A First Primer on Inerrancy
The doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture asserts that the Bible is truthful and accurate, and therefore without error, in all that it affirms.
The theological ground of inerrancy is established in the following steps:
1) Error arises from deceit and/or ignorance.
2) God is a God of truth; he is omniscient, cannot lie, and never deceives or makes mistake.
3) Scripture in its every detail is the very word of God.
The necessary conclusion that arises from this is that Scripture cannot err.
That is to say, the question of inerrancy turns on the earlier question of inspiration. If we believe that Scripture is God’s Word, then we cannot fail to believe also that it is inerrant. If we admit errors, we lose divine trustworthiness. As Warfield stated, inspiration is “a doctrine which claims that by a special, supernatural, extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost, the sacred writers have been guided in their writing in such a way, as while their humanity was not superseded, it was yet so dominated that their words became at the same time the words of God, and thus, in every case and all alike, absolutely infallible” (Works, 1:399, emphasis added).
Scripture everywhere claims to be divine revelation, the very word of God. It also takes that next step and specifically claims complete truthfulness. Here are just some samples:
*John 17:17 – “Your word is truth” (cf. Ps.119:43, 142, 151, 160; 2Sam.7:28)
*John 10:34-35 – “Scripture cannot be broken”
*Num. 23:19 – “God is not a man, that he should lie or a son of man, that he should repent. He has said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
*Ps. 12:6 – “The words of the LORD are pure words. . . .”
*Ps. 18:30 – “. . . the word of the Lord is flawless.” (cf. Ps. 119:89, 140)
*Rom. 3:4 – “Let God be true and every man a liar.”
The Question of Historical Detail
It has been claimed by some that the Bible is inerrant in matters of faith and practice but not necessarily in matters of history. Consider, however, the following.
1) The Relation of Faith and History.
Biblical faith is rooted in history. Its faith claims are inseparable from actual historical events.
2) The Difficulty of Sorting Faith from History.
The question necessarily arises, Who determines what is faith and what is history? Is Genesis 1, for example, history? Is it faith? And can it be faith apart from presumed historicity? Is Jesus’ resurrection a historical event? Can it be a genuine article of faith apart from its historicity? If there are actual discrepancies in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, is the account of his resurrection reliable? And if the Bible is not necessarily truthful in all matters of history, who is there that can decide these questions for us?
3) History as a Tenet of Faith.
One of the tenets of our “faith” is that Scripture is true and without error in all that it affirms. This is inclusive of historical data as well as the purely “theological.” That is, if we affirm (as our faith must) that the Bible is true, then with that affirmation is an affirmation of its historical accuracy also.
4) The New Testament on Old Testament History.
The fact is that the New Testament writers consistently appeal to and accept even the most minor details of Old Testament history recorded in Scripture as truthful and reliable.
The Importance of the Question
1) Inerrancy is a necessary implication of inspiration. If the Bible is God’s Word, then to charge it with error at any point is to charge God with error also.
2) Inerrancy safeguards correct theological methodology as primarily a Biblical-exegetical task. Theology is not the study of religion. It is not the study of religious experience. It is the study of God himself, and we therefore look first to his own word to learn about him.
3) Inerrancy safeguards the Christian faith. If errors are admitted, then it would be impossible to judge where error begins and ends, and the Christian faith would become subjectively determined. As Augustine commented, “In an authority so high, admit but one officious lie, and there will not remain a single passage of those apparently difficult to practice or to believe, which on the same most pernicious rule may not be explained as a lie uttered by the author willfully and to serve some higher end” (Epistle, 28, c, 3).
1) Inerrancy does not demand strict adherence to the rules of grammar.
2) Inerrancy does not exclude the use of either figures of speech or literary genre.
3) Inerrancy does not demand historical or semantic precision. (allows generalizations)
4) Inerrancy does not demand the technical or observational language of modern science.
5) Inerrancy does not require verbal exactness in the citation of the Old Testament by the New.
6) Inerrancy does not demand that the sayings of Jesus contain the exact words of Jesus, only the exact voice.
7) Inerrancy does not guarantee the exhaustive comprehensiveness of any single account or of combined accounts where those are involved.
8) Inerrancy does not demand the infallibility or inerrancy of the non-inspired sources used by biblical writers.
The Christian and Biblical “Problems”
We acknowledge that there may be apparent problems with this doctrine, just as there are “problems” connected with virtually every doctrine. There may sometimes be questions of apparent contradiction, details seemingly contrary to fact, and historical and scientific detail. These remind us of our own limitations. Our response to such “problems” is not to ignore them but to search them out vigorously with confidence that God’s Word will prove itself to be true in every case.
Such questions have been posed to Christians for centuries, and there are many resources available given to answering each objection. It may that be at the end of the day we must confess still that we do not know the answer, but even so we do not question that such ignorance on our part will overthrow the complete truthfulness of all that God has spoken. We hold that the Bible, because it is the word of God, cannot ever be anything other than true.
The Basis of This Faith
What is the ground of our belief in the inerrancy of Scripture? Ultimately, we believe this doctrine because Jesus and his appointed apostles taught it (cf. Jn.10:34-35). Claiming to be “Christian” as we do, we follow the teaching of our Lord. We cannot have the Jesus of the Bible unless we have also the Bible of Jesus. We do not deny that there are genuine believers who deny the doctrine of inerrancy. But we insist that the rejection of this doctrine is not, properly speaking, a “Christian” option. It is a doctrine taught us by our Lord and his personally authorized spokesmen.
Moreover, we note that this understanding of Scripture has been the unanimous faith of the church since its inception. It was the faith of the Reformers, and it was the faith of the infant church. As far back as we can trace it, this has been the church’s commitment. This common faith since the church’s very beginning is explained only by the fact that this was the faith given to the church by the church’s founders.
1) The Old Testament Prophets, Jesus, and Jesus’ appointed Apostles all held and taught that Scripture is God’s very own word. That is, they believed it to be inspired of God.
2) They all held and taught also, therefore, that Scripture is altogether true, trustworthy, and without error.
3) It is impossible to find any help at all from Scripture that would support any attempt to restrict truthfulness and reliability of Scripture in any way.
4) No lower view of Scripture, then, is, properly speaking, a “Christian” option.
5) Only these considerations account for the fact that this has been the Christian view of Scripture since the church’s inception.