The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article IX

Article IX of the Chicago Statement, with its one affirmation and one denial, reads as follows:

“We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the biblical authors were moved to speak and write. We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.”

This article affirms there are no errors to be found in scripture. This is not because the authors of scripture themselves were of such a sublime nature they could never error. No. Only God has the excellencies of divinity and the constancy of never being in error. God alone is immutable. There is no variation or shadow due to change with him. The reason there are no errors contained in scripture is because of what the scriptures are, not because of what men are.

In the peculiar task of speaking and writing the utterances of God, the biblical authors were moved by God to speak and write. They were not so moved in every endeavor of life, but they were so moved in producing the scriptures. When not uttering God’s words, they may have erred in writing a recipe or a private letter to an beloved uncle; but, by the power of divine inspiration, they did not error in writing scripture.

It is helpful to note how Article IX refers to omniscience. The Chicago Statement does not allow for a conferral of omniscience upon the biblical authors in the divine act of inspiration. This disavowal is helpful for understanding what inspiration is. It is a supernatural act. Let me explain.  

The New Testament word for inspiration is theopnuestos (a transliteration from the Greek), best translated into English as “breathed out by God” or “inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Thus, it is an act so obviously supernatural someone might be tempted to conclude it is akin to conferring omniscience. But omniscience is an incommunicable attribute, an attribute God cannot share with the creature. Biblical authors were not omniscient, but they were inspired. As it says in 2 Peter 1:21, they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” to write down the precise words God wanted to use to convey his revelation. The authors were not left to their own natural abilities or to their own Christian graces. A supernatural work of God called inspiration was necessary to guarantee the scriptures would be without error.

What then of the denial?

The denial makes clear that the Chicago Statement is not closing its eyes to the finitude and fallenness of the biblical authors. But its denial, Article IX is stating that a true and trustworthy Bible in all it contains does not require unfallen men as authors. All that is required for inerrancy is God’s own willingness to speak through ordinary men in a special way. This is the essence of inspiration.

For example, the prophet Isaiah does not speak for himself. He knows he is speaking for the Lord. “Thus says the Lord” (Isaiah 66:1). The same with David, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: ….”

A divine imposition brings forth all the utterances contained in holy scripture thereby making them true and trustworthy as God himself is true and trustworthy. “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word” (Isaiah 66:5). The divine author grants the human author of scripture both to hear and to tremble so that what is written are not the fallible and faulty musings of men, but the very words of God. This why in many places the apostles attribute the authorship of scripture to God (Matt. 22:43, Mar. 12:36, Acts 1:16, Acts 28:25). Hebrews 3:7 is a good example: “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice….” Beginning with the word ‘Today,’ the apostle is quoting from Psalm 95:7. He means for us to see that the original Psalmist was not alone in his ordinary propensity for error when he wrote Psalm 95. God was breathing through him and out of him into what was written. This is the guarantee of scripture truthfulness. It is God’s word.

John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.


John Hartley