by Rev. Stephen Preus

Taken from: König, Gustav Ferdinand Leopold. 1900. The life of Luther in forty-eight historical engravings. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Is the Bible true? Is it really reliable or is it full of errors? Doesn’t it contradict itself? Luther and other Lutheran Reformers answered these questions in no uncertain terms, defending the inerrancy of Scripture with gusto. The way they defended inerrancy in their day gives us confidence in our day that we are teaching nothing new, but stand on the shoulders of our forefathers in the faith when we confess the same.

For instance, Luther taught in the Large Catechism, “I and my neighbor and, in short, all people may err and deceive. But God’s Word cannot err.”[1] This is more than self-deprecation, as if Luther is just being meek and modest. Rather, this is testimony to the reformer’s belief that the Scriptures are inerrant. The Lutheran reformers confessed this same truth. In the Preface to the Book of Concord we read the confession of the Lutheran Church that God’s Word is “pure and unchangeable.”[2] And with crystal clarity the writers of the Formula of Concord assert: “God’s Word is not false or deceitful.”[3]

At this point one may retort, “Well, of course God’s Word cannot err, but the reformers aren’t saying that about the Bible. You see, the Bible only contains God’s Word. But it is not in its entirety God’s Word. It’s a book written by fallible men!” Many have argued this way throughout the years; they still do today.

Lest you believe this clever lie disguised as a sophisticated distinction, consider Luther’s unyielding and forceful words:

It is cursed unbelief and odious flesh which will not permit us to see and know that God speaks to us in Scripture and that it is God’s Word, but tells us that it is the word merely of Isaiah, Paul, or some other man who has not created heaven and earth.[4]

The inspiration of Scripture— that the Bible is God’s Word—is why Luther believed it to be inerrant as well. Now, it is true that God has spoken more words than what are written in the Bible so that one may say that the Bible does not contain all of the words God has ever spoken. But Luther taught that every word that is contained in the Bible is God’s Word: “The Holy Scriptures are the Word of God written—I might say, lettered—and formed in letters, just as Christ is the eternal Word of God veiled in human nature.”[5] Again, he wrote, “You are so to deal with the Scriptures that you bear in mind that God Himself is saying this.”[6] This is why he confessed so boldly and clearly: “The Scriptures have never erred.”[7]

Luther knew perfectly well that the Bible might appear to contradict itself. But why does it appear that way? Whose fault is it? Luther wrote:

The Holy Spirit has been blamed for not speaking correctly. He speaks like a drunkard or a fool. He so mixes things up and uses wild, queer words and statements. But it is our fault, who have not understood the language nor known the manner of the prophets. For it cannot be otherwise; the Holy Ghost is wise and makes the prophets also wise. A wise man may be able to speak correctly; that holds true without fail.[8]

The Holy Spirit is never wrong; He is God. When someone perceives contradictions in the Bible, it is always because of the sinful nature of man. Luther did not mince words when he wrote: “It is impossible that Scripture should

contradict itself; it only appears so to senseless and obstinate hypocrites.”[9] You need not guess what he would think of those today who say that the Bible has errors in it!

Luther’s words are warranted both because they hallow God’s name and His written Word and also because of the ramifications that denying the inerrancy of Scripture would have upon our faith . To deny it would mean that we cannot be certain that any word of the Bible is from God. There would always be doubt. And in turn this would mean that we would lose the certain comfort of Christ that the Bible so clearly teaches us, the certain comfort that He has exchanged His righteousness for our sin upon the cross and risen victorious over death and the grave so that we might live with Him forever. This is why we must continue to confess like our Lutheran forefathers did the inerrancy of Scripture.

The Rev. Stephen K. Preus is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Vinton, Iowa.

[1] Large Catechism IV, 57.

[2] Preface to the Book of Concord, 16.

[3] Epitome VII, 13.

[4] Quoted in Robert Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine and Confession” Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 264

[5] Ibid., 265.

[6] Ibid., 263.

[7] Quoted in Robert Preus, “Notes on the Inerrancy of Scripture” Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 117.

[8] Quoted in Preus, 267-268.

[9] Quoted in Preus, 117.