What Does it Mean That The Bible Is The Inerrant Word of God?
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Welcome, Young Believer!
On the home page of Equipped for the Kingdom, I included the verses above as a reminder of the mission of this ministry. The study of various theological, philosophical, historical, and practical topics in regard to what it means to be a Christian is fun. However, our primary focus should always be to grow in our knowledge of God and our relationship with Him through the study of what He has revealed about Himself in His Word. I believe in the authority of Scripture as higher than that of any man, woman, or tradition. This belief is also known as Sola Scriptura, one of the five Solas of Protestant Christianity.
What is Inerrancy? And what do we mean by that?
I want to start our discussion of this topic by saying that I believe and affirm that Scripture is inerrant, meaning that it contains no errors of truth. To clarify I'm speaking of the Bible in its original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. While I believe that translations can be trustworthy and are necessary for all who do not speak the original languages, they are not infallible. Meaning that sometimes translations make errors in word meaning, grammatical reading, or even in egregious cases the interpretation of the original text.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17
That doesn't mean that within the entire context of the Bible all of the human beings within its pages are always truthful or factual. A great example often used is Job's friends who spend many chapters theorizing why he is suffering so much without having any basis in truth, however God Himself steps in at the end of this particular book to set the record straight and you always have a sense that what Job's friends are saying is wrong.
The inerrancy of Scripture has been a long-held historic view of the Church and only recently has become controversial as many self-identified Christians have begun to deconstruct and walk away from faith altogether. In many ways, this shift does not surprise me because the foundation of inerrancy is in faith.
The Inerrancy of Scripture rests upon the foundation of God's authority and goodness.
Whatever someone believes about Scripture obviously does not change whether it is true or not. If something is true, it is simply true and does not require your affirmation.
For example, as I'm writing this I'm wearing a green shirt. You cannot see me, so you have to take my word for it. Now if you believe that I exist, that I have the ability and authority to know what I am wearing, and that I am a credible/truthful source of this information... then you will find the fact that I am wearing a green shirt while writing this post to be inerrant.
The differences between my blog post and the Word of God are twofold. First, my blog post is not "God-breathed" Scripture. I am the author of this blog post and as a human being, I am liable to sin otherwise known as fallible. God on the other hand, is the Author of His Word and as the only righteous and holy and sinless One, He is infallible and so is His Word.
The Debate for Inerrancy
In all of my research of this topic of great and influential scholars from a broad spectrum of backgrounds in the Church, when they explained inerrancy they pointed to what God says about His Word, in the Bible;
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. Psalm 33:6
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Number 23:19
Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Psalm 119:89
The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. Psalm 119:160
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. Psalm 19:7-9
what Jesus says about His Word, in the Bible;
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:18
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Matthew 24:35
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Luke 24:44
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. John 12:48
and what the Apostles say about God's Word, in the Bible.
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 1 Thessalonians 2:13
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16
“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. Acts 1:16
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 1 Corinthians 2:13
I went to my Pastor with the critique that this is circular reasoning. I told him this is like if a child asks a parent to have something and the parent says, "No." Then the child asks, "Why?" and the parent responds, "Because I said so." As a child, you will only respond positively to that line of reasoning if you believe in the authority of your parent over you and submit to it. He agreed with my critique and this is the summary of his advice...
Whether or not you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture relies on your faith and understanding of the Character of God. If you believe God exists, if you believe He has the ability and authority to know Himself, and that He is always truthful and good in His revelation to us then you should believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.
Wrestling With Inerrancy: What Can We Know?
However, if you do not believe in God or are struggling with this topic, I want to give you some encouragement and resources for further diving in to trust that we can believe in the reliability of the Bible.
What We Know Objectively:
- There are more existing ancient manuscripts of the Bible than any other ancient text! In fact, no other text including ones we learn in school such as Shakespeare, the Epic of Gilgamesh, etc... even come remotely close.
- The Bible actually sets the standard by which you could prove it false and yet has stood the test of time. That standard is prophecy... Here is a great sermon explaining this evidence that we have for the Bible. This is also a part of a sermon series so if you have more questions and want to keep listening, I would definitely recommend that you do so.
- Across the around 6,000 ancient manuscripts we have access to today there are a few thousand textual variants from the fact that these manuscripts were hand-copied. However, none of the variants change the teaching of any of the doctrines we hold as true today neither do they change the meaning of the text so that it is unrecognizable. The translators who choose how to deal with these discrepancies in the translations we have today (if they're doing they're due diligence) include footnotes when there is a possible different translation that other translators might choose over the one that they used.
How do you choose which translation to use for your own study?
Next time we will be going over why there are so many translations of the Bible and which ones you can typically trust or should use for your own personal study.
If you have more questions or thoughts about the inerrancy of Scripture, please leave them in the comments below. Also, feel free to dive into the references I provided below for a deeper scholarly dive into this topic. I highly encourage you to find a mentor in the faith, if you haven't already, who can help personally walk you through many of these issues as you grow into a mature believer. This is one journey you were never meant to take alone!