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Biblical inerrancy is the view that the Bible is the Word of God and is in every detail infallible and without error. This view was ably expressed in 1978 in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, an interdenominational statement of evangelical scholars and leaders to defend Biblical inerrancy against the trend toward liberal and neo-orthodox conceptions of scripture.
It proclaims: "The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church." Article XII states: "We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit."
Biblical inerrancy is one of the tenets of Fundamentalist Christianity.
Compare Papal Infallibility.
Basis of belief
Inerrantists point out that Jesus accepted the Bible as completely authoritative and not to be questioned. They point out how often Jesus settled a point with "It is written …" and cited scripture; and for him, what scripture said, God said. Jesus even said, "scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
Inerrantists point out that Jesus even accepted the parts of scripture most attacked by errantists, e.g. Genesis creation of man and woman "from the beginning of creation" (Mark 10:5–9 citing Genesis 1:27 and 2:24); Noah's flood as a literal event, Noah as a real person and the ark as a real vessel (Luke 17:26–27); Moses as author of the Pentateuch (Luke 16:31, John 5:46–47); and Jonah and the great sea creature (Matthew 12:39–41).
Inerrantists deny this is circular reasoning, since it is not circular to use the gospels to prove the Old Testament, and further, even many errantists affirm that Jesus really did say these things. Therefore, since "Christian" by definition means a follower of Jesus Christ, inerrantists regard a "Christian errancy" view as logically contradictory.
Another biblical basis often cited for this belief is 2 Timothy 3:16, which begins:
- πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος pasa graphè theopneustos ..... (original Greek plus transliteration)
- All Scripture is God-breathed1 ..... (New International Version)
- All Scripture is breathed out by God ..... (English Standard Version)
- All Scripture is inspired by God ..... (New American Standard Version)
- All Scripture is given by inspiration of God ..... (King James Version)
- "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, fully furnished for all good works." — 2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV)
2 Peter 3:15–16 is also sometimes quoted to support the idea that the New Testament is divinely inspired, in addition to the Old Testament. The author, traditionally held to be the Apostle Peter, lumps the Apostle Paul's letters and the "other scriptures" together. As the Old Testament was believed to be divinely inspired by the Jewish religion, this implies that early church leaders believed that Paul's letters (composing a majority of the New Testament) were also divinely inspired.
Views Regarding Inerrancy
There are a spectrum of views regarding inerrancy.
Views Affirming Inerrancy
- Most inerrantists hold the interpretation of Jesus Christ's view of scripture is the bottom line for Christians — a Christian should hold the same view of scripture as Christ did.
- Some proponents of inerrancy argue that because all scripture is God-breathed, and God is perfect, then any book breathed by God must also be perfect.
- Some Christians view 2 Timothy 3:16 (and other related passages) as evidence that the Bible claims to be inspired, rather than proof that it is. Rather, it shows that the Bible authors make this claim for scripture; it would be illogical to believe in inerrancy if the Bible itself disclaimed inerrancy. These believers rely on archaeology, fulfilled prophecies, etc., as evidence substantiating inerrancy and their beliefs regarding The Bible and history.
- Some Christians readily accept the inerrancy or entire trustworthiness of the Bible on faith and the Christian experience, rather than "objective" evidence.
Views Qualifying Inerrancy
- Some Christians note that being 'God-breathed' does not necessitate being 'without error.' Just as God breathed into Adam but Adam erred, so God may inspire an author, but the author may still err. And just as a desert preacher who misses some questions on a history exam may still have something to teach us about life, a book may be imperfect and still be "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Thus, while denying strict inerrancy, these Christians acknowledge that the Bible is reliable and authoritative.
- Methodists and other followers of John Wesley believe strongly in the authority of scripture while rejecting the necessity of inerrancy. While Methodism, according to 20th century theologian Albert C. Outler, has always interpreted scripture through church tradition, reason, and personal experience, it has never demanded that belief in total inerrancy is necessary for one to be truly Christian. Recognizing that autographs (originals) of the scriptures will likely never be discovered, Methodists have instead emphasized the Biblical canon as it exists, believing that it "...containeth all things necessary to salvation..." (United Methodist Articles of Religion, Article 5). Regarding faith, doctrine, and practice matters, therefore, Methodists generally believe that the Bible is without error, but whether or not there are errors in geography or science is not a concern.
Views Denying Inerrancy
Those who hold opposing views usually point out several problems with using 2 Timothy 3:16 as a "proof text":
- This passage is contained in one of the Epistles of Paul. At the time Paul wrote this, the word "scripture" would have referred to the Torah, and possibly other writings found in the temple in Jerusalem. It would not have referred to the letters that Paul was then writing to the churches. Inerrantists counter by pointing out that 2 Timothy was written very late, so would apply to most of the New Testament as well.
- Paul never explicitly claimed that everything he wrote was inspired of God. At one point, in 1 Corinthians 7:12, he specifically disclaims that what he is writing is from the Lord, and clearly labels it as his own opinion. Inerrantists claim that Paul was instead pointing out that unlike v. 10, there is no recorded saying by the Lord on this, and was not denying Paul's apostolic authority to give a binding command.
- Using 2 Timothy 3:16 as a proof of Biblical inerrancy is self-referential. Any authors of books could claim that their writings are without error, but the claim is not the proof.
- The statement can be interpreted as merely a definition of "scripture", as that which is "inspired". It does not identify which works meet this definition of scripture, and thus contains no information in the logical sense. Inerrantists argue was arguing that Paul really did intend to say that all the writings called "scriptures" were God-breathed without exception.
- Some who have examined the scriptures have reported they find numerous discrepancies between various scriptures. A few fundamentalists dismiss these as inconsequential or unimportant, but that raises the question of whether a truly inerrant writing should contain any errors, even insignificant ones. Either all scripture is without error, or it isn't. And because there are passages that seem to be mutually exclusive (that is to say, if one passage is true, the other cannot be), that means that at least some of what is claimed to be part of "inerrant" scripture must not be. Leading inerrantist scholars do not make this dismissal, but instead claim that what appear to be inconsistencies are merely misunderstandings on the part of the reader, or fail to understand the type of literature it is, or ignore the ancient Semitic context.
- Some who believe in Biblical inerrancy may fail to allow for the possibility of transcription errors or translation errors. Their view is that not only were the scriptures originally inspired by God, but that God has actively intervened through the centuries to make sure that only "pure" copies of His word have survived. This is easily refuted by the differences found in early manuscripts, let alone the many differences found in modern translations. However, leading inerrantists point out that from the different manuscripts, we can reconstruct the original to a very high accuracy, and that not a single doctrine rests on a disputed verse.
- Belief in Biblical inerrancy relies upon a relatively narrow view of the words variously translated as "inspired by God" or "God-breathed." There is nothing in these words to suggest that God dictated the Bible, word-for-word. Even in the Book of Revelation, the author (John) is shown visions and then instructed to write what he has seen. There is no suggestion that God gave John the actual words to write, but rather that He inspired John (in this case, using visions). Some who view the Bible as totally inerrant may view the authors of the various books of the Bible as mere stenographers.
- This belief also relies on the view that those who decided which books would be in our modern Bibles chose correctly, keeping only the "inspired" books and discarding only those that were not similarly "inspired." Since the process of deciding what would become Biblical canon occurred hundreds of years after the time those books were written, the belief ignores the political and social considerations that may have influenced these decisions. Even if those decisions are accepted as in themselves inspired, it remains to ask how the other (early Catholic/Orthodox, not Protestant) decisions and opinions of the very same people can then be safely disregarded. If God inspired them infallibly in their decisions about the Bible, would he withhold his Spirit when other matters were under discussion by the same people?
It is possible to apply a more broad interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16. A person may be "inspired" to write a poem by the sight of a beautiful sunset; that does not mean that the sunset wrote the poem. It's possible for historical events to inspire a book or a movie, but that does not mean that the book or movie is a 100% accurate record of those events. Similarly, the belief that the authors of the books of the Bible were inspired by God does not necessarily mandate a corresponding belief that the Bible is a 100% accurate record of historical events, nor a belief that the opinions and beliefs of the various authors never found their way into the sacred texts.
Postmodern Christianity and Biblical Inerrancy
Postmodern Christians such as Jean-Luc Marion (see article linked in subtitle) would argue that the concept of inerrancy is easily misunderstood. One example is the idea that the translations of the Bible or the surviving ancient texts are inerrant. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says that the autographs of the Bible, that is, the actual parchment or papyrus on which the Biblical authors wrote, accurately reflects the authors intent. This allows the possibility of errors in the surviving manuscripts and translations. But even if the autographs are lost, surviving manuscripts are found in such large numbers that the autographs may be reconstructed with more than 99 percent accuracy.
Another possible misunderstanding of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is to think that merely because the author's intent reflected in the original autographs is inerrant, that the author's intent necessarily satisfies all possible meanings of every passage. A difficulty with this misunderstanding is that prophecy may have a double fulfillment. Isaiah 7:14, for example, would be limited by only referring to the first fulfillment, as the prophet may not have known of the second fulfillment: in this case, the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary.
Postmodern Christianity (as understood here) emphasizes that the author's intent does not fully exhaust the meaning of the texts of the Bible. It could be argued that postmodern Christianity is compatible with Biblical inerrancy, when the latter is understood to be referring to the complete fulfillment of the author's intent in the autographs, and allows for meanings not necessarily intended by the author but not incompatible with authorial intent.
- History of Inspiration of the Bible
- Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture — contends that Jesus Himself regarded the Bible as inerrant and authoritative on everything it affirmed
- Biblical Inerrancy by John H. Gerstner
- Monergism.com links to articles on Scripture
- The Christian and Authority(The inerrancy and primary authority of Scripture, Christian Research Institute)
- The Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures by Benjamin B. Warfield
- The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (wikisource)
- Theologians Reject Biblical Inerrancy
- The Authority of Scripture (Answers in Genesis)
- Answering a List of Biblical Contradictions
- Aramaic Peshitta is Inerrant — contends that the Greek is fallible but the Aramaic version is perfect, but very few inerrantist scholars would hold this view
- A Primer for Second Semester Divinity School Students
- INERRANCY: Is the Bible free of error? All points of view
- Wesleyanism & the Inerrancy Issue by J. Kenneth Grider
1. Many inerrantists believe "God-breathed" to be the most literal translation of θεοπνευστος (theopneustos); for example, see:
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