When it comes to the Protestant Christian faith, Protestants have a big stake in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. If Scripture is wrong, even a little wrong, then we are wrong, because we – Protestant Evangelicals – base the foundation of our doctrinal beliefs on what the Bible says. Therefore, it is really important that the Bible be right. Over the next several articles, I want to discuss the reliability of Scripture. But to do that, I must first highlight the common conservative Evangelical positions on the Bible.
Most conservative Evangelical Christians claim the Bible is inerrant, infallible, inspired and authoritative. But those are big words! So what do they mean?
The standard definition of biblical inerrancy is that the Bible is inerrant in its original writings. That is, when Paul, Moses, Peter and others wrote their books, the original documents did not affirm anything that was factually wrong. However, what are we to say about contemporary translations, or even the ancient Greek and Hebrew copies? That is one of the big issues we will address in this series.
The next standard position is that the Bible is infallible. Though quite similar to inerrancy, infallibility generally means that the Bible doesn’t err in things on faith and morals. The normal way that inerrancy and infallibility are distinguished is that infallibility “paints with a broader brush.” In that, inerrancy focuses on even the minute details of numbers and historical places in Scripture; infallibility usually refers to only doctrines and biblical ethics.
The third listed idea is inspiration. Inspiration comes from the Greek word theopneustos, meaning “God-breathed.” Hence, inspiration is a doctrine that means that the Scriptures are given to mankind by God. Now, this doesn’t mean that God wrote the Bible in heaven and then sent it down to us. God inspired the writings of appointed men to communicate the Scriptures to us. Thus, the idea of inspiration is that God led certain men to directly write Scripture. They are written by man, but inspired and led by God.
The last idea is authority. The idea is simple: Since Scripture is from God, it is authoritative. That means, if Scripture tells us to do something, we should do it. If Scripture tells us to believe something, we should believe it. It is God’s Word after all; thus, it carries some weight.
Now through this Bible reliability series, we will discuss whether these four positions on the Bible “hold water.” It is also helpful to note that these positions increase in strength. For example, if one holds to inerrancy, then he or she will also hold to the other three. If one holds to infallibility, then he or she will hold to inspiration and authority, but not necessarily inerrancy. If one holds to inspiration, he or she will claim that Scripture is at least somewhat authoritative, but that person may not claim the Bible is inerrant and infallible. And one can claim the Bible is authoritative, without holding to any of the other positions. Our goal here is to show that all four positions are reasonable and important.
Chad Meeks is associate pastor of youth and discipleship at Cedar Heights Baptist Church in North Little Rock.
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