The Bible is a unique book. Comprised of texts from 40 authors written within a timeframe of about 2000 years on three different continents, the Bible presents a consistent message of who God is, who people are in relationship to God, and God’s redemptive plan for humanity. To have such unity in its diversity is supernatural. A Christian’s faith is grounded in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ as found in Scripture, and He is our only hope of salvation. A key doctrine that undergirds this faith is the belief the Bible is inerrant. Biblical inerrancy asserts the intended meaning of the original author’s writing (the autographs) imparts no untrue message. Whatever the original writers sought to communicate—whether it’s a historical event, theological truth, or anything else—is entirely true.
The record of how Jesus calmed the storm in the Gospel of Mark is a case in point. One of its purposes is to show Jesus’ authority even over the elements. In his account, Mark adds this detail: “But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow” (Mark 4:38). The minor elements of Jesus being in the stern of the boat on a pillow contribute nothing the author seeks to convey except details about the setting. Nonetheless, these minor statements are just as factual as the message of Jesus’ absolute authority.
What Does the Bible Teach about Inerrancy?
The Bible itself affirms the doctrine of its inerrancy, and Paul tells us all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Some Bible translations use the phrase inspired by God. We tend to think of inspiration in terms of an artist being inspired to paint because of a gorgeous sunset. Certainly, God did inspire the authors in this sense; however, that is not the reference in 2 Timothy. The Greek word used for inspiration is the compound word theopneustos: Theo meaning God, and Pneustos meaning breathed out. Therefore, all Scriptures were breathed out by God. With this in mind, we are assured as Paul reveals God as the ultimate Source from which the Scriptures came. This is the decisive reason Scripture is inerrant. If God is the Originator of the Bible, then the Bible must reflect God’s perfect nature. If it’s impossible for God to communicate any untrue thing (Hebrews 6:18), then His Word must be inerrant.
There is an alternative view of biblical inerrancy which claims the biblical texts contain the inerrant word of God, but the writings themselves contain errors because the authors were imperfect people. Such a view is ungrounded in Scripture because Peter tells us the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of the original autographs to produce God’s Word (2 Peter 1:20-21). The authors did not write from their own opinions or imperfect understanding of God, instead, they were the means God used to produce His perfect Word. This does not mean the biblical authors acted as mere puppets God overtook to write the Bible. Instead, God allowed each author to write using their own personality and background while they recorded Scripture. God, however, insured His divine message was recorded as He willed. As the Holy Spirit moved through the authors, He prevented them from making errors because God and His works are perfect and would not allow or encourage any mistakes.
Does Everything in Scripture Have a Purpose?
Everything in Scripture does have a purpose, yet that does not mean every word, sentence and detail communicate a spiritual truth in and of itself. This is especially true when we come across historical narratives. When 2 Timothy 3:16 states all Scripture is profitable, it is speaking of Scripture in its entirety. The Bible does not only teach doctrines, but it also records the historical events through which truths were revealed. In many instances, a section of text does not teach the reader any theological or spiritual truth within its immediate context. Yet when considered in the broader context of the book or biblical narrative, it inevitably ties into a profitable truth from which the reader can learn.
A good example may be found in the book of Numbers. In the first chapter, God commands Moses to take a census of all men 20 years old and up who are able to fight among the tribes of Israel (Numbers 1:1-3). We are told later in the same chapter the tribe of Gad had 45,650 men (Numbers 1:25). There is nothing inherently significant about the specific number of men being 45,650, however, when this text is considered in the broader context of the biblical narrative, we see wonderful things such as how our faithful God fulfilled His promise of many descendants to Abraham (Genesis 22:17). In part, the book of Numbers allows us to see God’s faithfulness demonstrated by the fact the Israelites grew into a substantial nation exactly as God promised. A large part of Scripture records how God moved through history to implement His salvation plan for us. All Scripture was written for a purpose.
Must a Person Believe in Biblical Inerrancy in Order to Be Saved?
A person does not need to believe the Bible is inerrant to be saved. A person’s salvation depends only on their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as the truth Scripture reveals (John 3:16, Romans 10: 9-10). However, one should not be quick to dismiss the importance of biblical inerrancy for a believer’s faith. If the Bible has errors, major ramifications will ensue. Any errant claim has no authority over a person’s life because it cannot be true. When it comes to knowing God and what He expects of us, we are completely dependent on Him to truthfully reveal Himself. We do not have the ability to know God personally through our own efforts.
If the Bible is our source to know God, and it has errors in it, there is no way for us to distinguish which parts are true and which are false, including the gospels. Furthermore, if the Bible is God-breathed, and it has errors, that would mean God breathed out lies and His character is flawed. If God has flaws, He is no longer God.
It’s popular these days for people to treat their beliefs like personal opinions, void of objective truth. But faith and truth go hand-in-hand. Placing faith in a belief you doubt is impossible. Biblical inerrancy provides the only grounds on which a believer can stand to grow in their faith. Questions and concerns arise in every believer’s life regarding their faith. Acceptance of the idea of the biblical fallacy will lead people to question God’s Word and subject themselves to unreliable, deceitful human beliefs. Such a person runs the risk of becoming detached from the truth and blown around by every wind of doctrine that comes from the deception of people, as Paul describes in Ephesians (Ephesians 4:13-15). Scripture tells us the heart is not a reliable source of truth when it comes to knowing about God, because it is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 16:25).
Although believing biblical inerrancy is not directly linked to a Christian’s salvation, it does provide the only solid foundation for a Christian’s belief in Jesus to face the world’s challenges. If a person attempts to live the Christian life without acknowledging the Bible’s inerrancy, the effort is like mountain climbing with no safety gear. One slip could be fatal.
Christians can have full confidence in God to provide a pure source of truth we can trust. After all, God is the source of all truth and He defines reality (Colossians 1:16-17). He is fully competent to both provide and preserve the truth of His Word. All Christians are imperfect and sinful human beings, and there are going to be times we struggle with confusing or difficult passages in God’s Word. And though our faith may get shaken, we should never fall into the temptation to subject God’s Word to the fallible perceptions of people. For this reason, Scripture teaches total dependence on God rather than on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). Knowing Scripture is inerrant and can be fully trusted will give believers the footing necessary to grow in their faith. A Christian can have full assurance of their salvation in Jesus Christ because the Gospel is found in God’s inerrant Word.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Javier_Art_Photography
Stephen Baker is a graduate of Mount Union University. He is the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022).
He attends Faith Fellowship Church in East Rochester, OH where he has given multiple sermons and is discipled by pastor Chet Howes.