The Inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures:
Issues in the Inerrancy of Holy Scripture

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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III. Issues in the Inerrancy of Holy Scripture


  1. Introduction
  2. Scripture as the Proper Source of our Understanding of Scripture
  3. The Purpose and Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures
  4. The Authority of Scripture
  5. The Manner of the Inspiration of the Scriptures
  6. Inerrancy and the Original Autographs
  7. Hermeneutics and the Illumination of the Holy Spirit
  8. Scripture and Error
  9. The Inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures

1. Introduction

The American Night Watch promotes Christianity as taught in the Holy Scriptures; encouraging all Christians to pursue, as did John Wesley, "Scriptural Christianity" and "Scriptural Holiness." Its purpose is thus to encourage sound and traditional doctrine in contrast to those who promote an alternative form of Christianity in which beliefs are determined by emotion, whim, convenience, or fad.

With regard to the Scriptures, "infallibility" and "inerrancy" are related terms; the former stressing the complete reliability of the teachings of the Scriptures, the latter stressing that the teachings of the Scriptures are without admixture of error. In this document we shall primarily use the term "inerrancy" because the two concepts view the same property of Scripture from two different perspectives, and because "inerrancy" is the term most often used in the discussion of this property of the Scriptures by those who support this belief and those who do not.

In our time there has been an aggressive and determined attack upon belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures from those within the Christian community. Some Christian scholars have labeled this belief so dangerous that, in their opinion, it undermines evangelism and a true understanding of the Christian faith in contemporary culture.

We agree that a misunderstanding of the nature of Scripture is detrimental to growth in faith and holiness. We also agree that a wrongful understanding of inerrancy can lead to misinterpretations of Scripture. However, contrary to those who oppose belief in inerrancy, we are convinced that belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, properly understood, is essential to evangelism, sound Christian faith and doctrine, and growth in holiness.

Belief in inerrancy is not essential to salvation. We recognize that many of our Christian brethren who do not subscribe to inerrancy are sincerely committed to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith and love, and may submit themselves to the authority of Scripture to a large degree. Nevertheless, we also believe that the deepest Christian spirituality requires the humility and faith expressed in a commitment to the full authority of the full teachings of the Holy Scriptures, that such an attitude is best expressed as belief in the "inerrancy" of Scripture, and that to fail to submit to the full authority of Scripture leads to doctrinal innovations and, ultimately, to an aberrant Christian faith.

Further, we believe that it is faith in the full authority of the Scriptures, as demonstrated in a commitment to the inerrancy of the teachings of the Scriptures, that leads to the deepest and most reverent study and application of the Scriptures; rather than to superficial, careless, or wooden interpretations that contain more of the prejudice of the student than the truths laid up by God for students to receive.

However, as with any other doctrine, mental assent to the inerrancy of Scripture has no value unless it is accompanied by a way of thinking and a way of life that is truly subordinate to its authority. Many who claim to believe in the authority of Scripture govern their beliefs more by the teachings of some other individual or small group whose teachings are taken as authoritative even when they contradict the teachings of Scripture. Others who claim to believe in the full authority of Scripture treat the Word of God in a careless, superficial manner, mistaking their impressions of what Scripture says for the teachings of God's Word, without checking themselves by careful personal study and without reference to those God has gifted to help the Body of Christ understand His Word.

2. Scripture as the Proper Source of our Understanding of Scripture

It has been suggested that to take one's belief about the Scriptures from the Scriptures is inappropriate because it assumes the authority of the Scriptures, which cannot legitimately be done when it is the authority of the Scriptures that is to be determined by the investigation.

However, the Christian community accepts the authority of the Scriptures not by presumption, but on the basis of precedent; which follows its acceptance of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and His apostles. In the Christian community, the authority of the Scriptures in determining sound doctrine is not an issue for debate, it has been the constant practice of Christians since the earliest times, inasmuch as the Scriptures are recognized to be the Word of God. The Bible is thus held to be unique among all books, so that it cannot be treated in the same manner as any other. In the Christian community, Scripture is, therefore, normative and determinative for a correct understanding of all Christian doctrine, including the nature of the Scriptures themselves.

The church of Jesus Christ is founded upon the testimony of the apostles whom Jesus personally chose to be His witnesses. Their testimony resulted in the purposeful, and they believed God-mandated, establishment of communities of faith linked together by a commitment to the salvation and Lordship of God through Jesus Christ. Collectively, these communities formed the church of Jesus Christ. All evidence indicates that those writings held to be authoritative (canonical) by the church, whether authored by the apostles themselves or not, were also held to be consistent with and faithful to the teachings of the apostles by these communities of faith; and thus to have unique authority in those communities. Indeed, the Scriptures record that the apostle Paul himself felt the need to check his teachings against those of the twelve (Galatians 2:1-10), which pattern we see continued in church history by those of the orthodox Christian church.

Christians also have unique purposes and goals which, by definition, the world not committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ does not honor or share. Only the church of Jesus Christ seeks to magnify and serve her Lord, grow in spiritual knowledge and understanding, and grow in holiness. Therefore, the church is under no obligation to abide by the intellectual disciplines created in a secular society that does not share these goals. This is not to say that some or many of these disciplines may not be useful and consistent with the purposes of the church. And where this is true, the church should honor and abide by these disciplines of study and investigation; and, in fact, has every interest in doing so. It is, rather to acknowledge that the purposes of the Christian community in serving its Lord and the purposes of the secular community often do not coincide.

The position of the church with regard to sacred Scripture is unique from that of the world at large. This is because the church accepts as authoritative the special revelation provided by God through those Scriptures. It is Scripture that defines those unique goals and the manner in which they can be attained. Therefore, the church must also be unique from the world in her endeavor to understand and apply revealed truth.

If the church allies herself with secular pursuits to define her faith, the church places herself in the position of having her truths determined by those who deny the legitimacy of her faith and goals. Further, the church risks the extinction of her message if she allies herself to methodologies and beliefs that may change as secular disciplines modify their viewpoints and practices. This has happened before, when some segments of the Christian community allied themselves with Aristotelian beliefs (scholasticism), neo-Platonism (asceticism), and uniformitarianism (liberalism). Even given the sophistication of many modern academic disciplines, the incompleteness of human knowledge leads us to believe that there will continue to be modifications and revisions in science and other disciplines of knowledge. Because of this, Christians do well to be cautious whenever embracing secular academic disciplines as if they were tied to Divinely revealed Truth.

This does not mean that the Christian community has an interest in placing hindrances or roadblocks in the path of secular disciplines with which it disagrees. The freedom of the academic community to pursue its goals is important to the freedom of all individuals to pursue truth for themselves - as long as those disciplines do not involve the occult or gross immorality. Rather, it is to recognize that the Christian community has its own goals and interests, which should not be subordinated to regulation by the secular academic community. Nor does this mean that the Christian community may be sloppy, careless, or fanciful in its own pursuit of knowledge. The rigors of many secular disciplines, even if totally secular, should challenge the Christian community to pursue truth in such a manner that it is, if possible, respected by those in secular academic disciplines, with the hope that those who practice those disciplines may be attracted to the truth of the Gospel.

Recognition of the authority of the canonical Scriptures was formalized, not created, by the canonization of certain writings. It is correct to say that, except in those instances when truth is clear in natural revelation, the only starting point for true doctrine in the traditional, orthodox Christian community is always Scripture, and that to vary from this view is to be innovative in a manner that is completely at variance with the traditional viewpoint of the Christian community. One must exercise great care in asserting natural revelation in those cases where these truths are not confirmed by Scripture. The authority of the Scriptures in the Christian community is so well-established, that those who doubt this place themselves apart from traditional Christianity; a faith based upon the teachings of Christ as transmitted by His chosen apostles.

Therefore, no apology should be made when Christians take their view of Scripture from the Scriptures, nor is any explanation sufficient for those within the Christian community who deny that Scripture is a legitimate source of teaching about the nature of the authority of the Scriptures.

3. The Purpose and Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there without watering the earth,
and making it bear and sprout,
and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire,
and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."
Isaiah 55:10-11

The Holy Scriptures were brought into being according to the plan and purposes of the one, true God; who brought them into being in a manner consistent with His love, kindness, and holiness; and with the unselfish purpose of bringing mankind into fellowship with Himself. God, in His omniscience and omnipotence, knowing the limitations of human language and the difficulties involved in the transmission of written texts, nevertheless committed His Word to human language in the confidence that the Scriptures would be sufficient for all that He purposed to do through them. Although condescending to humanity in the creation and transmission of the Scriptures, God knew that His accommodation to the weaknesses and limitations in human language would not compromise the truths He determined to communicate through this Word.

Belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures is the belief that if the teachings of Scripture, residing in Scripture by the design of God and adequately transmitted by the language of Scripture, are accurately understood, they will be found to be without error.

While the source of the Scriptures is an eternal God, and while the guidance of the Scriptures has been so designed by our Creator that it applies across the breadth of human experiences, it is nevertheless true that the guidance of Scripture is, in some ways, finite. Scripture has not been given to teach all things about all things, but only those things which God has purposed to reveal to men and women, those things necessary to salvation and holiness in this age. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).

We also believe that God determined to make the teachings of the Scriptures understandable, by which we mean that He created the Scriptures in such a manner that their major teachings would be clear enough so that all who read them could comprehend them, and that its deeper and more complex truths would be available through the ministries of those individuals He gifted to be scholars and interpreters of His Word (Romans 12:4ff, I Corinthians 12:7ff., Ephesians 4:11, I Peter 4:10-11). The dependence of all members of the Body of Christ upon others for growth in the correct understanding of God's Word, both those scholars and teacher's of one's own time and those of the past, promotes the humility of each Christian; inasmuch as Christians cannot exalt in their own understanding of the Scriptures, nor can they pursue the teachings of any one individual, but must consult a number of individuals in order to determine the revelation of God. In this manner Christ, not any one spiritual teacher nor any one student of God's Word, is glorified.

The truths conveyed by Scripture are largely preserved when carefully translated into a language other than that in which the Scripture was written. Therefore, whenever possible, all people should have access to the Scriptures in a language with which they are familiar. Nevertheless, all who study translations of the Scriptures should exercise care, remembering that the Word of the Lord was given in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and taking care to look to those who understand these ancient languages for the most accurate exegesis and exposition of the meaning of the Word of God.

4. The Authority of Scripture

"And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."
I Thessalonians 2:13

Because its origin is from God, and its unique and sacred purpose is to offer sinners redemption and holiness, the Scriptures are unique among all written documents. They have unique authority and call for a unique reverence; not because the words or the writings have power in and of themselves, which would be to attribute to them a magical, occult significance, but because their author is the Most High and only true God. Thus while the words are still parts of language and the letters that identify the words are no more than symbols, the teachings have unique significance and authority because of their Author and purpose.

The Scriptures do not take the place of Jesus Christ, who is the most perfect revelation of the nature of God (John 1:16-18). John wrote that Jesus (in the Greek of the New Testament) exegeseto the Father, which is to say that Christ has "interpreted" God the Father, He has "made the Father known;" in other words, He has shown us God the Father in terms that we can understand. When Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us," Jesus told His disciples, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father . . ." (John 14:9-10).

However, while the Scriptures do not take the place of Christ, neither does the place of Jesus Christ in God's redemptive plan displace or minimize the role of Scripture. Jesus told his disciples, "These things I have spoke to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:25-26). These words of Jesus are often used to support belief in the illumination of the Holy Spirit in all Christians. And it is legitimate to see here that the Holy Spirit's work is to illuminate all who seek to understand the teachings of Christ. However, the first, most important, and most complete application of this teaching of Christ is, as Jesus clearly states, to the disciples themselves; those whose teachings would become foundational, normative, and authoritative for the Christian church.

The authority of the Scriptures derives, then, not from those who spoke or penned them, but from Christ who Inspired them and to whom they point (II Peter 1:20-21, I Peter 1:10-11, John 5:39), in other words, from the Holy Spirit, from God Himself (I Corinthians 10:4, John 8:29).

5. The Manner of the Inspiration of the Scriptures

"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in may ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son . . ."
Hebrews 1:1-2

"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."
II Peter 1:20-21

The ability of God to inspire is not limited to one place or one age. Nevertheless, the inspiration of the Scriptures was unique. This uniqueness is identified by the product of that inspiration, in that it resulted in the creation of documents which had been brought into being by the will and plan of God, documents that the apostle Paul identified as theopneustos, which literally means "God-breathed" (II Timothy 3:16). While we believe that it is the documents and the teachings they transmit that are inspired, we also believe that it is meaningless to speak of an inspiration which does not involve the words of each document, because it is only by their words that these teachings are conveyed.

As with other acts of God, the fact that God has acted and what He has accomplished by His action is generally more important than the agents He employs; although these agents are consistent with His nature, plan, and holiness. With respect to Divine inspiration, whether of the Holy Scriptures or otherwise, while we have some measure of accurate understanding, it is neither necessary nor possible to understand the exact manner in which God brought about the inspiration of the Holy Writings.

The author of Hebrews is clear that the inspiration of the prophets of the Old Testament came in a wide variety of manners. He emphasizes this by using two different words that are very similar in meaning in Hebrews 1:1, polumeros and polutropos, each of which can be correctly translated "in many different ways;" the two together reinforcing this thought. The history and testimony of the prophets of the Old Testament bears this out, and the history and testimony of the authors of the New Testament is consistent. Especially important are those places in Scripture where it is evident that the recipient of God's communication is able to converse with the Lord about what is being communicated (Exodus 3:4-4:17, Isaiah 6:1-13, Acts 10:9-20, Acts 22:17-21, II Corinthians 12:8-9). In Peter's first epistle he reveals that the prophets of the Old Testament asked for and received information about how the information communicated to them was going to be used (I Peter 1:10-12). These and other Scriptures indicate that while God may have dictated some portions of Scripture (Exodus 24:4, Deuteronomy 31:19,22, Jeremiah 36:1-2), that most Scripture was not given in this manner (Ezekiel 11:25, Zechariah 7:12, Galatians 1:11-12). Inasmuch as Divine revelation is communicated through the documents, it was not necessary that the inspired individual have complete understanding of the truths being conveyed in order for Scripture to be produced as God intended. The end result of the inspiration was Divine revelation communicated through human agency.

Although some of the means whereby God communicated His revelation to man were similar to inspiration in the pagan world (dreams, visions, and so forth), it is also true that the self-awareness of the prophets and their ability to communicate with the Lord while inspired, together with an absence of the physical characteristics often associated with pagan revelation, marks the Scriptures as the creation of the God of the Hebrews, His Spirit, and His Christ. Further, unlike pagan revelations, which were often made in response to inquiry by a specific individual about a specific issue, Divine initiative is everywhere evident in the creation of the Scriptures and the message they bear.

In II Peter 1:20-21, Peter writes especially clearly that the inspiration under which Divine prophesy was given did not come simply through human innovation or insight, but by the direct intervention of God. Likewise, Paul writes of teaching with words taught by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:13). Thus, while created through many individuals, the remarkable unity of the message of the Scriptures is evidence of the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

The inspiration of the Scriptures is unique in that it is the only revelation the Lord has given to the church generally for this age. Any other communication held to be from the Lord must be carefully measured by the standard of Scripture and, if held to be contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures in any way, must be discarded.

The Holy Spirit will communicate nothing which contradicts the teachings of the Scriptures. The presence of Scripture is not as a straight-jacket that prevents God from communicating to mankind whenever He will. And we believe that He may do so from time to time in one manner or another for the benefit and welfare of His people. However, whatever God may communicate to His people, even if not contrary to Scripture, is not generally binding upon the church as is Scripture. Christians should not look to direct communication from God as normative, nor should any communication held to be from God be held to add to or replace the Scriptures as God's norm for the church.

Sound traditions represent the best thinking of devout Christians through the ages. As such, tradition can be a guide to proper interpretation of the Scriptures. However, no tradition has authority in itself. Those traditions that shall be held to be authoritative within the Christian church shall be those that stem directly from the teachings of the Scriptures. No tradition that is inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture should be retained.

6. Inerrancy and the Original Autographs

"I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren."
I Thessalonians 5:27

"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter, this is the way I write."
II Thessalonians 3:17

The canonicity of the Scriptures refers to the authority of the sixty-six documents that comprise the Scriptures themselves, not to the authors or to the entire teachings of those individuals. Thus the apostle Peter was corrected by the apostle Paul for behavior that denied the doctrines he preached (Galatians 2:11ff.), but the two epistles of Peter are canonical Scripture, and his inspired speech is recorded in the canonical book of Acts.

Canonicity also applies to each document in its entirety, even though the documents represent different kinds of literature, and each document may consist of several parts, each with a unique literary style and purpose. The entire document is to be considered "the Word of the Lord" regardless whether it be in the form of poetry or prose and regardless whether it be commandment, instruction, narrative record, parable, example, or serve some other purpose. This does not mean that each document or each part of each document is equally important, that some parts may not be more important to Christians at some points in history than in others, or that revelation is not progressive in nature. However, it does mean that the entire documents and all the canonical documents are equally inspired.

As Paul states when describing the Body of Christ, that one member cannot say to another "I have no need of you," so that even those parts of the Body that seem the least honorable are necessary to the whole of the body (I Corinthians 12:14ff.), so, too, with Scripture, ". . . God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (I Corinthians18). While Paul is not referring to Scripture here, but to spiritual gifts and the church, we believe the analogy is helpful in understanding how different parts of the Scripture, brought together by the same Spirit who gives gifts to the Body of Christ, fits together as equally inspired.

Those Scriptures which are less clear are to be interpreted by those Scriptures which are more clear, so that Scripture is used to interpret Scripture, which has been called "the rule of faith." The progressive nature of God's revelation is also to be taken into consideration, so that, while not denying the foundational nature of earlier Scripture, the Scripture of the New Testament is to be used for a correct understanding of the Old Testament. Because God is one, Scripture is always to be interpreted in a manner that preserves both the meaning of the text and the unity of the message of all Scripture. It is the responsibility of Christians to set aside the interpretation of obscure texts until such time as there may be sufficient information to make them clear.

The canonicity and inerrancy of any document refer to that document as first authored under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not to the copies which were produced. While the Spirit of God has superintended the transmission of these documents so that their content has been preserved to a large degree, we nevertheless acknowledge the problems inherent in the transmission of these texts across many hundreds of years, and that the true nature of some portions of the Scriptures may remain obscure until the coming of our Lord; in which case we believe the usefulness of that portion of Scripture was sometime in the past.

Inasmuch as the early Christian community took pains to ensure the integrity and reliability of the documents which it considered authoritative, textual criticism in pursuit of the most accurate versions of these documents is a legitimate and necessary pursuit of Christian scholarship.

The importance of the original autographs also means that each document of Scripture is to be interpreted in the context of the language, culture, and history in which it was produced before it is applied to contemporary times. We must exercise caution when translating the Scriptures in such a manner as to create anachronisms that mislead the reader about the true purposes of the text. No exposition of the Scriptures can be accurately produced without an understanding of the situation in which the text was written; which can be aided, but not substituted for, by the manner in which the text is translated.

It is reasonable to believe that God brought about various Scripture at certain times because, as part of His design, He chose a time and place that would be best suited to the communication of what He had to say; so that an understanding of the culture of the times is important to understand any part of Scripture. Nevertheless it is also true that it is the message God communicates, not the culture in which it was first delivered, that is canonized and recognized as authoritative. It is a grave mistake to believe that God wants us to adopt the culture of the time when Scripture was written. All cultures in all times, ancient or contemporary, Eastern or Western, have needed the edification and correction provided by the revelation of God made available in Scripture.

The absence of the original autographs is not a hindrance to the Christian community because there is good reason to believe in the high level of accuracy with which we can reproduce the content of the ancient texts and the presence of obscure texts affects no major doctrine. In addition, it is beneficial to the Christian community in stressing the importance of the teachings of Scripture rather than the physical documents per se. In the same manner as it was important to God to hide the body of Moses so that it would not become an object of veneration (Jude 9), it may have been in the plan of God for the original documents to be lost. Certainly the immense number of relics venerated by some portions of the Christian community give reason to believe that if preserved, the documents themselves, rather than the teachings of those documents, may have become the focus of attention of many Christians.

7. Hermeneutics and the Illumination of the Holy Spirit

"But Jesus answered and said to them, 'You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God'"
Matthew 22:29

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth."
II Timothy 2:15

"Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation, just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."
II Peter 3:14-16

The New Testament is clear, both by instruction and example, that it is common for people to misunderstand the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. After ignorance, the chief cause of this lack of understanding is impure motives (Matthew 5:19-23, cf. Hebrews 4:2) which give Satan the opportunity to blind the minds of unbelievers regarding the Word of God (II Corinthians 4:3-4, Matthew 13:1-23, II Timothy 2:24-26).

From this and other Scripture we understand that the illumination of God's Spirit is necessary to an accurate understanding of the teachings of God's Word (Matthew 16:17, Luke 24:45, Ephesians 1:15-23, Colossians 1:9-13, Philippians 1:9-11). However, as with the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip (Acts 8:26ff.), and Apollos with Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18:24ff.), the guidance of the Holy Spirit in understanding His Word follows not only personal study accompanied by the direct illumination of God's Spirit (Acts 17:10-12), but also instruction by those individuals God has gifted to understand and communicate His Word (Acts 8:30-31, 18:26). Even the Bereans were first instructed by Paul.

The meaning of the Scriptures can never be divorced from the language of the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit has laid up truths in the words of the Scriptures, and it is these truths that the Holy Spirit illuminates. For this reason, it is foolish to expect the illumination of the Holy Spirit without the constant reading and study of Scripture; building a knowledge of God's Word for the Holy Spirit to order and clarify. Further, the Holy Spirit, we believe, helps the reverent believer to understand how to apply this truth to specific situations in the believer's life. However, this application stems directly from the truth communicated through the words of the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit often works through the ministry of preachers and teachers in the Body of Christ as well through the immediate spiritual communication of this illumination. The refusal to recognize any but direct illumination and guidance has caused many to miss the truths of Scripture laid up for the Christian to receive.

Portions of Scripture taken out of context do not accurately represent the teachings of God. Taking words or verses out of context, using only a portion of a concept conveyed in Scripture so that the correct and full meaning cannot be known, is one of the most common methods of twisting Scripture in a destructive manner. This results in errant teaching based upon a partial understanding of what has been written. Care is required, because it may not seem that a teacher or a student is appealing to a partial text even when that is the case. The illumination of the Holy Spirit does not compensate for the careless or deceitful use of His Word. The reverent Christian will be careful to observe not only the distinctive details of each passage, but also the complete thought or line of reasoning that the author is conveying in the portion of the Holy Writings containing that passage.

The great number of examples in Scripture of those who were careless with or misunderstood what God was saying through the Scriptures should make all Christians careful and diligent in the study of God's Word. Further, those who would call the Scriptures "errant" should be cautioned to look for the deficiency in their interpretation of God's Word rather than in the teaching of the Scriptures themselves.

8. Scripture and Error

"The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes."
Psalm 19:7-9

One reason that many reject the inerrancy of the Scriptures is that they classify as "error" that which the church has not traditionally seen as error.

For instance, it is not difficult to identify portions of Scripture that do not comply with standard rules of grammar. However, human language has certain characteristics. Even language pressed into the service of God does not lose its nature or limitations. Grammar and word meanings are conventions that change with time, place, author, and audience.

Human language, even with its limitations, is fully adequate for the communication of revealed truth. Referring to the human side of the communication of the Gospel, Paul said, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves" (II Corinthians 5:7). God could have chosen to produce perfect language on indestructible plates using perfect penmanship. He did not choose to do so, but chose to communicate through human beings. Likewise God could have given us a perfect systematic theology. He did not choose to do so, but communicated Old Testament truth through the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, and in the New Testament through historical narrative, letters, and apocalypse. As long as adequate communication has taken place, we find no error in the teachings that are communicated, even if the grammar or word usage is not as expected. We see this as an expression of the humanity through which God chose to communicate.

With regard to references to portions of the Old Testament in the New Testament, it is considered by some to be an "error" when the New Testament author does not reproduce exactly as expected a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament or text from the Septuagint. But to maintain such a criticism is to impose modern rules upon ancient authors. The authors of the New Testament, writing without modern rules of reference and quotation, communicated under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Their use of the Old Testament, whether by direct quote, paraphrase, or by mingling Old Testament thought with new meaning, is for the purpose of communicating truths. It is for the student of God's Word to understand the truth that God is communicating through the author rather than to criticize the manner in which the truth is given.

Others see apparent contradictions of details or chronology between the Gospels or the teachings of various portions of Scripture. For example, the difference between the description of the relationship between Law and grace in the Pauline epistles and the epistle of James caused even Martin Luther to question the canonicity of the epistle of James. However, here Luther failed to understand the nuances of truth that are communicated in different places in the Scriptures, so that even Protestant churches did not follow him here in favor of continuing to recognize all writings that the church has traditionally recognized as canonical. Scripture is always to be interpreted with reference to the whole and with reference to the progressive nature of revelation. Likewise, apparent contradictions in details or chronology can be viewed as having more to do with the viewpoints of the authors of the Gospels than with actual contradictions of fact.

However, those who classify what we have described above as "error" will never be able to use the terminology "inerrant" with relation to Scripture. What these are missing is that all of these factors have been obvious to Christians through the ages, Christians who were far more familiar with the original text than we are today because it was written in what for them was a living language. Those same Christians attributed to the Scriptures a much higher level of reliability than do those who oppose belief in inerrancy in our time. This is because Christians have traditionally paid more attention to what God was communicating through the text than to details that were incidental to that teaching.

Beyond the matter of the definition of "error" with regard to Scripture, there is another and more serious reason why many deny the inerrancy of Scripture, and that is because they disagree with one or more clear teaching of the Scriptures. We must be continually aware that when we are tempted to call the teachings of Scripture "wrong" it is either because we do not sufficiently understand them or because they are speaking to something that we need to address in our own spiritual lives (Hebrews 3:7-8, 4:12-13, Proverbs 6:23, Jeremiah 8:9, Matthew 15:9, Psalm 50:16-17).

9. The Inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures

"The words of the Lord are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times."
Psalms 12:6

". . . and the Scripture cannot be broken . . ."
John 10:35

"It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'"
Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3

"So then, my brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us."
II Thessalonians 2:15

Inasmuch as the source of Scripture is God Himself, and the Scriptures have been given to bring about "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5, 16:26)), our attitude towards Holy Scripture reflects our attitude towards God, His Christ, and His purposes.

From those who spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we learn that Scripture is not the dead understanding of spiritual truth invented by those of the past, but it is a living, active way by which God communicates sacred truth to those He would bless. Therefore, Scripture is not only called "the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2) it is spoken of as "living oracles" (Acts 7:38, cf. Hebrews 4:12-13, John 6:63) whose purpose is meaningful for God's people forever (I Peter 2:5, Isaiah 40:8, Mark 13:31, Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Isaiah 59:21).

Inerrancy must relate to the message of the Scriptures when they are correctly interpreted, otherwise, God is made responsible for careless, mistaken, or deceitful interpretations derived from the text. Thus, when Scripture is interpreted correctly, the message of Scripture is always completely reliable, inerrant and infallible. When the message God sought to convey regards any area of human life, including the physical creation or history, that message is true. However, when God is communicating through the culture of the times in which the Scripture was written, and the means of communication is incidental to the message, the metaphors, figures of speech, and understandings of the author of the Scripture are not part of the truth, and, therefore, may represent the culture of the time of authorship, which should not be confused with the teaching God is communicating. This calls for careful study and interpretation by students of God's Word.

The use of the terms "inerrancy" and "infallibility" with reference to Scripture is a statement that no Christian may negotiate which sacred documents to receive and which to belittle or ignore. That decision has already been made in the recognition of the canonicity of the 39 texts of the Old Testament and the 27 texts of the New Testament. The emphasis then falls upon hermeneutics, the correct interpretation of the sixty-six texts recognized to be canonical.

The use of the terms "inerrancy" and "infallibility" also communicates an attitude of humility and reverence in the interpretation of the canonical texts. This attitude is expressed in the manner in which the whole of Scripture is handled as seen in the example of Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20, John 10:35) and Paul (Acts 24:14-15, 26:24, II Timothy 3:16 ), and the teaching of Peter (I Peter 2:3), James (James 1:20-22), and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:12, 4:1-2, 5:11-6:6, 10:23, 12:25, 13:9).

God's people have always held the teachings of God's Word to be binding. Their attitude towards God's Word is one characteristic that makes God's people unique among all mankind (Deuteronomy 4:2-7, Job 23:12, John 17:17). So that when explaining his faith, the apostle Paul explained that he believed all things written in the Scriptures (Acts 24:14-15) and taught nothing else than what was contained in them (Acts 26:24). This was after the example of Jesus, who came not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17ff.).

The attitude of those who claim the inerrancy of Scripture is very much like the one of a husband who is deeply in love with his wife, but whose wife has many critics. Some criticize her appearance, others her personality, still others the way she speaks and writes. But her husband is unswayed by these criticisms. As the one who knows her more intimately than any other person, he is the person who is the most aware of all of her blemishes, infirmities, and shortcomings. At the same time, he is, more than anyone else, aware that none of these is really important. For, above all, he values her and his relationship with her. Her value is embodied not only in her physical person but in the beauty of her personality, goals, and values; inasmuch as he knows that none of her shortcomings involve wickedness, ungodliness, or evil (as Peter describes in I Peter 3:3-4). When he sees or speaks with her, or reads what she is writing, his attention is not upon her human imperfections, which must exist in everything human (for they are an inseparable part of the human ko/smoj [cosmos], the human "order" of things, that which is a characteristic of every human being in the created order of things as it exists in our age), but his attention is to that which he knows her to be, to her beauty and attractiveness in the fullest sense of the words. And when he reads what she writes to him, he sees more than the words convey. Because she is who she is, the words, even if hastily written, and unconformant to the best of grammar, convey to him her personality as well as the message she is writing with her words. Others may see the text alone, he sees the person who is behind that text, so that he takes joy in what she writes, and orders his life to conform with her desires. His confidence comes, not just from his love for her, but in his knowledge of her personal integrity and her love for him.

The metaphor that I have just given is not far from the one given in Proverbs 8 and 9, where "wisdom" is portrayed as a beautiful and faithful woman in contrast to the harlots who would destroy a man's soul. Wisdom says, "Counsel is mine and sound wisdom, I am understanding, power is mine . . . My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield than the choicest silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries" (Proverbs 8:14, 19-21). The wealth spoken of here is surely much more than physical wealth, it is spiritual. And "wisdom" here is a metaphor for God and what He seeks to communicate to those He loves. Whereas in most Scripture God is described as masculine to define His proper role in the covenant relationship of God to His people (He is Lord), in this Scripture He is portrayed as feminine to emphasize the attractiveness of His personality and truth. Those who seek this wisdom also seek God - and find Him.

In the same manner Jesus told Pontius Pilate, "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice" (John 18:37). This is a mark of His people. Belief in inerrancy is held by those who, when they read the Holy Scriptures, perceive the voice of God by the aid of the Spirit of Truth, and who know that if they strive carefully to understand, that what the God who loves them says to them will never lead them into error.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.