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The Inerrancy of Scripture: What’s at Stake

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Every now and then, people will kick around the idea of the “inerrancy” of Scripture. What does inerrancy mean, and why is it such a big deal?

What is inerrancy?

When we say something is inerrant, we mean it is without error, mistake, contradiction, or falsehood. Inerrant means “true, trustworthy, reliable, accurate, and infallible.” Thus, if the Bible is inerrant, it is totally trustworthy and without error in everything it says. This isn’t some new theory. If the Bible is God’s Word, we expect it to be inerrant (and we make no apology for this word).

The Bible claims verbal inspiration. By this we mean that God approved every word of Scripture. Every single word is inspired by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:13), and thus carries God’s divine authority. It isn’t merely the general thought behind the words that are inspired, but the very words of the Bible that are inspired. Jesus Himself implied that there is not a single word that is insignificant in Scripture (cf. Matt. 5:18; 22:32; Gal. 3:16).

The Bible claims plenary inspiration. This means Scripture is entirely truenot only in what it specifically teaches, but also in everything it mentions as it teaches. What I mean is, even though God did not design the Bible to be a history or science textbook, when the inspired writers do happen to mention something scientific or historical, their words are entirely factually true (cf. John 3:12). The historical accounts of places, the events, and people, along with any references to nature or biology, are true.

The Bible claims infallibility. Scripture can never fail or make a mistake. God “never lies” (Titus 1:2), therefore there can be no deliberate errors in Scripture. God “knows everything” (1 John 3:20), therefore there can be no accidental mistakes in Scripture. Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God proves true.” Jesus prayed to the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus happened to believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible when He said that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

What inerrancy isn’t.

Inerrancy doesn’t mean man hasn’t made mistakes in copying the ancient manuscripts. The printing press has only existed for 5 centuries or so, meaning for the majority of human history, Scripture had to be copied by hand (people who made duplicates of Scripture were called “scribes”). Sometimes the scribes made mistakes (mostly by accidentally leaving out/duplicating a word or forgetting to punctuate something). But, because of the rich pool of ancient copies in our possession today (we have thousands upon thousands), it is remarkably easy to pinpoint where the scribes made mistakes.

The term “inerrancy” only applies to the autographs of Scripture (the original writings), not the manuscripts (the copies). When we talk about the inerrancy of Scripture, we are affirming that the original transmission of God’s revelation is without error.

Inerrancy doesn’t mean God didn’t use the unique writing styles of the prophets. The inspired writers of the Bible weren’t exactly automatons. A cursory study of the 66 books of the Bible will reveal that Moses, Paul, and Peter read somewhat differently (as you would expect from different writers). Additionally, a casual glance at Scripture will also show that the inspired writers used different literary styles (such as parables, poetry, metaphor, anthropomorphism, and hyperbole).

Yes, God utilized the unique personalities of the prophets and the apostles when transmitting Scripture. But because the Bible is inerrant, we know God’s inspiration insured what the prophets and apostles wrote was exactly as God intended.

Inerrancy doesn’t preclude the use of layman’s terminology. For example, sometimes the Bible uses non-technical phraseology, such as “from the rising of the sun” (Psalm 113:3). Scientifically speaking, the sun doesn’t rise (that’s impossible). But in layman’s terms, it does. As another example, sometimes the Bible uses round numbers and inexact measurements, just as we do today in everyday conversation (Did literally all of Israel gather around Jeremiah in the temple in Jeremiah 26:9? I doubt it). This is just an example of God speaking rhetorically, with His words being no less true.

What if the Bible were not inerrant?

If the Bible is not inerrant, God either made a mistake or He lied. If there were errors in the original autographs of Scripture, then either God purposefully or accidentally misled us. Are you ready to serve a God who lies or makes mistakes?

If the Bible is not inerrant, there is no reason to trust God. If God can lie or make a mistake in small areas of Scripture, why should we trust His words in the more important areas? When we can’t rely on the specific words and historical/scientific accuracy of Scripture, then we are robbed of our trust in God Himself.

If the Bible is not inerrant, the wisdom of man becomes a higher standard of truth than Scripture. It bothers me how some deny the inerrancy of Scripture on the basis of their feelings. “I fear it turns people off.” “I am uncomfortable describing the Bible with such a concrete word.” But God doesn’t ask us to follow Him with our feelings – He asks us to submit Him with our mind on the basis of facts and objective truth. It doesn’t matter what you like. Feelings are deceptive (cf. Prov. 12:15; Eze. 13:3). We must define ourselves by the Bible, not the Bible to our own comfort level.

If the Bible is not inerrant, then we cannot rely on the spiritual truth it teaches. The moment you admit the inspired Scripture contain historical/scientific/peripheral mistakes, you have put a dangerous crack in the dam. How can you argue the doctrine of Scripture is true (eternal judgment, sin, salvation, the deity of Christ, etc.) if you cannot also argue that the smaller, intricate details of Scripture are also true?

Conclusion

Some feel uncomfortable using the term inerrancy. They say they do not want to use words the Bible doesn’t use (To be consistent, they shouldn’t use words like “Trinity” or “Bible,” either). One writer prefers to describe the Bible as “reliable and true;” others prefer to use the word “inspired.” But this is a false distinction between words. If the Bible is truly inspired – and if it is reliable and true – then it is inerrant. And if there is any part or degree to which the Bible in not inerrant, it is also to that extent not inspired, reliable, and true.

After we have properly defined the word “inerrant,” we must unapologetically embrace the fact that the Bible is inerrant. We love inerrancy. It is what gives us hope, peace, and confidence in the Word of God.

Hey, here’s a good place to shamelessly plug my book!

If you want to know more about how we got the Bible and how it is authoritative in our lives, You Are A Theologian: Thinking Right About The Bible is a good place to start. Use it as a class at your church, or use it so you can hold your own when a skeptic tries to minimize the inerrancy of God’s word. Don’t let anyone ‘muddy the water’ about this topic – it is far too important.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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22 Responses to The Inerrancy of Scripture: What’s at Stake

  1. John F Board March 28, 2017 at 11:28 AM #

    Thank you. It is nice to read an article that is very clear in its’ intent.

  2. Carl Mason March 28, 2017 at 12:11 PM #

    As an elder, these fundamental concepts need to be taught over and over to the congregation and especially to the teenagers.

    • Roger Leonard March 28, 2017 at 1:14 PM #

      Amen on teaching this to our youth!

  3. Philip D Sanders March 28, 2017 at 12:33 PM #

    great article, Ben. Thanks for explaining this so very well.

  4. Cody Westbrook March 28, 2017 at 12:53 PM #

    Great job. Very clear and very needed. Keep up the good work!

  5. globalfooling March 28, 2017 at 2:13 PM #

    God makes it very clear that the sun does indeed rise.
    He does not transmit His word to fit in with the wisdom of man.
    The earth stands still, and the heavens, including the sun, revolve around us.
    “I will confound the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent”.
    Let he that hath ears to hear, understand.

    • Ben March 28, 2017 at 8:25 PM #

      This is one of my favorite comments of all time.

  6. Steven Mercer March 28, 2017 at 3:02 PM #

    I was happy to see your article. Well done. I was unhappy to read a brother”s article recently where he was struggling with the word “inerrancy”. Some people use their time and talents and muddy the waters of understanding clear truth. You, however, have made the truth of the inerrant word of God clear and plain. Thank you. Keep writing.

  7. Josh March 28, 2017 at 7:04 PM #

    Useful article, but we must be careful in using non-Bible words to describe the Bible and/or Bible things. I think this article and Brother Hunter’s article on the Start2Finish website, which I found really honest and insightful, provide perfect examples of how perceptions and definitions may vary, especially with regard to that which is not explicitly stated in Scripture.

    • Ben March 28, 2017 at 9:38 PM #

      Josh, you know “Bible” isn’t in the Bible, right? The same holds true with “legalism,” “autonomy,” and “Trinity.” There’s a host of other extra-Biblical words we use to describe Biblical concepts – which is a-okay to do, so long as we define those non-Biblical words with Scripture (just as we need to define Biblical words with Scripture). As you correctly stated, we must be careful in using non-Biblical words. I would only go one step further and say we must be careful with all of our words, as words can be powerful (Something more bloggers need to remember before they dabble with some hobby horse).

      I love my friend Steven, but take issue with his drive-by article. It appears it has been edited since I last read it, but it still leaves too much to the imagination. In his article, Steven stresses the need to define our terms, which he did not do particularly well himself. There are too many dangerous implications with his article. The fact of the matter is, the inspired autographs of Scripture are true, trustworthy, inerrant, and reliable (or whatever other synonym you want to use), and there is no room for disagreement on this. Let’s not make an issue out of a non-issue. Virtually all of Christendom – both the Lord’s church and outside the church – have a pretty clear idea of what “inerrancy” means. Even liberal theologians are pretty united about the concept of inerrancy (especially on the point that they don’t like it). I know Steven shares my belief that Scripture is indeed inerrant, but disagree with his judgment (don’t we all suffer from the occasional lapse of judgment?). I only hope more bloggers would more thorough in explaining their words for the benefit of those who may be less learned.

      • Sean Eidt March 30, 2017 at 2:55 PM #

        Interestingly though even the concept of legalism as most people think of it isn’t found in the Bible. Jesus got onto the pharisees for hypocrisy. Most people when they say “legalism” mean following the law too closely. Really they were picking and choosing which parts they would follow. They were both adding and taking away from the commands given. Obedience is always expected from God.

        I couldn’t begin to count the amount of times I’ve been called a legalist for believing that we must be obedient to God.

        So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Luke 17

        • Ben March 30, 2017 at 3:02 PM #

          Thank you so much for this comment, Sean. I’ve never liked the word “legalism,” mainly because of the kinds of people who are most quick to use the word. And isn’t it ironic that some of the people who don’t like to use the word “inerrancy” on the basis of it not being found in the Bible are among those who have no problem with the word “legalism” (as loaded and misunderstood as that word is).

          You’re right. The Pharisees were not exactly guilty of “legalism” so much as they were guilty of hypocrisy. In fact, God time and time again commended the Pharisees for their obedience to the law. The problem with the Pharisees – and indeed the reason they were hypocrites – was because they were not keeping all of the law. Let’s obey God from the heart, keeping all of His commandments.

  8. Luke March 28, 2017 at 11:34 PM #

    “Virtually all of Christendom – both the Lord’s church and outside the church – have a pretty clear idea of what “inerrancy” means.”

    This is simply an inaccurate statement. It is the very reason why the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was written—to clarify what was NOT a clear idea—and continues to be parsed, defended, and debated.

    It is all very well for you to equate inerrant with true, trustworthy, reliable, or inspired, but a lot of people would disagree with your equation. That is a fact.

    • Ben March 28, 2017 at 11:38 PM #

      That is the dictionary definition. Sure, some may quibble on a few nuances and obscure areas in some theological journals and academic books (and I know you and I both have some unanswered questions about various aspects of inspiration). But let’s not over complicate this topic, because it doesn’t need to be complicated (oh how the devil loves us to meddle with this stuff). Let’s preach the gospel, being clear and unambiguous, defining our terms, and giving people hope. And let’s be especially cautious about preaching our doubts and uncertainties regarding such a critical topic from our pulpits and on our websites (for the world to see). God’s Word does not err. End of story.

  9. Larry P Murdock March 29, 2017 at 8:38 AM #

    Thank you Ben for a clear statement of inerrancy.

  10. Steven Hunter March 29, 2017 at 8:41 AM #

    Here’s a clarifying article on what I meant. Hope it clears up any confusion I caused.

    https://start2finish.org/16360-2/?utm_content=bufferaa5a9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    • Ben March 29, 2017 at 8:55 AM #

      Thank you, Steven, for your clarifying article for those who happened to read your previous one on “inerrancy.” No one can fault you – or anyone else – for honest scruples, so long as they are governed by the Word of God and do not cause other, weaker Christians to stumble.

  11. Samual Yoder March 29, 2017 at 8:41 AM #

    Personally I agree yes the original manuscripts were the actual words of God to those he told to write. That being said all these translations of today by man do indeed have errors in them and we have to carefully research what has been added to the word of God and what has been deleted. We do not have perfect copies of those original manuscripts and can not check or reference them because they no longer exist. It is a good idea that when one studies the scriptures one uses as many translations as possible to get the meaning of what is being said in scripture. This method will also show what has been added, deleted or rearranged to convey a different meaning than that which was originally intended because lets face it some translations are biased toward the religious stance of the translators.

    • Ben March 29, 2017 at 9:04 AM #

      You are absolutely correct, Samuel.

      I would add that the fact that we do not have any of the ancient inspired autographs is by no means a bad thing. I’m personally glad we don’t, due to the fact that mankind tends to turn objects like that into idols themselves (just look at how people treat so-called sacred and supposedly “authentic” Biblical artifacts in the possession of the Catholic church today). Yet, we have such an overwhelming amount of ancient manuscripts of Scripture that the science of textual criticism has been able to pinpoint all of those error with almost always a high degree of certainty (the study of textual criticism is both fascinating and encouraging). Thus, like you said, we can come to a knowledge of the truly inspired Word of God if we carefully study several translations and utilize the help of the occasional Hebrew/Greek lexicon.

  12. Curtis Duke April 1, 2017 at 8:19 AM #

    I really believe that anyone who does not follow the writings of this young man is denying him or herself of some really scriptural enlightenment.

  13. dtucker17 April 1, 2017 at 2:47 PM #

    Love your heart and your love for God and His Truth. Excellent article written for those who could even be in question about the inerrancy of God’s word. Keep on keeping on for HIM.

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