What is Biblical "Inerrancy"?1
This past week I attended the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore, Maryland. The theme for this year’s gathering was the inerrancy of Scripture. I devoted the first chapter of my book Tough Topics to the question, "Is the Bible Inerrant?" My answer, as you would expect, is a resounding Yes! But what is inerrancy? What do we mean by that term? Here are four excellent definitions that should help you get a grip on what this means and why it is so important.
The late Roger Nicole defined it this way:
“Inerrancy will then mean that at no point in what was originally given were the biblical writers allowed to make statements or endorse viewpoints which are not in conformity with objective truth. This applies at any level at which they make pronouncements” (Roger R. Nicole, “The Nature of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy and Common Sense, edited by Roger R. Nicole & J. Ramsey Michaels [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980], 88).
Christian philosopher and apologist Paul Feinberg put it as follows:
“Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences” (Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy, edited by Norman L. Geisler [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979], 294).
According to David Dockery,
“When all the facts are known, the Bible (in its original writings) properly interpreted in light of which culture and communication means had developed by the time of its composition will be shown to be completely true (and therefore not false) in all that it affirms, to the degree of precision intended by the author, in all matters relating to God and his creation” (David S. Dockery, Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority and Interpretation [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995], 64).
Finally, my former colleague and OT scholar at Wheaton College, Richard Shultz, defined inerrancy in these terms:
“Except for the types of textual corruption that can arise in the course of repeated copying, the Bible offers an accurate, though not comprehensive, description and interpretation of the world and human history from the creation to the rise of the Christian church, as well as a reliable record of divinely revealed truths about God and his plans for humanity, which careful exegesis can demonstrate to be internally consistent and concerning which, through fair and informed analysis, plausible solutions for apparently fundamental conflicts between it and objective extra-biblical data can be suggested” (Richard Shultz, “The Crisis of Knowledge: Biblical Authority and Interpretation,” unpublished essay, March 2004, p. 13).
If you are still wondering whether or not inerrancy is an essential feature of divine inspiration, consider the wisdom of J. I. Packer. I agree with him when he says that it is difficult to see how error can be “profitable” and contribute to our “instruction” in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). According to Packer, “authority belongs to truth and truth only. . . . I can make no sense – no reverent sense, anyway – of the idea, sometimes met, that God speaks his truth to us in and through false statements by biblical writers” (J. I. Packer, Truth & Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life [Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1996], 46).