The Inerrancy and Infallibility of Scripture (1)7 min read
Through the centuries men and women of God have both devoted and sacrificed their lives for the sake of a book they deemed worthy. This book, of course, is the Bible. They did not see a book from man, nor a book corrupted by man: they saw words from God. In that this book embodied God’s words, it was reliable, even life-changing.
Today, however, academia is far too enlightened (so they say) to give Scripture such high honour. Standing on the backs of so-called great critics of the past century or two, scholars have apparently invalidated worn-out concepts like the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, even its inspiration to an extent. “The book is honourable, yes, but it is not wholly without error. That would be silly.”
Rather than standing firm, evangelicals too are caught bringing in subtle compromises in this issue. Especially today, it is the Christian’s obligation to stand for an error-free, binding God-breathed Scripture. We must be those people.
An Introduction to the Terms
At one point in time, inerrancy and infallibility were interchangeable terms. They essentially referred to a state of being reliable and unable to err. Now, they are generally recognized as having different emphases. Compromised scholars have seen infallibility as applying only to the faith-related claims of Scripture, but not its historical and scientific claims; whereas, they see inerrancy as applying to all propositions of Scripture. Thus, to them infallibility is easier to believe in that it makes the Bible a mere religious book, not threatened by scholarly criticism. This article promotes the following definitions, as opposed to the above.
Inerrancy states that Scripture does not err in any of its propositions: in all of its parts, it corresponds as a matter of fact to what really is. Infallibility states that Scripture cannot err in any of its propositions. It holds immunity from error, illegitimacy, or failure. It is fully certain, reliable, and trustworthy regarding both facts and faith. Not only is it true, but it is binding. Both of these terms involve the full reliability of the original Scriptures in every part. Both are true because they stem from the God-breathed nature of Scripture.
They can be differentiated this way:
- To say prophecy is true because it was fulfilled promotes inerrancy. To say the prophecy was fulfilled because it was true promotes infallibility. The same distinction can be made with Christ’s sinlessness, for example. Was Christ sinless because He did not sin? Or did Christ not sin because He was sinless? Both are true, but the emphasis is different.
- Inerrancy flows from infallibility, but infallibility does not flow from inerrancy. For instance, an address book could possibly be without error (inerrant), but it would suddenly contain error once a person moved. However, if it were infallible, it would remain without error, because that information would define the residents rather than merely describe them accurately.
- Inerrancy is true, because God cannot lie about anything; thus, Scripture is accurate. Infallibility is true, because God defines reality; thus, Scripture is unbreakable. Really, God cannot lie, because He defines reality.
The Biblical Doctrine of Inerrancy
Though the word “inerrant” is not in Scripture, the principle is clearly there. It comes from the same interpretation method by which the Trinity is believed. The Trinity is clear for at least two reasons: (1) All of Scripture taken together clearly tells us that it exists, though a single text is not devoted to explaining it. (2) The doctrine is an assumption in the New Testament, rather than a thing to be proven. Not only does the Trinity hold weight, but it gives weight to the rest of Scripture. The same is true of inerrancy. Scripture is clear about it when taken as a whole. But the assumption also is the basis for anything said of Scripture in Old and New Testaments.
Further, it has to exist when a correct view of inspiration is held. If God breathed the very words, and even the smallest particles, of Scripture, and if God cannot lie, then no part of Scripture can err. If Scripture can err, either God is a liar or God did not inspire the very words. Neither are Biblical views.
So then, Christians believe inerrancy based on three main pillars:
- It is Biblical (when the text of Scripture is honestly taken together).
- It is Necessary (when the assumptions of biblical writers are observed).
- It is Logical (when a correct view of inspiration is embraced).
Inerrancy as a concept is stated clearly in Scripture. Psalm 12:6 says, “The words of the Lord are pure words [flawless words, absolutely reliable]: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” Notice this text emphasizes the words of the Lord twice over. His regular words (whatever proceeds from His mouth at any time) are defined as being flawless and pure words. There is no difference between partially-reliable words and fully-reliable words. When God speaks at all, He speaks with fullest reliability and accuracy. This cannot allow for any error in Scripture, whether historical, scientific, or religious. How can “silver purified seven times” mean anything less than absolute purity? How is it possible for the words of God to be alloyed and tainted by the words of men? It is impossible.
Other Scriptures state it clearly as well, such as Revelation 21:5, “And He said unto me, ‘Write: for these words are true and faithful.’” Men record already words that are partially true; so it would be no incentive for John to write if the Lord meant partial accuracy when he said, “These words are true.” The Lord meant full truth, full accuracy, and full reliability. The Lord attested to this in his prayer as well, when He said, “Sanctify them by Your truth: Your word is truth” in John 17:17. Scripture is inerrant.
If that were not enough, Scripture not only attests to the fact of inerrancy, but it describes the extent of inerrancy. For instance, the Lord told the disciples in John 14:26, “He [the Holy Spirit] shall teach you all things and bring all things to your memory, whatsoever I have said unto you.” How can “all things” mean anything less than “all”? Further, Psalm 33:4 says, “The word of the Lord is right, and all His works are done in truth.” If inerrancy is not true, “right” has no meaningful significance and “all His works” is a lie. God could not but produce a wholly accurate Scripture.
Finally, not only is inerrancy stated and qualified, but it is applied. This has to mean people actually believed in it. Proverbs 30:5-6 is extremely clear: “Every word of God is pure [is tested, proves true]. He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add not unto His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar.” Evidently, the writer believed in inerrancy and shunned the danger of man’s tampering with it. If “every word of God is pure,” then no word of God can be misleading or inaccurate, even regarding history and science. The danger is not that God has given a partially accurate Scripture; the danger comes when man gets involved. “Add not unto His words” is exactly the command men violate when they deny inerrancy. It is men who will be proven liars when their word contradicts God. Contradictions in the Bible are not the worry of the Christian; contradictions of the Bible by men are what become truly problematic. The psalmist said it well: “As for God, His way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried. He is a buckler to all those that trust in Him.” (Ps. 18:30). Perhaps Romans 3 would be a good place to end this section and lead us into the problems that arise when men tamper with this doctrine.
What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there in circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith[fulness] of God without effect? May it never be: indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That You might be justified in Your sayings, and might overcome when You are judged. (Emphasis added, Romans 3:1-4).