The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article 3

Article III: “WE AFFIRM that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God. WE DENY that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.”

When The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was being prepared, the framers of this statement recognized in article III that the doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy is directly tied to the doctrine of the Bible’s divine revelation. Only if the Bible is the inspired and revealed Word of God can it also be said to be inerrant, perfect, and without fault. The question that must be asked, however, is what exactly does it mean to affirm that the Word of God in its entirety is given by God?

Affirmation of Scripture as Revelation

We must first determine what is meant by revelation. When the term is used in reference to sacred Scripture, revelation refers to God’s supernatural disclosure of knowledge to the creation. It is perhaps of some interest that the book of Revelation is itself derived from the Greek title given to the book, Apokalypsis. This word means to unveil or reveal something. Thus, we can conclude that to say the Bible in its entirety is revelation given by God means that the Bible is God’s direct word to mankind revealing who He is, who man is, and what the purpose of the creation is. As revelation, it tells man what God expects of him, how he is to live, and what he is to do upon the earth.

Probably the most famous biblical text relating to the concept of revelation is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This text gives us both a helpful definition of what revelation is, plus a few practical ways that biblical revelation directs our lives.

In the first case, we see that Scripture as revelation is breathed out by God. Typically, one of the more technical descriptions used to refer to God’s breathing out of Scripture is verbal plenary inspiration. Inspiration refers to the way in which God led the writers of sacred Scripture, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to write down exactly what He desired them to write. While this did not strip them of their individual personalities or writing styles, divine inspiration insists that the words of the Bible are truly God’s words. Verbal carries this meaning further by insisting that not only the ideas and concepts of Scripture, but the very words themselves are inspired by God. And, finally, plenary means that it’s not just a few words, not 99% of the words, but 100% of the words of the Bible that are inspired perfectly and inerrantly by God, and thus it all is to be received as God’s direct and true revelation to man.

We can believe it is revelation from God for a number of reasons, but one of the most powerful (I believe) is this: Jesus came to the earth as the God-man. He, as God, affirmed that the Old Testament was His revelation to mankind. He was then crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day. Before He ascended into Heaven, He commissioned the apostles to speak authoritatively on His behalf, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The disciples then willingly embraced persecution and death in order that they would be found faithful in preaching the gospel and writing Gospel accounts, epistles, and the Apocalypse, as they were led by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the very lives of the apostles are themselves witnesses to the fact that the Bible is revelation from God.

Denial of Scripture as Merely a Witness to Revelation or Reliant on External Factors to Become Revelation

If it is true that the Bible is inspired by God in a verbal and plenary sense, then the Bible must be accepted as God’s revelation to mankind. However, over the centuries, various arguments have popped up that have attempted to redefine what Christians mean by revelation. For example, Karl Barth (1886-1968) famously taught that the Scriptures were witnesses unto the revelation of God and thus only became experienced revelation only as they were read.

Consider just two statements from Barth, taken from volume 1 of his Church Dogmatics. In the first statement, Barth explains his view that Christians actually “do the Bible poor and unwelcome honour if we equate it directly with this other, with revelation itself.”[1] In the second statement, Barth explains that he believes, “The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be His Word, to the extent that he speaks through it.”[2]

What Barth meant by these two statements is that he believed Scripture was not God’s direct revelation to mankind, but instead it was only intended as a fallible tool whereby God could choose to reveal Himself to man. For Barth, the revelatory capacity of Scripture really depended on three different things, which The Chicago Statement of Inerrancy is denying in Article III: Man’s reading of the Bible, man’s choosing to accept the Bible as true, and God’s choosing to then reveal Himself in an experiential way through the reading of the Bible. Thus, the inerrancy of Scripture, for Barth, was a non sequitur. If Scripture is not revelation from God, then there is no reason to insist on its inerrancy.

Of course, Barth’s arguments fail on several accounts, the most important of which is this: Scripture is revelation from God regardless of whether or not someone reads or believes it, and someone who reads and believes it is not changing the revelatory value of Scripture. Someone may argue that a tree falling by itself in the forest may not make a sound because no one is around to hear it, but the argument is nonsense because the fundamental laws of nature make it so that a falling tree will always make noise at it crashes to the ground. Likewise, the fundamental law of Scripture is that, regardless of anyone reading or believing it, it remains revelation from God to mankind.

Jacob Tanner is the pastor of Christ Keystone Church in Middleburg, PA. He is married to his wife, Kayla, and together they have two sons, Josiah and Owen. He is the author of The Tinker’s Progress: The Life and Times of John Bunyan.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Vol. 1 (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 112.

[2] Ibid., 109.


Jacob Tanner