Why Biblical Inerrancy?

So I’m pretty much an “agnostic” when it comes to biblical inerrancy, but I wanted to understand (especially from those who are inerrantists) what makes them believe it. A few of my questions are:

  1. What do we mean by inerrant? Is it inerrancy in terms of a modern, scientific, prime face “reading” of the Bible, or inerrant in terms of salvation and morals, or something else? Jesus spoke in parables, and arguing whether, for instance, there were 98 or 99 “lost sheep” would obviously miss the point of the story. Even Augustine (who first came up with inerrancy if I remember correctly) in the 3rd or 4th century said Genesis could have different interpretations for each day.

  2. Inerrancy usually refers to original manuscripts (which we do not have). Why is it important to claim these had to be “perfect” as opposed to simply saying God used prophets and writers to carry and preserve the core features of his message necessary for salvation? I say this because God has a history of picking clawed, imperfect people (like Peter) to carry his message, so why do the texts they write have to be free of human error/mistakes? Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply say God ensured his message would be preserved with a combination of texts, appearances, and tradition, and the Bible is one aspect of this?

  3. If the Bible, as we have it, is inerrant, this seems to imply the councils that decided on the biblical canon were guided by God/the Holy Spirit in some way. Is the church (and which churches) still guided by God in the same way? The Catholic stance makes sense to me in that the Pope speaks “infalliably” on certain matters. Are churches still guided by God/the Holy Spirit (and how can we know)?

I guess my main question is “how would we know the Bible is inerrant in the first place”


A good subject to review, and it goes to the issues in science intersecting with the bible. My thought is consistent with yours, and I sort of like the idea that the bible is perfect as to its purpose, rather than inerrant. Even those who affirm strict inerrancy tend to have a few wiggle words about “in the original manuscripts” which of course do not exist, as you said.
It seems inerrancy seems to be more of a tribal or social marker to determine if someone is in or out of a group. Here is a pretty good article by Roger Olson that was formative of my opinion:


That was an informative article. I came from that school where inerrancy was a shibboleth. I still remember it like it was yesterday when Gerstner referred to inerrancy as a word that those outside the camp can’t pronounce clearly.

I still think it’s a helpful term, but it must be qualified, and it’s something that a perfectly reasonable person can disagree with. Infallibility is also a great term and I like how Olson uses it.

I also like that it doesn’t mean you are wishy washy about what the Bible infallibly teaches:

“We create doctrines based on it, usually in order to counter misuses of Scripture by heretics and cultists, but it is not itself primarily meant to be a handbook of doctrines.” Olson


Is this the correct answer?


One question that comes to my mind . . .

If you travelled back in time and told Paul that his letters to different Christian churches would one day be considered inerrant, what do you think he would say in reply?


He would at least say that he had some direct revelation?

FF Bruce said Paul would be rolling in his grave.
(“The Blue Parakeet,”, as reported by an interview with him by Scot McKnight)


@T_aquaticus @Jay313 I sometimes get frustrated when people refer to 2 Timothy 3:16 to defend inerrancy (of the NT), which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Was this letter (traditionally attributed to Paul, though I’m not sure what the authorship consensus is) considered scripture itself? I don’t think so, at least not at the time. The NT Canon likely wasn’t formed then, so it would be circular logic if it referred to the canon of the NT (as your image illustrates)

As @Dale says, there are times Paul seems to be talking from revelation, and other times he cites his own experience. Romans 14:14 starts with, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus…” I understand the reason Paul’s letters would be compiled and important: if he did encounter Jesus (and the other disciples seem to give legitimacy to his experience) obviously his writings and claims would be very important to our understanding of Jesus. But once again, why would they need to be necessarily “inerrant”? Obviously us Christians would expect anything Jesus or God says to be perfect, true, etc, and Paul’s letters and the gospels themselves may be the closest textual evidence we have to these sayings. But it is clear there are times biblical authors are writing poetry, citing their own experience, etc. I personally find it difficult to affirm that everything written by these authors must be taken inerrantly regardless of context.


I agree–Even Paul differentiated between what he advises, and what God says (like 1 Cor 7:12)

I’ve read that “Scriptures” were a very generic term in that context of 2 Timothy, too


I think “useful” is a perfectly valid description. Useful does not imply inerrant. Another term I have heard people use is scripture being trustworthy which again does not imply inerrancy, at least in my understanding.

Agreed. The importance of Paul and the other apostles/writers was the fact that they were as close to primary sources as one can get in Christianity. People centuries later could have been inspired by God or given some revelation, and could have even written inerrant scripture. The reason these later writers would have been less favored is their distance from the founding of Christianity.

I can fully understand why different parts of the New Testament can fit into different parts of a spectrum from inerrant to wise, but like you I see no indication that every word should be taken as coming straight from the mouth of God. There’s an undeniable human element throughout the BIble, and with that human element comes necessary limitations.


Based on my limited reading of commentaries, this isn’t as big of an issue as you seem to be making out of it. The commentaries I have read recognize the difference between the human voice and the voice of God. People often do things in the Bible that should not be imitated today. Sometimes these actions were sinful, and sometimes they would be sinful today, but they were not back then. What I have read also recognizes when Paul is speaking as Paul, and when he is speaking with apostolic authority. And even one of the strictest inerrant YEC’s that I know, could appreciate Paul’s admonition not to marry, and how it was respect to the present crisis the Corinthians faced.


Can’t resist…
I once heard a sermon by Oswald Hoffman, Lutheran Hour preacher and pioneer of religious broadcasting, on the Parable of the Lost Sheep. One thing has stuck in my memory all these years since, right from the start of his message: after reading the text, he leaned forward in the pulpit and said, “I’ll let you in on a secret: there are no ninety and nine!”

That’s the common attitude in the early Fathers, that the Word, i.e. the message, always comes through the Word, i.e. the scripture. As Paul and Peter both did, they freely used their own translations, employed citations with gaps in them, mixed verses from different sources, and in other ways also played fast and loose with the scriptures in ways that just wouldn’t be done if they thought the text was somehow sacrosanct in and of itself. It really took the western approach to the scriptures from a legal (specifically Roman law) perspective to come up with a concern about every word being in its appointed place.

If you really study the process, the canon was already set well before any councils got into the act, through a process of local churches deciding what should be read in their church, swapping copies of documents with other congregations, trying out various writings, and reaching essentially unanimous agreement on all but seven of the New Testament writings, which got accepted but put on lesser status. By the time Athanasius declared the books approved in his patriarchate the list was already the same as we use and had been for a good three-quarters of a century.

That’s a very good question especially among people who hold to “sola scriptura” since by that principle the scriptures would have to claim to be inerrant for that to be an acceptable doctrine. But scripture makes no such claim – so why is the claim made? If the Bible held somewhere within it a claim to be inerrant, then we would know because an inspired writer said so. As it is, the definition actually arises from a worldview that is alien to the Bible – scientific materialism; that’s where the idea that to be true a thing has to be 100% scientifically and historically accurate comes from.


I was told that once as an attempt to discredit the Bible. I pointed out that the meme fails because it fails to recognize that the Bible is not really a book in the regular sense, it is a compendium, a collection, a small library.


The scriptures as a whole can be treated the way some of the literary genres used in Genesis can be: the details cannot be taken literally in and of themselves as independent declarations, but they can be taken literally in terms of understanding the message. So we can analyze grammar and vocabulary and word usage in Paul’s letters to arrive at truth even while realizing that those words are human words.

Thanks for the article; the point I really appreciated was the fact that some peoples’ way of saying “infallible” is the same as when others say “inerrant,” so it sometimes becomes an equivocation.

I think you’re right about this. I remember reading one evangelical scholar who argued the Bible should be read literarily as opposed to literally, though I do know some Seventh-Day Adventists who go pretty far in the literal direction. I don’t think I’ve met a Christian who believes the Bible fell out of the sky, in English, word-for-word the way we have it.


Great points here. I heard an interesting thought the other day that sometimes “sola scriptura” and inerrancy can lead to an idolatry of the Bible (no offense intended to any inerrantists). The point the person was making is we can worship the Bible and not God or Jesus, when it is the latter who are perfect. I may have even been guilty of this myself at a younger age.

As you mentioned, many the objections to Christianity I see on social media are objections to literalistic readings that I often find to be straw-man arguments. For instance, I’ve never heard a Christian argue they should kill all Canaanites because it says so in the Old Testament.

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Say hello to Dr. Longman :sunglasses: You should get to know him. His commentaries are excellent. His book Confronting OT Controversies was outstanding. His friendship with Dan Allender is inspiring. He said this regarding the Canaanite genocide where Canaanites who acted like Israelites were saved and Israelites who acted like Canaanites were cut to pieces:

“What we have in the Old Testament, particularly the Conquest, is an intrusion of end time ethics where the wicked are punished and the righteous are redeemed… So I consider what we read in the Old Testament as a preview and warning as what will happen at the consummation.”

He also makes it abundantly clear that religious violence is in no way permissible at this stage in history within the scope of the new covenant.

I appreciate this observation. Can you tease this out a bit more?

–it may also imply that those who use the self fulfilling prediction are not using the Bible quite appropriately, though well meaning.


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I think ‘inerrancy’ is just another contest entry in the virtue-signaling races of the pious to see whose pedestal for the Bible can seem higher than anyone else’s.

The Bible does not belong on any pedestal. It belongs open on my lap.


  • “Scripture dropping out of the sky” has more in common with the Torah of Israel and the Qur’an of Islam.
  • Bibliolatry is a clear possibility in both religions.
  • A person can get hurt abusing a Qur’an; a Torah too, in some places, I suspect.
  • “The doctrine of biblical Inerrancy” is kinda like that, I figure.
  • Bibliolatry? Would seem so.
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