Is Inerrancy Unbiblical?

Martin Downes at Against Heresies has been writing some excellent posts critiquing Dr. Andrew McGowan newest book entitled, The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging Evangelical Perspectives.

Dr. McGowan is the Principal of Highland Theological College. He also teaches Systematic Theology at HTC and is a Church of Scotland minister.

In his posts, Martin points out how Dr. McGowan argues that inerrancy is unbiblical, rationalistic and presumptuous.

McGowan’s proposals stir up memories of my Barthian and Bultmannian college professors who taught that the Bible is full of myths (albeit they have a great moral lesson, so they would say!), the predominance of Jesus’ words were not authentic, Paul didn’t write his letters, etc…

“If the words of Scripture are not authentic and trustworthy, then the Gospel itself is called into question.”

In reality, Dr. McGowan’s “challenge” is not unlike the challenges Evangelicals have faced in the past in regards to the issue of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the Bible (I heard them all at both a Methodist and Southern Baptist College!).

The issue of inerrancy has far reaching implications for the Christian faith. For example, if the words of Scripture are not authentic and trustworthy, then the Gospel itself is called into question. How can one be absolutely assured of the conclusiveness of the Good News?

J.I. Packer, in his book, God Has Spoken, demonstrates how the rejection of the authority of the Scriptures is also a rejection of the authority of Christ, for Christ Himself commended the Old Testament as possessing His Father’s authority.

Packer writes,

    “The Bible is not only man’s word, but God’s also; not merely a record of revelation, but a written revelation in its own right, God’s own witness to Himself in the form of human witness to Him. Accordingly, the authority of the Scriptures rests, not simply on their worth as an historical source, a testament of religion, and a means of uplift, real though this is, but primarily and essentially on the fact that they come to us from the mouth of God. Therefore the real task for reason in this connection is not to try to censure and correct the Scriptures, but rather, with God’s help, to try to understand and apply them, so that God may effectively censure and correct us.

    But, it is objected, does not the Christian stand directly under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is not Jesus Christ Lord also of the Scriptures? And if so, how can the Christian be said to be bound to the authority of the Bible? The answer is very simple. The antithesis is a false one. Jesus Christ is Lord of the Scriptures in the same sense in which any absolute monarch is Lord of the laws and proclamations which he sees fit to issue for the government of his subjects. The ruler’s laws carry his personal authority, and the measure of one’s loyalty to him is the consistency of one’s observance of them. But Holy Scripture, ‘the sceptre of God’, as Calvin calls it, is Christ’s instrument of government: it comes to us, so to speak, from His hand and with His seal upon it, for He Himself commended the Old Testament to us as having His Father’s authority, and He Himself authorized and empowered the apostles to speak in His name, by His Spirit and with His own authority. So the way to bow to the authority of Jesus Christ is precisely by bowing to the authority of the inspired Scriptures,” (pp. 103-104).

In brief, the rejection of inerrancy means the rejection of Christ’s own witness to Scripture. And, if one cannot trust Christ’s understanding of Scripture, how can one trust His proclamation of “Good News?” “Good News” with a thousand qualifications is hardly “Good News.”

Such a rejection, according to John Murray, ultimately challenges “the very integrity of our Lord’s witness,” which is the “crucial issue in this battle of the faith,” (The Infallible Word, p. 40).

Many thanks to Martin for these great posts!

For further reading, below are a couple of books on the issue of inerrancy and the authority of Scripture that I recommend:

  • Inerrancy, edited by Norman Geisler
  • Scripture and Truth, edited by D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge
  • The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, Benjamin B. Warfield
  • God Has Spoken, J.I. Packer
  • The Infallible Word, A Symposium by The Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary
  • (See also The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy)


    3 Responses to Is Inerrancy Unbiblical?

    1. Eric says:

      Thanks for your words on this topic. A friend of mine wrote an excellent paper on the inerrancy of Scripture . . . here’s a short bit of it.

      Inerrancy, as used herein, does not mean that every statement in Scripture is true. Scripture says, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1, NAS). This statement, made by the “fool,” is not true. The recording of the false statements of others in Scripture is not the same as saying that Scripture contains errors. As used herein, “inerrancy” means that Scripture itself never advances a position as being true, which in fact is not.

      More on the topic here.

    2. Andrew says:

      John Frame and James Anderson have both written good replies to McGowan (google it)… you’ll probably appreciate them

    3. JP says:

      I have a high view of scripture, but feel no need to subscribe to specific theories of inspiration. “inerrancy” sounds like such. It seems to, perhaps ironically, “go beyond what is written”. This line in the article was troubling, “The issue of inerrancy has far reaching implications for the Christian faith. For example, if the words of Scripture are not authentic and trustworthy.” Matters of opinion become divisive and destructive when they are thus elevated. The line quoted suggests that on this narrow view of inspiration depends the authenticity and trustworthiness of scripture. The genuine Christian experience of millions gives the lie to the line. The scriptures can be proven (in life) “authentic and trustworthy” without raising shibboleths regarding its “inerrancy”.

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