The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article I

“Need evangelical summit.” R.C. Sproul scrawled in his notebook. “May fail but must try it.”

As Dr. Sproul penned these words, he captured a tense moment in twentieth-century church history. Throughout evangelicalism bubbled a threat against the orthodox understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture. But was this really such an urgent issue that over two hundred evangelical leaders needed to gather to draw a line in the sand? What made a boring theological term that many evangelicals could not even define something worth dividing over?

The key to this crisis can be found in the opening article of the statement:

We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God. We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from Church, tradition, or any other human source.

It might seem odd that a statement on inerrancy opens with a comment on authority. But that is because the issue of inerrancy is ultimately an issue of authority. For if God is the author of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), then it follows that if the Scriptures err, then God is a liar, and its contents are not trustworthy. And if we cannot trust the contents of the Bible as God’s authoritative truth, then we are of all people most to be pitied for we have no hope of the resurrection in Christ and no basis for faith and practice.

It seems simple enough, but our relativistic and pluralistic culture often bucks against authority or cringes at the idea that there might be something out there that overrides “our truth.”  When someone’s personal preference is confronted by the authoritative Word of God, we have two choices: either stand firm on the truth of God’s Word (and often stand alone) or explain away Scripture here and there to side with personal preference or cultural pressure. So often, this shift away from Biblical authority is not typically a giant leap, but rather a hundred small steps in the wrong direction and many have lost their grip on the importance of inerrancy in their attempt to accommodate to culture.

But there’s another aspect to authority that this statement captures. Not only is the Word of God fully authoritative, that authority is inherent and not imbued by man or even God-ordained institutions. This was the issue Martin Luther faced in his day when he protested the ways the Catholic Church put itself as a higher or equal authority to Scripture when they began promoting practices contrary to the teaching of Scripture. This is what led to his famous “Here I stand” moment at the Diet of Worms, where he refused to recant his teachings against the Church’s abuse of authority, saying, “I am bound by the Scriptures ….and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

While Article I of the Chicago Statement rejects that the church, tradition, or otherwise holds equal or greater authority than Scripture, it’s helpful to note that neither does it affirm a view of “solo Scriptura” e.g. no authority but the Bible. Even as the authoritative source of doctrine and practice, Scripture has ordained secondary means of authority, such as church, parents, governments, even tradition (2 Thess. 2:15) to offer guidance in the interpretation and application of its teachings. In fact, the Chicago Statement’s very existence and endurance speaks to the need and gift of these secondary means to help teach and guide us.

In unfolding the tapestry of Church history, we see a host of figures who have stood in defense of the authority of Scripture against the culture’s theology du jour. Thus, the preamble to the Chicago Statement poignantly declares, "The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian church in this and every age." From Martin Luther's resolute "here I stand" speech, and to R.C. Sproul's call for an evangelical summit, we hear these echoes of conviction. As the beloved hymn declares, "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word." Through the ages, the unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture has been a foundation for the identity, mission, and purity of the Church across generations. This is why the Chicago statement was necessary. This is why we need inerrancy defined. And this is what makes the issue of authority worth fighting for in this and every age.

Megan K. Taylor earned her MA in Theological Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary. She and her family lives in Sanford, Fl where she works for Ligonier Ministries and is a member of Saint Paul’s PCA.



International Council on Biblical Inerrancy

Download a free pdf of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy


Megan Taylor