What does it mean that the Bible is inerrant?


I believe that Scripture is inerrant. I know that the Bible makes such claims of itself. There may be difficulties within the text, but I believe genuine error does not exist, but are only the result of the reader’s failure interpret it properly.      

In order to clarify this issue, it is helpful to establish a definition of inerrancy. Jack Cottrell’s definition of inerrant is “without error, mistake, contradiction, or falsehood; true, reliable, trustworthy, accurate, infallible” (Cottrell 30). That is quite a claim to make, especially in light of discrepancies between various translations. I’m not alone in feeling that Cottrell’s definition needs a qualifier. My search for just such a means to tighten my definition of inerrancy led me to a section of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (which is supplied in full in Dr. James Boice’s book, Standing on the Rock). The particular passage reads: “Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired…” (Boice 137, emphasis mine).       

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God…” and it is, of course, well known that inspiration in this case is best translated “God-breathed.” It follows that since God is perfect and cannot lie that His Word would also bear these qualities. As Cottrell succinctly puts it, “The scope of Biblical inerrancy is equal to the scope of inspiration” (Cottrell 35). In fact, the Bible bluntly makes the claim of inerrancy of itself. For example, Jesus affirmed in John 10:35 that “the scripture cannot be broken.” Furthermore, in John 17:17, he prays, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.”       

Still, we cannot use this sort of circular logic (that the Bible is true because the Bible says the Bible is true) on its own. Nor do I think God intended us to. There are many exterior proofs to Biblical reliability, not the least of which are fulfilled prophecy, historical accuracy, and, as we’ve just noted, the testimony of Christ himself, whose veracity is proven by the fulfillment of his promise to rise from the dead.      

Despite the weight of external proofs, many people still have problems with this idea of inerrancy.       

For some, the supernatural aspects of the Bible are the stumbling block. The Bible relates miracles and events which many professed Christians and non-Christians alike would dearly like to label as pre-scientific myths and clever fables. For his part, the unregenerate, aside from having his blinded eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, cannot help but see difficulties, contradictions, and errors. The carnal mind cannot fully and accurately know the Divine Author’s original intent, these things being spiritually discerned. As for the Christians who balk at this concept, it is strange indeed and perhaps hypocritical that, as C. S. Lewis put it, “after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection [they] strain at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes” (Geisler 99).       

Others merely presume that since the Scriptures came to us through fallible men that there must be errors present. Certainly there are difficult passages, seeming paradoxes, and the occasional translation errors in the Scriptures. Yet many of these difficulties can be easily attributed to misunderstanding on the reader’s part. As David S. Dockery warns, “Before falsehood can be recognized, it is necessary to know if a text has been interpreted properly. The text, as a guideline, should be interpreted normally, grammatically, historically, contextually, and theologically. The context, background, genre, and purpose of the writing must be considered in interpretational matters” (Dockery 40). I believe that St. Augustine displayed a healthy attitude towards approaching difficult passages when he said, “If in [the canonical books of Scripture] I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it” (Geisler 37).      

Many people feel that the Bible must contain errors simply because it was written by fallible men. At first, this seems plausible; we all have first-hand knowledge that humans are prone to mistake, error, and bias. Yet two problems arise from this perspective. Firstly, those with this preconception have the tendency to view the Bible through this cynical framework and also tend to be satisfied with their findings after only a superficial investigation, having found what they “knew” they’d find all along. Worse still, some do not investigate at all, supposing errors must exist and any investigation would only verify the obvious. Ironically, a deeper look would inevitably eliminate such so-called errors. Secondly, they fail to plug an infallible, omnipotent, omnipresent God into the equation. To quote Cottrell again, “We can grant the possibility of error on the part of fallible men without assuming its necessity… The very purpose of the Spirit’s supervision [in the writing of Scripture] was to keep men who could err from doing so” (Cottrell 40-1). Frankly, if God were not powerful enough to preserve the integrity and inerrancy of his very revealed Word even through flawed men, he could hardly be considered an omnipotent Being.        

While this is not a definitive discussion of this topic, I do hope that the reader now has reason to consider their own approach to biblical interpretation and will place their faith in the message of the inerrant Word of God.

-Sirius Knott

Works Cited       

Boise, Dr. James Montgomery. Standing on the Rock: The Importance of Biblical Inerrancy. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1984.      

Cottrell, Jack. The Authority of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1979.      

Dockery, David S. “The Divine-Human Authorship of Inspired Scripture.” Authority and Interpretation: A Baptist Perspective. Ed. Duane A. Garrett & Richard R. Melick, Jr. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House   Company, 1987. 13-43.      

Geisler, Norman L. Decide for Yourself: How History Views the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1982. 

The Bible.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. lizagator says:

    Sirius, that was a really well written, concise and intelligent take on a difficult subject. I like that you understand peoples’ problem with the argument, ‘The Bible’s right cause it says it’s right.’ The circular logic does indeed insnare some. Thanks. I look forward to discovering more.

  2. I stand with you in your belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. To me, it logically makes sense that if God wrote the Bible by His Spirit (2 Peter 1:21) then it follows that if God is perfect then His Word must be perfect for God is not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19). God is holy in all that He does (1 Peter 1:15-16) and it follows that His Word would be holy as well.

  3. Rickr0ll says:

    Question: if the Bible is inerrent, then why does it have to be interpreted? Shouldn’t the answer be oh so obvious- people aren’t really all that bright, you must admit.

    Do you have any idea of the problems with the Book of Daniel? They are massive. And i know i mentioned this before, but Exodus never happened- there is 0 proof of it. How does that synch up with the idea that the Bible is Infallible?

    And if the Bible is inerraant- why is there no archeological evidences to support that?

    Just curious to see if you have any specifics or if you would rather not talk about it…

  4. Sirius says:

    @Rickr0ll

    The Bible needs to be interpreted because “the god of this world”[ie – Satan] has clouded men’s minds. More to the point,we have a fallen nature that is at emnity with God. We are admonished to study the Word so that we may rightly divide it. It’s easy to take things out of context. Daily study allows us to better understand the Bible in light of the whole of Scripture.

    I am aware of one problem with the Book of Daniel, involving Belshazzar, which has been reconciled. “Massive?” You overstate your case.

    There is ample proof that the Exodus occured. Most of the controversy is over WHEN it happened, but this is because dates in Egyption chronology have been inflated. Perhaps you’re only seeing what you wish to see?

    “And if the Bible is inerraant- why is there no archeological evidences to support that?”

    I’m laughing. A lot. The archaeological evidence for the Bible is overwhelming.

    Maybe you should do some more research. I suggest Josh McDowell’s The Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

    –Sirius Knott

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