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Inerrancy of Scripture: Holy Words of Life or Wicked deception?

Inerrancy of Scripture: Holy Words of Life or Wicked deception?
Inerrancy of Scripture means God’s Word is perfect and can be trusted as true. And more than true, inerrant: incapable of being wrong.

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by Ken Kalis | Jun 7, 2022 | Scripture and Theology | 0 comments

Inerrancy of Scripture: Holy Words of Life or Wicked deception?

Believers have always valued God’s Word and trust it as true. And more than true, inerrant: incapable of being wrong. I am among them. I believe every word on every subject. So did everyone in Christendom until the Age of Reason (1685 – 1815).

However, the devil hates God’s Word and attacks it 24/7! He cannot deny its truth, so he tries deception.

He questions it, as he did in the Garden of Eden. “Hath God said?” was his question then, and it remains his “go-to” question today. He twists and questions God’s language and intent, all to show God is not good and His Word is not inerrant.

Inerrancy before the Scriptures

This has been true since the beginning, since He began to speak to man. He spoke long before His Word was written, and no one has ever even suggested He could be wrong. God is good, right, and perfect.

He is the Eyewitness to creation, sees all, and knows all.

He has a perfect memory and understanding of everyone on earth, not just what they do and say, but what is in their hearts.

For our benefit, He told us our beginning, and history, and gave us instructions for living.

Inerrancy of the Old Testament

Moses* recorded all of this and more in the first five books of the Bible. Those books were holy and put in the Ark of the Covenant. Every word was numbered and studied, and Jesus* told His disciples

Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. - Jesus in Matthew 5:18

(an asterisk following a name means that person is included in the 200 biographies of SPIRITUAL LIVES.)

To Moses’ five books thirty-four more were added and put in order by Ezra* the scribe 450 years before Christ. The text of many of these books was among the Dead Sea Scrolls found in a cave in 1947 and supports the accuracy of the Kings James* Bible.

The Old Testament Itself has this to say about its inerrancy:

For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. – Psalm 119:89

Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever. – Psalm 119:160

Inerrancy of the New Testament

The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were complete by the end of the first century, but they were not put together in the form that we know them until the fourth century. But they give testimony to its power and endurance.

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:

But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.

And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. – 1 Peter 1:24-25

The Bible is more than inerrant, it is alive and powerful:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

St. Paul too sees the life and power in the Scripture and urges young Timothy to teach it to his flock:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Inerrancy now becomes a question of the integrity of the text. This remains true to this day.

Inerrancy in the Middle Ages

The church fathers were not concerned about inconsistencies or different testimonies of the eyewitnesses. Origen*(184-253) noticed inconsistencies in the Gospel but was not troubled by them:

“Let these four [Gospels] agree with each other concerning certain things revealed to them by the Spirit and let them disagree a little concerning other things.” (Commentary on John 10.4).

Later, John Chrysostom (347-407) had a similar view but was adamant about the inerrancy of doctrine:

But if there be anything touching time or places, which they have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said … [but those things] which constitute our life and furnish out our doctrine nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed, no not ever so little.

Jerome*(347-420) suggested Paul* was mistaken in his rebuke of Peter about eating with the Gentiles, but drew a stern rebuke from Augustine (354-430):

It seems to me that the most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books: that is to say that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. . ..

If you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement … there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to anyone difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which, intentionally, . . . the author declared what was not true.

This is the first time we see a definition of inerrancy comparable to the Fundamentalist one of 1910.

Inerrancy in the Reformation

Luther*, Erasmus (1466-1536) and even Calvin* had a view of the Bible like the Origen’s and Chrysostom’s. Erasmus speaks for all:

“Nor, in my view, would the authority of the whole of Scripture be instantly imperiled, as you suggest, if an evangelist by a slip of memory did put one name for another, Isaiah for instance instead of Jeremiah, for this is not a point on which anything turns.”

In pushing back against the Protestant Reformation, the Counter-Reformation’s Council of Trent (1545-1564) held that the Church is the ultimate interpreter of Scripture but that the Bible’s authority is only “in matters of faith and morals.” Jesuit Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) later wrote that its scope is much wider:

“There can be no error in Scripture, whether it deals with faith or whether it deals with morals/mores, or whether it states something general and common to the whole Church, or something particular and pertaining to only one person.”

It was this view of Bible inerrancy that led the church to prosecute Galileo for his heliocentric views. And this was the beginning of the still-raging conflict between scientists and theologians.

Inerrancy in the “Age of Reason” 1685 – 1815

For a long time, the Church held the high ground supporting inerrancy of the whole Bible. But with the “Age of Reason” came new theories on the age of the earth and the origin of life that put fundamental Bible truth, like the Creation and the Flood, in question.

The “higher criticism” of 19th century Protestantism led to modernism, which steered away from viewing the Bible as literally true. The Protestants minimized the importance of doctrine and introduced modernism which emphasized feelings and the experience of God over strict obedience to biblical law and welcomed doctrinal revisions based on developments in science and biblical understandings.

In response to this position the Roman Catholic Church held its ground:

It is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred.

For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, […] cannot be tolerated.

For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and […] that inspiration […] is essentially incompatible with error. […]

This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church. -Pope Leo XIII, 1893

Inerrancy in the 20th century

By the early 20th century, modernists became prevalent in many mainstream Protestant denominations, particularly Presbyterianism.

In response to this Believers faithful to the historic doctrine of the Nicene Creed defined anew the Fundamentals of Faith.

In 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church identified what became known as the five fundamentals, the first of these being:

Biblical inspiration and the inerrancy of Scripture.

But those opposed to inerrancy found a champion in Harry Emerson Fosdick*(1878-1969) who not only attacked inerrancy but also the Virgin birth, the wrath of God, and the Second Coming of Jesus.

John D. Rockefeller heavily funded his work and teaching. 130,000 copies of his sermon “Shall the Fundamentalist Win?” were printed and sent to every Protestant minister in the USA.

He was the most well-known minister in the nation and had enormous influence in the ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, and John Shelby Spong and in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gresham Machen*(1881-1937) fiercely opposed Fosdick and his modernism. A Presbyterian minister and Professor at Princeton Seminary,

Machen moved away from Princeton when they abandoned the inerrancy of the Bible.

When the Presbyterian Church began supporting liberal missionaries (Pearl Buck was one) he protested and was defrocked.

Not a quitter, Machen started the Westminster Seminary across the Delaware River in Philadelphia where inerrancy was upheld, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church which held on to its historic faith and Biblical foundation.

From those days to ours, inerrancy continues to be a line of demarcation between those who uphold the Bible as the Word of God we are called upon to obey and those who see it as a literary document whose text is open to revision and reinterpretation.

The most important event of the last quarter of the 20th century was the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Signed by two hundred evangelical leaders, including Josh McDowell, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, * and R.C. Sproul, the statement affirmed:

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.

We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

The Statement also issued a warning to those who have departed from the doctrine of inerrancy:

Mainstream Protestantism … provides a cautionary tale in this regard, for it has erred in a radical way by acquiring the habit of regularly relativizing biblical teaching to current secular fashion, whether rationalist, historicist, evolutionist, existentialist, Marxist, or whatever.

But this is to forget how sin darkens and misdirects the human intellect…” and “for our secular society insists on judging itself, not by the revelation of the Creator that the Bible sets forth, but by evolutionary, permissive, materialistic, hedonistic, and this-worldly yardsticks…”.

For Roman Catholics, the last official statement on inerrancy comes from Vatican II (1962-1965):

Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.

This statement leaves open the question of what “for the sake of our salvation” means, and clearly falls short the Chicago Statement.

Inerrancy: Where we are now

Since the 21st Century has begun, we have lost some important defenders of inerrancy. J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and Gleason Archer will be missed. There are some recent books on the subject listed in the Gospel Coalition’s Inerrancy and Evangelicals: The Challenge for a New Generation that I have not read. We need such resources as the challenge to inerrancy is growing.

It has become so controversial that many pastors and churches shy away from even using the word, labeling its use “divisive.”

The United Methodist Church is splitting over this issue, and others already have. More will follow.

Sad as this is in one sense, it is encouraging in another as we see a new generation honoring the Word of God and being true to Jesus.

I am so thankful for the Bible and its truth. While I enjoy and am thankful for the history of inerrancy, it has never been a question for me.

My faith in God’s Word is unshakeable, and I got that faith in it from Jesus, speaking to me through that Word.

It blesses and sustains me every day, not just me but millions who trust its promises and Author. It is inerrant today, just as it has always been, but it is more than inerrant, it is ALIVE!

‘Tis the Word of the Living God,

The Bible, the Bible.

Though assailed every day

It will never pass away,

‘Tis the Word of the Living God,

Old Sunday school song.

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