What is the Inerrancy of Scripture?

A-Primer-on-Inerrancy_555 All Scripture is inspired. Written by the hands of the authors in their own words, the Holy Spirit moved them so that all they wrote fully encompassed all He desired for them to write. The Bible then is both a human and divine book. Because of this, men like Hodge and Warfield rightly concluded: “What the biblical writers produced by the inspiration of Scripture is a verbal, plenary, infallible, and inerrant book, the Bible.”[1] Some may assume that while a case for inspiration has been made, one for inerrancy has yet to be seen. What they fail to understand, however, is that inspiration necessitates inerrancy. To refer to something as inerrant is to confer on that thing the inability to be false. The doctrine of inerrancy is founded on the truth that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and must, therefore, be true because God cannot lie.

The authority of Scripture is founded on the fact that it has been spoken by God. Because the Scriptures bear God’s name, His character is extended to them. Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Here, Christ, who is God, declares an axiomatic principle: God’s Word is always true. God’s Word is true because it has been spoken by Him, and by His very nature God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Psalm 33:4; 2 Sam 22:31; Psalms 12:6). By superintending the authors, the Holy Spirit ensured that they would not err as He guided them and guarded them from falsity.

Some, seeking to undermine the doctrine of inerrancy, contend that this proof for inerrancy is pedantic and circular. They maintain that the line of reasoning used to make this argument is self-appreciating and utilizes only deductive reasoning–the process of reasoning by which a general premise is employed to reach a certain conclusion. The defense for the inerrancy of the Bible, however, is not limited to deductive reasoning. Rather, the strongest proof for inerrancy comes neither from deductive nor inductive reasoning. By using abduction–the process of reasoning where facts are surveyed, a hypothesis is formulated to give possible explanations, and then brought back to the datum to be tested–Christians can avoid the charge of circular reasoning, thereby making the strongest defense for the faith and for the truth of God’s Word.

Abductive reasoning can be used to prove the truthfulness of Scripture by giving evidence to demonstrate that the Bible is a historically accurate document. Since the accounts of the Bible occur almost exclusively in space and time, any attestation to historical events or persons is subject to the standard means of verification. For instance, the writers of the synoptic Gospels note that Herod the Great ruled as King of Judea at the time of Jesus’s birth. Additionally, the authors wrote that, before His crucifixion, Jesus was questioned by Pontius Pilate. From these two facts alone, one can gather an approximate time frame for the life and death of Jesus. Not only this, independent evidence can easily be found to support the claim that an actual man named Jesus went around teaching and was crucified during the purported time frame. Hence a hypothesis can be formulated which states: the Bible makes truth claims in a historical context which must be verified, therefore the truthfulness of the Bible (inerrancy) can be put to the test. Whether it is Israel’s exile from Egypt or the Babylonian captivity, this hypothesis can be brought back to the data and verified again and again. By utilizing this method of reasoning, Christians can avoid the charge of circular reasoning in their arguments for inerrancy.

Evangelicals hold to the doctrine of inerrancy with this caveat: infallibility extends only to the autographs, the original writings of Scripture. Through the work of textual criticism, the copies possessed today are a faithful representation of the Scriptures to the highest degree of accuracy. While this is sufficient for godly living, the Bible found on the backside of a pew is only a transmitted copy and not the inerrant Word of God. The delineation must be made not only between the inerrant autographs and the accurate copies, but also between inerrancy and infallible interpretations. Paul Feinberg defined inerrancy as “the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original manuscripts and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences.”[2] Because of this, an attack on inerrancy is an affront on the gospel itself. If even one word in the Bible is false, subsequently every word becomes suspect. Worse still, God Himself becomes a liar.

[1]Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986), 154.

[2]Paul Feinberg, "Does the Bible Contain Errors?" In The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007).