The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article VIII

WE AFFIRM  that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.

WE DENY  that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

That God has inspired men to write and communicate His words to mankind is clear enough from Scripture (Exodus 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:16). But how that happens has sometimes been obscured. Sadly, too many Christians think of the act of inspiration as God merely taking over an induvial, or possessing him, so that God, using the man as no more than a puppet, a tool of flesh to write words, can then through that man produce a final inspired document of Scripture. Almost like a man in a drug-induced state of ecstasy were the authors of Scripture. This is emphatically not what Biblical inspiration is. God is not a God of mindless manipulation.
            Rather, God has always been a God of means and almost always uses individuals to accomplish His means. Think of Moses and the Exodus, Joshua and the conquering of Canaan, or you and I and the spread of the Gospel. God loves to use his people. And when it comes to giving his people his Covenant Word, He uses certain people and their distinct personalities – personalities, mind you, that God himself created, and through his providence, perfectly crafted to be the exact personality He wanted to write His word. Do you think anyone else but David – with all that David was and all that David had gone through - could have written Psalm 51?
            And yet, even though David was the author of Psalm 51, he was not the sole author. God, working in and through David, made sure that everything David wrote was exactly what God intended. Therefore, God is also the author. Indeed, He is the primary author. God’s sovereign and providential work in disclosing Himself through David in no way negates nor diminish the very real thought, will, and care given by David when writing his Psalms. They are the Psalms of David; they are the Words of God. As Herman Bavinck puts the matter, “the correct view of inspiration apparently depends therefore on putting the primary author and the secondary authors in the right relationship to each other.”[1]

            Here The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy gets the doctrine just right when it says that “we affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared and that we deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.” Any honest reader of Scripture can easily discern that the way in which John wrote his Gospel narrative is radically different in style and tone and personality that how Mark or Luke wrote their Gospel narratives. Paul is wildly different than Peter, and James is not at all like Jude.
            The word inspiration, from the Greek theopneustos (God-breathed) as used in 2 Timothy 3:16 denotes the idea of God “breathing out” His Word, albeit through certain human authors. B.B. Warfield used the image of musical instruments to describe how God inspired different men to write Scripture without overriding their distinct personalities. Just as a man my blow upon a trumpet to get one sound but later blow on a French Horn, or Tuba, to get a distinctively different sound, so too God – the source of Scripture – will breathe through different men to communicate exactly what He wants communicated.
            Hence, Peter can write that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Here, Peter is clear: prophecy originates from God. Or to make a tautology, God’s Word is a Word from God.        Still, Peter can also say that it comes through men – men “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Stephen Wellum puts the point clearly when he says that this is “more than the leading of the Spirit that occurs in ordinary providence; rather, it is an act of extraordinary divine agency, which involves a sovereign, constraining influence of the Spirit. However... this extraordinary action of the Spirit in and through the authors does not necessitate a dictation theory of inspiration, but it does assume a specific theology of the divine sovereignty-human freedom relationship. The words and texts the prophets spoke and wrote are from God and thus fully authoritative and true, but they are also their own words. A close look at the writings of the prophets confirms this point. There is no evidence that the prophet's abilities and personalities disappear; each prophet freely writes in his own style, yet it is also God's word. Scripture does not teach that if God is the author, then humans are not, or vice versa.”[2]

            A distinction should be made just here. The product, that is, the document of written Scripture is inspired, not the man doing the writing. Moses, David, Peter and Paul were all fallen men and as such were men who sometimes erred. Paul had to confront Peter for his mistaken theology in Galatians 2.[3] Still, through these fallen and finite men, God breathed and the Spirit carried along in such a way that what they produced was both inspired and inerrant. The text, as it was written, had an objective stamp of divinity upon it (and as it is faithfully copied and translated, that same stamp of divinity presides).[4]
            This aspect of inspiration that see’s both God and man in dual-authorship has come to be referred to as Concursus. It is the understanding that both God and man are at work in producing Scripture: God as the primary Actor, providentially superintending all that will be written, even down to every jot and tittle (Matt. 5:18), but also each human author as a secondary agent, retaining full agency and cognizance in his own writing. Can you not imagine David weeping and his tears falling and mixing in with the ink as he wrote Psalm 51? Is not Paul honest when he writes that he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom. 9:2) concerning the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews?
            Here then is a full-orbed doctrine of inspiration which encompasses God’s extraordinary care over every word communicated to us, but doing so through ordinary men.

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:428; found in Joel R. Beeke, Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God, vol 1 (Crossway, 2019), p. 327

[2] Stephen J. Wellum, Systematic Theology: From Canon to Concept, vol. 1 (B&H Academic, 2024), p. 292

[3] Ibid., p. 294

[4] Preachers today who preach out of a good English translation can have confidence that they are preaching the Word of God.


Stephen Unthank