Home > apologetics, definition, hermeneutics, inerrancy, interpretation > >A defense of inerrancy

>A defense of inerrancy

>I heard mention of inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures in a sermon recently. The speaker was defending infallibility though he is not an inerrantist. It would seem that these terms seem synonymous so perhaps some definitions are in order.

Incapable of error in expounding doctrine on faith or morals.
Inability to err in teaching revealed truth.
True in any claim of fact.
Without error, and free from all contradiction.

“Fallibility” in theology is describing reliability, “errancy” is describing error. Inerrancy encompasses infallibility, that is if the Bible is error free then it is also reliable. Inerrantists are infallibilists. However one can claim that the Bible is reliable and useful for faith yet claim it contains errors of fact. Infallibilists may or may not be inerrantists. I claim the latter position is difficult to defend logically and scripturally, but that is not the intent of this post.

During the sermon the position of inerrancy was dismissed in, what I consider, somewhat of a strawman manner. Inerrantists were portrayed as being somewhat simplistic and unthinking. The kind who say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” While people of that persuasion undoubtedly exist, this is not the zenith of an inerrancy apologetic and one should should consider the best claims of his opponents, not the poorest.

I am an inerrantist because I think that is the position Scripture points to. The Bible does not appear to discriminate between facts of faith and facts of history. Conversely the Bible claims to be grounded in history. We can believe God about things we cannot know because he is reliable in the things we do know. The early Christians backed up the truth of Christianity by appeal to a fact of history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now we can know much about the spiritual implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection based on revelation by God, but this revelation is confirmed in our minds by the very fact that Jesus did indeed die and then rise from the dead! Many people make claims about spiritual truths but many are also unreliable. They cannot back up their claims with events that prove them trustworthy. If they are unreliable in earthly things why should we believe them about spiritual things.

But rather than an extensive defence of inerrancy at this stage, I want to describe what it is inerrantists claim.

Inerrantists believe the Bible to be true in every factual statement it affirms. Inerrantists can agree with the quote, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” though preferably with qualification.

The last two clauses are relatively straightforward:

  • I believe, or I affirm that what Scripture claims is true;
  • The debate is settled on the side of Scriptural claims because God never errs.

The problem lies in the first clause. While true on the face of it, the debate is around what exactly did God say? The speaker is equating the Bible with God’s words: written in the Bible = God said it. But Bible may not say what the speaker is claiming the Bible says. So while the inerrantist believes the Bible is true in everything it affirms, the careful inerrantist wants to know what exactly the Bible does affirm; nothing more, nothing less.

While people may disagree on specific meanings of texts, there are several relevant issues in understanding Scripture. I will address the literalism claim in more depth.

Inerrantists don’t hold to a literal reading of every text. While they believe much of the Bible is to be taken literally (while errantists may not do so), probably the best descriptor of their hermeneutic is a “straightforward reading” of the text. So if the text is historical narrative then the claim of inerrantists is that what is written is a faithful history. The events really did happen in the way described. But this does not mean that every verse is to be read as literal. No one reads like this. Even the hyperliteralist sees metaphor in some passages. I am not aware that anyone claims the parables really happened. The literalist would rather defend that Jesus really spoke the parables.

So Scripture is to be interpreted according to genre.

Here are several beliefs that inerrantists can and do hold.

  • Poetry uses symbolism and hyperbole.
  • Proverbs are general truths and there may be specific examples of people who fail to follow the general rule.
  • Fables and allegory illustrate an underlying reality.
  • Analogies carry over an aspect common to 2 situations. They may carry over several aspects but they may carry over only 1 aspect and one should be careful about over reading them.
  • People use approximations when giving information.
  • Not all information about an event may be given.
  • Early revelation is not overturned by later revelation though it may be clarified and/ or expanded upon.
  • Only the original text is necessarily inerrant.
  • Copists made errors. Extant manuscripts may contain error.
  • Translation can introduce error. The original language is inerrant, other languages are inerrant in as much as they faithfully reproduce the original.
  • The text may contain more than one meaning.
  • A strict chronology may not be followed.
  • The Bible may be (deliberately) vague in places.
  • Prophecy is often difficult to understand, especially before the fact.

Here are some examples that an infallibilist may falsely challenge an inerrantist.

  • The earth does not stand on pillars. (Job 9:6)
  • Godly parents have rebellious children. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Some Bibles include the comma Johanneum. (1 John 5:7-8)

So where would an inerrantist and infallibilist possibly disagree?

  • The numbers of returning exiles listed in Ezra and Nehemiah do not line up.
  • Was the number of demoniacs 1 or 2?
  • Jonah was not really swallowed by a sea creature.
  • The chronology of the Israelite/ Judean kings is incorrect.
  • Noah did not really live to 950.
  • Paul did not write the pastoral epistles.

An infalliblist may claim that there is error in the Bible as evidenced by this list, but because they are not claims of faith we can still learn from the principles in the stories. The inerrantist would argue that the straightforward reading of the Bible claims are indeed true or that the apparent contradictions are resolvable. He would further argue that the lessons taught are dependant on the reality of the situation: God acting in real history.

  1. jc_freak
    2008 September 21 at 05:37

    you are the second person that I have recently heard define infallibility that way. However, that is not the understanding I have had of infallibility, nor what I have discovered when looking into others’ uses of the term.
    Infallibility essentially refers to the SCripture’s teaching. It is accurate in all it says. It is a focus on message over medium.
    However, the mistake is thinking the infallibility confines what the subject matter of the Bible is. The Bible teaches on a variety of subjects, including history and cosmology.
    I’m sure there are some who misuse the term to mean that the Bible only teaches morals or matters of faith, but to define the position by those would be the same as others falsely accusing inerranists have always being literal or believing KJV only or something.

  2. michael
    2008 September 21 at 05:38

    God is still acting in real history and will be until the last breath of real history is breathed.
    Then what will be left is two things:
    one: hell, God’s eternal anger, wrath, sorrow and grief where those that find themselves there will forever be in God’s present weeping and gnashing their teeth!
    two: heaven, God’s eternal bliss, joy, peace and lovingkindness where those that find themselves there will forever be in God’s present gladness and joy overwhelmed with His Majestic Glory through and through.
    Those that find themselves “there” will never find themselves in the other “there”, but everafter they will only find themselves “there” with God and others “there”!

  3. 2008 September 21 at 05:54

    You mentioned that Bible prophecy is often difficult to understand, and I agree. I do believe that the Bible is inerrant.
    One of the things I had to ask and try to find the answer to is, how do we know when the Bible is speaking literally and figuratively.
    I have a book on prophecy entitled, Preaching the Gospel in which I make a point that God does not use figurative language to deceive. In other words, just as we use figures of speech that other people can understand as figurative language, so does God. When He told the Israelites who had just come out of Egypt, you saw how I carried you on eagle’s wings, they knew that was a figure of speech because they had just walked out of Egypt on their feet. But when the language is literal, such as when God describes the six days of creation as literal days with morning and evening, we should not think these days are figurative just because we do not agree with the literal meaning.
    Too often readers of the Bible want to put in figurative terms anything they read that they do not want to believe. Yet an important element of faith is believing what God says, just as Abraham did. This is important for understanding Bible prophecy because we need God’s help sometimes to understand the Bible, and God helps those who believe and obey what He says.

  4. michael
    2008 September 21 at 16:35

    and it is very very important to quote Scripture accurately.
    You did what most folks do who do not take the time to actually read the “order” of the Word but rather use what first pops into their minds and say, “that’s what it said” when that’s “not” what it said.
    For an example for you to consider. Reread what you wrote above and answer me one question:
    Where does it say in the “six” days of creation that it reads “the morning and the evening”???
    And another one of those “misquotes” I hear a lot is this one:
    “life and death” are spoken, when in fact when you read the Scriptures it does not say that.
    What does it say?
    Death and life are in the power of the tongue, cf., Prov 18:21.
    Just thought you might want to stand corrected? I offer this correction in peace and do not intend on quibbling over it. :)

  5. jc_freak
    2008 September 21 at 17:11

    ACtually Michael, though it reads ih the Hebrew, “and there was evening and there was morning”, many translations reverse it. That’s just a logistics thing.

  6. michael
    2008 September 21 at 20:45

    Twenty three tranlations and editorial boards misquoted Scripture JCFreak? Is that what you are saying?
    I believe you just made Bethyada’s day regarding just “how” fallible we can be! :)

  7. jcfreak
    2008 September 22 at 04:48

    No, what I’m saying is that the order of the words isn’t what’s important, it’s if the fact that the use fo the word day assumes an evening and a morning, thus being a literal day.

  8. michael
    2008 September 22 at 05:16

    well if that’s what you are saying then you need to translate that in layman’s terms so this idiot can understand you! :)
    What’s your point?

  9. Starwind
    2008 September 23 at 16:37

    The inerrantist would argue that the straightforward reading of the Bible claims are indeed true or that the apparent contradictions are resolvable.
    A point worth making is that holding scripture to be inerrant, and demonstrating inerrancy in all cases, is not required.
    Unfulfilled prophecy can not be demonstrated, but can be expected to happen as written (literal vs symbolic language rightly divided).
    Another is that two dissimilar interpretations can be held of the same text (e.g. old earth vs young earth creation) and yet both uphold the inerrancy of the text. Ambiguity does not equate to errancy.
    Lastly, a key benefit of the inerrantist viewpoint is its pursuit of reconciled, harmonious, self-consistent interpretations. Otherwise, when the first (or last) resort is to discard unreconciled texts as errant (or spiritualize them) the possibility of ever knowing the truth is lost. Conversely, by analogy, when one has a jig-saw puzzle piece whose location is unknown, one does not presume it to be a ‘broken’ or ‘wrong’ piece but rather patiently places other pieces first until the proper (and only) location emerges. Even when all the pieces are in place, the picture though correct may not be understandable (this side of heaven).
    The bible most certainly yet contains mysteries, however inerrantly described.

  10. michael
    2008 September 23 at 18:13

    while what you wrote seems to make sense, I differ a bit on the presupposition.
    For instance::::>
    SW:”Otherwise, when the first (or last) resort is to discard unreconciled texts as errant (or spiritualize them) the possibility of ever knowing the truth is lost.”
    Try and reconcile these Words of Jesus, if you can, with all the great minds that ever wrote about His soon coming in their lifetimes and your own words:::>
    Rev 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
    and I had something for you also.
    A comment first,
    I am amazed at the level and passion in that level of debate between the Calvinist and Arminian doctrines that men and women take up in arguing their positions on the Faith once delivered to the Saints.
    Something this morning in my prayer time came to me along with some verses I just read from Psalm 145.
    I know that you are embracing an Arminian “mindset”, ah, I think?
    I honestly cannot say if I am or not embracing that “mindset” or Calvinism too.
    I just have not wanted to be scholarly with all the reading one must spend their time with doing to be intelligent enough to give a position one way or the other.
    So I am looking for and attempting to find common ground here and draw out of you your understanding, not to tear it apart or uphold it.
    Either way, yours or mine, we are Brothers in Christ if we have the common confession of Our Salvation paid for in full, that is, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and that He rose again from the dead and that we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. Whether you are a brother, friend or enemy, I have, as you do too, a warrant to “respect what is right in the sight of all men” and we are admonished by the Holy Ghost, as best we can, to love our enemies and live in peace with all men.
    The love part is not as visible except to the Eyes of Him with Whom we have to do. The peaceableness or not can become visible and when there is no peace with someone, sometimes when it becomes visible Civil authorities are required to “keep” the peace!
    My question then,
    What is your view about these two passages of Scriptures? I am quoting from the ESV:
    Psa 145:9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
    Mat 13:38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
    Mat 13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels.
    Mat 13:40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.
    Mat 13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
    Mat 13:42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that pla

  11. Starwind
    2008 September 23 at 20:33

    Try and reconcile these Words of Jesus, if you can, with all the great minds that ever wrote about His soon coming in their lifetimes and your own words:::>
    Rev 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

    It is unfulfilled prophecy. “soon” relative to what, precisely, from the text? The prophecy is yet future and can’t be demonstrated, hence an inerrant meaning of “soon” can’t be demonstrated, other than relative to eternity any timeframe is arguably “soon”.

  12. michael
    2008 September 24 at 01:40

    couldn’t have said it better, but don’t tempt me or I will try?
    That was my point.
    One man said something that once I tried it, it shocked the hell out of me!
    He said something to this effect, “God has not made us to think backwards into eternity! We have only been created to think forwards into eternity”.
    Go ahead, start thinking backwards and see how long you can hold it together.

  13. 2008 September 24 at 18:53

    Thanks for writing this article on inerrancy. It is a solid defense for a much needed doctrine especially in this age of great deception.

  14. 2008 September 26 at 12:24

    jc_freak you are the second person that I have recently heard define infallibility that way. However, that is not the understanding I have had of infallibility, nor what I have discovered when looking into others’ uses of the term.
    I have sympathy with your claim. Errancy is about error and fallibility is about reliability. If something is without error it is reliable. It seems that if something is reliable it probably is without error. However others seem to use infallibility the way I have mentioned. See this dictionary definition. Definition 3.
    Starwind, good points. I think prophecy is hard to understand before fulfilment at times, and perhaps God intends it that way, or only intends for those who study diligently and are godly to understand it.
    And persons can legitimately come to different conclusions while holding inerrancy. If they are mutually exclusive only one (or neither) will ultimately be true. If not, some passages may have double meanings and several interpretations will each have some validity. (I disagree with your example however).
    Seeking Disciple, thanks.

  15. 2008 September 26 at 21:30

    Great post. I enjoy reading those who defend inerrancy. I agree with you that the terms infallible and inerrant are often used to mean the same thing. I also agree with you that the integrity of Scripture demands that we support inerrancy.

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