Biblical doctrines are teachings explicitly taught in the Bible. For example, the inspiration of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 declares that God is the author of Scripture:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The doctrine of biblical inerrancy reflects on the character of God and is foundational to our understanding of everything the Bible teaches.

It is worth pointing out that only the original autographs (the original manuscripts written by the apostles, prophets, etc.) are under the divine promise of inspiration and inerrancy. There is no biblical promise that copies of the original manuscripts would be equally inerrant or free from errors. As the Bible has been copied thousands of times over thousands of years, some copyist errors have likely occurred.

I found an article about the 1978 International Council on Biblical Inerrancy where several hundred Christians representing forty-one churches and thirty-eight Christian denominations met to study, pray, and deliberate over an essential doctrinal issue: the inerrancy of Scripture. Over 300 Evangelicals, including John F. MacArthur, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, and Josh D. McDowell, signed the document. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Surely this is not the first “official” approval of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy within Protestantism? Did this doctrine exist prior to 1978? I fully acknowledge and understand that Augustine wrote to Jerome to express the meaning of this doctrine and the Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is without error. However, I am looking for sources from Reformed Protestantism to indicate when the doctrine of biblical inerrancy was first defined and documented.

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    Wikipedia has a decent history: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy#History
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 9:20
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    It's an interesting overview, but I will not be accepting every partial quote and every claim as inerrant. I am forming an opinion that although the doctrine of biblical inerrancy was not formally defined and documented by some Protestant theologians till the19th century, those men do not speak for all Reformed Protestants. Seems to me that there is actually little disagreement with the Catholic Church and the Reformed Protestant Church on this subject. The search continues for post-reformation sources prior to the 19th century.
    – Lesley
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 11:08
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    I'm not sure the belief that only the original autographs were inerrant, which effectively says the Bible as we know it may be wrong, was prominent beore the nineteenth century, as a response to textual criticism, and before the proliferation of versions. There was a much stronger acceptance that the Bible as we had it was true, right and reliable, however that came to be. Some tied this in with the reception by the early church of a particular text possibly even correcting errors in the autograph, The KJV-only groups ae an extreme example even today.,
    – davidlol
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 4:29
  • Good point about the original autographs (which no longer exist) and the more recent emergence of textual criticism being applied to the proliferation of Bible versions from the 19th century.
    – Lesley
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 7:47

1 Answer 1


As often happens in doctrinal statements, these usually arise as a reaction to attacks by heterodox or heretics. So it was with the doctrine of the Trinity or the incarnation of the Son. In the same way, this doctrine cannot be said to have been non-existent before its official formation. We can trace the beginning of the controversy to the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century with the theological treatises of Spinoza.[1] And later the works of Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, and even Darwin. These men caused the doctrine of inerrancy and the authority of the scriptures to be affected among liberal theologians and the population in general. These ideas quickly permeated European churches, universities and seminaries. And different doctrines about Scripture are held, then, on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States they see Scripture “as a set of facts to be believed,” while in England (for example) the Bible is “a set of rules to be obeyed".[2]

Many churches in the United States, unaware of this, sent men to prepare for the ministry in these training centers in Europe, but they returned infected with these liberal ideas and a low view of the Bible. Thus, many churches and seminaries began to look down on the Scriptures, but there were also many men who, out of love for the Bible, rejected theological seminaries.[3] This is one of the reasons why the Niagara Bible Conference was created in 1876. At the 1878 conference, James Brookes wrote a fourteen-article creed, to “assure the orthodox religious world that this was an evangelical meeting, free of all heresies”. The first of the articles, deals with bibliology, affirming plenary and verbal inspiration, as well as inerrancy (although the concept of it is found only implicitly).[4]

We believe “that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” by which we understand the whole of the book called the Bible; nor do we take the statement in the sense in which it is sometimes foolishly said that works of human genius are inspired, but in the sense that the Holy Ghost gave the very words of the sacred writings to holy men of old; and that His Divine inspiration is not in different degrees, but extends equally and fully to all parts of these writings, historical, poetical, doctrinal and prophetical, and to the smallest word, and inflection of a word, provided such word is found in the original manuscripts. [5]

Later in 1881 A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield published a book titled Inspiration, in response to Charles Briggs, since he opened the door (at least in the United States) to an inspired but errant Bible. The response from both was overwhelming, the Bible, although written by men, is “graven with the finger of God”, because both the ideas, the themes, the historical facts and even the words in which they are expressed are inspired and therefore both infallible in their verbal expression, "when the ipsissima verba of the original autographs are ascertained and interpreted in their natural and intended sense", since the Holy Spirit was present in all the writer's work "securing the errorless expression in language of the thought designed by God". [6]

In 1910, a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA) was held, following the ordination to the ministry of three men, despite rejecting the affirmation of the virgin birth of Christ. In this assembly they rejected the charges against these priests, but they formed a doctrinal declaration of five articles of faith for future candidates. The doctrines described were inerrancy, the virgin birth of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the authenticity of miracles. These were chosen because they were the main issues in dispute with liberal theologians at the time. The first article is the following:

It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of the Holy Scriptures as to keep them from error. Our Confession says [Chapter I, Section 10]: "The Supreme Judge, by whom all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. [7]

Between 1910 and 1915, the works titled The Fundamentals were published, consisting of ninety articles in 12 volumes. Its purpose was to combat the liberalism and biblical errancy that were penetrating American denominations and creating problems in seminaries.[8] This was a wake-up call to the impact these philosophies were having on academics, seminaries, and Christian denominations. In 1919, based on these books, The World Conference on Christian Fundamentals was developed, which contained nine articles in its doctrinal statement, inspired by the creed of the Niagara Bible Conference and the articles of the PCUSA General Assembly. Let's look at the first of the articles from this conference.

We believe in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as verbally inspired of God, and inerrant in the original writings, and that they are the supreme and final authority in faith and life.[9]

In subsequent years, controversies over this doctrine increased, the most notable being the Auburn Affirmation in 1924, followed by the 1967 Confession of the PCUSA, an openly progressive confession contrary to inerrancy. And Daniel Fuller's article that declared that the Bible was not free from error. This led to the formation of The Conference on the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture in 1973 developed by the Ligioner Valley Study Center, subsequently publishing the book God's Inerrant Word, where the presentations were compiled in the form of articles and began with a declaration about the biblical inerrancy. This would prove to be the seed of what the ICBI would become.

[1]: Spinoza, Baruch.Theologico-Political Treatise Chapter VII, XIII

[2]: Holmes, Stephen. (2009). Evangelical doctrines of Scripture in transatlantic perspective. Evangelical Quarterly. 81. 38-63. 10.1163/27725472-08101003.

[3]: James H. Brookes, “Meetings for Bible Study,” The Truth: or, Testimony for Christ 7 (1878): 483. Seen in Claxton, Nicholas James March 2019 “The Niagara Creed: Its History, Theology, and Relevance.” Submitted for PhD at Bob Jones University.

[4]: Pettegrew, “Niagara Bible Conference Part 2,” 12. En Claxton, Nicholas James Marzo 2019 “The Niagara Creed: Its History, Theology, and Relevance.” Submitted for PhD at Bob Jones University. Also https://www.theologycentral.net/blog/the-niagara-creed/

[5]:“Declaration of Doctrinal Belief,” 509. En Claxton, Nicholas James Marzo 2019 “The Niagara Creed: Its History, Theology, and Relevance.” Submitted for PhD at Bob Jones University.

[6]:A.A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield. Inspiration (Presbyterian Board Of Publication And Sabbath-School Work, 1881, Philadelphia) p. 71, 21, 28, 16.

[7]: Minutes of the General Assembly, 1910, pages 272 - 273. In https://www.pcahistory.org/documents/deliverance.html

[8]:Farnell, David, Early Twentieth Century Challenges to Inerrancy, Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate, Wipf & Stock Oregon, 2016 p.147

[9]:The Christian Workers magazine (January 1920) volume 20, page 382, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Also https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Doctrinal_Statement_of_the_World_Conference_on_Christian_Fundamentals_1919

  • Doctrinal statements "usually arise as a reaction to attacks by heterodox or heretics" and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy "cannot be said to have been non-existent before its official formation." "We can trace the beginning of the controversy to the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century" and the influence of liberal theologians. +1
    – Lesley
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 19:56

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