What is Inerrancy?

One of my favorite new sites on the web is CREDO. It is an on-line magazine, blog, media and book review site. The inaugural edition of Credo Magazine is dedicated to the doctrine of Scripture. In it, Matthew Barrett addresses the doctrine of the Scripture's inerrancy. In defining inerrancy, Barrett writes:

The inerrancy of Scripture simply means that all of the Bible, in its original manuscripts, never asserts anything that is contrary to fact or in error, but always speaks the truth on every matter it discusses. Scripture, and all of Scripture, is free from falsehood, fraud, and deceit. While the Bible does not inform us of every fact on any particular subject, nevertheless, in what it does address on any subject it is true and without fabrication (2 Pet 1:21). One of the best definitions of inerrancy comes from Paul Feinberg when he writes, “Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences” (Inerrancy, 294).

Unfortunately, many opponents of inerrancy grossly misunderstand its meaning. Feinberg, whose work dates back to 1980, outlines several misunderstandings of inerrancy (299). However, many, if not most, of these misunderstandings of inerrancy prevail today.

1. Inerrancy does not demand strict adherence to the rules of grammar.
2. Inerrancy does not exclude the use either of figures of speech or of a given literary genre.
3. Inerrancy does not demand historical or semantic precision.
4. Inerrancy does not demand the technical language of modern science.
5. Inerrancy does not require verbal exactness in the citation of the Old Testament by the New.
6. Inerrancy does not demand that the Logia Jesu (the sayings of Jesus) contain the ipsissima verba (the exact words) of Jesus, only the ipsissima vox (the exact voice).
7. Inerrancy does not guarantee the exhaustive comprehensiveness of any single account or of combined accounts where those are involved.
8. Inerrancy does not demand the infallibility or inerrancy of the noninspired sources used by biblical writers.

Each of these is worth further investigation, but for our purposes I only wish to highlight one, which crops its head up relentlessly in every generation. Inerrancy does not mean that there must always be semantic and historical precision. One can be truthful without being totally precise. If someone asks where I was born, I would likely answer California. Have I been untruthful since, to be precise, I was born in Southern California, and not just Southern California but Glendale, California, which is a city within Los Angeles, and not just in Glendale but in a hospital, room 452 to be exact? It should be obvious that my original answer was adequate, and therefore truthful in every way. No error was committed. Similarly, the Bible is not in error should it estimate, round up, give an average, or speak in generalities at times. The authors of Scripture are situated culturally and utilize simile, parables, hyperbole, metaphor, and many other forms of speech just as we do. None of these preclude the Bible’s ability to speak truthfully. Too often we impose our assumption that to be truthful there must be absolute technicality, when in reality we live in a world where reliability does not necessarily require meticulous exactitude. As The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy observes, “Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.”
Read the entire issue HERE. Read it in PDF form HERE.