Since we have been discussing the doctrine of Scripture on this blog for the past few days (and I intend to continue doing so into next week, maybe further) I thought it would be interesting to compare the doctrinal statements on Scripture from various evangelical academic institutions. Most evangelicals use language like “inerrant,” “infallible,” “true in all it affirms,” “trustworthy,” and “authoritative” to describe Scripture.
What are the differences?
Well, I decided I would display the positions of some schools that I know affirm the stricter term “inerrancy” followed by some schools that affirms something like “infallibility” or “true in all it affirms” in a sense that does not mean “inerrant.” Then I would place several other institutions together so that we can discuss whether or not the differences are obvious at face value.
Dallas Theological Seminary:
We believe that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” by which we understand the whole Bible is inspired in the sense that holy men of God “were moved by the Holy Spirit” to write the very words of Scripture. We believe that this divine inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the writings—historical, poetical, doctrinal, and prophetical—as appeared in the original manuscripts. We believe that the whole Bible in the originals is therefore without error. We believe that all the Scriptures center about the Lord Jesus Christ in His person and work in His first and second coming, and hence that no portion, even of the Old Testament, is properly read, or understood, until it leads to Him. We also believe that all the Scriptures were designed for our practical instruction.
Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary:
The sixty-six canonical books of the Bible as originally written were inspired of God, hence free from error. They constitute the only infallible guide in faith and practice.
Reformed Theological Seminary:
All Scripture is self-attesting and, being truth, requires the human mind wholeheartedly to subject itself in all its activities to the authority of Scripture complete as the Word of God, standing written in the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible, all therein being verbally inspired by Almighty God and therefore without error.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
We believe that the Bible is the final standard of faith and practice for the believer in Jesus Christ and for his church. While recognizing the historical, interpretive and guiding value of creeds and statements of faith made throughout the history of the Church, we affirm the Bible alone as the infallible and final authority.
We believe that God has revealed himself and his truth by both general and special revelation. General revelation displays his existence, power, providence, moral standard, goodness and glory; special revelation manifests his triune nature and his program of redemption through Messiah for humanity. This special revelation has been given in various ways, preeminently in the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and in the inscripturated Word of God, the Bible. We affirm that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the written Word of God given by the Holy Spirit and are the complete and final canonical revelation of God for this age.
These books were written by a process of dual authorship in which the Holy Spirit so superintended the human authors that, through their individual personalities and styles, they composed and recorded God’s Word without error in the autographs. These books, constituting the written Word of God, convey objective truth and are the believer’s only infallible rule of faith and practice.
The meaning of Scripture lies in the canonical text and is that which God intended to convey through the human authors. An interpreter discovers this meaning through careful application of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation of a text in its context, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and in the community of Christ. The Holy Spirit illumines the text, enabling the reader to embrace that which God has communicated and to see the glory of Christ in the Word of God.
We could include a much longer list of schools including Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Moody Seminary, Wheaton College, and others.
Not inerrancy affirming:
Asbury Theological Seminary:
In the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both the Old and New Testaments, the only written Word of God, without error in all it affirms. The Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Holy Spirit preserves God’s Word in the church today and by it speaks God’s truth to peoples of every age.
Fuller Theological Seminary:
God, who discloses himself to humankind through his creation, has savingly spoken in the words and events of redemptive history. This history is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, who is made known to us by the Holy Spirit in sacred Scripture.
Scripture is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure. All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They are to be interpreted according to their context and purpose and in reverent obedience to the Lord who speaks through them in living power.
George Fox Evangelical Seminary:
We believe that God inspired the Bible and has given it to us as the uniquely authoritative, written guide for Christian living and thinking. As illumined by the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are true and reliable. They point us to God, guide our lives, and nurture us toward spiritual maturity.
George W. Truett Theological Seminary:
We believe the scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament are inspired, authoritative, written Word of God given to teach us what to believe and how to live.
We have no creed but the Bible, but we accept and teach consistently with what traditional Baptists have generally believed through the years.
I think schools like Acadia Divinity College and Northpark Theological Seminary avoid “inerrancy” but I could not find their statement on the matter. I am pretty sure Asbury does not affirm inerrancy, but the use of the statement “without error” sounds like inerrancy save the caveat “…in all it affirms.” It could be argued that Scripture is scientifically or historically wrong, but that it didn’t intent to “affirm” those points as much as the “theological” point, e.g. Genesis 1-11.
Grand Rapids Theological Seminary:
We believe that God has revealed himself in the sixty-six canonical books of Scripture, which are verbally inspired, truth without error, and serve as our final authority in faith and life. They lead us to Jesus Christ, who shows us the Father, and rightly interpreted, they enable us to understand God’s revelation in humanity, nature, and history.
John Leland Center for Theological Studies:
We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s eternal son, fully God and fully human, who lived, suffered, died, and was raised from death to life and is seated at the right hand of God as our advocate with the Father. Those who receive God’s gracious gift of salvation in Christ through repentance and faith find assurance of new life in Him.
Lincoln Christian University Seminary:
…the Old and New Testament Scriptures, is the uniquely inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:14-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21). The Bible is the rule of faith and practice for Christians. We affirm that Scripture is the authoritative revelation from God by which we know God’s will and Christ’s authority. We seek to assert what the Scriptures clearly assert and allow freedom in other cases. We seek to understand divine intent, through authorial intent, and we seek to apply its teaching to the contemporary church and culture.
The divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and its consequent entire trustworthiness and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
Regent University School of Divinity:
The Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible and authoritative source of Christian doctrine and precept.
Many evangelical liberal arts schools may be placed in this gray area. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between an inerrancy affirming institution and one with a different view. At other times it is a bit more obvious.
What are some of the practical, actual differences between a Dallas Theological Seminary and a Fuller Theological Seminary or a between a Western Seminary and a George Fox Evangelical Seminary?
It’s great to see the statements side by side, since they provide a much better context for how a doctrine of Scripture bears out at various schools. It seems that the one of biggest difference between some schools affirming inerrancy and those who do not, or are vague, is that the schools that affirm inerrancy also include the caveat “in the autographs,” “original documents,” or originally.
Does that caveat address the underlying issue of inerrancy, namely, the Bibles that we use today? That’s always felt like the main difference to me. Recognizing apparent errors in current manuscripts would void the claim of inerrancy, so it seems for some, but does claiming inerrancy in the autographs means the same thing? Those are some of the thoughts that I’ve always wrestled with in regards to the use of the term ‘inerrancy.’
That is a question that needs to be seriously explored. It raises important concerns that I’ve seen many brush off an irrelevant, but that I think matter. If we do not have the autographs, if the autographs are “recovered” in probability alone, and if some of these documents like the Gospel of John and maybe II Corinthians had a multi-layered history of composition, what are we even saying by appealing to the autographs?
Sorry I will be a little off topic here, though specifically assessing inerrancy. Many particular statements on inerrancy are usually based in the idea of ‘the originals’. It’s a qualifier that allows our copies and translations today to be sufficiently true and having no major differences because of a few scribal errors/edits, but it’s those originals that are THE masterpiece, if you will.
But the problem with the whole inerrancy of the originals, of the autographs, is that it seems a view that believes the Scripture kind of came to us in what I might term as ‘whole sittings’. Not so much that Genesis or Samuel or Kings or Acts were written all in one flow, all at once. But they were at least written in a very flowing manner, all connected together nice and neatly. For example, there is the kind of idea amongst many evangelicals that Moses penned Genesis while on Mt. Sinai for those 40 days. There the revelation came and, boom, we have the original of Genesis, the inerrant original given to the original Hebrew community back around 1400BC. But I think this is a misnomer of how the Scripture actually came to us and we realise this when we engage with at least some introductory critical scholarship. Critical scholarship, as Sparks reminds us, does not have to be inherently evil, but can be helpful. And critical scholarship shows that writings like the Pentateuch developed over quite some time, with its final form coming probably in the post-exilic period. Same for writings like Isaiah and Daniel. Things were more organically flowing in the midst of the Hebrew-Jewish community, rather than the idea of boom-here-is Genesis or boom-here-is-Isaiah.
So, my question would be – When did the original arrive? 14th century BC, 10th century BC, 6th century BC, 2nd century BC, etc? And when we recognise edits and updates, if not also reshaping in latter times, we have to ask, again – When did the original finally arrive completed? Not to mention – Why did God providentially allow edits and updates?
It’s like someone arguing for KJV only. I have to ask – Which version? 1611 or 1760 or late 1800’s, etc. I believe it is a wrong approach with this ‘original autograph’ concept. I think we can get over-excited with this idea of inerrancy of the originals when history (and I would argue God and the Scripture writers themselves) do not really give us the ‘originals’ as many suspect. If interested, I share more here.
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