Biblical inerrancy and infallibility
Is inerrancy important?
Viewpoints for & against
One answer is No, because there is no consensus on which Bible passages are to be interpreted literally:
One might argue that inerrancy is really not that
important because very few if any Christians truly believe that the Bible is
literally true from cover to cover!
William Sloane Coffin wrote:
"In reality, there are no biblical literalists, only selective literalists. By abolishing
slavery and ordaining women,
millions of Protestants have gone far beyond biblical literalism." 1
Christian denominations view various biblical passages very differently. They
interpret some verses
as accurately written history; others as
material to be understood symbolically; others as poetry; still others as
religious propaganda unrelated to reality, as a metaphor, as a fictional
parable, etc. Their division of the Bible into these categories is different for each denomination.
Two examples are:
- The creation stories: The first
creation story is found in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3. Most conservative Christians believe was
written by Moses; liberal Christians generally believe it was edited by "P," an
anonymous 6th century BCE writer or group of writers of
the priestly tradition, using a Pagan source:
|The first story is interpreted literally by many conservative Protestants who
believe in New Earth creationism.
They interpret the six days of creation as representing a single six day
interval consisting of 144 hours.
The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod's doctrine of creation, adopted
in 1932, states this clearly:
"We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner
and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially
Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We
reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as
taught in Scripture....Since no man was present when it pleased God to
create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to
God's own record, found in God's own book, the Bible...." 2
|The first story is interpreted symbolically by the
Roman Catholic Church and
by most liberal Christians and secularists. They believe that the
theory of evolution,
and not Genesis 1 and 2, gives an accurate description of the origin of the species, including
Walter B. Murfin and David F. Beck
"The Bible is not a science text; the scientific method was
unknown in biblical times. ...The purposes of religion and science are
completely different. Science seeks to describe, explain, and predict.
The Bible tries to tell the purpose of creation,
and to point the way to morality, righteousness, and salvation. It
should not be surprising that their methods are different and even
However, the Catholic Church teaches
that souls are unique to humans and were/are created specially by God.
- The story of Jesus' Last Supper: Jesus' last meal with his disciples is described in Matthew
26:26-28 and in parallel passages at Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20. The
author of the Gospel of Matthew wrote:
"... Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to
the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the
cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for
the remission of sins. And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and
blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take,
eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it
to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new
testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
||The Roman Catholic church has traditionally interpreted these passages
literally. The church teaches that, at a defined point in the
celebration of the mass, the wafer and wine both
become the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. The form of the elements --
their color, viscosity, texture, taste, thermal properties, electrical
properties, surface tension, alcohol content, etc. remain unchanged. But the
wafer and wine fully become Jesus. |
|Most Protestant denominations interpret these passages symbolically. The
wine (or grape juice) remains unchanged; the bread is also unchanged. However,
they symbolize Jesus' blood and body.|
The other answer is Yes: The inerrancy of the Bible is of paramount
Whether the Bible is inerrant or not is of great importance, because it determines, at a
very fundamental level, how Christians approach Scripture.
|To most conservative theologians: Biblical inerrancy and
God's inspiration of the authors of the Bible are two
of the approximately ten cardinal
doctrines of historical Christianity. Unless the entire Bible is considered to be the authoritative word of God, the whole foundation of their religious belief crumbles. If the Bible
were to contain some
errors, conservative Christians would have no firm basis on which to base their
doctrines, beliefs, morality and practices. They believe that books of the Bible (in their
original or autograph form) must be either inerrant, or be devoid of authority.|
Believing that the Bible is inerrant and is the authoritative Word of God, means
that there can never be any real conflict in the Bible, except in those
relatively rare cases where a law in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old
Testament) has been specifically superseded by a passage in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a.
New Testament). Most conservatives believe that one of the strong indicators that the Bible is inerrant is the fact
that there it was written over an interval of about 10 centuries -- from the
time of Moses to the writing of Revelation -- and yet is totally harmonious and
internally consistent. If the Bible were just another book written by ordinary
men, it would be filled with inconsistencies.
|To most liberal theologians, the Bible is not inerrant. They believe that its books
were written and edited by human authors:
|with limited scientific knowledge,|
|who promoted their own specific spiritual belief systems,|
|who were heavily influenced by their own culture -- often a tribal
|who attributed many statements to God that are immoral by today's standards,|
|who freely incorporated material from neighboring Pagan cultures,|
|who freely disagreed with other Biblical authors, |
|who made errors in the reporting of events and statement,|
|who put words into the mouth of Jesus that he did not say,|
The Bible is a large document.
It was written over about 10 centuries -- circa 900 BCE
to 150 CE. Liberals see a gradual evolution in religious
beliefs from the earliest to the most recent writing. A main task of the liberal Christian is then to separate the true ideas and statements
by Jesus and Jehovah from the accretions added by Biblical authors.
Some religious liberals point out that the 1,500 or so Christian organizations in North
America have many diverse interpretations of Biblical passages.
If humans have extracted so many different meanings from the same Biblical verses,
then the Bible is clearly ambiguous. If it is ambiguous, then it
matters little if the text contains some errors.
Conservative and liberal Christians have very different concepts of the nature of
Scripture. Thus, they tend to develop systems of Christian theology and morality which
differ greatly, and are often mutually exclusive. When faced with one of the great moral
questions (like abortion access, the death
penalty, equal rights for the LGBT community,
giving same-sex couples equal access to marriage, etc.)
each interprets the Bible in their own way and frequently
arrives at quite different conclusions.
- William Sloane Coffin, "Commentary: It's clear that homophobia was reason
for ad's rejection," United Church News, 2004-DEC-15, at:
- Gary Locklair, "Doctrine of Creation," 2004-JAN, at:
- Walter Murfin & David Beck, "The Bible: A true and accurate account of creation?
Summary," Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education,
Copyright © 1997 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2015-APR-13