Session 14 — Al Mohler
Note: What follows is not intended to be a full or exact transcript of what was said.
When we think about inerrancy and hermeneutics, we need to think about the relationship between two.
It was not coincidental that ‘The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy’ was followed just a short while later by ‘The Chicago Statement on Heremeneutics.’
If the Word of God is inspired, then we must be committed to a historical grammatical mode of interpretation.
2 Timothy 2:15 — “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
Timothy’s goal was to rightly divide the Word of truth and to do so in a way in which he would not be ashamed.
To affirm the inerrancy of Scripture is to recognize that whatever Scripture reveals is the Word of God. Our theological options are consequently limited.
Twelve Principles of Hermeneutics for Inerrantists:
1. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. That means that the Scripture is an oracular book. It is God’s speech to us as we read it. Our task is to hear God’s voice, affirming the authorship that comes from God alone. We are committed to a “hermeneutic of submission,” over against the modern academy’s “hermeneutic of suspicion.” We begin with the understanding that this is a self-attesting revelation that is given to us by God Himself. We understand that this is the Word of God.
2. The biblical text determines the limits of its own interpretation. We take the text as it is given to us. This is one of the affirmations of the sufficiency of Scripture. We are given different forms of literature, but the way we have received it is exactly the way the Lord intended for us to have it. This means that we cannot be looking for meaning behind or around the text. But we approach the text looking for the plain meaning of the text.
3. Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture. This is the analogy of the faith. Scripture itself demonstrates that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture. Thus, there is no conflict or any ultimate contradiction in the text of God’s Word. If we understand the Bible to be the very Word of God, then there is no ultimate contradiction. If something appears to be contradictory, it is the problem of our reading and not the problem of divine trustworthiness.
4. The biblical text addresses us as sentences (words/grammar/propositions). Behind this is an affirmation that words adequately convey truth. There are those who would posit that words are inadequate to convey truth. But the Lord who made us in His image has given us words. And we must not assume that they cannot convey truth. Those words make up propositions and sentences, and those sentences deliver divine revelation. Meaning requires propositional truth.
5. The canon establishes the limits of God’s written revelation. Every word of the canon is fully inspired and is fully needed by the church. We are given 66 books, and we need all of it until Jesus comes. The canon itself establishes a basic principle of Scripture because it limits where we look. The canon of Scripture is not an accident; it’s not arbitrary; it’s not the result of a vote in the early church.
6. The forms of biblical literature of Scripture are as the divine author intended. We are given historical narrative, direct discourse, parables, poetry, etc. We are not to preach poetry as if it were a parable. We are not to teach anything as other than how it is given to us. And we are to teach and preach the Scripture as it has been given to us.
7. No external authority can correct the Scripture in any respect. There are those who think we’re nuts for believing this. But we must not allow external, non-biblical authorities to cast aspersion on Scripture. Nothing can correct the Bible in any respect. There is no form of human knowledge or field of study that requires us to correct the Scriptures. For example, modern science attacks what the Scriptures reveal about Genesis 1-2. There is a direct collision between a naturalistic worldview and the worldview of the Bible.
The attack on Scripture is also seen, on a second front, in the area of sexuality. Modern critics claim that Paul, in his condemnation of homosexuality, was only doing the best he could and was operating on the limited basis of what he could know as a first-century man. But that only works if Paul is the ultimate author of Romans. But if the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author than that attack falls flat. Scripture is the norm of norms that can’t be normed.
8. Scriptural claims concerning history in the space-time continuum are to be believed and taught as having actually happened in the space-time continuum. That wording comes from Francis Schaeffer. To put it succinctly, if the Bible says it happened, it happened. There is no such thing as “history-like.” It either happened or it did not happen. The Bible doesn’t say “Once upon a time.” It says, “In the beginning.” The Bible’s historical claims are to be accepted for what they are: true historical claims. Our salvation depends on things that happened in the space-time continuum (cf. 1 Cor. 15).
9. Holy Scripture is to be read as a story that contains stories. It has a meta-narrative. That is why, as inerrantists, we insist on a biblical theology. We not only affirm a historical, grammatical hermeneutic, but also a redemptive-historical interpretation (that is accountable to the text).
10. Our confidence in the Bible is unbroken. All that it claims is true. And all that it promises will come to be. It is not only unbroken with regard to the past, but also unbroken as it makes promises about the future. There is a danger in asking, “What it meant and what it means” of the text. In terms of the truth claim being made by the text, “What it meant” is what it still means. We are stewards of a hermeneutical calling.
11. Our understanding of Scripture is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit. Not just as the One who inspired the Word, but also as the One who illuminates our understanding of the Word and empowers our preaching of the Word. He promises the clarity of Scripture. It is meant to be understood and received and obeyed. It is the means whereby believers in Christ are conformed to the image of Christ.
12. Our study and preaching of the Bible is not an end unto itself. When Paul talked about the perfection of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16), he noted that it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.
It is very important to understand the vital role of preaching in all of this. The text does not preach itself. The hermeneutic leads to a homiletic. Preaching ensures that the Word of God is heard by the people.
As the preacher, you bear an unavoidable hermeneutical responsibility. You are called to proclaim and accurately explain the Word of God to those in your church.
There is a great deal at stake when the Supreme Court renders its verdict. How much more is at stake when you are in your study preparing to preach, and when you stand behind the pulpit and prepare to speak. What comes out of your mouth is dependent on the faithfulness of the hermeneutic you bring to your homiletic which you bring to the pulpit.
Jeremiah 23:28 — “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.”
May it be so with us.