What is Inerrancy?

Many people misunderstand the doctrine of inerrancy, so I thought I would try to clear up some of the confusion.

The doctrine of inerrancy teaches that whatever the Bible affirms to be true, is true.  Put another way, nothing that the Bible affirms is false.  Inerrancy basically means “without error.”  If the Bible teaches that Jesus was an actual historical figure who came back from the dead three days after he was killed, then we believe that really happened.  If the Bible teaches that the nation of Israel escaped Egypt through a series of miracles of God performed through a man named Moses, then we believe that really happened.

God, in essence, made sure that the truths He wanted to be communicated by the various human authors of the Bible were successfully and truthfully communicated.  Nothing the human authors wrote was false or mistaken.  Inerrancy affirms that God does not make mistakes.  Here is a simple syllogism:

  1. God does not err.
  2. The Bible is the Word of God.
  3. Therefore the Bible does not err.

If you deny inerrancy, then you admit either that God errs or that the Bible is not the Word of God.  Take your pick.

When we refer to the Bible in any discussion of inerrancy, we are always referring to the original writings in the original languages, or the autographa.  We are not referring to any copies made of the original writings.

What about errors in the copies of the Bible manuscripts? It is true that there are copyist errors that accumulated over 1,300 years of New Testament copying and 2,700 years of Old Testament copying.  These errors amount to an approximate 99% accuracy for today’s Greek New Testament and an approximate 95% accuracy for the Hebrew Old Testament.

However, Christians who believe in inerrancy don’t use these errors as an escape hatch.  We believe that the teachings of the Bible are mostly intact in our present-day translations, and the verses where scholars are unsure of the original writing are clearly marked in footnotes.

A person can learn everything they need to know about God’s revelation by reading a good modern translation.  The doctrine of inerrancy gives us the assurance that God’s Word in the Bible can be counted on.

  • John Tvedtnes

    Interesting syllogism, but isn’t No. 2 a supposition? Where does God (or the Bible) say that the Bible is his word? I’m not saying it isn’t, only that there is nothing that specifically says so.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi John,
    Thanks for the comment and question. Rather than reply in a comment, I think your question deserves a blog post of its own, so stay tuned.

  • Now that is an interesting question you make, John. I am very surprised to hear you make that claim. God the Spirit does not say that to you?

  • Ray

    I believe the Bible to be inerrant. I believe this, not because of deep research or study but, because of my walk with the Lord. I know Him and know He would not just sit there and let His Word be misinterpreted. Did the blind man have blue eyes instead of green? It doesn’t make a difference so I don’t think such a translation would be a concern of God. However, for a book to claim a man is His son? There is no way I would see God sitting by an allowing such a book to make such a claim if it were not true. You only need to believe one thing in the Bible to be saved.

  • George

    Got sent this link the other day, obviously there are so many, how does one argue that the bible is completely inerrant when apparently there are so many contradictions?

  • I don’t usually respond to youtube videos, because, well, the level of scholarship is, let’s just say, “poor.” That being said, in order to avoid the syllogism’s conclusion, the objector must deny one of the premises. I assume that the claim of contradictions would apply to (2) above. But then the objector must show that: a) the contradictions really are “a” and “not-a” at the same time and in the same sesne (that is, it is impossible that they are both true–if they are claiming a strict contradiction), or b) that it is extremely improbable that both are true (relevant to background knowledge), and c) that the contradictions were contained in the originals as opposed to the copies only. A good deal of logic and historical method are needed in order for the objection to succeed, and frankly, I’ve never seen that level on a youtube video (though it certainly could come from there).

  • George

    HI Randy

    Thanks for the reply

    can you please explain why “the objector must show that they are at the same time and in the same sense?” COuld you please give me an example with one of the contradictions? Or give me a brief explanation as to why you use time and sense?


  • Sure! In order for a contradiction to be such that both statements cannot be true (which is the point of saying something is a contradiction), it is necessary (and sufficient, as far as I know) to require the statements be contradictory at the same time and in the same sense. Here’s an example for time. If my wife says “I am not pregnant,” and then says “I am pregnant,” we have a contradiction, right? Not necessarily. For women are not perpetually pregnant! It can be true at one time my wife is pregnant, and not at another.

    What about in the same sense? Take the concept of the Trinity in orthodox Christianity. It is often alleged the Trinity is logically incoherent because it posits God as three and one simultaneously. However, this is not fully accurate. The Trinity is posited as one being and three persons. See the difference in sense? One may object whether or not a being can have more than one person, but one cannot object that the Trinity is prima facie a contradiction–since they are not contradictory in the same sense!

    A less controversial answer is to consider this: “I have a job to do!” and “I am unemployed.” Because unemployed means lacking a job, it seems we have a contradiction. However, when one considers the first statement can be in reference to, say, doing the dishes, it becomes quite clear. The propositions are in a different sense from each other. Hope that helps!

  • Ed Tuggy

    Hello Bill,

    You have done a good job of presenting inerrancy as I have understood it.

    But there is a problem with this approach: it’s an a priori approach (one that reasons deductively from general principles to specific instances prior to observation) to proving inerrancy. The fact that your syllogism was central to your presentation makes it a deductive or a priori one.

    What about the empirical approach? This means depending on observation or experience to gain information; that is, to check the facts before making an assertion. Before claiming that the Bible is without error, shouldn’t we check the facts?

    Also, we need to address the question of whether the Bibles we hold in our hands, not the autographs, are without error. If God preserved the originals from error, why would He not preserve the copies and translations (arguing in an a priori manner)? Do our Bibles in fact contain errors, contradictions, conflicting theses, reversals, or statements and figures that don’t fit together (looking at the question in an empirical manner)?

    The youtube video offered above gave a number of very specific Bible passages that deserve to be considered and compared when determining whether the Bible has any contradictions, seeming antitheses, mismatches, etc. I have more if you are willing to look at them.

    Is the usual Christian position one that says, “Don’t confuse me with evidence; my mind is made up; there are no contradictions in the Bible!” Sorry, but that doesn’t help me understand how to reconcile the passages that don’t fit together easily.

    So, the reason I’m so distressed about this quest is because, as you have said, either God errs or the Bible is not the Word of God. I’ve been told that the discrepancies are only minor questions, like did the bronze sea hold 2,000 baths (1 Kings 7:26) or 3,000 baths (2 Chronicles 4:5)? Supposedly, no major doctrines are affected. But what does the evidence show?

    Assuming that the Bible is the Word of God and tells the truth, it says on more than one occasion that God loved Jacob and hated Esau, even before either of them was born or had done anything good or bad, that His purposes in election might stand. I’m sorry to say that my shiny view of God’s love and justice is seriously blurred by this inerrant revelation. The first problem is what the text says about God. I submitted a lengthy post about this passage (Romans 9) under “Does God Really Hate Esau”? The second problem with this passage is that major doctrines are affected by its being inconsistent with them — such doctrines as God’s love of all men and desire that all be saved, God’s lack of bias and partiality, for starters.

    Like I said in the other post, I still believe that Jesus will not cast out anyone who comes to Him for salvation. I’m still trying to hang onto my faith. But it’s a rocky road.

    Ed Tuggy

  • Pingback: How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 6 | Tough Questions Answered()