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Infallibility and Inerrancy

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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December 3, 2022 12:01 am

Infallibility and Inerrancy

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 3, 2022 12:01 am

Is the Bible without error in all that it teaches and reveals? Today, R.C. Sproul shows that our answer to this question influences every other doctrine in our faith.

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Historic Christianity has always maintained that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.

What's the difference between those two terms? I've taken spelling tests where we had 20 questions, and I got all of them right. My test was inerrant. I didn't require the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to do that. And of course, to be inerrant for a small period of time did not make me infallible as subsequent spelling tests would verify. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Lee Webb. Thank you for being with us on this Saturday. You know, among the many things I admired about Dr. Sproul was his recognition of matters of first importance. Not everything in theology falls into that category. In other words, we're not called to die on every hill. But today's message reflects one hill on which R.C.

was willing to die. In fact, throughout his ministry, he was on the front lines of this all-important battle to defend the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. Any discussion of the nature of sacred Scripture that includes the concern about its inspiration has to tackle in our day and age at least the issues of the infallibility and the inerrancy of Scriptures. We know that throughout church history, the classic and traditional view of the Bible is that having come by way of divine inspiration, the Bible has been recognized by the church in all ages as being infallible and inerrant. But with the rise of higher criticism, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, not only has the inspiration of Scripture come under widespread attack, but specifically these concepts of infallibility and inerrancy have been sharply criticized. One of the complaints is that the doctrine of inerrancy is alleged to have been the creation of 17th-century Protestant orthodoxy, which is sometimes called the age of Protestant scholasticism, corresponding to the secular philosophical history's era of the age of reason. And that is that the idea of inerrancy has been a rational construct that was foreign not only to the biblical writers themselves, but even to the magisterial reformers of the 16th century. Critics of inerrancy are quick to point out that Luther never used the term term inerrancy, and that's true. All that Luther said was that the Scriptures never err.

Now, I don't know what the difference would be between the concept of inerrancy and the concept of something's never erring could be, but certainly the idea was held in common by the magisterial reformers, and it was also not an innovation for them in the 16th century. As we go back to Tertullian, to Irenaeus, and particularly to St. Augustine, we will see these concepts plainly declared by them. But more to the point is what is the Bible's view of itself? Now, we recognize that there are other books on this planet like the Book of Mormon and the Koran and other sacred literature of other world religions that claim to come about by way of divine origin and divine inspiration. And the Bible also makes that claim. Now, I am not one who believes that that claim is true simply because the Bible makes it, because if something is true just because the claim is made, then we would have to grant equal truth to the Book of Mormon and these other books.

But the argument goes like this. Since this really is the Word of God and the Word of God claims to be the Word of God, and if it really is the Word of God, its claim must be so. So in this case, it is the Word of God. Well, I believe it is the Word of God, and I believe that it is God who is making the claim that it is the Word of God, and I don't think there's any higher authority than God Himself. But again, the question is how do I recognize that word from other claims in other places?

But that's another question. It is significant, however, to the church that the Bible does claim to come to us by divine inspiration because if it doesn't, then that source that we have for the most important truths of our lives is given an exaggerated claim to its own integrity and its own authority, and that would have very serious consequences and repercussions. Now again, the church historically has seen that the Bible of all the written literature in history is alone uniquely infallible, and the word infallible may be defined as that which cannot fail, is indefectible, it is incapable of making a mistake. And linguistically, the term infallible is a higher term than the term inerrancy. For this reason, I could write an inerrant grocery list without any claim to divine inspiration. I've taken tests as a student in elementary school, spelling tests where we had 20 questions, and I got all of them right, and I got 100 percent. My test was inerrant. I didn't require the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to do that.

And of course, to be inerrant for a small period of time and in a very restricted arena did not make me infallible as subsequent spelling tests would verify because I was capable of making mistakes. Now, I say that for a reason because so much of the controversy today involves a certain amount of confusion about both of these terms, and let's look at some of these problems. One large Christian body in its historic confession makes the claim that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Now, I have seen those who have jettisoned this concept replace it with another statement that sounds so much similar to this, and that statement goes like this, that the Bible is only infallible when it speaks of faith and practice. Those sound alike, don't they? But they're as different as night is from day.

Let's look at the first one. When this statement says that the Bible is the only infallible rule, the term only restricts the Bible out of all possible other rules and said of all books, of all norms, of all authorities, there is only one that is infallible in its authoritative ruling capacity, and that is the Bible. And it is an infallible rule of what? Of faith and practice. Now, it refers here to the faith and the practice of Christians. Now, in that regard, this would say that the rule that Scripture is the rule of our faith, which has to do with all that we believe, and it is the rule for our practice, which has to do with all that we do. Now, notice how these words change their orientation when we get to this next statement. Now we say that the Bible is only infallible.

When? So, this now is not restricting the Bible from other sources or other rules, but now the word only is restricting a portion of the Bible itself and saying that there is a limited infallibility of the Bible. Not that the Bible is only infallible, not that the Bible is the only infallible rule in all that it says, but in this case, only part of the Bible is infallible.

And that is what we call limited inerrancy, which has become very popular in our day. It's only infallible when it speaks of faith and practice. Now, do you realize that up here the two terms, faith and practice, are words to capture the whole of the Christian life?

What else is there besides what we believe and what we do to be ruled about? But here, now faith and practice refers to a portion of the teaching of Scripture, which may be distinguished from what the Bible says about history, what it says about world science, and what it says about cultural matters and so on. But in other words, now the Bible is restricted in its authority only when it speaks of religious matters of faith. But anything else it talks about may fail, such as matters of history. Maybe the Bible is incorrect when it tells us about what actually took place in the ancient world.

So, you have to be careful with the way in which these terms are used in theological statements. Now, in the final analysis, the question of the authority of the Bible rests for the church on the question of the authority of Christ. Several years ago, in fact in the early seventies, Ligonier Ministries sponsored and hosted a conference on the authority of Scripture in Pennsylvania.

A book was published out of that conference called God's Inerrant Word, edited by John Warwick Montgomery, the Lutheran scholar. And we had scholars from around the world come together into a symposium to discuss the question of the inerrancy of the Bible. And without previous collusion, every single scholar that was there came to the question of the authority of the Bible Christologically.

That is, they came with this question in mind. What was Jesus' view of Scripture? Because it was the desire of these scholars to hold a view of the Bible that was no more and by no means no less than the view of Scripture taught by Jesus Himself.

Now, I immediately feel the weight of the problem because the only way we know of Jesus' view of the Bible is by reading the Bible. And so, we could get ourselves locked here in a vicious circular argument saying that Jesus taught this in the Bible and yet we only know about what Jesus said by virtue of the Bible. But if we go back and take this a step at a time, those who are critics of the infallibility of Scripture and the biblical scholars who are fond of attacking particular passages in the Bible and say, oh, these were later redactions that would come after the death of the apostle or so on, and they don't get us in touch with the authentic teachings of Jesus or of the apostles. Of that group of skeptics and critics, there is widespread agreement that those portions of Scripture that are least in dispute with respect and with regard to their historical authenticity are those portions of Scripture that happen to contain Jesus' statements about the Scripture. There is really not a serious dispute in the theological world about what view Jesus held of the Bible. I would cite people like Barth, Bruner, Paul Althaus, even Rudolf Bultmann, Joachim Jaramillas, C. H. Dodd, to name but a few of the reputable scholars and higher critical scholars of the twentieth century who agree to a man that the historic human Jesus of Nazareth believed and taught the very high exalted view of Scripture that was common to first-century Judaism, namely that the Bible was nothing less than the inspired Word of God, that Jesus made such comments as this, "'Thy word is truth. The Scripture cannot be broken.

Not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away until all is been fulfilled.'" And there is, as I've mentioned before, the way Jesus treated the Scriptures of the Old Testament where He would rest His case on the turn of a single word and would simply say it is written to settle a theological dispute. So, what I'm saying is there are few, very few, if any, scholars who would challenge the view that Jesus of Nazareth taught what the church for 2,000 years has been teaching. But at the same time, these scholars who make that admission turn around and say that Jesus was wrong in His view of Scripture.

Now, when you hear that at first blush, you wonder about the arrogance of such a statement from a Christian theologian. You say, well, I have a view of Scripture, which is the correct one, and I'm going to have to correct Jesus in His teaching to the church about the nature of Scripture. But they hasten to add that not only was Jesus wrong about His view of Scripture, but it's okay that He was wrong, because He was influenced by the prevailing view of the primitive, pre-scientific Jewish community of His age. And in His human nature, He had no possible way of knowing that the current view of Scripture that was popular in His day was erroneous. And they are also quick to point out that if you argue that Jesus was omniscient in His human nature and that He knew everything, that that would be a Christological heresy, because the Christology of the church historically teaches that omniscience belongs to the divine nature and not to the human nature. And touching His human nature, there were things manifestly that Jesus did not know.

When pressed about the day and the hour of His return, for example, He says to His disciples that this day has not been revealed, that the angels don't know it, and even the Son doesn't know it, but only the Father knows it. So, Jesus Himself gave a limit to His own knowledge. And so, that He gave us a false view of Scripture is excusable because He had no way of knowing. In response to that, orthodox scholars would say, wait a minute, it's not necessary for Jesus to be omniscient, to be our Redeemer. And we grant that touching His human nature, He did not have the attribute of omniscience.

Obviously, the divine nature did, but the human nature didn't. But the broader issue, the deeper issue here, is the sinlessness of Christ. Because if Christ committed one sin, He would be disqualified as our Savior.

He couldn't make an atonement for His own sin, let alone for ours. And so, then the question becomes, would it be sinful for a teacher who claims to teach nothing except that which He has received from God, to teach an error? Except that which He has received from God, to teach an error. Would it be a sin for a person, a prophet, for example, to come on the scene and say, I say nothing of my own authority, but only on that which is based on the authority of my Father who sent me, and then teach error? What would you think of a professor who walked into the classroom and said, today I'm not just going to proclaim for you the truth, but I am the truth, and then you caught me in a blatant error? The Scriptures have an ethic about teaching, that we not have many become teachers, for with teaching comes the greater judgment. Now, I have a moral responsibility as a teacher not to bluff or to lie to my students. If my students ask me a question, and I don't know the answer to that question, I am obliged to say, I don't know the answer to that question.

Or if my thinking is tentative on a matter, I should say to them, look, maybe it's this, maybe it's that. I'm leaning in this direction, because the teacher has so much power of influencing the thinking of those who are studying at His feet. And nobody had greater influence and authority as a teacher in all of human history than Jesus of Nazareth. And if He's telling people that Moses wrote of Him and that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and the Word cannot be broken, and the Scripture is true, and He's wrong, He's culpable for that, because He doesn't have to be omniscient to be responsible to put a limit to His own certainty where that limit actually falls. And so, I would say that if Jesus were wrong about the teaching that He gives to us about such a crucial matter as the authority of the Bible itself, that I can't imagine anybody taking Him seriously about everything else He taught. Now, by Jesus' own pedagogy, He rebuked the Pharisees for straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel, and said, if you cannot believe Me concerning earthly things, how can you believe Me concerning heavenly things? And yet we now have a whole generation of theologians who say Jesus was wrong about earthly things, the matter of the transmission of the Old Testament and so on, but He's still eminently trustworthy with respect to heavenly things. We have a whole generation of theologians who have strained out the gnat and swallowed one gnat of a camel by attacking the accuracy and trustworthiness of the very Lord of the church. We say that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice because we believe that it is the rule that has been delegated by the only Lord of the church whose rule it is. And when we have a generation of Christians say, I believe in the authority of Jesus but not in the authority of Jesus with respect to the authority of the Bible, that's where I get off the boat. So, I think it's significant that we start not in a circle assuming the authority of the Bible, but if the Bible teaches us, for example, that Jesus was a good man even, or if the Bible can give us enough just basic reliable historical information that we can say it's basically reliable, reliable enough to come to the conclusion that Jesus was a prophet. And then we learn that this Jesus, and we've met by reliable information, tells us that that source of information that we've only deemed to be basically reliable up to this point tells us that it's more than basically reliable. Then we have moved not in a circle but progressively from a basic starting point of historical openness to criticism, to historical reliability, to historical knowledge of the teaching of Jesus, to the teaching of Jesus who tells us that that source is not just basically reliable but absolutely reliable because it is nothing less than the Word of God.

And if the Word of God, it cannot fail. If it cannot err, it does not err. Now, the Council on Biblical Inerrancy has done much to study the nuances of the meaning of that term inerrancy. We have a booklet at Ligonier where I give a commentary on the articles of affirmation and denial from the Chicago Summit several years ago explaining in detail the doctrine of inerrancy, and you can get that by contacting Ligonier.

But for now, I'm going to just simply say that inerrancy is the lesser term, and it follows resistlessly from the concept of infallibility. If something cannot err, then manifestly it does not err. And it does not err with respect to truth. All the Bible has to be to pass the test of criticism is absolutely consistent with its own claims, with the claims of Jesus, and that means with respect to the New Testament concept of truth, aletheia. And if we define truth the way the New Testament does, then I think there is no reason under the sun for people to dispute the utter inerrancy of the Bible. Psalm 1830 says that every word of the Lord proves to be true.

And because it's incapable of teaching error, Scripture must be and actually is free from error. The doctrine of biblical inerrancy, this is foundational to the Christian faith, and I think you can see why Dr. Sproul was so passionate about this doctrine. Thank you for joining us for Renewing Your Mind on this Saturday, and each weekend we're making our way through Dr. Sproul's overview of systematic theology. It's a series called Foundations. We've concentrated on our understanding of the Bible this week, but this series contains so much more. In fact, there are more than 22 hours of teaching on eight DVDs.

R.C. examines what the Bible says about man, sin, salvation, miracles, the church, and the end times, to name just a few of the doctrines that he covers. And when you give a donation of any amount today, we would like to send you this series.

You can find us online at Here at Ligonier Ministries, our desire is to help bridge the gap between Sunday school and seminary, and one way we do that is through Ligonier Connect. There are more than 80 interactive video courses to help you grow in your knowledge of God's Word, and Dr. Sproul's series Foundations is one of those courses. You can study with friends or dive in at your own pace from your computer or tablet. Learn more at Next week, Dr. Sproul helps us understand where the Bible came from. How do we know that the 66 books in the Bible are actually inspired by God? I hope you'll join us for that lesson next week, here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-03 03:27:25 / 2022-12-03 03:35:51 / 8

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