What Is Inerrancy?
Pastor John, in its most basic form, how do you define biblical inerrancy?
Before I go to the definition of inerrancy, let me give you the soil or the roots of why you would even ask that question. The 66 books of the Christian canon are what I am talking about when I say “Scripture” or “Bible.” They are, we believe, inspired by God (see 2 Timothy 3:16). Or, to say it another way, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
Words from The Word
So, the reason inerrancy arises is because we claim this book is the very word of God. The center of God’s revelation is Jesus. And he is called the Word of God incarnate. And he said Scripture cannot be broken. He said, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot” — not the littlest of dots in an iota — “will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). So the Word of God validates the word of God written. The Word of God incarnate validated the word of God written in the Old Testament and then he commissioned apostles to speak his word as the foundation of the church. And he promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). So Jesus stands at the center as the Word of God incarnate, and looking back, he validates the word of God written, and looking forward, he validates the word of God written. And the apostles took it that way because they said amazing things about their authority.
Paul said, for example, in 1 Corinthians 14:37–38, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” That is incredible. And the only reason he has the right to say that is because he said, “We are teaching in words, spoken not from men, but from the Holy Spirit, because Jesus promised I am going to guide my apostles into all truth.”
So there is the reason why the whole issue of inerrancy even arises. We have a book in front of us that claims to be the inspired word of God. And since God doesn’t lie and doesn’t make mistakes, we say the Bible doesn’t lie, doesn’t make mistakes.
Makes No Mistakes
So what does error mean here if we are going to say “inerrant”? By the way, I am not one who gets bent out of shape about using the word “inerrancy” as over “infallibility” or “truthfulness.” If you say the Bible is completely and totally true, and the Bible is completely and totally infallible, and the Bible is completely and totally inerrant, the average person is not hearing any distinctions. And I am not either. I don’t like it when people quibble about these words. I think it is good to use them all.
To make sense out of the word “inerrant” — no error — we have to define “error.” What is it that isn’t in this book? What is its error? And we have to define “error” in terms of the author’s intention. And in the Bible, since we have got God inspiring this book, we’ve got God’s intention mediated through the intention of human authors and going beyond them — I would say always going beyond them — because he sees all the innumerable, necessary implications of what they can’t see. I include in meaning or intention the necessary implications of what an author says, some of which he can see, and some of which he can’t. And God can see them all. And, therefore, when I think of the intention of the author, I am thinking of all that the human author intended to teach and all that God intended to teach, which is always bigger than what humans can see in their implications of what God inspired them to write.
Attention to Intention
Now, the reason intention is crucial is because there are all kinds of ways that we say things that could be taken as error which aren’t error if people didn’t pay attention to our intention. I might say, “Tony, you scared me to death walking in here like that.” You would not respond to me, “You are a liar. You are a liar, or you are a fool because you are still breathing.” You wouldn’t, because you would know this is an idiom for, “You really scared me.” You wouldn’t quibble over the fact that I am not dead. You wouldn’t say, “Error, error.” And so, we have to be alert to those kinds of things in the Bible. What did the author mean or what did he intend?
“The biblical authors with God as their guide do not teach anything false or command as God’s will anything displeasing to God.”
Another example would be the book of Job. You’ve got 29 chapters of erroneous theology. Job is putting sentences in his inerrant book that are full of errors. The counsel of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar is bad counsel. And Job is telling the story and including the bad counsel. So what you have to do is ask, “Now how is the book of Job inerrant?” The book of Job is inerrant, not because it doesn’t include stupid sentences from Eliphaz, but because Job is written in such a way that we know the sentences are stupid, and we know they are erroneous and, thus, he makes a true point by pointing out the falsehood of the bad theology in his book. That is the way literature works. That is the way we talk. We are inerrant when the thing we are teaching is true and not false.
God’s Written Revelation
So what I mean by the Bible being inerrant is that the biblical authors, with God as their guide, do not teach anything false or command as God’s will anything displeasing to God. Or to say it another way, What the authors intend for us to understand or obey, properly understood in its nearer and wider context, is true. It is not misleading. It is not errant. It is not false. It corresponds to the way things really are. It commends behaviors and attitudes that God really wills. And it raises many questions.
I would refer people to The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) because that document is sometimes treated superficially as being naïve. It is not naïve. If you read carefully the distinctions that are made in that document, it is a good guide for us, I think.
Let me just close this by saying, I love this truth, because I love the Bible, because I love God. God, Word, inerrant to me are continuous. I can’t break off anywhere in there and feel like I have treated God or his word or the truth honorably. From history and from my own experience, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of the truth of the Bible. We humans are incapable of finding out what we absolutely have to know. We can’t overcome sin. We can’t escape the wrath of God. We can’t become new creatures. We can’t walk pleasing to the Lord. God must reveal these things to us, or we perish. And this he has done and continues to do by means of written word — the Bible. And when a person has understood what the Bible teaches, he has understood the revelation of God infallibly, inerrantly, verbally.