Biblical Inerrancy vs. Biblical Infallibility

Definitions of infallibility differ widely. In common speech, ‘infallibility‘ can refer to a person (or a group of persons), to an act of teaching by these persons, or to the information being taught.  Infallibility is sometimes used to refer to someone’s ability to learn something with certainty. This is the reason why some scholars prefer infallibility, because the bible can never teach you wrong.  (Which in my opinion is a somewhat hollow definition!)

In addition, in common language ‘inerrancy‘, simply means no error, or no error has currently occurred or currently without flaw.  It is usually used to describe something instantaneously instead of holistically.

John Frame states in his more strict & literal dictionary definition that “infallibility” is a stronger term than “inerrancy.”  “‘Inerrant’ means there are no errors; ‘infallible’ means there can be no errors.”  But I’ll try to go with the most basic and common definitions of both.  Instead of taking an exhaustive or extensive definition of each.

However, infallibility deals more with ones personal experiential knowledge of the Lord while inerrancy is more concerned with the details of Scripture.  It can also refer to the both the absence of error and the inability to err.  In the case of applicability; inerrancy contends that the Bible does not have any errors or any statements that contradict.  Although these definitions are similar, they are philosophically distinct; it is theoretically possible for a person to live their entire life without erring even though they had the ability (and potential) to do that. A person who never commits an immoral act or speaks a false sentence by choice would thus qualify for ‘absence of error’ without being qualified for ‘inability to err’.  Example: Baseball-Perfect Game

This is not going to be an extensive or exhaustive post on the difference between inerrancy vs. infallibility, because in all honesty.  I would have to choose between several inerrancy definitions and several dozen infallibility definitions.  These two words become really hard to pin down, when they become applied to a biblical context, because every scholar and reader interprets them differently.  So accordingly I have chosen the most commonly and  traditionally held theological definition of the two:

Now Biblical Inerrancy is not so much a problem, because even though there are several definitions for inerrancy, the majority of them are very similar….No Errors.  Now the context and parameters of what that applies to (Historical, Geographical, Spiritual, Biblical and Scriptural) is predetermined by the reader.  Nonetheless it still means, No Errors, in whatever context you choose to apply it.  The way J. Hampton Keathlyle III writes it, “freedom from error or untruths [in all matters].”

Biblical Infallibility is a lot harder, because in many cases inerrancy and infallibility overlap.  And in most cases infallibility crosses path with limited inerrancy.  But for the purpose of this we will choose one of the more common theological accepted definitions.  That The Bible is infallible if and only if it makes no false or misleading statements on any matter of faith and practice.”  This is the definition is the one used by Stephen T. Davis in his book The Debate about the Bible: Inerrancy versus Infallibility.  In it also asserts that infallibility does not assert perfection on matters of geography, history, or science.  But that it is reliable, accurate and trustworthy for all matters of faith and spirituality including spiritual salvation.  This means that if the Bible teaches that this act or idea is wrong, well then it is wrong.  

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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.
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10 Responses to Biblical Inerrancy vs. Biblical Infallibility

  1. Tafacory says:

    Great primer into the debate. Very succinct and accurate summary of both positions. Great post M.

  2. Amplified Atheist says:

    I read a great comment the other day by a twitter friend if mine referring to truth (inerrancy?) in the bible which I don’t think he will mind if I share (his twitter name is ZachsMind)

    I’m unsure on the discrepancy between truth-lie and infallible or inerrant but I’m sure they lie on similar lines. Here is what he said:

    “If the bible is false, and we can’t use the bible to prove it is a lie, then the bible is false, and no more valid than the works of Homer in turning a myth into a faith. So the bible is a lie. 

    if the bible is true, then we can use evidence from it to discern its authenticity. If the inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies confirm it’s false (which, as it happens, it does), The bible is a lie. 

    There’s no paradox here. Either way, the bible is still a lie. You only need to be rational. ”

    Of course if you’re a believer rather than a skeptic or non believer then you’re less likely (yourself excluded of course, I admire your journey) to open your eyes to the inaccuracies or errancy and thus believe every word is true.

  3. Neil Rickert says:

    A good topic. Here’s my take on it.

    I don’t see infallibility as stronger than inerrancy. I see them as being in different directions. I guess that I am agreeing with what you describe as the view of Stephen T. Davis.

    In my case, it seemed clear that the Bible was not inerrant. It already gets the physics wrong in Genesis 1. But I did not see this as a problem for infallibility, because I did not take the Bible to be a science text book. Roughly speaking, I took the Bible to be the defining document for Christianity, and in that it could not be wrong (so was infallible). Erroneous statements that were not an essential part of Christianity would not contradict infallibility.

    I eventually dropped out of religion, but not because of problems with the infallibility of the Bible. Rather, it was because I concluded that I could not trust the theology that had developed around it. For example, I was never convinced that Jesus had asserted his own divinity.

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      I completely agree with you, I would say though for myself, I did believe in inerrancy. But when I started to fall out of faith. I tried to grab hold to anything that would reground into my christian faith. But everytime I tried to grab hold onto something to reestablish a foundation for my faith, each time, it was just shallow hope to hold onto faith. And everytime, it lacked substance and root, to truley ground my faith on.

      After losing inerrancy, I tried to hold onto limited inerrancy and infallibility. But with that there were was no clear cut defining it. And with that everything became relative, on which scriptures were essential and relevant. Then I tried to hold for issues of Jesues being a divine teacher, but in all realitiy, there was nothing completley unique about his teachings. (they may have unique to that area and time, but not for today.) Then I tried to hold onto the historical aspect, but after more careful research, that lacked certainity. then lastly morality, but all one needs to do is read the OT to know how that went.

  4. JY says:

    so what exactly are you guys saying?

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