Why the Bible Must Be Inerrant

Contribution Post by Nathan Owens from Finding Truth

I became a Christian just before my 10th birthday, and I was regularly leading our song service, leading prayers, teaching classes, even giving short sermons before I graduated from high school. I was a Christian first – everything else was secondary. Over the years, I managed to convert several people over to the brand of Christianity that I believed in.

But two years ago, my faith in the god of the Bible was ebbing away. The more I studied, the less I believed. When I reached a stage in my doubts in which I knew I needed to talk to other Christians about it, I realized that I would need to tread very carefully. I spent several weeks pulling together all the reasons and evidences that had led to my erosion of faith, and I wrote them out as clearly and thoroughly as I knew how. When I finished, I had over 50 pages — almost 34,000 words. It was very important to me that I communicate my thoughts on this important subject as clearly as possible.

A couple of months after I had finished it and sent it out to some of my friends and family, I was really disappointed to find out that I had cited the wrong chapter and verse in a few of my scripture references. I felt that those mistakes, while fairly incidental to my overall points, still detracted from the message I was trying to present. I knew that those mistakes would allow some people to claim that I hadn’t researched well enough, or that I hadn’t taken good enough care of the subject matter. Worse, some might think that I was making up passages in order to trick people into believing false claims. My goal had been to write so perfectly that no one would be able to misunderstand the reasons for my position. But of course, I’m human… and humans make mistakes.

As far as I know, most monotheisms claim that God is perfect. And in the Bible, Jesus referred to God being perfect (Matt 5:48). So if a perfect being wanted to write us a book, should we expect it to also be perfect? The message I composed to my Christian friends was of the utmost importance to me. If I could have written it perfectly, I would have. So if God is perfect and his message is important, couldn’t we also expect it to be perfect? Wouldn’t he want to be as clear as possible?

The Nature of Inspiration
Sometimes it’s said that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God, but they were also allowed to keep their own manner of speech, etc, and that this process could have allowed a few errors simply because the men themselves were not perfect. While I would agree that maintaining their style of speech even when inspired is plausible, I think the content of their message would have to be correct if they were truly inspired. After all, 2 Peter 1:20-21 says this:

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.

While this passage speaks specifically about prophecies, I would imagine that the process of inspiration is basically the same whether the inspired person is speaking an actual prophecy or just repeating a message from God. Notice that the writer points out that these prophecies didn’t come by the will of men, but were direct revelations from God through the Holy Spirit. And one of the most important passages to consider is the following from 2 Tim 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

This passage makes it clear that all scripture is from God, and it makes the man of God complete. It’s everything he needs. So if God is perfect, and he inspired his writers to record his exact message, and all scripture is from him and profitable, why wouldn’t it be inerrant?

Sometimes, the point is made that 2 Tim 3 is talking about the Old Testament — the New Testament had not been written yet. That’s only partially true. By the time 2 Timothy was written, many of the other New Testament books had already been penned. And 2 Peter 3:15-16 says the following:

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.

This shows that Paul’s writings were considered scripture at this time. Is there any reason to think the rest of the New Testament wouldn’t also be considered scripture? Therefore, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 would also apply to the New Testament, and it’s hard to understand why the message of a perfect deity would be flawed in some way.

Inerrant… Sometimes
Despite all of this evidence, there are still many Christians who maintain that the Bible does not have to be inerrant. For them, it is only inerrant when it comes to matters of spirituality, salvation, doctrine, etc. So when it talks about matters of science or history, for example, it may not be completely accurate.

I think there are some major issues with this position. First of all, it seems to run counter to the other passages we’ve looked at. Also, in John 3:12, Jesus rightly pointed out, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” There’s no way we could know that the Bible’s teachings on Heaven and Hell, the divinity of Christ, or the necessary steps of salvation are true and accurate unless we could verify the more mundane things it claims. For instance, would you trust information on particle physics if it came from someone who had never gotten past 4th grade science? When the Bible tells us about Heaven, it’s impossible for us to sit back and say, “Yes, that’s exactly right,” because we have no independent knowledge of Heaven. We only know what the Bible has told us. And if it can’t be trusted
in more minor details, why should we believe it on things that are completely unverifiable?

There’s another problem. Most Christians believe that other religions are false. Many Christians believe that non-Christians will be punished in some way (annihilated, sent to Hell, etc). If those things are true, and if God truly wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4), then it only follows that he would make his message as plain and accessible as possible. If the Bible contains historical and scientific mistakes, as well as internal contradictions, how is it any different than the religious texts of other religions?

Difficulties, not Contradictions
Another attitude toward Biblical inerrancy is to say that the Bible is inerrant in its entirety, but they admit that several places seem to be problematic. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article XII says the following:

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

If I understand this correctly, it basically says that the Bible is true in matters of science, but new discoveries in science can’t overturn anything the Bible says. So it’s impervious to scientific evidence. That’s awfully convenient.

Article XIV says this:

We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

In other words, the Bible might appear incorrect or inconsistent in places, but those are just problems that haven’t been solved yet. One day, those discrepancies will be understood more fully. I wonder if they feel that way about the problems in the Book of Mormon?

Article XIII says this:

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

This is one I hear a lot. We should not expect the Bible to fit within our modern ideas of accuracy. This means that since the Bible was written by ancient people, it should be understood in an ancient context. For instance, no one has been able to definitively explain why Matthew and Luke have different genealogies for Christ (or why neither of them match the genealogy in Chronicles), but we’re told that this would not have bothered ancient readers. It turns out, this claim is completely false (see here and here), but that’s what we’re told, nonetheless. Yet, isn’t this still a problem since the Bible is supposed to be inspired? I could understand why human writers would be bound within the same methods and practices of their own times, but why would God be constrained by those things? Didn’t he
know that later generations would see some of these difficulties as reasons to doubt the Bible’s inspiration? If he had inspired the Bible’s writers to record things in a more straightforward way (the same genealogy for Jesus, for instance), would ancient readers not have understood it?

It seems to me that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy only has to make these caveats because the Bible does not actually meet the standards for inerrancy that we would expect from a book written by a perfect deity.

Inerrant in the Original
Sometimes Christians will claim that the original manuscripts of the Bible were completely inerrant, so any problems in our Bibles today come from copyists and translators. Of course, since we have none of the Bible’s original manuscripts, it’s impossible to verify that claim. I won’t spend much time on this issue, because it would take us too far away from the topic at hand, but as I understand it, most scholars think that we’ve been able to come very close to what the original documents said. The fact that some passages were kept in popular translations for centuries even though we’ve now discovered that they weren’t original to the Bible only hurts the notion of inspiration, in my view. After all, what good are perfect originals if we don’t have access to them? But in the end, copyist errors can’t account for all the difficulties in the Bible, so I don’t feel it’s worth going into any further at this point.

Long Story Short
To me, whether or not the Bible should be inerrant is actually very simple. If someone tells me a story that involves breaking the laws of nature (miracles, in other words), I want to know I can trust that person completely before I accept his story. I need evidence, in other words, and the Bible seems to think that’s a reasonable standard. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he turned Moses’ staff into a serpent, then withered and restored Moses’ hand in order to prove that he really was God. When God called Gideon to deliver the Israelites from Midian, he gave at least 3 different signs in order to prove who he was (Judges 6). John 20:30-31 tells us that Jesus performed his miracles, and they were recorded, so that people might believe:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

And the author of Acts pointed out that the Bereans were noble because they consulted scriptures to test the message Paul was bringing them (Acts 17:11).

Even the Bible itself demonstrates the importance and necessity of evidence. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” That’s absolutely right. If the Bible can’t tell mundane things accurately, why should we believe all of its amazing things? Christians believe that God spoke from the top of Mount Sinai, that he walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. He sent fire from Heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel, and he parted the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites. He leveled the walls of Jericho for Joshua’s army, and he caused Samson to kill 1000 Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. His son walked on water, healed the sick, and defeated death. He spoke to his prophets and wrought amazing miracles through them. But now he communicates with us through a book? That’s how he chooses to communicate with us today? Either it’s just a
fable, or that book must have some amazing evidence. If God were going to send us a written message, if he were perfect, and if this message was so important that it decided the eternal fate for each of us, then that book must stand out in some way. At the very least, it should be utterly flawless. Anything less would run completely counter to every claim that’s been made about this god.

About M. Rodriguez

When I first received Christ salvation, I made it a priority to read the whole bible and I did. But it was the Bible that made me question my faith. For I found it flawed and lacking. Due to this I launched a personal inquiry/investigation into my faith, and ultimately realized that the Christian God of the Bible was indeed man-made. Now I Blog about those findings and life after Christ.
This entry was posted in 2 timothy 3:16-17, atheist vs christian, biblical inerrancy, biblical inspiration, debate, God-Breathed, inerrancy, infalliable, inspiration and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Why the Bible Must Be Inerrant

  1. Pingback: Making Sense of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 | The BitterSweet End

  2. unklee says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Nate. I won’t try to contest any of them, as I’ve had my say. But I will just make the observation that your views on inerrancy did not keep you a christian, but seem to have contributed to your loss of belief, whereas my views seem to have allowed me to stay a believer. Perhaps that is the future of inerrancy? Best wishes.

  3. Hello Unklee

    Like I mentioned in an earlier post, inerrancy of the bible was such a natural belief to me, and I’ never seemed to seriously question it until about a year ago. And I don’t know of any (fundamentalist) christian personally who believes contrary to that.

    for i.e., I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, and he was upset cause a christian artist; -he felt did not give God enough glory in his interview. The artist talked more about his music, than uplifting the name of christ. And that the artist described himself more as artist who makes christian music, vs. a christian who knows how to make music.

    Now granted my friend was being lil too nitpicky over a few words, but thats the world I come from. We don’t all hold the same beliefs, but we hold many of the same fundamentalist belief and inerrancy is one of them.

  4. The idea of inerrancy is critical and vital to many Christians, in fact when reading and studying it I’ve learned. that because of this issues that american evangelicals have taken such a strict stand , they have felt a backlash as some seminaries. Cause they will preach in the pulpit inerrancy, inerrancy, inerrancy….but when they get into seminary class. The teacher starts to point out errors.. So because of this, many young Christians have lost their faith and de-converted.

    Now in response to this, some scholarly Christians have recommended we give up the claim to inerrancy. And I read somewhere that in the 50’s and 60’s several churches did remove inerrancy from their official church statements of faith. But JP Moreland has recommended that belief in inerrancy is still rational, and that they church should not waiver on it. but what I’ve come to notice is that scholarly Christians now are now changing the definition of inerrancy so that it now fits the bible

  5. Lorena says:

    To me, the Bible is too errant to be believable. And it demands much and its claims are huge.
    Personally, I think the Bible is some of the most awesome literature owned by the human race. It is fantastic literature. But it isn’t enough to make me trust the mythology in it as truth.

    It is pure mythology, people. Might as well believe in Thor.

    As for its practical value, I will say that any book that makes people behave like the Tea Party members isn’t worth following.

  6. unklee says:

    “To me, the Bible is too errant to be believable. And it demands much and its claims are huge.
    …. But it isn’t enough to make me trust the mythology in it as truth.

    It is pure mythology, people. Might as well believe in Thor.”

    Lorena, this is an amazing sweeping statement. The Bible is not a single homogeneous book, but 66 ‘books’ written by dozens of different authors over maybe a millennium. If one book is myth, that doesn’t mean another is.

    For example, let’s say that Genesis 1 is myth. But the gospels are almost universally believed by scholars to be biography, not myth. So you cannot dismiss them in the way you have without ignoring what the best experts say.

    And of course, it is the gospels that christian belief is built on, not much on Genesis.

    So your comments do not really relate to my christian belief at all.

    “As for its practical value, I will say that any book that makes people behave like the Tea Party members isn’t worth following.”

    And if we follow the same argument, any book that makes people behave like Mother Theresa or William Wilberforce or Desmond Tutu, etc, must be worth following??? It’s not a valid argument, is it? And the fact that some christians behave admirably and some behave like idiots shows that the explanation of the difference must lie elsewhere – like in the vagaries of human nature.

    I don’t wish to be rude, but, really, your reasons for disbelieving given here don’t stand up at all, do they? Best wishes.

    • So unkleE,

      Do you believe all the miracles Jesus performed in the Gospels are also Fact or Myth? and Why so?

      • unklee says:

        I don’t think any of the NT is myth, which I think is the view of most scholars. So yes, I think they are probably all fact, though I wouldn’t be too worried if one or two were actually symbolic. The point is not to just think we can make up our own minds on this.

        If we just want to read the NT simply, then we should read it all as fact, and we won’t go too far astray. But if we want to get into critical analysis of the text, then we should take notice of the experts, who have studied language, culture, history, documents &* archaeology for decades. And they say the gospels don’t look like myth (they look like biography) and they were too soon after the event for legends/myths to develop. Some scholars believe some aspects of the gospels are symbolic or figurative in some way, but we need to understand what sections and why – it’s not most of it!

        The scholars say almost universally that Jesus was known as a miracle-worker (exorcist and healer). So people really believed he was those things at the time, no myth or legend about it. So our reasons for accepting or rejecting the stories will not be historical, but whether we believe miracles are possible or not. A sceptic will say no, despite the evidence, while a theist will be able to conclude either way. So I accept them.

  7. Pingback: Does Inspiration imply inerrancy? | The BitterSweet End

  8. Nate says:

    Thank you for your article. I have already commented on unklee’s article. It gives a background of my walk in faith which I believed was very similar to unklee.

    It seems like you are saying this. Some of the writters of the bible believed that phrophecies and scripture is inspired by God. If some of the biblical writers believed this then what later became the Bible must be without error because God can’t lie. Because there are errors in the Bible, there were no miracles and there is no God.
    At the time of Christ many Jews believed that the Hebrew Bible was something very similar to inerrant. I do not deny that some of the New Testament writers may have shared this view. That doesn’t mean that we have to. The fact that some of the writters of the New testament (Peter) says prophesy and scripture is inspired by God does not mean that the Bible must be without error.
    It doesn’t seem as if Christ was one of these though. Many if not most of his statements contradict what was referred to as the law. Christ made statements like “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” or “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” To me it doesn’t seem as if Christ is an inerrantist here.

    I’m really having trouble understanding this article. Are you really arguing what the bible should be? It is a collection of books. The new testament, a collection of early christian writings. None of them claim to be the word of God. Nowhere does it list what books should be included. None of them claim to be inerrant. Why should they then be inerrant? I think you already agree that it is errant so I’ll spare you from listing too many. But I guess I’ll mention a few. You already mentioned the geneologies of Christ according to Matthew and Luke don’t agree with each other. When christ was in the dessert for his fast, what was his second temptation? To jump off the temple or to bow down and worship satan? Matthew says the first, Luke says the second. Which one was it?
    What were Christ’s last word? “Father into your hands i commit my spirit” or My God my God why have you forsaken me?” Who were the people who witnessed the empty tomb? They are different depending which gospel you read. and there are hundreds of others but I wont get into them. Doesn’t it just make more since just to call the gospels for what they are. Early Christian accounts of the life and words of Christ that differ, or should we buy into the invention that the bible is the word of God and without error despite this?

    It seems as if you believe that there can be no God unless he sent us a flawless written book. Well, it seems God did not send us a flawless written book so it is about time that we get over it. What about Christianity makes you think that God appeared and said “I am God I have sent you several books that are without error that should be included in what you will call the Bible” I apologize that the most outspoken of Christians today seem to hold inerrancy as fundamental to the faith. My faith in God does not depend on whether or not we have a historical text that is flawless and written by God through man.

    In summary. I’m so happy that my faith does not depend on a false doctrine that states the bible must be 100% true and without error.

    • Nate says:

      Hi Nate (great name, btw!) 😉

      I’m so sorry that I didn’t respond to this months ago when you posted it, and you may not even see it now, if you didn’t subscribe to the follow up comments. But just in case, I’ll offer a response. I wasn’t subscribed to the comments, which is why I didn’t know you’d written anything till I happened back by.

      What makes you believe in God? For unkleE, I think he primarily bases his belief off the historicity of the gospels and some personal experiences he’s had that he believes to be supernatural. For me, I’ve never witnessed anything that couldn’t be explained naturally. And while I can understand why some people believe in God (mostly based on a “first cause” type of argument), I don’t know why people believe it’s the god of the Bible. It seems to me that if he’s anything like what the Bible describes, then he’d do a better job of letting people know what he expects from them. If he doesn’t expect much of anything from them, then he doesn’t sound enough like the god of the Bible for me to think there’s a match. That’s why I think if Yahweh/Jehovah is really God, the Bible would have to be much, much better than it actually is.

      Does that explain my position any better? You have to understand that I came from a very fundamentalist background where inerrancy was just a fact of life. Now that I’ve come out of it, I see the fallacies in their beliefs, but I still don’t think they were too far off the mark with their ideas on inerrancy. It just seems to me that if God wanted us to believe in him and accept the word of people we’ve never met that all these amazing miracles happened, then the text itself would need to be so amazing that no mere mortals could have put it together on their own.

      Thanks for the comment, and I’m sorry again that I was so late in responding!

  9. Pingback: My De-Conversion on a Matter of Doubt Podcast | The BitterSweet End

  10. Hi,

    I just felt like sharing my view on this article and experience. I believe that your faith shouldn’t be based on the book but on God (the experience and so on). I also have my doubts about the Bible(wich is mostly a guideline, i believe) but I have faith that God will give me the answers. And I also have the feeling that your fundamentalist background is mainly the reason why your doubts never got space to be explained, so in the end it rooted and derailed you. Don’t give up, believe He is God, you’ll get your answer. I’m having mine. God bless you

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