In this study, we’ll look at the doctrine of inerrancy which actually runs throughout the Bible. This doctrine basically answers the question of whether or not the Bible that we have is trustworthy, whether it is wrong or inaccurate on certain things, and how then should we read the Bible. In this first part, we’ll examine the biblical basis for inerrancy.
Perhaps some of us wonder if everything that the Bible says is accurate. And when it comes to this doctrine, others may be thinking, isn’t inerrancy just another theological term? How is it relevant or important to me? But inerrancy is important for at least 2 reasons. The first reason is because your salvation (and mine) hinges on it. Our salvation depends on the trustworthiness of this book and everything that it claims. This book is the reason why you and me are Christians today. If this book was not preached to you in hearing or in print, we would not be Christians. Salvation is by faith, but Rom 10:17 also tells us that faith comes from hearing. We are not Christians because we have been born into a Christian family or were baptized as a baby. We are Christians because we heard of the good news and
And the second reason is that if we do not hold to the inerrancy of the Bible, we will not submit to His authority, and that will greatly impact the way we live our lives as Christians.
But first we need some definitions.
We all know what an error is, but what is inerrancy? Quite literally, it means that something is not errant, in other words there is no error. I’m sure you may have heard the accusation that the Bible is inconsistent and full of contradictions and therefore cannot be true. That often tends to be an external accusation – meaning that it is usually, but not exclusively, made by people who are not Christians. On the surface, it can sound rather persuasive – surely a book that makes such claims has to be wrong in some parts. There are other questions that may sound familiar – “Doesn’t the Bible say that God is good? How can a good God condemn people to hell?” or “If God is so powerful, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?”
It is okay for a Christian to wrestle with these doubts and questions. By no means are Christians expected to have an A-Z list of answers to every single one of life’s mysteries. But two things – firstly a Christian should know where to find the answers, and secondly, that by spending time reading God’s word and getting to know God, we will eventually be brought to a knowledge of the truth insofar as God has deemed it necessary to reveal to us. What is most important is the attitude of our hearts when asking these difficult questions. What are we really trying to get out of asking them? Often, in the absence of a spirit of humility, what is phrased as an innocuous query is really an accusation bordering on arrogance. Such questioning is not unique to our time.
Gen 3:1 records for us the words of the serpent. It wasn’t just an innocent question. This adversarial accuser of God in Genesis shows us what is prevalent in our culture today. God’s Word has come under attack over the years and in different means. What Western civilization calls the age of reason gave rise to many good things, things that are useful for the flourishing of mankind, but also created all kinds of philosophical persuasions. A less desirable outcome was that man ended up turning away from God as the reason for existence and towards his own rationality, seeking to account for everything in naturalistic terms. So-called Christian scholarship began to question everything, such as the Bible, the historicity of Jesus, whether Jesus was married, whether Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, and a whole bunch of other stuff. The net result today is that we have all sorts of liberal theological positions that mix truth with error, and resulting in mass confusion in the church.
At the same time in our world today, we’re living in a post-truth culture. As its name suggests, post-truth suggests that we have gone past truth. Everything is thought to be relative to something else and nothing can possibly be absolute. In this climate, the truth of the Bible is constantly being questioned and attacked. The great irony here, which is also a great tragedy, is that the vast majority of accusers have not actually read or examined the Bible.
Some Christians on the other hand hold to a position known as limited inerrancy. They believe that the Bible is correct on things that are of utmost importance, such as our salvation, but somewhere, somehow, maybe some of the lesser details are inaccurate, or maybe the bible’s teaching on certain issues is outdated. When you extrapolate such a position to the realm of biblical scholarship, seminaries end up producing liberal theologians and bible scholars who themselves assert that the biblical writers may have gotten some things wrong. They put forth reasoned arguments that discredit certain claims or events that are described in the bible, or try to explain away miracles by means of natural phenomena or the natural sciences. The fact that miracles could possibly be explained by natural phenomena does not negate the fact that God is sovereign over the realm of nature and the laws of nature are at His very disposal. In all these situations, the common thread is that there is somehow some degree of inaccuracy or error in the things that the Bible says. So what then is inerrancy? What do we mean when we say that the Bible is without error?
From the Ligonier statement, inerrancy basically says that:
The Bible is without error or falsehood in all that it affirms or teaches. Inerrancy extends to the totality of the Bible.
The Bible is utterly truthful and completely trustworthy. The bible testifies to its own inerrancy.
The inerrancy of the Bible has implications for the entire life and practice of all Christians
When Christians submit to Christ out of obedience, we likewise submit to Jesus’ view of scripture as authoritative. Jesus himself taught inerrancy.
How to approach the study of inerrancy
There are 2 ways in which we can approach the doctrine of inerrancy – the first is extrinsic, that is to say, we can rationalize why the bible is trustworthy from an external point of view. If this book claims to be trustworthy in all that it teaches and affirms, we can apply historical, textual as well as philosophical analysis to determine if that is so. This is known as external validation.
The second approach, which we will adopt is to look at this intrinsically from the perspective of scripture. What does the bible say about itself? What does it tell us about God? What claims does it make? In doing so we will look at a series of propositions from scripture and for each proposition, we want to ask what is the point that the Bible is affirming here? And then we want to string those affirmations together to present the biblical case for inerrancy. In my view both the external validation approach and the scriptural approach are complementary, because they affirm one another and help ground us in our understanding of truth.
Lastly, there is application - if the Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms, what does that mean for us as Christians? Also, what does that mean for the churches that we go to? These are issues that we want to keep in mind and we will consider some of them in detail prior to closing.
Many, including this teacher, tend to wrestle a lot with issues of interpretation, history and chronology. We struggle with making sense of certain things or issues even though we know that it must have happened for God’s sovereign purposes. If you are a Christian here today that struggles with issues and doubts, you are not alone. There are others who are going through the same situation, many of whom may well be in this room. There are also others who have already gone through the same situation, and there are yet others who will go through this situation. So speak to other Christian brothers and sisters. Speak to your parents or your church leaders. Share your concerns and questions. Pray through them together. Ask God for wisdom and clarity. Most importantly read your Bible. This is what we set out to do, in the second part.