Can We Trust the Inerrancy, Authority, and Accuracy of Scripture?

by Dale Partridge

We live in a time when many Christians, churches, and even entire denominations have begun to question the authority of Scripture. Combine this with the culture’s growing hostility toward objective truth and I believe the Bible will soon find itself in the crosshairs of society with its finger on the trigger.

More and more secularists are finally discovering that the source of their ideological opposition (a.k.a. Christians, conservatives, and traditionalists) is not rooted in philosophy or in politics but in Scripture. That is, the reason these Christian groups believe there is life in the womb or that marriage is only between a man and a woman or that gender is strictly two-fold is because the Bible declares it. In other words, these “conservative” positions aren’t sourced from historic thinking or basic principles of morality they are solely fastened to Scripture. Namely, these ideas are God’s ideas.

As a result, the Word of God is consistently emerging as the guilty party and, consequently, increased doubt, dodging, and disassociation are becoming more commonplace even in the church. Sadly, many Christians are losing their confidence in the integrity or unchanging nature of Scripture. From the pulpit, more and more pastors are finding ways to dull the edge of the sword. While many of these maneuvers are presenting themselves in the ever-so-popular Ted-x style topical preaching series where pastors take a cultural issue and slap on a Scripture, another common tactic in the church is what I call false intellectualism. As we will see, this is nothing more than a preacher using academia to dismiss doctrine through context, history, audience, original language studies, and eisegesis. 

For example, in my research for this article, I watched a variety of sermons delivered by preachers ranging from conservative to progressive. A resounding theme of doctrinal evasion was revealed in the exposition of the progressive wing. That is, these preachers often made a verse so flexible that it lost its command in the lives of the listeners. For instance, I heard a pastor of a well-known church in the state of Georgia systematically explain away the relevancy and doctrines of the entire book of 1st Corinthians. In a tone of deconstruction and interpretive play, he said, “Remember, this was a letter written to Christians 2,000 years ago for a Corinthian culture 2,000 years ago. That ancient culture was weird so don’t be shocked by what the text is saying here. We live in a different time now.” 

Ultimately, this statement does two things. First, this disposition further advances the growing idea that because Scripture speaks to an ancient culture we can always find a hermeneutical angle to side-step its jurisdiction. Additionally, this textual posture implies that the words of that specific book (1st Corinthians) are not relevant or authoritative to a modern community of believers. However, it’s my belief, this is a gross mishandling of the Word of God, and the theme of biblical inerrancy and scriptural authority still reigns.  

In speaking specifically to 1 Corinthians, a simple exposition of the introductory text proves this pastor’s assertion as false. In 1st Corinthians 1, Paul clearly states the audience he wrote his letter to—and it’s not just for a distant Corinthian culture. In verse two we see the letter’s intended audience: 

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”

1 Corinthians 1:2

Essentially, there are four people groups Paul is writing to:

  1. “The church of God which is at Corinth.” We must ask the question, “Is that me?” No. 
  2. “Those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Is that me? Well, if you call yourself a Christian, absolutely. 
  3. Those who are “called to be saints.” Again, is that me? I hope so. 
  4. “With all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord…” I hesitate to ask, but is this letter written only to the ancient Corinthians? No. Is this letter written to you? Well, if you’re part of the “all” and “every” category who calls on the name of “Jesus Christ our Lord” then, yes.

Obviously we’re dealing with a comment extracted by a liberal and weak hermeneutic. Instead of properly deploying the historical-grammatical method in his study that leads to the original meaning and modern application, he led his congregation to believe that his exegesis of the text (in view of an academic look at culture and history) caused him to arrive at a place where the passage is merely applicable by indirect principle but not by direct command. In other words, he cut the authority of the book off right at the knees.

Now, by no means am I saying that elements like history, cultural context, or audience unimportant. They are critical to understanding the biblical content thoroughly. But those elements only add to the authority and depth of God’s word—not subtract from it. 

Ultimately, as theologians and pastors, we must be capable of discerning the correct interpretation of the text regardless of its complexity, unpopularity, unfamiliarity, or cultural discomfort.

This ability and practice is a direct reflection of our view of Scripture. For those of us who stand with a high view of God’s Word, it displays our willingness to engage with a text that sits on the integrity of God Himself. Namely, we do not dismiss the difficult ideas of Scripture, we seek to understand them.  

Speaking to the Source of the Problem

The underlying cause of the denial of Scripture’s authority is connected to a variety of individual theological positions. For example, the implication that 1st Corinthians doesn’t hold any authority simply because of its timestamp would indicate an uninspired or partially inspired stance on Scripture. But is this true? Was Paul (and the other Apostles) unaware that they were actually writing universal, divinely inspired Scripture? Did Paul not know that his words had authority over all Christians in all times? I doubt it and here’s why. In 1st Thessalonians 2:13, Paul writes: 

“For this reason, we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

Eighteenth-Century theologian John Gill said of this specific passage, “The word delivered  by Paul appeared to be agreeable to the Scriptures of Truth, and it bearing his impress and divine authority, they received it with much assurance and certainty, as infallible truth; and which was inviolable to be adhered to, without any alteration, without adding to it or taking from it; and to be had and retained in the greatest esteem and reverence, and never to be departed from: and that they received it in this manner.”

I agree with Gill’s assertion. I believe Paul was fully aware of the spiritual authority of his words by way of preaching as well as by writing. That is, Paul recognized that his commissioned work was divinely supported, endorsed, and sustained. I believe we can see this posture later in this 1 Thessalonians  (5:27) when Paul pens, “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.” Simply put, Paul knew he, as a governor was to a king, had the authority to declare spiritual rulings and commands over God’s people. 

To look at an even stronger case, let’s turn our eyes to 1st Corinthians 14:37 where Paul writes, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Here, Paul addresses his own writings as a command of the Lord. In other words, these are not the babblings of a religious leader or the proclamations of a wise man. They are the authorized decrees penned by an official representative of the King. 

To pile on more evidence for this authoritative awareness, the Apostle Peter also affirms this position by acknowledging Paul’s writings as Scripture. 

“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 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.”

2 Peter 3:14-16

This theme of divine awareness and scriptural authority continues as Peter maintains this point even about his own writings as he places them at equal status with the Old Testament Scriptures.  

“Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior…”

2 Peter 3:1-2

The fact of the matter is this: The human writers of the New Testament knew who the true Author was behind their words. They understood the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. To those in the church who deny these truths, the signers of the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy have offered this useful and concise statement, “The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the church.”

When pastors use language that destabilizes the authority and inerrancy of Scripture they leave their flocks to subjective and relative alternatives of truth. If God’s Word is not reliable for all times and for all people then we have fallen into the same trap as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jerry Bridges explained this idea once in a sermon, “The battle between the Seed of the woman and the Seed of the Serpent began with these words: ‘Did God really say?’ From that day forward, the Word of God has been attacked, maligned, distorted, and suppressed. The assault comes both from inside and outside the church, as those outside claim that Scripture is not the Word of God and those inside fail to handle the Word rightly bringing doubt to its authority and inerrancy.”  

The Unchanging Word of God

Ultimately, God’s Word is and must be both fully inerrant and perfectly unchanging. The basis of that conclusion is anchored in two verses. The first is 2 Timothy 3:16 where Paul declares, “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.” This passage is what many call the “kingpin” verse for biblical inerrancy. The word “all” is an adverb used for emphasis. The implication of this verse is not fuzzy or unclear. It states that all Scripture is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which literally means “God-breathed.” Essentially, codified Scripture is God’s chosen method by which His words left His mouth for the profit of mankind. And like God, His Word is eternal and everlasting. In fact, Jesus Himself says in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

God’s words are not perishable they are permanent. Their authority and meaning and command are also permanent.

Biblical Christians know this and they don’t avoid the text because of its fleshly distress or intellectual difficulty within modern culture. No, they embrace God’s Word at all times, knowing that unlike our words which fail and fall, God’s words reign on the wind and will remain like Him for all time. 

While my first example was from poor work in the pulpit my next example is from poor work in the pew. As Jerry Bridges pointed out in his quotation, Biblical authority and inerrancy aren’t all that’s under attack in today’s churches, so is biblical accuracy. This mistrust of accuracy via interpretation is just another manifestation of the larger assault on Scripture.

However, over the years, I’ve noticed that most Christians (and even non-Christians) do not abandon the entire Bible they just abandon some of it. In fact, they want the Bible but they simply want it in a way that adheres to their narrative. As a result, more and more Christians have taken what I call a smörgåsbord approach to the Word of God. It looks something like this: 

“Well, I believe this passage is true… But I think that section over there is just a story and didn’t really happen… And I don’t understand what this verse is saying here so I’ll disregard it… But hey, I like this idea over here…” 

In other words, many people like the figurative principles but they don’t like the literal truths. They like what’s convenient but not what’s convicting. 

It’s shocking to me how many Christians (and pastors) dismiss difficult parts of Scripture—from the creation narrative and the Garden of Eden to Noah’s flood and Jonah’s time in the great fish. May I remind us that these are all portions of God’s story that Jesus personally mentions during His earthly ministry (Matthew 19:4-6; Matthew 12:40; Luke 17:26–27)? In other words, are we really going to believe in Jesus, but not believe in Jesus’ belief in the Scriptures? 

Booker T. Washington, an African American advisor to various Presidents of the United States, wrote, “A lie doesn’t become truth. Wrong doesn’t become right. And evil doesn’t become good just because it’s accepted by the majority.”

Put differently, Scripture doesn’t become false, right doesn’t become wrong, and truth doesn’t become irrelevant just because certain passages aren’t accepted by an individual pastor or church.

When we take a dismissive approach with Scripture, we end up doing what Thomas Jefferson did with his Bible—he cut out what he didn’t like and left the rest. 

Conclusion and Application

Ultimately, it’s my belief these issues of inerrancy, authority, and interpretive accuracy all crest around faith. Do you have saving faith? Has the Lord changed your heart and implanted a desire for His Word in your soul? Do you trust the Scriptures because you know the Scriptures were the agent of your saving (Romans 10:17)? Have you been given the wondrous illumination and confidence in God’s Word by way of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20; 2:27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; John 14:26; 15:26)? These are critical questions for anyone who calls themselves a believer. 

This doesn’t mean we won’t wrestle with Scripture. Actually, I tell my congregation often that we must make room for faith in our Bible reading. In seminary, this is called “divine accommodation.” That is, the willingness to acknowledge the mysteries of God when the Scriptures present heavenly realities with earthly ambiguity.

Simply put, we have to admit that we don’t understand everything God has written. In Isaiah 55:8–9 God reminds us of this certitude, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” 

The heart of the matter is this, we have an enemy who is always looking for ways to diminish the confidence humanity has in the Word of God. He knows he doesn’t have to disprove God’s Word, he simply needs to birth doubt. Combine this with the fallen nature of man and you begin to see the all-out spiritual assault aiming to leave humanity divided, confused, and unsure of the authority and credibility of the Bible.

For this reason, Christians must know where they stand. For those of us committed to the authority, inerrancy, and retrievable accuracy of Scripture, we may feel like a rock in the midst of a rushing river—everything is against us but firm we stand. We may feel like a house in the midst of a turbulent storm—everything is against us but firm we stand. We may even feel like a target in the midst of a culture war—everyone is against us but firm we stand. 

However, this is the heart of a Biblical Christian—deep commitment to the Word of God. Not blindly but with prudence. Not flippantly but with proper hermeneutical study and exegesis.

We do not allow our hearts and emotions to dictate our interpretations but instead, we take God for who He says He is in Scripture. And while we are committed to Sola Scriptura as a guiding principle of our theology, we are not Solo Scriptura. That is, we do not define and commit to systematic theologies arranged in isolation from the church and her history.

We are Christian men and women attached to the universal church of Christ and we bask in the theological revelations granted to those believers before us. But most of all, we are Bible people. We are not book people or verse people. We are Bible people. We read the whole and the parts. We interpret the whole with reference to the parts. We study the parts in recognition of the whole. We do this because all of it is from God. Every word. And every word matters.

We do this because we seek for orthodoxy that we may represent our King rightly before His creation.

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Dale Partridge is the Founder and President of Relearn.org. Dale finished his graduate studies at Western Theological Seminary and is now an M.Div candidate at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles, California. He is also the author of several Christians books, the host of the Real Christianity podcast, and an elder and teaching pastor at the local house church in which he serves. He and his wife have three children.

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