Defining Inerrancy

Defining inerrancy is a much harder issue than one might think. There really is not one consistent position on this issue all through the Christian religion. Rather, each of the major sects of Christianity has, to one degree or another, it’s own understanding of what it means for the Bible to be inerrant.

The Catholic position is that the resurrection of Jesus affirms His divinity. As a result, and by His authority, He appointed the Pope, and the Bishops under his authority, to make decisions regarding faith and morality. Through this apostolic succession, God has preserved and passed down His word through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. So, for the Catholic, both church tradition and the Bible are inerrant.

While the Orthodox churches agree with the Catholics that the Bible and church tradition have authority, the Orthodox churches don’t make any clear distinction on how much authority tradition has next to Scripture. There is even to this day much debate as to whether tradition and Scripture are seperate bodies of knowledge or if tradition is simply Scripture interpreted. As a result, Orthodox Christians emphasize the liturgical uses of Scripture rather than their inspiration or inerrancy.

After this, though, things begin to get sketchy. Protestantism is so splintered that there are actually many different schools of thought within Protestantism alone. In fact, inerrancy has “bedeviled” evangelical theology for a long time.

Many evangelical theologians distinguish between “infallibility” and “inerrancy” and argue that Scripture can be and is inspired and authoritative for faith and practice, while being flawed in terms of accuracy of details in history and cosmology. Its infallibility, then, is functional – it does not fail to communicate truth about God needed for salvation and Christian living. Other Christian theologians insist that inerrancy is necessarily implied by inspiration and infallibility. They argue that if Scripture is to be trustworthy at all, it must be inerrant in every detail.
(Roger. E. Olson. The Westminster Handbook of Evangelical Theology. Westminster John Knox Press. 2004. 155)

And this doesn’t even begin to touch on issues like KJV-Only-ism, those who say that for a Bible to be valid it must be translated from the Textus Receptus, where Wesleyans stand on the matter, and the fact that Lutherans don’t even make a formal statement regarding the inerrancy of the Bible.

This is not to say that the Bible is not inerrant. I only point all of this out to make it clear that one cannot truly call someone a heretic or bar them from service in a church over the issue of inerrancy. Unless, of course, that church has a statement regarding the inerrancy of Scripture. Then a church must act accordingly.

I was always taught that the Bible was inerrant in the original documents. That being said, I have no problem saying that the Bible we hold in our hands today is not inerrant in a literal sense. There are a variety of technical errors within our translations that must be addressed if we take the issue of inerrancy seriously. We also must ask ourselves, if the Bible is inerrant, which Bible is inerrant.

The Catholic position on inerrancy holds that the version of the Bible that is the word of God includes the apocrypha. But Protestant churches say the opposite. Who is right?

Since there is such a wide variety of opinion on the matter, I believe that the doctrine of inerrancy is a matter of conscience. Otherwise, there would be an over-riding consensus concerning it.

That being said, again, I do not deny the inerrancy of the Bible…in the originals. What we have today are translations of translations of copies of the originals. Plus, English-Speaking people are at an even greater disadvantage in that our language is very flat. We have basically one word for everything. For example, we love spaghetti, this or that movie, and family all in different ways and yet call it all simply “love”. Whereas, in Greek and Hebrew, each of those kinds of “love” would have its own word. Each translation will be lacking in meaning in one way or another for it is nearly impossible to capture the depth and width of the Hebrew and Greek languages in one translation of the English language.

None of this does anything to diminish the authority and inspiration of the Bible either. While the Bibles we hold in our hands may not be inerrant in a technical sense, God has still inspired their message and, therefore, has preserved His word to us within them.

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