Inerrancy: The Prevailing Orthodox Opinion of the Nineteenth-Century Theological Elite -- By: Ronald F. Satta
FM 24:1 (Fall 2006) p. 79
Inerrancy: The Prevailing Orthodox Opinion of the Nineteenth-Century Theological Elite
Senior Pastor Webster Bible Church
Webster, New York 14580
One of the foundational tenets affirmed among American fundamentalists is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. As one scholar has observed, “A firm trust and belief in every word of the Bible . . . has been both the pride and the scandal of Fundamentalism.”1
Conservative Protestants believe that adherence to inerrancy unites them comfortably with the Reformation legacy and by extension to the ancient church. They believe that inerrancy long represented the dominant orthodox opinion in the United States and elsewhere. In contrast, some modern scholars of American religion argue that the doctrine of inerrancy is a recent, late-nineteenth-century innovation, a misguided addendum to Protestant theology. For instance, in his important book The Roots of Fundamentalism, Ernest Sandeen argues that a well-defined doctrine of Scripture, including inerrancy of the original autographs, did not exist prior to 1881.2
He contends that two late-nineteenth-century Princeton theologians concocted the concept of inerrancy in a trailblazing article entitled “Inspiration,” published in the Presbyterian Review in 1881. In this essay A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield vigorously defended the errorless quality of the canonical text as initially composed. Everything Scripture teaches, they insisted, whether pertaining to matters of faith or fact is necessarily perfect—down to the very words.
According to Sandeen, harassed by higher critics and encroachments by modern science, these two scholars allegedly conjured up the doctrine in an effort to protect Scripture from such assaults, making it impregnable to attack.3 He asserts:
A systematic theology of biblical authority which defended the common Evangelical faith in the infallibility of the Bible had to be created in the
FM 24:1 (Fall 2006) p. 80
midst of the nineteenth-century controversy. The formation of this theory in association with the growth of the millenarian movement determined the character of Fundamentalism.4
Sandeen believes that by affirming a commitment to inerrancy, fundamentalists mistakenly believed that they were allied with the traditional Protestant theory of inspiration, when in fact they had been deceived by a recent innovation.
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