Is Inerrancy Really an American Doctrine?

Something I was reading a few days ago reminded me of something I read in N.T. Wright a few years ago. (Funny how that happens sometimes.)

N.T. Wright disregards infallibility and inerrancy as American doctrines in Simply Christian (183):

“…the insistence on an ‘infallible’ or ‘inerrant’ Bible has grown up within a complex cultural matrix (that, in particular, of modern North American Protestantism) where the Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other. Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate. It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it.”

I’m not an N.T. Wright basher. I think there he has done plenty good to go around, although I don’t subscribe to everything he says. That said, I only intend to make two points.

1. Wright dismisses the doctrines of infallibility and inerrancy as watered down by North America’s “complex cultural matrix.” This is a non-argument. What era of any theological development wasn’t a complex cultural matrix?

2. Now for what I read more recently. I’ve been plodding through Allison’s Historical Theology, and was surprised to read this. It sounds a lot like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, except it was actually written in Germany in 1685.

“The canonical Holy Scriptures in the original text are the infallible truth and are free from every error; in other words, in the canonical sacred Scriptures there is found no lie, no falsity, no error, not even the least, whether in subject matter or expressions, but in all things and all the details that are handed down in them, they are most certainly true, whether they pertain to doctrines or morals, to history or chronology, to topography or nomenclature.

No ignorance, not thoughtlessness, no forgetfulness, no lapse of memory can and are to be ascribed to the amanuenses of the Holy Spirit in their penning the sacred writings” (Johannes Andreas Quendstedt, Theologia Didacto-Polemica, 1.112, cited in Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, 143. Quoted here from Allison, Historical Theology, 68).

No one would deny that the rise of historical criticism and liberalism forced conservative theologians to articulate the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility with a new polemical vigor. But we must deny that the doctrines are only 150 years old, birthed on American soil.


  1. Hey Eric (Phattest Man on Dreyer 2)! Nice blog. John Woodbridge has done some really good work dispelling the “inerrancy is an American doctrine cooked up by Princeton theologians to make the Bible impermeable to liberal critique” myth in his chapter in “Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon” (ed. Carson and Woodbridge) and book-length in “Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal.” They are both very good, and make very much the point you are making here.

  2. I recently posted a series on inerrancy on my blog. I won’t link to it here, due to the possibility of this going to your spam folder. You may find it by searching on the term “inerrancy.”
    I am convinced that bibliology and Christology are where we are facing our most serious battles these days.

  3. The Reformers got the idea from Augustine, and he from those before him. The idea that the Bible would be fallible and yet still somehow good for religion is the modern one.


  1. […] something different than how we would use it. For instance, while Wright is a high church Anglican without a high view on inerrancy, he is still an […]