Jesus’ offhanded comment about Scripture in John 10:35 is one of the most important things he ever said.

And one of the most confusing. It helps to know the context.

The Jews were looking to stone Jesus (v. 31) because he, as a man, dared to make himself equal to God (v. 33). In response to this charge, Jesus quotes from Psalm 82. He appeals to Scripture (“law” in this case being interchangeable with “Scripture”) to defend himself against the charge of blasphemy. The Jews were upset that he referred to himself as the “Son of God,” so Jesus reminds them that in their Scriptures the word “gods” (elohim) was used in reference to wicked kings (or judges, or magistrates, or some governing authority). The use of “gods” in Psalm 82:6 seems troubling to us, but the Psalmist, who is speaking for God at this point, is probably using a bit of sarcasm: “Look, I know you are so important that you are gods among men, but you will die like all other men.” Jesus isn’t trying to prove his divinity from this curious reference in Psalm 82. He’s trying to puncture their pretensions. He says, in effect, “You are so hung up on the word ‘God,’ but right here in the Scriptures these men were called ‘gods.’ You’ll have to do better than to prosecute me on such flimsy evidence.”

The part of the argument I want us to notice is Jesus’ rather casual comment that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Here’s Jesus defending himself from the Bible, and he’s not making his point from the Torah or from one of the lofty passages in Isaiah. He’s making his case from one word in an obscure Psalm. And he doesn’t have to prove to anyone that Psalm 82 is authoritative. Jesus doesn’t try to convince his opponents that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He merely asserts the truth as a common ground they can all agree on. Down to the individual words and the least heralded passages, anything from Scripture possessed, for Jesus, unquestioned authority. “According to His infallible estimate,” Robert Watts once remarked about Jesus, “it was sufficient proof of the infallibility of any sentence or phrase of a clause, to show that it constituted a portion of what the Jews called ‘the Scripture.'”[1]

The word for “broken” (luo) in verse 35 means to loose, release, dismiss, or dissolve. It carries here the sense of breaking, nullifying, or invalidating. It’s Jesus way of affirming that no word of Scripture can be falsified. No promise or threat can fall short of fulfillment. No statement can be found guilty of error. For Jesus—just as for his Jewish audience—he believed Scripture was the word of God, and as such, it would be gross impiety to think that any word spoken by God, or committed to writing by God, might be an errant word, a wrong word, or a broken word.

Always Under, Never Over

Inerrancy means the word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the word of God. When we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word. We claim the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. When we deny the complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures—in its genuine claims with regard to history, its teachings on the material world, its miracles, in the tiniest jots and tittles of all that it affirms—then we are forced to accept one of two conclusions. Either the Scripture is not all from God or God is not always dependable. To make either statement is to affirm what is sub-Christian. These conclusions do not express a proper submission to the Father, do not work for our joy in Christ, and do not bring honor to the Spirit who carried along the men to speak the prophetic word and author God’s holy book.

Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool’s errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine strikes at the vitals of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God’s word is to commit the sin of unbelief. “Let God be true though everyone were a liar” must be our rallying cry (Rom. 3:4).

Finding a half-way house where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not, is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible’s own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet. How are we to believe in a God who can do the unimaginable and forgive our trespasses, conquer our sins, and give us hope in a dark world if we cannot believe that this God created the world out of nothing, gave the virgin a child, and raised his Son on third day? “One cannot doubt the Bible,” J.I. Packer warns, “without far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness—that is, the inerrancy—of Holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God.”[2]

A Long Train of Witnesses

Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God, and rebellion against the Scriptures is rebellion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err. This high view of Scripture as the inerrant divinely-spirated word of God has been the position of Christians from the beginning. Clement of Rome (30-100) described “the Sacred Scriptures” as “the true utterance of the Holy Spirit” and that “in them there hath not been written anything that is unrighteous or counterfeit.” Irenaeus (120-202) claimed that the biblical writers “were filled with perfect knowledge on every subject,” and “incapable of a false statement.” According to Origen (185-254), “the sacred volumes are fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, and there is no passage either in the Law or the Gospel, or the writings of an Apostle, which does not proceed from the inspired source of Divine Truth.” Augustine (354-430) explained in a letter to Jerome, “I have learnt to ascribe to those Books which are of the Canonical rank, and only to them, such reverence and honour, that I firmly believe that no single error due to the author is found in any of them.” Jerome (393 – c.457) declared the Scriptures to be “the most pure fount. . . .written and edited by the Holy Spirit.”[3]

Likewise, Calvin (1509-64) claimed that if we follow the Scriptures we will be “safe from the danger of erring.” We ought to embrace “without finding fault, whatever is taught in Sacred Scripture.” We “owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God.” In Scripture, God “opens his own most hallowed lips,” and the apostles were “sure and genuine scribes of the Holy Spirit.”[4] It would not be hard to continue to multiply quotations like this from Calvin, and his view of inspiration was far from novel.

Christians of every tradition, until fairly recently have assumed the complete trustworthiness and comprehensive truthfulness of Scripture. Holding to the highest view of inspiration was not the invention of any tradition, theologian, or school. It was simply part of what it meant to be a Christian.

Seeing as how it came from Christ.

[1] Quoted in B.B. Warfield, Inspiration and Authority, 184, fn. 25.

[3] These citations can be found in Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 370-72.

[4] These five quotations come from, respectively, Comm. Matthew 22:29; Inst. 1.18.4; Inst. 1.6.1 (cf. 1.8.5); Inst. 2.12.1 (see also 1.8.5; 3.22.8; 3.23.5; Comm. 1 Peter 1:25); Inst. 4.8.9.