Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Inerrancy and the 2LBCF (1689)

Bob Gonzales of the Reformed Baptist Seminary recently wrote a post [update 2/22/14:  the link to the original post by Bob Gonzales has been broken and I could not find it on the archive of his current blog; thus, readers will not have access to the post to which this article responds]  suggesting that chapter one in the 2LBCF (1689) might be updated to include a reference to “inerrancy.” Reformed theologian-pastor Richard Barcellos offered several responses in the comments suggesting that the confession should not be altered. RB, in particular, calls attention to the fact that though several WCF affirming pastors championed the inerrancy movement of the 70s (e.g., J. M. Boice) they did not suggest altering their historic confession, the WCF. RB implies we should do the same. That is, affirm inerrancy but not alter the confession.

Here are some thoughts on this debate:

1. I agree with RB that the 2LBCF (1689) should not be altered to include the term “inerrancy,” but differ from him regarding the reason.

2. I believe the confession already affirms the concept of “inerrancy,” when that term is taken to mean an affirmation of the complete and total trustworthiness of the Scriptures and their freedom from error in all matters they address (including in the fields of history and science and not just in doctrinal or spiritual issues). This, in my view, is fully encompassed in the confession’s current use of the term “infallibility.”

3. In my view, however, the confession does not affirm “inerrancy” in the modern sense in which it is defined by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This statement, following the lead of B. B. Warfield, affirms the inerrancy of the original autographs of Scripture and does not address the providential preservation of the apographs, as in the confession. For a critique of Warfield’s construal of the inerrant autographs, see Theodore P. Letis’ The Ecclesiastical Text (The Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies, 1997). For a guide to how the framers of the WCF and the 2LBCF likely saw the nature of Scripture, see John Owen’s “Of the Divine Original of the Scripture” and “Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text” in vol. 16 of his Collected Works.

4. In addition, one might well argue that the neo-evangelical emphasis on the inerrancy of the original autographs, a la the Chicago Statement, has been a failure. For illustrations of this, see wrangling in recent years in the scholarly Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), which uses “inerrancy” as a litmus test for membership, over Clark Pinnock and Openness Theology (i.e., Pinnock claimed to affirm “inerrancy” while denying an orthodox doctrine of God and survived an attempt to remove him from ETS membership). Along these lines, Francis Beckwith was elected to the Presidency of ETS but had to abdicate after he announced he had decided to convert to Roman Catholicism. In his memoir, he stated, “I did not believe that the ETS doctrinal statement was inconsistent with my Catholic beliefs” (Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic [Brazos Press, 2009]: p. 118). We might add a note here about the more recent row over Peter Enns of Westiminster Seminary who could belong to ETS and affirm its inerrancy statement while, at the same time, denying the historical reliability of the OT (see Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the OT [Baker Academic, 2005] and the response by Greg Beale in The Erosion of Innerancy in Evangelicalism [Crossway, 2008]). Given the failure of “innerancy” to safeguard orthodoxy in evangelicalism (as illustrated by the ETS), why should this term be added to a reformed confession that is more than adequate as it is?



Hugh McCann said...

Is inerrancy a thing of the past?


Hugh McCann said...

Pastor Jeff,
Do you mean litmus test, and not "limit test"?

Hugh McCann said...

Pastor Jeff,
Is this the right link?

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...



1. I took a brief look at some of the material on the teachingword.org site. Am I right in saying that the site is dedicated to affirming "inerrancy" in the confessional sense ("infallibility") rather than in the modern evangelical (Chicago Statement) sense?

2. Yes, "litmus" test--corrected.

3. I did the post in 2011 but the link to the original article is broken. As I have now noted in the corrected article, I went to RB's blog but could not find this article in his archives. Either it is somewhere else or he deleted it. If anyone finds it please let me know and I'll update the link accordingly. The article you cite is from 2013, but the one I was responding to was from 2011.


Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


In my comment, I should have said "RG's blog" (i.e., Robert Gonzales blog) rather than "RB's blog."

Hugh McCann said...

Thanks Pastor Jeff.

Our friend recently linked your piece on his blof, SovereignLogos.

Replies to responses:
1. Yes. His series reveals exactly that.
2. Great. You're welcome.
3. OK.
RB/ RG: Aha!

Hugh McCann said...

1. Yes, his series just that.
2. Great; you're welcome.
3. OK.
RB/RG: Got it. Thanks!

dr. james willingham said...

The problem with confessions and the efforts at preservation of the Faith lies in the failure in the intellectual realm. In '99 our son invited me to preach the first revival for him in the church which had called him earlier that year. During that series of five services, a member of the church gave me two volumes on logic, written by Isaac Watts. I had made mention of the Puritans use of logic in their approach to the Bible, something that is so scriptural that a term for logic could could be transliterated, logical, cf reasonable service in Roms.12:1.

This is not to say that being logical in our approach will alone suffice to grasp all that the Bible says. We actually need what I call a synthetical approach, due to the perspicuity of Scripture as a Puritan called it. In other words, the clarity of the Bible is a problem for us, because we lack depth perception.

The spiritual need, I believe, is the need for the synthetical. The Spirit enables us to gain a perspective on the depth of the clear teachings, their dimensional fathoms. Such approach which begins with our Lord's call for one to use his or her mind and to think and reason through what He is saying and come to an enlightened conclusion and so turn from sin to the Savior and Lord. Metanous, repentance, means to change one's mind based upon reflection. This idea of simply turning does do justice to the biblical teachings, and the writers in the 1700s and even into the 1800s did a better job at interpreting our Lord's command to the sinners they won to Christ.

Anonymous said...

Owen: Given by God free from ways as were capable of giving change or alteration to the least iota or syllable
CSBI: We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration. We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.

Owen: so by his good and merciful providential dispensation, in his love to his word and church, his whole word as first given out by him, is preserved unto us entire in the original languages… “John Owen was a Reformed scholastic theologian…” https://credomag.com/article/john-owen/
CSBI: We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church's faith throughout its history.We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by Scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.

Owen: where, shining in its own beauty and lustre (as also in all translations, so far as they faithfully represent the originals) it manifests and evidences unto the consciences of men, without other foreign help or assistance, its divine original and authority.
CSBI: We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God's written Word. We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.

Owen’s trusted the Bible’s infallibility not for scientific reasons, but for theological ones.
CSBI: We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.