How does Inerrancy Relate to the Authority of Scripture?

The doctrinal statement of InterVarsity highlights the authority and centrality of Scripture in our movement. It states that we believe in "The unique divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness and authority of the Bible." This affirmation of the foundational character of Scripture for belief and practice does not discount the importance of Christian tradition in rightly understanding Scripture.

Of lesser importance but still of great significance for a ministry to the university is what our doctrinal statement on scripture does not say. Unlike many other evangelical organizations, we do not use the terms "inerrant" or "infallible" to affirm our submission to the Bible. These terms only came to be central to discussions of the authority of the Bible in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and arose primarily as defense against scientific and historical critique. That is, the defense of inerrancy arose specifically to counter perceived incompatibility between the Bible, on the one hand, and the discoveries of science and conclusions of historical research, on the other. Parallel to this Protestant reaction to modern criticism, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the papal infallibility arose at the same time, being formally proclaimed in 1870.

I appreciate the wisdom and courage of our national leaders who chose not to participate in the doctrine of inerrance in our strong affirmation of Biblical authority. These modern concerns to insulate the Bible against historical and scientific critique reflect both an unfaithful insecurity and an anachronistic conception of scripture.

The modern doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture reflects an unfaithful insecurity in that it fears the insights of science and historical inquiry. In vainly seeking to obscure inconvenient scholarly insights, it disconnects Scripture from other human sciences. But if all truth is God's truth, then scientific and historical inquiry are forms of worship, and our call is to submit to the unique authority of Scripture in full view of and dialogue with historical and scientific assertions, not in contrast to them.

Secondly, the proposed doctrine of inerrancy is anachronistic in that insists on imposing late modern epistemology on the human biblical authors. If we eschew the dictation model of inspiration and affirm the authorship of the Bible to be as fully human as it is divine, then we must embrace that the authors wrote in their own native tongues, using their idioms and grammar. We must also accept that their standards of history and science shaped their writing as much as their literary norms. In other words, the biblical authors were not writing twentieth century science and history; rather, they were faithfully documenting the story of the triune God's creation and redemption of all things, including, God's formation of a chosen people and the sending of his Son.

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NRSV) reads:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

This Son invites our inquiry into the worlds created through him. He invites us into God's glory revealed in him. He invites us into his word, uniquely and authoritatively inscribed in the Bible.

God has spoken, and his words are powerful.

For related reading, check out Evangelicals, the Bible and Tradition by Kevin Offner. Find more theological Bible studies and doctrinal resources at Theology and Faith.

About the Author
Senior Link Specialist

Bruce has served with InterVarsity in numerous roles for 29 years, most recently as Link staff in Belgium. He also serves on the Theological Council. His favorite thing about his work with InterVarsity is leading students and staff in Bible study, whatever country he happens to be in. When not studying the Bible, he loves bicycling and scuba diving. Bruce is married to JJ, and they have two daughters, one of whom is in college and thriving as an InterVarsity student leader.