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.
- Thinking out loud about biblical inspiration by Kurt Williams
- Woodbridge on Scripture, Inspiration, and Inerrancy
- Difference between Inerrancy and Infallibility? By Wbmoore
- What is Inerrancy?
- What is Infallibility? (limited inerrancy)