A Layman's Historical Guide to the Inerrancy Debate

Article by   February 2010
 Both the broader Evangelical church in general and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in particular are currently embroiled in debates over the authority of Scripture as the Word of God.  Because the term "inerrancy" has been prominent in these discussions, this article has been written to explain what is at stake and why the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is crucial to the life and health of the church. We will see that, while there are complexities here, the fundamental issues are straightforward, and the church's responsibility and mandate are clear.

In this article we will first discuss what we mean by the "inerrancy" of the Bible (as well as what we do not mean), and the biblical foundation for this doctrine.  Second, we will look more broadly at challenges to inerrancy in the modern period.  Third, we will examine the current situation in my own denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and its attitudes toward the authority of Scripture.  Finally, we will draw some conclusions and provide a list of additional resources.  
 
The Doctrine of Inerrancy
 
While some, such as pro-homosexual PCUSA theologian Jack Rogers and Donald McKim in their book The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (1979), have tried to depict the doctrine of inerrancy as a novelty of rationalistic nineteenth-century Evangelicalism, the doctrine that the Bible is infallible and without error in all that it teaches has been the consensus position of the church down through the ages.  This should not surprise us, for the doctrine of inerrancy arises from the claims of Scripture about itself.

Let's briefly examine these claims that the Bible makes about its own nature and authority.  Two New Testament passages speak directly to the nature of inspiration. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read, "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (ESV). The Greek term behind "breathed out" is theopneustos, which emphasizes the close association of God and the Scripture--it is God's own word to his people.  Another crucial text is 2 Peter 1:21, where we read that "no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."   Note that in this latter passage two authors are in fact mentioned--the Holy Spirit and the human author. Both are important, and inspiration should not be thought of as a process of mechanical dictation. As we compare the various biblical books with one another, we see that they reflect the interests and concerns of the human authors, and they differ stylistically.  Rather, the process of inspiration involved a divine superintending of the writing process which ensured that the intended message was indeed inscripturated. This New Testament doctrine of inspiration can be further described as "plenary" (it applies to the Scriptures as a whole because "all Scripture is breathed out by God"), and "verbal" in that it extends even to the words of the text as well as the ideas or concepts (Jesus himself appeals to the very letters and words of Scripture in Matt. 5:18 and John 10:35). 
             
The Bible's authority flows from its divine origin.  Note that 2 Timothy 3:16 moves from inspiration to authority ("All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching . . ."). The Bible is not authoritative because of the sublime subject matter it contains, or because it is infallibly accurate (though it is that). It is authoritative because of its divine origin.  It comes from God, and the Bible has a good deal to say about this divine authority of Scripture.  For example, in the Old Testament, the prophets frequently invoke the covenant name of God himself in their oral and written messages ("Thus says the LORD").  In the New Testament, the words of Christ in the Gospels ascribe an extraordinary authority to the Old Testament scriptures viewed as a whole. Not the slightest bit of the Law will fail (Matthew 5:18; Luke 16:17). The "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).  Moreover, the New Testament writers refer sometimes to the human author (e.g., "as the prophet Isaiah says") and sometimes to the divine author of Old Testament scripture (Acts 4:25; Hebrews 1:5; 3:7; 9:8).  Finally, within the New Testament writings themselves New Testament documents were being viewed as "scripture," that is, on a par with the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:15-16).  Thus, in obedience to Scripture the Church has historically held that the Bible comes to us with a divine and infallible authority, and that it is without error in all that it teaches.  Any attempt to restrict the authority of Scripture to an "infallible message of salvation" or the like fails to do justice to what the Bible itself claims.  Our task as Christians is to interpret the Bible properly and to obey it, not to sit in judgment upon it and decide what portions of Scripture are God's word for us and what are not. 
             
Having discussed what inerrancy is, we also need to note what it is not.  That is, the doctrine is sometimes misunderstood, and all too often a caricature of the doctrine is attacked.  Five persistent misconceptions may be mentioned here.  First, as we noted above, the Bible's view of inspiration is not a sort of mechanical "dictation theory."  Such theories we rightly associate with the Book of Mormon and the Muslim view of the Qur'an.  By contrast, the Christian view of inspiration involves a proper recognition of the genuinely human element in Scripture, and so as students of the Bible we strive to understand the historical context of the biblical writings and the characteristics of the human authors.  To be sure, there are isolated examples of dictation, such as the giving of the Ten Commandments, but that is not the usual mode of inspiration.
             
Second, the doctrine of inerrancy does not require that we impose upon the Bible standards of accuracy and evaluation that are alien to it.  That is to say, inerrancy does not mean that everything in the Bible has to be stated with scientific precision.  Sometimes the biblical writers have chosen to present truth in an impressionistic fashion.  For example, in John 6:1 we read, "After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee."  But at the end of John 5 Jesus is still in Jerusalem, and John does not bother to tell us how Jesus got to Galilee or which "other side" of the lake is referenced.  Moreover, it has long been recognized (since the second century AD, in fact) that the Gospel writers did not necessarily present the events of Jesus' ministry in precise chronological order.  In short, we must allow the biblical writers to present the material in the way they deemed best under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 
             
Third, the doctrine of inerrancy does not require the Bible to have been transmitted without mistakes in the copying process.   Before the invention of the printing press manuscripts and books had to be copied by hand, and scribes sometimes made mistakes in copying.  Though in general the biblical manuscripts were transmitted with great care, we do see some evidence of scribal mistakes.  For the most part, these manuscript differences are inconsequential and even trivial, and no major doctrines of the Christian faith are placed in jeopardy by such findings.  The branch of biblical studies that deals with these matters is called "textual criticism," and many Evangelical scholars with a high view of Scripture have made important contributions in this field.  Because of the issues raised by textual criticism, we speak of the inerrancy of the Bible "in the original autographs"--that is, as the books were originally written by the human authors and not as they were subsequently transmitted.  It is popular in some circles to mock this notion of "inerrancy in the original autographs." Some claim that because we obviously do not have the original autographs available to us now, this doctrine presents meaningless claims that conveniently cannot be disproved.  But our reference to the "original autographs" is not an attempt to shield Scripture from scrutiny or to "prove" the inerrancy of the Bible.  Rather, it is simply a faith statement seeking to do justice both to what the Bible claims for itself and to the findings of textual criticism. That being said, we are also assured of God's providential care for his Word and that the message has been preserved. 
             
Fourth, when properly understood the doctrine of inerrancy does not entail the necessity of rational proof that the Bible is without error.  It does not make the infallible truth of Scripture hang on our human ability to prove its veracity.  Though Evangelical scholars certainly may present solutions to so-called "Bible difficulties" (see, e.g., Gleason Archer, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties [1982]) such efforts are best understood as efforts at "faith seeking understanding"--we affirm the truth of God's word on the basis of what Scripture teaches, and then we seek to understand and explain the form that inerrancy takes in specific passages.  At the same time, we also recognize in proper humility that we lack the data needed to solve all such apparent problems.
             
Finally, the doctrine of inerrancy does not close off interpretive discussion.  Some people reject the doctrine of inerrancy because they think it restricts us to particular disputed interpretations of Scripture, such as a literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1 or a particular view of God's sovereignty.  But it is quite possible for people with equally high views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible to disagree on the interpretation of individual texts.  While there are certainly some interpretations that compromise the authority of God's word (e.g., the suggestion that Paul's views on women were those of a sexist Rabbi, and that we should reject them) and some interpretations that are simply mistaken, we must make a practical distinction between the authority of the Bible and the interpretation of the Bible.  The fact that the Bible itself is without error does not mean that our interpretations are inerrant.  Once again, an appropriate humility is essential. 
 
Modern Challenges to Inerrancy
 
For much of Christian history, the view of the inspiration and authority of the Bible outlined above held firm, and it was almost unheard of for Christians to criticize and reject the content of Scripture as erroneous.  The position of the greatest of the Western church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, is instructive here.  In his "Reply to Faustus the Manichaean" (XI.5), St. Augustine wrote: "If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood." 
             
But with the Enlightenment this consensus began to erode.  This was the "Age of Reason" (c. 1650-1800), and while many good and useful things happened during this time such as the rise of modern science, there was also a corrosively anti-religious aspect to the Enlightenment.  This anti-religious impulse flowed from the Enlightenment's view of human reason as adequate and autonomous.  Human reason, it was thought, is up to the task of discovering truth, and it answers to no higher authority.  For obvious reasons, this Enlightenment view of reason came into conflict with the historic Christian view of the Scriptures as without error.  The Bible was derided as a "paper Pope" and viewed simply as a human document like other human documents.  Moreover, the biblical narratives with their affirmations of miraculous events such as the Exodus from Egypt, the Incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and so forth were viewed as irrational and incompatible with the naturalistic worldview of the Enlightenment. 
             
The influence of this Enlightenment rationalism gave rise to the Protestant liberalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Here the tendency was to use traditional pious Christian language but to reinterpret it along the lines of Enlightenment naturalism.  Thus the miracles of Jesus were dismissed or explained away.  No longer seen as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus was viewed simply as a really good human being who serves as a wonderful example for us.  The human condition was also viewed in much more optimistic terms as these liberals spoke of the innate perfectibility of humanity.  Needless to say, the inerrancy of the Bible was emphatically rejected as well. 
             
In America this liberal impulse came to be known as "Modernism," and this wholesale rejection of historic Christian truth spawned a reaction in the form "fundamentalism."  The "Fundamentalists," as they were called, sought to identify and defend essential Christian beliefs.  The five so-called "Fundamentals" were the deity and Virgin Birth of Christ, the reality of biblical miracles, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, and the inerrancy of the Bible.  In the northern Presbyterian Church this fundamentalist effort in turn provoked the modernist "Auburn Affirmation" (1924), a document signed by over a thousand Presbyterians which called for tolerance and held that the five fundamentals were merely "theories" that should not be viewed as essential Christian beliefs.  This Auburn Affirmation was particularly pointed in its rejection of inerrancy ("The doctrine of inerrancy, intended to enhance the authority of the Scriptures, in fact impairs their supreme authority for faith and life, and weakens the testimony of the church to the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ.").  But by 1930 or so, many of the northern Protestant denominations had either been taken over wholesale by modernism or had decided to tolerate a wide range of views. For over a century, Princeton Theological Seminary had been the bastion of Old School Presbyterian orthodoxy and its faculty members the champions of the church's doctrine of the inerrant word. In 1929, two signers of the Auburn Affirmation were placed on the reorganized Board of Trustees of Princeton Seminary. In response, the renowned New Testament professor J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson, one of the leading Old Testament scholars in America, resigned from Princeton Seminary and along with others such as Cornelius Van Til and John Murray became the founding faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, a seminary established to continue the Old Princeton theology and to defend the absolute authority of God's Word.
             
Of course, not all fundamentalists were as careful and scholarly as these Old Princetonians.  We may readily admit that some fundamentalists, in their zeal to defend the divine authority of the Bible and because of the influence of Dispensational premillennialism, adopted an overly literalistic approach to Scripture that failed to properly distinguish between the divine authority of the Bible and our human interpretations of it.  Moreover, some of them also tended to emphasize the divine authorship of the Bible at the expense of the human, and thus they failed to do proper justice to the human dimension of Scripture. 
             
Another response to liberalism or modernism was Neo-orthodoxy.  In the wake of the First World War many found the optimism of the older liberalism, with its notions of human perfectibility, to be hopelessly naïve.  They also found that classic Christian themes of radical human sinfulness and divine grace resonated powerfully after the horrors of war, and so there was a return to the classical Christian tradition by theologians such as Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Emil Brunner (1889-1966) in Europe, and many such as Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962), and John H. Leith (1919-2002) in the United States.
 
To be sure, the Neo-orthodox movement was diverse, and some have more recently suggested (wrongly, I think) that there was really no such thing as "Neo-orthodoxy."  One thing that the Neo-orthodox theologians did have in common was a rejection of inerrancy.  For example, for Karl Barth the only divine revelation, strictly speaking, is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and the Bible is but a fallible human "witness to revelation" which "becomes" the Word of God as the Holy Spirit uses it to illumine hearts and minds.  A complication we face with these Neo-orthodox thinkers is their dialectical method--the answer to nearly every theological question is an equivocal "yes" and "no."  Thus, Barth could speak highly of the Bible as "inspired" and as in some sense "word of God" even prior to our reception of it, but he also insisted that the Bible was full of contradictions and was fallible even with respect to matters of "religion and theology."  Contemporary left-wing Evangelical cheerleaders for Barth who claim that Barth allowed, in principle, for a fallible Bible but did not recognize actual errors are simply mistaken, as the following quotation dramatically illustrates:
 
There are obvious overlappings and contradictions--e.g., between the Law and the prophets, between John and the Synoptists, between Paul and James.  But nowhere are we given a single rule by which  to make a common order, perhaps an order of precedence, but at any rate a synthesis, of what is in itself such a varied whole.  Nowhere do we find a rule which enables us to grasp it in such a way that we can make organic parts of the distinctions and evade the contradictions as such.  We are led now one way, now another--each of the biblical writers obviously speaking only quod potuit homo--and in both ways, and whoever is the author, we are always confronted with the question of faith. . . . For within certain limits and therefore relatively they are all vulnerable and therefore capable of error even in respect of religion and theology.  In view of the actual constitution of the Old and New Testaments this is something that we cannot possibly deny if we are not to take away their humanity, if we are not to be guilty of Docetism. (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2:509-510)
 
Likewise, the southern Presbyterian theologian John Leith repeatedly decried the church's doctrine of verbal inspiration as "idolatry," and echoed Emil Brunner's rejection of verbal inspiration and inerrancy:
 
Inspiration refers not only to the reception of revelation but also to the proclamation of it in writing.  Emil Brunner declares that just as this inspiration does not rule out "human search, human weaknesses, and the possibility of mistakes in action and in behavior, so it cannot be intended that the Scriptures are so completely under the control of the Spirit that this rules out all human activity of reflection and inquiry.  Human research, such as Luke mentions as the author of the gospel narrative, does not exclude inspiration but it does exclude automatic dictation and verbal inspiration with its claim to an oracular divine infallibility."  (J. H. Leith, Basic Christian Doctrine, 274).
 
Frequently, among the Neo-orthodox, one finds the formula: the Bible is not revelation; it is "witness" to revelation and by the power of the Holy Spirit it becomes revelation. The practical results of this Neo-orthodox view of the Bible should be clear enough.  If the Bible merely "contains" or "becomes" the word of God rather than IS unequivocally the word of God, then we are left to pick and choose what we want from Scripture.  If the Bible is fallible and mistaken even with respect to "matters of religion and theology" then the danger of subjectivism becomes critical as we decide what is and is not God's word for us today.  Thus the authority for the witness of the Church is fatally subverted.  The Barthian or Neo-orthodox preacher cannot declare, with Jesus, "It is written," and so some of them will preface the reading of Scripture with exhortations to "listen FOR the word of God."  We have spent more space on Neo-orthodoxy here for reasons that will become evident below.  As we shall see, this threat remains with us. 
             
Continuing on, the period of the 1960s and 1970s was extraordinarily important for our story.  By the 1960s some prominent Evangelicals were wavering in their view of Scripture.  Neo-orthodox influences were becoming stronger at Fuller Theological Seminary, and the requirement that faculty affirm inerrancy was dropped at that school (a messy and contentious process chronicled by historian George Marsden in his Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism [1987]).  Similar change was evident even in the "Bible Belt" as anti-inerrantist influences became dominant at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville and at some other Southern Baptist Schools.  These shifts provoked a variety of responses.  Harold Lindsell's flawed but significant volume, The Battle for the Bible (1976), alerted many to what was transpiring in the churches and seminaries.  The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was formed in 1977 and produced the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" (1978) and the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics" (1982).  In the Southern Baptist Convention, Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson worked to elect inerrantist Presidents of the Convention, moves which then paved the way for the more recent theological revitalization of Southern Baptist Seminary under the leadership of Al Mohler and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the convention's most liberal seminary, during the presidency of Lewis Drummond. 
             
The long-term results of this 1970s "battle for the Bible" were mixed.  On the one hand, a number of denominations such as the Southern Baptists, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, and the Associate Reformed Presbyterians reversed course and affirmed strong statements on the authority of Scripture (we will examine the ARP experience in more detail in the next section), and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy provided a useful touchstone of biblical orthodoxy on the issue.  In the case of both Southern Baptists and the Missouri Synod Lutherans there was significant personnel change at denominational seminaries (e.g., Southern Baptist Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Seminary, and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis) as faculty members who were not supportive of inerrancy were encouraged to move on.  On the other hand, the American Evangelical movement was also decisively split into inerrantist and non-inerrantist camps, and we continue to live with this tragic fragmentation of the movement. 
             
Most recently we are experiencing yet another chapter in this "battle for the Bible" in Reformed circles.  Three examples will illustrate the point.  Bruce McCormack, a self-styled "evangelical" on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, has promoted a revisionist reading of Karl Barth, arguing that Barth was not Neo-orthodox and that Evangelicals can learn much from him and his view of Scripture (see my treatment of this issue at:  http://www.reformation21.org/articles/comments-on-karl-barth-bruce-mccormack-and-the-neobarthian-view-of-scripture.php ). 
             
Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, long a bastion of inerrancy in the conservative Presbyterian world, recently underwent a wrenching crisis as tenured Old Testament professor Peter Enns was invited to leave the school in 2008 after the publication of his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (2005).  While Enns claimed to affirm inerrancy, his book maintained that the Bible is full of "messiness," "problems," and "contradictions," and his argument for an "incarnational" view of Scripture at points seemed to parallel Karl Barth's position (see my treatment of this issue at: http://www.reformation21.org/featured/some-reflections-by-a-christian-college-professor.php).
             
Finally, in 2008 the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church strengthened its stance on inerrancy in response to reports of the presence of Neo-orthodox (better, "Neo-Barthian") PCUSA theologians at Erskine Theological Seminary.  A common thread in these three developments, interestingly, is Bruce McCormack, who taught Erskine Seminary faculty members at Princeton and who emerged as a strong defender of Peter Enns during the 2008 Westminster controversy.
 
Inerrancy and the ARP Church
 
The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has not been isolated from these larger influences.  J. S. Moffatt, in a 1903 essay entitled "What the Associate Reformed Church Stands For," affirmed the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible, and he spoke of Scripture as "the inerrant vehicle of God's truth."  The content of Moffatt's essay demonstrates both that he was familiar with the broader debates of his day and that he and (presumably) most other ARPs affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture.  
             
By the mid-1960s, however, it was increasingly apparent that influential faculty members at Erskine Theological Seminary were moving in a different direction.  Efforts to upgrade the school had resulted in the hiring of professors who had been trained at mainline seminaries and secular universities, and the teaching of some of these men reflected their Neo-orthodox and liberal educational influences.   During the crucial decade of the 1970s, the battle lines in the ARP Church were drawn.  On one side were the "infallibilists" at Erskine Seminary and their sympathizers in the church, who believed that the Holy Spirit infallibly uses the Bible to bring people to a knowledge of God, but who also declared that the Bible is a human document that contains numerous errors.  On the other side were the "inerrantists," who rightly affirmed the plenary, verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, but who sometimes failed to do full justice to the human and interpretive dimensions of Scripture (for a detailed analysis of these debates, see William B. Evans, "'Things which Become Sound Doctrine': Associate Reformed Presbyterian Confessional and Theological Identity in the Twentieth Century," Haddington House Journal 8 Supp. [2006]: 89-116, esp. pp. 106-114). 
             
The General Synod dealt with this contentious debate in what we now see, with the benefit of hindsight, was a remarkably wise and faithful way.  In 1979, the Synod affirmed:
 
We believe that the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us through the Holy Scripture which is the Word of God written. While we do not have the original autographs as evidence, we believe on faith that God's Word in its entirety was accurately recorded by the original writers through divine inspiration and reliably transmitted to us (1979 Minutes of the General Synod, 76). 
 
That same Synod (and the 1980 Synod) also affirmed: "Be it resolved that the General Synod of 1979 affirms that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God without error in all that it teaches" (1979 Minutes of the General Synod, 23). 
             
Taken together these 1979 statements would seem to be a straightforward and nuanced affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture, and they were certainly interpreted by people outside the ARP Church as such (they paved the way for the reception of the ARP Church into the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council [NAPARC]).  Almost immediately, however, a group arose claiming that the General Synod had not affirmed inerrancy in 1979.  Their views were expressed in a 1980 "Covenant of Integrity," which called for tolerance and maintained "that the resolutions passed by the Synod in 1979 are not to be interpreted as 'inerrancy statements'" (see "A Covenant of Integrity," The Associate Reformed Presbyterian, February 1980, 16-17).  Since 1980 there clearly has been a sizeable group within the ARP Church which has disagreed with the church's affirmation of inerrancy, and members of that group have not only been tolerated but given positions of responsible leadership in the church. 
             
Since the 1960s the general perception has been that Erskine Seminary has positioned itself somewhat to the theological left of the sponsoring denomination.  An exception to this is the period from 1998 to 2003 when R. J. Gore was the Vice President and Dean of the Seminary and John Carson was President of the College and Seminary. In his opening remarks as Vice-President and Dean, Gore made it clear that he would not hire professors who would not affirm the absolute trustworthiness of Scripture. With a change in administration, the school has again moved leftward in a calculated effort to appeal to mainline church constituencies. 
             
In 1992 the General Synod added a "Definition of Evangelical Belief" as a requirement for employment as a teacher or administrator at a General Synod agency.  Among the elements of this definition was an affirmation of "The Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible authoritative Word of God."  Note that this statement does not explicitly demand an affirmation of the term inerrancy.  Then, in response to reports of Neo-orthodoxy or Neo-Barthianism at Erskine Seminary and further reports that certain faculty members at Erskine Theological Seminary had declined to affirm the 1979 Synod statements on Scripture, the 2008 General Synod voted by substantial margins to strengthen its earlier language with three motions.  The first read as follows: "The Bible alone, being verbally God-breathed, is the Word of God written, infallible in all it teaches, and inerrant in the original manuscripts."  It was then moved and passed that this language be included in the ordination vows for ministers and elders when the new Form of Government (a Committee is currently revising the ARP Form of Government) is presented.  And finally, it was decided that this language should replace the earlier line dealing with Scripture in the "Definition of Evangelical Belief" found in the ARP Manual of Authorities and Duties.  This made the new language immediately binding on the hiring of all administrative and teaching employees of the General Synod.  Even more recently, after several years of Erskine-related conflict at the Synod meetings, the 2009 General Synod voted to establish an Ecclesiastical Commission to "investigate whether the oversight exercised by the Board of Trustees and the Administration of Erskine College and Seminary is in faithful accord with the Standards of the ARP Church and the synod's previously issued directives."  Most recently, this Commission has requested an emergency meeting of the ARP General Synod which will meet on March 2-3, 2010. 
 
Conclusions
 
What conclusions can we draw from this historical survey?  First, inerrancy matters!  Debates about it are much more than a "tempest in a teapot."  The life and health of the church depend upon a robust doctrine of Holy Scripture.  The current situation in the PCUSA, with its debates about the ordination of practicing homosexuals, is a potent example of what happens when the full authority of Scripture is repudiated by a church. 
             
Second, the broader direction of our culture tends to subvert the church's doctrine of inerrancy.  For this reason, constant vigilance in maintaining the doctrine is of paramount importance.  If we do not persistently and insistently require church officers and employees to affirm and teach the full authority of Scripture, the church sooner or later will move away from it.
               
Third, theological seminaries play a key role in setting denominational direction.  The old adage--"as go the seminaries so goes the church"--is surely correct.  Thus, personnel changes have at times been needed to ensure that the inerrancy of Scripture will be affirmed and taught.  It is simply unreasonable and naive to expect people to implement policies and to teach theologies with which they disagree.

For Further Reading
 
B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948).  [A collection of the principal articles on Scripture by the great Old Princeton systematician.]
 
N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Wooley, eds., The Infallible Word: A Symposium (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1946).  [Classic essays from early Westminster Seminary faculty members.]
 
Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth: Thoughts on the Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957). 
 
J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958). [A dated by still important statement by Packer in response to mid-twentieth century developments in the British context.  Note that when Packer wrote this book the term fundamentalism did not have quite the negative sociological odor in the UK that it does in the US.]
 
John Wenham, Christ & the Bible (London: Tyndale Press, 1972).  [The most complete and careful study of Christ's own view of Scripture.]
 
R. C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary (Oakland, CA: International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, 1980).  [Contains the text of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with commentary.]
 
John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982). 
 
D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge, eds., Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986).  [A fine collection of essays by scholars with a high view of Scripture.  Geoffrey Bromiley's article on Karl Barth is well worth reading.]
 
Harvie M. Conn, ed., Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, A Challenge, A Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988). 
 
G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).  [An able response to Peter Enns.]
 
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., God's Word in Servant Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck on the Doctrine of Scripture (Jackson, MS: Reformed Academic Press, 2008).  [An able response to those claiming that these great Dutch Reformed theologians did not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture.]
 
John R. de Witt, "The Divine Spiration of Scripture - A Review by Dr J R de Witt," The Banner of Truth (June 2008), http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?1393
[A brief but careful and thoughtful response to a recent Scottish challenge to inerrancy.]
 
See also this helpful bibliographical essay by Mark Dever: http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526_CHID598016_CIID1552716,00.html

A self-described "paleo-orthodox ecclesial Calvinist," William Evans is the Younts Prof. of Bible and Religion at Erskine College in Due West, SC.  He holds degrees from Taylor University, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Vanderbilt University.   He is the author of Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology (Paternoster, 2008). He also served as an Assistant Editor of the New Geneva Study Bible/Reformation Study Bible and as Moderator of the 2005 General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  In his spare time he writes the ARP Adult Quarterly Sunday School curriculum for the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.


William Evans, "A Layman's Historical Guide to the Inerrancy Debate", Reformation21 (February 2010)

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