Friday, August 28, 2009

Biblical inerrancy in church history

Continued from: Objection to Biblical Inerrancy #12

Laird Harris says that the historic Protestant tradition has been obvious in its belief in the Bible as true and without error in its entirety. [1] Among Catholics, the Council of Trent was as clear on the subject of biblical inerrancy as any Protestant would wish. In the ancient church, the Nicene Fathers expressed faith in the whole and entire nature of Scripture and its lack of contradiction.

Even earlier, Irenaeus said that “the Scriptures are indeed perfect since they were spoken by the Word of God and his Spirit.”[2] Justin Martyr about A.D. 150 wrote, “I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another.”[3] Harris says that those who knew the Apostles made similar statements, men like Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement.

The idea of inerrancy is ancient and widespread. Why? Something powerful about the Scripture must have persuaded them. Where we have seen the earnest believers in Jesus Christ down through history, we have found in them confidence in the Scriptures. Where we have found a distancing and skepticism for the Bible, we have seen either a movement toward denial of Christ or conversely a renewal and a drawing again to a more complete faith in Christianity’s book. While one must not believe in the Bible to be saved, throughout history we have seen that Christian faith has difficulty maintaining itself without it.[4]

Martin Luther in his characteristic diplomacy wrote, “It is impossible for the Scripture to contradict itself except at the hands of senseless and hardened hypocrites. At the hands of those who are godly and understanding, it gives testimony to its Lord.”[5] John Calvin declared in his Institutes that there are plenty of proofs to convince any reasonable person of the Bible’s divine authority and truth, but all the arguments of men will never convince a single skeptic without the “internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit.” He says that the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God “cannot be known without faith.”[6] He and the Westminster Confession leave it right there. The Scripture is self-authenticating through the inward work of the Holy Spirit. While it may not at first seem like an intellectually satisfying answer, perhaps there is more wisdom in the statement than is apparent.

Irenaeus based the authority of Scripture on the authority and person of Christ. “When I heard some saying, ‘If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures I will not believe the Gospel,’ on my saying to them, it is written, they answered me, ‘That remains to be proved.’ But to me Jesus is in the place of all that is ancient. His cross, and death, and resurrection and the faith which is by Him are undefiled monuments of antiquity.”[7]



[1] R. Laird Harris, “The Basis for our Belief in Inerrancy,” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 9/1 (1966): 13.

[2] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:28:2.

[3] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 65.

[4] Harris, 14.

[5] Martin Luther, (LW, 26, 295) quoted in Siegbert W. Becker, “Luther and Inerrancy,” Joint Conference of the North and South Metropolitan Circuits of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, November 15, 1982. Accessed November 25, 2008; available from here. Becker says that Luther’s rejection of the epistle “of James is actually a consequence of his strong conviction concerning biblical inerrancy. Luther believed firmly that the Bible could not contradict itself. But he also believed that James contradicted Paul.”

[6] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:8:13. See also the Westminster Confession ch. 1, sec. 5.

[7] Ignatius, To the Philadelphians, ch. 8.

Continue on to: Christ's witness to Biblical Inerrancy

Also on Sunday in the South:
Objections to Biblical Inerrancy #1 & #2, #3 & #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12