Origen And The Inerrancy Of Scripture -- By: Michael W. Holmes

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 24:3 (Sep 1981)
Article: Origen And The Inerrancy Of Scripture
Author: Michael W. Holmes


Origen And The Inerrancy Of Scripture

Michael W. Holmes*

Did Origen, the most influential Biblical scholar in the early centuries of the Church, believe in the “inerrancy” of Scripture? Yes. Does this mean that he may be cited as evidence in support of the thesis that “the Church throughout its history has always held to the inerrancy of the literal sense of the text”?1 No. As we shall see in the following pages, Origen did hold a high view of the divine author-ship and inspiration of Scripture, and from this he formulated a theory of the “inerrancy” of Scripture. But for Origen this theory of the full veracity of all Scripture applied only to the spiritual sense of the text, not to the ordinary or literal sense—which in fact, according to Origen, contains numerous errors, impossible statements, and even fictional elements. He held, as it were, to what may be termed the “analogical inerrancy” rather than to the “literal inerrancy” of Scripture. Following a brief discussion of these views of Origen we shall conclude by mentioning some of the implications of these findings for certain aspects of the contemporary “inerrancy debate.”

I. Origen’s View Of Inspiration2

Belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture was one of the two fundamental presuppositions underlying Origen’s exegetical, theological and apologetic efforts. He was firmly convinced that

the holy books are not the compositions of men, but as a result of the inspiration [epipnoias] of the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father of the universe through Jesus Christ, these were written and have come down to us.3

The emphasis is on the activity of the Holy Spirit: Origen speaks of the Spirit as the one who “composes” or “supervises” the formation of Scripture.4 Ultimately

*Michael Holmes is instructor in New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary.

it is the Holy Spirit who is the true author of the holy books.5

This phenomenon of inspiration was not limited to certain parts or just one Testament of Scripture. Every part of both Testaments was equally inspired: “The divine character of Scripture extending through all of it” (eis pasan autēn).6 In other words, “the wisdom of God has penetrated to all the Scripture inspired b...

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