luther comments, “It is impossible that Scripture should contradict itself; it only appears so to senseless and obstinate hypocrites” (Preus, “The View of the Bible Held by the Church: The Early Church Through Luther,” in Inerrancy, 380). To Luther, Scripture contained no mistakes and was therefore the standard by which to judge the theological statements of others (Woodbridge, Biblical Authority, 53.). Moreover, to attribute error to Scripture would be to impugn God with the attempt to deceive. “Consequently, we must remain content with them [words], and cling to them as perfectly clear, certain, sure words of God which can never deceive us or allow us to err” (Woodbridge, 53). In this last quote, it seems most natural to understand Luther to be classifying error in a comprehensive sense: God does not deceive on any matter.

John Calvin also shared Luther’s commitment with regard to Scripture. Commenting on 2 Timothy 3:16—a crucial text for establishing the doctrine of inspiration—Calvin not only strongly affirmed the divine authorship of Scripture, but also the idea that Scripture is without error.

This is a principle which distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God hath spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare. . . . Moses and the prophets did not utter at random what we have received from their hand, but, speaking at the suggestion of God, they boldly and fearlessly testified, what was actually true, that it was the mouth of the Lord that spake (Calvin, Second Timothy).

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