On The Protestant Doctrine of Inspiration

"That God cannot lie, is no advantage to your argument, because it is no proof that priests cannot, or that the Bible cannot." Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine – God cannot lie

We err when we assume inspiration requires inerrancy, as though the doctrine of Sacred Scriptures would be unreliable if the text were not inerrant. When Protestants ascribe inerrancy (in its modern theological formulation and understanding) to Sacred Scripture, they are subscribing to a view of inspiration that goes beyond what Sacred Scripture says about itself. Moreover, the concept of inerrancy is not derived from Sacred Scripture, but is a theological presupposition imposed upon the Word of God. As such, it is a divinization of the text and a desacrilization of the doctrine. Practically speaking, the divinization of the text forces us to spend time and energy focusing on side issues (like proving that the Bible is scientifically accurate) instead of focusing on Jesus Christ. And what did Jesus say about himself? “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. (John 14:6) The Sacred Scriptures are not the way, but the means through which the way is revealed to us. Christ alone is the divine self-expression of the Father; the text is the guidepost pointing us to Christ, the medium through which the Holy Spirit works to bring us to faith in Christ. For this purpose the Sacred Scriptures were given to us as the inspired revelation of God the Word — to make us wise unto salvation, and are therefore profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.

Unfortunately, many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals assume inspiration requires inerrancy. If you extract the material regarding inerrancy from their statements, what is left is an entirely inadequate description of inspiration. As an example, the following is the statement of Moody Bible Institute, modified to remove the references to (and consequences of) inerrancy.

The Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments, is a divine revelation. Revelation is God’s making Himself known to men. God has revealed himself in a limited way in creation. But the Bible is a form of special revelation. The Bible is “special” revelation in the sense that it goes beyond what may be known about God through nature. It is divine in origin, since in the Bible God makes known things which otherwise could never be known.


The Bible is unique because it is God’s revelation recorded in human language. According to II Timothy 3:16–17 the words of Scripture are “God breathed” or inspired. This implies that God is the source or origin of what is recorded in Scripture. God, through the Holy Spirit, used human authors and human language to make himself known to men.[1]

There is nothing in this altered statement about the Scriptures making us wise unto salvation, no unpacking of the statement that Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness, nothing about the manner in which Scripture brings us to perfection, or how by means of the Scripture we are thoroughly furnished unto good works (2 Tim 3:15-16). There is no mention of how the special revelation of the ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, and incomprehensible God can be contained within the limits of human language, and no discussion of how the infinite God can be circumscribed by the finite mind. In other words, the doctrinal statement of Moody Bible Institute asserts inerrancy rather than inspiration.

I have tried this experiment with a variety of doctrinal statements, and have come up short every time. This leads me to conclude that the 20th century Evangelical Protestant Church have replaced inspiration with inerrancy (and its corollary, infallibility). In doing so, they began to argue over trivial issues (like science vs. religion) that have nothing to do with the Christ who is revealed in the Scriptures. It is past time to remove the false idol of inerrancy from the temple of our hearts.


Bibliography

Moody Bible Institute. (n.d.). The Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Bible. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from Moody Bible Institute: http://www.moodyministries.net/crp_MainPage.aspx?id=600


Endnotes

[1] (Moody Bible Institute n.d.)