Mistakes. Errors. Misstatements. These things seem to be all around us, don’t they? Wouldn’t it be great to find a place where errors and mistakes just can’t be found? Well believe it or not, the Bible claims to be just such a place. Now many people find this to be a pretty incredible statement, so let’s talk a little bit about the Scriptures and their claim to be mistake-free…
What Is “Inerrancy”?
The idea of a error-free Bible is something that scholar-types call the doctrine of inerrancy. When speaking about the Scriptures, this term simply means that the Bible as it was originally written, is completely true and doesn’t contain any mistakes.
Now at this point it would be helpful to define what we mean by “true” so that everyone is clear on this. When we say that something is the “truth,” we’re saying that it is something that corresponds (or “goes along”) with reality. In other words, “truth” means talking about things the way they really are. “Error” means talking about things the way they’re not.
Something that doesn’t correspond with reality is not the truth. So “inerrancy” means that the Bible always talks about the way things really are and about the way things really happened with 100% total accuracy.
What’s The Big Deal About Inerrancy?
Sometimes people say that the Bible may contain mistakes when it talks about scientific or historical things but it is completely true when it talks about spiritual teachings. While this might seem like a good compromise, this “have it both ways” approach has some real problems. After all, if the Bible can’t get minor things like history or geography correct then why should we trust it in spiritual matters?
Inerrancy is important because the Bible claims to be the Word of God. The Scriptures tell us that it’s impossible for God to make a mistake (Psalm 18:30) and if the Bible is truly inspired by God as it claims to be (see 2 Timothy 3:16), then we should expect it to be mistake-free also.
Some Important Things Regarding Inerrancy
Here are some important things to keep in mind when we talk about the Bible’s inerrancy…
1) Inerrancy doesn’t mean that every copy of the Bible ever made is mistake-free.
Despite some tremendous efforts (some of which we’ll talk about in a future study), typographic errors have definitely slipped into the Biblical copies from time to time. One of the best known of these mistakes happened in the 16th century when a Bible was printed with the 7th Commandment reading as, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” That was definitely a mistake.
Anyway, many of these errors are simply mistakes in spelling or punctuation. Fortunately we have the ability today to compare many different Biblical copies from ancient times and use them to weed out any “typos” that may exist. This is one reason why we can be confident that the Bible has been accurately passed down to us even though an occasional copying error may have slipped in from time to time.
2.) Inerrancy has to do with the writings and not the writers.
While the original Biblical writings were mistake-free, this doesn’t mean that the people who authored them were mistake-free too. The Biblical writers certainly made mistakes (see Galatians 2:11) but inerrancy refers to the original writings of the Biblical authors, not the authors themselves.
Now people may well ask, “How could mistake-prone human beings produce a mistake-free Bible?” After all, “to err is human” as the saying goes, right? This sounds like a good argument but it overlooks something very important: just because people do make mistakes doesn’t mean that they always make mistakes.
You see, even though human beings do make mistakes, it is possible for people to do things in a mistake-free way. In fact, people do things without making mistakes at school, at home, and on the job every day. Besides, when you think about all the tremendous miracles performed by God throughout the Bible, it would seem to be an easy task for God to use error-prone human beings to communicate His Word in an error-free way.
3.) It’s not a mistake to use common, everyday language.
Sometimes the Bible is criticized for using technically incorrect language in the way that it describes things. For example, you’ll find that the Bible uses common, everyday terms that everyone uses like sunrise, sunset, and moon light within it’s pages. These terms are not mistakes even though the sun doesn’t really rise or set and the moon doesn’t really give off light. This is because it’s possible to use regular, everyday language in a mistake-free way.
Remember that the way that words are used helps define their meaning, so when we see the word “sunset” in the Bible, we can be sure that we’re not talking about what happens to the sun in outer space. Instead, the word is used just as people use it today- the Bible is unmistakably describing the way the sun looks as night time draws near.
4.) Using different details to describe the same event doesn’t mean that there’s been a mistake.
Different Biblical authors can describe the same event with different details and still be errorless. For example, most people would probably agree that it isn’t necessary to have an exact word-for-word description of the same event to be truthful, right? Well, describing the same event with different details (as often seen within the Gospels) doesn’t mean that the descriptions contradict each other- they actually help us get a better understanding of what happened.
5.) Just because a Biblical promise hasn’t come to pass doesn’t mean that a mistake was made.
Here’s an example: Around 700 BC, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a man named Cyrus who would build Jerusalem and lay the foundation of the Temple (see Isaiah 44:28 and following). Now this may have sounded like a mistake to the people of Isaiah’s day because the city and Temple were still standing at that time without any need to be rebuilt. However, the city was eventually destroyed many years later by the invading Babylonian army in 586 BC. Later on, a Persian king named Cyrus rebuilt the city and Temple once again just as Isaiah said (see Ezra 1:1-3).
You see, the Word of God through Isaiah could have easily been viewed as a mistake at first but was later shown to be totally accurate with the passage of time. In fact, the Bible itself predicts that people will try to discredit it by pointing out the promises within it that have yet to be fulfilled…
“First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of and laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: ‘So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation'” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
So just because some of the things promised in the Bible haven’t yet occurred doesn’t mean that the Bible is in error. You can count on God to fulfill all His promises (see Numbers 23:19).
The Bible’s View of Inerrancy
The Bible is very clear on the inerrancy of Scripture…
- “There is utter truth in all your laws; your decrees are eternal.” (Psalm 119:160)
- “Every word of God is flawless…” (Proverbs 30:5 NIV)
- “I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right…” (Isaiah 45:19 NIV)
- “…it is impossible for God to lie…” (Hebrews 6:18 NIV)
- “The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God…” (2 Timothy 3:16)
So inerrancy really is a big deal. As one scholar-type says, “All things are possible, but nothing is certain if the Bible contains mistakes or errors of any kind.” (1)
(1) Dr. Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties pg. 24