The belief that the Bible is inerrant is based upon the premise that the Word of God states only what is true. Paul D. Feinberg, on page 294 of Inerrancy, a book edited by Normal Geisler, Ph.D., provides the following definition of inerrancy:
Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs [i.e., the original biblical manuscripts] and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.
On page 13 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason L. Archer says, “Inerrancy is a logical result of inspiration. For inerrancy means wholly true and without error. And what God breathes out (inspires) must be wholly true (inerrant). . . . By truth we signify that which corresponds to reality.”
B. H. Carroll, D.D., LL.D., on page 81 of his book entitled Inspiration of the Bible, says, “Inspiration is that influence of the Spirit which enables its subject, or constrains its subject, to write what God wants to be written.”
Gordon R. Lewis, on pages 251-252 of Inerrancy, declares,
To say that the Bible is God’s revelation is to say that what the Bible teaches and attests was breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and had no mere human origination (2 Peter 1: 20, 21; 1 Thess. 2:13). These passages rule out a view that the Bible is a book that originated with man and is simply used by the Spirit to achieve redemptive ends, in spite of its human weaknesses. The Bible’s teaching is from above as God guided the thinking of the authors by all the available providential means. . . .
On page 66 of his book entitled Foundations of Biblical Faith, James T. Draper, Jr., D.D. says with regard to the concept that the Bible is God-breathed (i.e., inspired by Him),
It means more than just that God prompted the men to express things a certain way.
Inspiration refers to verbal inspiration. There are people who tell us today, “The thoughts are inspired, but not the words.” How does one think without words? A thought is words that are unspoken. There is no way to accept that the Bible has certain great thoughts and principles that are inspired without also accepting that the words are inspired.
Then on page 68, Draper goes on to clarify what he means, as follows:
The inspiration is varied. The writers all used their personalities and their unique style of writing. . . . There is a difference in styles and a variety of expressions, but the Bible is inspired by God. God had each one of these holy men say exactly what God wanted him to say, yet he used their own styles and personalities.
John W. Haley, M.A., has a somewhat different perspective. On page 7 of his book entitled Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, he states, “Inspiration does not destroy the individuality of the writers. It deals primarily with ideas, rather than with words. It suggests ideas to the mind of the writer, allowing him, generally, to clothe them in his own language.” Then, on page 157, Haley alleges,
[The writers of the original biblical manuscripts], while divinely guarded against any error in communicating religious truth, and against any materialerror in narrating matters of fact, were yet not preserved from trivial errors, defects of memory, and the like, which occasionally appear in their writings.
Greg L. Bahnsen and many other Christian biblical scholars strongly disagree with Haley with regard to his perspective about “trivial errors, defects of memory, and the like.” Bahnsen states on page 152 of Inerrancy,
In accord with the promise of Christ, [the Holy] Spirit sent from heaven to inspire the preaching of the gospel guided the apostles into all truth (John 16:13). As the Spirit of truth He would not generate error in the life-giving good news of Christ as publicized by the apostles; their message was made inerrant. Furthermore, the apostles spoke words taught by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:12-13), and the Spirit speaking them directed both what was said and how it was said (cf. Matt. 10:19-20). Therefore, according to Scripture’s own witness, the verbal form and content of the apostolic publication of the gospel message should be deemed wholly true and without error.
Because of their divine origin the Scriptures are entirely trustworthy and sure. . . . The Scriptures are the standard of trustworthiness. . . . Their accuracy extends to every minute detail. . . . Every single word of the Bible is . . . infallibly true. God’s own declaration is: “I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:19).
It should be noted that Bahnsen places a limitation, or qualification, on the extent of his previous statements. On pages 155-156 of Inerrancy, he says, “[T]he view that has persisted throughout the centuries and is common among evangelicals today is that the inerrancy (or infallibility, inspiration) of the Scriptures pertains only to the text of the original autographa.”
Subsequently, on page 189, Bahnsen declares,
[T]here are those who would attempt to make much of the unprovable character of original inerrancy because the autographa are now gone. Since the original biblical manuscripts are not available for inspection, it is thought that taking them to have been without error is groundless speculation. After all, nobody today has actually seen these allegedly inerrant autographa. This criticism, however, misunderstands the nature and source of the doctrine of original inerrancy. It is not a doctrine derived from empirical investigation of certain written texts; it is a theological commitment rooted in the teaching of the Word of God itself. The nature of God . . . and the nature of the biblical books . . . require that we view the original manuscripts, produced under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit of truth, as wholly true and without error.
Carroll asserts on page 27 of his book, “God would not inspire a book and take no care of the book. His providence has preserved the Bible in a way that no other book has been preserved.”
Likewise, Bahnsen expresses the belief that the copies of the Bible that we have today satisfactorily represent the original documents. On pages 188-189 ofInerrancy he states,
The doctrine of original inerrancy, then, does not deprive believers today of the Word of God in an adequate form for all the purposes of God’s revelation to His people. Presupposing the providence of God in the preservation of the biblical text, and noting the outstanding results of the textual criticism of the Scriptures, we can have full assurance that we possess the Word of God necessary for our salvation and Christian walk. As a criticism of this evangelical doctrine, suggestions that the autographic text has been forever lost are groundless and futile. The Bibles in our hands are trustworthy renditions of God’s original message, adequate for all intents and purposes as copies and conveyors of God’s authoritative Word.
Many other Christian writers support this viewpoint. Frederic Kenyon, on page 23 of Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, asserts, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation, throughout the centuries.”
Johannes G. Vos, on page 659 in Volume 1 of The Encyclopedia of Christianity, says, “[W]e possess the text of the Bible today in a form which is substantially identical with the autographs.”
Gordon R. Lewis declares on page 192 of Inerrancy,
We can be assured that we possess the Word of God in our present Bible because of God’s providence; He does not allow His aims in revealing Himself to be frustrated. Indeed, the results of textual criticism confirm that we possess a biblical text that is substantially identical with the autographa.”
And on page 69 of his book, Draper says,
The miraculous thing is that the more we discover of ancient manuscripts, the more we discover that what we have is right. As far as the great eternal truths of the Bible are concerned, we have not discovered conflicts that alter the basic beliefs that we have. The Bible is the preserved Word. The same God who inspired it and revealed it has protected its transcription down to us.
References by Jesus Christ, his Apostles, and other writers of the New Testament documents to what was recorded in Old Testament manuscripts substantiate the credibility of the copies of those manuscripts. According to Bahnsen, on page 161 of Inerrancy, these men had “confidence in God’s providential preservation of the copies and translations as substantially identical with the inspired originals.”
Similar scriptural substantiation of the credibility of the copies of the New Testament documents is not available. However, since God inspired all scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), it is reasonable to conclude that He did what was necessary to assure the integrity of the New Testament writings. With specific regard to the copies of the New Testament that we have today, B.B. Warfield, on pages 12-13 and 14-15 of Introduction to Textual Criticism, avers,
[I]f we compare the present state of the New Testament text with that of any other ancient writing, we must . . . declare it to be marvelously correct. Such has been the care with which the New Testament has been copied – a care which has doubtless grown out of true reverence for its holy words – such has been the providence of God in preserving for His Church in each and every age a competently exact text of the Scriptures. . . .
The great mass of the New Testament . . . has been transmitted to us with no, or next to no, variation; and even in the most corrupt form in which it has ever appeared, to use the oft-quoted words of Richard Bentley, “the real text of the sacred writers is competently exact; . . . nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost. . . .”
Carroll, on page 114 of his book, argues, “[I]f God inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul to give us a record of the life and work and office of Jesus Christ, then Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul must be in accord. There can be no contradictions between them. . . .”
However, the copies of the Bible that we have today do have some errors. In this regard, Geisler and Thomas Howe, M.A., in their book entitled When Critics Ask, state on page 23,
When critics . . . come upon a genuine mistake in a manuscript copy, . . . they assume it was in the original inspired text of Scripture. They forget that God only uttered the original text of Scripture, not the copies. Therefore, only the original text is without error. Inspiration does not guarantee that every copy of the original is without error. Therefore, we are to expect that minor errors are to be found in manuscript copies.
Roger R. Nicole and J. Ramsey Michaels believe that, although copies of the original manuscripts of the Bible differ somewhat from the original manuscripts, they don’t differ significantly. Therefore, they regard the copies as being trustworthy. On page 77 of their book entitled Inerrancy and Common Sense, they declare,
The Bible has been inspired to provide for us a message relating to spiritual matters and on that account the measure of uncertainty which has been introduced by the presence of variants (e.g., deterioration in minute details; change in word order) does not really impair the authority of the Scripture. It can be said that copies of the Bible are inerrant to the extent that they agree with the original, and by all reasonable constructions, this extent is very considerable.
What about apparent discrepancies between biblical passages? Given the foregoing information regarding God’s inspiration of the Bible, it would be appropriate to assume that further insight would facilitate interpretation and reveal that the apparent discrepancies are reconcilable. Haley states emphatically on page 3 of his book, “[W]e must guard against the conclusion that, since we cannot solve certain difficulties, they are therefore insoluble.”
Likewise, on page 15 of When Critics Ask, Geisler and Howe assert,
[T]he Christian scholar approaches the Bible with the . . . presumption that what is thus far unexplained is not therefore unexplainable. He or she does not assume that discrepancies are contradictions. And, when he encounters something for which he has no explanation, he simply continues to do research, believing that one will eventually be found.
And, on page 145 of his book entitled Is the Bible True?, Allen Bowman, Ph.D., cautions,
Patient, impartial examination of supposed contradictions is essential. Jumping to conclusions about them is never profitable. It is especially important to suspend judgment when full evidence is not available. It is a mistake to conclude that because we cannot solve a given problem, the problem is insoluble – At best our information is spotty. The available evidence points strongly to the conclusion that if our knowledge were complete the consistency of the Word of God would be apparent throughout.
In determining what is meant by the term biblical inerrancy, it is important to understand that the term applies to only the original manuscripts of what has been translated or paraphrased into many versions of the Bible. However, it is reasonable to believe that God has done what is necessary to assure the basic integrity of His Word and, therefore, the generally-accepted Christian versions of the Bible satisfactorily represent what was stated in the original manuscripts.
[Note: For a discussion of the significance of biblical inerrancy, see our article entitled “The Importance of Biblical Inerrancy.” And, for evidence regarding the credibility of the Bible, see our article entitled “Is the Bible Reliable?”]