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Confessions and Catechisms > Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978)
This contemporary statement was formulated in October of 1978 at a conference sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, held in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’hare. The statement was designed to defend the position of Biblical Inerrancy against the trend toward liberal conceptions of Scripture. It was signed by nearly 300 noted evangelical scholars from various denominations, including James Montgomery Boice, Norman Geisler, John Gerstner, Carl FH Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, Harold Lindsell, John Warwick Montgomery, Roger Nicole, JI Packer, Robert Preus, Earl Radmacher, Francis Schaeffer, RC Sproul, and John Wenham.
The Chicago Statement is the most widely accepted definition of biblical inerrancy in the evangelical world. Under the statement, inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts, which no longer exist, but can be inferred on the basis of numerous surviving ancient copies. According to the statement, inerrancy does not refer to a blind literal interpretation, but allows for figurative, poetic and other figures of speech, according to the author’s original intent.
For additional information and commentary, see the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics of 1982, which was also produced by the council in part to clarify some of the language of the original statement.
The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian Church in this and every age. Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word. To stray from Scripture in faith or conduct is disloyalty to our Master. Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.
The following Statement affirms this inerrancy of Scripture afresh, making clear our understanding of it and warning against its denial. We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word that marks true Christian faith. We see it as our timely duty to make this affirmation in the face of current lapses from the truth of inerrancy among our fellow Christians and misunderstanding of this doctrine in the world at large.
This Statement consists of three parts: a Summary Statement, Articles of Affirmation and Denial, and an accompanying Exposition. It has been prepared in the course of a three-day consultation in Chicago. Those who have signed the Summary Statement and the Articles wish to affirm their own conviction as to the inerrancy of Scripture and to encourage and challenge one another and all Christians to growing appreciation and understanding of this doctrine. We acknowledge the limitations of a document prepared in a brief, intensive conference and do not propose that this Statement be given creedal weight. Yet we rejoice in the deepening of our own convictions through our discussions together, and we pray that the Statement we have signed may be used to the glory of our God toward a new reformation of the Church in its faith, life and mission.
We offer this Statement in a spirit, not of contention, but of humility and love, which we propose by God’s grace to maintain in any future dialogue arising out of what we have said. We gladly acknowledge that many who deny the inerrancy of Scripture do not display the consequences of this denial in the rest of their belief and behavior, and we are conscious that we who confess this doctrine often deny it in life by failing to bring our thoughts and deeds, our traditions and habits, into true subjection to the divine Word.
We invite response to this Statement
from any who see reason to amend its affirmations about Scripture by the
light of Scripture itself, under whose infallible authority we stand as
we speak. We claim no personal infallibility for the witness we bear,
and for any help that enables us to strengthen this testimony to God’s
Word we shall be grateful.
I. SUMMARY STATEMENT
1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired
Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind
through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy
Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
II. ARTICLES OF AFFIRMATION AND DENIAL
We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the
authoritative Word of God.
We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which
God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is
subordinate to that of Scripture.
We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given
We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language
as a means of revelation.
We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was
We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to
the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.
We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit,
through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is
divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the
distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had
chosen and prepared.
We affirm that inspiration, through not conferring omniscience,
guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the
Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the
autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be
ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further
affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to
the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
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 the matters it addresses.
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free
from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the
teaching of the Bible about inspiration.
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the
Church’s faith throughout its history.
We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures,
assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.
We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by
grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and
devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility
and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the
whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession
should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.
Our understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy must be set in the context of the broader teachings of Scripture concerning itself. This exposition gives an account of the outline of doctrine from which our Summary Statement and Articles are drawn.
A. Creation, Revelation and Inspiration
B. Authority: Christ and the Bible
As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ is the central theme of Scripture. The Old Testament looked ahead to Him; the New Testament looks back to His first coming and on to His second. Canonical Scripture is the divinely inspired and therefore normative witness to Christ. No hermeneutic, therefore, of which the historical Christ is not the focal point is acceptable. Holy Scripture must be treated as what it essentially is--the witness of the Father to the incarnate Son.
It appears that the Old Testament canon had been fixed by the time of Jesus. The New Testament canon is likewise now closed, inasmuch as no new apostolic witness to the historical Christ can now be borne. No new revelation (as distinct from Spirit-given understanding of existing revelation) will be given until Christ comes again. The canon was created in principle by divine inspiration. The Church’s part was to discern the canon that God had created, not to devise one of its own.
The word ’canon’, signifying a rule of standard, is a pointer to authority, which means the right to rule and control. Authority in Christianity belongs to God in His revelation, which means, on the one hand, Jesus Christ, the living Word, and, on the other hand, Holy Scripture, the written Word. But the authority of Christ and that of Scripture are one. As our Prophet, Christ testified that Scripture cannot be broken. As our Priest and King, He devoted His earthly life to fulfilling the law and the prophets, even dying in obedience to the words of messianic prophecy. Thus as He saw Scripture attesting Him and His authority, so by His own submission to Scripture He attested its authority. As He bowed to His Father’s instruction given in His Bible (our Old Testament), so He requires His disciples to do--not, however, in isolation but in conjunction with the apostolic witness to Himself that He undertook to inspire by his gift of the Holy Spirit. So Christians show themselves faithful servants of their Lord by bowing to the divine instruction given in the prophetic and apostolic writings that together make up our Bible.
By authenticating each other’s authority, Christ and Scripture coalesce into a single fount of authority. The Biblically-interpreted Christ and the Christ-centered, Christ-proclaiming Bible are from this standpoint one. As from the fact of inspiration we infer that what Scripture says, God says, so from the revealed relation between Jesus Christ and Scripture we may equally declare that what Scripture says, Christ says.
C. Infallibility, Inerrancy, Interpretation
’Infallible’ signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.
Similarly, ’inerrant’ signifies the quality of being free from all
falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is
entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.
So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: Since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. 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.
The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (for example, the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called "phenomena" of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.
Inasmuch as all Scripture is the product of a single divine mind, interpretation must stay within the bounds of the analogy of Scripture and eschew hypotheses that would correct one Biblical passage by another, whether in the name of progressive revelation or of the imperfect enlightenment of the inspired writer’s mind.
Although Holy Scripture is nowhere culture-bound in the sense that its teaching lacks universal validity, it is sometimes culturally conditioned by the customs and conventional views of a particular period, so that the application of its principles today calls for a different sort of action.
D. Skepticism and Criticism
E. Transmission and Translation
Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autograph. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).
F. Inerrancy and Authority
We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible that God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one’s critical reasoning and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further.
We affirm that what Scripture says, God says. May He be glorified.