In the last couple hundred years I am not sure if any doctrine of Scripture has come under more attacks from secular society than the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Non-Christians have questioned the authenticity of God’s Word and many have been vocal and hostile about it.
Why make such a fuss about inspiration and inerrancy? Charles Ryrie writes, “The doctrine of inspiration is not something theologians have forced on the Bible. Rather it is a teaching of the Bible itself, a conclusion derived from the data contained in it. And whatever one may think of the Bible, it, like any other witness, has the right to testify on its own behalf” (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 76)
With that said, let’s look at the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. Some books separate these two topics, but for the sake of simplicity I have combined them.
Photo Credit: Justin Lowery
Bibliology: Inspiration and Inerrancy
Here’s a few basic definitions of inspiration to get us started.
“God carried men along so that they wrote His message in the Bible.” (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 81)
“Scripture’s very words are God’s words” (Holsteen and Svigel, Exploring Christian Theology, vol. 1, 27)
A. Why Scripture Was Given
The best known and often memorized verses about the inspiration of Scripture are 2 Tim 3:16-17:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NLT)
A couple of key points are made in these two verses.
1. All Scripture
First, “all” Scripture is inspired by God. This includes the Old Testament that had already been written and canonized, the New Testament Gospels which were being written at the same time as Paul’s letter to Timothy, and includes all Scripture written after this death (Hebrews, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation).
Second, Scripture is “inspired” by God. Or, a better translation is the NIV which reads that all Scripture is “God-breathed.” Literally, the source is God. He is the source and delivers it through human authors. Scripture is the Word of God.
Third, Scripture has a practical element. It is not just so that we know who God is; it is supposed to change how we live. And that’s why we should read it, memorize it, study it, and apply it daily.
B. Where It Came From
I used to wonder when reading the book of Revelation if those “visions” that John records were just bizarre things John saw while exiled to the island of Patmos. Yet, the apostle Peter tells us where Scripture comes from.
“We have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19–21, NLT)
The point Peter is making seems clear: no prophecy came from the prophet’s own understanding or human origin. Instead, God spoke directly to the prophets.
C. Who Brought the Scripture
It is clear above that the origin of Scripture is from God. But how was it delivered to us? Paul reveals that in his letter to the Corinthian believers. Through the Holy Spirit the prophets spoke from God.
“But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–13, NLT)
God the Father-by the Holy Spirit-is how Scripture was delivered.
- God is the source.
- The words are the product.
- The Holy Spirit is the agent.
Inerrancy is the doctrine that states that the Bible does not say anything that is contrary to fact. Or, another way to speak about inerrancy is that the Bible speaks truthfully and correctly about everything that it speaks about. The Bible does not talk about everything, but everything it talks about is true.
Here’s a few other definitions:
“The Bible always tells the truth, and it always tells the truth about everything that it talks about.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 91)
“Because the Bible is the Word of such a God, we affirm that the Bible is wholly true and without error. It can be trusted in all that it teaches.” (Evangelical Convictions, 56)
But, someone might say, “Hey, isn’t the doctrine of inerrancy something that has been developed and invented to counter the arguments of liberal Christianity that say there are errors in the Bible?” The answer is no! “Inerrancy . . . has been the overwhelming view of the Christian church throughout its history and finds its clearest articulation in the orthodox, protestant, evangelical tradition” (Holsteen and Svigel, Exploring Christian Theology, vol. 1, 27). That’s a pretty strong statement, but true. Inerrancy is talked about more than it was hundreds of years ago because the doctrine has been challenged so strongly recently.
A. The Bible, in its original autographs, does not state anything that is contrary to fact.
In the Gospel of John Jesus prayed to God for his disciples, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 17:17, NLT). This short verse from our Lord Jesus Christ makes God’s Word equal to Truth. In other words, God’s Word is God’s Truth. Also see John 17:3; 2 Tim 3:16-17 above.
B. The Bible always tells the truth concerning everything that it affirms or denies.
Like I shared above, the Bible does not talk about everything in our world, but everything it talks about is true and perfect. I like Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection” (NLT). Among other verses I have listed above, God’s word proves true. Also see Pss 12:6; 119:96; 2 Tim 3:16-17.
C. The Bible is inerrant because of God’s nature (; John 7:28; 17:3; Rom 3:4; 1 John 5:20).
This point is not as explicit in the Bible as some of the other points. It is inferred. Because God is holy and perfect, if he speaks, those words are going to be holy and perfect.
“I publicly proclaim bold promises. I do not whisper obscurities in some dark corner. I would not have told the people of Israel to seek me if I could not be found. I, the Lord, speak only what is true and declare only what is right.” (Isaiah 45:19, NLT)
“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17, NLT)
God is good and perfect; therefore the words he speaks to us through the Bible are good and perfect. Also see John 7:28; Rom 3:4; 1 John 5:20.
D. The Bible describes itself as inerrant.
Some people would say that taking the Bible’s words about itself is circular reasoning and therefore is faulty. Yet, I believe that any witness deserves a chance to defend itself. So, let’s look at some of the passages where the Bible says that it does not contain any errors.
“And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered.” (John 10:35, NLT)
The Scriptures are God’s spoken words, are without error, and cannot be altered. Also see Matt 5:17-18; 24:35; John 10:35 [quotes Pss 82]; Matt 22:29-32 [quotes Exod 3:6]; 41-46 [quotes Pss 110:1].
E. Jesus made numerous historical affirmations for the reliability of Scripture.
Jesus’s teachings and actions in the four Gospels affirm that the Old Testament is true and perfect. He quotes the Old Testament and references the people as if everyone else understood the Old Testament to be true and without error. There are seven clear examples of this.
1. Adam and Eve
When some Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into a corner asking, “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?” (Matt 19:3), Jesus responded:
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’” (Matthew 19:4–5, NLT)
When confronted with a question, Jesus went directly to the Old Testament (Gen 1:26-27; 5:2) and quoted it as fact.
2. Cain and Abel
Late in Jesus’s ministry he criticized the religious leaders saying,
“As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar.” (Matthew 23:35, NLT; cf. Luke 11:51)
Jesus reaches all the way back to Gen 4:8 to show that the Old Testament was talking about real people and therefore was conveying the truth.
Matthew 24 is a rich chapter describing the rapture of the church and the return of Jesus Christ. When Jesus describes the conditions of the earth when he returns he states:
“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day.” (Matthew 24:37, NLT)
Again, Jesus reaches back to Gen 6:9-7:24 to affirm that the book of Genesis describes true events.
In John 8 Jesus was trying to tell people how to be freed of their sins and have life through him, yet the people weren’t getting it. After Jesus says that he is the Messiah they have been waiting for and that anyone who obeys his teaching will never die (John 8:51), the people listening to Jesus say he is possessed by a demon and he will die just like everyone else. Jesus responds,
“Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56, NLT)
Abraham was the father of the Israelite nation, so this was a big deal! He quotes Abraham back to them as someone who lived and actively waited for the Messiah.
5. Sodom and Gomorrah
In Luke 10 Jesus is sending out seventy-two people in parts to towns and places to heal the sick and tell them that the Kingdom of God is near (Luke 10:11). But if a town did not welcome the seventy-two, Jesus gave this warning:
“I assure you, even wicked Sodom will be better off than such a town on judgment day.” (Luke 10:12, NLT)
Again, Jesus reaches back to Genesis to reference the city of Sodom which you can find in Gen 19:24-25. Jesus again references Sodom in Luke 17:29.
Similar to Matthew 24, Jesus is describing in Luke 17 what the conditions of the earth will be like when he returns.
“And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—” (Luke 17:28, NLT)
Jesus says the world will be like the “days of Lot” when Jesus returns to the earth. Again, as I’ve shown several times before, Jesus is affirming that the Old Testament-specifically the book of Genesis-records correct and accurate information.
Among the best known references to the Old Testament is Jesus prophesying about his death, burial, and resurrection by referencing Jonah.
“For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” (Matthew 12:40, NLT)
This statement was a response to religious leaders who wanted Jesus to give a miraculous sign to prove his authority. For me, it is interesting that Jonah’s experience is often the most laughed at and criticized part of the Old Testament. Yet, Jesus makes it very clear here in Matt 12:40 and Luke 11:29-32 that Jonah was a real man, who experienced a literal three day time in the belly of a fish, and was thrown up out of the fish.
F. Paul made historical affirmations.
In addition to our Savior making references to the Old Testament that tell us the Bible is without error, Paul also made historical affirmations to the validity of the Old Testament. Among my favorites is in Paul’s letter to the Christians in the area of Galatia.
“God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say ‘to his children,’ as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says ‘to his child’—and that, of course, means Christ.” (Galatians 3:16, NLT)
This is a quote of Gen 22:17-18 in which God promises Abraham that Abraham would have a son and that through that son all of the nations would be blessed.
G. Jesus used the Bible to counter Satan in the temptations in the desert.
Furthermore, Jesus used the Bible while in the desert to counter Satan’s temptations to him.
“But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4, NLT, emphasis added)
“Jesus responded, ‘The Scriptures also say, “You must not test the Lord your God.”‘”(Matthew 4:7, NLT, emphasis added)
“’Get out of here, Satan,’ Jesus told him. ‘For the Scriptures say, “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”” (Matthew 4:10, NLT, emphasis added)
In Jesus’s temptations he quotes from Deut 8:3 (Matt 4:4), Deut 6:16 (Matt 4:7), and Deut 6:13 (Matt 4:10).
H. A few more thoughts on inerrancy
These points on inerrancy are “inferred.” The Bible refers to itself as inerrant in the way that Jesus quoted the Old Testament, in how Paul referenced Scripture, and how the modern believers of the New Testament used the Bible to live their lives. I appreciate the thoughts from Svigel and Holsteen about how inerrancy is inferred from inspiration.
- God speaks truthfully (Num 23:19; Pss 31:5; Isa 65:16; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18).
- Therefore, God’s word are true (Pss 119:160; John 17:17).
- God spoke His words through Scripture (Acts 1:16; Rom 1:2).
- Scripture is the written Word of God (John 10:35; 2 Peter 1:19; cf. Rom 16:26).
- Therefore, Scripture is true (Svigel and Holsteen, Exploring Christian Theology, vol. 1, 28).
III. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. The Bible is my guidebook and trusted resource.
I have gone to extra lengths in this post to clearly and unapologetically explain the doctrines of inspiration and inerrency. With that said, we should see the Bible as our guidebook for life as Christians. It should be what we go to when we have questions and concerns in the Christian life. And, it should be trusted, not doubted.
B. God’s Word has implications and applications in my life that change as I change.
God’s message is true and does not change. However, how we apply it always changes.
I love cars and trucks. Even though they are many options of cars and trucks they all have the same basic structure and purpose: wheels and a motor used to transport people and things. As a young man I used to drive a small compact car to transport myself to and from work. Recently I purchased a small truck so I could haul large items for the house my wife and I purchased. Later if God blesses us with kids I might have to get something that holds more people to accommodate kids. All vehicles have wheels and a motor and are used to transport people and things. However, those wheels and motor have different uses at different times for different people.
A vehicle is kind of like Scripture. The Scripture has the same for form and purpose (like a vehicle has a motor with wheels that transports people and things), but how Scripture is used varies from person to person and situation to situation. God’s Word is applicable to my life in different ways over time.