Inerrancy in Historical Perspective

It is often claimed that inerrancy is a modern concept created during the 19th century by conservative professors at Princeton. Biblical inerrancy is sometimes referred to as “that American doctrine” as if only American Christianity believes in it. They argue that inerrancy is based on a post-enlightenment concept of truth and error and the philosophy of Foundationalism which would have been a foreign concept to the authors of the Bible and early Christians.  The following quotations from church history are just a sampling of voices from the past which demonstrate that inerrancy is not a modern construct.  For more on this subject see volume 3 of Holy Scripture by William Webster, Biblical Authority by John Woodbridge, and The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell.

1 Clement 47:

“Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached?  Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos.”

1 Clement 45:

“You know that in the Scriptures there has not been written anything that is unrighteous or counterfeit.”

Theophilus of Antioch, Book 3, Chapter 12:

“Moreover, concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the Gospels, because they all spoke inspired by one Spirit of God.”

Irenaeus, Adv. Haer, 2:23:

“The pupil of Polycarp, claims for Christians a clear knowledge that ‘the Scriptures are perfect, seeing that they are spoken by God’s Word and his Spirit.’”

Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 21:

“The statements, however, of holy Scripture will never be discordant with truth.”

Epiphanius of Salamis, Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 51:

“And it is fully demonstrated that there is no obscurity or contradiction in the holy Gospels or between the evangelists, but that everything is plain.”

Epiphanius of Salamis, Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 69:

“Nothing in the sacred scripture is contradictory or has any taint of death.”

Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, 56:

“But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke of God. But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn.”

Augustine, Letter 82:

“On my own part I confess to your charity that it is only to those books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honor and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”

Martin Luther, Works (St. Louis ed.) 19:305:

“The whole of the Scriptures are to be ascribed to the Holy Ghost, and therefore cannot err.”

John Calvin, Institutes 1.7.4:

“The highest proof of Scripture derives in general from the fact that God in person speaks in it.”

Questions for those who deny inerrancy but claim to be Christians:

  1. Are you aware of any lexical source that understands the Greek term theopneustos in 2 Timothy 3:16 in a way that would compromise inerrancy?
  1. So do you think that 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches the inerrancy of Scripture? Why not? Are you familiar with Warfield’s work on theopneustos?
  1. Do you believe that God can lie? (Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2)
  1. Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God? (John 10:35; John 17:17; Matt 4:4; Rom 3:2; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21)
  1. What would it take to convince you of the inerrancy of Scripture?
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