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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Do Nazarenes Teach Biblical Inerrency?

The following is an excerpt from an email exchange I had with some pastors regarding the Church of the Nazarene's Statement of Belief regarding The Holy Scriptures.  At the time I was only aware of a resolution circulated by the Joplin/Missouri District NYI.  Since then I am now aware of a resolution put forward by the Indianapolis and SW Indiana Districts.  Both resolutions are simply trying to make our Statement of Belief clearer and stronger.  Having read both resolutions, I think they both misunderstand what our statement already says and miss the problem with our statement.  Therefore I wanted to elaborate on both of these issues.

Here are the link to the resolution:

The wording in our Articles of Faith, while not untrue, confuses what the Scripture tells us. Our wording seems to state that the Word of God, while inspired, is only to be considered inerrant in "things necessary to our salvation". Scripture states something different even within the passages used to support our own statement.

Example:   2 Timothy 3:16-17 "16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." "All Scripture is inspired by God" - "All" meaning all not only selected verses; "inspired by God" meaning coming directly from God though written by humans in human languages; "from God" meaning it is true since God is Truth and everything that comes from Him is true. So logic and common sense would tell us that everything we consider Scripture is true. (there are many Scriptures supporting this but I won't list them here) Now I wouldn't say this means that every period, spelling and comma are inerrant as some would say because I don't see any Biblical support for that but that doesn't change the fact that everything found in Scripture is true. "All Scripture is...profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;" - "teaching" means doctrinal teaching; "reproof" means refutation of adversaries; "correction" means to set right again; "teaching" is as in discipleship; and "righteousness" refers to our disposition or conduct in common life. NONE of these things have to do with "things necessary for salvation". I think profitable can equate to true because if it weren't true it wouldn't be profitable and likewise if it is true then by definition it is inerrant.  

  So what I see is a statement that, while not untrue in and of itself, is confusing.

I found it interesting that in Chapter Four of 2 Timothy the writer goes on to command us to preach the Word and warns us of a time when people would not tolerate sound doctrine. The writer makes a clear statement about Scripture, tells us to preach it and then warns us of those who would call it into question and turn from it. We see that happening now and perhaps we, as a church, have become victims of our own failure to communicate a sufficiently strong statement about the Scriptures.      We need to make it clear in our language that we hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures, period.       In the end, I don't see the need for our statement to contain a phrase mentioning "things necessary to our salvation" specificallly. Rather than enhance our statement it does more to confuse it really. It is a very confusing statement. First it says that we believe that all Scripture is inerrant (plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures) and then we go on to expound and thus throw into question our initial statement (inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation). If the first statement is true, the second one is true by default and need not be specified. However, if the second one is true then the first one isn't necessarily true. Therein lies the problem with this wording.  This wording would be much more accurate and clear I think; "We believe in the divine and plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, that being the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith."

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exnazarene said...

You make some EXCELLENT points!!

The current reading of Article 4 IS confusing and misleading.

No wonder the liberals/emergents have been able to gain such a foothold into the denomination and take such a low view of scripture!

Facebook site: Concerned Nazarenes

Nicholas said...

Thanks ex!

It is really weird how I stumbled upon your blog only moments before you posted on mine. There is a daunting task ahead of us. Historical, quite possibly.


reformednazarene said...

Thanks for posting this Nicholas. You may not be far off with your assessment that this could be historical. It is an unbelievable invasion of non biblical practices that would stun my father were he here today. He was a Nazarene minister for 50 years.

James Diggs said...


You should understand that our statement is not saying that only selective passages "concerning salvation" are "inerrant". It does not say that some passages of the bible are inerrant and others are not, it fact it doesn't speak to what scripture IS at all regarding to inerrancy.

The point wasn't to make a statement about "some" scripture, but we believe that ALL scripture is "inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation."

This part of the statement does not say what scripture IS, it says what it DOES. It doesn't actually say that any of scripture IS inerrant, but it does say that all of it "inerrantly reveals".

Now our statement does say what scripture is, like the verses you quote we affirm that all scripture is God breathed and inspired. However, "God breathed" does not mean "inerrant". That is only a conclusion you have drawn, not what the passages say.

But lets talk about your conclusion for a minute. Adam was "God Breathed", was he "inerrant" and incapable of error? The story of the fall would tell us no. The church is also "God breathed" are we or even the original apostles after Pentecost "inerrant"?

As for our article of faith, I think it is clear- the only reason it would not seem clear is if you wanted the part of inerrancy to be referencing what scripture is. If you think scripture IS inerrant, and you were reading this view into our article of faith I can see why you would find it confusing. But, if you read it as it actually reads it is not making a declaration about what scripture is at all regarding inerrancy and so there is nothing to clarify in that regard.

I said this before - but the proposed change like the one you support does not clarify our beliefs as Nazarenes it introduces a fundamentalist view that is not part of our history and tradition. The proposed resolution is not clarifying, it is introducing a new statement about what scripture IS that is not part of our tradition.

Nicholas said...

Wow. (I've been saying that alot lately).

OK, you should really study what words mean and what the authors of our church doctrine and this statement actually believed instead of just making stuff up. Everything you wrote is wholly contrived out of thin air.

Going in reverse:

There is no way what I advocate as a change, by removing a portion of one sentence, can be introducing something that isn't already there. Only in Emergaworld can removing something add something.

Plenary inspiration means it is without error in its entirety. That is what it says. That is what Wesley taught. That is what Wiley (who was the architect of the statement) taught. That is what the Scriptures claim. You cannot have something that is Divinely inspired that is wrong.

I would say that the plenary, when combined with the word inspiration would denotes inerrancy but Wiley would go a step further and say that inspiration itself denotes inerrancy and I wouldn't disagree.

Your comparisons between Scripture, Adam and Acts Christians is so bizarre that it is clear there is no point refuting them.

Hope your day is well.

camcorbet said...

hey nyk,
first off i enjoy reading your posts. thanks for sharing. second, ive never really seen it before, but i can see how the article of faith on the holy scriptures can be a bit confusing. i also think that the fellas on swid district are on to something with their proposal. (im not just being biased because my brother in law is a pastor on swid.) i agree it is right at the heart but i also see where it can be misconstrued.

James Diggs said...


As for my "bizarre" question about inerrancy that you see there being “no point in answering”, I'll just leave your inability to answer that question as evidence that "God breathed means" doesn’t in itself mean inerrant as you have concluded. If it did, these other things God breathed according to scripture would also be inerrant the same way.

Furthermore, "Plenary" is not a synonym for inerrancy; rather plenary inspiration speaks to the fullness and completeness of the inspiration. Now if our statement of belief said we hold to "verbal" plenary inspiration that would be another matter.

The term “inerrancy” means more than just saying you don’t believe anything is in scripture by mistake; inerrancy is a doctrinal position that fails to acknowledge that though scripture is completely and fully inspired, it is done so through human beings in a human and historical context.

I would be the first person to tell you that I don’t think anything is in our scripture by mistake; nothing is in our scripture by accident. With that said, I would reject the doctrinal position of inerrancy because of the way it is applied to scripture without regard to the living and redeemed human community from which God breathed it.

My example of this can be found in the resolutions being proposed themselves as they want to “clarify” that inerrancy means believing in a literal “six day creation” as scientific truth. The fact that scripture says that the earth was created in six days is not a mistake, it is part of a completely inspired narrative that reveals what is true about our Creator. The fact that God inspired human beings with this creation account through their understanding of the world in such primeval imagery and language takes nothing away from the truth the narrative reveals about God and how He relates to his creation (us). God’s revelation to them in our modern scientific language simply would have not made any sense to them in their context.

Even though I believe that the scientific explanation of evolution does not mean I believe that the creation narrative is “wrong” and it certainly isn’t a mistake. Our creation narrative carries with it the beauty of God revealing himself to humanity where we live. Our written scripture foreshadows an incarnational element that Christ himself brings to complete and utter fullness by becoming the Word made flesh.

In this we understand the role of scripture as pointing us to Jesus Christ and our salvation which is the good news of our reconciliation with him. Again, our existing statement expresses this and the proposed resolution is suggesting something different all together. Most people in our tradition understand this. Just because to you and a few others (relatively speaking in light of the size of our denomination) all this sounds “new”, does not mean that these concepts are “contrived out of thin air”. Though others could explain things much better than I can, our article of faith is based on sound scholarship that is diametrically opposed to the resolution being suggested. Because of this I don’t think the resolution put forward has any chance of passing.

Nicholas said...

By bizarre I am referring to the fact that you take an inanimate object, the first human, and a group of fallen humans and present them as somehow equal. Then you add onto that three different examples of "God-breathed" and present them as the same. They are different in everyway except for the involvement of the Holy Spirit. There can be no comparison between the three. They are not even the same word or the same meanings. They are entirely unrelated in terms of what we are talking about.

I never said plenary is a synonym for inerrant, however, when you put plenary and inspiration together they mean "that kind of inspiration which excludes all defect in the utterance of the inspired message."

That is the definition. "excludes all defect" means inerrant.

This is what Wiley explains;

"By plenary inspiration, we mean that the whole and every part is divinely inspired."

"we conclude that the Scriptures were given by plenary inspiration, embracing throughout the elements of superintendence, elevation and suggestion, in that manner and to that degree that the Bible becomes the infallible Word of God"

"(')superintendence,(') by which is meant a belief that God so guides those chosen as the organs of revelation, that their writings are kept free from error."

(Scripture is) "infallibly preserved from all error,"

These quotes from Wiley, the first and foremost Nazarene Theologian explain in clear terms and leave no doubt that the Nazarene church, by stating our belief in plenary inspiration, believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of the whole of Scripture, which is all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments and everything contained therein.

Wesley says in response to someone who wrote that the writers of the Bible "made some mistakes",

"Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth."

In fact, the person Wesley was responding to presented the exact idea that you are presenting, that is, that Scripture is inerrant only in areas of salvation and Wesley wonders aloud if this person might be an atheist. Wesley had no room in his theology for this idea and neither does Wiley.

I am not really in support of the current resolution because I don't think it efficiently expresses what we believe. I think what they say is true but it was not thought out well and is rather ugly and clumsy really. However, I may be willing to support it if the threats of some are valid, that they will leave the Church if it is passed. I would suffer a clumsy statement to be rid of those poisoning our Church.

Anyway, Wiley argues against what you claim and so does Wesley. There is simply no way around it. Sorry.

James Diggs said...


Your example from Wesley is a straw argument because I have already said I don’t believe scripture is full of “mistakes”, and I certainly do not believe that it contains any “falsehood”. Also, I have already explained that neither I nor our Nazarene statement of faith says that “Scripture is inerrant only in areas of salvation.” Again, you are misquoting the idea and changing the meaning to speak about what scripture IS, but our statement speaks about inerrancy in terms of what it DOES. This is a nuance that you seem not to understand.

Perhaps telling of why you struggle with this nuance, I find it interesting that you call scripture an “inanimate object” in light of Hebrews 4:12. Clearly you think that which is infallible is about the “inanimate” words on the page rather than the living Word of Christ himself that was breathed into the church. You dismiss the correlation of God’s breathe on the community in which God used to bring us the testimony of scripture. You fail to see the beauty of the respiration taking place as God breathes on his church in such a way that the scripture is breathed out from the church and then returned to and breathed in by the church throughout history giving us life. There is not anything “inanimate” about any of this.

I also find it interesting that you fail to see the difference in the kind of infallibility one might hold to believing in “verbal plenary inspiration” (the statement used by traditions who believe infallibility is about the very letters and words on the page), and “plenary inspiration”; especially in light of the clarifying statement in our article to which the term is used. Ironically, you seem to argue that because the way these words are put “together” they take on a specific meaning; yet you want to ignore the fact that the term “plenary inspiration” is qualified by the phrase “concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation” that the authors of this new resolution object to.

It is interesting that you would quote Wiley in your argument because he was instrumental in constructing the very specific wording in the manual that is being objected to. Let me quote you an article found in the 2005 Wesleyan Theological journal in the next comment box.

James Diggs said...

“The story of Evangelical Christianity’s emergence from fundamentalism has been told many times. It is partly a story of joint effort across denominational lines symbolized by the founding of Christianity Today and the National Association of Evangelicals as harbingers of a new style of post-fundamentalist evangelicalism.

But it is equally the case that each denomination affected by fundamentalism later backed away from it by its own methods, each devising its own strategy for releasing fundamentalism’s grip.

H. Orton Wiley’s actions at the 1928 General Assembly demonstrate this. The move was on to introduce the notion of inerrancy into the church’s Article of Faith on Scripture. Wiley had spent several years researching and writing the work that would be published eventually as his 3- volume Christian Theology. Alert to the issues, and oriented to an Anglo-Methodist understanding of scripture, he guided the General Assembly to amend the statement carefully.

The revised article on Scripture adopted by the Nazarenes in 1928 read: “We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures by which we understand the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation; so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.”15 Like the Church of England’s corresponding article on Scripture, which John Wesley and early British Methodists had been weaned on, and the corresponding article in American Methodism, with which Bresee, Reynolds, and other key Nazarene leaders were familiar, the revised Nazarene article on Scripture in 1928 emphasized the church’s confession that Scripture is a reliable and trustworthy witness to salvation, while avoiding fundamentalism’s more extreme emphasis. Wiley had succeeded in preventing the urge to tinker from allowing it to drift over into the Princeton notion of the total inerrancy of scripture, with its attendant problems.16 By contrast, the Wesleyan Methodist Church went the opposite way in 1951, adopting the strictest view of inerrancy and creating a striking theological difference between it and its closest sister denominations—the Nazarenes and the Free Methodists.17”

15 “Articles of Religion” in Encyclopedia of World Methodism, Vol. 1 (Nashville: United
Methodist Publishing House, 1974) provides the Anglican and Methodist creeds laid out in parallel fashion. See pp. 147-148 for the articles on Scripture. Church of the Nazarene, Manual, (Kansas City:Nazarene Publishing House, 1928), p. 22.

16 Paul M. Bassett’s fine study of this is in “The Theological Identity of the North American
Holiness Movement: Its Understanding of the Nature and Role of the Bible,” in Donald W. Dayton and Robert K. Johnston, eds. The Variety of American Evangelicalism (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991), pp. 72-108. Also see Bassett’s “The Fundamentalist Leavening of the Holiness Movement” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 13 (Spring 1978): 65-91.

17Ira Ford McLeister and Roy Stephen Nicholson, Conscience and Commitment: The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America (Marion, Indiana: The Wesley Press, 1976), pp. 226-227. Stephen Paine, president of Houghton College, was the primary leader of this change. See Wayne E. Caldwell, ed., Reformers and Revivalists: The History of the Wesleyan Church (Indianapolis: The Wesley Press, 1992), p. 330.

James Diggs said...

Finally Nyk,

You fail to understand that Wiley and others carefully crafted our article of faith concerning scripture to reflect the big tent community the Church of the Nazarene was made up of. The statement is both accurate in essentials and generous in nonessentials as consistent with our tradition. Yet, you conclude your last comment saying that you would support the new resolution, which strips away such generosity, in order to be “rid of those poisoning our Church.”

There are many, MANY, in our tradition that could be tempted to argue that fundamentalism is poising our church, yet those fundamentalist who are a part of us because of the way the resonate with the hopefulness of our holiness message are not being run out like you and a few others are advocating in reverse. It is this spirit trying to “rid” others that is most inconsistent with out Nazarene tradition. This is another reason why the proposed resolution does not have even a chance of passing.


James Diggs

Nicholas said...

I am only going to go through this one more time. We are talking about what our statement MEANS. I have shown you three times what it MEANS using the words of Wiley himself. Yet you keep coming back with this idea that somehow I don’t understand what it means. If I don't understand it then Wiley himself doesn't understand it because I am simply quoting him. I am quoting him precisely because he was the one who help write it. If anyone should know what it means it should be him.

I will apologize to you for insinuating you claimed that the Bible is inerrant ONLY in things concerning Salvation which as you noted you didn't in fact claim. I have been having this discussion in a number of different places and with many different people and that was a claim mentioned by someone else, not you. My apologies.

Also, when you talked about what the Bible IS and DOES, I tried to read the statement from that point of reference. While I still disagree with your conclusion I think that making that distinction reveals the meaning of the portion of the statement that speaks about inerrancy in revealing salvation. I will be more specific later.

Wiley says that we believe in plenary inspiration. (NOTE: I know what verbal plenary inspiration is and neither Wiley nor I feel there is any Scriptural support for that concept)

Wiley defines inspiration as having three elements; superintendence, elevation and suggestion.

Wiley says that superintendence must be present in ALL inspiration.

Wiley defines superintendence as the fact that God guided the writers to such a degree that the writings were inerrant.

Wiley says that inspiration alone makes what was inspired infallible and inerrant.

He backs that up by adding the word plenary to inspiration to assert that fact that he believed that all of the Bible and EVERYTHING contained within in was inspired and therefore infallible and inerrant.

Here is where your comment about IS and DOES enlightened me.

The portion of the statement that reads "inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation" is speaking of the purpose of Scripture. That is referring to what Scripture DOES. Looking at it that way makes it much more understandable as to why it is there.

However, the first part of our statement does indeed speak of what the Scripture IS. It only makes sense when read that way and in light of what Wiley taught about Scripture.

Scripture IS a collection of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments and is fully and completely (plenary) inspired (infallible and inerrant).

And again, I don't want to really belabor this point, but Wesley was speaking to this exact discussion in his comment about mistakes in the Bible. You may not like the terms he used because you view all of these things as having different meanings when the rest of us use them interchangeably but when you read the story of that episode and the discussions going on in European Christianity at the time, he was responding directly to someone who was espousing the exact doctrine that you and your friends are forwarding. Granted, you are phrasing things a little differently than your friends are but judging from past experience I feel pretty confident that if you were forced to choose you would compromise what you are saying to fit their ideas much more readily than mine.

Nicholas said...

Lastly, there are two specific things that Wiley makes a point of in his writings in regards to inspiration that would not commonly be included in "things necessary to our salvation". He makes a special point of stating that the truths and facts of the Creation and the antediluvian times had to be inspired. And in his view, inspired and inerrant are synonymous. Additionally, the things mentioned in Timothy in regards to Scripture being inspired have no relation to salvation per se.

Wiley believed all Scripture was inspired and that all things inspired were infallible and inerrant. And that is what he wrote in our statement.

I have had one G.S. email me and give full support to what I have written about this topic and I know of at least one other who would agree as well. I would suspect that most if not all of them would concur. If a G.S. agrees with me as well as Wiley and Wesley, I feel pretty sure of the meaning of our statement.

As for the resolution. I don't like it for the reasons I mentioned above. I don't get to vote on it anyway. If it doesn't pass it will be because of the quality of the language. I feel that overall the statement is good and properly reflects our beliefs. It is sad that a small group of people (some rather powerful) have chosen to redefine the meaning of plenary inspiration and thusly have thrown confusion into what we believe. Thereby forcing us to reconsider the language used in our statement to keep it from being twisted. I wish someone had been on the ball twenty or thirty years ago when this shift in thinking began to take hold. But here we are now and it will be long, drawn out and painful. And I am sorry it has come to this.

Nicholas said...


When I said "I feel that overall the statement is good and properly reflects our beliefs." I was referring to our CURRENT statement NOT the resolution statement.

For some reason the blog will not let me edit my comment.

exnazarene said...


It's because teachers/leaders have taken Article 4 and "Clintonized" it to give it a liberal slant....

Remember: "It depends on what you mean by the word 'is'...

....that we are now in need of stronger clarification for the inerrancy of scripture.

Steve said...

Glad I found this post. Just a coincidence? Not! This issue is now taking center stage in our local church. We've been dealing with the issue of COMPLETE inerrency of the Word of God for over a month. It looks like this is an issue for other churches as well. It's amazing to see how He is moving others to stand for truth across the land. I cast my vote for re-writing article four.

Jason said...

Hi there, stumbled across your blog and thought I'd comment. You wrote in the initial post:

""inspired by God" meaning coming directly from God though written by humans in human languages; "from God" meaning it is true since God is Truth and everything that comes from Him is true. So logic and common sense would tell us that everything we consider Scripture is true."

To illustrate what I understand our current article to say, I might give this illustration.

Imagine I were to tell you I went to the doctor last Tuesday with a list of symptoms. I was coughing, sneezing, sore throat, etc. She immediately diagnosed my condition, prescribed the appropriate medicine, and brought healing to my body. As I shared my testimony with you, you saw me being able to breath clearly, speak without coughing, etc. You would say my story, my testimony was TRUE.

Now imagine I went back home, saw the (large!) doctor's bill and realized that it was actually MONDAY when I saw the doctor, not Tuesday!

Would you say my words were untrue? Did my human mistake ruin the point of the story I was telling you? Of course not!

You would say I faithfully told you the truth about my sickness and the means to my healing, even though I had mistaken the day it happened.

This is the difference between the inerrancy position and what I believe to be a Wesleyan position - how the Scriptures function. Both affirm the Scriptures to be TRUE.

I believe a thoroughly Wesleyan position does so by claiming that the Scriptures faithfully (by the divine inspiration of the Spirit) communicate the message of salvation - in human words (which is prone to errors, mistakes, inaccuracies, etc.). By the way, this is very much the way we see salvation - God calls, we respond.

My understanding is that we have used the word "inerrantly" as an adverb in order to communicate "how" Scripture speaks with authority - it faithfully shares the message in human language.

This usage follows the wording of the 39 Articles of Religion from the Church of England, to which Wesley belonged.

Just my thoughts...

Jason said...

If I might also clarify one more thing - taking my doctor/healing imagery a bit further.

The "message" of my testimony, the point of my telling the story points to the doctor - the one who healed me!

So, having read through the other comments, I agree with James that Scripture (the written word) has speaks as an authoritative witness because it points us us to the healer, the Living Word, Christ himself! ie. "all things necessary for salvation"

pastorpetez said...

Not to be pickey but, Timothy was refering to the Hebrew scriptures. There was no such thing as the New Testament. And what do we do with Paul when he says this is his opinion not the word of God?

Nicholas said...

"Not to be pickey but, Timothy was refering to the Hebrew scriptures. There was no such thing as the New Testament. And what do we do with Paul when he says this is his opinion not the word of God?"


Not to be "pickey"(sp) but Timothy wasn't referring to anything. Paul was certainly referring to the Old Testament however, there was only the book of Revelation that had not been written at the point that Paul made that statement to Timothy so it is very likely he was referring to the vast majority of the New Testament as well. And in 2 Peter 3, Peter refers to Paul's letters as Scripture. There is just no way around the fact that the Bible is Divinely Inspired in it's entirety. One thing you have accomplished is being the first person I have encountered who has made the argument that the Old Testament is inspired but possibly not the New Testament. Typically, the Old Testament and the Pauline Epistles are the first things attacked as not being the divinely inspired.
And so maybe you can show me where your last claim is derived from. Thanks!



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