“It’s true because the Bible says so.” That’s how most evangelical Christians would answer our question. For them, the absolute reliability of the Bible is central to the faith; everything else depends on it.
In this view, the Bible is not just a book: it is God speaking to man. Every word on every page has been spoken by God. In theological terms, the Bible is said to be wholly inspired by God. This is known as the doctrine of “plenary verbal inspiration”.
A logical consequence of plenary verbal inspiration is that the Bible must be “inerrant”, or free from error. The Bible must be inerrant because God has spoken every word in it—and God never lies, nor is he ever mistaken.
The Bible-based view of the Christian faith is presented in “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”, issued in 1978 by a convention of nearly 300 evangelical leaders. They summarized their position in the following five points:
- God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.
- Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.
- The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
- Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.
- The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
The first four points make it clear that the validity of the Christian faith is entirely dependent on the truth of the Bible. The fifth point leaves some room in the Church for those who hold a lesser view of the Bible, albeit with a stern warning.
While the Chicago Statement does not specify the nature of the loss suffered by those who doubt the inerrancy of the Bible, one prominent signatory to the Statement left no doubt of his opinion in the matter. Francis Schaeffer, in his book “The Great Evangelical Disaster” , asserts that a claim to Christian faith is necessarily tied to a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. He says (on page 45) that a faith not founded on the inerrant Scripture is not Christianity, but an “existential religion”.
For Schaeffer, Christianity is based on propositions authored by the unchangeable God, with the Bible being the collection of those propositions. Any other basis leaves the believer subject to the whims of changeable mankind. Thus he says,
“Unless the Bible is without error, not only when it speaks of salvation matters, but also when it speaks of history and the cosmos, we have no foundation for answering questions concerning the existence of the universe and its form and the uniqueness of man. Nor do we have any moral absolutes, or certainty of salvation, and the next generation of Christians will have nothing on which to stand.”
As Schaeffer sees it, a Christian who doubts the inerrancy of the Bible is not a Christian at all. Whether or not one accepts Schaeffer’s conclusions, it is clear that the evangelical community considers the Bible-doubter to be at risk.
The Bible-believer, on the other hand, is completely secure, and thoroughly equipped. He needs to go no farther than his bookshelf to discover everything necessary for life and worship, provided that he goes to the Scripture with the right attitude.
But if the Bible-believer is to have objective corroboration of his faith, he must go beyond the text, and test the claim of Biblical inerrancy.