Some Thoughts on Biblical Inerrancy

What do evangelical Christians mean when they refer to the Bible as inerrant? This is an important question because it seems that both evangelicals and non-evangelicals can, at times, answer this question incorrectly. Given that I have been doing a fair amount of reading on this topic as of late, I thought I would lay out for the reader some points that have been brought to my attention afresh that I think are worth pondering.

First, the term inerrancy only refers to the original manuscripts, not our English copies of the Bible. This point does not mean that our English translations are unreliable. That said, there are scribal errors in certain manuscripts that textual critics are aware of. This admission doesn’t present a problem because due to the abundance of Greek manuscripts that are available scholars are able to piece together what was originally written. Nevertheless, properly defining inerrancy is paramount in this discussion. Kevin D. Gardner, writing for Ligonier Ministries, recently gave this definition of inerrancy: “The position that the Bible affirms no falsehood of any sort.” He followed this up by noting that, “Inerrancy allows for literary devices, such as metaphors, hyperbole, round numbers, and colloquial expressions.”[1]

Second, those who deny inerrancy have a big problem. Here’s why: Inerrancy is tied to one’s doctrine of God. The doctrine of inerrancy answers the following question: When God gives revelation, is it errorless? Remember, inerrancy only refers to the original manuscripts. Thus, when persons deny inerrancy, they are denying God’s ability to give errorless revelation. For someone to insist that there are errors in the original manuscripts is equivalent to calling God a liar. Additionally, those who deny inerrancy usually also deny the doctrines of inspiration and infallibility. This leads to my third point.

Third, some writers throughout history have said that the Bible is only infallible in matters of faith and morals, but not to be trusted in matters of history and science. In other words, those who affirm this position would say that errors in matters of history can be found in the Bible. In light of this, only the theological statements of the Bible are trustworthy, not the historical details. This position, however, provokes several questions that the deniers of inerrancy must answer: If the Bible is fallible, how can a human being who is also fallible, tell us which parts of the Bible are fallible and infallible? By what authority? And what is their epistemological warrant for doing so?

If we accept what the Bible claims for itself, then the reader can clearly see that it claims to be breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16; Jesus himself says “the Scriptures cannot be broken” [Jn. 10:35]). Thus, to answer the questions I’ve raised above, I think E. J. Young is correct: “He who rejects the Biblical view of Scripture, no matter how much it may be disguised, has set up the human mind as an arbiter to decide how the Bible is to be regarded.”[2] Elsewhere, Young notes, “It should be clear that those who assert that only in matters of faith and practice, as distinguished, for example, from historical statements, is the Bible infallible, are in fact erecting the human mind as the ultimate judge of what is and what is not faith.”[3]

For further study:

Michael Kruger’s site here: Is the Original Text of the NT Lost?

Also, Vern Poythress, “Problems for Limited Inerrancy.”

Kevin Vanhoozer, “God’s Mighty Speech-Acts: The Doctrine of Scripture Today,” in A Pathway into the Holy Scripture, eds. Philip E. Satterthwaite and David F. Wright (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 143-182.

[1] Kevin D. Gardner, “Defining Our Terms,” Tabletalk 39:3 (2015): 7.

[2] E. J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth: Some Thoughts on the Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration (repr., Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 191. This began to happen during the Enlightenment. See Roy Porter, The Enlightenment, Studies in European History (Palgrave: NY, 2001), 14.

[3] Ibid., 102.

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