The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article VII

The Seventh Article of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads as follows:

We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

Article seven is really an extension of article six. If all the parts of Scripture are of God, even down to the very words of Scripture, then article seven necessarily follows. However, there are three affirmations followed by a very specific denial.

Affirmation: Inspiration is the Spirit’s Work

In a brief and concise manner, the Council affirms the ancient phrase “opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa” by stating that inspiration is the work of God. However, they also affirm that this operation was accomplished through the Holy Spirit, which is consistent with the witness of Scripture. The text that is the locus classicus on this issue is Peter’s first epistle wherein he says, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (I Peter 1:21).

Affirmation: The Divine Origin of Scripture

It is always important to maintain that God is the source of Scripture. They are not of human origin, even though God employed human writers in the process of inspiration. However, the practical importance of this affirmation depends on where we are in history. For instance, the pendulum often swings between God as transcendent or immanent.  That is to say, God is either wholly other, so completely distant from us that no communication can be established, or he is so immanent that His thought cannot be distinguished from our own.  The former view is that of Karl Barth. For him, there is only a witness to God, but he never leaves anything of Himself behind, even His word. The latter is a description of Tillich who believed that God is the ground of all being.

In the 19th century, Warfield contended with the latter which found expression in Hegel’s pantheizing notion of all things. Warfield quickly discerned that the mark of his day was that all thought was conceived as the immanent work of God.  Warfield also understood the implication. If all thought is special revelation, then there is no such thing as special revelation. For Warfield this didn’t mean giving up on the divine origine of Scripture, it meant focusing not on origin but mode.

Affirmation: The Mode of Scripture

What is mode when applied to thinking about the inspiration of Scripture?  It basically deals with how God brought the inspired word about.  In other words, it applies to the manner of God’s acting in inspiration. For the Council, the mode of inspiration was “largely a mystery.” Warfield affirmed the same early in his career. He called the mode inscrutable.  However, by 1894 he believed it necessary to describe the mode because liberal scholars were identifying the mode as purely human. However, since we are unpacking the Council’s statement it seems wise to deal with Warfield’s mode in different article. 

Denial: Inspiration is not…

Inspiration is not a heightened state of human consciousness or elevated insight. It is an immediate and direct work of the Spirit upon the human author and this work produces the exact product that God intends.  This is important and has not always been considered with the care and faithfulness that it deserves. For example, W. G. T. Shedd, a great Edwardian scholar, believed that inspiration is only intellectual illumination.  What is more, he went on to describe the affinity between thought and language.  Thus, the Holy Spirit illuminated the intellect and language theory answered to produce the Scriptures.  The Council is affirming not only the immediate work of the Spirit upon the authors but the immediacy of the Spirit’s work in the final product, the Scripture. 

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Editorial Director of Ref21 and Place for Truth both online magazines of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 





Jeffrey Stivason