Inerrancy Doctrine, An Outline

A. Definition: Inerrancy–The Bible, in its autograph form, is true in all it asserts. And the translated copies of today are equally inspired insofar as they are translated correctly. (for a fuller treatment, see the Chicago Statement (1978).

B. Stipulations and Clarifications

  1. This allows for assertions of error as error or deception as deception (ex., David’s escapades with Bathsheba), just not error as truth or truth as error.
  2. Also, this does not extend with the same authority to the manuscripts, nor to chapter and verse divisions, or punctuation as these were all added later.
  3. Furthermore, 100% of the truth can reasonably be communicated through 99.9% accuracy in wording (A.T. Robinson’s number). This can be demonstrated below in the repetitions of the same line.

    You have won a new c*r.
    You have w** a new car.
    *ou have won a new car.

  4. The documentary evidence is much more reliable and extensive than even this brief illustration yet one can easily deduce what is being said.

C. The Logic of Inerrancy

  1. Version 1: From Theology Proper
  • God cannot err (presumed within Hebrew thought; defensible by theistic argumentation, IE: from holiness, from immutability, from infinitude, from goodness; Heb. 6:18; Matt. 5:48)
  • The Bible is God’s Word
  • Self-attestation is acceptable upon the grounds of historical and otherwise evidential verification of its  testable parts (which, a fortiori implies that it is true in its untestable parts).

2. Version 2: From Bibliology

  • 1,500 times the Bible asserts “Thus sayeth the Lord.
  • All Biblical references to itself as “Scripture” by definition indicate an assertion that it is the Word of God for the term “Scripture” is translated from the Greek word grafe’–”the words” (Matt. 21:42; 22:29; 26:54; Mark 12:24; 14:49; Luke 24:27, 32, 45; John 5:39; 10:35; Acts 17:2, 11; 18:24, 28; Rom. 1:2; 15:4 1 Cor. 15:3,4; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 3:16)
  • Hence, the Bible is without err.

D. Historical Proofs: The Biblical authors are to be trusted according to the principle of embarrassment, the principle of fear, and, to a lesser extent, the principle of multiple attestation.

E. Inerrancy is consistent with the Manuscript evidence (See above Question)

  1. More Manuscripts: almost 6,000 Ancient Greek Manuscripts and 24,000 in all w/ other languages. The multiplicity of manuscripts allows for a tremendous research base by which we can test the texts against each other and identify what the originals said.
  2. Older Manuscripts: All of the originals were written within the time of the contemporaries (eyewitnesses), in the first century. And we currently have manuscript parts as old as 125 AD. Whole book copies surface by 200 AD. And the complete NT can be found dating back to 250 AD. Having all the books of the New Testament initially written within the times of eyewitnesses means that they did not have time to fall into myth and folklore plus their truth claims were held accountable by active persecution and by members of the Church who, as personal witnesses to the events, could check the facts. Almost 20,000 (19,368) quotations from the early church Fathers from the Gospels alone attests to their early existence and distribution since some of them were even contemporaries of the eyewitnesses (like John in the late 1st cent).
  3. More Accurate Manuscripts: 99.9 % accuracy (most accurate of any complete antique book) John A.T. Robinson; Bruce Metzger–99.5%

F. Furthermore, Jesus affirmed the inspiration of the Old Testament

  1. OT Scripture is authoritative–hence, reliable and true (Matt. 19:4)
  2. OT Scripture is historically accurate (Matt. 19:8-9).
  3. OT Scripture is Relevant (Mark 12:29-31; Luke 16:29-31)
  4. The consistent witness of OT Scripture points to Christ (Matt. 1-3; Luke 24:27-43; John 10:39)
  5. OT Scripture is consistent with Jesus’ Testimony (Matt. 5:17-19)
  6. Plenary Inspiration–The Old Testament is true down to the very tense of verbs (Matt. 23:32-33).
  7. Mosaic Authorship challenging the documentary hypothesis (Mark 7:10; 10:3 12:26; John 5:45-46)
  8. Human authorship (Isaiah [Luke 4:17; Matt. 15:7])
  9. Scripture must be fulfilled, since God’s word cannot fail (Mark. 14:49).
  10. God’s word is unbreakable (John 10:35).
  11. The term Jesus uses “Scripture” is a translation of grafe’ meaning “the words.” “Scripture” as a term it is a Hebrew convention which implicitly asserts divine authorship (John 10:35).

G. Conclusion: Therefore, since Scripture is to be considered inspired insofar as it is accurately translated, it can be safely said that today’s English translations, having such a quality pool of manuscript source material, are inspired.

H. Rebuttals:

  1. “The Bible has been translated and retranslated so many times, it’s hardly reliable or true anymore”–inerrancy refers to the original manuscripts, not to copies, but even then, to the extent that a text is translated correctly it can still be free off error, conveying truthfully the meaning of the text even if full semantic force of a term or phrase may not come entirely across in translation.
  2. “Inerrancy is a new doctrine.”–If the above arguments are sound, then inerrancy was accepted all the back to Jesus’ day. Just because the term inerrancy is a modern English invention doesn’t mean that Jesus or the early church thought their Scriptures were errant. Moreover, it’s a logical fallacy (ad anum) to appeal to age as if “new” somehow means false, or “old” somehow means true. Even if inerrancy were a new concept, if it’s true then it doesn’t matter when or where it originated.
  3. “Inerrancy is a protestant/evangelical invention”–This is flatly false. Catholics acknowledge other inspired sources including he Holy See/Church Tradition/Apolostolic authority, so they deny the doctrine of sola Scriptura. But Catholics and Protestants (and Eastern Orthodox) equally affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. See here for further explanation.
  4. “Individual disputed texts like the last verses in Mark or the story of the woman caught in adultery flatly disprove inerrancy”–Biblical scholars readily admit “problem” passages where it’s difficult to tell whether and where they were in the earliest manuscripts. Inerrancy isn’t terribly threatened however because (a) these serious problem passage are fairly few in number (5 or less disputed passages 2+ verses long), (b) none of them broach a core doctrine threatening the established and accepted passages, (c) on a case by case basis each of these problem passages can be explained. For example, some scholars think the last verses in Mark were true, but non-Scriptural, additions from a later scribe, in which case, inerrancy would describe the whole passage even though inspiration would only describe the shorter version.
  5. “There are over 30,000 textual variants thus disproving inerrancy.”–This number is easily inflated depending on how one counts the variants–is each alternate spelling counting? Is each difference-in-meaning counted? Is each variant counted individually or is each passage counted when it’s known to have variants? In the age of hand-copying whole books, textual variants are common and could be expected even if the original autographs were inerrant, we have no reason to expect the copies to be wholly free of these variations. Moreover, many of these are misspellings, alternate spellings, changes in word order which means little in Greek and Hebrew, though it would mean a lot in English. These pose no serious threat to inerrancy since variations in the manuscripts are to be expected even if there were a perfect inerrant autograph. Lastly, each variant can be addressed case by case. Sometimes we can’t tell which variant is most likely to have traced back to the original autograph. Usually, however, the critical scholar can identify what the original text said precisely because there are so many manuscripts–with variations and all–which serve in crossreferencing purposes.
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