Inerrancy of Scripture
Since the 16th century, Mennonites have emphasized the authority of Scripture for faith, life, and church polity. Minimally this has meant that the Bible is the supreme rule for faith and life, maximally it has meant that it is the only rule for faith and life. Because Mennonites have seen commitment and practice as the decisive test for Christian faithfulness, they have given less attention to precise doctrinal formulations. Doctrinal and moral truth is that which corresponds to Christ and the Bible; error is that which deviates in practice or doctrine from Scripture, especially from the teaching, example, and spirit of Jesus Christ.
In the 17th century, Protestant theology developed a doctrine of biblical authority which maintained that the entire Bible is infallibly true and wholly free from errors of any kind. North American Fundamentalism and neo-Fundamentalism (Evangelicalism) have made a similar doctrine of inerrancy the decisive test for orthodoxy in the early and recent decades of the 20th century.
Before the 20th century, Mennonite confessional statements rarely include a specific treatment of Scripture. The Schleitheim (1527) and Dordrecht (1632) confessions do not. Only the Cornelis Ris Confession (1766) does: the Bible is the "only infallible and sufficient rule of faith and conduct".
Under the influence of Fundamentalism, the Mennonite Church (MC) adopted an inerrantist position in the "Christian Fundamentals: articles of Faith" (1921). Influenced by neo-Fundamentalism, Mennonites later struggled again with the concept of inerrancy. In a series of conference discussions, position statements, and confessions of faith, they have used the terms inspiration and infallibility within a general doctrine of revelation rather than the concept inerrancy as the basis for the authority, trustworthiness, and reliability of Scripture. These statements include the Brethren in Christ "Manual of Doctrine and Government" (1961; Loewen, 231-40), the General Conference Mennonite Church statement "The Authority of Scriptures," (1962), the Mennonite Church (MC) "Mennonite Confession of Faith," (1963), the Mennonite Brethren Church "Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith" (1975) and Confession of faith in a Mennonite perspective (1995).
Infallibility usually means that the Bible will not fail to accomplish its purpose of revealing God's will and salvation, and is based on passages such as John 10:35, which says that Scripture cannot be broken. Inspiration is affirmed on the basis of 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:21. Because Scripture does not explain the mystery of inspiration, so the argument runs in most accounts and discussions since the 1950s, it is inappropriate to elaborate a particular doctrine of inspiration and infallibility.
Simultaneously Mennonites generally have given increasing attention to methods of biblical interpretation, as represented by the Mennonite Church (MC) statement on "Biblical interpretation in the life of the Church" (1977) rather than to a doctrine about the Bible. Mennonites associated with the independent periodical The Sword and Trumpet and the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites (1984), and many other Mennonites consider a doctrine of inerrancy the decisive and foundational issue for biblical interpretation and authority.
Swartley, Willard M., ed., Essays on Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives. Elkhart: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1984, collection of articles, includes bibliography.
Wenger, J. C. God's Word Written: Essays on the Nature of Biblical Revelation, Inspiration and Authority. Scottdale, 1966, reprinted 1968, an exposition of the position represented in and around the 1963 Mennonite Church (MC) Confession of Faith.
"The Authority of the Scriptures." The Mennonite (22 May 1962): 338-343, reprinted in pamphlet form entitled A Christian Declaration on the Authority of Scripture by the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, n.d.
"Biblical Interpretation in the Life of the Church, a Summary Statement." Adopted by Mennonite Church (MC) General Assembly, June, 1977. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House, 1977.
Swartley, Willard A. Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983, summarizes and compares different interpretations of the Scripture on each of the four issues, proposes guidelines for personal and scholarly Bible study.
Yoder, Perry. From Word to Life: a Guide to the Art of Bible Study. (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982.
Zehr, Paul M. Biblical Criticism in the Life of the Church. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986.
"The Berea Declaration." The Sword and Trumpet (May 1984): 8-10, a declaration of understanding and intent adopted by the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites.
Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites Confession of Faith
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 439-440. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Miller, Marlin E. "Inerrancy of Scripture." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/I553ME.html.
APA style: Miller, Marlin E. (1989). Inerrancy of Scripture. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/I553ME.html.