Is the Bible wrong? Is it full of errors and contradictions? What does it mean when we say the Bible is inerrant? We’ll explore that this month in the Simplified Systematic Theology series.
What is the inerrancy of Scripture?
It means that the original manuscripts don’t affirm anything contrary to fact, focusing on the question of truthfulness in the language of scripture. It doesn’t mean that the Bible tells us everything there is to know, just that what it says about a subject is true.
Does language affect inerrancy?
Not really, everyday speech, scientific or historical descriptions of facts, or events told from the
perspective of the speaker doesn’t affect it.
What about grammar, does that affect it?
It depends, the loose or free quotations within doesn’t affect it. The methods of quotation differ from culture to culture, where American and British culture quotes directly, the ancient Greek language didn’t. They used indirect quotes that had to only present an accurate, correct, representation of the content.
The issue is truthfulness in speech.
Challenges To The Concept of Inerrancy
Is the Bible only useful in teaching “faith and practice”?
It doesn’t make any restrictions on the kind of subjects to which it speaks truthfully (2 Timothy 3:16; Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:96; Proverbs 30:5). The Old Testament teaches a lot in its historical narratives (like what not to do and the results of the disobedience) that the New Testament writers used in their instructions.
What is the purpose of Scripture?
To summarize, it actually is to teach us in matters of faith and practice. The whole purpose is to say everything it does say whatever subject it approaches. Every word is important (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19) and there because God intended it to be there.
Isn’t inerrancy a poor choice of words?
The thought is that it’s too precise, with a claim towards absolute, empirical precision, and the word’s not even in the Bible. It actually allows for the limitations in our everyday language as scholars have argued.
While the term isn’t in the Bible, we do use non-biblical terms, to sum up biblical teaching. Two examples are the Trinity and the Incarnation, which are not used in the Bible but are one-word summaries of biblical concepts that make it easier to discuss.
Inerrancy is the best term at this point to describe the concept.
Without inerrant manuscripts, isn’t it misleading to say the Bible is inerrant?
As stated earlier, it’s the originals that are inerrant, not the copies. We don’t have the originals. We do have thousands of copies of them to compare (see How Did We Get The Bible?) to see that for over 99% of the Bible we can know what the originals said. A good study Bible will show the different readings in the footnotes, like the NIV or NASB translations.
The meaning remains the same. Any mistakes are the mistakes of the scribes, which is also covered in How Did We Get The Bible?
How can the Bible be inerrant since it was written by people?
It is fully human in that it was written by humans, except that it was written under God’s oversight. This is what makes it different, His thoughts through the human personalities writing it.
Even the greedy prophet Balaam in Numbers 23:19 said that “God is not a man that he should lie.” Remember, not all human speech and writing has errors, you make absolutely true statements daily.
Well, aren’t there some obvious errors in the Bible?
If someone asks you that, ask them to point out the exact passage they’re having an issue with. Don’t let it hang unanswered in the air. Examine it with them, looking at it closely.
There are a few passages where no solution is readily apparent. However, a good commentary, or Dr. Norman Geisler’s book The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation can help clear it up.
There really aren’t any new problems in Scripture. The ‘problem texts’ have been there the entire time, and haven’t hung up scholars yet.
What are the problems in denying Biblical inerrancy?
If we deny the truthfulness of the Bible, we start to wonder if God was wrong and if He can be trusted. If he lied or was mistaken about a small thing, what about the big things, like salvation?
This leads us to question the commands and passages we don’t like, “Did God really mean that…?” Incidentally, the same question Satan asked Eve in the Garden. Then we disobey.
Also in denying inerrancy, we make our minds higher than God’s since ‘He was wrong about…’
Here’s the slippery slope, the Bible says it is “God-breathed” (see Is The Bible The Word of God and Does It Matter?), but we say it’s wrong. That invalidates the doctrine of inerrancy, leading us to wonder what other doctrines are wrong?
Question to understand, and be okay with unanswered questions. Just return to them later as your level of understanding grows.
Next month we’ll look at the necessity of Scripture.
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
Chapter 5: The Inerrancy of Scripture