Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Pastor John, in its most basic form, how do you define biblical inerrancy?

Before I go to the definition of inerrancy, let me give you the soil or the roots of why you would even ask that question. The 66 books of the Christian canon is what I am talking about when I say Scripture or Bible. They are, we believe, inspired by God, 2 Timothy 3:16. Or, to say it another way, 2 Peter 1:21. No prophecy was ever produced by the will of men, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

So the reason inerrancy rises is because we claim this book is the very Word of God. The center of God’s revelation is Jesus. And he is called the Word of God incarnate. And he said Scripture cannot be broken. He said: Until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a dot, littlest {?} of dot in iota will pass away from the law until all is accomplished. So the Word of God validates the Word of God written. The Word of God incarnate validates the Word of God written in the Old Testament and then he commissioned apostles to speak his Word as the foundation of the Church and he promised when the Spirit of truth comes, truth, spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. So Jesus stands at the center as the Word of God incarnate and looking back he validates the Word of God written and looking forward he validates the Word of God written and the apostles took it that way because they said amazing things about their authority.

Paul said, for example, in 1 Corinthians 14:37: If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. That is incredible. And the only reason he has the right to say that is because he said: We are teaching in words, spoken not from men, but from the Holy Spirit, because Jesus promised I am going to guide my apostles into all truth.

So there is the reason why the whole issue of inerrancy even arises. We have a book in front of us that claims to be the inspired Word of God. And since God doesn’t lie and doesn’t make mistakes we say the Bible doesn’t lie, doesn’t make mistakes. So here... what does error mean? If we are going to say inerrant.... And, by the way, I am not one of those who gets bent out of shape about using the word inerrancy as over infallibility or truthfulness. To me the average person out there if you say the Bible is completely and totally true and the Bible is completely and totally infallible and the Bible is completely and totally inerrant, they are not hearing any distinctions. And I am not either. So I don’t like it when people quibble about these words. I think it is good to use them all.

To make sense out of the word inerrant, no error we have to define error. What is it that isn’t in this book? What is it error? And we have to define error in terms of the author’s intention. And in the Bible, since we have got God inspiring this book, we have got God’s intention mediated through the intention of human authors and going beyond them, I would say, always going beyond them, because he sees all the innumerable necessary implications of what they can’t see. I include in meaning or intention the necessary implication... what an author says, some of which he can see and some of which he can’t and God can see them all. And, therefore, when think of the intention of the author, I am thinking all that the human author intended to teach and all that God intended to teach which is bigger always than what humans can see in their implications of what God inspired them to write.

Now the reason intention is crucial is because there are all kinds of ways that we say things that could be taken as error which aren’t error if people didn’t pay attention to our intention. I might say: Tony, you scared me to death walking in here like that. You would not respond to me: You are a liar. You are a liar or you are a fool because you are still breathing. You wouldn’t, because you would know this is an idiom for you really scared me. You wouldn’t quibble over the fact that I am not dead. You wouldn’t say: error, error. And so we have to be alert to those kinds of things in the Bible. What did the author mean or what did he intend?

Another example would be in Job, the book of Job. He got 29 chapters of erroneous theology. Job is putting sentences in his inerrant book that are full of errors. The counsel of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is bad counsel. And Job is telling the story and including the bad counsel. So what you have to do is say: Now how is the book of Job inerrant? The book of Job is inerrant, not because it doesn’t include stupid sentences from Eliphaz, but because Job is written in such a way that we know they are stupid and we know they are erroneous and, thus, he makes a true point by pointing out the falsehood of the bad theology in his book. That is the way literature works. That is the way we talk. We are inerrant when the thing we are teaching is true and not false.

So what I mean by the Bible being inerrant is that the biblical authors with God as their guide do not teach anything false or command as God’s will anything displeasing to God. Or to say it another way, what the authors intend for us to understand with our heads or obey with our lives... let me start over. What the authors intend for us to understand or obey properly understood in its nearer and wider context is true. It is not misleading. It is not errant. It is not false. It corresponds to the way things really are. It commends behaviors and attitudes that God really wills. And it raises many questions and I would refer people to The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI), because that document is sometimes treated as superficially as being naïve. It is not naïve. If you read carefully the distinctions that are made in that document, it is a good guide for us, I think.

So let me just close this by saying I love this truth, because I love the Bible, because I love God. God, Word, inerrant to me are continuous. You can’t break off... I can’t break off anywhere in there and feel like I have treated God or his Word or the truth honorably. From history and from my own experience it is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of the truth of the Bible. We humans are incapable of finding out what we absolutely have to know. We can’t overcome sin. We can’t escape the wrath of God. We can’t become new creatures. We can’t walk pleasing to the Lord. God must reveal these things to us or we perish. And this he has done and continues to do by means of written word, the Bible. And when a person has understood what the Bible teaches he has understood the revelation of God infallibly, in errantly, verbally.

Thank you Pastor John. Please check out “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” which can be found online, and it’s not that long either (under 4,000 words I believe). The easiest way to find it is just to Google the title. … Well do podcast preachers — preachers like you Pastor John — and do podcasts like this one, make local church pastors irrelevant, why or why not? We’ll talk about this question tomorrow. I’m your host Tony Reinke, see you tomorrow.