By Dr. Christopher Plumberg
What do we mean by “inerrancy”?
Many of us have had the (frustrating) experience of driving with an out-of-date GPS device or an old map which gives us incorrect directions to the place we are going. We generally expect maps and GPS devices to be trustworthy, to give us true and reliable representations of how to get to our final destinations. When these tools fail to tell us the truth about where we are headed, we can quickly become confused and even lost.
As Christians, we treat the Bible like a map, not to a physical place, but to a right relationship with God. But what if the Bible were like an out-of-date GPS device, making all kinds of false statements and errors? How could we trust it to give us the truth about getting right with God? If we are to really believe and obey what the Bible tells us, we must accept that it is completely reliable and truthful, to the very last word. The official term that theologians use for the notion of the Bible’s truthfulness is inerrancy: essentially, this means that the Bible contains no mistakes, errors, or contradictions, as it was originally written down. However, this raises some natural questions: why do we believe that the Bible is inerrant, and what exactly do we mean when we say that it is?
Why we believe it: the Bible actually directly teaches the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (ESV), meaning that everything we read in the Bible was ultimately spoken by God Himself. Additionally, Titus 1:2 tells us that God “cannot lie” (NASB) – He is literally incapable of saying something He knows to be false. But if “God…knows all things” (1 John 3:20, NASB), then these verses together imply that God cannot say anything false at all. And if all of Scripture is breathed out by God, then, it follows that all of Scripture must be absolutely true.
What we believe: in short, inerrancy means that we accept Scripture as perfectly true and authoritative for faith and practice. Many in the academic world have objected to the concept of biblical inerrancy, claiming that the Bible contains “obvious” contradictions and mistakes. This should come as little surprise: the Bible refers to Satan as “the father of lies,” and so we would naturally expect him to make the truthfulness of Scripture one of his primary targets.
But can the doctrine of inerrancy really stand up to attacks from those who do not believe the Bible? Amazingly—despite the confident assertions of those who claim otherwise—not a single alleged error has so far ever managed to survive careful scrutiny by Bible-believing scholars. Psalm 93:5 puts it perfectly when it says that God’s “testimonies are fully confirmed” (NASB). We do not have to wonder whether God’s word to us is really true and reliable, because God Himself has promised that it is.