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Religious Tolerance logo

Biblical inerrancy (freedom from error)

Contrasting the beliefs of
various Christian faith groups

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Contrasting beliefs:

"Inspiration" and "inerrancy" are closely linked Christian beliefs:

bulletInspiration means that God inspired the authors of the Bible so that they wrote text that were free of error.
bulletInerrancy generally means that biblical books were free of error in their original autograph copies -- the copies that the authors or authors' scribes themselves wrote down. This allows for errors to creep into subsequent copies of the original documents, whether by copyist error or the insertion of forged text.

The concept of inerrancy is one belief that dramatically demonstrates differences among various wings of Christianity:

bulletFundamentalist denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, and other very conservative evangelical Protestant denominations generally teach a strict view on the inerrancy of the Bible. It is a belief that is tied with their understanding that God directly inspired its authors. The writers largely played the role of a secretary taking dictation.
bulletAt the liberal end of the evangelical spectrum, inerrancy is interpreted less strictly. Their theologians deviate from the literal interpretation of the Bible in more cases. Biblical authors are seen as writing with their own style and content. Theologians have suggested that Biblical infallibility need not be total. It is of prime importance on matters relating to the deity of Christ and an individual's route to salvation. Historical, geographical and scientific details are of lesser consequence. Errors creeping into those areas could be admitted with little or no impact on the overall Christian message. Needless to say, this approach generates a lot of opposition with more conservative evangelicals.
bulletMainline Protestant denominations tend to take either a liberal or conservative stance on inerrancy. This is also true among the membership of these groups. The conflict over inerrancy is currently generating a major divisions and massive conflict within their denominations over church policies such as: the ordination of homosexuals in committed relationships, and rituals which recognize same-sex relationships. There are also theological divisions over inerrancy itself, whether trusting Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, the role of scientific findings in determining denominational policy, etc.

Future schisms between liberal and conservative wings within leading mainline denominations are quite possible. They occurred in the 19th century over the morality of human slavery, and came close to happening during the 20th century over female ordination. A schism is currently underway within the worldwide Anglican Communion over homosexuality.
bullet Progressive Protestants: At the other extreme, most progressive Protestants have rejected the concept of inerrancy. They generally analyze the Bible as a historical document. Their authors' purpose was to promote their own beliefs and those of their faith group. The writers incorporated stories from nearby Pagan cultures, legends, myths, scientific errors, religious propaganda, and even material which was clearly against the will of God into their writing. Examples of the latter, in the area of women's rights alone, include stoning non-virgin brides to death, forcing widows to marry their husband's brother, forcing women to marry their rapists, burning alive some prostitutes, and requiring women suspected of adultery to endure a ritual in the Temple which, it was believed, would result in her death if she was guilty, and the death of her embryo or fetus is she was pregnant.
bulletCatholics: In contrast, the largest conservative Christian denomination -- the  Roman Catholic Church -- had traditionally taught a belief in strict inerrancy of the Bible. However, this has recently been changed to include only passages related to faith, morals and salvation. More information.

Related essays on this site:

Biblical inerrancy as understood by

bulletRoman Catholics
bulletConservative Protestants
bulletMainline, liberal and progressive Christians

Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2009-APR-1

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