top of page

Infallibility and Absolute Inerrancy of Scripture, Really?

The Doctrine of Infallibility and Inerrancy

The doctrine of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture asserts that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is without error in all that it affirms, whether pertaining to doctrine, history, science, geography, or any other discipline. 2 Timothy 3:16 states, "All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness," indicating that the Bible is wholly reliable and authoritative.

However, many modern liberal scholars challenge this doctrine, asserting that the Bible contains errors and inconsistencies. This article will examine some of these claims and provide a conservative evangelical response, affirming the trustworthiness and inerrancy of Scripture.

Claims of Liberal Scholars

Liberal scholars often argue that the Bible is fallible and errant based on perceived contradictions, historical inaccuracies, and scientific discrepancies. These scholars include Bart D. Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and Richard Elliott Friedman, among others.

Bart D. Ehrman

Bart D. Ehrman, a well-known New Testament scholar, argues that the Bible is full of contradictions and textual alterations. In his book "Misquoting Jesus," Ehrman asserts that scribes who copied the biblical manuscripts made numerous changes, leading to significant textual variations. He claims these changes undermine the reliability of the New Testament.

John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan, a prominent member of the Jesus Seminar, argues that the Gospel accounts are not historically reliable. In his book "The Birth of Christianity," Crossan contends that the resurrection of Jesus is a metaphorical rather than a historical event. He suggests that the Gospel writers created narratives to convey theological truths rather than historical facts.

Richard Elliott Friedman

Richard Elliott Friedman, a biblical scholar known for his work on the Documentary Hypothesis, argues that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) is a composite work written by multiple authors over several centuries. In his book "Who Wrote the Bible?" Friedman claims that the inconsistencies and contradictions within the Pentateuch indicate it is not a unified, divinely inspired text.

Refuting the Claims of Liberal Scholars

While these scholars present their arguments, a closer examination reveals that their claims often rest on assumptions and interpretative biases rather than definitive evidence. Here, we address and refute their primary assertions.

Textual Variations and Inerrancy

Bart Ehrman's argument about textual variations does not necessarily undermine the doctrine of inerrancy. While it is true that scribes made changes to the manuscripts, the vast majority of these variations are minor and do not affect the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Textual criticism, the scholarly discipline that examines these variations, has demonstrated that we can reconstruct the original text of the New Testament with a high degree of accuracy.

For example, Daniel B. Wallace, a conservative textual critic, points out that over 99% of the textual variations in the New Testament are inconsequential, such as differences in spelling or word order. The essential message and core doctrines of the New Testament remain intact. Moreover, the sheer number of New Testament manuscripts (over 5,800 Greek manuscripts) provides a robust basis for reconstructing the original text.

Historical Reliability of the Gospels

John Dominic Crossan's claim that the resurrection of Jesus is metaphorical rather than historical lacks substantial evidence. The New Testament provides multiple independent accounts of the resurrection, including the Gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters. These accounts are corroborated by early Christian creeds, such as the one found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which dates to within a few years of the crucifixion.

Moreover, the historical evidence for the resurrection is compelling. Scholars such as N.T. Wright have argued that the resurrection is the best explanation for the empty tomb, the transformation of the disciples, and the rapid growth of the early church. The resurrection narratives contain details that would be unlikely to be fabricated, such as the testimony of women, who were considered unreliable witnesses in the first century.

Unity and Authorship of the Pentateuch

Richard Elliott Friedman's Documentary Hypothesis suggests that the Pentateuch is a patchwork of sources (J, E, P, D) compiled over centuries. However, this hypothesis is not universally accepted and has been challenged by conservative scholars who argue for the Mosaic authorship and unity of the Pentateuch.

One key argument against the Documentary Hypothesis is the consistent theological themes and literary structures found throughout the Pentateuch. For example, the covenantal framework, which begins with God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17) and continues through the Mosaic covenant (Exodus 19-24), suggests a unified narrative rather than a compilation of disparate sources.

Additionally, Jesus and the New Testament writers affirm the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. In John 5:46-47, Jesus says, "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" This affirmation by Jesus supports the traditional view of Mosaic authorship and the unity of the Pentateuch.

Addressing Specific Allegations of Error

Liberal scholars often cite specific examples they believe to be errors or contradictions in the Bible. Here, we address a few of these allegations.

Contradictions in the Resurrection Accounts

Critics argue that the resurrection accounts in the Gospels contain discrepancies, such as the number of women at the tomb or the sequence of events. However, these differences can be harmonized through careful examination. For instance, varying details about the women at the tomb reflect different perspectives and emphases of the Gospel writers rather than outright contradictions.

The core facts remain consistent across all four Gospels: Jesus was crucified, buried, the tomb was found empty, and He appeared to His followers after His resurrection. These consistent elements provide a strong basis for the historical reliability of the resurrection accounts.

Scientific Discrepancies

Some scholars argue that the Bible contains scientific errors, such as the creation account in Genesis. However, the Bible is not a scientific textbook but a theological document that conveys spiritual truths. The creation account, when understood in its literary and cultural context, provides profound theological insights about God's sovereignty and the goodness of His creation.

Moreover, many alleged scientific discrepancies are based on misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the text. For example, the Bible's description of the earth "hanging on nothing" (Job 26:7) aligns remarkably well with modern scientific understanding of the earth in space.

Ethical Issues

Critics also raise ethical concerns about the Bible, such as its treatment of women or the endorsement of slavery. However, these criticisms often fail to consider the historical and cultural context of the biblical texts. The Bible's ethical teachings must be understood in light of its redemptive trajectory, which progressively reveals God's will for justice, mercy, and love.

For instance, while the Bible contains laws regulating slavery, it also sows the seeds for its eventual abolition. The New Testament, particularly Paul's letter to Philemon, emphasizes the inherent dignity and equality of all people in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Similarly, the Bible's treatment of women, while reflecting its historical context, includes radical affirmations of women's worth and roles, culminating in the New Testament's declaration that "there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

The Testimony of Jesus and the Apostles

The testimony of Jesus and the apostles provides a strong foundation for the doctrine of inerrancy. Jesus affirmed the authority and reliability of the Scriptures, stating in Matthew 5:18, "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." Jesus' endorsement of the Scriptures as trustworthy and enduring underscores their divine origin and reliability.

The apostles also affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture. Peter, in 2 Peter 1:21, emphasizes the prophetic nature of Scripture and its divine inspiration: "For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:16, asserts the usefulness and divine origin of all Scripture, emphasizing its role in equipping believers for every good work.

Conclusion on the Infallibility and Inerrancy of Scripture

The claims of liberal scholars that the Bible is fallible and errant are not supported by a careful examination of the evidence. While there are challenges and complexities in the biblical text, these do not undermine the doctrine of inerrancy. The Bible, when understood in its historical, cultural, and literary context, remains a reliable and authoritative revelation of God's truth.

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).



bottom of page