The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article V

Article V of the Chicago Statement, with its one affirmation and two denials, reads as follows:

“We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive. We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.”

The chief concern of Article V is how divine revelation in the 66 books of scripture progresses and how it does not. The concern is not simply about making allowance for a New Testament while maintaining an Old. Progressive revelation is present in both Testaments; but notably, this progress is not unending. It has ceased upon the completion of the New Testament writings. Because of this the New Testament carries extra heft as progressive revelation, but even so, it is not alone the place of truth. As Alec Motyer once said, “Progressive revelation is a movement from truth to more truth and so to full truth.”

Let’s start with the affirmation. Note how the signatories were careful not to limit God’s progressive revelation to only the New Testament. The expression used is “in the Holy Scriptures.” All scripture is divine progressive revelation. As redemptive history unfolded, moving from the age of the patriarchs to the age of Moses to the age of the Kings to the age of Christ, God continued to unfold his revelation, expanding the picture of a promised Son who was coming and the glorious work that Son would accomplish.

This clearer and clearer picture is even taking place in one book. Take Genesis, for example. In Genesis 3:15 we are told of a coming offspring who will strike the head of the serpent. In Genesis 22:16-17 we are later told this warrior offspring will come from the line of Abraham. Then, big leap forward, in Galatians 3:16 we are told this promised offspring of Genesis was the crucified Christ, our Lord Jesus. Each revelation from God is true though the revelation progresses.

Progressive revelation involves God disclosing some of what he will make known and only later disclosing all he will make known. This disclosure, however, should not be thought of as merely two stages, a first disclosure then a second final disclosure. God has often disclosed more and more of what was previously unknown through many steps, over many years, by many prophets and apostles. Yet the truth of God is present in each progressive disclosure.

Now for the first denial. Here is a necessary statement on the nature of those later divine disclosures. Though revelation progresses, it does not ‘correct or contradict’ what was disclosed earlier, for God is the divine agent in all revelation. There is no error in the being of God. He does not error in his first disclosures nor in his later disclosures. What appear to be corrections or contradictions only appear as such because of the being who is afflicted by error: man, that mutable creature of dust laden with the noetic effects of sin. God himself is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and immutable. His revelation is a perfect unity of truth reflective of his very own being.

As for the second denial in Article V, it is an essential denial that any ‘normative revelation’ is

still being given by God to believers or to the church. Normative revelation is divine revelation for all, binding the conscience of all. This denial takes aim at neoorthodoxy or Roman Catholicism or anyone who might regard a personal experience of revelation as the norm for truth rather than the inerrant scriptures, writings completed with the New Testament.

When God gives guidance to believers today, he is not giving additional normative revelation. Guidance is the application of the scriptures, but guidance is not divine revelation. Guidance is fallible, it can be misinterpreted and misunderstood. This is what the second denial is getting at. God’s truth is written. It is on paper. It is normative. It is finished. Only by a contemporary ministry of the Holy Spirit can scriptural revelation be understood, but we deny that God is in any way now adding to that revelation.  

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