Inerrancy: A Historic Christian Doctrine

Now we come to the second concern of this article. Is the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture a fundamentalist doctrine? Clearly the doctrine of inerrancy was a doctrine held and taught in the church long before the rise of fundamentalism. Luther wrote of the “Scripture, which has never erred.” Calvin wrote of the law of God: “Let us, then, be assured that an unerring light is to be found there…”1 Princeton Seminary in the nineteenth century further articulated and developed the doctrine of inerrancy among the Reformed. B. B. Warfield became the most effective Reformed scholar in the Biblical presentation of inerrancy.

The word “inerrancy” does not appear in the Reformed confessions. For this reason some then argue that the idea of inerrancy is not Reformed. But this is a simplistic way of reasoning. The question is not so much whether or not the word appears in the confessions, but whether the concept is found there. The Heidelberg Catechism defines faith in part as “a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true …” (Q 21). The Belgic Confession speaks of the Scriptures as the books “with which there can be no quarrel” (Art. 4). The Confession continues with the assertion that “we believe without a doubt all things contained in them” (Art. 5). Article 7 calls the Bible “this infallible rule” and says its “teaching is perfect and complete in all respects.” Although the word “inerrancy” does not appear, the idea of inerrancy—that the Bible is absolutely true in all that it says—comes through with absolute clarity.

The word “inerrancy” has come to be a key word in the theological vocabulary of conservative Christians in the twentieth century because liberals and neo-orthodox theologians began to play games with the word “infallible.” Infallible means unfailingly true and therefore is the equivalent of inerrant. But some have tried to argue that the Bible is unfailing only in its saving message, but not in the details of its revelation (such as the details of the history it presents).2 Such a limited understanding of infallibility is absolutely opposed to the historical and confessional use of the word. To make that clear, confessional Reformed theologians have seen the value of using the word “inerrancy.”

In 1978 a founding meeting of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was held in Chicago. That meeting produced a fine statement defending the doctrine of inerrancy and explaining carefully what it meant. Leaders of the meeting included such well-known Reformed theologians as J.I. Packer, John Gerstner, R.C. Sproul, Roger Nicole and Edmund Clowney. Faculty members of many Reformed seminaries—including some from Calvin Theological Seminary—signed the statement. Clearly these Reformed theologians did not see anything in the doctrine of inerrancy that was “fundamentalist” or unreformed.

Synods of the Christian Reformed Church have also clearly and unequivocally embraced the doctrine of inerrancy as part of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture and as the proper understanding of our confessional position. In 1959 synod declared that the position of “the historic Christian church” was “that the Scripture in its whole extent and in all its parts is the infallible and inerrant Word of God” (Acts, p. 64). This action of Synod 1959 actually involved adopting conclusions reached by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. Embracing inerrancy was not a peculiarity of the CRC, but it was the position embraced by all the Reformed churches in the RES. In 1979 synod endorsed and reiterated the commitment of the church to the inerrancy of Scripture as stated in 1959 (Acts, p. 127). No subsequent synod has changed this commitment of the CRC. The official position of the CRC is that inerrancy is a Reformed doctrine.

Fundamentalists do believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. But that does not make inerrancy a fundamentalist doctrine. Reformed theology shares a number of doctrines in common with fundamentalism (such as the deity of Christ) which are not distinctively fundamentalistic. The witness of Reformed theologians from John Calvin down to the official synodical pronouncements of the Christian Reformed Church show that inerrancy is a Reformed doctrine. Read more»

W. Robert Godfrey | “Fundamentalism and the Inerrancy of Scripture” | 1994


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