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“the testimony of the Lord is sure”


Text Box: Key question

How do evangelical Christians understand the concept of Biblical inerrancy?

Key Text

Psalm 19:7

“the law of the Lord is perfect,...; the testimony of the Lord is sure,”

Key Definition


“The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”  Millard Erickson

1.   Christians are divided, not only over the nature of the Bible but more specifically over how the Bible is to be read. Does the Bible contain errors? It depends on what you mean by an error.

2.   Most of us desire certainty in life.

a.   Absolute certainty is impossible in science, relationships, etc.

b.   Can we find certainty in religious areas of life by appealing to:

1.   Sacred texts?
2.   Deeply personal experiences?
3.   Social consensus?
4.   Authoritarian structures?

c.   It is remarkable that the Bible has been able to appeal with authority to so many different ages, cultures, and historical settings.

3.   There are three kinds of people that bring to the fore, the issue of inerrancy.

a.   Hostile critics who have no interest in believing but are determined to undermine the faith.

b.   Honest critics who are examining the text to see if it is a valid foundation for faith.

c.   Serious disciples who are trying to understand what God has said.

A.  The concept of “Biblical inerrancy” is the product of a larger cultural conflict.

1.   Since the Renaissance, and more particularly since the Enlightenment, worldviews have developed which are skeptical of some basic Christian presuppositions.

a.   Two basic concepts emerged from the enlightenment.

1)   Presuppositions
a)   Materialistic Naturalism — The nature of ultimate reality is temporal — matter, energy, chance, plus nothing!
b)   Secular Humanism — the autonomous and evolving nature of man is the starting point of all inquiry.
2)   Method
      Rationalistic Empiricism — modern, rational, critical science.

b.   Evangelicals welcome the method, but not the presuppositions.

c.   The relationship between presuppositions and “burden of proof”

1)   If you adopt traditional presuppositions, then the burden of proof is on the critic to prove that the Bible is not trustworthy or in error. This is very difficult to do (in any conclusive way) to one who holds the traditional presupposition.
2)   If you adopt the presuppositions of the enlightenment, then the burden of proof falls to the traditionalist to demonstrate that the Bible is uniquely inspired and error free. This also is very difficult to do to the satisfaction of the one who holds the critic’s basic assumptions.

2.     “Inerrancy” is considered to be a necessary fence against the encroachment of subtle forms of “enlightenment presuppositions.”

3.      A brief critique of “higher Biblical criticism” might include the following points. (For more information on this subject go to theology file #212)

a.      It is an infant science. It has not passed the test of time, which will refine its tools and be less dogmatic about its conclusions.

b.     It is subject to fads. It tends to look like whatever the particular critic’s culture finds fashionable. (Marxism, Feminism, etc.).

c.      It has a poor track record. Time and again its dogmatic claims are overturned by new agendas and facts.

d.     It is based on presuppositions that are too narrow. They exclude the possibility of the traditional view before they examine the data.

e.   “The contradictions in the gospels are of minutiae, not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies – e.g., Hammurabi, David, Socrates – would fade into legend” Will Durant (non Christian historian)

f.      While Biblical critics are quick to point out the possible subjective bias of ancient gospel writers, they seem completely unconcerned or even unaware of their own agendas.

B.  Various evangelical groups define inerrancy in different ways.

1.   A comparative chart of four views of inerrancy.


















human eyes





ancient culture





ancient culture


ancient culture


2.   Textual support for a strong view of inerrancy.

a.   Matthew 4:1-11 “It is written,. . . .”

b.   Matthew 5:18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished.”

c.   Psalm 19:7 “the law of the Lord is perfect, . . .; the testimony of the Lord is sure,”

d.   John 10:34-35 “Jesus answered them, ‘Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), . . .’”

3.   Some qualifications to inerrancy (by evangelical theologian, Bernard Ramm).

a.   In judging the inerrancy of the Scriptures, we must judge them according to the customs, rules, and standards of the times the various books were written, and not in terms of some abstract or artificial notion of inerrancy.

b.   A belief in the inerrancy of the Bible does not mean that the entire Bible is clear.

c.   When we assert the inerrancy of the Bible, we do not assert that the Bible speaks all its mind on a subject in one place.

d.   Belief in the inerrancy of the Scripture leads us to affirm there are no contradictions in the Bible.

e.   Belief in the inerrancy of the Bible does not demand an original manuscript or a perfect text.

f.    We do not assert that the Bible uses scientific language.

g.   No objection can be brought against inerrancy because the language of the Bible is phenomenal.

h.   No objection can be brought against the inerrancy of the Bible because it is a culturally conditioned revelation.

i.  This doctrine is not required for true Christian faith nor does it necessarily lead to it.

C.  Christians have taken very different approaches to the handling the difficulties within the texts of the Bible.

1.   Ignore them (Warfield)

        Those who follow this approach are aware that there are difficulties in Scripture, but they tend to feel that these difficulties do not all have to be explained, because the weight of evidence for the inspiration and consequent inerrancy of the Bible is so great that no amount of difficulty can overthrow it.

2.   Forced harmonization (Young)

        Adherents of this approach hold that belief in inerrancy is based upon the doctrinal teaching of inspiration. They assert that the difficulties presented can be resolved, and they attempt to do so sometimes by the use of conjecture.

3.   Humble harmonization (Harrison)

        This approach follows the style of the forced harmonization approach to a certain extent. The problems are taken seriously, and an effort is made to solve them or relieve the difficulties as far as this is reasonably possible with the data currently available. Attempts are not made prematurely.

4.   Errant source (Carnell)

        This approach makes a distinction between the authors (who were inerrant in their work) and their sources (which were not inerrant).

5.   Errancy (Beegle)

        The Bible contains errors — real and insoluble problems. They should be accepted rather than explained away. The nature of inspiration should be inferred from what the Bible has produced. Whatever inspiration is, it is not verbal. Inspiration cannot be regarded as extending to the very choices of words in the text. Therefore, it is not possible or necessary to reconcile all discrepancies.


D.  A proper definition of inerrancy must take the following facts into account.

1. The Nature of Language

a.   Genre of Scripture

1)   Poetry is by nature given certain liberties with technical precision in order to communicate a message with its style.
2)   Narrative - Descriptive history is intended to tell us what happened, not necessarily what must continually happen.
3)   Didactic - Prescriptive doctrine is generally intended to be more directly applied to the lives of the readers.

b.   Figures of speech

      Job.38:7 “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
      Matt.5:38-4238 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” If applied literally, this text presents a challenge to the mandate to love one’s neighbor as well as Jesus’ own example (Matt.21:12-13).

c.   Culture & communication

1)   Hebrew language was designed to communicate biographical, pictorial, concrete, and personal information.
2)   Greek language was more suited to logic, hard facts, and abstract ideas.

d.   Dynamic formation of terms

1)   The meaning and use of terms is in constant flux in any language.
2)   It must always be asked — What did this term or phrase mean to those who used it at the time of the writing of the text?

2.   The Biblical Phenomena


1)   The N.T. writers seem to misquote the O.T.
      The N.T. writers (especially Hebrews) often quote from the Septuagint (LXX), a Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, rather than the original Hebrew. The LXX often seems to take liberties with the Hebrew text that are not easy to explain; resulting in, at best, a paraphrase of the OT in the NT quotation. Is the LXX or the MT (which is the Hebrew text of the OT) the inspired text? Evangelicals agree that the MT is the inspired text. But then how can we view the quotations from the LXX as authoritative? Apparently the NT writers did not have a problem in using this Greek paraphrase as though it were authoritative. What does this suggest about their view of inerrancy?


New Testament/Septuagint

Old Testament Masoretic Text


Matthew 1.23/ Isaiah 7.14

"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us).

Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.


Matthew 12.21/ Isaiah 42.4

"and in his name will the Gentiles hope."

and the coastlands wait for his law.


Matthew 13.14-15/ Isaiah 6.9-10

"For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed"

Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes


Matthew 15.8-9/ Isaiah 29.13

"in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."

and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote


Matthew 21.16/ Psalm 8.2

"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise"

by the mouths of babes and infants thou hast founded a bulwark


Luke 3.4-6/ Isaiah 40.3-5

"and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

and all flesh shall see it together


Luke 4.18-19/ Isaiah 61.1-2

"to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind"

to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison  to those who are bound


Acts 7.42-43/ Amos 5.25-27

"And you took up the tent of Moloch, and the star of the god Rephan, the figures which you made to worship"

You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves


Acts 8.32-33/ Isaiah 53.7-8

"In his humiliation justice was denied him, Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken up from the earth."

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living


Acts 13.41/ Habakkuk 1.5

"Behold, you scoffers, and wonder, and perish"

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded


Acts 15.16-17/ Amos 9.11-12

"that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name"

that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name


Romans 2.24/ Isaiah 52.5

"The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

Their rulers wail, says the LORD, and continually all the day my name is despised


Romans 9.27-28/ Isaiah 10.22-23

Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them shall be saved"

For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return


Romans 10.20/ Isaiah 65.1

"I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me"

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me


Romans 11.9-10/ Psalm 69.22

"Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever."

Let their own table before them become a snare; let their sacrificial feasts [Heb. - for security] be a trap.  Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see; and make their loins tremble continually


Romans 11.26-27/ Isaiah 59.20-21

"The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"

And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression


Romans 11.34/ Isaiah 40.13

"For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?"

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor instructed him?


Romans 15.12/ Isaiah 11.10

"The root of Jesse shall come, he who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles hope."

the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek


Heb 1.6/ Deut. 32.43

"Let all God's angels worship him."

The MT omits this quotation


Heb 2.6-8/ Psalm 8.4-6

"Thou didst make him a little lower than the angels"

thou hast made him a little less than God


Heb 2.13/ Isaiah 8.17

"I will put my trust in him."

I will hope in him


Heb 3.15/ Psalm 95.7-8

"Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."

O that today you would hearken to his voice!  Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah


Heb 8.8-12/ Jer. 31.31-34

"for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord"

my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD


Heb 10.5-7/ Psalm 40.6-8

"Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired; but a body hast thou prepared for me"

Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire; but thou hast given me an open ear


Heb 10.37-38/ Hab 2.3-4

"and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him."

Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail [Heb. - is puffed up]


Heb 11.21/ Genesis 47.31

"By faith Jacob ... bowing in worship over the head of his staff."

Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed


Heb 12.5-6/ Prov 3.11-12

"For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."

for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights


James 4.6/ Prov 3.34

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor


1 Pet 2.22/  Isaiah 53.9

He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips

although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth


1 Pet 4.18/ Prov 11.31

"If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?"

If the righteous is requited on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!
2)   The N.T. writers seem to change the text while quoting from the OT
a)   Matt.2:6 (Micah 5:2)  “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler, who will shepherd My people Israel.”
      Micah 5:2 in the OT - “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.”
b)   Heb.10:30 (Deut. 32:36) “The Lord will judge His people”
      Deut.32:36 “For the Lord will vindicate His people.”
c)   Rom.11:26 “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” This quote changes the LXX version of Isa.59:20 “come for the sake of Zion” as well as the Hebrew version “come to Zion.”
3)   The N.T. writers often paraphrase from the OT and yet claim “it is written.”
a)   I Cor.1:31 “that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”” (Jer.9:23-24)  “Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.”
4)   Ascribing a text to a different source
a)   Matt.27:9 (Zech.11:12-13)  “Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me.’
b)   Mk.1:2-3 (Mal.3:1 and Isa.40:3)  “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’ ’ ” (Note that Matthew corrects this “mistake” by leaving out the Mal.3:1 text — Matt. 3:3.)
      NOTE: It was not uncommon in the first century for authors to quote from a minor prophet and ascribe the teaching to a major prophet who carried the same emphasis.


1)   I Sam.17:50  “Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David’s hand.”
      II Sam.21:19  “And there was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”
2)   Deut.15:4 “There shall be no poor among you
      Deut.15:11 “For the poor will never cease to be in the land
3)   There are some numerical discrepancies in the Old Testament. For example, in one report David killed 700 in battle, while in another report he killed 7000 in the same battle (II Sam.10:18; I Chron.19:18). One source says David paid fifty shekels of silver for a threshing floor; another says that it cost him 600 shekels of gold (II Sam. 24:24; I Chron.21:25). The book of Chronicles often seems to contain inflated figures. We might also note I Chron.11:11 versus II Sam.23:8; I Kings 4:26 versus II Chron.9:25; II Chron.36:9 versus II Kings 24:8.
      NOTE: Ancient systems of numerical notation were susceptible to mistakes (e.g., leaving off or adding zeros). It was probably difficult to make out numerals when copying from earlier worn-out manuscripts. These discrepancies were probably copyists’ errors.
4)   The Last Supper is pictured as a Passover meal by the Synoptics (Matt.26:17; Mk.14:12; Lk.22:7-8) which would have taken place on Nisan 14 with His crucifixion on Nisan 15. John, on the other hand, states that Jesus was crucified on the Passover (Jn.18:28; 19:14; I Cor.5:7) — Nisan 14.
      NOTE:  There is evidence that there were two views used to reckon Passover at the time of Jesus. One (Galilean method) used by the Synoptics had Nisan 14 start at sunrise, Thursday. The other (Judean method) used by John had Nisan 14 start at sunset, Thursday. Jesus used the Galilean method in celebrating the Passover supper on Thursday evening (Nisan 14) with His disciples. John used the Judean method in speaking of Christ’s crucifixion on the afternoon of Friday (Nisan14).
5)   The genealogies of Christ in Matt.1 and Luke 3 do not match.
          NOTE: It was understood by Church fathers in the fifth century that Matthew gave the lineage of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, whereas Luke gave the lineage of Mary, his mother.
6)   The location of Joseph’s grave according to Acts 7:16 “the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem” does not agree with Josh. 24:32.
          NOTE: Look at the parallel case of Isaac and Abimelech. Isaac confirms his rights to the land where the well of Beersheba was dug (Gen.26:26-33). The land had been bought earlier by Abraham (21:22-31). Because of the nomadic habits of Abraham, Isaac found it necessary to reestablish his rights to the well. Jacob’s buying the burial field near Shechem (33:18-20) was probably a similar situation. Although there is no mention in Genesis of Abraham’s buying the land, Stephen probably knew of it by oral tradition; and it is significant that Shechem was the region where Abraham built his first altar after migrating to the Holy Land.
7)   Mark 2:26 mistakenly identifies Abiathar as the priest when David ate the consecrated bread (ct. I Sam.21:1-6; II Sam.8:17).
8)   Ex.12:40 tells us that the Israelite sojourn in Egypt was 430 years while Gal.3:17 puts it at 400 years.
9)   Acts 10-11 In this passage Peter describes his experience of a vision in two ways that do not match in a wooden literal sense. (1) 10:14 “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” – 11:8 “Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” (2) 10:44 “While Peter was still speaking these words,” 11:15 “Just as I was starting to speak”
10)  The various accounts of the resurrection do not seem to agree.
        NOTE: See the notes on the resurrection.


1)   Matt.13:32  The mustard seed is not (technically) the smallest seed.
2)   Matt.4:8  There is not a mountain high enough from which one can see all the kingdoms of the world.


1)   Ps.78:69  “the earth which is founded forever
      II Pet.3:10  “the earth and its works will be burned up”
2)   Jer.3:12  “I will not be angry forever.
      Jer.17:4  “For you have kindled a fire in My anger which will burn forever.
3)   Ex.9:6  “So the Lord did this thing on the morrow, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the sons of Israel, not one died.”
      Where did the Egyptians get animals to pull their chariots if all were dead?


      How could Moses have written Deuteronomy when chapter 34 records his death? There is no indication that another author was at work. If this chapter was added later by another, how much else was added with it?

3.   Absolute Inerrancy can be viewed as irrelevant for the following reasons.

a.   It is a negative concept. Our view of Scripture should be positive.

b.   It is an unbiblical concept. The Bible does not claim to be inerrant by modern scientific standards.

c.   Error in the Scriptures is a spiritual or moral matter, not an intellectual one.

d.   Absolute Inerrancy focuses our attention on minutiae, rather than on the primary concerns of Scripture.

e.   Absolute Inerrancy hinders honest evaluation of the Scriptures.

f.    Absolute Inerrancy creates unnecessary disunity in the church,

g.   Note the following additional points.

1)   A basic critical honesty demands qualifications to any definition of inerrancy.
2)   A respect for the nature of Biblical texts refuses to yield to the mental gymnastics required of unqualified inerrancy.
3)   A strategy for the defense of the Bible, which leads out with an inerrancy plank is obviously a strategy which leads with its weakest foot and is often a distraction from the real issue of hermeneutics.

4.   Dangers of Unqualified Inerrancy

a.   Orthodox theology has always been the product of:

1)   The insights of ongoing exegesis.
2)   The historic witness of the church with respect to doctrinal decisions.
3)   The contemporary society’s insights into reality.

        NOTE: When any one of these three streams is absolutized, the authority of the Word of God is in danger of being compromised.

b.   Bibliolatry — the preoccupation with and defensive reference to the scientific precision of the Biblical text.

c.   The tendency to confuse the inerrancy of the text with the inerrancy of the interpreter.

5.   The Chicago statement of Biblical inerrancy (see theology file #216)




The Point


While the Bible has absolute authority in all spiritual and moral matters that it affirms, it is not to be tested by modern standards of scientific accuracy.






I am to understand that:

The Bible can be trusted but it must be interpreted with care and not expected to satisfy a criteria for accuracy that is unique to our modern scientifically precise age.


I am to believe that:

God can make His will clear to me through the Bible.


I am to behave by:

Becoming a serious open-minded student of the Bible without fear of asking hard questions or needing to have all the answers.


Pastoral advice


What is the point of the inerrancy debate?

  1.  The real issue is not only the nature of the Bible but also the limitations of the reader of the Bible. The fact that people who have the same view of inerrancy can have very different understandings of the message is the concern. The real debate is over hermeneutics.

  2.  Some shade of “full” or “limited” inerrancy seems to be in order.

  3.  Our credibility is compromised when we try to defend a position that requires lapses in logic that we would never tolerate in our critics.



Questions that you should be able to answer.

1.  Specific facts you should know.

a.  What are two problems with absolute inerrancy?

b.  What is a responsible definition of inerrancy?

2.  Issues that you should be able to discuss.

a.  Why is Biblical inerrancy an issue?

b.  What are the best arguments from the Bible for inerrancy?

c.  How would you explain some of the apparent inconsistencies in the Bible?

3.  Questions you should wrestle with.

a.  Does the issue of inerrancy avoid more serious controversies? Which issues?

b.  How fundamental is the issue of inerrancy to our faith?


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