Biblical inerrancy is the view that the Bible is the Word of God and is in every detail infallible and without error. This view was ably expressed in 1978 in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, an interdenominational statement of evangelical scholars and leaders to defend Biblical inerrancy against the trend toward liberal and neo-orthodox conceptions of Scripture.
It proclaims: "The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church." Article XII states: "We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit."
Biblical inerrancy is one of the tenets of Fundamentalist Christianity.
Compare Papal Infallibility.
Basis of belief
The Biblical basis usually cited for this belief is 2 Timothy 3:16, which begins:
All Scripture is inspired by God ..... (New American Standard Version)
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God ..... (King James Version)
All Scripture is God-breathed ..... (New International Version)
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, fully furnished for all good works." - 2 Timothy 3:16
2 Peter 3:15-16 is also sometimes quoted to support the idea that the New Testament is divinely inspired, in addition to the Old Testament. The author, held by some to be the Apostle Peter, lumps the Apostle Paul's letters and the "other scriptures" together. As the Old Testament was believed to be divinely inspired by the Jewish religion, this implies that early church leaders believed that Paul's letters (composing a majority of the New Testament) were also divinely inspired.
Views Regarding Inerrancy
There are a spectrum of views regarding inerrancy.
Views Affirming Inerrancy
- Some proponents of inerrancy argue that because all scripture is God-breathed, and God is perfect, then any book breathed by God must also be perfect. For why would a perfect God leave us an imperfect book?
- Some Christians view 2 Timothy 3:16 (and other related passages) as evidence that the Bible claims to be inspired, rather than proof that it is. These believers rely on archaeology, fulfilled prophecies, etc., as evidence substantiating inerrancy and their beliefs regarding The Bible and history.
- Some Christians readily affirm that they accept the inerrancy or entire trustworthiness of the Bible on faith and the Christian experience, rather than "objective" evidence.
Views Qualifying Inerrancy
- Some Christians note that being 'God-Breathed' does not necessitate being 'without error.' Just as God breathed into Adam but Adam erred, so God may inspire an author, but the author may still err. And just as a desert preacher who misses some questions on a history exam may still have something to teach us about Life, a book may be imperfect and still be "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Thus, while denying strict inerrancy, these Christians acknowledge that the Bible is Reliable and Authoritative.
Views Denying Inerrancy
Those who hold opposing views usually point out several problems with using 2 Timothy 3:16 as a "proof text":
- This passage is contained in one of the Epistles of Paul. At the time Paul wrote this, the word "Scripture" would have referred to the Torah, and possibly other writings found in the Temple in Jerusalem. It would not have referred to the letters that Paul was then writing to the churches.
- Paul never explicitly claimed that everything he wrote was inspired of God. At one point, in 1 Corinthians 7:12, he specifically disclaims that what he is writing is from the Lord, and clearly labels it as his own opinion.
- Using 2 Timothy 3:16 as a proof of Biblical inerrancy is self-referential. Any authors of books could claim that their writings are without error, but the claim is not the proof.
- The statement can be interpreted as merely a definition of "scripture", as that which is "inspired". It does not identify which works meet this definition of scripture, and thus contains no information in the logical sense.
- Some who have examined the scriptures have reported they find numerous discrepancies between various scriptures. Fundamentalists sometimes dismiss these as inconsequential or unimportant, but that raises the question of whether a truly inerrant writing should contain any errors, even insignificant ones. Either all scripture is without error, or it isn't. And because there are passages that seem to be mutually exclusive (that is to say, if one passage is true, the other cannot be), that means that at least some of what is claimed to be part of "inerrant" scripture must not be. Pro-inerrancy commentators usually claim that what appear to be inconsistencies are merely misunderstandings on the part of the reader.
- Some who believe in Biblical inerrancy may fail to allow for the possibility of transcription errors or translation errors. Their view is that not only were the scriptures originally inspired by God, but that God has actively intervened through the centuries to make sure that only "pure" copies of His word have survived. This is easily refuted by the differences found in early manuscripts, let alone the many differences found in modern translations.
- Belief in Biblical inerrancy relies upon a relatively narrow view of the words variously translated as "inspired by God" or "God-breathed." There is nothing in these words to suggest that God dictated the Bible, word-for-word. Even in the Book of Revelation, the author (John) is shown visions and then instructed to write what he has seen. There is no suggestion that God gave John the actual words to write, but rather that He inspired John (in this case, using visions). Some who view the Bible as totally inerrant may view the authors of the various books of the Bible as mere stenographers.
- This belief also relies on the view that those who decided which books would be in our modern Bibles chose correctly, keeping only the "inspired" books and discarding only those that were not similarly "inspired." Since the process of deciding what would become Biblical canon occurred hundreds of years after the time those books were written, the belief ignores the political and social considerations that may have influenced these decisions. Even if those decisions are accepted as in themselves inspired, it remains to ask how the other (early Catholic/Orthodox, not Protestant) decisions and opinions of the very same people can then be safely disregarded. If God inspired them infallibly in their decisions about the Bible, would he withhold his Spirit when other matters were under discussion by the same people?
It should be noted that it is possible to apply a more broad interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16. A person may be "inspired" to write a poem by the sight of a beautiful sunset; that does not mean that the sunset wrote the poem. It's possible for historical events to inspire a book or a movie, but that does not mean that the book or movie is a 100% accurate record of those events. Similarly, the belief that the authors of the books of the Bible were inspired by God does not necessarily mandate a corresponding belief that the Bible is a 100% accurate record of historical events, nor a belief that the opinions and beliefs of the various authors never found their way into the sacred texts.
Postmodern Christians would argue that the doctrine of inerrancy is easily subjected to certain abuses, such as the idea that the translations of the Bible or the surviving ancient texts are inerrant. In this understanding, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states that the autographs of the Bible, that is, the actual parchment or papyrus on which the Biblical authors actually wrote, contains no errors in what the authors intended to say. It could be argued that this allows for errors in the surviving manuscripts (the autographs are lost, but surviving manuscripts are found in such large numbers that the autographs may be reconstructed with more than 99-percent accuracy) and in the translations.
A possible abuse of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is to think that, merely because the author's intent in the original autographs is inerrant, that the author's intent necessarily satisfies the meaning of every passage. A difficulty with this possible misunderstanding is that prophecy which may have a double fulfillment, such as that in Isaiah 7:14, would be limited in its meaning to only referring to the first fulfillment, as the author could not have intended that of which he knew nothing: in this case, the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary.
Postmodern Christianity emphasizes the fact that the meaning of the author's intent does not fully satisfy the meaning of the texts of the Bible. It could be argued that Postmodern Christianity is compatible with Biblical inerrancy, when the latter is understood as referring to the complete accuracy of the author's intent in the autographs, and allow for meanings not necessarily intended by the author but not incompatible with authorial intent.
- Biblical Inerrancy by John H. Gerstner http://www.the-highway.com/inerrancyTOC_Gerstner.html
- History of Inspiration of the Bible http://www.bible.org/docs/theology/biblio/histdoc.htm
- Monergism.com links to articles on Scripture http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/topic/bible.html
- The Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures by Benjamin B. Warfield http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/bbwauthority.htm
- The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy http://www.reformed.org/documents/icbi.html
- Theologians Reject Biblical Inerrancy http://www.christiancourier.com/penpoints/theologiansInerrancy.htm
- A Primer for Second Semester Divinity School Students http://members.aol.com/DrSwiney/primer.html
- INERRANCY: Is the Bible free of error? All points of view http://www.religioustolerance.org/inerrant.htm
Last updated: 02-10-2005 13:58:56
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55