Inerrancy

While reading the scriptures, there are sections where there seems to be differences or discrepancies. For example, the gospel writers appear to give different reports of events in Jesus’ life and ministry. This may lead the reader to ask if these are errors, mistakes or untruths by one of the writers and whether the text can be considered inerrant. With these type of passages, it is important to take into account the writer’s stylistic nuances and purpose. God could have dictated every word and in such a way that every account would read exactly the same; however, God led the writers in a more mysterious way, where upon he created the scriptures through a combination of the writer’s unique personality and the guiding work of the Holy Spirit. The personality and style of each writer is evident throughout the scriptures.[1] Therefore, there are stylistic terminology differences that are not errors but rather God’s means of presenting his truth message to humanity.

Along these lines is the writer’s purpose in reporting the specific event. Some writers may set out to give a chronological order of events whereas other writers may give a summary of the event with no attention to chronological order which is not considered giving a false account.  Furthermore, omissions do not equate to deceit.  For example, at Jesus’ baptism the voice from heaven could have said both “This is my son…” (Matt 3:17) and (“You are my son…” Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22) and the omission of either of these statements by the writers does not make the event any less truthful.  This demonstrates that God used limited human writers, but gave multiply accounts in order to give a more detailed divine perspective. Ultimately, the doctrine of inerrancy is focused on the scriptures being “wholly true in everything that they affirm.”[2]

John Frame writes, “Inerrancy, therefore, means that the Bible is true, not that it is maximally precise.  To the extent that precision is necessary for truth, the Bible is sufficiently precise.  But it does not always have the amount of precision that some readers demand of it.  It has a level of precision sufficient for its own purposes, not for the purposes for which some readers might employ it.”[3]

Proponents of full inerrancy believe that only the original autographs of the Hebrew Scriptures and the canonical Christian writings are inspired by God; thus, they propose that technically only these original autographs are considered inerrant.  These original autographs have not yet been discovered; however, hundreds of ancient manuscripts (copies) based on the original autographs have been retained. Throughout the centuries, scribes meticulously copied manuscript from manuscript with fervor, reverence, integrity and commitment. As a results, the original autographs can be constructed with a high percentage of accuracy. Furthermore, translations were developed from these manuscripts with the same rigor and determination in order to arrive at a text that reflects the original autographs, which for all intent and purposes is considered the inspired, truthful (inerrant) words of God. Thus, the view of the proponents of full inerrancy is that English translations are reliable and inerrant as God’s words if they are developed from the plethora of ancient manuscripts.

The doctrine of inerrancy has important theological implications for Christians and the church in that special revelation from God through the scriptures provides humanity with the truth for salvation. If Christians believe in a holy, omniscient, omnipotent and trustworthy God, then they should view his recognized words as true and without error. God moved in such a way through human writers so as not to deceive humanity or to present falsities. The rejection of inspiration and inerrancy can lead to a form of deconstructivism that strips the the meat from the bones leaving a decomposing carcass of the gospel message. By accepting the doctrine of inerrancy, christian align their lives with the power and life giving message of the gospel which promotes a healthy, kingdom focused Church.

However, inerrancy should not be a doctrine that if people reject, then they should abandon their relationship with Jesus. There have been scholars who delve into the study of inerrancy and arrive at a place where they are unable to reconcile their perceived discrepancies in the scriptures. The reverberation is that they reject the scriptures as God’s word and then lose their trust in God altogether. This does not need to be the natural progression of questioning inerrancy.  Thus, the Church would do well to accept and defend inerrancy, but not in such a way where it is considered a foundational doctrine that if rejected people are led to believe that they are doomed to the shadowy fringes of faith.  


[1] Paul Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origen and Development of the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.), 28-29.

[2] Appendix D: Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (1978) quoting Paul Feinberg, in Inerrancy, edited by Norman Geisler, p. 294.

[3] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2013.), ePub edition, pt. 4, ch. 26, “Inerrancy and Precision.”