The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article XIII

After introducing the theological concept of “inerrancy” in Article XII, the drafters of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy proceeded to defend the use of this comparatively new term in reference to the veracity of Scripture. Article XIII declares:

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

One of the reasons that The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is historically significant is that it confirmed and promoted the use of the term “inerrancy” as an attribute of God’s Word in its unassailable truthfulness. Though the term “inerrancy” is of relatively recent vintage in theological discourse (originating in the 19th Century and becoming popular in the 20th Century), the concept arguably extends deep into history. As this series of blog posts has labored to show, two of the accepted attributes of God’s Word throughout history include its infallibility and authenticity, which necessarily imply its inerrancy in the original autographs. These concepts (and the terms themselves) have had a long tenure in the Christian church, appearing in the Scriptures themselves (see Acts 1:3 NKJV, 2 Thess. 3:17 CSB).

The term “inerrancy” most certainly and rightly is to be applied to the unchanging truth of Scripture.

Like other theological terms that do not appear in the Scriptures themselves but are nevertheless acceptable and helpful for discussing Christian theology (e.g., Trinity, Incarnation, Monotheism, Divinity, Atheism, Bible), the word “inerrancy” is wholly appropriate to use when talking about the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

Though some recent critics of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy raise their objections on the grounds of historical novelty, the more pressing issue when The Chicago Statement was drafted had to do with criteria for verification of historical claims in the evaluation of ancient texts. This becomes more evident when we read the lengthy denials in Article XIII:

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

There is a certain “chronological snobbery” (in the parlance of C.S. Lewis) involved in applying modern criteria when evaluating the veracity of ancient texts prepared under different “standards of truth and error.”

For example, when the Gospels refer to “His disciples,” it is not always immediately clear what is meant by these words. Does the phrase “His disciples” refer to the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-5; Mk. 3:16-19; Lk. 6:13-16, 9:1; Acts 1:13), the seventy (Lk. 10:1, 17), or the unnumbered crowds that followed Him in His earthly ministry? Oftentimes, the context provides a clear answer. Other times, the answer is uncertain at best. Though this lack of specificity may annoy a census official, a newspaper editor, or a high school statistics teacher, the “lack of modern technical precision” has no bearing on the veracity of the report.

In conclusion, the word “inerrancy” can and should be applied to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Since its confirmation as a keyword in the theological vocabulary of Evangelicals, it has become a banner criterion for affirming the confessional orthodoxy of churches and Bible scholars around the world, and rightly so. To sneer at “inerrancy” is a sign not just of “chronological snobbery,” but of disdain for the veracity of God’s Word.

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.


Zachary Groff