Bible - Inspiration & Authority

God's Promise to Preserve His Word: Today's Low View of Inerrancy

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The common view of Biblical "inerrancy" in Christian academia and the church today should alarm Bible believers.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 2 of a series. Read part 1.

The common view of Biblical "inerrancy" in Christian academia and the church today should alarm Bible believers.

Several years ago I was invited to preach on several occasions at a large fundamentalist Baptist church. The first time was in a Sunday morning service during their missions conference.

After the pastor introduced me as the guest speaker, he took a seat in the congregation near the front. I began my sermon, as I often do, by calling the congregation's attention to the Scripture text with these words: "Let us hear the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God." When I said this, I noticed a marked change in the pastor's expression, and I wondered what it might mean.

"I Do Not Believe We Can Call It the 'Inerrant Word'"

I soon found out. During the closing hymn, the pastor led me to the church foyer, where we were going to greet people after the service. Before the congregation began to disperse, this fundamentalist Baptist pastor turned to me and said, with irritation in his voice, "I noticed that you called it the 'inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God.' I agree with you on 'inspired and infallible,' but I do not believe we can call it the inerrant Word."

By this time people were lining up to shake hands with us, so at that moment I had no further opportunity to question this disturbing statement. But during a later conversation he raised the subject again. He said that he objected quite strongly to the term "inerrant" and he explained why.

This pastor said that he does not believe that any Bible we now hold in our hands, even a Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek, can be called "inerrant." He said that only the original manuscripts, the original autographs of the Bible were, inerrant.

Most Christians do not realize that this is a fairly new attitude in the history of the church. It has only developed during the past 200 years. But this is the majority opinion that has been taught at evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges now for more than a century. This position has developed to the point where men who are being trained for the pulpit today in most colleges and seminaries are being told that not only is the Bible only inerrant in the original manuscripts, but it is also only inspired in the original manuscripts.

In 1978 a group of reputedly conservative Bible scholars produced a document called the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This document was considered a landmark statement of the 20th century Evangelical position. It was signed by nearly 300 noted conservative church leaders. The Statement declared that "inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture" [in other words, the original manuscripts only] and that "the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration." [1]

We Have No Inerrant Bible?

Now, what is the problem with this position? The problem is simply this: We have none of the original manuscripts of the Bible in our possession today. God in His providence has not preserved them, just as He has not preserved the staff of Moses, or the wood of the cross, or the cup used by Jesus when He instituted the Lord's Supper.

But the situation in the Bible believing church today is in many cases worse yet. The vast majority of conservative pastors and Bible scholars do not believe, or at least they are not certain, that the text contained in the original manuscripts of the Bible has been preserved intact. They have been taught, and many college and seminary classrooms, what we could truly call a Darwinian theory of the Biblical text. They have been taught that for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years much of the original text of Scripture has been lost to the church or has at least been unclear.

Now why does this matter? It matters because if you carry what these men have been taught and what they are saying to its logical conclusion, what you are really saying is that Christians cannot be certain that we can have the actual and complete inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God in our hands.

And this Darwinian theory of the Bible goes even further. Many in the present generation of men who are called Bible believing pastors have also been taught that because this is the case, for the past hundred and fifty years highly trained scholars have been engaged in the process of attempting to restore the original, pristine text of Scripture, using the theories and techniques of a science called textual criticism.

The Cold Comfort of the Textual Critic

What does that mean, in practical terms? Let me tell you what would likely happen if you were to approach a Biblical scholar who holds this position, and say to him, "Show me the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God."

The best he could honestly do is to take you to one of the world's great libraries in Europe, either the Vatican Library or the great manuscript library of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Germany. When you got there, he would perhaps direct you to shelves containing hundreds of books on textual criticism. He would show you collections containing thousands of Biblical manuscripts of varying quality. He would tell you that perhaps somewhere among these manuscripts collectively exists the actual "inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God" - but it is yet to be identified, and may never be identified.

In other words, such a scholar would tell you that God's inerrant Word has not been providentially preserved, as God Himself promised. God has not preserved it, he would assert, so we scholars are working to identify and restore it. The same scholar would also inform you that the problem of restoring the actual text of the Bible is exceedingly complex. But he would seek to assure you that you should have no fear, because highly skilled men using a well-developed theory are diligently working on the problem, and in the meantime you can be assured that no major doctrines of the church are at risk because of this uncertain situation.

Those kinds of assurances are cold comfort to the Bible believer.

Next: Pointed Questions About the Preservation of God's Word


1. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, page 5, Article X,



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