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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: What Are Some Important Clarifications to the Doctrine of Inerrancy?

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Question 2

What Are Some Important Clarifications to the Doctrine of Inerrancy?

In order to have a proper understanding of what the Bible says about itself, there are a number of important clarifications that need to be made about the doctrine of inerrancy, or the trustworthiness of Scripture. They include the following:

  1. The Bible Is Inerrant When Conforming to Ancient Standards of Historical Accuracy

    This point is essential. Scripture was written in the ancient world to ancient peoples. Therefore, the writers should not be required to write like modern-day historical writers. This does not mean that the writers of Scripture were inaccurate; it means that they wrote in an inerrant way according to the standards current at the time. For example, there is no attempt to fill in all the major historical details of the history of the descendants of Abraham. Indeed, we find that in the first few verses in the Book of Exodus several centuries are covered:

    All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already). And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:5-8 NKJV)

    Therefore, we should never attempt to make the writers of Scripture something that it was impossible for them to be—modern historical writers.

  2. Inerrancy Allows for Non-Technical Descriptions

    The doctrine of inerrancy allows for the Bible to be written in non-technical descriptions. We must allow for a biblical writer to explain a natural event from the point of view of an observer. An example of this is that the Bible says that “dew fell.”

    When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it. (Numbers 11:9 NASB)

    Dew does not literally fall down. This statement, although not scientifically precise, is exactly what it looks like from the vantage point of an observer. We do not need to assume the writer is making a scientific statement about the nature of the universe when such a statement is made. Inerrancy allows for these types of statements. The Bible was written in the common, non-technical language of its day. It was not written in scientific language, or unscientific language, rather it was written in non-scientific language.

  3. Inerrancy Allows for Pictorial Language

    Holding to an inerrant Bible allows for pictorial language and figures of speech. Interpreting the Bible literally does not rule out figurative language when the context calls for it. The Bible uses literary devices such as metaphor, simile, and hyperbole to make a point. Truth can be communicated through figures of speech. Inerrancy does not mean that passages need to be interpreted in a “wooden literal” manner - it does recognize figures of speech when the context calls for it.

  4. Inerrancy Does Not Demand Exact Precision

    Inerrancy means that a statement can be true without scientific precision. General statements can be inerrant without being precise if the writer and the readers understood that exact precision was not intended. This is best illustrated in the practice of Scripture rounding off the numbers. We find this happening often in Scripture.

  5. Inerrancy Allows for Recording Different Details of the Same Events

    The doctrine of inerrancy also allows for different writers to describe the same events with different details. This is particularly the case with the four gospels. Each gospel writer would have viewed events from his own unique perspective. This would account for the reason that some of the details appear different. The Gospels record many of the same events with explanations that do not match word for word. These accounts are complementary, not contradictory—they merely emphasize different points. Each author records what is important to himself as an historian. No one gives all the details of any account they record. Therefore, the details can vary.

    In addition, it must be remembered that Jesus often spoke in Aramaic, while the writers of Scripture wrote their accounts in Greek. This means they had to translate those portions into Greek. One gospel writer would use slightly different words from another writer to describe the same incident. However, all of the accounts gave the same meaning.

  6. Inerrancy Allows for Varieties of Writing Styles

    Inerrancy allows each biblical author to use his own unique style, grammar, and vocabulary. For example, Luke is written in very good Greek, while John’s gospel is composed in rather elementary Greek. Paul writes with a lot of emotion, while Matthew gets straight to the point. Inerrancy allows for these differing styles.

  7. Inerrancy Allows Quotations from the Old Testament That Are Not Word-for-Word

    Inerrancy allows for quotations from the Old Testament to be paraphrases rather than word-for-word translations. Actually, there is no other way this could have been done. The New Testament writers had to translate the Old Testament when citing references since the New Testament was written in Greek while the Old Testament was written in Hebrew with small portions in Aramaic. Translation, therefore, was necessary.

  8. Inerrancy Allows for Departure from Standard Forms of Grammar

    The writers of Scripture have to be allowed to express the truth in whatever grammatical form they wish—not some standard or rule that someone else may insist upon. The doctrine of inerrancy allows for departure from standard forms of grammar. Thus, we can say that God supernaturally kept the human author from any error, but, in doing so, He did not dictate the exact form of their message ? and this includes grammatical irregularities.

  9. Inerrancy Allows for Problem Passages to Exist

    Inerrancy allows for problem passages that presently have no solution. This is to be expected with a work that was written by so many different authors and spans so much time as the Bible. It is not reasonable to assume that all the problems will be easily solvable. The solutions to problems presently found in the text await either the archaeologist’s spade or further research into the biblical languages. There are some other cases where the solution may never be found. While waiting for a solution to a Bible difficulty, it is proper to take the biblical stance toward Scripture—there are no errors or contradictions in its pages. Belief in inerrancy leads Christians to approach the Scripture with an attitude of faith and trust as well as patience when faced with problem passages.

    The reason people accept the inerrancy of Scripture is not because they have worked through all of its problems and have come up with reasonable solutions, but rather because this is the view of Christ and His apostles toward the Scripture. The point should not be missed.

  10. Not Every Statement Can Be Proven to Be Inerrant

    Again, we must emphasize that the term, “inerrancy” does not cover every statement that is contained in the Bible. There are a number of statements, by definition, that cannot be verified in the normal course of historical or scientific investigation. These statements that are outside the realm of being proven to be true or false are nevertheless totally trustworthy. Therefore, when we say that the Bible is inerrant, we mean that it is totally trustworthy in everything that it records.

Conclusion: Any Doctrine of Inerrancy Must Have These Qualifications

Therefore, when we speak of the inerrancy or trustworthiness of Scripture, we must keep these qualifications in mind. This doctrine must be properly understood to have an accurate view about what the Bible says about itself.

Summary - Question 2
What Are Some Important Clarifications to the Doctrine of Inerrancy?

There are a number of important clarifications for a proper doctrine of inerrancy. First, the doctrine of inerrancy means that the writers of Scripture conformed to the standards of accuracy for the day—not as modern historians would present the documents of the past. Inerrancy allows for non-technical descriptions of things.

Inerrancy also allows the writers of Scripture to use pictorial language. The doctrine of inerrancy does not always call for scientific precision. The writers of Scripture also may use different words to describe the same event. Inerrancy allows for a number of different writing styles in Scripture. Inerrancy also permits the writers of the New Testament to cite the Old Testament without quoting it word for word.

The writers of Scripture are also permitted to express God’s truth in whatever grammatical form they wish. Inerrancy allows for problem passages to exist. It is also important to emphasize that the term inerrancy does not cover all types of statements found in Scripture.

What Is the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy? ← Prior Section
Does the Bible Testify to Its Own Inerrancy? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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