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Inerrancy: Is the Bible free of error? All points of view.

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The meaning of inerrancy:

"Inerrancy" refers to a text that is considered accurate, truthful, and totally free of error. Any text that contains mistakes is "errant."

The term is often used by conservative theologians to refer to the content of their holy book(s):

bullet In Judaism this refers to the Torah,

bullet

In Christianity to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old and New Testaments),


bullet In Islam to the Qur'an, and

bullet In many other religions to refer to their own holy books.

Needless to say, the beliefs and commands in each of these books tell different stories and give different commands to humans. Thus, only one book could be inerrant. Since most people feel that their holy book is the only inerrant one, much religious controversey and disagreement is caused.

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Evangelical beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible:

In 1977, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was established to "clarify and defend the doctrine of biblical inerrancy." Under its auspices, during 1978, over 300 evangelical scholars met and signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The Dallas Theological Seminary describes the statement as "... probably the first systematically comprehensive, broadly based, scholarly, creed–like statement on the inspiration and authority of Scripture in the history of the church." 1

It states in part:

"Article X:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant." 2

An "autograph copy" of a document refers to the original wording as written by the author. No autograph copies of any book in the Bible have survived until today. What we have are copies and translations.

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Belief of biblical inerrancy in the U.S.:

On 2007-MAY-25, Gallup reported the results of a national poll on Biblical inerrancy. Those polled were asked which of three statements comes closest to describing their personal views about the Bible. The average of polls taken during MAY of 2005, 2006 and 2007 were:

  • 31% believe that "The Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word." This would imply acceptance of inerrancy of the Bible. Unfortunately, there are many English translations of the Bible which differ from each other. This would make it likely that at least one or more translations will contain mistranslation(s).

  • 47% believe that "The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."

  • 19% believe that "The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."

  • 3% were uncertain or didn't answer.

An identical poll taken four years later during 2011-MAY showed little change:

  • 30% believe that "The Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word."
  • 49% believe that "The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."
  • 17% believe that "The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."
  • 4% were uncertain or didn't answer. 4

Formal education can have a devastating effect on a person's belief in inerrancy. 46% of persons with high school education or less believe that the Bible should be interpreted literally. This dropped to 22% for persons with some college education, and to 15% among college graduates.

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Many Biblical statements and concepts are linked to culture in ancient times:

Perhaps the Biblical statements that are most incompatable with today relate to human sexuality and slavery. According to the most or all English translations of the Bible, in Biblical times:

  • Human slavery was widespread:
  • Females who were found to be non-virgins when they married were routinely executed.
  • Some Hebrew men were enslaved for six years and were then freed.
  • Female slaves were typically enslaved for life.
  • A slave owner would not be punished if he beat a slave to death, as long as the slave lived a few days before dying.

But over the many thousands of years between the writing of the Bible and now, the cultures of countries around the world have changed. The most recently written books in the Bible were written in the late first century CE or early second century CE. Slavery has now been abolished througout much of the world.

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A problem with inerrancy:

An anonymous person posted a question on Quora, asking:

"Can someone help me evaluate the logic here: “As a Christian, one must take the whole Bible to be literally true, because if even a part of it is untrue then the whole thing is discredited”?

The webmaster of this web site posted the following response:

"People who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible usually state that this belief only refers to the autograph copy of each book. That is, the book as originally written by the author. But no such copies exist. Changes have occurred due to copyist errors. ... Further, errors have crept in due to translations from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into English or another modern language. Often, when translating from one language to another, there is no exact word in the new lanague which exactly matches that of the original language.

But if we believe that the Bible is true, and that it should be followed exactly, then we would need to make a lot of changes to state and federal laws. We would need to make slavery legal again. We would need to test each woman getting married for the first time to check her virginity, and execute her if she had engaged in sexual activity. Eating of pork might have to be banned. There are a whole bunch of “crimes” that call for the death penalty — like working on a Saturday — that would require new laws." 5

Topics dealing with inerrancy in this section:

Most of the following essays deal with inerrancy from a Christian perspective

bullet A brief overview; quotations; historical impacts of belief in inerrancy
 
bullet A more detailed introduction to inerrancy
 
bullet What is the impact of biblical inerrancy, authority, etc. on North American culture?
 
bullet More material on biblical inerrancy:
bullet What is biblical inerrancy?
bullet Terms associated with inerrancy -- authority, infallibility, inspiration
bullet Problems with infallibility
 
bullet Why belief in inerrancy can be hazardous to one's faith. Problems with inerrancy:  Part 1 Part 2
 
bullet Problems with biblical infallibility
 
bullet An analysis of apparent errors and inconsistencies in Jesus conception and birth
 
bullet Biblical inerrancy: beliefs, references:
bullet What Americans believe.
bullet Web sites dealing with inerrancy and errancy.
 
bullet Is inerrancy important?: Arguments yes and no
 
bullet What the Bible says about its own inerrancy
 
bullet Inerrancy, as interpreted by:
bullet Fundamentalist and other evangelical Protestants

bullet Mainline and liberal/progressive Protestants

bullet The Roman Catholic Church

bullet

Contrasting beliefs among different Christian groups
 

bullet Why we cannot prove biblical inerrancy or errancy
 
bullet Harmonizing apparent biblical conflicts
 
bulletAn alternative to inerrancy: the Bible is largely mythical: Essays donated by R. C. Symes:
bullet "Myths surrounding Jesus' birth"

bullet "The resurrection myths about Jesus"

bullet "Jesus' miracles and religious myth"

bullet "Bible prophecies and myth"

bullet

"Is the Bible the Word of God or Myth of men?"

  • Part 1: Bible origins, variations, forgeries, etc.

  • Part 2: Biblical errors and contradictions

bullet Twelve tests of biblical inerrancy/errancy:
bullet Part 1: Four indicators of errancy

bullet Part 2: Five more indicators of errancy

bullet Three indicators that are currently inconclusive

bullet A final indicator of errancy based on biblical ambiguity
 
bullet Did the Holy Spirit inspire the authors of the Bible?
 
bullet Books on biblical errancy, inerrancy, reliability, etc.

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Classroom video:

bullet Bible.org provides a theology program (TTP) which explains various historical beliefs from a conservative Protestant perspective. One free video is Session 8 - Inerrancy. See: http://www.bible.org/

References used:

  1. "Records of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy," Dallas Theological Seminary, undated, at: http://library.dts.edu/
  2. Text of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1978, at: http://library.dts.edu/
  3. "One-Third of Americans Believe the Bible Is Literally True," Gallup, Inc., 2007-MAY-25, at: http://www.gallup.com
  4. Jeffrey M. Jones, "In U.S., 3 in 10 Say They Take the Bible Literally," Gallup, 2011-JUL-08, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  5. The question and multiple responses can be seen on the Quora web site at: https://www.quora.com/

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Copyright 1997 to 2021 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2021-FEB-25

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