The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article XIV

WE AFFIRM  the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.

WE DENY  that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

            We’re told in Proverbs that “every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Pr. 30:5). The simple idea is that since God is truth, every word which utters forth from him is a word of truth; consistently so. From our human perspective, indeed, from our fallen human perspective, having a consistency and harmony and unity to everything we speak is outright difficult, in fact, it’s impossible. This is partly why James warns his readers that not many of us should become teachers: people who use a lot of words are more prone to get themselves into some kind knot. You especially see this in bad liars. It takes more lies to cover up older lies and sooner than later the liar can’t keep all his stories and lies straight and ends up tripping hard over his own sin.  
            But when it comes to God there is no such danger. Every word of God proves true. As Jesus testified in John 10:35, the Scripture cannot be broken. That is, there is no inconsistency in it. Anywhere. Ever.
            This is why the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy affirms in article 14 that there is a unity and internal consistency of Scripture. All its parts hold together. None of it is inconsistent with any other part or the whole. Which means, any so-called errors or discrepancies are just that: alleged errors and discrepancies. Hence the Chicago Statement makes the claim that these alleged errors or discrepancies have not yet been resolved and therefore do not vitiate or negate the truth claims of the Bible.
            It is this idea which underlies the church’s convictions on Scripture’s infallibility and inerrancy. Paul Feinberg says that “inerrancy means that when all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.”[1] What is being assumed in both Feinberg’s statement and the Chicago Statement is that if there is any error, it is not to be found with God and his word, but with us, the reader, in either our interpretation or understanding.
            Stephen Wellum makes the crucial point that “our affirmation of inerrancy does not imply, and has never implied, that we know how to resolve every apparent inconsistency in Scripture. In fact, we are under no obligation to do so in order to believe in inerrancy. No doubt, we are more than willing to resolve difficulties where possible, convinced that when all the facts are known, Scripture will be shown to be wholly true and never false.”[2]
            This conviction, no doubt, places the truth of God’s faithfulness and reliability higher than any perceived errors we see in His word. In other words, the Christian believer has the explicit presupposition that God and his word is never wrong or in error. That is, there is an element of faith working to supersede what we see so that in any instant, God (and the character of God) is being trusted more than our eyes and minds. If God says that he is true and faithful and that the entirety of His Scripture is truth (John 17:17), then when I find something in his word which seems to not be true, which seems to contradict either something else in his word or something “established” by science, my devotion is still to God. I do not doubt God, I doubt myself.
            Thomas Kuhn, philosopher of science, has famously (and persuasively) argued in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the history of science, and therefore science as such, develops according to ever shifting paradigms, paradigms which are constantly attempting to apply theories to fit new problems. And as new problems emerge, an exemplar paradigm will be able to solve and account for those problems and thus emerge as an epistemically reliable paradigm, a trustworthy model and theory of how reality works. But other paradigms, which cannot solve the new developing problems, will show themselves to be less trustworthy and eventually fall out of use within any scientific community. The unfolding history of science then is far less a straight linear development of ever-increasing knowledge but more like a lava-lamp: ever-emerging bubbles of new paradigms which can hold up under the light of new discoveries and new problems. Some bubbles merge into newer rising bubbles, and others, after enjoying sometime at the top eventually fall to the bottom an dissipate.
            In other words, it’s a very religious claim to always “trust the science.” Such a claim reveals the presupposition that certain paradigms ought always to be seen as infallible and inerrant. But this claims more for science than what science can claim for itself, turning it into a god rather than allowing it to be a mere method of human inquiry.
            The Christian, grateful for tools like the scientific method (and grateful for discoveries of truth through that same method: aspirin, the polio vaccine, air-conditioning), cannot allow scientific paradigms to carry more epistemic weight than the word of God. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is. 40:7). And thus, when certain statements in Scripture seem to contradict “the science”, the believer, well, he believes! He believes the Word of God. “I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame” (Ps. 119:31).
            And of course, the reason we do this, the reason we cling to the words of God is because the testimonies of the Lord carry in them the only epistemological veracity of objective truth itself. “Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 7:18). There are no paradigm shifts in God’s word. God’s word is a sure and stable foundation by which we can better judge all the shifting paradigms around us, all of them clamoring for epistemological authority, but in comparison to God’s holy and inspired and inerrant word, everything else is just shifting sand.

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] Paul D. Feinberg, “Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Norman Geisler, Inerrancy (Zondervan Academic, 1980), p. 294.

[2] Stephen J. Wellum, Systematic Theology: From Canon to Concept, vol. 1 (B&H Academic, 2024), p. 314-315


Stephen Unthank