The Bible, Inerrancy / Infallibility

ceb9f639bd3f67976d37ac459b55cbd7It’s the beginning of the week and we are busy, but not too busy for a small dose of theology. Today, I want to deal quickly the concept of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

What is inerrancy/infallibility? In reality, they are two sides of the same coin. In fact, a few decades ago they were used interchangeably. However, there is now a minor distinction between the two. Interestingly, there are people who will agree with one and not the other.

Inerrancy means that the Scriptures [in their original manuscripts] are free from error and correspond at every point to what is true, with God as the reference point. [1]

Infallibility has been used to describe the trustworthiness of Scripture, indicating that it can in no way lead us astray from true doctrine or practice. [1]

In another post, I explained that, “all the words in the Bible are God’s word,” and that those words are authoritative. The author of Hebrews writes that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18; c.f. Titus 1:2). Since God cannot lie, all of His words are accurate. Thus, all the words of the Bible are true and trustworthy.

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

Proverbs 30:5-6

And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.

Psalm 12:6

God is not human, that he should lie.

Numbers 23:19a

Inerrancy does not mean:

  1. That everything in the Bible is true. For instance, we have cases of men lying or of the deceptive speech of the Devil. We can be sure that the events, as recorded, are accurate accountings of what actually took place. However, inerrancy does not ‘magically’ make the record of a false statement suddenly become true. The false statement is still false.
  2. That there are not apparent contradictions in the text–but these can be resolved. When many people describe the same event we will often get a multitude of words to describe the same event. Does this mean that they are contradictory? No. In fact, if all the accounts of the Bible were EXACTLY the same, we would call into question its authenticity.
  3. That every copy of the original is perfect. Clearly, there will be minor differences. However, there are many, many copies of the originals–and all the copies are surprisingly similar. The variations are minimal and don’t change the meaning of the text in any significant way. Inerrancy applies only to the originals. Ironically, when I was a teen, I found a printing error in the Bible I used. There were two of one page and it was missing another. I wrote the publisher and they replaced it with a new copy.

Infallibility does not mean:

  1. That people will not misunderstand the Scripture. While the Scripture is infallible and leads to true doctrine, that does not mean that everyone always lands in the right place. Again, I would point you to the Devil. He twisted scripture to his own purpose, as do many today (check out 2 Peter 3:14-18).
  2. That the Bible contains all the truth the world possesses. The reality is the Bible is not a geography or science book, it is more of a theological-historical biography of God’s interactions with humanity. As such, we should not expect it to explain anything outside of that. However, it is no surprise that things that are described outside of that genre are accurate. For instance, the Bible is not a geography book, but it does contain geographical information–and all the geographical information has been found to be accurate by believers and non-believers alike (this is not true of other religious works). Additionally, the Bible is not a science book, but we find nothing in it that contradicts science. Look at Job 26:7: “He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing.” With science, we now have pictures of the Earth from space that show that the Earth, in fact, hangs on nothing!

For me, I agree with both. When we start to question either one we begin to chip away at the Bible. If some of the Bible were “errant” or “fallible” how, and who would determine which parts could be trusted? Would not the whole Bible be in question? This is in part why I believe that the Bible is both inerrant and infallible. Maybe I am just simple enough to believe that God (who is all powerful) can make sure that his word has been accurately written and passed down throughout the years so that we can still know His message to humanity.

click-to-tweet-1-150x150Maybe I am just simple enough to believe that an all-powerful God can make sure that his word has been accurately written.





[1] Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 196-197.


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