The Inerrancy of the Bible

Some in this generation are rejecting the Bible as God’s Word, because they assume that the Bible is filled with so many obvious discrepancies and errors, it would be impossible to believe it has a divine origin. They will ask such questions as: “How can you possibly believe a book that’s full of errors?” Or they will claim: “Well, everybody knows the Bible has errors. You know, being so old and has to.”

How can people learn to trust the Bible as the inerrant Word of God? How can students of the Bible accept it as inspired when they are told they cannot know which parts of the Bible to believe or not believe? Skeptics attack the Bible claiming its prophecies have failed, its history is not historical, its science is unscientific, its stories are myths, its facts are fables, its “truths” are not trustworthy. Historical inaccuracies, internal contradiction, or factual errors of any sort would leave us without confidence. In fact, without confidence in the Bible being God’s Word how can one accept its authority for their lives or accurately explain the Will of God.

Stephen T. Davis wrote, “I believe that the Bible is or ought to be authoritative for every Christian in all that it says on any subject unless and until he encounters a passage which after careful study and for good reason he cannot accept.” (Stephen T. Davis, The Debate About the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 116). This makes every individual reader the authority over the Bible based on their subjective reasoning.

Attacks on the Credibility of the Bible

In their interesting book, Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs, George Gallup Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay addressed the shift in the attitudes of Americans toward the Bible. They stated: “More Americans are moving toward an interpretation of the Bible as a book of fables, history, and moral precepts. …Attempts at demythologizing the Bible that have been ongoing in the academy for years seem to be moving more and more from the classroom to the pews…. As recently as 1963, two persons in three viewed the Bible as the actual word of God, to be taken literally, word for word. Today, only one person in three still holds to that interpretation” (1999, p. 36).

Assaults on the veracity of the Bible have been going on for centuries, if not millennia. In 1800, the French Institute in Paris had issued a list of eight-two errors in the Bible which they believed would destroy Christianity. The famous French atheist Voltaire wrote, “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” The American atheist Robert Ingersoll in a speech in 1881 said, “The inspiration of the Bible depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it” (quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations).

Biblical Claim of Inerrancy

The Bible claims verbal and plenary inspiration. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, (2 Tim. 3:16). The Greek term for “inspiration” literally means “God-breathed or “form the mouth of God.” The Psalmist declared, “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psalm 119:160). God’s words are not only true individually but also viewed together as a whole they are true.

The prophets of the Old Testament clearly believed their writings came from God. David claimed, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Isaiah wrote, “And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'” (Is. 51:16). Likewise Jeremiah declared, “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9). The phrases “Thus saith the Lord” or “The word of the Lord came to me saying…” occur at least 600 times in the Old Testament. All the writers of the Old Testament understood that they were reiterating not their words but God’s words.

Jesus unquestionably believed Scripture to be inerrant. “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Mt. 5:18). “If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken)” (Jn. 10:35).

The Authors of the New Testament books and letters claimed to be inspired. The apostle Paul declares in 1 Cor. 2 that his speech is the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” and the “wisdom of God” (2:4,7). He explains that what he says is “not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (2:13). Peter wrote, “But the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:25). They must have been either lying or insane or both. If this was written by deceiving fanatics, then what hope is there for ever finding meaning and purpose in this world?

Law of Non-Contradiction

The law of non-contradiction, which is the basis of all logical thinking, states that a thing cannot be both “A” and “non-A” at the same time, in the same place, and in the same manner. It cannot be both snowing and not snowing at the same time in the same location, or “A” does not equal “non-A”. Saying, “Jesus died by crucifixion both at Jerusalem and at Nazareth at the same time” would be a contradiction.

However, two statements can differ from each other without being contradictory. Something is contradictory when “either of two propositions related in such a way that it is impossible for both to be true or both to be false.”

The Bible says that God cannot contradict Himself. “God ..who cannot lie” (Tit. 2:2). “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:17,18). Therefore if the Bible is God’s Word it must be inerrant.

The Bible is either the inerrant Word of God or else it is an imperfect writing by fallible men. All Scripture is from God and partakes of his perfection or a big lie. Therefore, the Bible cannot contain error. Josh McDowell: “If every utterance in the Bible is from God and God is a God of truth, … then the Bible must be wholly truthful, or inerrant … An attack on the inerrancy of the Bible is an attack on the character of God” [The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 338].

Original Manuscripts Were Inerrant

Why are there mistakes or variation in some manuscripts? Did the human authors make mistakes? Did they misunderstand God’s inspiration in some cases? Or, did mistakes creep in later during copying and translating?

The original text of the Bible does not teach any error. Inerrancy is claimed only for the original manuscripts (autographs) of all the Biblical books and not for later copies or translations of them.  “..the wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.” (John A.T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1977), 36). Certainly no such thing as an infallible English or French or Spanish etc. translation of the Bible.

Most textual differences, such as spelling differences, do not affect the message being communicated in the Bible.  Recent discoveries of Biblical texts show that the Bible is substantially the same as when it was written; for example: the Dead Sea scrolls. The Bible is still in agreement with the earliest manuscripts on all issues, despite thousands of years of copying and translating.

Many Bible difficulties result from a minor error on the part of a copyist in the transmission of the text. Errors in the Old Testament have resulted from the poor reading of the vowels; Hebrew was originally written in consonants only.

Variations exist among the different manuscripts. The alternative readings listed in the footnotes of your Bible are not contradictions. They are simply instances in which translators were unsure of the correct reading. Acts 7:16 says that the sepulcher of Shechem, where Joseph was buried, was brought by Abraham. In comparing Joshua 34:32 with Genesis 23:2-20 and 33:19, we see that Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah, whereas the field of Shechem was purchased by Jacob.

Overwhelming manuscript evidence exists demonstrating the New Testament has not been corrupted from its original form. All four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life were written within the time of the apostles who walked and talked with Jesus. All four of these Gospels are found in the Chester Beatty Papyri written in about 250 AD. They speak to the perfect accuracy and preservation of the Gospel for the past two thousand years. Over 5,300 manuscripts from the second to the fifteenth centuries all affirm the preservation of the New Testament. The John Ryland Fragment dated between 117-138 AD shows that the verses from John 18 have not been corrupted. Even if the New Testament had been corrupted by subsequent generations the 86,000 quotations of the New Testament by early Christian writers would have exposed this corruption and could be used to restore an accurate copy.

Only God could produce an inerrant book. “To err is human” but to fail to err would be Divine. If the Bible is an integrated whole that contains no contradictions, errors of fact, or inconsistencies among its various human writers, it must be from God.

– Daniel R. Vess

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