Biblical inerrancy (freedom from error)
Contrasting the beliefs of
various Christian faith groups
"Inspiration" and "inerrancy" are closely linked Christian beliefs:
Inspiration means that God inspired the
authors of the Bible so that they wrote text that were free of error.
Inerrancy 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:
Fundamentalist 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.
At 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
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.
Mainline 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
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
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.
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.
Catholics: 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.
Related essays on this site:
Biblical inerrancy as understood by
Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2009-APR-17