The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article VI

“We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration. We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can be rightly affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.”

In 1985 The Jesus Seminar was founded by a number of biblical scholars who sought to “renew the quest for the historical Jesus.” That is, they sought to determine what parts of the Gospel accounts could actually be attributed to Jesus, and then to draw definitive conclusions regarding the true identity of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. Their conclusion? Only about 18% of the sayings and 16% of the deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospel accounts are authentic. Of course, one is completely valid in asking: By what standard did they draw these conclusions? By what beliefs did they analyze the Gospel accounts in order to sit in judgment of them in order to decide what was truly authentic to those accounts? How did they arrive at these beliefs that gave them the ability to decide which parts of the Gospel accounts are “authentic”?

Such questions not only highlight the presuppositional nature of thinking—that all thinking is dependent on or controlled by one’s most foundational beliefs that drive the rest of one’s thinking—but also reveal that one must choose by what authority one is going to sit in judgment of that text that claims to be the only word from the only living and true God.

Article six of the Chicago Statement reminds us that those who adopt the approach represented by the Jesus Seminar do so in direct violation of the authority of Scripture as The Truth from the only living and true God that is unavoidably united in all its “parts.” God’s written word is irreducibly complex because it is from the only living and true God who is Truth.

The sixth article especially highlights that not only do the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament hold together in an organic union, but also that we are deficient in our understanding of them to the degree that we function in our thinking with a dualism that allows us to sit in judgment of those Scriptures in any way. By “dualism” I mean an approach to the pursuit of knowledge that thinks that humans can separate themselves from the object of their knowledge, while analyzing it and ultimately drawing conclusions about it. It is an epistemological approach (often labeled “modernist”) that marked most of the manifestations of what historians have identified as the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries.

While it is likely safe to say that most informed and thoughtful Christians today, at least in principle, reject that Enlightenment project and its modernist epistemology, the tentacles of its grip still control much of the thinking that is popular in the West. Though some claim that we have moved beyond the modernist view of knowledge and to a postmodernist one, the notion that these are essentially two different views of knowledge is simply not true. Both are rooted in the dogma that “Man is the measure of all things,” as the Greek philosopher Protagoras affirmed about 2500 years ago. From this we see not only that modernism and postmodernism are not essentially two different philosophical perspectives (though each has its own emphases), but also that they are not essentially different from the same fundamental humanistic philosophy that has controlled the thoughts of non-Christians throughout all human history. What this humanistic philosophy cannot understand correctly and think in harmony with is the fundamental unity and diversity that exist in creation and thereby also marks God’s written word. All the “parts” of Scripture hold together in one organic whole, in a way similar to how all the parts of creation hold together in one organic whole.

The Trinitarian God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—are true unity and diversity simultaneously, and all their works bear the imprint of their unity and diversity. Our thinking goes astray from God’s word to the degree that we set unity and diversity off against each other. Christian thinking rightly identifies the distinctions that can be made between realities, while simultaneously recognizing the organic union that holds between the distinct realities. Currently, one example of where this matter is playing itself out is in the debate regarding Christian Nationalism, or the relationship between the “spiritual” and “political,” or Church and State.

As I have read and listened to many at the forefront of that debate, I have been struck, among other things, by the inability of some of them to express the biblical balance of unity and diversity with respects to the Church and the State, and the spiritual and political. What seems to be needed, at least with some, is a reminder of “first principles” regarding the organic union of all reality that is marked by an astounding amount of diversity, precisely because the Triune God expresses his unity and diversity in all his works. This shines forth in his written word and in all creation. The sixth article of the Chicago Statement gives expression to this truth, and it is one that lies at the root of not only our understanding of Scripture, but also of all things. It could not be otherwise.       

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.       


David Smith