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Biblical inerrancy

Description. Associated terms. Biblical inspiration.

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Description of biblical inerrancy:

Followers of many religions believe that their own sacred texts are inerrant. This is particularly true within the conservative wings of the world's major religions. For example:

bulletFundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestants generally believe the entire Bible to be inerrant. Their belief in inerrancy is based, in part, on 2 Timothy 3:16 which states that the Scriptures are "God-breathed."

bulletMuslims generally believe the Qur'an to be dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel, with words that came from Allah. Thus, it is inerrant.

bulletMembers of the Baha'i Faith believe that the writings of their founder, Baha'u'llah, are inerrant.

However, there are exceptions. For example:

bulletThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes four canonized scriptures: the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Many Mormons consider them to be inerrant in their original form: However, the Church does not teach that the Bible is the Will of God. It teaches that the Bible contains the Will of God. "...the Bible makes no claim to absolute inerrancy, and in fact specifically repudiates this notion." 1

Since the religious texts of various religions and denominations differ greatly from one another, only one of them (at most) can be truly inerrant. The rest must contain at least some errors.

Terms associated with biblical inerrancy:

There are a number of additional Christian terms that are often used in connection with "Inerrancy:"

bullet"Plenary" means that the Scriptures are sufficiently complete and adequate to communicate God's will to mankind.
 
bullet"Infallible" means that the Bible passages "never deceive nor mislead." They can be relied upon.
 
bullet"Authoritative" means that the Bible, as the expression of God's will to us, defines what we are to believe and how we are to conduct ourselves." Steven Ibbotson states: "The Bible is authoritative because it is God's inspired word to humanity." 5 From these beliefs logically flow that it is "binding on all people." Everyone will eventually have to "give an account for how they lived in light of its teaching." 2 This concept has obvious difficulties when it is applied to persons who have never heard of Jesus, the gospel, the Bible, or perhaps even Christianity itself.
 
bullet"Autograph copies" refer to the original, hand-written copies of the books of the Bible. It is important to remember that none of the original copies exist. We only have access to copies of copies of copies of.....
 
bullet"Inspiration" is the belief that God monitored the authors of the Bible and prevented them from making errors in their writings. More details

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The linkage between biblical inspiration and inerrancy:

The two beliefs that:

bulletGod inspired the authors of the Bible and that

bulletThe Bible is inerrant,

are closely related. One flows logically from the other. If one is not true it is difficult to conceive of a way in which the other would be true.

bullet Liberal Christians generally believe that the authors and redactors of the Bible were not directly inspired by God, and that they wrote material that contains errors. They based their writing on their own life experiences and the findings of science. Their writings reflect their personal:

bulletKnowledge about events in their past, which would have had many inaccuracies.
 
bulletKnowledge of ancient stories, legends, and myths. These would have been of questionable accuracy. Some would have been passed down and/or adsorbed from nearby Pagan cultures.
 
bulletKnowledge about the nature of the universe, the nature of human sexuality, etc. This would have been often in error because the writers lived in a pre-scientific age.
 
bulletCustoms based on ancient Hebrew and Jewish culture which may or may not reflect the will of God -- either then or today.
 
bulletBeliefs about the nature, expectations, location, attributes, etc. of God, and his will for humanity. These beliefs would differ among the various authors.

Since the authors were able to rely only on upon their personal experiences and understanding, one would expect that the Bible would be errant. For example:
bullet Some of the writings would describe probably describe mythical individuals who never lived.
 
bulletSome would describe events that never happened or which happened differently from what was written.
 
bulletThe Mosaic Law would have reflected only the beliefs of the writer(s) of the Pentateuch. They were not laws delivered to humanity by God.
 
bulletOne would expect that the moral, ethical, spiritual, and religious teachings found in Bible passages would show differences of opinion and a gradual evolution of belief over the ten centuries during which the books of the Bible were written.
 
bullet Some of the passages could be expected to violate the will of God at the time they were written or now.

Most liberal Christians find that their interpretation of biblical passages demonstrates all of these expectations.
 

bulletConservative Christians generally believe that the authors and redactors of the Bible were inspired by God, and that they wrote material that was error-free.

bulletSince God inspired the authors, they must have written inerrant text. Otherwise, God would have been in error or lying when he influenced the text. Being prone to error is not a normally accepted attribute of God.
 
bulletSince the Bible is inerrant and since the authors of the Bible were only human beings, they must have been inspired by God. Otherwise their writing would have contained errors due to human fallibility.

Since the authors were inspired and their writings inerrant then one would expect that:
bulletThe Bible would reflect the will of God for humanity.
 
bulletSince God does not change, the Bible would be consistent and all of the passages can be harmonized with each other. One can use one or more passages to interpret another.
 
bulletThe Biblical themes would show an amazing consistency from Genesis to Revelation.

Most conservative Christians find that their interpretation of biblical passages demonstrates all of these expectations.

It appears that ones belief about the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible profoundly influences how one interprets biblical passages. There is little hope of agreement between the various wings of Christianity until a consensus is reached on the concepts of inerrancy and inspiration.

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Related essay in this web site:

References:

  1. Barry R. Bickmore, "Does the Bible claim to be 'inerrant'?" The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, at: http://www.fairlds.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  2. Dave Miller, "Why I Believe in the Inerrancy of the Scriptures" http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/1992/4/
  3. Wayne Jackson, "Evidence for Bible Inspiration," Reason and Revelation 3, (1983-FEB), Pages 7-10.
  4. Millard J. Erickson, "Christian Theology," Baker, (1985), Page 241.
  5. Steven Ibbotson, "Biblical Authority," Prairie bible Institute, (2000), at: http://instructor.pbi.ab.ca/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2012-AUG-01

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