40 Years Later: R.C. Sproul on Biblical Inerrancy
Remembering R.C. and the Chicago Statement.
30 DECEMBER 2017 · 10:00 CET
This New Year marks the fortieth anniversary of the acclaimed Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) and the first year that we will all be without the beloved R.S. Sproul (1939-2017).
Initially signed by some 240 evangelical scholars (such as J.I. Packer, Roger Nicole, John MacArthur, Francis Schaeffer, etc.) and adopted by The Evangelical Theological Society back in 2003, the Statement continues to stand as a bastion of pure blooded Protestantism.
What is perhaps not so well-known is the fact that the Statement’s original framer was none other than Dr. Sproul who was to become the President of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.
Today, in order to honour Sproul and to revive the Chicago legacy; I wish to devote my New Year article to some great quotes by R.C. on the question of biblical inerrancy, all taken from his official commentary on the Chicago Statement (1980).1 May it be said of Sproul as it was said of old brother Abel: being dead, yet speaks (Hebrews 11:4).
R.C. ON INERRANCY
“The idea that God errs in any way, in any place, or in any endeavour is repugnant to the mind as well as the soul. Here, biblical criticism reaches the nadir of biblical vandalism.
How could any sentient creature conceive of a formula that speaks of the Word of God as errant? It would seem obvious that if a book is the Word of God, it does not (indeed, cannot) err. It if errs, then it is not (indeed, cannot be) the Word of God”.
“Classic orthodox theology has always maintained that the Holy Spirit overcomes human error in producing the biblical text”.
“Barth said that the Bible is the ‘Word’ of God, but not the ‘words’ of God. With this act of theological gymnastics, he hoped to solve the unsolvable dilemma of calling the Bible the Word of God, which errs.
If the Bible is errant, then it is a book of human reflection on divine revelation –just another human volume of theology. It may have deep theological insight, but it is not the Word of God”.
“Martin Luther never used the term inerrancy. That’s correct. What he said was that the Scriptures never err. Neither did John Calvin use the term. He said that the Bible should be received as if we heard its words audibly from the mouth of God. The Reformers, though not using the term inerrancy, clearly articulated the concept”.
“Irenaeus lived long before the seventeenth century, as did Augustine, Paul the apostle, and Jesus. These all, among others, clearly taught the absolute truthfulness of Scripture.
The church’s defence of inerrancy rests upon the church’s confidence in the view of Scripture held and taught by Jesus himself. We wish to have a view of Scripture that is neither higher nor lower than his view”.
“The full trustworthiness of sacred Scripture must be defended in every generation, against every criticism”.
“If the Bible is the Word of God and if God is a God of truth, then the Bible must be inerrant –not merely in some of its parts, as some modern theologians are saying, but totally, as the church for the most part has said down through the ages of its history”.
“Though it is true that the Roman Catholic Church has consistently and historically maintained a high view of the inspiration of Holy Scripture, there remains the unresolved problem of the uniqueness and sufficiency of biblical authority for the church.
Rome has placed alongside of Scripture the traditions of the church as a supplement to Scripture and, consequently, a second source of special revelation beyond the scope of Scripture.
It has been a continuous assertion of the Roman Catholic Church that since the church established the extent and scope of the New Testament and Old Testament canon there is a certain sense in which the authority of the Bible is subordinate to and dependent upon the church’s approval”.
“Though it is abundantly clear that Luther believed in an inspired Bible, he still had questions about whether or not a particular book should be included in that inspired Bible. Several scholars have tried to deny that Luther ever believed in inspiration because of his questioning the book of James.
Here it is very important to see the difference between the question of the scope of the canon and the question of the inspiration of the books which are recognized as included in the canon. In other words, the nature of Scripture and the question of the extent of Scripture are two different questions which must not be confused”.
“The Scriptures receive their authority from God, not from the church nor from any other human source”.
“It is a classic tenet of Protestants to recognize that all such creeds and confessions are fallible and cannot fully and finally bind the conscience of men forever”.
“No church creed, council or declaration has authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible”.
“Our consciences are justly bound to lesser authorities only when and if they are in conformity to the Word of God”.
“If the Bible is God’s Word and its content proceeds from Him, then its content is to be seen as revelation”.
“The Bible’s truth does not depend in any way on whether or not a person believes the truth”.
“With the aid of divine inspiration and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit in the giving of sacred Scripture, the writings of the Bible are free from the normal tendencies and propensities of fallen men to distort the truth.
Though our language, and especially our language about God, is never comprehensive and exhaustive in its ability to capture eternal truths, nevertheless it is adequate to give us truth without falsehood”.
“Though we recognize that human language is limited by creatureliness, we do not allow the inference that therefore human language must necessarily be distortive of truth”.
“That tendency toward corruption, distortion and falsehood is precisely that which we believe to be overcome by the divine inspiration and involvement in the preparation of Holy Scripture.
Thus, we think that scepticism about biblical integrity based on inferences drawn from the adequacy or inadequacy of human speech is unwarranted”.
“No revelation has been given since the first century that merits or warrants inclusion in the canon of Holy Scripture. Private leadings or guidance or ‘revelations’ as some may term them, may not be seen as having the force or authority of Holy Scripture”.
“The process of inspiration did not make the biblical writers automatons, for their books reveal differences of vocabulary, style and other matters of variation between one human author and another.
But inspiration did overcome any tendency they may have had to error, with the result that the words they wrote were precisely what God, the divine author, intended us to have”.
“The verbal inspiration of the Bible refers to the original manuscripts”.
“We do not know the process by which inspired Scripture was given. But we are saying that inspiration, however God brought it about, results in the net effect that every word of Scripture carries with it the weight of God’s authority”.
“The word theopnueustos [2 Timothy 3:16] means literally ‘God-breathed’ and has primary reference to God’s breathing out his word rather than breathing in some kind of effect upon human writers.
So expiration is a more accurate term than inspiration with respect to the origin of Scripture. But we use the term inspiration to cover the concept of the whole process by which the Word comes to us”.
“The charge of biblical docetism has been levelled against the advocates of inerrancy, most notably by Karl Barth. He accuses us of holding a view of inspiration in which the true humanity of the biblical writers is cancelled out by the intrusion of the divine characteristics of infallibility.
For Barth it is fundamental to our humanity that we are liable to error. If the classic statement is errare est humanum, to err is human, we reply that though it is true that a common characteristic of mankind is to err, it does not follow that man always err of that error is necessary for humanity”.
“The Old and New Testament Scriptures are probably the texts which have reached us with the most extensive and reliable attestation. For more than ninety-nine percent of the cases the original text can be reconstructed to a practical certainty.
Even in the few cases where some perplexity remains, this does not impinge on the meaning of Scripture to the point of clouding a tenet of the faith or a mandate of life”.
“To limit inerrancy or inspiration to the original manuscripts does not make the whole contention irrelevant. It does make a difference. If the original text were errant, the church would have the option of rejecting the teachings of that errant text.
If the original text is inerrant (and the science of textual criticism must be depended upon to reconstruct that inerrant text), we have no legitimate basis for disobeying a mandate of Scripture where the text is not in doubt”.
“Though the words infallible and inerrant have often been used interchangeably and virtually as synonyms in our language, nevertheless there remains a historic, technical distinction between the two words.
Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential. That which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err. The distinction here between the definition of infallible and the definition of inerrant is the distinction between the potential and the actual, the hypothetical and the real. That which is inerrant is that which in fact does not err”.
“It has often been charged that the Bible is full of contradictions. Such statements are unwarranted by the evidence. The amount of seriously difficult passages compared to the total quantity of material found there is very small indeed”.
“Inerrancy is a corollary of inspiration inasmuch as it is unthinkable that God should inspire that which is fraudulent, false or deceitful. Thus, though the word inerrancy is not explicitly used in the Scriptures, the word inspired is, and the concept of inerrancy is designed to do justice to the concept of inspiration”.
“The doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is a doctrine ultimately based upon the teaching of Jesus himself”.
“Even though we admit that Jesus in his human nature was not omniscient, we do urge that his claims to teach nothing by his own authority but by the authority of the Father (John 8:28) and to be the very incarnation of truth (John 14:6) would be fraudulent claims if anything that he taught were in error.
Even if his error arose out of his ignorance, he would be guilty of sin for claiming to know truth that he in fact did not know. At stake here is our very redemption.
For if Jesus taught falsely while claiming to be speaking the truth, he would be guilty of sin. If he were guilty of sin, then obviously his atonement could not atone for himself, let alone for his people. Ultimately the doctrine of Scripture is bound up with the doctrine of Christ”.
“Though the word inerrancy is of relatively modern invention, the concept is rooted not only in the biblical witness to itself but also in the acceptance of the vast majority of God’s people throughout the history of the Christian church.
We find the doctrine taught, embraced and espoused by men such as St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and a host of Christian scholars and teachers throughout the history of the church”.
“God himself confirms the truthfulness of his own Word”.
“There is a reciprocity between Word and Spirit, and they are never to be set over against each other”.
“The Bible is not be reinterpreted to be brought into conformity with contemporary philosophies but it is to be understood in its intended meaning and word usage as it was written at the time it was composed.
To hold to grammatico-historical exegesis is to disallow the turning of the Bible into a wax nose that can be shaped and reshaped according to modern inventions of thought”.
“A strong doctrine of the authority of Scripture should, when properly implemented, lead a person to a greater degree of conformity to that Word he espouses as true”.
“We believe that history has demonstrated again and again that there is all often a close relationship between rejection of inerrancy and subsequent defections from matters of the Christian faith that are essential to salvation.
When the church loses its confidence in the authority of sacred Scripture the church inevitably looks to human opinion as its guiding light. When that happens, the purity of the church is direly threatened”
And finally, a fitting closure from Dr. Sproul for whose life and ministry we are all extremely thankful:
“We urge upon our Christian brothers and sisters of all professions and denominations to join with us in a reaffirmation of the full authority, integrity, infallibility and inerrancy of sacred Scripture to the end that our lives may be brought under the authority of God’s Word, that we may glorify Christ in our lives, individually and corporately as the church”.
Thank you, Lord, for R.C.
Thank you, Lord, for the Chicago Statement.
1 The first six quotes were taken from Sproul’s foreword to ‘The Inerrant Word’ (2016), penned by over twenty evangelicals and edited by John MacArthur.