Biblical inerrancy

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For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:
For more information, see the TalkOrigins Archive article:
The Bible with annotations by the reader.

Biblical inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible is completely correct, or at least that it was completely correct in the original manuscripts.

This belief is common, especially among fundamentalists, and often coupled with biblical literalism. A significant proportion of Christians do not believe in Biblical inerrancy.

"Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises."

— Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with Exposition [1]

"All those books [...] which the church regards as sacred and canonical were written with all their parts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Now, far from admitting the coexistence of error, Divine inspiration by itself excludes all error, and that also of necessity, since God, the Supreme Truth, must be incapable of teaching error."

— Pope Leo XIII

Many Christians reject the idea that the Bible is inerrant, such as C. S. Lewis.

"we don’t consider it to be infallible or inerrant. [2]"

"It seems to me that [the death of Judas] and [inclusion of some unhistorical narratives] rule out the view that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth."

— C. S. Lewis [3]



Scientific inaccuracies

Main Article: Scientific inaccuracies in the Bible
For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

The Bible makes many verifiable claims which have been tested and found to be disprove. For instance, if there really had been a worldwide flood, there should be a recent worldwide layer of silt in the geologic column. This is not the case. Also, a literal reading of Genesis would lead to a belief in Young-Earth creationism (YEC). YEC states that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and is not compatible with many scientific theories (including geology, cosmology and evolution).

In Job 38:22-23 Bible-icon.png, God is quoted as saying, "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?" We now know how snow and hail form, and it doesn't involve storehouses or war.

Historical inaccuracies

Main Article: The Bible is not a reliable historical source

There are many historical inaccuracies in the Bible. For instance, the story of the tribe of Joseph being held as slaves in Egypt and wandering in the Sinai for 40 years lead by Moses as told in Exodus [4] is false. Archaeologists now consider the evidence to be overwhelming and further searches for evidence are "a fruitless pursuit". [5]

It is mentioned as the reason that Joseph returned to Bethlehem for the census of Quirinius, directly before the birth of Jesus, as described in Luke 2:1–7 Bible-icon.png. The Bible says Jesus was born in the reign of Herod the Great, i.e. before Herod the Death's death in 4 BC. The census was conducted in 6/7 CE when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Therefore the census could not have been the reason for Joseph to return to Bethlehem since it occurred 10 years after the birth of Jesus! A more probable explanation is that the authors of the Bible wanted to find a pretext for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem and the census was a convenient fictional device. Therefore, the Bible is not inerrant.

Failed prophecy

Main Article: Failed prophecy in the Bible
For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

There are many examples of failed prophecy in the Bible. It is therefore not inerrant.

Unreliable authors, editors, copyists and translators

Main Article: History of the Biblical canon

The Bible was written by authors who were not eye witnesses and usually long after the events described based on oral traditions. The identities of authors of most of the Bible is unknown (although still known by the traditional author's pseudonym).

The books the compose the Bible were selected by fallible humans of the early church over the course of centuries. The selection was roughly based on their agreement with current doctrine, broad acceptance in the early church and claims of apostolic authorship. [6] Some books were included but later excluded and now forms the Deuterocanonical Apocrypha. Other books were candidates, known as the apocrypha, and some were very popular but not eventually selected. The apocrypha is occasionally published along side the Bible.

Humans are known to make mistakes in writing, copying and translating.

No evidence of divine influence

There is little or no evidence that the Bible was divinely inspired. There is no special knowledge, no unique message and no scientific foreknowledge.

Bible does not claim inerrancy

The Bible does not claim to be inerrant. [7] While it does claim to be inspired by God 2 Timothy 3:16 Bible-icon.png, this doesn't itself prove inerrancy. It is possible that God wants people to think for themselves and so added a little contradiction into the Bible, which people attempt to ignore and explain away.

Self contradictions

Main Article: Biblical contradictions
For more information, see the Skeptic's Annotated Bible article:

There are many contradictions in the Bible, many of them very hard to dispute. [8] Some contradictions, like 2 Kings 8:26 Bible-icon.png and 2 Chronicles 22:2 Bible-icon.png, which give different ages for Ahaziah when he began to rule, are, Christians admit, really contradictions that are really in the bible. They have to resort to copyist error or some other similar explanation. This shows that the modern bible is not inerrant. This raises the question of why God inspired the original writers, but not the copyist.


  • Apologists claim the Bible is not necessarily inconsistent with scientific observations. Apologetics can spin or interpret the contents of Genesis 1 Bible-icon.png, for instance, through a process known as exegesis, into matching what science has to say in postdiction. It must be noted that the Bible is not a scientific book and should not be taken as such, yet despite that, many Christians attempt to use it as such anyway.
  • Contradictions, such as the one afore mentioned regarding Kings and Chronicles, are only contradictions if studied without the exegesis to spin the interpretation as well. The same process of exegesis is frequently used to excuse why contradictions exist between the different Gospels. If each is interpreted in particular ways, one can smooth out such stark differences, such as why Jesus was or was not at the cave when the women came after he resurrected.
  • According to the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy, scripture is inerrant in it's autograph. Critically thinking Christians see and recognize problems within scripture, interpolations, deletions, missing manuscripts, etc, and instead will claim that the recent copies and/or translations are in error, while the original texts as written by the original authors are not.

Differing View of Biblical Inerrancy

  • Karl Barth, known for advocating a "Neo-Orthodox" view of scripture, presents an attempted solution to counter-apologetics. Within the Neo-Orthodox perspective, both autographs and subsequent copies are understood as containing error, in that they do not always purport truth. Barth's view renounces that the Word of God is in the text (for God's Word must remain inerrant), and in doing so, claims that despite the Bible's being a "broken vessel", it is the vehicle through which God relays his Word. The text contains errors, but when read or preached, the Holy Spirit interprets the true, inerrant meaning to the hearer. This argument also fails because different readers and listeners interpret the same Bible text differently. For example Roman Catholics interpret Matthew 16:18-19 as declaring that Saint Peter and all popes after him have authority to rule the church of Christ while Protestants and Eastern Orthodox churches disagree that the pope has such authority. Contradictions in the interpretation of scripture indicate that no supernatural force is leading all readers and listeners interantly to any correct conclusion.
  • The Skeptics Annotated Bible This explains the Roman Catholic view and problems with that view.
  • Please explain Matthew 16:18-19. This text has a Protestant explanation.

Biblical passages related to inerrancy

  • Obviously, a book claiming that it is the word of god is a circular reference and does not constitute proof. There is no logical argument beyond that. We can however try to understand how that book came to be assembled, what the original meaning was of the specific passages, and find scripture that that refutes earlier scripture. Circulus in demonstrando
  • Timothy 3:16 “The Bible is God breathed” This is the strongest statement in the Bible about where the Bible came from. Translations of the word “breathed” vary and more likely mean something like “inspired”.
  • Mark 2:27-28 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Here Jesus is arguing with Jewish authorities about what is allowed on the Sabbath. He is claiming a significant change to the letter and spirit of that law.
  • Romans 13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Paul is claiming a completely new basis for how to interpret the law.
  • Acts 15 This chapter is the story of Paul, Peter and others discussing the law of circumcision. They decide that it is a law that no longer needs to be followed.
  • Galatians 2 In this chapter, Paul opposes Cephas (another name for Peter) concerning dietary laws and eating with Gentiles. This is in opposition to Mosaic law. In Acts 10, Peter had a vision that is a key passage releasing Christians from the rules of kosher food. Peter and Paul are the highest ranking leaders of the church, and they spar on issues throughout the New Testament.
  • Revelations 22:18-19 warns that no man shall add to this “book” or they will be punished. Since the New Testament was not canonized at the time Revelations was written, exactly what “book” is referring to is suspect. Revelations has continued to be a disputed book even after discussions of the canon were complete.
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant. The book of Jeremiah (OT) was written during a time of great political change. This passage is most likely referring to those changes, but it is often referred to in the NT as a prophecy for the coming of Jesus and the changes he would bring. For example Hebrews 8: 6 “But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.”
  1. Deutoronomy 17:8-11 explains what you should do when you have cases that are too difficult for you to judge. This includes going to the Levitical priests. Apparently not everything can simply be looked up in the Bible.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has added a book to the Bible. This puts them in the position of having to argue that the apostles listened to god and wrote scripture and that there are living apostles today. Of course they claim the authority to decide who the apostles are.
  • Which translation is inerrant? Translations vary enough to support different doctrines. Political decisions were involved with most translations, especially the King James Version. Canonization of the Christian Bible began after the first century and continued for 200 years. Many people will argue that these facts are not important. Most likely they will not be aware of them.


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. Quoted in Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture, Abingdon, 1979, Appendix A.
  4. [3]
  5. William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know, and When Did They Know It?, 2001
  6. [4]
  7. [5]
  8. [6]

See also

External links


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