Someone asks: “I hear a lot about the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture, and some people get very emotional about the word. Do all faithful Bible scholars believe that the Bible is ‘inerrant’? If I say I believe that it is, just what am I actually saying?”
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I have respected the late British commentator F. F. Bruce as a sound New Testament scholar as long as I can remember. I corresponded with him over a number of years, and I was one of many “little people” who were recipients of his gracious beneficence in the form of forewords he contributed to two of my books. In the mid-1970’s, I was privileged to visit with Professor Bruce in person when I transported him from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the 25th Annual Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, where he was the featured speaker. I thought it ironic that Professor Bruce could not have joined the ETS, because its creedal statement (which I regularly sign) requires a commitment to “inerrancy,” a term in the American debate fraught with connotations with which he was simply not comfortable.
About a decade later, I heard author-theologian James I. Packer present a lecture on biblical authority at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church here in Houston. To my surprise, the word “inerrancy” did not pass his lips even once during the entire lecture. In the question session which followed, someone asked if he believed in the concept. He smiled and confessed that he had intentionally avoided the word during his speech because of its baggage.
“I do believe in the inerrancy of Scripture,” said Dr. Packer (and this is nearly a direct quote), “if you will let me define the term. For me, to say that Scripture is ‘inerrant’ means that, when correctly understood, whatever the biblical authors intended to communicate is ultimately true.” I personally am quite comfortable using the word “inerrancy,” if we may take Dr. Packer’s definition stated above. At the same time, I am very respectful of those who, like the late Professor Bruce, regard Scripture as authoritative but feel uneasy with this nonbiblical word.
I might be wrong (not being personally inerrant), but It seems to me on this topic, as on most others, that believers in Jesus who are committed to the authority of Scripture can either find common ground on which to unite — or they can find a basis on which to differ. Which course they choose usually depends on something other than the actual issue at hand. Others may do as they please, but I want to help bring God’s people together rather than helping keep them apart. Grace be with all who love the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:24).