What is the difference between inerrancy and infallibility?

 

In this post, I will define and contrast the terms inerrancy and infallibility. I will also give several arguments against the Bible’s inerrancy and evangelical responses to them.

Inerrancy means that once all the facts are known, properly interpreted Scriptures in the original autographs will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine, mortality, or with the social, physical, or life sciences. By ‘true’ I mean that Scripture will be shown to be the thoughts of God, and will be shown to be logically noncontradictory, factually reliable, and experientially viable.

Infallibility is that intrinsic property and essential characteristic of the inspired text that makes it incapable of teaching deception and leading one astray.

Infallibility implies inerrancy. Since the Bible is incapable of teaching deception, it must be true. But the reverse is not necessarily true. Just because something is without error does not necessarily imply that is incapable of leading one astray. For instance, one could accurately quote someone speaking a lie but that does not mean that in doing so the listener would not be led astray by being taught deception.

Historical arguments against inerrancy:

Matthew 20:29-34 has Jesus departing from Jericho and healing two blind men, but Luke 18:35-43 has Him approaching Jericho and healing one blind man. How can both be correct?

There are two possible explanations for this: 

 

  1. It is possible that Jesus healed two men on His way out of one Jericho (the old town) and later healed one man on His way into another Jericho (the new town, a few miles away) on His way to Jerusalem. (I’ve seen historical sources say this was indeed the case)
  2. Another possibility is that Jesus healed one man on His way into Jericho and healed two men on His way out of Jericho on His way to Jerusalem

 

The point is, one can search for reasons to disbelieve the scriptures, or one can find ways to explain things that might appear to show error.

Errors in sources:

 

Some claim error in the sources, but the Divine and human authors vouch for the truth of the assertions made and take responsibility for what they wrote.

Regarding the Old Testament, the authors of the various books of the Bible saw themselves as communicating the word of God. This is evidenced in the writings themselves. The prophet Isaiah began his book by proclaiming, “For the Lord has spoken” (1:2). Jeremiah opened his prophecy by saying, “Then the word of the Lord came to me” (1:4). God commissioned Ezekiel to go to his people and tell them, “Thus says the Lord God” (3:11). Jesus said, in Luke 24:44, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” This indicates He thought of them as Scripture, which is upheld in other places as well (Matthew 4:4,7,10; Matthew 11:10, Matthew 21:13,42; Matthew 22:29; Matthew 26:26,31,54; Mark 7:6-13; Mark 9:12-13; Mark 11:17; Mark 12:10; Mark 12:24; Mark 14:21,27,49; Luke 4:4,8,21; Luke 7:27; Luke 10:26; Luke 24:44-47; John 5:39-40; John 7:38; John 10:34-36; John 13:18; John 17:12; Etc.).

Regarding the New Testament, Jesus saw Himself as speaking the Word of God. John 12:49 reads, “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” Indeed, Jesus said that people who choose to do God’s will are the people who will find out whether His teaching is from God or not. John 7:16-18 reads ‘Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”‘ Jesus told the Apostles in Luke 12:11-12, ‘”When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”‘ Peter, who in Luke 9:20 showed he realized Jesus was the Christ, called Paul’s writings scripture in 2 Peter 3:16. Paul claimed the words he spoke were directly from God (1 Corinthians 7:10, Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:13). These are some of the reasons the New Testament is considered to not be erroneous in source.

Moral blemishes:

Many people can not believe God would purposely destroy a city while at the same time leave a prostitute to live (Josh 6:17). But this presupposes the moral sensitivities of sinners should dictate morality rather than the Bible!

Scientific mistakes:

Many scientists reject the possibility of miracles because they can not be proven. But empirical science can not contest the validity of a miracle because it can not be repeated, which by definition is needed to scientifically test something. Simply because something can not be proven using the scientific method does not mean that thing is not something that is actual, real, or valid. The scientist faces the same thing with any historical event.

Demon possession:

Many people have difficulty with the concept of demons and possession by them. The Bible describes people as having unclean spirits, or demon possessed. Mat 4:24, Mat 8:16, Mat 8:28-33, Mat 12:22, Mat 15:22-29, Mark 1:32, Mark 5:2-16, Mark 7:26-30, Luke 4:33-35, Luke 8:27-36, Luke 9:42, Luke 11:14 all show Christ healing people who are demon-possessed, or have unclean or evil spirits. Since science can only measure what is repeatable, predictable, and in the natural world, science can not prove or disprove the existence of demons or possession by them.

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2 Responses

  1. Very good. We have to be careful with suppositions. There are any number of supposed possibilities to situations like the blind men in Jericho. The reason why the prostitute was spared was because of her faith. She believed God. Faith is the only thing that pleases God.

  2. I only provided a few responses to some arguments against inerrancy and infallibility. But you are correct, there a numerous reasons why thing might appear to be different without there necessarily having to be an error in the text.

    And yes, God is pleased by our faith.

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