In 1978 theologian Kenneth S. Kantzer, then editor ofCHRISTIANITY TODAY, joined forces with other evangelical leaders in the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy to hold the first inerrancy “summit” and issue the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Last year, with a sense of “mission accomplished,” Kantzer participated in the council’s final congress and dissolution.

But Kantzer’s lifetime of prayerful reflection on the nature of Scripture is not finished. Here, condensed from the forthcoming CHRISTIANITY TODAY book Tough Questions Christians Ask, are his thoughts on the importance of believing in a trustworthy Scripture.

Protestants of all major groups have generally agreed in their doctrine of biblical authority. Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans, Wesleyans, and charismatics have historically stood for the complete truth of the Bible as God’s inerrant Word to guide human beings. And the Roman and Greek Orthodox traditions have stood with evangelicals in defending the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

Of course, the doctrine of the infallible authority of Holy Scripture has not been without opposition. But until modern times that opposition largely came from outside the organized church. In the last century, however, it welled up within the structures of church itself. Today it is safe to say that belief in the infallibility of the Bible is a view held only by a minority within the nominal church of Christ.

Opponents have argued that holding to biblical infallibility is a dangerous view because it suggests that one error found in Scripture would destroy the whole edifice of Christian faith. This is no more true than that one error in a modern text on U.S. history would destroy our confidence in the existence of the United States of America.

The proof of an error in Scripture would not destroy belief in the deity of Christ or the gospel or the general truth of Christian faith. However, it would destroy our confidence that the Bible is a completely trustworthy authority and guide to the teaching of Christ and thus would be a great loss to the Christian church.

We could no longer build our theology on the teaching of the whole of the Bible, but would have to develop a new method for building theology. And as a result, we would undoubtedly have a new theology.

A more significant charge is that there are, as a matter of fact, errors in the Bible. But this is not easy to prove. Those who have sought to establish errors in the Bible have generally not been able to turn to unquestioned teachings of modern science or facts from history that contradict the biblical teaching. Instead, they have turned to those puzzling passages where Scripture seems to give significantly different accounts of the same events, such as the apparent discrepancies between Kings and Chronicles, or the four Gospels.

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Such apparent discrepancies, however, are not newly discovered problems for the church. They were clearly known and understood by the church when it formulated its doctrine of an infallible Scripture. In the ancient church, Jerome and Augustine discussed them at length, and, in fact, they remain in many cases as unsolved problems even to this day. They are, it is important to note, just what one would expect to find in an inerrant book written over many cultures, covering thousands of years, involving different types and personalities of authors writing independently about many diverse events.

A chapter from my own experience taught me how widely differing accounts could all be true: Some time ago the mother of a dear friend of ours was killed. We first learned of her death through a trusted mutual friend who reported that our friend’s mother had been standing on the street corner waiting for a bus, had been hit by another bus passing by, was fatally injured, and died a few minutes later. Shortly thereafter, we learned from the grandson of the dead woman that she had been involved in a collision, was thrown from the car in which she was riding, and was killed instantly. The boy was quite certain of his facts, relayed them clearly, and stated that he had secured his information directly from his mother—the daughter of the woman who had been killed. No further information was forthcoming from either source.

Now which would you believe? We trusted both friends, but we certainly couldn’t get the data together. Much later, we were able to seat the mother and grandson in our living room. There we probed for a harmonization. We learned that the grandmother had been waiting for a bus, was hit by another bus, and was critically injured. She had been picked up by a passing car and dashed to the hospital, but in the haste, the car in which she was being transported to the hospital collided with another car. She was thrown from the car and died instantly.

This story from my own experience presents no greater difficulty than that of any recorded in the Gospels—not even excepting the two divergent accounts of the death of Judas.

Such coincidences occur repeatedly. The only significant difference between this story and the accounts of the four evangelists is the fact that we cannot cross-examine the gospel witnesses. We live 2,000 years too late. We must treat both Matthew and Luke as friends, trusting what they say even when we cannot explain exactly how their divergent accounts are to be harmonized. It is unreasonable to refuse to believe two reliable witnesses simply because we cannot completely harmonize all they say.

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By the end of my doctoral training, I had cultivated a freight-car load of unsolved problems. I was confident they could be solved, but I was equally confident that I did not know how to harmonize them. In such cases, it is important that we do not sweep a problem under the rug and permanently out of sight. Rather, we should bring it out from time to time and seek to solve it, always with the recognition that it is reasonable to place our confidence in the complete truth of Scripture. Across the years, most of the items in my freight car of unsolved problems have been brought out and solutions have been found. But at the same time, I must confess that I now have a new freight car, in which I store a new and different set of problems. I expect this process to continue until I depart this life.

The apostle Paul speaks of the biblical writings as theopneustos, or “God-breathed.” And sometimes, in order to emphasize God’s intimate involvement with the words of Scripture, evangelicals use a phrase such as “verbal inspiration.”

Unfortunately, this has often been misunderstood because it seems to imply that God dictated the words so that the human author had no greater part in the production of Scripture than my transcriber has in composing this article.

Although the Reformers occasionally employed the Latin word dictare to describe their understanding of biblical inspiration, they invariably displayed no intention of denying a genuine human authorship of Scripture. They only wanted to show that God guided the entire production of Scripture so that the message and the words used to convey the message were under the sovereign control of God.

Nevertheless, the full and complete humanity of the Bible shouts at us from every page. The biblical writers used their own language. They wrote from the context of their own culture. Their style was their own. Their themes were those dear to their hearts. Moses differs from Isaiah, John from Matthew, Paul from James. No literary genre that is appropriate for good human literature is necessarily inappropriate for the biblical authors. From first to last, the entire Bible is a human book and can only be understood and rightly interpreted as a thoroughly human book.

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The humanity of Scripture is no twentieth-century innovation. It is embedded in the Bible’s own view of itself and has, with rare exceptions, been recognized by the church throughout its history. The words “Moses commanded,” “David wrote,” “Isaiah says,” fall in place side by side with “the word of God says,” “the Holy Spirit says,” “Isaiah by the Spirit says,” with no sense of incompatibility or contradiction. The message and the written medium through which it comes to us are alike ascribed to the human author and to the divine source. So the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 speaks of the revelation that came to the apostolic witnesses directly from God himself (2:6–11). This revelation is precisely what the apostle handed over to the church. And he did so in words that were not merely his own, but rather he communicated that revelation to the church in words that were guided and chosen by the Spirit of God (2:13).

Peter teaches that scriptural prophecy is not merely a private interpretation, but rather the prophets wrote as they were moved and guided by the Spirit of God. For this reason their word is “sure,” and we “do well to pay attention” to it (2 Peter 1:19–21).

Such a thoroughly human yet thoroughly divine view of the Bible seems to present an insoluble problem to some. How can God sovereignly control the writing of the Bible (down to its very words) if the Bible is a truly human book stemming from the mind and heart of the human author.

But this is not a problem from the viewpoint of the God of the Bible. Some people’s god is really not quite big enough to run a peanut stand. But the Bible presents us with a God who is sovereign over all, so that he can work all things together for good to them who love him.

And he can do so without destroying human freedom and human responsibility for the sin which God uses. And if God can use the freedom of a wicked king like Nebuchadnezzar to secure his own ends, surely he can use his own prophet or apostle to convey exactly the message he wishes without destroying the freedom and true human authorship of the biblical writing.

Thus, when God gives us the great love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, he is not limited to verbal dictation in order to say exactly what he wishes to. Rather, he calls Saul from his mother’s womb, rears him in the Roman city of Tarsus, trains him under the great rabbi Gamaliel, meets him on the road to Damascus, sends him to Arabia for orientation, fills the apostle with the Holy Spirit, guides him on his missionary tour, and brings him face to face with the problems of the Gentile church at Corinth—all just at the right moment so that, out of the white heat of his own experience, the apostle freely says exactly what God wishes him to say. That is not a problem of a doctrine of inspiration, it is a problem of some people’s weakened doctrine of God.

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Christians have often pointed to the analogy between the two natures in Christ and the divine and human in Scripture. Jesus Christ is thoroughly and completely human. He is also truly divine—the second Person of the triune God. And just as his full humanity and full deity are preserved in all their integrity in the unity of one single person, Jesus Christ, so the full human authority and responsibility of the scriptural author and the fully divine responsibility for what Scripture says and, therefore, its consequent divine authority, must be preserved in all their integrity.

If the Bible is thoroughly human, does that mean its text should be analyzed like any other ancient document?

No evangelical should object to the historical criticism of the Bible in a legitimate sense of that term. In fact, evangelicals practice sound historical criticism, seeking to investigate author and date, background and culture in which the biblical writings were produced. Only so can we properly understand and learn the truth that God has chosen to reveal in them.

What evangelicals do object to is the purpose for which historical criticism is often used. All too often, the purpose is not to discover what the biblical author was really trying to say, but rather to psychoanalyze the biblical author and to reconstruct a secular historical background of the biblical literature. Evangelicals are interested in these things, too. But their primary motive for engaging in such criticism is to learn precisely what the biblical author says in the confidence that what he said is true and that what he said then is also important for our instruction in godliness and righteousness today.

Evangelicals also object to the method most historical critics employ: They eliminate the miraculous. Most stretch the biblical material over a Procrustean bed of the naturalistic evolution of religion. This is not historical criticism. It is forcing the biblical data into a philosophy of history.

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Christians are supernaturalists. They believe that miracles not only can, but do happen. When acceptance of a miracle provides a more coherent picture of the data, evangelicals accept the miracle without qualm. A quick look at almost any survey of the history of Israel not written by a Christian supernaturalist will quickly show how this presupposition radically distorts one’s view of biblical history, its truth and, ultimately, the divine authority of Holy Scripture.

Evangelicals are open to all views of biblical origins and backgrounds that do not flatly contradict the data of the biblical material itself. If the Book of Deuteronomy claims to set forth a collection of addresses by the lawgiver Moses at the time of the entrance of the Jewish people into the promised land of Palestine, one who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture cannot also hold that the Book of Deuteronomy was centuries later foisted by deception on the people of Israel in order to cement the power of the Levitical priesthood. Likewise, if a pastoral epistle claims explicitly to be written by the apostle Paul, one who holds to inerrancy cannot also believe that this was a piece of literature concocted long after Paul’s death to try to strengthen the authority of second-century bishops.

The primary case for the complete truthfulness of Holy Scripture rests on the familiar passages bearing to us the instruction of our Lord. In Mark 7:6–13 our Lord explicitly repudiates the tradition of his contemporaries and sets the Holy Scripture in sharp contrast to it. He then equates what Moses said with what God says. What Moses commanded is the Word of God.

In similar fashion, our Lord (and following him, his apostles in the New Testament) cites the Old Testament with introductory formulas such as “God says,” or “the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet says,” or “the Spirit by the mouth of David spoke.”

Accordingly, we are not surprised when in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus defends the complete authority of Scripture as opposed to the faulty teaching of his contemporaries based on their misinterpretations of the Old Testament. “Do not think,” he writes, “that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets.” In fact, our Lord objected to the teaching of these leaders on the very grounds that it subverted the law and the prophets. It was his desire to protect the full integrity of the truth of Scripture that led him to reject their traditions. He therefore notes: “Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–19, NIV). And he is not speaking of a prediction of the future, but of a command to be obeyed.

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In Luke 16:17 he adds that no part of the law can be set aside as useless. In John 10:35, again in controversy with Jewish leaders, he states: “The Scripture cannot be broken.” He encourages the disciples “to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” In our Lord’s view, the whole of Scripture is of one piece. It is, in every part of it, the Word of God, which comes to us as divine truth without any error whatsoever.

Words About The Word

The terms infallible and inerrant as applied to Scripture are loosely synonymous. Yet infallible is the stronger term, denoting that the Scripture is incapable of error. Inerrant is a weaker term, noting only that the Scripture does not err. A newspaper can be inerrant, but it is never infallible.

Unfortunately, both terms are occasionally used differently from the way evangelicals have traditionally employed them. Both are limited by qualifying phrases such as “in religious faith and ethical practice,” or “in specifically revelational matters.” There is, of course, no problem in using either term in such a restricted way so long as the qualifying phrases are properly noted.

In recent literature, however, the terms infallible and inerrant (without qualifying phrases) are used by some writers to mean that only parts of the Bible are preserved from error. This leads only to confusion. Without the qualifiers, most people rightly understand the terms to be used in an absolute sense as they have normally been employed in the past.

That these terms have been used in their full sense by the church in the past is really beyond question:

Speaking for the ancient Greek church, Irenaeus wrote: “The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit.”

Augustine, representing the ancient Western church and the medieval church, declared: “As to all other writings … I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion held by them; but … the canonical writings are free from error.”

At the time of the Reformation, Luther did no more than affirm the mainstream of historical Christianity when he wrote that the “Holy Scriptures cannot err.”

Calvin was no less explicit in his references to the Bible as the “pure word of God” and as “the infallible rule of His holy truth.” Indeed, one of his original charges against the heretic Servetus was that Servetus had written a book ascribing a geographical error to Holy Scripture. And from this charge Servetus freed himself only by pointing out that the book under question had a dual authorship and that he was not responsible for the statement indicating an error in the Bible.

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John Wesley, fighting against the incipient rationalism of his day, exclaimed: “If there be one error in Scripture, there might as well be a thousand. It would not be the truth of God.”

And a liberal professor at Harvard University, Kirsopp Lake, stated: “How many were there, for instance, in Christian churches in the eighteenth century who doubted the infallible inspiration of all Scripture? A few, perhaps, but very few.… It is we [liberals] who have departed from the tradition.… The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the church are on the fundamentalist side.”

By Kenneth S. Kantzer.

One can scarcely overestimate the importance of one’s view of the Bible and its inspiration. True, biblical infallibility is not essential to the existence of Christian faith. Faith in Jehovah existed long before there was an Old Testament, and faith in Jesus Christ came into being before any New Testament book was written. No instructed evangelical, moreover, would suggest that belief in an infallible Bible is necessary for either salvation or godly living. C. S. Lewis did not believe in an infallible Bible, and I shall be hanging around heaven a long time before I shall ever get near enough to the throne of God to see Lewis.

Neither is belief in the infallible authority of Scripture a requirement for church membership. The church is a body of those who profess faith in Christ and seek to live under his lordship.

Yet belief in an infallible Bible is essential to a consistent Christianity. An individual may survive without commitment to the complete authority of Scripture and can, no doubt with great inconsistency, pick from the Bible what he chooses to believe. Yet the lordship of Christ requires obedience to the teaching of the prophets and the apostles.

Our Lord accepted Scripture as the guide for his own life and taught his followers to do the same. Belief in the authority of the Bible, therefore, is important for leaders within the church. We build our theology upon the whole Bible under the instruction of Christ. If we turn from his instruction at this point to pick and choose from the Bible what we believe, we shall necessarily have to build a new theology. And it will not be the same theology that the church in the past has derived from Scripture.

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The main reason for accepting the infallible authority of Scripture, however, must once again be reasserted. It is not because of the advantages that we see in holding to an infallible Scripture. Rather, it is because we seek to be obedient to Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church. The real Jesus, the only Jesus for whom we have any evidence whatsoever, believed that the Bible was true and that it was the very Word of God. He commanded his disciples to believe it and obey it. He rebuked those who disregarded it or sought to interpret away its obvious instructions. And he held its teachings to be binding for himself.

The real issue for us today is this: Is Jesus Christ Lord? Only when we have answered this question—the most basic of all questions—are we prepared to answer the further question: Is the Bible the infallible Word of God, the authoritative guide for my life and thought? And our answer to this second question is the way to become obedient and faithful and useful disciples of the Lord Christ.

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