JI Packer on the Inerrancy of Scripture
From chapter 4 of Dr. JI Packer’s “Truth and Power: The Approach to Biblical Application”
First, why does biblical trustworthiness, whether we call it infallibility or inerrancy, matter? Why should it be thought important to fight for the total truth of the Bible? Some, of course, do not think it important, either because this is a belief they do not share or because they do not regard others’ disbelief of inerrancy as either dishonoring God or disadvantaging the disbelievers. I, however, am one of those who think this battle very important, and this is why: biblical veracity and biblical authority are bound up together. Only truth can have final authority to determine belief and behavior, and Scripture cannot have such authority further than it is true. A factually and theologically untrustworthy Bible could still impress us as a presentation of religious experience and expertise, but clearly, if we cannot affirm its total truthfulness, we cannot claim that it is all God’s testimony and teaching, given to control our convictions and conduct.
Here is a major issue for decision. There is really no disputing that Jesus Christ and his apostles, the founders of Christianity, held and taught that the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) were God’s witness to himself in the form of human witness to him. There is no disputing that Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, viewed these Scriptures as his Father’s Word (see how he quotes a narrative comment as the Creator’s utterance in Mt 19:5, citing Gen 2:24); or that he quoted Scripture to repel Satan (Mt 4:3-11); or that he claimed to be fulfilling both the law and the prophets (Mt 5:17); or that he ministered as a rabbi, that is, a Bible teacher, explaining the meaning of texts of which the divine truth and authority were not in doubt (Mt 12:1-14; 22:23-40; and so on); or that he finally went to Jerusalem to be killed and, as he believed, to be raised to life again because this was the way Scripture said God’s Messiah must go (Mt 26:24, 52-56; Lk 18:31-33; 22:37; compare 24: 25-27, 44-47). Nor is there really any disputing (despite skeptical poses struck by some scholars) that “God raised him from the dead” (Acts 13:30), thereby vindicating all he had said and done as right — including the way he had understood, taught and obeyed the Scriptures. So, too, it is clear that the apostles, like their Lord, saw the Scriptures as the God-given verbal embodiment of teaching from the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:25; 28:25; 2 Tim 3:16-17; Heb 3:7; 10:15); and that they claimed, not merely that particular predictions were fulfilled in Christ (compare Acts 3:22-24), but that all the Jewish Scriptures were written for Christians (compare Rom 15:4; 16:26; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Cor 3:6-16; 1 Pet 1:10-12; 2 Pet 3:16); and that they took over the Old Testament (Septuagint version) for liturgical and homiletical use in the churches alongside their own teaching. For it is also clear that the apostles understood inspiration as the relationship whereby God speaks and teaches in and through human instruction that is given, explicitly or implicitly, in his name. They also saw their own teaching and writing as inspired in just the same sense in which the Old Testament was inspired (compare 1 Cor 2:12; 14:37; 1 Jn 4:6; and so on), so that the later conjoining of their official writing with the Old Testament to form the two-part Christian Bible was a natural and necessary step. None of this is open to serious doubt.
So the decision facing Christians today is simply this: Will we take our lead at this point from Jesus and the apostles? Will we let ourselves be guided by a Bible received as inspired and therefore wholly true (for God is not the author of untruths), or will we strike out, against our Lord and his most authoritative representatives, on a line of our own? If we do, we have already resolved in principle to be led not by the Bible as given but by the Bible as we edit and reduce it. We are then likely to be found before long scaling down its mysteries (for example, incarnation and atonement) and relativizing its absolutes (for example, in sexual ethics) in the light of our own divergent ideas.
And it that case Psalm 119 will stand as an everlasting rebuke to us, for instead of doubting and discounting some things in his Bible, the psalmist prayed for understanding so that he might live by God’s law. (Law here means not just commands but all authoritative instruction that bears on living.) This is the path of true reverence, true discipleship and true enrichment. But once we entertain the needless and unproved, indeed unprovable notion that Scripture cannot be fully trusted, that path is partly closed to us. Therefore it is important to maintain inerrancy and to counter denials of it, for only so can we keep open the path of consistent submission to biblical authority and consistently concentrate on the true problem, that of gaining understanding without being entangled in the false question of how much of Scripture should we disbelieve…more
Amen. The veracity of scripture is inextricably tied to its authority. It is a terrible shame that so many orthodox Anglican scholars in the United States have fallen away from this critically important truth. Fortunately, there are now Anglican studies programs in evangelical and reformed schools and universities that officially embrace inerrancy.
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