Is the Bible Inerrant?

Erwin Lutzer
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I believe that the Bible, as it was written in the original manuscripts, is the infallible and inspired Word of God. What does this mean? And what does it not mean?

Inerrancy and Infallibility

First, we mean much more than that the Bible is free from error. It might be possible for a historian to write a history of Rome that is accurate, yet the author claims no special inspiration from God. Thus, the Bible is not only accurate, but also the “breath of God,” coming to us endued with a power that is not the property of other books. In short, the Bible carries the authority of God.

Second, we mean much more than simply that the Bible is an inspiring book. We have all read novels or poetry that have inspired us. Through these means we have been given moments of insight, emotional energy, and a vista of new ideas. But when we speak of the inspiration of the Bible, we mean something else.

Parts of the Bible might not inspire us at all; indeed, there are whole chapters that might appear irrelevant and dull. This does not diminish the fact that the Bible is the Word of God. The question is not whether the message is exciting, whether we feel good about it, or even whether it changes our lives. The question is, Is the message presented true? Does it come with God’s signature?

Third, it means more than simply saying that the Bible is inspired in matters of doctrine, but not in matters of science and history. Some scholars have insisted that the Bible is inspired when pointing toward Christ, but may contain contradictions and errors in matters of lesser importance.

Such reasoning is wrongheaded. As we shall point out later in more detail, the historical and the doctrinal matters are interwoven and can’t be separated. Is the resurrection of Christ a historical event? Or is it a matter of doctrine too? Obviously, it is both. What is more, if we cannot trust the Bible in matters of history, why should we trust it in matters of doctrine? In fact, we shall argue that the reliability of the Bible in earthly matters gives us confidence to believe the Bible in heavenly matters.

Fourth, we must understand that the very words of Scripture are important. We cannot say, as some have, that the ideas are inspired but the words are not. Linguistic analysis has demonstrated that every genuine word carries a genuine meaning; a wrong word, therefore, carries a wrong meaning. No wonder Christ said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished”(Matthew 5:18).

Often the writers of Scripture were free to choose their own words, as long as the meaning of those words was within the bounds of truth. This explains why different words might be used to explain the same event. Matthew, when describing the reaction of the disciples to Christ’s walking on the water, used the word proskuneo, meaning “to worship” (14:33). Mark, recording the same event, used the word existe-mi, which means “to be amazed” (Mark 6:51). Each word gives a different meaning, but both are accurate.

Obviously, since tape recorders were not available, the writers often recorded the gist of a conversation without pretending to write it down word for word. Inerrancy (that the Bible is without error) means only that there was a faithful representation of the content, not that the speeches were recorded verbatim or in full.

We must also keep in mind that a report can be imprecise and yet true. Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary gives the example, “My home is not far from my office” as a statement that is completely true, but imprecise. In the Bible, we sometimes find round numbers or approximations in measurements and battle figures.

Also, the authors of the Bible employed the language of description when speaking about scientific matters. We cannot say the writers of Scripture erred because they spoke of a sunrise, even though Copernicus taught us that what we call a sunrise is actually the earth rotating toward the sun. The authors of the Bible used the same descriptive language as a modern almanac. By speaking of the sunrise, the Bible does not teach that the sun goes around the earth.

Finally, we must keep in mind that infallibility (freedom from error) is applied only to the original manuscripts, the parchments upon which the Old and New Testament authors wrote their messages. What we have today are copies of copies, and hence it is possible that errors in transmission have crept into the text.

Why Does Inerrancy Matter?

Of what value is the doctrine of inerrancy if the original manuscripts no longer exist? The answer is not difficult to grasp. It is the inerrancy of the originals that makes the reconstruction of the original text so important. Thanks to careful scribes in centuries past and thoughtful scholars today, we can have before us a text that, for all practical purposes, reflects the original manuscripts. We can say with confidence that the Bible we hold in our hands is “The Word of God.”

“We can rejoice that we have the undiluted message of God in our hands”

Think of it this way. Suppose a schoolteacher were to receive a letter personally written and signed by the president of the United States. She is excited to share the letter with her pupils so asks them to record it in their notebooks, word for word. Then, let us suppose the letter is lost and she must use her student notebooks to reconstruct the contents. She discovers that one student has two misspelled words, another misunderstood a phrase, and yet another missed the last word of a sentence. Yet with the notebooks in front of her, would anyone deny that she has the resources to essentially reconstruct the contents of the president’s letter? Precisely because each word of the letter came from the president, the attempt to get all of the words accurate is a very important task.

We Can Be Confident

If you have ever looked at a Hebrew Old Testament or the Greek New Testament, you will see numerous footnotes indicating variations in the text (many of these are found in the margins of English Bibles too). Please keep in mind that the manuscripts of the Bible have been carefully copied, and from these copies other copies have been made. Some were copies made in the same language; others were translations. Today, centuries later, we have thousands of copies of various ages and degrees of accuracy. Obviously, there are bound to be innumerable variations among these later manuscripts. Most of them have to do with spelling and word order.

But the good news is that each variation can be evaluated, based on careful scholarship and painstaking comparisons. Virtually no variations would affect doctrinal matters. No credible scholar would dispute the fact that the content of the Bible we have in our hands is essentially that found in the original manuscripts.

Thanks to archaeology, the discovery of ancient manuscripts (like the Dead Sea Scrolls), and the study of textual criticism, we can be more confident than our forefathers that we do indeed have, for all practical purposes, the contents of those original texts. With all due allowance for human error in copying, we can rejoice that we have the undiluted message of God in our hands.

For Further Reading:

7 Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible

by Erwin Lutzer

Can you trust the Bible? Many answer this question with a staunch No! Critics increasingly attempt to poke holes in the authority of...

book cover for 7 Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible