The Bible is true. It is gloriously true. It is true in such a way that it shows us the inmost thoughts of our hearts. That is glorious, but it is also difficult. Sometimes, the Bible shows us things about ourselves that we try hard to forget. Sometimes it leads us to believe things that are unpopular in the eyes of our friends. That pressure leads some, who otherwise want to believe in the Bible, to try to understand it in ways that make it less meddlesome.
That pressure is why every generation of Christians must intentionally restate our belief in the absolute truth and trustworthiness of the Bible. In order to do so, it is important that we use four words: infallible, inerrant, verbal, and plenary. I believe we must also affirm the literal, grammatical-historical method of interpretation.
- Infallible means never failing, always effective. In reference to the Scriptures, it means that they always achieve their purpose. Hebrews 4:12 teaches that Scripture is able to pierce through the deepest parts of our lives. The Bible is able to judge our very thoughts and intentions. Romans 1:16 teaches that the Scriptures have the power of God for the Salvation of all who believe. Scripture has the power of God to harden the hearts of those who do not honor the Lord as God (Romans 1:21-23). Since it is the Holy Spirit who applies this power (John 14:24-26), the Bible never fails in accomplishing its work.
- Inerrant means without error, incapable of being wrong. All scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), from the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1) to the New Testament (Hebrews 1:2, 2 Peter 3:16). All of the human authors of scripture were so superintended by God that the words they wrote were also given by God (2 Peter 1:21). The Bible is God’s word, and God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2). Therefore, the scripture is incapable of being wrong. Inerrancy of Scripture is not “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” (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy).
- Verbal means word for word. Regarding the inspiration of Scripture, it means that God put every single word into the original documents on purpose (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:13; Matthew 5:18). Individual words matter to God and so we should make the effort to understand them.
- Plenary means without qualification. The Bible is inspired equally in all its parts (1 Corinthians 2:7-14; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16). History is just as inspired and authoritative as law. Poetry is as inspired as history. Letters are as inspired as the Gospels. In other words, we are not able to set the theology of Paul over against the theology of Jesus. We cannot set New Testament theology in opposition to the theology of the Old Testament. The entire Bible is inspired, and therefore important to us. And because God inspires it, the entire Bible points toward a single message: Jesus Christ is Lord, and there is no salvation in any other.
- Literal simply means that we are to read Scripture plainly, interpreting each part in keeping with the original intent of the passage. We must consider the historical circumstances of the writer and the reader. We must understand the literary form of the passage. When the Bible presents poetry, we are to interpret it poetically. When the Bible presents narrative, we are to understand it plainly in the sense that it is given. Every text will give us the tools we need to understand it, if we read in context with the rest of Scripture.