Inspiration, inerrant and infallible, and sufficient.

How we got the Bible  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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2 Timothy 3:16–17 NKJV
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Inspiration: The Bible Is God-Breathed

“All Scripture,” the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, “is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
A more accurate rendering of the phrase “inspired by God” might be “God-breathed.” If Scripture is “God-breathed,” that means the words of Scripture came to us from the innermost essence of God himself. Moses and the prophets knew this and declared that they were writing God’s own words.
Exodus 17:14 NKJV
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”
Jeremiah 1:9 NKJV
Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
Ezekiel 1:2 NKJV
On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity,
Hosea 1:1 NKJV
The word of the Lord that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.
Jesus agreed with their assessment and described the words of Scripture as words from God himself.
Matthew 19:4–5 NKJV
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
Mark 12:36 NKJV
For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’
A. Verbal-Plenary Inspiration
For centuries, Bible-believing Christians have accepted two important truths about the inspiration of Scripture:
Verbal inspiration (Latin verbum, “word”)— God’s inspiration extends to the very words of Scripture.
Plenary inspiration (Latin plenus, “full”)— Every part of the Bible is fully inspired, not merely the parts that have to do with salvation and our spiritual lives.
Verbal-plenary inspiration does not mean that God turned writers into robots, controlled from heaven through a cosmic keyboard. The biblical authors used their own free expressions, and God providentially guided their lives so that they would choose the words that conveyed his truth.
Notice that God did not merely inspire the authors of Scripture! God inspired the text itself. If Paul had thought the authors were inspired but not the text, Paul could have written something like this to Timothy:
“Everyone who wrote Scripture was inspired by God.” But that’s not at all what Paul said or thought! Paul said that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) because he believed that the very words of Scripture originated in God.
So what specific documents did Paul have in mind when he dictated the word “Scripture” and described these texts as “God-breathed”?
Paul’s words pointed primarily to the Old Testament. After all, when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, some New Testament texts weren’t even finished! Yet, even when Paul wrote this letter, Christians were already aware that “Scripture” included not only the Old Testament but also the words of believers who had seen the risen Jesus and close associates of these eyewitnesses. Two biblical texts make it clear that, by the mid-first century, Christians were already treating New Testament writings as Scripture:
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul identified words spoken by Jesus that became part of Luke’s Gospel as “Scripture”.
Luke 10:7 NKJV
And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house.
1 Timothy 5:18 NKJV
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
Shortly after Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, Simon Peter referred to Paul’s letters as “Scripture”.
2 Peter 3:16 NKJV
as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
Even while the texts in the New Testament were being penned and assembled, early Christians knew that writings linked to believers commissioned by the risen Lord Jesus carried the same authority as the Old Testament Scriptures.
Because every word of Scripture is breathed out by God, the Bible stands as the full and final authority for God’s people. The Bible in its entirety is the Creator’s message to his creatures, the King’s edict to his citizens, and the Spirit’s tool for transforming his people. Church traditions, creeds, and confessions of faith can be useful, but they can never claim authority equal to God’s inspired Word.

Infallibility and Inerrancy: The Bible Is Error-Free

Titus was a young pastor on an island where the inhabitants were well-known for their dishonesty.
Titus 1:12 NKJV
One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
Perhaps that’s why Paul opened his letter to Titus with the simple reminder that “God … does not lie” (Titus 1:2). Paul said that I lie, you lie—but God never lies.
Romans 3:4 NKJV
Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”
With that in mind, let’s ask ourselves a crucial question: If all Scripture is God-breathed and if God never lies, what does that tell us about the reliability of Scripture?
Throughout history, faithful Christians have agreed that, if God can’t lie, his written revelation can’t lie either. Our trust in the truthfulness of Scripture is rooted in our belief in the trustworthy character of God. A broad range of words and phrases have been used in different eras to describe the truthfulness of Scripture.
One of the most important of these terms is “infallibility.” The word “infallibility” comes from a Latin word that meant “unable to deceive” or “not liable to err.” When we say that the Bible is “infallible,” what we mean is that Scripture tells the truth and never deceives us. Another, more recent term to describe the truthfulness of Scripture is “inerrant,” a word that simply means “not in error.”
Error-prone human beings put the Scriptures together, but God was at work among these inspired authors and editors, preventing them from introducing any errors into his written revelation. That’s why we can trust that “when all the facts are known, the Scriptures ... properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm.”
Inerrancy does not require Scripture to be scientifically precise, and inerrancy certainly doesn’t rule out figurative language or numeric estimates in the Bible. “Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.” For example:
In 1 Kings 7:23, a circular pool in the temple is described as “ten cubits from rim to rim” and “thirty cubits … around.” A circular pool ten cubits in diameter would actually be slightly larger than thirty cubits around. Yet the biblical author didn’t make an error because mathematical precision wasn’t his purpose. The purpose of this text was simply to describe an object that Solomon’s metalworkers made, and the author used rounded numbers in his description.
When an ancient chronicler of Israel’s history recorded the demise of 18,000 Edomites (2 Samuel 8:13), this author probably wasn’t taking a precise census of how many Edomites died; he was providing a rounded figure based on the information he possessed. And so, if the exact death toll numbered a thousand or two higher or lower than the number recorded, that’s not an error; it’s an estimate.
When Scripture says “the sun rose,” the biblical authors were describing daybreak from an earth-dweller’s perspective (Genesis 32:31; Jonah 4:8); these authors didn’t err anymore than weather reporters today are mistaken when they refer to “sunrise” and “sunset” on the morning news.
God revealed his message through human authors who recorded truthful testimony in different genres and styles of writing. To whatever extent precision was necessary to express God’s truth, Scripture tells the truth with precision.
A. What about the early church leaders? Did they believe in the inerrancy of Scripture?
The earliest Christians never used the words “inerrancy” and “infallibility.” However, from the earliest stages of Christian history, faithful church leaders treated Scripture as God’s inerrant and infallible revelation.
“You have searched the Scriptures, which are true and given by the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them.” —Clement of Rome, first century
“All Scripture, which has been given to us by God, [is] perfectly consistent. The parables harmonize with the passages that are plain; and statements with a clearer meaning serve to explain the parables.”—Irenaeus of Lyons, second century
“I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another.” —Justin Martyr, second century
“The statements of Holy Scripture will never contradict the truth.” —Tertullian of Carthage, third century
“It is the opinion of some that the Scriptures do not agree or that the God who gave them is false. But there is no disagreement at all. Far from it! The Father, who is truth, cannot lie.”—Athanasius of Alexandria, fourth century
“I have learned to give respect and honor to the canonical books of Scripture. Regarding these books alone, I most firmly believe that their authors were completely free from error. If in these writings I am confused by anything which appears to me opposed to the truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.”—Augustine of Hippo, fifth century

Sufficiency: The Bible Is Enough

So far, we’ve learned that the Bible is God-breathed and error-free—but is the Bible enough?
We must realize that a personal conversation with Jesus face to face in physical form isn’t what we need! we must come to the realization that what the Bible provides is enough for us to trust God.
In theological terms, what we must recognize is the sufficiency of Scripture.
Throughout history, Christians have treated Scripture as sufficient in two senses: First and foremost, Scripture provides enough knowledge for us to find God’s truth and to live in fellowship with him. Second, Scripture has been copied with enough accuracy to preserve God’s truth.
Let’s look at these two things in a little more detail.
A. Scripture provides us with sufficient knowledge to trust God and to live in fellowship with him.
The biblical texts, as they were originally written, contain every truth that’s needed for us to be saved and to follow our Savior. “Never in church history has God added to the teachings or commands of Scripture… Scripture is sufficient to equip us for ‘every good work’” (2 Timothy 3:15–16).
The Meaning of Inerrancy
In 1978, more than 300 Christian leaders—including John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, Francis Schaeffer, J. I. Packer, and Carl F. H. Henry, and many others—gathered in Chicago. There, they developed a statement that clarified the meaning and implications of biblical inerrancy.
Here are three key affirmations and denials from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:
“We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God. We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.”
“We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.”
“We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all matters it addresses. We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.”
The sufficiency of Scripture doesn’t mean, of course, that the Bible includes every truth we will ever need to complete every task in our lives! Scripture doesn’t provide us with much information when it comes to installing ceramic tile or conjugating German verbs, for example, and performing brain surgery based only on information found in the Bible is likely to end badly for everyone.
And so, Scripture doesn’t reveal all things. Instead, Scripture is sufficient to show us how to do all things for the glory of God, with the mind of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NKJV
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Philippians 2:5 NKJV
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
B. Scripture survives in texts that were copied with sufficient accuracy to preserve God’s truth.
For nearly a millennium and a half, the biblical texts were copied by hand. There were no printing presses, no copy machines, no dictation devices, no word processors with autocorrect features—only ordinary scribes copying texts phrase by phrase from piles of parchment and papyrus.
Over the centuries, some of these scribes made mistakes. Most times, scribes merely missed or misspelled a word or two in a particular verse. Other times, when one scribe was reading a text aloud and others were writing what was said, scribes misheard words.
Once in a while, scribes switched words or added phrases to emphasize truths that were tied to hot topics in their day. And so, copying variants can be found throughout the ancient biblical manuscripts.
This fact does not, however, mean that the Bible somehow ceases to be infallible or inerrant. Inerrancy and infallibility refer to each biblical text as it was originally composed—not to every copy made later.
And, truth be told, so many copies of Scripture have survived—more than any other ancient document!—that it’s almost always possible to reconstruct the precise wording of the original texts.
In the minuscule number of instances where questions about original wordings remain, not one textual difference affects anything that we believe about God or his work in the world.
The copies of Scripture that survive today preserve enough of the original text to convey the original message that God inspired.
This vast trove of highly reliable texts shouldn’t surprise us. God himself promised that he would protect and preserve his message
Psalm 119:89 NKJV
Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.
Isaiah 40:8 NKJV
The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”
Matthew 5:18 NKJV
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Mark 13:31 NKJV
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
Thousands of manuscripts and textual fragments testify together that this promise has been kept. That’s why it’s entirely appropriate for us to treat our Bible today as a trustworthy record of God’s written revelation.
Next week we will continue with the statement
“Why God Preserved His Word”
Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for your word and how precious it is to us! help us to read it and obey it and to know that it is your guide for our lives! In the name of Jesus, amen!
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