Bible authoritative in faith, practice, history and science, Southern prof says

Communications Staff — March 3, 2004

The Bible’s authority extends to all matters on which it speaks, including history and science, a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said.

Greg Wills, associate professor of church history at Southern, told students at the seminary’s Give Me An Answer Collegiate Conference Feb. 21 that in recent decades, liberal Christians have argued that the Bible’s authority is limited to matters of faith and practice. Such a position, however, is inconsistent with historic Baptist beliefs and with the beliefs of the Protestant Reformers, Wills said.

Many liberal Christians teach that “the Bible writers may be mistaken in matters of history,” including how God created the world, the extent of the flood in Genesis 7 and whether Elisha really made an axe head float in 2 Kings 6, Wills said. Yet liberals maintain that “the Bible’s historical errors do not damage its spiritual authority,” he said.

To support their beliefs about Scripture, many liberals claim that the doctrine of inerrancy is a relatively new idea, which developed during the last 150 years as a response to Darwinian evolution, Wills said.

Some liberals argue that “Luther and Calvin did not need an inerrant Bible, but only a Bible sufficient for saving sinners” and that inerrancy was “first suggested by Francis Turretin in the 17th century and fully developed by the Princeton theologians in the 19th century,” Wills said.

But such a theory ignores the sizable mass of historical documentation that Martin Luther and John Calvin did, in fact, hold to the doctrine of inerrancy, he said.

“This theory is one of the more absurd myths promulgated in print,” Wills said. “…The Reformers held that God is the Author of the Scriptures. As God makes no mistakes or errors, neither does the Bible. Even the least important and trivial statements must be true.”

Luther held that every word recorded in the Bible was spoken by the Holy Spirit and is therefore inerrant, Wills said.

He quoted Luther as saying, “It is impossible that Scripture should contradict itself; it only appears so to senseless and obstinate hypocrites.”

Wills recounted that “Luther said even ‘trifling’ matters in Scripture were profitable for life and morals, ‘since the Holy Spirit wanted to have it committed to writing.’”

“If that is not inerrancy, I don’t know what is,” Wills said.

Calvin argued that “the Bible is without error even in details, not merely in the truths that relate to faith and practice,” he said.

Wills quoted Calvin’s commentary on 1 Peter, which says, “The beginning of right knowledge is to give that credit to the holy prophets which is due to God … because they dared not to announce anything of themselves and only obediently followed the Spirit as their leader, who ruled in their mouth as in His own sanctuary.”

Early Baptists shared the Reformers’ sentiments regarding inerrancy, he said.

According to Wills, Jesse Mercer, the first president of Southern Baptist’s Foreign Mission Board wrote in 1834, “In writing the historical, biographical, and experimental parts of the Bible, … nothing more was needful than the inspiration of suggestion and direction, to excite in their minds what God would have recorded, and so to superintend and direct the whole work, that they should, though frail and imperfect in themselves, be preserved, even in the use of their own chosen language, free from error.”

Wills concluded, “The Bible is authoritative in all matters on which it speaks, for God inspired every word such that its statements are God’s words. Those who claim [inerrancy] is a new invention know neither history nor the Scriptures.

“It’s hard to improve on our confessional formula: Scripture has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error for its matter. Baptists did not come up with that statement after Darwin. They came up with it long before.”

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