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Sunday, October 7, 2012


Following is the second and final instalment of an address on the subject of Infallibility of Scripture given by the late Professor John Murray (1898-1975), former Professor of Systematic Theology, first at Princeton then Westminster Theological Seminary . The address was given at the Preaching Conference in Leicester on 3 July 1962.

The Witness of Scripture

What is this witness? Certain passages are of particular relevance. Paul says, 'All scripture is God-breathed' (2 Tim. 3: 16) and Peter, 'For prophecy was not brought of old time by the will of man, but as borne by the Holy Spirit men spoke from God' (2 Pet. 1: 21). In both passages it is the divine authorship and the character resulting therefrom that are emphasized. Scripture is in view in both passages. Even in 2 Pet. 1: 21 this is apparent from the preceding verse which defines 'prophecy' as 'prophecy of scripture', or, as we might say. inscripturated prophecy. These two texts have closer relationship to one another than we might be disposed to think. For in the usage of Scripture the Word of God, the breath of God, and the Spirit of God are closely related. And when Paul says 'all scripture is God-breathed', he is saying nothing less than that all Scripture is God's speech, God's voice invested with all the authority and power belonging to His utterance. Peter explains how what is given through the agency of men can be God's speech - 'as borne by the Holy Spirit men spoke
from God'.

We think also of the words of our Lord (Matt. 3: 18; John 10: 35). In both passages it is the inviolability of Scripture that is asserted.

There are not only these express passages. There is a mass of witness derived from appeal to Scripture in ways that imply its finality, its divine authority, and its equivalence to God's word or speech. For our Lord "Scripture says" is equivalent to "God says". And Paul, when referring to the body of Scripture committed to Israel can speak of it as "the oracles of God" (Rom. 3: 2).

Here then we have the verdict of Scripture. To avow any lower estimate is to impugn the witness of our Lord Himself and that is to assail the dependability and veracity of Him who is the truth (John 14: 6). And it is also to impugn the reliability of the Holy Spirit who is also the truth as well as the Spirit of truth (1 John 5: 6; John 16: 13). If we reject the witness of both to the character of that upon which we must rely for our knowledge of the whole content of faith and hope, then we have no foundation of veracity on which to rest. It was the foundation of all faith, confidence and certitude that the apostle appealed to when he said, 'Let God be true but every man a liar' (Rom. 3: 4). It is significant that he forthwith corroborated this truth by appeal to Scripture.

The Context of this Witness

The doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture is derived from the witness of Scripture. It is equally necessary to bear in mind that this witness is to be understood in the context of Scripture as a whole. Any doctrine severed from the total structure of revelation is out of focus. It is necessary to insist on this for two reasons.

First, it is possible to give formal confession to the infallibility of Scripture and yet belie this confession in dealing with it. The dogma of infallibility implies that Scripture is itself the revelatory Word of God, that it is the living and authoritative voice or speech of God. Unless we are arrested by that Word and summoned by it into His presence, unless we bow in reverence before that Word and accord to it the finality that belongs to it as God's oracular utterance, then our confession is only formal.

Second, unless we assess infallibility in the light of the data with which Scripture provides us, we shall be liable to judge infallibility by criteria to which Scripture does not conform. This is one of the most effective ways of undermining biblical infallibility.

The inspiration of Scripture involves verbal inspiration. If it did not carry with it the inspiration of the words, it would not be inspiration at all. Words are the media of communication. It is nothing less than verbal inspiration that Paul affirms when he says in 1 Cor. 2: 13, 'combining spiritual things with spiritual'. He is speaking of truths taught by the Spirit, as the preceding clauses indicate. But when we say 'words' we mean words in relationship, in grammatical and syntactical relationship, first of all, then, in the broader contextual relationship, and last of all in relation to the whole content and structure of revelation as deposited in Scripture. They are words with the meaning which Scripture, interpreted in the light of Scripture, determines. They are Spirit-inspired words in the sense in which they were intended by the Holy Spirit. This is to say that the sense and intent of Scripture is Scripture and not the meaning we may arbitrarily impose upon it.

When the Scripture uses anthropomorphic terms with reference to God and His actions, we must interpret accordingly and not predicate of God the limitations which belong to us men. When Scripture conveys truth to us by the mode of apocalyptic vision, we cannot find the truth signified in the details of the vision literalised. If Scripture uses the language of common usage and experience or observation, we are not to accuse it of error because it does not use the language of a particular science, language which few could understand and which becomes obsolete with the passing phases of scientific advancement. The Scripture does not make itself ridiculous by conforming to what pedants might require.

There are numerous considerations that must be taken into account derived from the study of Scripture data. And it is a capital mistake to think that the criteria of infallibility are those that must conform to our preconceived notions or to our arbitrarily adopted norms.


The doctrine of infallibility is not peripheral. What is at stake is the character of the witness which the Scripture provides for the whole compass of our faith. It is concerned with the nature of the only revelation which we possess respecting God's will for our salvation, the only revelation by which we are brought into saving encounter with Him who is God manifest in the flesh, the only revelation by which we may be introduced into that fellowship which is eternal life, and the only revelation by which we may be guided in that pilgrimage to the city which hath the foundations whose builder and maker is God. In a word the interests involved are those of faith, love and hope

When God, in Scripture, speaks straightforwardly of believers being born again in Jesus Christ and, along with other clear doctrinal issues, says that He created the heavens, the earth and the sea and all that is in them in six days and that a straightforward reading of the genealogy of Chronicles and Luke leans heavily toward that creation activity occurring only thousands of years ago then it is a denial of the Infallibility of Scripture to deny such doctrinal issues.

Sam Drucker

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