Approaching Scripture, part 3
Note: This post is part three of a six-part series.
- Part One – Introduction
- Part Two – Inspired
- Part Three – Inerrant and Infallible
- Part Four – Authoritative
- Part Five – Sufficient
- Part Six – Clear and Unified
We’re continuing this week to build on the foundation of what we saw last week—Scripture is God’s Word. That Scripture is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), that it is divinely inspired, has a profound bearing on everything else we believe about the words of the Bible.
Today, we consider two more attributes of Scripture: that it is Inerrant and Infallible. These two are closely connected, but I believe we are right to insist on both of these attributes of God’s Word, and I hope to explain why that is, and why that matters.
When we proclaim that God’s Word is “inerrant,” what we’re affirming is that God’s Word is “without error.” We could point to many passages of Scripture for this important attribute:
- Psalm 12:6 – “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground purified seven times.”
- Psalm 119:89 – “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.”
- Proverbs 30:5 – “Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.”
- John 17:17 – “Your word is truth.”
Scripture is without error. And while some argue that this is an unnecessary distinction to make, the contrary is actually true. It is absolutely necessary to insist on this attribute of Scripture, because this attribute is being attacked on various fronts. There are those who say we should doubt all of Scripture because of perceived errors in the text; there are others who say we should toss out certain teachings because they don’t square with our understanding of the world today scientifically or ethically (the latter of which, conveniently, seem to always coincide with the cultural winds). But we can’t toss out certain teachings, and we can’t deny the veracity of Scripture, because Scripture is inerrant.
Those who would deny this doctrine, or even the importance of this doctrine, should heed the warning of J.I. Packer:
“One cannot doubt the Bible without far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches, and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness—that is, the inerrancy—of Holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God.”(J.I. Packer, Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life, quoted in Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word, 2016, p.40).
Closely connected to Scripture’s inerrancy is the infallibility of Scripture. To say that Scripture is inerrant is to say that Scripture is without error; to say that Scripture is infallible is to say that Scripture is incapable of error.
In affirming the infallibility of Scripture, we’re affirming that because God is trustworthy and incapable of error, therefore His Word is trustworthy and incapable of error. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that “it is impossible for God to lie,” and since Scripture is God’s Word, therefore it is impossible for God’s Word to be in error.
Similarly, Jesus tells us of God’s Word that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” It must accomplish all it was given to accomplish, and if it were possible for it to be in error, then Jesus could not make this statement.
ANSWERING TWO COMMON OBJECTIONS
It should be stated that in both of these, we’re affirming this for the original manuscripts of Scripture. Some would use that to say that therefore we cannot affirm inerrancy and infallibility today; but that need not be the case. While this is a topic for another blog post or three, the truth is we know with certainty what the original manuscripts said for over 99% of the Bible. For the places where there remains any doubt, modern translations indicate that by added footnotes that read something like “Some manuscripts read…” followed by the variant reading. That we are honest about these places should not sow doubt, but instead only add to our certainty about the trustworthiness of Scripture. This argument is not enough to discard the use of the terms inerrancy and infallibility.
Additionally, others argue that since the Bible uses phrases that we know are technically incorrect—such as phrases referring to the sun setting and rising, for instance—then the Bible does contain errors. However, this is to dismiss the purpose of the Bible and taking this argument to its end would make conversation between individuals virtually impossible on a wide range of subjects. The fact of the matter is, the Bible uses “everyday language” in entirely standard and acceptable ways. Of course we know that the sun doesn’t actually rise or actually set, but we all use the language of the sun rising or the sun setting. These are perfectly true statements that describe what the speaker observes.
ROOTED IN GOD
Scripture affirms the inerrancy and the infallibility of God’s Word, but also, very importantly, this understanding of Scripture is based on the character of God. Because Scripture is God-breathed, and because God is perfect and entirely trustworthy, we can be confident that God’s Word is without error and incapable of error.
Numbers 23:19 declares that “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?”
There is no objection that should lead us to abandon the use of the terms inerrant and infallible to describe Scripture, because there is no objection that would make us deny these realities in God. God is without error, and God is incapable of error. He is perfectly holy, righteous, and true. He does not lie, and in fact it is impossible for him to lie, and Scripture is His Word.
Everything is rooted in the doctrine of God. If God is good and trustworthy, this His Word is good and trustworthy.
And God is good and trustworthy, so let us never doubt His Word.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.