Limited Inerrancy: Right or Wrong?

An Evaluation of Limited Inerrancy 

There are three very serious errors which lie at the basis of the theory of, “limited inerrancy.” In the first place, they who hold to limited inerrancy fail to approach Scripture in faith. Secondly, they presuppose a human factor responsible for thecontent of Scripture. Thirdly, they separate the historical from revelation. They place a disjunction between sacred history and revelation. 

Now that we have these three errors clearly before us let us take a look at each in some detail. We want especially to elaborate upon the third error which is implied by the theory of limited inerrancy. 

With respect to the first error, what is meant by our assertion that they fail to approach Scripture in faith? The proponents of the theory of “limited inerrancy” refuse to allow Scripture to tell them what kind of book it is. They use the methods of higher criticism in their interpretation of Scripture. They accept without question the conclusions of secular historians and scientists. Simply accepting those conclusions, they reject the testimony of Scripture when Scripture would apparently contradict the claims of the learned. The proponents of limited inerrancy implicitly claim the right to stand as judges of the validity of what the Bible teaches. Instead of laboring in the sphere of faith as children of faith, they set the approach of unbelief. Higher criticism is an unbiblical method. 

In this regard the proponents of limited inerrancy have asked questions calculated to expose the alleged error of the Bible. For example, one asked the question: Which account of the cleansing of the temple by our Lord is the correct one, for the Bible gives two different accounts of the same event? He had deliberately formed his question this way to show that with respect to historical matters the Bible is oftentimes spotted by discrepancies and errors. Another question calculated to do the same is: Which gospel writer is correct, for one records that there was only one angel at the empty tomb and another writer claims there were two? Obviously, one of the gospel writers is mistaken, he assumes. With respect to historical matters the Bible is untrustworthy. 

But we are piously reminded by these proponents of limited inerrancy that really these questions are unimportant and should not be allowed to trouble the Church. For the Bible’s message is the gospel of salvation and these questions which have exposed errors in the Scriptures do not touch upon this infallible message. Surely, the Bible’s testimony concerning the cleansing of the temple and the number of the angels at the empty tomb is troubled by discrepancies and contradictions; but the gospel message is nonetheless reliable and infallible. 

Over against this pious reminder made by the proponents of “limited inerrancy” we must maintain that the Scriptures themselves must tell us what kind of book it is. (II Peter 1:19-21II Tim. 3:16Ps. 119:105, 142,160) Scripture itself must form for us our doctrine of Scripture. This is the attitude of faith, which the proponents of limited inerrancy find so objectionable. But the Church of Christ has always followed this principle. The Scriptures alone must be allowed to determine the content of all our doctrine. It always has. So also our doctrine of Scripture must be determined not by higher critics . . . but by Scripture itself. Let Scripture speak concerning its own nature. That and that only is the attitude of faith; any other approach is principally the unbelief of rationalism or mysticism. 

The second error that lies at the bottom of the theory of limited inerrancy is the claim that the content of Scripture is in part attributable to man, the human factor. Errors are to be expected because the Bible is, as are all other books, a human book. I do not want to discuss this point at any length now because in the preceding discussion we have dealt with it in part. However, not man but God, by the Spirit of Christ, is the sole author of Scripture. To God alone is to be attributed the contents of the Bible. If the truth of divine inspiration means anything, then it means this, that God by His Spirit so illuminated, guided, directed, and empowered the human writers that this operation by the Spirit of Christ precluded the possibility that their intellectual limitations, their forgetfulness, their sinfulness could affect the material content of Scripture in any way. The truth of organic inspiration precludes the possibility of a human factor affecting adversely the contents of Scripture. Sovereignly, God decreed, created, and formed certain specific holy men to be the rational moral or personal instruments through which He has spoken to the Church of all ages. The Spirit of God is not time bound and culturally determined. A Reformed believer must and will defend the complete inerrancy of the Bible by appealing ultimately to the truth of God’s sovereignty. The liberal, the modernist, the Arminian, and those who deny the complete infallibility of Scripture, they all despise the truth of God’s sovereignty over man. God’s sovereignty is such that He is able to speak His infallible Word through weak and imperfect instruments.

But let us examine the third error that underlies the theory of “limited inerrancy.” We said that the third error was that the proponents of this theory separate the historical from revelation. They place a disjunction between sacred history and revelation. For the proponents of “limited inerrancy” the historical eventswhich Scripture records are not so important, at least many of them are not so important, as to necessitate an errorless or infallible record of them. Many of the historical events are minimized or accounted insignificant. That portion of the historical events of Scripture accounted to be insignificant and which therefore can be safely viewed as fallible was at first small, but it grows and grows until only very few of the historical events are accounted as truth or fact. The history of Jonah, of Noah, of Adam and the fall, the miracles of Christ, and the earthquake at the death of Christ are denied as actually happening in time and space exactly as Scripture records these events. For the proponents of the theory of “limited inerrancy” the Scriptural record of the events, acts, places, persons of sacred history are the crib or vehicle in which is found the babe or message of God. This crib is the construction of men and it is full of errors and contradictions. But we are not concerned about the crib of human words and record. We must search for the spiritual and infallible message of God, the baby, in the poorly constructed crib. God’s Word is in the Bible; the Bible is not God’s Word. 

Thus the following type of questions are cast in the face of those who maintain that the Bible is infallibly inspired in its entirety. Do I have to believe that the narrative ,of the fall of Adam actually describes history in order to know that sin entered our world? Do we have to believe in a world-wide flood to know that God is displeased with sin? The question will gradually become: Do I have to believe in the virgin birth in order to know that the Son of God is come to save from sin? 

The question arises, how is it possible for the proponents of this theory to reason this way? We must remember that they view the recorded events of Scripture as disjoined, separated from revelation. The revelation of God is viewed as not being inseparably joined to the historical event. This is one of the basic errors which lies at the center of the theory of “limited inerrancy.” 

I would like to demonstrate from Scripture itself the significance of the historical event and that the historical itself is God’s self-revelation. Thereby, I will show that to reject the accuracy of the biblical record of the historical event is to cast away God’s revelation. 

Let us, first of all, turn to Matt. 22:23-33 where we read: “The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, saying Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren; and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and having no .issue, left his wife unto his brother; Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh; And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus clearly demonstrates that the invisible, eternal, and spiritual truth of God’s Word is revealed to us by the visible, temporal events of history. The spiritual truth that Christ preached in this passage is the resurrection. The Sadducees denied that there is a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees denied that there is a heaven or a hell. They were the empiricists and rationalists of that day. Now, how does Jesus prove the truth of the resurrection? Not by beginning a dissertation about the abstract. But Jesus appeals to Scripture. “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Secondly, Jesus pointed out that God had declared to Israel that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even though these historical persons suffered death yet God is not the God of the dead but of the living. God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be their God forever implied the truth of the resurrection. This implication the Sadducees never saw. However, let us emphasize that Jesus in this passage insisted upon identifying the revelation of God concerning the invisible and eternal with the historical lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Deny that these three persons lived as Scripture records it for us and you deny in effect the resurrection. The historical event and the revelation of God are inseparable. 

The second passage to which we call your attention isZechariah 9:9, in relation to John 12:14-16 and Matt. 21:1-9. Zechariah prophesied hundreds of years before Palm Sunday that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem upon the “foal of an ass.” Now, was this an important aspect of Zechariah’s prophecy? Could Jesus assume that this little historical detail was unimportant and that possibly Zechariah, because of his time-boundness and limitations emphasized the unimportant and inconsequential? Can the revelation that Christ is King of a spiritual Kingdom be separated from this little and apparently insignificant fact? Did Zechariah really know what he was talking about? The answer is obvious. God thought this little historical detail so important that He from eternity prepared the “foal of an ass” to be set in Bethphage at the right time to beused by Christ in the deliberate fulfillment of Zechariah’s gospel. Further, God revealed the fact of the colt’s presence in Bethphage to the Christ. Still further, Christ knew that God had prepared the hearts of the owners of this colt to submit to His Lordship. “The Lord hath need of him.” 

The historical event, though so small and apparently insignificant, is part of the revelation of God, Who reveals to us the loving humility of Jerusalem’s King. Cast away the infallibility of the Biblical record concerning this “foal of an ass”, and in principle you cast away the Christ. 

The final passage to which we draw attention is Isaiah 43:3, 11, 14, 16 where we read: “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. . . . I even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior. . . . Thus saith the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; for your sake I have sent to Babylon, and have brought down all their nobles, and the Chaldeans, whose cry is in the ships. . . . Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters.” In this passage the emphasis falls upon the first person, the “I”, of the one speaking. Jehovah God is identifying Himself to Judah. He is speaking of His faithfulness and power and of His love toward His people. In these words God has identified Himself as the only true and living God in contrast to all idols. But we must specifically note how it is that God Jehovah identifies Himself to His people. The question is, how did God tell us of Himself and of His love, power, and faithfulness to Judah. How can we know the invisible, transcendent God, Whom no man hath seen nor can see? The answer: God identifies Himself as the Holy One of Israel by calling attention to His historical acts infallibly recorded in the books of Moses. The God speaking to Judah through Isaiah is the same God who gave Egypt for Judah’s ransom, Ethiopia and Seba too. This God is Jehovah, “which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters. . . .” 

God through Isaiah reveals His covenant faithfulness to Judah; He comforts His people by assuring them He, Who was ever faithful in the past, will bring her back to the land of Canaan from Babylon; He calls the true Judah to place all her trust in Him Who is the almighty God, and Who loves her and is ever faithful to her. But, again, how does God reveal this spiritual truth of the gospel? Very definitely, the answer is: by pointing to history and the revelation of Himself in past historical events infallibly recorded by His servant Moses. The historical event is itself the self-revelation of Jehovah God to His people. 

If one minimizes the importance of the complete infallibility of the Bible, discredits the accuracy of the Bible as the inspired record of revelation, accounts the record of God’s acts in time and space not so important as to be free from error. . . the result then is that one loses the self-revelation of God—that is, He rejects God’s Word. 

In conclusion, therefore, we must reject with all our hearts the theory of limited inerrancy as unbiblical. We must reject also the three errors upon which this theory is founded. Positively we must maintain that God is the only author of Scripture. Specifically, we must confess that God is this sole author of the contents of Scripture through the miracle of organic inspiration. Thus, we believe that Scripture is the infallibly inspired Word of God in its entirety. Therefore, the Bible has objective authority in all matters of doctrine and life. (II Tim. 3:16

Once again let us be reminded to pray earnestly the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ for His Church in the world: “Keep them from the evil . . . Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”