Is the Bible “inerrant” and what does that mean?

Part 1: Why do people insist on the inerrancy of the Bible?

Introduction

You have probably been taught, like me, that the Bible is inerrant or infallible. It’s kind of a given in many Christian circles. So much so that we don’t stop to think about what it means and why it’s important. We hear statements like this: “I just believe the Bible!” But what does this mean?

Over the last couple of years I have been thinking about these questions and reading about the subject, too. As a result, I’ve come to some conclusions that I’d like to share.

Let me begin by saying that the Bible is certainly important to us as Jesus-followers, and one of the most reliable ancient texts available. By this I mean that we can be very sure that the best manuscripts used by translators are very close to the original manuscripts, which, understandably, no longer exist.

So, as one speaker said, “Don’t hear what I’m not saying!”

You have probably been taught, like me, that the Bible is inerrant or infallible. It’s kind of a given in many Christian circles. We hear statements like this: “I just believe the Bible!” But what does this mean?

The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy says that the scriptures are useful – and they are. 1

But what about inerrant?

I’m going to address this in three points:

  1. Why do people insist on the inerrancy of the Bible?
  2. What do they mean by it?
  3. Is inerrancy a useful and credible belief?

To keep it short, I’ll cover the first point in this post and the others in subsequent posts.

Photo by Eduardo Braga on Pexels.com

Why do people insist on the inerrancy of the Bible?

  • My experience is that many preachers insist on this because it gives them authority. They can say, “The Bible says…” and there can be no argument.
    In the days of raised pulpits, we used to say that this put them “six feet above contradiction”!
    And even without the raised pulpit it’s often the case. I’ve heard one well-known church leader in the UK say that if we disagree with him, we are disagreeing with God because he is preaching from the “word of God”, by which he meant the Bible.
  • Another reason is that it allows us, readers of the Bible, to find incontrovertible support for our beliefs – whatever they may be. For example:
    • In the days of slavery and slave trading, the Bible was used to support those activities.
    • It is also used to stop women from teaching men.
    • Even today, it is used by some to justify subservience to abusive husbands.
  • The Bible is used as a kind of almanac where you can find the answer to every question and then support your answer with “The Bible says …” 2
    • Yes, but the Bible says many things, and they are not all consistent with each other. 3
    • If you are quoting the Bible to a non-believer, this can be very helpful, but they will not be impressed by “The Bible says …” any more than we would be impressed by “The Koran says…”
  • Clearly, a book that tells you everything could be extremely valuable but, by the way, it obviates to some extent the necessity of listening to what God is saying by His Holy Spirit and being taught by Him.
  • Some people will even say that the Bible has to be inerrant because otherwise they cannot believe; their faith crumbles and falls.
    • This idea begs the question of how followers kept the faith under intense persecution before the books that make up the New Testament were collected together in the middle of the 4th century; before the Bible really existed.
    • In fact, I believe (and I’m far from being alone in this) that our faith depends not on the inerrancy of the Bible but on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
      • There is a traditional Easter acclamation that perfectly summarizes this – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. 4
        • Christ has died for your sins. Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to forgive every sin that you have ever committed. All of Jesus’ perfect life and righteousness was given to you through his death and the blood that was shed.
        • Christ is risen. In this Easter season we especially celebrate this fact, however, it is something that we can and should celebrate all year long. Jesus Christ is not dead. He is alive. There were over 500 witnesses to this fact. He has now ascended to heaven.
        • Christ will come again. This is what we’re waiting for right now. Jesus to return. Jesus has promised that he will come back – and not only that he has promised to be with us always – until the end of the age

All this may lead one to believe that the Holy Trinity consists of:

  • Father
  • Son and
  • Holy Bible

But of course that’s not true. Is it?

Here are some questions to think about while I’m writing the next blog post.

Maybe you have other questions you’d like to add; please feel free to post them in the comments, and I’ll see if I can answer them.

Questions

If the Bible is inerrant…

  • Why does Jesus sometimes contradict what is written in the Old Testament?
  • Why do different translations include different books – like the Apocrypha – or exclude sections of books such as Esther’s prayer?
  • Why do some translations include significant words or phrases that others do not?
    For example, in Acts we read that the disciples “broke bread” together, but some translations add “including the Lord’s Supper”, a clarification that is not in the Greek, but added by the translators in some cases, but not in others. 5
  • Which translation is the really inerrant one? How about translations into other languages?

And if the Bible is to be the final authority in our lives, as some church statements of faith say… 6

  • Why did Jesus say He would send the Holy Spirit?
  • Why didn’t He say he would cause a book to be written to guide us instead?

These questions will lead us to the next big question: “What is meant by inerrancy?”


Notes

  1.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
    2 Timothy 3:16
  2.  Maybe the Bible isn’t God’s owner’s manual for us that answers all our questions about God and lays a script out for us to follow as we walk along the Christian path.
    Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It  (HarperCollins.) 
    See also: Zahnd, Brian. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News (p. 62). (The Crown Publishing Group.)
  3. Take as an example these two verses – one after the other – which apparently give opposite advice.
    1. Proverbs 26:4: Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.
    2. Proverbs 26:5: Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.
      (By the way, according to Peter Enns, “Both of these proverbs are good, wise, and right—the question is when each is good, wise, and right. And that “when” depends on the situation you might find yourself in.”
      “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” by Peter Enns.)
  4. Adapted from https://www.trinityalgona.org/blog/2020/05/25/christ-has-died-christ-is-risen-christ-will-come-again.
    The acclamation is used by both Protestant and Roman Catholic streams of the church whenever the Mass or Communion is celebrated. Here are some references:
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Acclamation
    2. https://blogs.bible.org/christ-has-died-christ-is-risen-christ-will-come-again/
    3. https://www.reformedworship.org/article/december-2004/christ-has-died-christ-risen-christ-will-come-again-proclaiming-gospel
  5. An example from Acts 2:46 of translators adding text:
    1. They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity (NLT)
    2. And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous hearts (AMP)
    3. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts (ESV)
    4. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread  in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (NIV)
    5. καθʼ ἡμέραν τε προσκαρτεροῦντες ὁμοθυμαδὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ κλῶντές τε κατʼ οἶκον ἄρτον  μετελάμβανον τροφῆς ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει καὶ ἀφελότητι καρδίας  (Greek from NIV interlinear)
  6.  The Bible as final authority.
    1. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals writes: “The Alliance stands firmly on the Bible–God’s inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word–as the final rule for all faith and practice.” https://www.alliancenet.org/what-is-the-alliance
    2. The Gospel Coalition states: “We believe that God has inspired the words preserved in the Scriptures, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, which are both record and means of his saving work in the world. These writings alone constitute the verbally inspired Word of God, which is utterly authoritative and without error in the original writings, complete in its revelation of his will for salvation, sufficient for all that God requires us to believe and do, and final in its authority over every domain of knowledge to which it speaks.”
      https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/about/foundation-documents/#confessional-statement

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