A podcast listener named Bryce writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I just listened to episode 296 where you describe what biblical inerrancy actually is. Now that I know how you define inerrancy, my question to you is this: Why do you personally believe the Bible is trustworthy?”
That is a fair and a very important question. I feel the importance of it right now, because I just spent six weeks writing a book to answer the question. So this will be difficult to keep short, but I think I can do it.
The answer to how the Bible gives a well-grounded conviction (and that phrase matters) about its truthfulness or its inerrancy — and I am using those two words interchangeably. Inerrancy is just the negative way of saying completely truthful, and I believe both. I am okay with both of those words. The answer to that question has many angles and aspects. People have come at this so many different ways. So let me just mention three that seem most important to me. And I am going to jumble them all together, so you will lose track of what the three are, probably. But it has to do with the glory of God, the nature of the word of God and the claims of the Scriptures. Those would be the three, and you can look for them in this jumble.
Word and World of Glory
I take my starting point from the analogy that God expects us to see his glory, be sure of his glory, know his glory, be convinced of his glory, in reality through its revelation in nature.
His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:20–23)
So people are without excuse if they do not see and treasure the glory of God revealed in nature, if they don’t glorify him and thank him. God holds man accountable to see, to be convinced by, to worship the spiritual beauty of God through the material universe. Just think of it: he expects us to see it. And you can’t put spiritual beauty, glory of God, in a test tube for empirical proof or testing. You see it, or you don’t see it. And God holds us responsible to see it.
Now that is all an analogy for me. I think the same thing is true of God’s word. In fact, the more I think about it, the more obvious that would be. If God puts a world out there and says, “Know me though it,” how much more, if he put a word out there, would he assume, “See me in it, know me through it.” And I think Paul points us in that direction — namely, that God holds us accountable for seeing the glory of God in his word the way he holds us accountable for seeing the glory of God in his world. We can know the Bible is God’s word the same way we know the world is God’s world. It’s the same dynamic, same principle. And the text that points me in that direction is 2 Corinthians 4:4–6: “The god of this world [that is, Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from [now here is the important phrase] seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So there is a light of the gospel. When the gospel is spoken, there is a glory of Christ shining in it that we are to see. And then verse 6: “God, who said [in his making of the world], ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
So God moves into our heart. He removes the blinders, and he enables us in the word, the narrative, the story of the gospel, to see the glory of God so that we know this is God’s gospel like we know this is God’s world.
So Paul says that when the story of the gospel, the word is truly, fully spoken, it is the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. And from this, I think Paul affirms that the glory of God is seen in the word of God. For Paul the gospel is an articulable word. And that glory is like light to the eye of the human heart. We see the glory of God, and it is self-evident that this is the glory of God. And, thus, this is the glory of God’s word in which it is shining. This is God’s word like that is God’s world.
And from that experience of mine with the word over the years, and that conviction that God expects us to see him and his self-authenticating glory in his word — from that experience and that conviction — I move to my second point; namely, God’s word is true. “The sum of your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). Every word proves true. So if this is God’s word, it is true; it is inerrant.
And part of this is the witness (this is my third thing now) of God’s word to itself that it cannot be broken. John 10:35: “Scripture cannot be broken.” So as you move from this first, broad, stunning, self-authenticated experience with the word of God, whereby God says, “This is my word and this is my glory,” and you move from there to God speaks the truth, and you move from there to God says things about his word, your sense and your conviction of the inerrancy of Scripture grows. And I would just commend Kevin DeYoung’s new book Taking God at his Word where he spells out many of these texts about what the Bible teaches about itself.
Maybe one last thing: If you would push on me personally about my experience of how I am compelled to believe the Bible is God’s word, and thus, inerrant, I would zero in on Jesus and Paul. And this is biography now. I am not trying to say the Bible says this is the way to do it; it is just how John Piper experiences God through the Bible and comes to his conviction of the inerrancy of the Bible. I zero in on Jesus and Paul.
The more I have been reading the Bible (for almost 65 years now), the more I have looked at the teachings and the deeds of Jesus over the years as they are given to us in the four Gospels, I am compelled — this is no big choice on my part — I am compelled to say I have seen his glory — “glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). That has become my experience: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” So he and all his words and all his work are words of truth, because he is the truth. He has confirmed himself, stood forth, revealed his glory to me. I cannot walk away from Jesus. I cannot see him any other way than as the glorious one that he is.
And the second thing: The more I read the letters of Paul, the more I am compelled to say he is no fool. He is no lunatic. He is no charlatan. And he is more real than any fallen man, any other fallen man. He is not Jesus; he is just more real than any other fallen man I have ever known. He is authentic, and so is his message.
So Jesus and Paul in their own unique ways, are compelling embodiments of the glory of God in the face of Christ — one as God, and the other is a faithful witness to God. They are true, and what they say about all the Scriptures is enough for me to trust them — not to mention the fact that they, too, shine with the glory of God who inspired them.
So in a sentence, I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible because of the divine origin of the Bible, and that divine origin is as evident as the divine origin of the universe.