Article I of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
- Article I of the BF&M 1925, Article I of the BF&M 1963, and Article I of the BF&M 2000 are quite similar.
- The 1963 edition adds that the Bible is “the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man.” It closes with a further addition: “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” Many Southern Baptists come to believe this statement is theologically liberal, or at least vague, and needs to be corrected.
- The BF&M 2000 addresses this challenge with the addition of two statements: “Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy,” and, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”
- Visit bfm.sbc.net for a side-by-side comparison.
Four key truths
We know the Bible as the word of God. That means God is the source of Scripture, revealing truths we are incapable of knowing without divine help. The Bible is special revelation in that it is a record of God’s work before time, in time, and beyond time, with a particular emphasis on creation, sin, redemption, and restoration.
As such, Scripture complements God’s general revelation, which all people witness in creation and conscience (Rom. 1:18-32; 2:14-16).
Let’s break down Article I of the BF&M by briefly exploring four key truths Southern Baptists embrace with respect to the Scriptures.
First, the Bible is inspired. The apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). The phrase “inspired by God” comes from the Greek word theopneustos. It means “God-breathed” and conveys the idea that Scripture is the product of a holy exhalation.
God did not breathe into the Scriptures, thus inspiring them; he breathed out his word. The Bible’s origin is God himself.
Theologian Charles Ryrie defines inspiration this way: “God superintended the human authors of the Bible so that they composed and recorded without error His message to mankind in the words of their original writings.”
By superintendence, we do not mean that God dictated his word to human stenographers, as Muhammad claimed of the Qur’an (via the angel Gabriel). Rather, God breathed out his word, enabling the human authors to use their own writing styles, backgrounds, experiences, and ideas to put in written form the very thoughts of God, thus ensuring their accuracy.
Second, the autographs, or originals, of Scripture are inerrant. The inerrancy of Scripture means the Bible is fully truthful in all of its teachings. We refer to the original manuscripts, not copies, as inerrant. Subsequent manuscript copies may not claim inerrancy, although we have a treasure trove of manuscripts that give us confidence the Scriptures have been faithfully preserved and carefully copied.
P.D. Feinberg writes that inerrancy is “the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original manuscripts and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences.”
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy puts it this way: “Scripture in its entirety is free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.”
Third, the autographs of Scripture are infallible. By infallibility, we mean the original manuscripts are incapable of error. This is because the Bible is inspired, or God-breathed, resulting in “autographs” that are inerrant and infallible.
If the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, and his breathed-out words are exactly what he wanted to communicate to us, then we can rightly say these autographs are incapable of error because God is wholly dependable. He does not lie, make mistakes, or lead us astray.
Infallibility may be distinguished from inerrancy but not separated from it. Inerrancy essentially refers to the original manuscripts, while infallibility leans heavily on the character of their divine author.
If the autographs of Scripture contain errors, then the Holy Spirit either does not know all things or is not capable of ensuring that his breathed-out word is recorded accurately.
Infallibility assures us that the God who reveals Himself in creation, conscience, Christ, and the canon of Scripture is perfect in all his ways.
Fourth, the Bible is sufficient. By sufficient, we mean the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. It’s what the Reformers called sola scriptura – by Scripture alone.
As Wayne Grudem writes, “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each state of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.”
In practical terms, this means the Bible answers life’s most important questions, such as: Is there a God? Why do I exist? What’s wrong with the world? And what happens when I die?
We don’t need the Bible plus the Book of Mormon, or the Bible plus the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or the Bible plus the writings of Mary Baker Eddy to answer these questions. The Bible is sufficient.
This doesn’t mean Scripture is an exhaustive catalogue of everything God knows, for omniscience cannot be confined to a single set of divinely inspired writings.
Equally important, sufficiency doesn’t prevent God from speaking to us today through Spirit-filled leaders, dreams and visions, or even an audible voice if he so chooses, although these forms of communication are better classified as illumination, not revelation, and they must conform to Scripture.
Next: ARTICLE II of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000: God