Why Does It Matter that Scripture is Inerrant?
Adam Co | December 5, 2018 | 10 MIN READ
The 16th Century reformer Martin Luther was a man gripped by the Bible. He said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me (Mary Ann Jeffreys, 1992).” Many scholars believe that it was this deep impact that Scripture had on him that gave Luther the inner strength to bring about the reformation of the church and, eventually, the transformation of the world.
While we may be impressed with the Bible’s impact on Luther’s life, the reality is that, for some of us, such a profound experience of Scripture is so foreign that we secretly wish we also know what it means for ourselves. In other words, at times, the Bible can be like a holy relic we carry around and even read once in a while, but devoid of any deep personal impact on us. Why? And, more importantly, what can be done to let the Bible transform us?
One possible cause for this sad state of affairs is our deficient view of Scripture. How we view a thing will naturally affect our attitude and interaction with it, and our position and reaction will affect its impact on us.
As a solution, therefore, I want to recommend that we revisit and embrace once more the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy is simply the Christian teaching that the Bible is written by men who are inspired by the Spirit of God so that all that was written in it is true and without error (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21). So the Bible is not only authoritative for our daily living but is also edifying to our soul as we experience more and more of God’s love and fellowship in the reading of it. We meet God there in the pages of the Bible, and we bring our understanding of Him, based on the Bible, into the day-to-day world we live in, resulting in our human flourishing.
A heartfelt belief in this high view of Scripture’s inerrancy can transform a person’s life as it did Luther. But therein lies the problem, doesn’t it? For modern man, the idea that God should speak to us on the pages of a book — written by many human authors in different times and in diverse life situations — with its divine message still fully intact through the centuries is just too difficult for many to accept. It stretches modern man’s credulity.
In this article, I want to show that the Bible is free from error and, therefore, a reliable guide to the knowledge of God and our human existence. While valuing the traditional apologetics way of presenting the many evidences of the Bible’s inerrancy, I hope to accomplish the same goal by walking the reader down the path of two short arguments to ponder: that is, the theological and the spiritual. In so doing, I hope the reader’s confidence in the inerrancy of the Bible will be strengthened so as to bring forth human flourishing in his or her life.
The Theological: Remember Who God Is
The problem with our inability or unwillingness to embrace the Bible’s inerrancy is not purely a logical or rational one. Rather it is a theological one. In his classic work, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer insightfully observed,
The Bible will never be a living Book to us until we are convinced that God is articulate in His universe. To jump from a dead, impersonal world to a dogmatic Bible is too much for most people. They may admit that they should accept the Bible as the Word of God, and they may try to think of it as such, but they find it impossible to believe that the words there on the page are actually for them. (A. W. Tozer, 1948).
Whatever it is that mentally keeps us from embracing the inerrancy of the Bible can ultimately be solved by a clear theological thinking of who God really is and an adherence to that theological conviction.
If God is not the deist god who is aloof and leaves his creation be, but instead He is ever active in this world to lovingly insure the well-being of His creation, then it is not too difficult to conceive of God revealing Himself to us in a book that He ensured would remain accurate for the flourishing of His human creation.
Indeed, we see that God is this kind of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ who is called “the Word” — God’s ultimate communication to humanity (John 1:18) — and whose teachings are preserved in the Bible. This logic teased out of our theological understanding of God, of course, is exactly what the doctrine of inerrancy is all about.
Armed with this theological presupposition of who God is, A. W. Tozer then could exhort his readers and us today to “come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you. Do not come with the notion that it is a thing which you may push around at your convenience. It is more than a thing, it is a voice, a word, the very Word of the living God.”
The Spiritual: Attend to the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit
Inasmuch as evidences and even theological logic are important, they may not be enough to convince a person that the Bible is inerrant. Another element is needed — the spiritual.
As John Calvin points out, “[W]e ought to seek our conviction on a higher place than human reasons, judgments or conjectures, that is, in the secret testimony of the Spirit (John Calvin, 1559).”
Calvin goes on to elaborate,
[T]he testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men's hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded (John Calvin, 1559).
It is no wonder, therefore, that the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that God “may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” so that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19).
Paul recognized the necessity of this spiritual quality in our approach to spiritual things. Short of that, the realities of God contained in His Word would fall on deaf ears or go unappreciated. For only the Spirit of God residing in the life of the believer can confirm and embed in our spirit the realities of God’s self-revelation to us, which includes the inerrancy of His Word (Romans 8:15-17).
What this means is that we must attend the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit in our approach to or the reading of the Bible. “Is the Bible errant or inerrant?” cannot be answered simply by using our intellect or ability to observe. We must lean on the Holy Spirit of God to guide us and empower us in answering that question for ourselves. And He will do so if we turn to Him.
Before Billy Graham became the famous evangelist he became, he had a crisis of faith in regard to the Bible. Should he hold on to the inerrancy of Scripture as he was taught growing up? Or should he abandon this belief as many of his friends were telling him to do? Billy Graham knew that how he answered this question would set the trajectory not only of his ministry but, ultimately, his life.
Confused and not knowing what to do, Billy Graham took a personal retreat in Forest Home, CA. He said,
Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump in front of me . . . I could only stutter into prayer. The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts:
“O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”
I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it.
“Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word— by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won (Billy Graham, 1997).
Dear reader, your issue or struggle over the inerrancy of the Bible may not be exactly the same as Billy Graham’s. But the solution is the same. Turn to the Lord whose Spirit is able to speak to your own, especially as you continue to let Him lead you into His Word. He will testify with your spirit on the true nature of His self-revelation in the Bible. And this high view of Scripture will bring about human flourishing in your life to His glory.
As you prayerfully and meditatively ponder through these two arguments for the inerrancy of Scripture, may God strengthen your conviction on the veracity and reliability of the Bible. As a result, may you also be able to say with Martin Luther, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”
Adam Co is a Professor of Theology at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA. He has served as pastor for several years in the Chicago area (Chinese Christian Fellowship Church in Wilmette, IL and in southern California (Mandarin Baptist Church of Los Angeles and Riverside Mandarin Baptist Church) and holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Master’s Seminary and a Ph.D. degree in Systematic Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He and his wonderful wife Wensley reside in Riverside, CA together with their four sons: Aiden, Aldridge, Avery, and Allister. Currently, they worship at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA.