August 26, 2014 Broadcast

The Authority of Scripture, Part 2: The Doctrine of Inerrancy

A Message by Stephen Nichols

For many years, mainline academia has issued attacks against the Bible through the various fields of study, such as history and archaeology. The lack of archaeological evidence supporting Scripture’s claims as well as its attestation of supernatural events form just a few of the arrows shot by those seeking to poke holes in the positions of inspiration and inerrancy. Although engagement in these intellectual debates is appropriate and useful, at the end of the day, once all the objections have been leveled and answered, satisfactory to some or not, the most important question must float to the surface and receive response: will human beings submit to the authority of God’s inspired, inerrant Word? The answer has eternal ramifications.

From the series: Why We Trust the Bible

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. blog-post

    A Primer on Inerrancy (pt. 2)

  2. blog-post

    A Primer on Inerrancy

  3. devotional

    The Inerrancy of the Bible

A Primer on Inerrancy (pt. 2)

John Gerstner

In this excerpt from John Gerstner’s Primitive Theology, Dr. Gerstner looks at the issue of inerrancy and seeks briefly and non-technically to present a case for Bible Inerrancy that a serious-minded layman can follow and evaluate. Though by no means an exhaustive treatment, it is one that is sound and faithful to the Scriptures. This is the second part of this series and here Dr. Gerstner picks up his discussion on unsound bases for sound doctrine.

Continued from Part 1

2. The Holy Spirit’s Testimony as the Basis for Bible Inerrancy

One of the precious doctrines of the church is called the “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” Like the self-attestation of Scripture, it is a most gracious gift of God to His church. And like that gift it is sometimes misunderstood and misused even by those who love it most. A case in point is the one before us in which the internal testimony is submitted as proof that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

The thinking here may be shown to be wrong, but it does have the merit of being clear. It runs like this: just as the Bible certifies itself by the letter of Scripture, so by the living voice of God the Spirit convinces the hearts of men. Many think that the Bible’s witness to itself remains a dead letter until the living Spirit speaks within the soul. But when the Spirit does thus speak men have the most solid possible basis for knowing that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Some, by no means all, of the advocates of this view go on to teach that unless the Spirit testifies, the Bible is not the Word of God; and only when He does is it the Word of God. In any case, the argument at first glance is quite impressive. When God witnesses to His own Word, how can there be any doubt that it is His inerrant Word? If you want evidence, these men assure us, here is the best. What more can any reasonable or spiritual person desire than to have God speaking directly to his own soul?

We agree. As this case is often stated, it leaves nothing to be desired. We would never be so foolish as to question the very voice of God in our souls. Our search for truth would be ended promptly when God opened His mouth and spoke and that to each of us individually and inwardly.

We agree, that is, if the Holy Spirit does actually thus speak to individual souls. But I have never heard the Holy Spirit say to my soul or mind, “The Bible is the Word of God.” I have never met anyone who claims to have heard the Holy Spirit say that or anything like that to his soul. In fact, the advocates of the internal testimony as the basis of inerrancy never quite get around to saying it either. Rather, most of them would be inclined to rebuke us at this point for gross misunderstanding, if not outright caricature, of their opinions on this subject. “We do not mean,” they will reply, “testimony as an audible voice in the soul. Of course the Holy Spirit has not spoken to individual hearts telling them that the Bible is His Word! Of course you cannot find anyone in his right mind who claims any such experience,” they may indignantly respond.

Very well,” we reply. “We are sorry; we meant no offense and intended no caricature of a brother’s doctrine. Nor are we totally ignorant of the history of this doctrine. Indeed, we ourselves believe it in the sense in which Calvin, for example, meant it. But when it is used as the argument for inerrancy (which, incidentally, we do not think was Calvin’s idea at all), that is something else. It is that something else which we are now considering.” If it is so used as proof of inerrancy how is it such unless somehow God’s Spirit testifies, tells, signifies to us, reveals in us or the like that the canonical Scriptures are from Him? But very well, we will withdraw our query as we hear our wounded brethren protesting that they mean no such thing. Let it be agreed, then, that the “testimony of the Spirit is not like the testimony of a witness in court speaking to what he did or did not see or hear. The Spirit’s testimony is non-verbal, more subtle, more in the nature of an influence on the soul than an audible voice or mystical writing. But, we must insist, how then does the Spirit’s witness reveal inerrancy?

If the advocates of this line of thought say that the Spirit confirms our own convictions when we read the Bible; if they say that He makes the Bible student sure that the Bible is what the Bible student feels that it is; then the Spirit does not communicate any new information which the Bible reader receives, but somehow intensifies his experiences as he meditates on Holy Writ. We are inclined to believe that the Holy Spirit does precisely that in the hearts of many. But we do not see that even if He does so that this proves the inspiration of the Bible. All we would now have is this: a man reads his Bible. His feelings are stirred as he reads. He senses, or thinks he senses, that there is some other spirit besides his own at work in his heart as he reads. He cannot be sure that there is another spirit. If he does believe it, he cannot know what spirit it is. Certainly, he has no way of knowing that it is the divine spirit. And, even if he did, all he knows is that the divine Spirit is working in his heart as he reads the Scriptures and not “testifying” or saying that this Scripture is the inerrant Word of God. If it is said, “But the Bible tells us that the Spirit bears witness and therefore it must be true and the Word to which He testifies must truly be God’s Word,” we are back where we began: accepting the testimony of the Scripture to itself without any (at present)
just reason for so doing.

In summary, we must reject the testimony of the Spirit as the basis of inerrancy (not, please note, the testimony of the Spirit) because, first, if His “testimony” is construed as audible or verbal, it simply does not exist; second, if His “testimony” is construed as a spiritual effect intensifying our feelings as we read Scripture, this is not a proving of the inspiration or inerrancy of Scripture.

It may be necessary to show that we are not here opposing the Westminster Confession of Faith’s view of things, but actually defending it. It teaches that “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof (of the Scriptures) is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (I, 5). But these words teach only that the “testimony of the Holy Spirit” persuades us of the inspiration of the Bible. It does not prove the doctrine, but persuades us of the truth of the doctrine. It leads us to acknowledge the evidence for inspiration which, apart from the Holy Spirit’s influence, we (as sinful persons, cf. Chapter VI) are prone to resist. This evidence is utterly sufficient to persuade us if we were frank enough to admit evidence when we see it. Thus the Westminster Confession of Faith says in full: “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, not withstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (Chap. I, 5).

According to this great creed the various characteristics of the Bible “abundantly evidence” (prove) its inspiration,
but only the influence of the Holy Spirit (overcoming our sinful dispositions) can “persuade” us to acquiesce in what we clearly see is the Word of God.

The reader may notice a certain difference (not discrepancy) between the approach of the WCF here cited and that of this little monograph. The “arguments” to which Westminster appeals are internal evidences drawn from the nature (not testimony) of the Bible itself, such as its harmony, perfection, etc. That these, in their cumulative effect, are arguments we agree, and have so written elsewhere. We are bypassing them in this monograph only because they take longer to develop, involve more debates with modernity, and are not so directly conclusive as the argumentation developed in Part II. That the approach of this Primer was abundantly used by the Westminster divines and seventeenth century Orthodoxy in general could be extensively illustrated, were there any necessity to prove what no one questions.

To be continued...

Excerpted from Primitive Theology by John H. Gerstner.

A Primer on Inerrancy

John Gerstner

Bible Inerrancy (or the doctrine that “what the Bible says God says”) has been under relentless attack since the Bible was written, but never more so than today. Something new, however, has been added in the modern onslaught. While the old liberal tradition of rejecting vast portions of the Bible still continues, the New Orthodoxy rejects all of it—as the Word of God, that is. John 3:16, no less than the Old Testament command to exterminate the Canaanites, is demoted from the status of Inspiration. The Bible, according to the new view, is the “instrument” (if God wills to make it such) of revelation and not itself revelation. We have tried briefly and non-technically to present a case for Bible Inerrancy that a serious-minded layman can follow and evaluate. Our critique of various false starts is first given to prepare the reader for what we feel is the correct view. While this is not in any way an exhaustive treatment of its divine subject, we trust that it is sound and faithful to the Scriptures of God.

Part I: Some Unsound Bases for Sound Doctrine

1. The Bible’s Own Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

We could compose a book many times the size of this one consisting merely of fervent and eloquent evangelical appeals to the Bible itself as the proof of its own inspiration. Some three thousand times the Bible does make this claim for itself. “Thus saith the Lord” is a veritable refrain of the Scriptures. No book in the history of literature has made such frequent and moving assertions of its divine origin. Because of this remarkable characteristic of the Scriptures many have almost unconsciously concluded that the Bible is the Word of God.

This we believe and later shall attempt to prove is the right doctrine. The Bible is the Word of God; the inerrant revelation from above. It is the Word of God indeed, but not because it says so. Rather, it says so because it is.
How, we ask, would anyone prove the Bible is the Word of God simply because it so often says so? There could only be one basis for accepting Scripture for Scripture’s sake: assertion for assertion’s sake. But what an incredibly naive notion: A thing must be what it says it is. A man must be what he says he is. A book must be what it says it is.

Surely the mere setting forth of such an argument must be its sufficient refutation. An identification of claim with proof of claim is palpable error.

If it is not beating a horse that was born dead, let us point out the absurd consequences of the position we are here considering. If everything is to be believed simply because it says it is to be believed, then Hitler was a Messiah, the devil is an angel of light and antichrist is Christ. As Jesus
said: “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not” (Matthew 24:23).

But on the principle under scrutiny we would have to believe everyone who claims to be Christ—here and there, now and then. After all, according to the supposition we first believed in Jesus as the Christ because He said he was the Christ. We would have to be fair with other claimants whose claim is as loud or louder than his. If we would say “You are not the Christ because the Christ says you are not the Christ,” anti-Christ could well say, “If you believed this other one because he said he was the Christ; why do you not, on the same principle, believe me when I say that I am the Christ; and if you will not believe that I am the Christ because this other Christ, whom you believe merely because he said what I also say, why not believe me when I say that he is not the Christ?”

There cannot be any answer to this criticism, for even to attempt to answer it is to admit it by retreating from the position being maintained (acceptance on mere assertion without any argument). If, for example, one says to antichrist, “I believe Jesus’ claim because He has confirmed it in my experience,” then you do not believe Jesus simply because He says He is the Christ. Rather, you believe Him because of something which He does in your heart; your ground has changed. You are no longer believing Him for His mere word’s sake, but for His work’s sake, specifically, His work in your heart.

Consequently, if you give no answer to the criticism of belief on the mere basis of assertion you are exposed to palpable naiveté and absurdity. But, if you do give an answer you flatly contradict yourself.

Some suppose that the Word of God is a special case to which ordinary rules of evidence do not apply. They admit essentially what has been written above, but take exception to its application to the matter in hand. It is true of men, they say, that their word may be challenged and must be proven to be true. But God’s Word cannot be challenged, but must be immediately accepted as true and obeyed as right. To hesitate when God speaks is to be both foolish and impious, they say.

With all of this we cordially agree, but it misses the point under discussion. We are not here asking whether God should be obeyed when He speaks. We are simply asking whether a being must be acknowledged as God speaking merely because he so claims, or, more particularly, whether the Bible is to be regarded as the Word of God merely because it so claims. It cannot be said too emphatically that when God speaks He is to be instantly believed. Any question whatsoever at that moment is utterly and dangerously out of order. When God the Lord speaks, the devout and intelligent mind can only reply: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” But like Samuel, who spoke those words, we must first know that the voice speaking is God’s.

It would be just as foolish and impious to accept and obey any voice whatsoever which claimed to be divine, as it would be not to accept and obey the divine voice when it is shown to be such. To apply some reasonable test for ascertaining the voice of God and distinguishing it from the voice of men is not presumptuous as many charge, but, on the contrary, is as humble as it is necessary. Humble? Yes, humble because it is using the only means which our Maker has given us whereby we may distinguish between truth and error; God and men; His Word and theirs. To accept any voice which claimed His divine name would be arrogantly to disregard the means God Himself has graciously provided to prevent just such a mistake. The person who professed to believe without evidence would be despising the God who gave us minds, which must have evidence in order to provide a basis for reasonable belief. While God is, of course, infinitely above His creatures it does not follow that if and when He condescends to speak to them He will speak in a manner which is infinitely above them. Manifestly, if He speaks to men He must speak so that men can understand what He says. He must, as Calvin has said, “lisp.” If parents must accommodate their language to their infants when they would be understood, surely God must indulge in baby talk when speaking to those infinitely below Him. If He chose to speak to us in a manner which is as infinitely above us, as His being is above ours, He would be, literally, infinitely over our heads. This would not only make comprehension by us infinitely impossible, but it would inevitably reflect on God’s infinite intelligence, which would know no better than to attempt to communicate with finite creatures by going infinitely over their heads. It is equally evident that He will make it known that He is speaking—which means He will give some signs of His presence which the human mind can recognize.

In conclusion, then, the fact that the Bible claims its inspiration is not the basis for Inerrancy. If there is a sound basis for believing in Inerrancy, as we shall attempt to show in the second part, the self-testimony of Scripture will be a wonderful confirmation of it. Without the Bible’s own claim it would not be impossible, but it would be more difficult, to believe that it is the Word of God. But with such self-attestation the truth of divine Inspiration is gloriously sealed.

To be continued...

Excerpted from Primitive Theology by John H. Gerstner.

The Inerrancy of the Bible

In recent years a number of semi-conservative theologians have questioned whether we should hold to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy or infallibility. After all, they say, this quest for absolute certainty reflects a "Greek, Aristotelian mindset" that is not really compatible with the nature of "sheer faith." They say that Christianity is a matter of "faith" and we don't need "absolute certainty."

We notice immediately that such statements as these presuppose that faith is incompatible with certainty. That is, they presuppose to some degree the modern existentialistic view of faith, which sees faith as a "leap in the dark."

Still, we can imagine that God might have given us the information about redemption in another way. He might have simply provided us with a lot of human testimonies. The Gospels, for instance, might merely be the personal recollections of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and no more. In that case, God would be calling us to believe the Gospel in the same way we believe that Ronald Reagan was president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. There is debate over what Mr. Reagan actually thought and did during his term, but there is no debate over whether he was actually president. In the same way, scholars could debate the details recorded in the Gospels while still having a "faith" in the "general trustworthiness" of the accounts.

But the Bible claims to be much more. In fact it claims to be the very word of God. The Bible claims to be breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). If God is God, He does not make mistakes. If the Bible is breathed out by God, there cannot be "minor errors" in details of history. If the Bible contains such errors, it can hardly be the work of a perfect God. And if God is not perfect and totally trustworthy, God is not God.

If the Bible contains errors, it might still be correct in many of its claims. But there is one claim that could not be true: the Bible's claim to be God's breathed-out words. All the church fathers, the medieval theologians, and the Protestant Reformers clearly saw that the Bible claims to be inerrant and infallible. If that claim is false, the Bible is deceiving us, and has deceived people for many thousands of years.

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