Inspiration and Inerrancy

Jason just left a comment on my last post noting the connection that most folks make between inspiration and inerrancy.  As I told Jason, there was a time when I made the same connection, but I don’t any more.  So the question for this post is: do you think there’s a connection between inspiration and inerrancy, and if so, is it inextricable?

I’ll answer and say that I don’t think an inspired document has to be inerrant by virtue of its inspiration.  Paul Seely makes this point when he says:

Many evangelicals expect biblical history to be in accord with the actual facts simply because it is inspired by God. The Scriptures teach, however, that inspiration is not the same thing as revelation, and as far as I know all evangelical theologians acknowledge this. This distinction is particularly relevant to biblical history because biblical historians never claim to have received their historical facts by revelation. Biblical history is always presented as based on human sources, not divine revelation, which is in contrast to the claims of the prophets. Biblical historians often refer to their human sources, such as the Book of Jasher (Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18) or The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel or of Judah (1 Kings 14:19, 29). Luke’s preface to his Gospel is a prime example of this (Luke 1:1–4).

Accordingly, if a human source which a biblical historian is using has a mistake in it, such as the Septuagint’s mistranslation of mtth, “bed,” in Gen. 47:31 as “staff,” we see from Heb. 11:21 that the resulting historical misrepresentation of the facts will not necessarily be corrected by the inspired writer. The idea that inspiration will correct or avoid all factual errors in a biblical historian’s sources is not taught in Scripture nor borne out by the phenomena of Scripture. (“Concordism and a Biblical Alternative: An Examination of Hugh Ross’s Perspective” PSCF 59/1 (2007): 37-45, here 42.)



25 thoughts on “Inspiration and Inerrancy

  1. I’m with you, Nick. All the way.

    Just don’t become an “errantist” to spite an acrobatic “inerrantist” like Gleason Archer. That’s going from the frying pan into the fire.

  2. John: Don’t worry, I have no intentions on going that route. I’m convinced that there are relatively few errors in the Bible and the ones that are in there are so insignificant that I can’t see how they affect anyone’s faith (unless of course their faith is founded upon a strict inerrancy and not Christ).

  3. I tried to say this once in a post, but I’m not sure I met my goal ;)

    I like the succinctness of “I don’t think an inspired document has to be inerrant by virtue of its inspiration.”

  4. Hey Nick,
    Given the look of your bookshelf and reading list, you seem to be quite interested in the early Church fathers. If you want to dive deeper into the question, I would encourage you to look into what they had to say about the relationship between inspiration and inerrancy. The Fathers are unanimous on Scripture’s freedom from error, which they see as a direct result of inspiration–i.e., the uniquely divine authorship of Scripture. In other words, the doctrine of inerrancy flows directly from the doctrine of inspiration. Or put another way, an inspired document does have to be inerrant if it is authored by God, because God, who is Truth itself, cannot err.

    It’s rather common in discussions of inerrancy for people to never look into what the early apostolic tradition had to say about it. The biblical texts are minimal, as someone noted, but the Fathers had quite a bit to say, and alot of it is quite nuanced on questions of history, physics, and language, which they were already thinking about and discussing (esp. Augustine and Jerome).

    If you want an amazing discussion of patristic quotes on inerrancy (esp. Jerome and Augustine), check out Benedict XV’s encyclical on Jerome, which deals with the matter at length. You can find it here:

    Also helpful is Leo XIII’s detailed encyclical on the matter also, which can be found here:


  5. Bitsy: I value succinctness. ;-)

    Brant: Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll look into them. And while I fully affirm that Scripture is the Word of God and God cannot err, I also affirm that Scripture is recorded in the words of men and men can and do err. Herein lies the dilemma for me since my view of inspiration is not one that sees it as entailing some sort of mechanical dictation (akin to what Muslims believe about the Qur’an). Another question for me centers around what inspiration actually entails. As I said in the post previous to this one, I wonder how much we can really say about inspiration past the fact that Scripture is inspired.

  6. I’m having a hard time grasping how something can be inspired by God and yet err. Any recommendations on some reading material to help me through this?

  7. lightlyderidingthewordoftruth: Clever name. I pray that it’s not descriptive though. ;-)

    Reading recommendations? I guess I’d suggest the Bible. I haven’t read any books on the subject as of yet but if I come across some I’ll let you know. Out of curiosity, what is your understanding of inspiration?

  8. A simplistic, fundamentalist, independent Baptist understanding of inspiration. From God’s mind to the authors pen.

    “inspiration is not the same thing as revelation” is a foreign concept to me. I don’t have a college degree or anything. I may be out of my league here.

    The name is not descriptive :D


  9. I think sometimes we attribute too much meaning to words. Inspiration, theopneustos, could merely be nickpneustos or justinpneustos, but here its Godpneustos. Therefore, these words are from me. How?, that is not answered but that they are from God is. So I think Im with you Nick that we cant deny the fact of inspiration, but the how is non-postulational. And I think our frustration with not knowing more than its existence is troubling because we put too much stalk in a document (although sacred and I dont undermine it) and not in Christ (dare I say it, although over at this was dealt with well).

  10. lightly: (I’m going to have to abbreviate that unless you have another name you’d like me to address you by) — Don’t worry, I don’t have a college degree either, so we’re in the same boat. I wonder though what we do with the parts of the Bible that quote non-biblical material if we say “from God’s mind to the author’s pen.” Does that extra-biblical stuff become inspired?

    Justin: I couldn’t agree more. The greatest thing about the Bible is not its God-brethed-ness or its inerrancy; it’s the fact that it points to someone greater!

  11. Nick, a good book on this subject is “Biblical Inspiration by I. Howard Marshall”, also another good book on the subject is by none other than “Clark H. Pinnock w/ Barry L. Callen – The Scripture Principle”

    Just wondering since there seems to be many definitions on inerrancy just how do you define it?

    The strictest definition that I have read is:
    “Inerrant: it is without error or fault in all it’s teachings” Biblical Inspiration p10

    Marshall also defines Inspiration as such: “The doctrine of inspiration is a declaration that the Scriptures have their origin in God; it is not and cannot be an explanation of how God brought them into being. p44 “

  12. Robert: Thanks. I actually have Marshall’s book (well, a PDF of it) so I’ll check it out, and I just ordered Pinnock’s book yesterday with a CBD gift certificate.

    I define inerrancy as ‘without or free from error.’ Generally when I talk about inerrancy I’m talking about the stricter forms of the doctrine such as outlined in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy.

    I’d agree with Marshall’s comment on inspiration.

  13. BTW: Marshall does not hold to inerrancy just in case anyone was wondering. He prefers the word “infallible in the sense that it is entirely trustworthy p72.” I also prefer saying that the bible is “entirely trustworthy in what it affirms.” Not sure If I like the word infallible any better.

    I think trying to redefine inerrancy would be too much trouble. Infallible can also be misunderstood. Maybe they both need to be trashed and a new word coined for a better understanding of biblical inspiration?

    I like Marshall’s book because he deals with many of the questions asked in regards to inspiration and inerrancy. I tend to think that the only way to have strict inerrancy if the whole bible was dictating by God, which it was not.

    Pinnock’s book is great because he gives you a history as to how his theological views have shifted and explains why he was a defender of the inerrant position, and why he moved away from it. Pinnock says it this way “The word “inerrancy” can be retained legitimately, I conclude, when defined as “a metaphor for the determination to trust God’s Word completely” p261″

    But again it’s redefining a word that is understood by many to have a unique meaning. I prefer to just can it as I mentioned earlier and seek new ways to explain inspiration.

  14. Robert: I also prefer to speak of Scripture in terms of its trustworthiness and authority. I believe it’s trustworthy and authoritative but not necessarily inerrant as I understand inerrancy. Some people have a problem with that but I can’t change my views to suit other folks. Who knows, maybe my reading this year will bring about a shift in my views.

  15. Nick, I think that you are right on. Inerrancy in it’s strictest sense does not sit well with me either. In some ways it’s even illogical even though Geisler will argue that it is it’s logical conclusion. Which I think you mentioned in your other posting.

    I also trust the bible completely and think that it is trustworthy, authoritative and inspired by God.

  16. Robert: Geisler is the one who turned me off to systematic theology! When I was young in the Lord I had an adjunct professor at Talbot tell me that Norman Geisler was one of the top apologists/theologians in the world so I went ahead and bought like 8 of his books including his systematic theology. I would have loved to have saved that money! Funnily enough I think I might get the volume he edited on inerrancy though. I’m going to build that section of my library considerably this year.

  17. Robert’s book suggestions and the conversation that followed have given me a direction to go in. Thanks all.

  18. i find it interesting that inerrancy, that is, ‘without error’ is defined apophatically around the concept of error instead of positively by what it is. what’s the positive opposite of ‘error’? ‘truth?’ ‘correctness’? i thought the opposite of ‘true’ was ‘false.’ or is ‘completeness’ somehow tied in this?


  19. Scott: I don’t think that ‘truth’ is the positive opposite of error since not all error is falsehood or lies. I guess correctness works. But doesn’t the ‘in-‘ in inerrancy force us to define the word apophatically?

  20. i think it does. and as a result, i would argue that the entire discussion is apophatically scrambling. it seems a compromisingly funny way to authoritatively and compellingly present ‘good news.’ and it seems puzzling as well that this uphill scramble has gained such air time.


  21. hey, nick–

    just another thought, sideways related.

    in another venue, i’ve been thinking about issues and priciples that deepen faith. relating that stuff to this conversation, you’re saying that discussions about trustworthiness of scripture are better opportunities for faith deepening than discussions about inerrancy. i would agree.

    actually, for me discussions about the ‘scripture as source of wisdom’ are the best faith deepening discussions. trustworthiness of scripture, maybe 7 out of ten. authority of scripture (which you mentioned above), maybe 2.5 out of ten. inerrancy of scripture, maybe 0.5 out of ten.

    in your experience, do any of the discussions about inerrancy you’ve read or engaged in seem to show a faith deepening in the participants that make it 9 out of ten, and thus worth the air time?
    it surely must be faith deepening to someone.

    and my question to someone whose faith was deepened by a discussion about inerrancy, in what ways is it deepened?

    just thinking out loud.


  22. Scott: To be honest, from what I’ve engaged in and seen, discussions about inerrancy tend to be divisive and polarizing. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever had a faith deepening experience from such a discussion, nor can I say with confidence that I’ve witnessed one. So I’ll have to leave it to someone else to describe if and in what way their conversations about inerrancy have deepened their faith.

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