Inerrancy: Three Crucial Relationships for Building a Doctrine of Inspiration

If, as my wife descended the staircase ready to go out on a date night, I said to her, "Hon, you look beautiful," she would likely thank me.  But, if on that same evening, not ten minutes after, I told her that she looked monstrous how do you think she might react?  Well, she might start looking through the Yellow Pages to find me a good shrink!  She would be appalled by the contradiction, offended, and not a little hurt - and rightfully so. 

What does this illustration have to do with the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture?

Well, today there are so-called evangelicals who talk about the Bible in the same way as illustrated above.  For instance, one man opens his book writing these words, "Let us begin on a high note, with the Scripture's truth and beauty."[i]  He even goes on to call Scripture a "wonderful book."  However, ten pages later the same author writes these words,

For my main point is simply this: that God's creation - the good and beautiful thing that he alone has made - entails evils monstrous and unspeakable, whether human only or human and natural altogether.  As I will show, this basic theological affirmation provides an important analogy for our understanding of Holy Scripture and its character.[ii]

Now, perhaps you would say, "Wait, let's be charitable.  Maybe this author is talking about the evil reported in the Bible.  Maybe he is referencing murder, war, and human sin in general."  Maybe but I doubt it.  Look at the quote.  He says that the evils monstrous and unspeakable are in the very character of Scripture's nature. 

Unfortunately, we live in an evangelical world where theologians, exegetes, apologists, historians, and even pastors talk out of both sides of their mouths with regard to Scripture.  My friends, this should not be!  So, in this brief article I want to simplify and clarify.  I want to give you a handy summary of some important relationships for thinking about the inspiration of Scripture.

First, behind every inadequate view of inspiration stands an inadequate view of God's relationship to the creation.  Benjamin B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge put it like this, "The only really dangerous opposition to the church doctrine of inspiration comes either directly or indirectly, but always ultimately, from some false view of God's relationship to the world."[iii]  For 19th century liberalism, that false view was to overemphasize the immanence of God in creation.  For Warfield the implication of that overemphasis was obvious.  He wrote, "When the natural is defined as itself supernatural, there is no place left for a distinguishable supernatural."[iv]   Current theological trends bear a resemblance to the 19th century. 

Second, behind every inadequate view of inspiration stands an inadequate view of the human divine relationship in the production of Scripture.  J.I. Packer argues that the incarnation is a useful analogy for describing inspiration because it helps us to understand "in content, if not in grammatical form," that the Bible "is both human witness to God and God's witness to himself."[v]  This view includes a right understanding that the authors were providentially prepared to pen Scripture, while at the same time inspiration is something in addition to providential preparation.  In other words, inspiration has a Scriptural direction.  That is to say, inspiration is the Spirit bearing men along to speak from God (II Peter 1:21), while at the same time the Scripture itself is God breathed (II Timothy 3:16).  Therefore, inspiration is not a providential heightening of human ability but the supernatural superintending work of God's Spirit upon, in, and through the biblical authors for the production of a book that is both a divine and human - and seamlessly so.    

Third, behind every inadequate view of inspiration stands an inadequate view of Scripture's sufficiency.  Today many scholars would have us believe that the Bible's self-witness is insufficient for a proper understanding of the Bible itself.  For example, Peter Enns wants to allow the evidence of extra-biblical sources, archeology, and textual "evidence to affect how we think about what Scripture as a whole is.[vi]  Warfield encountered this same line of attack and answered by saying, "[It] is one thing to correct our exegetical process and so modify our exegetical conclusions in the new light obtained by a study of the facts, and quite another to modify…the Scriptural teaching itself."[vii]  The conviction of the Bible's reliability (and inerrancy) is rooted in the basic belief that the Bible is God's word and the infallible God did not speak erroneously. 

I realize that this is all too brief.  Nevertheless, these are the basic relationships required for recognizing the beauty and necessity of God's inscripturated word.  If we get wrong God's relation to the world, God's relation to the human authors, or God's teaching in relation to extra-biblical evidence we will surely begin to think that this beautiful book is monstrous.  May it never be. 

[i] Kenton Sparks, Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 8.

[ii] Ibid., 18.

[iii] Archibald Alexander Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield, Inspiration, ed. Roger Nicole (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker House Books, 1979), 75.

[iv] Benjamin B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 1, ed. John Meeter (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005), 27.

[v] J.I. Packer and Mark Dever, In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2007), 64.

[vi] Peter Enns, Inspiration & Incarnation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 218. (emphasis mine)

[vii] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1948), 207.

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

Jeffrey Stivason