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Beware of Theologians “Redefining” Inerrancy

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The belief in the Bible’s inerrancy has long been under attack not just from outside the church but also from within.

Today there is an increasing number of pastors, theologians, churches, and theological institutes that use the term inerrancy, but it may well be a redefined meaning. Much of this is due to the compromise on the Bible with secular ideas like millions of years.

This is because there are evangelicals (like Dr. Mike Licona) who, because of the human element of Scripture, want to define inerrancy as: “God inspired the biblical authors with the concepts, . . . and He wasn’t concerned with peripheral details. He wanted to make sure that the concepts and the teaching . . . [were] preserved without error.”1 The outcome of this definition is the belief that the Bible’s authority is not found in its words but only through its intention.

However, the key to understanding the nature of Scripture is to look at what Jesus believed about Scripture. If you adopt a position on Scripture that is different from Jesus’ position, you have the wrong position. The idea that only the intention or the concepts of the authors of Scripture are inerrant and not the words of Scripture themselves is contrary to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

Jesus’ and the Apostles’ View of Scripture

Jesus clearly believed that Scripture was God’s Word and therefore truth. In John 17:17, notice that Jesus says: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” He did not say, “Your word is true” (adjective); rather He says, “Your word is truth” (noun). The implication is that Scripture does not just happen to be true; rather the very nature of Scripture is truth, and it is the very standard of truth to which everything else must be tested and compared. Similarly, in John 10:35 Jesus declared that “Scripture cannot be broken.

Jesus was telling the Jewish leaders that the authority of Scripture could not be denied. Jesus even connected God’s authorship of the Bible with specific words, not just with ideas or concepts, by which we need to live (Matthew 4:4). For Jesus, Scripture is not merely inspired in its general ideas or its broad claims or in its general meaning, but is inspired down to its very words (Matthew 5:18).

Jesus’ use of Scripture was authoritative and infallible as He spoke with the authority of God the Father (John 5:30, 8:28). Jesus taught that the Scriptures testify about Him (John 5:39), and He showed their fulfilment in the sight of the people of Israel (Luke 4:17–21). He even declared to His disciples that what is written in the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled (Luke 18:31). Furthermore, He placed the importance of the fulfilment of the prophetic Scriptures over escaping His own death (Matthew 26:53–56).

After His death and Resurrection, He told His disciples that everything that was written about Him in Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44–47), and rebuked them for not believing all that the prophets have spoken concerning Him (Luke 24:25–27). The question then is how could Jesus fulfil all that the Old Testament spoke about Him if it is only the concepts and not the words that are inspired?

The apostles’ view of the inspiration of Scripture is that revelation comes from God in and through words. According to 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV), “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” Scripture is God breathed (theopneustos). In other words, God did not “breathe into” (inspire) all Scripture, but it was “breathed out” by God. This passage in 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) is not about how the Bible came to us but where it came from.

As 2 Peter 1:21 states, “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit moved the human authors of Scripture in such a way that they were moved not by their own “will” but by the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that human authors of Scripture were automatons; they were active rather than passive in the process of writing Scripture, as can be seen in their style of writing and the vocabulary they used. The role of the Holy Spirit was to teach the authors of Scripture (John 14:26, 16:12–15). In the New Testament, it was the apostles or New Testament prophets whom the Spirit led to write truth and overcome their human tendency to err.

The apostles shared Jesus’ view of Scripture, presenting their message as God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and proclaiming that it was “not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Corinthians 2:13). Revelation then did not come about within the apostle or prophet, but has its source in the Triune God.

People within our churches need to know that there are critically influenced evangelical scholars who are using historical-critical ideologies to redefine the nature of Scripture. The doctrine of inerrancy is not a side issue; it is about the trustworthiness of Scripture which reflects on the character of God since He is responsible for the content of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16; cf. Numbers 23:19; Psalm 12:6; Hebrews 1:1–2).

Footnotes

  1. Dr Mike Licona made these comments recently on the Apologetics Academy. His conversation and this particular comment about relevance can be found between 1:23:50–1:27:00 at “Why Are There Differences Between the Gospels? A Conversation with Dr. Michael Licona,” YouTube video, 1:25:55, posted by Apologetics Academy, August 1, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUajktSCaeo.

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