Celebrating Inerrancy and Church History

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Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Yet, it was not 40 years ago that evangelicals discovered the inerrant nature of God’s Word. As Robert Pruess and John Girstner pointed out in “Inerrancy” (Zondervan, 1980), it is a view held by the church fathers, medieval Christian leaders and the reformers. In fact, you don’t have a serious challenge to the inerrancy of the Bible until Johan Semler in the 18th century (that would be nearly 1700 years after the penning of the New Testament).

It is not that influential Christian scholars missed “problems” for a millennia and a half. Many of these great thinkers were well versed in Greek and read the texts with great care.

As Preuss points out, the church fathers constantly refer to the Holy Spirit as the author of Scripture. Preuss goes on to note that the idea of an errant Word was “unthinkable.”

Thomas Aquinas wrote, “It is heretical to say that any falsehood whatsoever is contained either in the gospels or in any canonical Scripture.” Luther and Calvin followed. The latter referred to the Bible as “the sure and infallible record,” “the inerring standard,” “Free from every stain or defect,” etc.

This high view of God’s Word continued with Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, Billy Graham and on an on. So, when folks like Brian Zahnd or Rachel Held Evans (neither of which are scholars) ridicule those who hold to inerrancy, they are rejecting not only the clear teachings of Scripture but also more than a millennia and a half of teachings by the very people God chose to guide His church.

Those who followed Semler and modern skepticism have implied again and again that they are attempting to rescue the faith in light of contemporary attitudes. Yet, the end result has been nothing short of a train wreck. Mainline denominations who followed this path have been dying for decades.

When I read and listen to those who deny inerrancy I always find that they hold certain passages to be inspired and they just so happen to agree with their preconceived notions (funny how that happens). Moreover, I am reminded of an evangelical European scholar who, while debating a “progressive” who was arguing for an innovative interpretation of the atonement responded, “Before I turn my back on Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, Warfield, Machen, John Stott, Billy Graham, etc….I would be VERY hesitant!” Amen.