Biblical inerrancy

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Biblical inerrancy is the doctrinal position that, in its original form, the Bible is totally without error, and free from all contradiction; "referring to the complete accuracy of Scripture, including the historical and scientific parts."


History of the Doctrine of Inerrancy

According to an article in "Theology Today" published in 1975, "There have been long periods in the history of the church when biblical inerrancy has not been a critical question. It has in fact been noted that only in the last two centuries can we legitimately speak of a formal doctrine of inerrancy. The arguments pro and con have filled many books, and almost anyone can join in the debate."

In the '70s and '80s, however, the ancient debate amongst theological circles, which centered on the issue of whether or not the Bible was infallible or both infallible and inerrant, came into the academic spotlight. Some notable Christian seminaries, such as Princeton Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary, were formally adopting the doctrine of infallibility while rejecting the doctrine of inerrancy.

The other side of this debate focused largely around the magazine "Christianity Today" and the book entitled "The Battle for the Bible" by Harold Lindsell. The author asserted that losing the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture was the thread that would unravel the church. Conservatives rallied behind this idea, agreeing that once a man disregards the ultimate truthfulness of the Bible, then anything can become justifiable.

Textual tradition of the New Testament

There are over 5,600 Greek manuscripts containing all or part of the New Testament, as well as over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and perhaps 500 other manuscripts of various other languages. Additionally, there are the Patristic writings which contain copious quotes, across the early centuries, of the scriptures.

Most of these manuscripts date to the Middle Ages. The oldest complete copy of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus (most possibly a forgery), dates to the 4th century. The earliest fragment of a New Testament book is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 which dates to the mid 2nd century and is the size of a business card. Very early manuscripts are rare.

The average NT manuscript is about 200 pages, and in all, we have about 1.3 million pages of text.

In the 2008 Greer-Heard debate series, agnostic Bart Ehrman and critical text supporter Daniel B. Wallace discussed these variances in detail. Wallace mentioned that understanding the meaning of the number of variances is not as simple as looking at the number of variances, but one must consider also the number of manuscripts, the types of errors, and among the more serious discrepancies, what impact they do or do not have.

For hundreds of years, biblical and textual scholars have examined the manuscripts extensively. Since the eighteenth century, they have employed several flawed techniques of textual criticism to reconstruct how the extant manuscripts of the New Testament texts might have descended, and to recover earlier recensions of the texts. However, KJV-only inerrantists often prefer the traditional texts (i.e., Textus Receptus which is the basis of KJV) used in their churches to modern attempts of reconstruction (i.e., Nestle-Aland Greek Text which is the basis of Modern Translations), arguing that the Holy Spirit is just as active in the preservation of the scriptures as in their creation.

Jack Moorman, in his book Missing In Modern Bibles - Is the Full Story Being Told? found that at least 356 doctrinal passages are affected by the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland Greek Text.

Some familiar examples of Gospel passages in the Textus Receptus thought to have been added by later interpolaters and omitted in the Nestle Aland Greek Text include the Pericope Adulteræ (John 7:53 - 8:11), the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7–8), and the longer ending in Mark 16 (Mark 16:9-20).

Many modern Bibles have footnotes to indicate areas where there is disagreement between source documents, yet often focus on corrupted manuscripts which have been historically rejected by the church. Bible commentaries offer discussions of these.

Inerrantist response

Evangelical inerrantists

Many Evangelical Christians generally accept the findings of textual criticism without question, and nearly all modern translations, including the popular New International Version, work from a Greek New Testament based on modern textual criticism. This is a

Since this means that the manuscript copies are not perfect, inerrancy is only applied to the original autographs (the manuscripts written by the original authors) rather than the copies. For instance, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says, We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture

Less commonly, more conservative views are held by some groups:

King James Only inerrantists

A faction of those in the "The King-James-Only Movement" rejects the whole discipline of textual criticism and holds that the translators of the King James Version English Bible simply were guided by God, and that the KJV thus is to be taken as the authoritative English Bible. However, those who hold this opinion do not extend it to the KJV translation into English of the Apocryphal books, which were produced along with the rest of the Authorized Version. Modern translations differ from the KJV on numerous points, largely as a result of work in the field of corrupt Textual Criticism. Upholders of the KJV-only position hold that the Protestant canon of KJV is itself an inspired text and therefore remains authoritative. The King-James-Only Movement asserts that the KJV is the sole English translation free from error.

Textus Receptus

Similar to the King James Only view is the view that translations must be derived from the Textus Receptus in order to be considered inerrant. As the King James Version is an English translation, this leaves speakers of other languages in a difficult position, hence the belief in the Textus Receptus as the inerrant source text for translations to modern languages. It should also be noted that the New King James Version was also translated from the Textus Receptus but has about 500 major differences in translation, departing from the KJV, and the Textus Receptus.

Logic for arriving at the doctrine of inerrancy

A number of reasons are offered by Christian theologians to justify Biblical inerrancy.

Scriptural inerrancy is established by a number of observations and processes, which include:

  • the historical, geographical, and scientific accuracy of the Bible
  • massive amount of manuscript evidence
  • prophetic accuracy
  • the Bible's claims of its own inerrancy
  • church history and tradition
  • one's individual experience with God

Deductive Reasoning to arrive at Inerrancy

The first deductive justification is that the Bible claims to be inspired by God (for instance "16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16 KJV), and because God is perfect, and always keeps His promises, the Bible must also be perfect, and hence free from error. For instance, the statement of faith of the Evangelical Theological Society says, "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs."

A second reason offered is that Jesus and the apostles used the Old Testament in a way which assumes it is inerrant. For instance in Galatians 3:16, Paul bases his argument on the fact that the word "seed" in the Genesis reference to "Abraham and his seed", is singular rather than plural. This sets a precedent for inerrant interpretation down to the individual letters of the words. Many modern versions ruin this revelation by not submitting faithful translations such as the NKJV in this verse which has descendants, meaning Israel and not seed meaning Jesus. See NKJV error in Genesis_22:17. Similarly Jesus said that every minute detail of the Old Testament Law must be fulfilled (Matthew 5:18), indicating (it is claimed) that every detail must be correct.

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Matthew 5:18, KJV

Although in these verses Jesus and the apostles are only referring to the Old Testament, the argument extends to the New Testament writings, because 2 Peter 3:16 accords the status of Scripture to New Testament writings also: "As also in all his (Paul's) epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16 KJV).

Inductive Reasoning to arrive at Inerrancy

Dan Wallace who rejects the KJV and TR favoring corruptions like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus describes the inductive approach by enlisting the Presbyterian theologian B. B. Warfield:

In his Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, Warfield lays out an argument for inerrancy that has been virtually ignored by today’s evangelicals. Essentially, he makes a case for inerrancy on the basis of inductive evidence, rather than deductive reasoning. Most evangelicals today follow E. J. Young’s deductive approach toward bibliology, forgetting the great articulator of inerrancy. But Warfield starts with the evidence that the Bible is a historical document, rather than with the presupposition that it is inspired.

In Lutheranism

Lutherans traditionally hold the Bible as without error because of what they hold about its inspiration, authority and sufficiency.


The Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but every word of it is, because of verbal inspiration, the direct, immediate word of God. As Lutherans confess in the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit "spoke through the prophets". The Apology of the Augsburg Confession identifies Holy Scripture with the Word of God and calls the Holy Spirit the author of the Bible. Because of this, Lutherans confess in the Formula of Concord, "we receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel."The apocryphal books were not written by the prophets, by inspiration; they contain errors E.g.:Tobit 6, 71; 2 Macc. 12, 43 f.; 14, 411), and were never included in the Palestinian Canon that Jesus used, and therefore are not a part of Holy Scripture. The prophetic and apostolic Scriptures are authentic as written by the prophets and apostles. A correct translation of their writings is God's Word because it has the same meaning as the original Hebrew and Greek. A mistranslation is not God's word, and no human authority can invest it with divine authority.

Divine authority

Holy Scripture, the Word of God, carries the full authority of God. Every single statement of the Bible calls for instant and unqualified acceptance. Every doctrine of the Bible is the teaching of God and therefore requires full agreement. Every promise of the Bible calls for unshakable trust in its fulfillment. Every command of the Bible is the directive of God himself and therefore demands willing observance.


The Bible contains everything that one needs to know in order to obtain salvation and to live a Christian life.[] There are no deficiencies in Scripture that need to be filled with by tradition, pronouncements of the Pope, new revelations, or present-day development of doctrine.[]

Some Clarifications of the Doctrine of Inerrancy

Inerrancy as Accurate v. True

Harold Lindsell points out that it is a "gross distortion" to state that people who believe in inerrancy suppose every statement made in the Bible is true (as opposed to accurate).<ref name=Lindsell>Lindsell, Harold. "The Battle for the Bible", Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA (1976), pg. 38.</ref> He indicates there are expressly false statements in the Bible which are reported accurately<ref name=Lindsell /> (for example, Satan is a liar whose lies are accurately reported as to what he actually said).<ref name=Lindsell />

Limitations of inerrancy

Many who believe in the Inspiration of scripture teach that it is infallible but not inerrant. Those who subscribe to infallibility believe that what the scriptures say regarding matters of faith and Christian practice are wholly useful and true. Some denominations that teach infallibility hold that the historical or scientific details, which may be irrelevant to matters of faith and Christian practice, may contain errors. Those who believe in inerrancy hold that the scientific, geographic, and historic details of the scriptural texts in their original manuscripts are completely true and without error, though the scientific claims of scripture must be interpreted in the light of its phenomenological nature, not just with strict, clinical literality, which was foreign to historical narratives.<ref name="inerrancy"/>

Proponents of biblical inerrancy generally do not teach that the Bible was dictated directly by God, but that God used the "distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers" of scripture and that God's inspiration guided them to flawlessly project his message through their own language and personality.<ref>Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article VIII</ref>

Infallibility and inerrancy refer to the original texts of the Bible. And while conservative scholars acknowledge the potential for human error in transmission and translation, modern translations are considered to "faithfully represent the originals".<ref>Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X</ref>

Criticisms of biblical inerrancy

Scientific and historical criticism

Template:Seealso Biblical inerrancy has been criticized on the grounds that many statements, including, but not exclusively, history or science that are found in Scripture, if taken literally, rather than phenomenologically, are untenable or contradictory. Inerrancy is argued to be a falsifiable proposition: if the Bible is found to contain any mistakes or contradictions, the proposition of strict inerrancy has been refuted. Many inerrantists have offered explanations of why these are not errorsTemplate:Fact.

Theological criticisms

Theological criticisms refers to criticisms which are that the Bible does not teach, or require, its own inerrancy.

Proponents of biblical inerrancy often prefer the translations of {{#if:2|2 }}Timothy 3:16 that render it as "all scripture is given by inspiration of God," and they interpret this to mean that the whole Bible is inerrant. However, critics of this doctrine think that the Bible makes no direct claim to be inerrant or infallible. C H Dodd argues the same sentence can also be translated "Every inspired scripture is also useful..." nor does the verse define the Biblical canon.<ref> C H Dodd, 'The Authority of the Bible' page 25, London, 1960.</ref> In context, this passage refers only to the Old Testament writings understood to be scripture at the time it was written.<ref>New Jerusalem Bible, study edition, page 1967, DLT 1994</ref> However there are indications that Paul's writings were being considered, at least by the author of the Second Epistle of Peter ({{#if:2|2 }}Peter 3:16), as comparable to the Old Testament.<ref>New Jerusalem Bible, page 2010, footnote (i) DLT 1985</ref>

The idea that the Bible contains no mistakes is mainly justified by appeal to prooftexts that refer to its divine inspiration. However, this argument has been criticized as circular reasoning, because these statements only have to be accepted as true if the Bible is already thought to be inerrant. None of these texts say that because a text is inspired, it is therefore always correct in its historical statements.Template:Fact

According to Bishop John Shelby Spong, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has been a historical substitute for papal infallibility. "When Martin Luther countered the authority of the infallible pope, he did so in the name of his new authority, the infallible Scriptures. This point of view was generally embraced by all of the Reformation churches. The Bible thus became the paper pope of Protestantism."[1]

Meaning of "Word of God"

Much debate over the kind of authority that should be accorded biblical texts centers on what is meant by the "Word of God". The term can refer to Christ himself as well as to the proclamation of his ministry as kerygma. However, biblical inerrancy differs from this orthodoxy in viewing the Word of God to mean the entire text of the Bible when interpreted didactically as God's teaching.<ref>James Barr, 'Fundamentalism' p.72ff, SCM 1977.</ref> The idea of the Bible itself as Word of God, as being itself God's revelation, is criticized in neo-orthodoxy. Here the Bible is seen as a unique witness to the people and deeds that do make up the Word of God. However, it is a wholly human witness.<ref>James Barr, 'Fundamentalism' pp.218-219 SCM 1977</ref> All books of the Bible were written by human beings. Thus, whether the Bible is - in whole or in part<ref>Exodus claims of the Ethical Decalogue and Ritual Decalogue that these are God's word.</ref> - the Word of God is not clear. However, critics argue that the Bible can still be construed as the "Word of God" in the sense that these authors' statements may have been representative of, and perhaps even directly influenced by, God's own knowledge.

There is only one instance in the Bible where the phrase "the Word of God" refers to something "written". The reference is to the Decalogue. However, most of the other references are to reported speech that is preserved in the Bible. The New Testament also contains a number of statements which refer to passages from the Old Testament as God's words, for instance Romans 3:2 (which says that the Jews have been "entrusted with the very words of God"), or the book of Hebrews, which often prefaces Old Testament quotations with words such as "God says." The Bible also contains words spoken by human beings to God, such as Eliphaz (Job 42:7) and the prayers and songs of the Psalter. That these are God's words addressed to us was at the root of a lively mediaeval controversy.<ref>Uriel Simon, "Four Appraoches to the Book of Psalms" chap. 1</ref> The idea of the word of God is more that God is encountered in scripture, than that every line of scripture is a statement made by God.<ref>Alexander Ryrie "Deliver Us From Evil" DLT 2004</ref>

While the phrase "the Word of God" is never applied to the modern Bible within the Bible itself, supporters of inerrancy argue that that is simply because the Biblical canon was not closed. In I Thessalonians 2:13, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God."

Practical objections

Practical objections refers to arguments which do not seek to disprove inerrancy per se, but which attempt to demonstrate that the Bible is irrelevant or meaningless.


One point that has been argued is that, even if the text were guaranteed inerrant in its original language, this no longer holds true after translation, because there is no such thing as a perfect translation. The original texts were primarily written in Hebrew and Greek with translations in several ancient languages - Hebrew, Koine Greek, Coptic and Syriac. Translators from one language to another are often faced with several ways in which a phrase may be translated, particularly in the case of poetic passages, and the language into which the Bible is being translated is constantly evolving and changing. Mistaken translations of the Bible are occasionally proposed or discovered. For instance, scholars write<ref>New Jerusalem Bible, note g, page 1201.</ref> that an early messianic prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) did not require that the Messiah's mother be a virgin, only young.

Some biblical passages are conventionally treated as verse, and others as different kinds of prose: this has not always been the case. Some of the prose contains many linguistic forms that indicate poetry. The two forms have a certain mutual overlap. Inerrancy as a doctrine itself provides no clear hermeneutic for discovering how the literal communications found in prose can be distinguished from the symbolic and metaphorical elements of poetry.

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