When applied to sacred writings, inerrancy is the belief that the words are
God's true revelations to mankind. An inerrant text is considered infallible,
truthful, reliable, totally free of error and absolutely authoritative.
Inerrancy is not restricted to moral and religious truth. It is normally applied
to all statements of fact in the Bible: "scientific, historical, or
The term "inerrancy" does not appear in the Bible. But then, words
describing other important historical Christian beliefs are also missing: the
Trinity, rapture, Purgatory,
During the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, there was no need for a term such as
"inerrancy." There was a consensus that the Bible was completely truthful and
accurate. It was only with the arrival of The Enlightenment, when European
theologians started to view the Bible as a historical
document, that the literal truthfulness and accuracy of the Bible began to
be doubted. In reaction to this criticism, conservative theologians introduced
the concept of inerrancy.
There are many passages which state or imply that the authors of the Bible
were inspired by God. Since errors, mistakes and duplicity are not generally
regarded as qualities of God, inspiration by God would imply inerrancy of
the text. Passages are found both in the Hebrew
Scriptures (Old Testament) and in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) which
support inerrancy, either directly or indirectly.
Hebrew scriptures: Passages concerning the words of God being
without error include:
Psalms 12:6: "the words of the LORD are flawless"
Psalms 119:89: "Your word, O LORD, is eternal, it stands
Proverbs 30:5-6: "Every word of God is flawless"
Matthew 5:18: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and
earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be
fulfilled." (KJV) A jot is the Greek letter "i" - the
smallest letter in the alphabet; a tittle is a small mark used to aid in reading
ancient Hebrew. This statement would seem to imply that the Mosaic law, given in the
Hebrew Scriptures, was correct and valid in the 1st century CE
during Jesus' ministry on earth. That is, the
Law was inerrant; there was no justification for any deletions to the law.
However, Jesus' statement would seem to permit additions to the law, as in
where Jesus equates looking at a woman with lust with committing adultery.
Gospels, Acts, Epistles: There are a number of passages which
stated that the apostles would convey the words of the Holy Spirit when they were
addressing a crowd or an accuser. One might infer from these passages that the Holy Spirit
would also guide their written statements. Some examples from the Christian
Matthew 10:19-20: "But when they deliver you up, take no thought
how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall
speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you."
Mark 13:11: "But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up,
take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever
shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy
Luke 12:11-12: "And when they bring you unto the synagogues,
and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or
what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to
Luke 21:14-15: "Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to
meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all
your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist."
John 16:13: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he
will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall
hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come."
Acts 1:8: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy
Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all
Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
1 Corinthians 2:12-13: "Now we have received, not the
spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might
know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also
we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the
Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."
Christian Scriptures (Cont'd
John 10:35: "...and the scripture cannot be broken;"
Jesus is recorded as believing that the Law could not be changed or edited.
2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration
of God, [literally God-breathed] and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect,
thoroughly furnished unto all good works." This is the main
biblical passage which refers to the Bible as being inspired by God. "All"
would seem to imply that the inspiration applies to every word and
phrase. It is
important to realize that the only Scripture available at the time that 1 and 2 Timothy
were written was the Old Testament. Thus, the author of 2 Timothy would have
been referring only to
the Hebrew Scriptures. Most likely, it was a reference to the
Septuagint, a Greek translation which included the Apocrypha. However,
many Bible literalists believe that this passage refers to all 66
books of the Bible even though the New Testament did not exist when
2 Timothy was written.
2 Pet 1:20-21: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the
scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the
will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Some commentators have suggested that these verses imply that nobody is to give their own interpretation of the Bible. But this is impossible to follow because all preaching necessarily involves some interpretations. Others suggest that prophecies are not to be interpreted privately, but only after comparision with the rest of the Bible, so that Scripture is used to interpret Scripture. Finally, still others suggest that the passage means that when prophets originally wrote the Scripture passages, they copied down the message precisely as God gave it to them; they did not innovate by inserting their own interpretations. 3
However, in practice, interpretation is inevitable. Many of the approximately 1,500 Christian sects and
denominations in North America came into being as a result of a
dispute over interpretation of verses in the Bible by sincere, knowlegable, thoughtful, intelligent, devout Christians. Many of them came to radically different interpretations of the Bible. It is impossible to know which interpretation is correct, and therefore one cannot be certain which interpretation is the inerrant meaning of the passage. If each Bible passage is inerrant but has multiple interpretations, we have no way to know which is the interrant interpretation. The entire concept of inerrancy collapses.
Revelation 22:18-19: "For I testify unto every man that
heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add
unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written
in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book
of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life,
and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this
book." These verses would seem to imply that any change to the book
would be a serious error, worthy of great punishment or an
eternity being tortured in Hell. Thus,
according to the author of Revelation, everything in "the book"
is accurate. Many conservative Christians believe that these verses
refer to the inerrancy of the entire Bible. However, the New Testament
did not exist at the time that Revelation was written. The text
appears to be referring only to the single book, Revelation.
However, these passages do not prove inerrancy, just as
similar statements in the religious texts of other religions no not prove that the latter
are inerrant. As Josh McDowell and Don Stewart write: "The mere fact
that the Bible claims to be the word of God does not prove that it is
such, for there are other books that make similar claims." 2