The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article XII

Having established that Scripture is inspired by God (Articles VI through X) and infallible in nature (Article XI), the Chicago Statement proceeds to defend the Inerrancy of Scripture in all that follows. We have come to the heart of the matter. Article XII begins:

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

By this affirmation, the Statement makes two important theological moves. In the first place, it draws out the necessary implication of the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible as Holy Scripture. We know that God is truth (John 14:6) and does not change (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17), and we confess with Christ our Lord that His Word – being the God-breathed Word of truth (2 Tim. 3:16) – is likewise immutably true (John 17:17). If something is immutably true, then it must be without error (i.e., inerrant). God’s Word is immutably true and therefore necessarily inerrant.

In the second place, this affirmation includes an elegant explication of what it means for the Bible to be inerrant. The three terms used here as contrasts to inerrancy – falsehood, fraud, and deceit – clearly overlap in some measure. But are they simply synonyms? Did the framers of the Chicago Statement crack open a thesaurus and pick out three descriptors to develop the doctrine of inerrancy with a superficial statement of redundancy? I think not.

The inerrant Word of God is “free from all falsehood” in that it does not contain any error. There is neither jot nor tittle (Matt. 5:18) out of place or composed in error in the original manuscripts of God’s Word. The content of the now-lost autographs has been “by [God’s] singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages,” in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which means that the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Old Testament and the Greek New Testament “are therefore authentical” (WCF 1.8). There are no errors or falsehoods due either to innocent mistakes, uncertain hypotheses, or malicious intent in God’s Word.

God’s Word is “free from all…fraud” in that it does not lie. Unlike the capricious false (and fraudulent) gods of the nations, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is true to His Word. We read in Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” The Apostle Paul grounds “the hope of eternal life” at the beginning of his letter to Titus in the ancient promise of God, “who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). The author of Hebrews likewise presses on his readers, “God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:17f).

Finally, God’s Word is “free from all…deceit” in that it does not misrepresent, obscure, or twist partial truths that would deceive the readers and hearers of the Word. More subtle than outright fraud or falsehood, deceit is the trademark move of our great adversary the Devil. As seen in Genesis 3:1, Matthew 4:6, Luke 4:10f, Satan’s schemes center around deceit, telling half-truths to lead astray the people of God. The serpent may say true things, but only to deny and work against the truth. Our God does not operate that way, “for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). There is a reason that the traditional courtroom oath taken by witnesses before giving their testimony is to “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” with God’s help.

The perfect truthfulness and inerrancy of God’s Word extends to everything about which it speaks. That is what the Chicago Statement asserts in its denials in Article XII:

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

The controversy which these two denials address has historical rootage in the Modernism controversy of the early 20th Century. Following the scientific community’s widespread adoption of Darwinian evolutionary theory and the geological uniformitarianism of Charles Lyell in the nineteenth century, Christian scholars were divided into three camps. On the left were the theological Liberals (i.e., Modernists) who sought to shoehorn the rapidly changing scientific consensus into the Bible or otherwise reject the Bible writ large. On the right were the theological reactionaries (i.e., Fundamentalists) that vigorously rejected the purported findings and theorizing of natural scientists. Between the two were those who sought honestly and sincerely to figure out what was going on.[1]

While some conservative theologians and Bible scholars initially adopted a developmentalist stance that allowed room for reading vast periods of time into the opening verses of Genesis (e.g., Thomas Chalmers, J. Gresham Machen, and B. B. Warfield) to preserve the Bible’s authority on matters pertaining to natural science and the history of creation, other well-meaning theological evangelicals took a different approach to the issue. To safeguard a place for the Bible in the life of the church and society, these others touted the Bible’s absolute authority and truthfulness in matters of spiritual concern, to the exclusion of matters of scientific fact. With the influence of Barthianism (which supported this approach) and the seemingly unstoppable progress of Darwinianism in the natural sciences, this “third way” approach of affirming the Bible’s authority (and inerrancy) on spiritual matters while denying the Bible’s authority (and inerrancy) on matters pertaining to the physical sciences became more and more popular.

At the proverbial eleventh hour, The Chicago Statement drew a line in the sand. Since the publication of the Statement, the blossoming of “creation science” ministries and the advent of new paradigms for understanding the unobserved (and largely unobservable) processes that have produced the so-called geologic time scale has vindicated the strong stance taken by the drafters of the Statement in these twin denials. Whereas Charles Lyell famously quipped, “the present is the key to the past,” The Chicago Statement holds forth the principle undergirding Romans 3:4, “let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” In other words, the unchanging truth of God “promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2) is the key to the present.

Zachary Groff (MDiv, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC, and he serves as Managing Editor of The Confessional Journal and as Editor-in-Chief of the Presbyterian Polity website.

[1] N.B. The author acknowledges that this is a gross over-simplification of the historical situation, and he commends readers to the excellent historical work of George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture.


Zachary Groff