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.