Historical Theology: Authority and Inerrancy of Scripture

September 13, 2011 — Leave a comment


[This post is part of the Historical Theology series]

Like I pointed out in the last post, each chapter in Allison’s Historical Theology follows the same pattern. Because of this, I’m going to refrain in future posts from giving you a play by play. You can read the book if that is what you’re interested in. What I’ll offer instead is either some quotes or ideas that stick out to me in each section.

In dealing with the authority of Scripture, Allison shows that the early church’s understanding of that doctrine flowed from their understanding of the doctrine of God. The syllogism may look something like this:

  • God is sovereign and therefore the ultimate authority
  • The Bible is God’s Word (doctrine of inspiration)
  • The Bible therefore conveys the authority of its Author

For the most part, evangelicals retain this understanding of biblical authority. Allison details a few deviants, but he ends up affirming the Chicago Statement himself, and argues that this represents the majority view as well over the course of church history.

Turning to inerrancy, Allison presents an interesting case. Here’s how the chapter opens:

The church has historically acknowledged that Scripture in its original manuscripts and properly interpreted is completely true and without any error in everything that it affirms, whether that has to do with doctrine, moral conduct, or matters of history, cosmology, geography, and the like (p. 99).

Right off, I can think of people who would disagree with this position being both (a) correct, and (b) early. While Allison does a great job of demonstrating the antiquity of this view, he does not dig too far into the contemporary debate. He does however observe that there is a debate and that not everyone agrees that the above definition is either the correct way to define inerrancy, or even if it was, the correct way to understand Scripture.

Adapted from Paul Feinberg, Allison offers 6 qualifiers to the above view:

  1. Inerrancy does not demand strict adherence to the rules of grammar
  2. Inerrancy does not exclude the use either of figures of speech or of a given literary genre
  3. Inerrancy does not demand historical or semantic precision
  4. Inerrancy does not demand the technical language of modern science
  5. Inerrancy does not require verbal exactness in the citation of the Old Testament by the New
  6. Inerrancy does not demand that the Logia Jesu (words of Jesus) contain the ipsissima verba of Jesus (exact quotes), only the ipsissima vox (essence of what was said).

For the most part, I think these qualifications help save the above definition, but there is certainly room for additional nuances. I’ve waded into fairly deep waters on this issue when I was in Hebrew 3 and 4, yet I found the treatment here to adequately cover the historical issues. For a more robust explanation of inerrancy itself in light of modern theology, I would highly recommend John Frame’s The Doctrine of The Word of God.

All in all, these are a couple of strong chapters in Allison, and I’m looking forward to reading onward.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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