The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article IV

Having laid a foundation for the nature and authority of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God in the three opening articles, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy proceeds to define and defend mankind’s capacity to receive God’s Word. The framers of the Statement make the following affirmation in its fourth article:

We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.

This affirmation tells us something about God: He is our Creator. It also tells us something about mankind: we are made in God’s image. One implication of mankind’s nature as bearing God’s image is that intelligent spiritual relationship between the infinite Creator and His finite creation is possible. The gift of language is a means of revelation. Indeed, language is the means or vehicle of God’s special revelation whereby spiritually vital men and women can know God and His will for our salvation.

At the dawning of creation, God created all things by the power of His Word. Genesis chapter one specifies (and emphasizes) that God spoke all things into existence. On the sixth day, after some spoken deliberation (Gen. 1:26), the one holy, living, and triune “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). When He formed the man from the dust of the earth, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Thus, God created man and woman, in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image” (WCF 4.2).

Upon opening their eyes, what did Adam and Eve our first parents behold? They saw that all creation showcases the power, majesty, and handiwork of God their Creator. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1). We call this general revelation, that truth about God – His being, power, and sovereign claim over creation – which we can see and observe, even without words.

But it was not until God spoke to Adam that the man knew His will and requirements for maintaining right relationship with the Creator. In Genesis 2:16-17, “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’” Returning to the Westminster Confession of Faith, we read that our first parents “received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures” (WCF 4.2). It is a marvelous wonder that the infinite Creator gave to mankind the gift of language that we might know His will as He reveals it to us in a manner accommodated to our creaturely capacity. As John Calvin so memorably illustrated, “as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us.”[1] The Chicago Statement makes the same point by way of the first of two denials in Article IV:

We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation.

However, Adam’s failure to heed God’s word of covenant command resulted in a rupture in the relationship he enjoyed with the Creator, “therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden” (Gen. 3:23), that holy sanctuary of life-giving communion with God. How did this positional change and the life-destroying corruption that attended and has followed it affect language and revelation? The Chicago Statement includes a second denial in Article IV that directly addresses this problem:

We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration.

God’s Word is given to mankind to know His will for our conduct and for our salvation; it is altogether clear and sufficient for Christian faith and practice. Through history, poetry, prophecy, and didactic instruction, God speaks to us in His Word in an intelligible manner. That is, God uses language to reveal to us His purposes for His glory and His people’s good. Though our sin has led to the corruption language (e.g., seen most clearly in the divine judgement of the confusion of tongues at Babel in Gen. 11), the purposes of God – including His work of inspiration – are not thwarted. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit of Christ is “speaking in the Scripture” (WCF 1.10) that we might know the truth and be freed from the sin which enslaves even our tongues (see Jn. 8:32; Jas. 1:26).

Zachary Groff (MDiv, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC, and he serves as Managing Editor of The Confessional Journal and as Editor-in-Chief of the Presbyterian Polity website.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.1, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill, vol. 1, Reissue Edition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006): 121.


Zachary Groff