The Chicago Statement:
Due for an Update, or Doomed from the Start?
By Christian McShaffrey
The Gospel Coalition posted an article on March 15, 2022 titled “Updating the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: A Proposal” and, as probably expected, some conservatives have already begun to voice concern.
Concern is certainly warranted due to the editors’ admission that the goal of the proposed update is to “clarify arguments in light of new hermeneutical and cultural arguments.” There is, as the Preacher said, “no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), so any attempt to contemporize classic confessions of faith should be held suspect.
That having been said, the Chicago Statement is technically not a classic doctrinal standard. It is a modern one (1978), and this proposed update provides an opportunity to ponder the question: What if the statement was, in fact, doomed from the start? We suggest that it was and offer the following proof:
WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original (Chicago Statement, Article X).
This particular article affirms a distinction that is actually easy to read past. When the statement speaks of the “autographic text” of Scripture, it is referring to those documents that were originally penned by the Prophets and Apostles. These documents obviously no longer exist, and all biblical scholars readily acknowledge that.
When the statement then speaks of what scriptures the church has access to today (i.e., “copies and translations”), it intentionally stops short of applying the term “inspiration” to them and explains that they can only be considered accurate “to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.” This is an alarming admission because it effectively leaves today’s church without an inspired Bible.
Pastors who subscribe to the Chicago Statement are technically not able to hold up any printed edition of the Hebrew Old Testament, or the Greek New Testament, or any vernacular translation, and declare to the congregation, “This is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God,” because they have no way to verify it by comparing it to the permanently lost originals.
True, they can speak of a general “providence of God” that has led to “great accuracy,” but that affirms far less than earlier statements of the Protestant faith.
For example, those who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith also acknowledged that the inspired originals had been lost, but they allowed their faith in God’s promises (Psalm 119:89, Matthew 5:18, etc.) to lead them to a better conclusion concerning the copies they possessed: That God, by his singular care and providence, had kept his Word pure in all ages, so that the Bible they held in their hands could be regarded as inspired and authentical (WCF, I.8).
Any who are concerned about the changes that may be coming to the Chicago Statement should also take some time to consider whether its statement on biblical authority was sufficient in the first place. We suggest that it was not and invite the reader to return to a more classic expression of Protestant bibliology.