In the first part, we read about the biblical basis for inerrancy. Now, we’ll unpack more about what inerrancy means and its implications in 3 categories:
(A) Self-revelation: God is truth
What is God? This first scriptural proposition is a fundamental one and is often overlooked because we often assume God. But it is important to start from this point. Gen 1:1 affirms 2 things – He created the heavens and the earth, and He did so “in the beginning”. Before anything existed, God was. In Exo 3:14, God also reveals Himself as the “I am”. God just is.
This means that God does not exist – in the way that we exist. Because to exist (lat. existere) means to come ‘out of’ (ex-) something. To stand (lat. stere) out of something. This is why God does not exist in the way that we do but in His fullness, God is pure Being. He says ‘I am who I am’ and ‘I will be who I will be’. So the proposition, and this is absolutely fundamental – is that God is. Gen 1 tells us that He was, Ex 3 tells us that He is, and Rev 22 tells us that He is to come.
The Bible tells us more things about God. It tells us that God cannot lie and His words are free from error (c.f. Num 23:19, 2 Sam 7:28, Prov 30:5, Titus 1:2). These are 2 different things and these are important. How gods are perceived to be shape the behavior of the worshippers. If your god is a wrathful god, you end up sacrificing all sorts of things to satisfy his wrath. If your god’s favour need to be sought, you will end up doing things to earn his favour.
Here, the Bible presents to us a God that is perfect, who cannot lie. He is also perfect in many ways – all-knowing, all-wise, all-capable, all- righteous and all-good. Since God exists as an entirely perfect, self-sufficient Being, in whom there is no sin, then it follows that He speaks nothing but truth.
There are only two ways by which you can say something that is untrue: you are either ignorant or you are lying. A person may either intend to speak the truth but not know it; or know the truth but not intend to speak it. Thus error comes about from a defective mind (not knowing enough) or a defective heart (not loving the truth). God does not suffer from either limitation, and therefore cannot speak untruth. His word must be true.
Now, if God were to lie as well as tell the truth interchangeably, His creatures will never be able to know which is which. Instead of clarity we would have confusion. Asking Him about it wouldn’t help either because if He were to lie He would tell us that the truth was falsehood and falsehood was the truth. This would be cruel and sadistic – quite like the character Loki in the Marvel universe. But God could not lie if He would, nor would He lie if He could. He could not be wrong if He would, and He would not be wrong if He could.
Inerrancy therefore has to do with the very character of God Himself. The claims that we make about the Bible are therefore bound up with the claims that we make about its author. To allege that there are inconsistencies and contradictions in a text implies that the author is deceitful, not concerned about truth, or ignorant. On the other hand, only an inerrant text can reliably point us to a trustworthy Author who cares about effectively communicating truth to His people. So the second thing that the bible affirms in our study is that God is Truth.
(B) Self-testimony: the word made flesh
The Bible also teaches us truths about its nature. 2 Tim 3:16 is a verse that most of you will be familiar with, and it tells us that all scripture is breathed out by God. In other words, Paul, when writing to Timothy, was making a clear assertion about the divine origin, or to use the theological term, the divine inspiration of all Scripture.
Peter in 2 Pet 1:20-21 gives us another perspective on this, telling us that Scripture is the word of God, spoken through man, by means of the Spirit of God. He emphasizes that no part of scripture comes as a result of human will or human interpretation. On this matter, you know for many centuries the vast majority of Christians accepted the Bible as the word of God. What they held to was a firm belief in 3 ‘ins’, namely that the Bible was inerrant (free of mistakes), infallible (could not be wrong on any subject), and inspired (God’s word given to us directly through the mouths and pens of chosen prophets).The belief in inspiration was grounded on 2 Tim 3:16, and supported by Jesus’ claim in John 10:35 that scripture could not be broken. Scripture testifies that it is indeed the word of God.
We’ve established that scripture is the word of God, and that God is truth. Scripture is therefore by implication, trustworthy. How does it then reach us?
Long ago and in many times and many ways, God spoke to us through the prophets (Heb 1:1-2). Prophets never spoke of their own authority. They would tell the people upfront that what they were proclaiming was the word of God. But the final revelation came through the Son. John 1:1 and John 1:14 tells us that the word which was from the beginning became man and dwelt among us. On the basis of these 2 verses, I suggest to you that any good test of inerrancy, whether you are a Christian or not, should start with the Person of Jesus Christ. Why is Jesus coming under scrutiny here? Well, apart from the fact that the whole of the bible points to Him, Jesus Himself taught inerrancy. How do we know this? When we see Him teaching in the synagogue, the OT scriptures are His source material. When we see Him reasoning with the Pharisees and rebuking them, He appeals to the OT as a common authority. “Have you not heard”? “Is it not written”?
It is clear that Jesus taught from Scripture. Now here is the implication. If Scripture is not inerrant and Jesus taught authoritatively from an errant source, He would either be a conman or a fool. He would be teaching falsehood, and that would make Him a sinner. And it only takes one sin, no matter how small; it only takes one sin to render Jesus an imperfect and ineligible sacrifice for our sins. He would have been a blemished lamb.
The implication of Christ sinning even once, based on some error in the OT that He overlooked – is that you and I don’t have a Saviour. And if that much falls apart, then everything else falls apart. Can you see how everything is bound up in the Person of Christ? Heb 1 affirms Him as the heir of all things. Colossians 1 proclaims His preeminence. And in the gospels, we see that He taught authoritatively from scripture, and in doing so, He affirmed that scripture must be true. He could only save us if He was sinless, and He was sinless only if all His teaching – including what He said about Scripture – is true. So we know from what has progressively been revealed to us, is that God speaks, He speaks clearly, and while for a period of time He spoke through the prophets, when the fullness of time had come, God spoke to us through Christ. God’s word comes to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.
If God has spoken through Christ, then we must examine His life and the claims that He made. On numerous occasions in the gospels, Jesus claimed to speak on the basis of His Father’s authority, which is essentially God’s authority. He also made a claim to being the truth, which is the highest possible claim to teaching authority. Here was a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was basically saying ‘I speak for God’, and ‘I am truth itself’.
Naturally, such a claim caused quite a few raised eyebrows back in the day. When Jesus claimed to be the Truth, He was making a claim that only God could make. This is why in the hardness of their hearts, the Pharisees and leaders were outraged, to the extent that they conspired to kill Him. And it is here that we see Jesus’ response to being questioned about his claims. How did Jesus respond? Jesus responds in a matter-of-fact manner. He taught in public places and invites His accusers to respond (Jn 18:19-23).
On the other side of crucifixion, Jesus also met with disciples who must have been feeling discouraged and devastated (Lk 24:19-35). This could be some of us right now, wrestling with doubt. But look at how Jesus responded. He graciously walked them through Scripture and interpreted Scripture for them. He taught them from Scripture. Notice how Jesus invited them to examine the claims in Scripture.
Later, in the book of Acts, we are told that the Bereans and others in the city too examined scripture, looked at its claims and “therefore believed” (Acts 17:10-12) . It was just a bunch of Jews who believed some folklore about their own culture, but others in that city, namely Gentile men and women of high standing believed as well. The gospel doesn’t “magically” convert. We still need the gift of faith. And the gospel will be offensive to some. But what are we to see here? Truth, by virtue of being truth, will bear itself out, as in the case of the Bereans. The proposition then is that examining the truth should reveal its trustworthiness, and lead to its acceptance. Jesus says in John 8:31-32 that “if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. It starts with abiding in God’s word, reading it, getting to know it, seeking to understand it.
Taken together, these scriptural propositions and affirmations show us the biblical case for inerrancy.
From scripture we know that God is, and that one of God’s attributes is that He is Truth.
We also know that God speaks, and that the Bible is God’s word.
Once upon a time God spoke through the Prophets, but when the fullness of time had come He gave His Word to us perfectly and completely in the Person of Christ.
Like the Prophets, Christ claimed to speak only on God’s authority and not His own. The difference is that Christ Himself claimed to be the Truth, which is a claim that only God can make.
That claim bore offence throughout Christ’s ministry, and He was persecuted, harassed, and subsequently arrested for it. Yet when He was interrogated, He did not seek to defend His honour out of pride or his well-being, but pointed His questioners to examine His truth claims for themselves.
We saw that when the truth is examined, it leads to acceptance, and by God’s grace, sometimes belief.
All of this demonstrates the nature of truth, the trustworthiness of scripture, and it leads us to start with scripture itself, namely in the Person of Christ.
(C) Inerrancy: Living under the authority of Scripture
Finally then, what does this mean? What are the implications of biblical inerrancy for the church, and for us?
Firstly, the church is to guard the deposit entrusted to it, follow the pattern of sound words, and entrust these sound words to other faithful men (1 Tim 6:2c-3, 20-21, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2). In other words, our churches should be guarding the Bible with utmost care. It means building the entire church life around the Bible and preaching faithfully from it. Churches are shaped by the Word. Therefore, our churches are not just places where we get feeding, download information and just go on our merry ways. The eloquence of the pastors, the wisdom of the elders, the eagerness of members do not give life to the church. All church life and ministry flows from the word. Therefore, our churches should be equipping members to read, learn and teach the Bible in order to know God in all aspect of life. If our churches don’t hold out and gather around Scripture, it is easy for us to drift and gather around tradition, human wisdom and also culture.
Finally, biblical inerrancy also has implications for us. If you do not hold to an inerrant view of the bible, if you don’t believe that the bible is true in all that it affirms, chances are you will not submit to its authority. This is for the simple reason that the truth of the bible and the authority of the bible are inextricably bound together, such that only truth can have the authority to determine belief and behavior, and authority is derived from truth. Which is also to say that the bible does not have any other authority apart from the fact that it is true, and it is the word of God. The very authority of the bible rests upon its origin and its inerrancy. Therefore if we cannot affirm the complete trustworthiness of the bible, how can we live our lives in obedience to the commands that God, its author, has set out in it? It is a slippery slope.
Similarly, if you confess to faith in Christ, but believe that there are inconsistencies and errors in scripture, then what is your faith ultimately built upon? Does it rest upon a God who claims to be truth but whose own grand revelation is inconsistent and self-contradictory? Or does it rest upon the trustworthiness of a God whose very nature is truth and does not, in fact cannot speak error.
It follows that there are 2 things from inerrancy that we can apply to our lives. We are to live our lives under the authority of the bible in obedience to Christ. (c.f. 1 John 2:3-6) Just as Christ submitted to the authority of scripture, so should we, if we claim to know Him and be in Him. All things necessary for our faith and practice have been revealed by God to us in the bible, and we should appeal to it as the sole authority in our Christian life. Having a high view of the bible therefore requires us to approach it in constant study, prayer, and also fellowship with other believers in order to determine what God is saying to us through His word.
Living under the authority of Scripture also means that we should be careful not to impose a higher standard of judgement upon it, such as our own reasoning. If the bible is what it says it is, then the implication of claiming that it is wrong or unapplicable in certain ways means that we are subjecting the word of God to the reason of man (sometimes even cultural presuppositions) and thereafter finding it invalid or errant. It means that we have to accept the trustworthiness of the bible as a whole, and we cannot pick and choose the rules we want to follow and those we don’t.
The second application, which is actually something that we should not do, is avoid wrestling with difficult parts of the bible. An inerrant bible, which basically claims absolute truth, naturally invites us, in our limited human understanding, to wrestle with it. What better reason to examine the bible and wrestle with what it says, than the fact that it claims to be absolute truth? But you have to approach the bible in order to wrestle with it. You can’t wrestle with it from a distance. And remember that while we won’t have all the answers, God does. So ask Him!
If you have not thought much about this topic, I would encourage you to consider it, wrestle with it, and ask yourself what is it that you believe about God from the bible? Does your faith rest on an understanding of who God is and what His word means? Can you trust what the bible says? My suggestion to you is that based on the same simple activity that we do week in week out, which is basically bible reading, God’s word points us towards a sound understanding of its very nature of being without error. Reading the Bible is a daily walk with God that we should pursue.
God’s word also gives us an encouraging word about Jesus’ response to doubt. After Jesus had died, Thomas the Twin said to his fellow disciples, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) Jesus’ response to doubting Thomas was to say, come and see the evidence for yourself. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27). So if you are in doubt, the Lord’s invitation to you today is to come to Him, come to His word, and come and see.
Here are some reflection questions to help you reflect too:
Do you struggle to read the bible for what it is? How does knowing that it is God’s word assure you?
How are you living out biblical inerrancy in your life? What are some obstacles to you doing so?
What can you do practically about biblical inerrancy in your church?