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Biblical inerrancy

What the Bible says about its own inerrancy

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Definition:

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 geographical." 1

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Biblical passages about its own inspiration and inerrancy

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, etc.

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 It was only with the arrival of The Enlightenment, when European theologians started to view the Bible as a historical document, that the literal truthfulness and accuracy of the Bible began to be doubted.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. 

bulletHebrew scriptures: Passages concerning the words of God being without error include:

bulletPsalms 12:6: "the words of the LORD are flawless"

bulletPsalms 119:89: "Your word, O LORD, is eternal, it stands firm"

bulletProverbs 30:5-6: "Every word of God is flawless"

bulletChristian scriptures:
bulletMatthew 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 Matthew 5:28 where Jesus equates looking at a woman with lust with committing adultery.

bulletGospels, 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 Scriptures are:

bulletMatthew 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."

bulletMark 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 Ghost."

bulletLuke 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 say."

bulletLuke 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."

bulletJohn 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."

bulletActs 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."

bullet1 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."

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bulletChristian Scriptures (Cont'd
bulletJohn 10:35: "...and the scripture cannot be broken;" Jesus is recorded as believing that the Law could not be changed or edited.

bullet2 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.

bullet 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.

bulletRevelation 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

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References:

  1. Dave Miller, "Why I Believe in the Inerrancy of the Scriptures" http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/
  2. Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, "Tough questions skeptics ask," Tyndale House, (1986). Also, Thomas Nelson (1993).
  3. J.D. Doublas & P.W. Comfort, Eds., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Testament Volume," Tyndale, (1990), P. 708.

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Copyright 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2011-MAY-28
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