Biblical Inerrancy: Are There Errors in the Bible?
Do you remember your first lie? While no one is born a liar, at some point we discover that we can fool our parents, siblings, or friends by telling them something that isn’t true. One member of my family made such an attempt when they were a child by lying about eating an entire pack of forbidden gum, despite the incriminating pile of wrappers behind the couch. These small, harmless lies might seem innocent enough, but what about holy writing? What if the Bible contained falsehoods?
What Is Inerrancy?
Before you have a crisis of faith, it is extremely helpful to understand what is being suggested. Inerrancy is a fancy word that can sometimes be used to mean a couple of different things. What it boils down to meaning is this: the Bible is not wrong, or able to be wrong.
The Bible’s inerrancy is something that, while it was largely accepted in the early church, has become a point of debate in recent time. There are those who would say that only the original manuscripts of the Bible (of which zero are in existence) are inerrant, while others might claim that the Bible has never been inerrant and is naturally flawed.
Objections to Biblical Inerrancy
Since the Bible is crucial to every Christian’s life, it is necessary to know whether or not it is trustworthy. Those who object to the inerrancy of the Bible might suggest any of the following points as proof that the Bible doesn’t hold water, so to speak.
The Bible Instructs on How to Believe and Behave Only
This point would suggest that the historical accounts in the Bible might not necessarily be true. It attempts to protect the “most important” parts of the Bible and excuse any possible errors that may have been made by the Bible in a historical sense. The problem with this point is that the Bible’s greatest strength is that it provides historical data that can be verified and can be used to support the Bible’s inerrancy.
The Manuscripts That We Have Are Not Inerrant
This second point highlights the fact that the original copies have what is called textual variants, which is when the different manuscripts of the same text (for example, we might have 10 different manuscripts of one passage) say slightly different things. To combat this point, we can compare the differences in the text and find that there is complete agreement on about 99% of the text. In other words, most textual variants do not change the meaning of the text. For that last 1%, we can make a highly educated guess as to what that content meant originally. You’ll generally see these passages inside brackets in your modern translation.
There Are Clearly Some Errors in the Bible
This point addresses the “problem texts” that many Christian thinkers have addressed, most notably Augustine and John Calvin. There seem to be a great many, some websites even listing 101 “contradictions” in the Bible. To answer this point, it is very important to closely examine each passage that would seem to present a contradiction. Look at the context of the passage. Is what is being said meant to be taken literally, or is it a piece of poetry? There are many instances in 2 Chronicles and 2 Kings, for example, where the same event is recorded twice, but significant details are changed or omitted. However, believing that the Bible contains no errors suggests that there is a reasonable answer for each of these passages, and many biblical scholars have offered helpful explanations.
The Shield of Biblical Inerrancy
To put it plainly, once biblical inerrancy is cast aside there are many openings for the Bible to be attacked. Suggesting that the Bible isn’t quite right on a few points means that we now have to interpret the Bible through our own filter, instead of filtering our interpretation through the Bible—the way it was meant to be.
When we read the Bible, we should practice exegesis, which means to “take meaning out of.” Therefore, we should come with no presuppositions but allow the Bible to say what it was intended to say. This can never be performed if we do not hold the Bible as inerrant. Instead, we would be performing eisegesis, which means to “bring meaning into.” When we read the Bible this way, we take our modern understanding of words and situations and apply them to what the Bible says. This puts us in danger of becoming dismissive of the Bible’s clear commands because they might seem “culturally relative,” and we feel we should be exempt.
Another danger that can be avoided by trusting in biblical inerrancy is doubting or redefining God. Once we are convinced that God’s Word has errors in it, whether or not we believe God didn’t mean for them to be there, we treat his word like a replica of a great work of art. It seems great to look at, but it surely has some shortcomings, so we don’t go to it as the source of truth. Instead, trusting God’s Word gives us confidence in how Christians are supposed to live their lives.
This subject is crucial to the Christian faith because, without an inerrant Bible, Christianity’s foundation is shaken. The Bible is meant to be a constant comfort and guide for Christians, much as the Holy Spirit provides. But, by allowing doubt to grow in our minds about the factual standing of the Bible, we endanger ourselves. By all means, study the arguments and critique, but—at the end of the day—have faith that God’s Word is true and matchless in its value.
Benjamin Murray graduated from Grand Canyon University with a BA in Christian Studies with an emphasis in Biblical Studies. Since high school, Benjamin has had a discipline for learning and passion for God's Word and his Church.