Is the Bible Inerrant?
One of the things we talk a lot about in church circles is the authority of scripture—that it is given by God and is designed to instruct us in every area of life. One of the terms that we use when we speak of why the scriptures are authoritative is the term “inerrant.” But I have found that while we often throw that term around, a lot of times, people aren’t entirely sure what the term means.
To be “inerrant” means far more than something has no errors in it. When I was in school, I regularly had “error-free” mathematics tests; when I was in seminary, many of my Hebrew vocabulary tests were found to be “error-free,” but none of these were inerrant. The word inerrant means not only that something has no errors, but that it is incapable of making an error. The Oxford American Dictionary defines “inerrant” as “incapable of being wrong.” One writer described the inerrancy of the scriptures in this way: “They are exempt from the liability to mistake.”
So why do we ascribe such a nature to the scriptures? To begin with, they are God’s word, and if God is incapable of making a mistake, then his word also must be incapable of making a mistake—remembering that those who wrote down God’s word were “moved along by the Spirit” as a ship is blown by the wind filling its sails (2 Peter 1:21). In the language of the Apostle Paul, scripture is exhaled by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and thus is the source of all training and guidance for the believer. These are God’s words and not man’s and thus we ought to expect them to carry the authority and attributes of God’s character and not man’s character.
It is granted that there are many these days that doubt the inerrancy of scripture. For some, it is a plain matter of unbelief. For others it is misinformation or not having studied the evidence. For others it is the fear that if one acknowledges these words to be the inerrant word of God then one must submit one’s life to scripture’s authority and demands, and such is true. Regardless of the reason that people doubt, Scripture has withstood every test and challenge that has been leveled at it.
There is one other thing that is worth noting about such a book as we have. Not only are the scriptures our only guide for faith and life, but they are the only book to guide us as we go to our deaths. The Bible shows us Jesus Christ, our need for him as a redeemer, and his promise that if we trust in him in life, confessing him with our lips and believing in him in our hearts, he will confess us before the Father and guarantee us eternal life in paradise. For the one who is facing death, this is the kind of knowledge that brings peace and enables them to leave this world with grace and not fear. It is no wonder that the Scriptures are what most people ask to have read to them on their deathbeds, and not Shakespeare or Coleridge. The Bible is the one book that transcends death because it was written by a God who died and rose again—promising that he would do the same for us.
Posted on July 04, 2009, in Apologetics and tagged Bible, Christ, death, eternal life, faith, God's Word, Inerrancy, Jesus, Scripture, Truth. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.
For some it might be that they have weighed the evidence and find the doctrine wanting. To have Scripture be authoritative does not necessitate a doctrine of inerrancy.
Actually, if you throw out inerrancy, you throw out the Bible’s authority–essentially making authority a matter of preference. For example, if you say that the Bible is authoritative, you need to ask the question, “Upon whose authority?” If it is a human authority (personal preference, the church, etc…) then the authority only goes as far as the source goes. Thus, if the church gives the Bible its authority, then only those who place themselves under the authority of the church will submit to the authority of the Bible.
Yet, the Bible is not the church’s word, but is God’s word. Thus, its authority is based in God, not in a human institution. In turn, its authority extends as far as God’s authority does–that means it is universal. Yet if God is God, he is unable to err. In turn, his word is unable to contain error. If you dismiss inerrancy, you dismiss the God who is the author of scripture.
In addition, scripture repeatedly claims to be the word of God–theopneustos, and not from the imaginations of men. Again, if it is Gods word, there can be no error, for God does not make mistakes.
Thus, I respectfully disagree. Your position leaves you wide open to a total dismissal to the divine authorship of scripture. And since scripture presents itself as having a divine author and thus divine authority, then to suggest errors in the original manuscripts is to suggest that God lied, and that is dangerous.
ps. Sorry it took so long to respond, I was overseas for the last couple of weeks.
Thanks for your response. I hope you had fun overseas. I appreciate you hold what is a standard Reformed position on Scripture. I am not much of a “converter.” I’m quite certain nothing I could say would persuade you in the least. Likewise it is unlikely you could convince me of its necessity. I’ll keep preaching and believing the Gospel w/out inerrancy, and I’m sure you’ll keep preaching it too.
p.s. – theopneustos doesn’t mean “God’s Word.” That would be logos theou, which in the NT is only used of Christ himself and the Gospel message
No, you are right, “Theopneustos” means “God Breathed” or “God exhaled”, not God’s word, I am sorry if I implied otherwise, my brain is still a bit muddled from fatigue come eveningtime from my trip and having to jump directly back into a normal work routine as soon as I arrived home. That being said, Paul does refer to Scripture as being theopneustos–breathed out by God and when you put that together with what Peter taught about the prophet being moved along (phero) by the Spirit, we really do have a very neat picture of God moving through each of the prophets and apostles as they wrote. In addition, when you look at the role of the prophet from the Old Testament, and you note that he was called not to speak his own words, but to speak exactly what the Lord spoke to him, you again have a very neat argument for these words being God’s own words and thus carrying with them the characteristic of inerrancy because God is incapable of making errors.
On a more philosophical note, though, the question really does need to be asked as to why the Bible is authoritative. I am arguing that it is authoritative because the words on the page of the original manuscripts really is the very word of God–breathed out through his prophets and apostles. Thus, since God uttered it, it is authoritative. If you deny inerrancy, then God could not have uttered it directly and you open up a large window for human interpretation (in terms of the manuscripts) and thus error. You also open up a very large window of subjectivity, suggesting that every man has the right to determine what parts of the Bible are in error and what parts are accurate. My overarching question is with whom does the authority lie? The path that you are suggesting is a slippery slope either to disregarding the Bible or to making its authority totally subjective (ala what happened with the Jesus Seminar folks).