Taking God’s Word on Offense: Inerrancy, Apologetics, and the Proof of Gospel Preaching

Taking God’s Word on Offense: Inerrancy, Apologetics, and the Proof of Gospel Preaching

God’s Word is alive and the greatest way to prove its truthfulness is not by building arguments around it, but to unleash it, to proclaim it, to let it go on the offensive and convince all who have ears to hear that God’s Word is true! 

It’s been said that the best offense is a good defense. However, it is also true that if your defense spends too much time on the field, they will eventually fatigue and fold. For that reason, it is equally true that the best defense is a good offense.

And when it comes to apologetics, the art and science of defending the faith, it is important to do more than play defense, but also to go on the offensive. With firm confidence that God’s Word is unbreakable (John 10:35), firmly fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89), unfailing in accomplishing God’s will (Isa. 55:11), and always proving itself true (Ps. 18:30; Prov. 30:5), there is no reason to merely defend God’s Word. Instead, we should positively proclaim the Scriptures as the living and active word of God.

Articulating this point forcefully with respect to biblical inerrancy, the late Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915–90) reminds us that Christians should do more than defend the faith, we must also proclaim the faith positively. Here’s what he says,

We who cherish the orthodox and evangelical faith have become too defensive about the Bible; we have grown accustomed to jumping from a worthy premise: “The Bible is the Word of God,” to a conclusion negative in form: “. . . therefore it is inerrant.” This, of course, is not wrong in itself, but suggest that it reflects the position into which we have allowed ourselves to be maneuvered. We must move on to the offensive, boldly wielding this powerful weapon that we know to be the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), as we positively (and, I believe, more biblically) proclaim to the world that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore is living, dynamic, penetrating, and unfailingly effective as it cuts with the edge of redemption for the believer and with the edge of condemnation for the unbeliever (Heb. 4:12). (“The Problem of Historical Relativity,” in Scripture and Truth, 194)

Writing in a book that defends the truthfulness of Scripture, Hughes is clearly not questioning inerrancy. Rather, he is reminding us that the primary task of proclaiming Scripture is positive, not negative. This is seen in the pastoral duty outlined by Paul in Titus 1:9, which says that the overseer “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Notice the order: the faithful pastor-teacher-theologian must positively give instruction and then in service to sound doctrine, he must defend the faith by recognizing error and rebuking those who contradict the truth.

The defense of biblical inerrancy is a necessary endeavor, because there are many who question the complete truthfulness of Scripture. And thus, there is a place for defending the Bible from those who question it. Still, Hughes makes an important caveat, when he turns the defensive posture of biblical inerrantists into a positive proclamation of God’s living and active word. Recognizing the way many advocates for truth overreact and overcorrect in response to error, he observes a weakness in how many argue for inerrancy—namely, by immediately protecting inerrancy in the autographs, now extinct, of Moses, Isaiah, and Paul.

Without denying the important or inerrancy of the original autographs, he questions if immediately appealing to the autographs is really that helpful. Here’s Hughes’ seven-point argument:

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