What is Biblical Infallibility?

So I did a post on what is inerrancy a while back.  And a few people liked it.  But after I did a few more post on the issue of inerrancy, I realized I would also need to do a post on biblical infallibility and what it is, because it is used so often and interchangeably with inerrancy.  However, definitions of ‘infallible’ differ widely.

What I failed to realize though is that there is no one definition of infallibility.  It actually has several definitions that are sometimes used interchangeably, but don’t always mean verbally the same thing.

What is the definition of Biblical infallibility….

In regards to (biblical) infallibility I have come across four generalized definitions, each without distinct emphasis.

  1. The Dictionary Definition of Infallibility
  2. The Infallible Trustworthiness & Reliability of the Bible
  3. The Infallible Teaching-Knowledge of the Bible
  4. Limited Inerrancy-                                                                                                                      i.    Spiritual Infallibility                                                                                                              ii.    Infallibility unto Salvation or Saving Infallibility                                                            iii.    Practical Infallibility in the usage of one’s Faith

The Dictionary Definition of Infallibility

This generic definition of infallibility is typically found in a dictionary.  It is considered the strictest of all forms.  This definition of infallibility is actually a much stronger term than the term “inerrancy.” That not only is the bible inerrant and without flaw, but incapable of ever making an error.

Consequently, it means the ‘inability to error.’  This description of infallibility is far more militant and stricter than the version of biblical inerrancy most people use, because the inability to error also implies the absence of error.  Thus fore, this form of infallibility also implies inerrancy.  (Which none of the other definitions do.)

“‘Inerrant’ means there are no errors; ‘infallible’ means there can be no errors.”- John Frame (2002)

The Infallible Trustworthiness & Reliability of the Bible

In this definition of infallibility; it denotes that one can trust and rely on the bible in its entirety.  That the bible is a safe source of honesty and dependability.

“When referring to Scripture, the term infallible is usually used to mean reliable and trustworthy. It refers to something that is without any type of defect whatsoever. Those who trust its infallible teachings will never be lead astray.” (Brought to you by Don Stewart by way of Blue Letter Bible)

Furthermore, in this definition; it promotes that the reliability of the bible makes it an infallible source of trustworthiness and safety.  In some contextual sense, this also translates that the bible does not deceive or intend to deceive and that the bible and its scriptures are reliable & trustworthy beyond the doubts of deception.  That it cannot fail you or be wrong, nor deceive the reader.  This however does not promote or imply inerrancy.  (And, it does not exclusively imply that every verse in the Bible is inerrant.) This is probably the least applicable definition, given that it is somewhat bleak and hollow.  However it is a common definition for those who deny inerrancy.

“Infallibility affirms the entire truthfulness of scripture without depending on every exact detail.” (As affirmed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in June of 2001)

“The term infallible is suitable to describe my understanding based on its original meaning of “not deceiving”. The authors had no intent to deceive, so what errors they transmitted through the text were errors in their own conceptions, not because God deceived them. Scripture is infallible in that its authors honestly sought to convey the message of God.”  (Inerrancy vs. Infallibility brought by the blog Undeception

The Infallible Teaching-Knowledge of the Bible

The teaching knowledge of infallibility is that the bible is a teaching tool to be used.  That the infallible bible gives the ability for someone to learn biblical, scriptural, and spiritual truth with certainty.  And that the information that is being transferred is true (and trustworthy).

“Infallibility: The inability to err in teaching revealed truth.” –As defined by the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

However this definition puts the burden on the reader or pupil to properly understand the text.

“Its divine inspiration has rendered the Book ‘infallible’ (incapable of teaching deception)” -(Clark H. Pinnock, A Defense of Biblical Infallibility, page 1)

It is ‘infallible’. It cannot teach deception. It will not teach anything false. (Biblical Infallibility: Can we trust the bible?)

Another aspect of the infallible teachable of the bible is that the pupil or  the one reading has been given the capability to understand and properly interpret the scriptures. That in this infallible learning, the holy spirit is opening up the persons mind, spirit, and heart to  God.  And in this revelation of proper interpretation, -infallible teaching is taking place.  For example: A careful researcher might study a hundred books, each of which contains a few errors, and after carefully judging the statements in these books might deduce the complete, error-free truth. 

Out of all the different definitions of Infallibility, this one is probably the one that is the most integrated with the rest.  It can at times overlap in the context of the other definitions.

Biblical Infallibility – Limited Inerrancy

“One of the most common themes that is raised by those who hold to a limited inerrancy is that the Bible is of use in the lives of the believer in the areas of “faith and practice” only. This position allows, however, for the possibility of false statements in the Bible in areas such as science and history. It is said by advocates of this position that it need not be a concern to the Christian that the Bible contains historical, scientific, and factual errors because the purpose of the Bible is to merely instruct the believer in the life they should live.  Those who hold to this position prefer to say that the Bible is “infallible”, but hesitate in using the word “inerrant.” (The Bible: Inerrant and Infallibile, Presented by Spotlight Ministries -Vincent McCann)

This is probably one of the most unique definitions of infallibly because it is used interchangeably a lot of times to describe limited inerrancy.  It seems the definition of Limited Inerrancy and Biblical Infallibility go hand and hand.   Even in the Book Battle for the Bible By Harold Lindsell, he goes on to mention that so many theologians use words inerrant infallible interchangeably.  That the words (limited) inerrancy and infallibility are nearly synonymous.

Limited inerrancy and Biblical infallibility can be broken down into three components.

  • Spiritual Infallibility
  • Infallibility unto Salvation or Saving Infallibility
  • Practical Infallibility in the usage of one’s Faith

Spiritual Infallibility

With the first component of limited inerrancy is the notion of spiritual infallibility; that scripture is a guide for all matters of spirituality and morality. And that the bible cannot error in regards to spiritual things.  That it is inerrant in the moral standards of daily living.

This is one of the most general definitions of infallibility, because it claims that the bible is inerrant in matters of spirituality & morality, but not in areas of history, geography or science.  And this is why it commonly associated with Limited Inerrancy.

“’Infallible’ means that when the Bible is speaking the Good News of Christ and describing the character, vision and purpose of God, through the Holy Spirit’s work it transcends the sin and spiritual or material flaws of its writers, of the media of communication (such as print or preaching), and of the readers/hearers.” (SpiritHome.com)

In a few instances by some of the more charismatic denominations they go one step farther, to also state that it means that the bible is the only/most sufficient tool for spiritual warfare.  (As also represented by Henry Mahan.)  And that one is equipped with the ability to discern spiritual things.  That the Christian is enabled with the ability to be spiritual keen and aware of the Holy Spirit in its guidance.

Infallibility unto Salvation or Saving Infallibility

Other advocates of limited inerrancy infer that biblical infallibility is only critical unto Salvation.  Proponents of saving infallibility confine the precision of the Bible only to matters of salvation and ethics.  That (limited) iinerrancy extends only to things pertaining to salvation and sanctification.  They believe that celestial inspiration did not prevent the Bible writers from making their own “errors” of historical or geographic nature, since it does not affect salvation. For them the Bible is not inerrant in all subjects, but it is infallible in only matters that teach according to salvation.

“The Bible is inerrant in those things which the biblical authors intend to teach as necessary for salvation,” Again Richard Coleman (Vern Sheridan Poythress) affirmed in saying, “The Bible is inerrant in what the biblical authors intended to teach for the sake of our salvation”

Advocates of limited inerrancy object to conditioning the authority of the Bible to its inerrancy. They restrict the accuracy of the Bible only to matters of salvation and ethics. They believe that divine inspiration did not prevent Bible writers from making “errors” of historical or scientific nature, since these do not affect our salvation. For them the Bible is not inerrant in all that it says, but it is infallible in all that it teaches regarding faith and practice. (Biblical Errancy And Inerrancy Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.Retired Professor of Theology, Andrews University}

This form of infallibility claim that the bible is inerrant only in matters that extend to salvation.  And that the infallible bible gives a saving knowledge to a fallible man to be saved.  By itself, this is one of the scrawnier definitions of infallibility, because this could imply:

  • That only through first reading (or hearing) the bible, can salvation be received
  • That outside the bible, no one can receive Christ or be saved
  • That biblical teaching is necessary for salvation, and that without proper teaching salvation is unattainable.
Infallible Matters of Faith (& Practice)

This form of limited inerrancy holds that the purpose of the Bible is to teach us how to live our lives. Therefore it is useful for matters of faith and practical living. This doctrinal definition of infallibility is much like spiritual infallibility in that it does not make the claim that the bible is inerrant in matters of history, science, accuracy or geography, but only in components of faith and practice.  It is held by proponents of this position that the infallible truth of the bible is held in its practical matters.  And that there in need to be concerned with the historical or scientific context of scripture but that the purpose of the Bible is to merely instruct the believer in the life they should live, because strict inerrancy is impractical and irrational.  (This is actually the most consistent definitions of biblical infallibility and most often used.)

“Biblical infallibility is usually defined as the belief that the Bible is a reliable guide in matters of faith and practice,” The United Methodist Church

“The Bible is infallible, but not inerrant. That is, there are historical and scientific errors in the Bible, but I have found none on matters of faith and practice.” Thus Stephen T. Davis reassures in his book The Debate about the Bible: Inerrancy versus Infallibility,The Bible is infallible if and only if it makes no false or misleading statements on any matter of faith and practice. In these senses, I personally hold that the Bible is infallible but not inerrant.”

So which one is it?  Well, at times, -all of them.  In Context if one was to put all the definitions of infallible together, this is what it would look like in my opinion:

The term “infallible” means “absolute trustworthy,” or “sure.” When [the] Christian say that the Bible is infallible, they simply mean that the Word of God is trustworthy in everything it says. By it we mean that the Bible is true, that is to say, devoid of, and incapable of teaching, falsehood or mistakes of any kind in all that it intends to affirm. Here, scholars use the term “infallibility” instead of “inerrancy,” yet both teaches essentially the same thing, namely the Scripture does not err in any of its affirmations, whether those affirmations be in the spheres of spiritual realities or morals, history or science, and is therefore incapable of teaching falsehood. (The Infallibility of the Bible by Reeves by way of Truth Vanguard) 

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 biblical inspiration, God-Breathed, inerrancy, infalliable, inspiration, limited inerrancy, occam's razor, scripture, systematic theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What is Biblical Infallibility?

  1. Grundy says:

    So…you’re saying the Bible is pretty airtight, huh?

    • No, nothing like that, this is just an informational most about the defintion of infallibility, because In my own research and skepticism of studying bible contradictions, I have come across many things, that say I have the wrong idea on inerrancy or that the bible is infallible not inerrant. But the problems is everytime I read up on the inerrancy of the bible or the infallibility of the bible, there is large inconsistency on what that means.

      You would thing inerrancy would simply mean no errors, and infallibility cannot be wrong or inable to make errors, but ther problems is that every denomination and christian on what thoes two things mean. So in order to finish out my own study on the inerrancy of the bible, I had to do a post on what inerrancy means? AND What biblical infallibility means?

      Because there is no one definiton of those two things.

  2. unkleE says:

    I can’t help feeling (as I have felt for many years) that some of these quasi-theological definitions and concepts are not all that helpful. Fact is, the Bible isn’t written as a theological text book, so God must have thought we didn’t need that. But we humans want to tie things down in definition s, often so we can exclude someone because they don’t have “right doctrine”.

    Surely if we believe in Jesus and accept the Bible as having worthwhile teachings (a fairly modest claim), the most important thing is to get on with the mission God has given us – loving our enemies, forgiving those who hurt us, helping those who need help, sharing and encouraging faith, etc.

    I understand why you are looking at this matter, because you are trying to determine the truth, but I think in the end you will find that definitional arguments like those about “infallibility” don’t take us very far.

    • if it only was that simple,

      But christians and people alike disagree on things so much, that you almost have to start out by defining it, before you can even begin discussing it. (Let alone a healthy discussion on it.)

  3. unkleE says:

    Yes, but I wonder how much discussion we need. I think “which parts of the Bible am I going to obey?” is a better question than “is the Bible inerrant, or infallible, or inspired, or …?”

  4. biblereader-

    I admire your thorough articles on these issues. No one can ever accuse you of taking this topic lightly.

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

  6. Pingback: Biblical Inerrancy vs. Biblical Infallibility | The BitterSweet End

  7. Pingback: Dinosaurs and the Bible |

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