The Princeton Formulation of Inerrancy

The formulation of B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge is perhaps the best articulation and development of the church’s historical doctrine and may be summarized as follows.

  1. A sound doctrine of inspiration requires a specifically Christian ontology; all misconceptions of or challenges to the historical view of inerrant inspiration ultimately rest on false suppositions regarding the relation between God and creatures.
  2. Scripture’s redemptive-historical progression and development must be highlighted; inspiration is organic rather than mechanical (as in the dictation theory).
  3. The question of apparent contradictions and errors must be squarely faced and addressed.
  4. It is the communication that is inspired, not the authors themselves; we should not imagine the prophets and apostles to be personally omniscient or infallible.
  5. The Bible is inspired and without error in all its “real affirmations”; the human authors’ recorded claims and affirmations, not their scientific or cultural assumptions and backgrounds, are the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
  6. Inerrancy is not the foundation of the doctrine of Scripture (much less of the Christian faith); Christianity is true not because it rests on an inspired and inerrant text, but vice versa.

The inerrancy debate in American evangelicalism is largely one between Old Princeton and Karl Barth. The former is often caricatured as fundamentalism, while the latter is equally caricatured as liberalism. Nonetheless, Barth’s view, like fundamentalism and liberalism, is quite different from that of Protestant orthodoxy here in America. Barth’s criticism of traditional inerrancy stems from his actualism—that is, his ontology of God as “being in act,” specifically applied to the free activity of revelation as identical with the very being of God. Revelation is always an event of God’s self-revelation in Christ, never an objective deposit. Scripture is the church’s normative witness to revelation, and as a creaturely witness it is not only fallible but (like Christ’s human nature) necessarily fallen. Barth also tends to collapse inspiration into illumination, since he seems to allow no qualitative distinction between revelation in and through the Bible and the church’s reception and interpretation of it. Some evangelicals have attempted to reconcile Barth’s views with the church’s traditional understanding, but these continue to employ the fundamentalist caricature rather than the truly classical view of inspiration and inerrancy.

HT: Summary taken from chapter four of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith.

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