Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sola Scriptura: The inerrancy of Scripture

With the theory of partial inerrancy done away with, let us go to the next topic: the Inerrancy of Scripture.

Now, to say that Scripture is inerrant is to say that all of Scripture, every word of Scripture as it is in the autorgraphs is inerrant (Verbal Plenary Inspiration). The opposite view is that the Scriptures are errant; with errors in it, with no viable middle ground. As stated before, there are no explicit evidence for inerrancy, but there are a lot of implict evidences in Scripture for it. If one abides by the absolute authority and truth of Scripture, one can be confident that there are no errors in the Bible, since the Bible itself say it is without error. Of course, this is a circular argument, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

So how do opponents of the inerrancy of Scriptures, all liberals, try to disprove inerrancy? Basically, they use the same points and more which the partial inerrantists borrowed to argue against total inerrancy. However, at least the liberals are consistent with their philosophy, since they do not postulate certain parts of Scripture as being inerrant. They attempt to prove their case by (i) Pointing out alleged contradictions in the Bible, (ii) Contradiction with established scientific and historical facts, (iii) Pointing out textual variants and then extrapolating that to say that this show errors in the Bible, and when all else fails, (iv) Saying that doing so makes the Bible a 'paper pope' and is bibliolatry (OR Christ is bigger than the Scriptures).

Now, what do we Christians say to this? All of these are extra-biblical evidences, for sure. That does not necessarily make it wrong, but we must see if they are actually sound arguments against the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.

(i) Pointing out alleged contradictions in the Bible

If Scripture is inerrant, then all of its facts must be correct. One way of testing this is to see if facts stated in the Scripture are consistent among the different accounts found in certain parts of Scripture. For example, the Resurrection accounts in the different Gospels seem to be different in some places. In the account in Matthew, it is stated that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb (Mt. 28:1) whereas in John, it is stated that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb (Jn. 20:1). This appears to be a contradiction here. However, just because the Johannine account mention Mary Magdalene only does not imply that only Mary Magdalene was present. If I say that there is one marble (on a plate containing two marbles), I would not be lying unless I say there is only one marble. Thus, in evaluating supposed contradictions in the Bible, we must check to see whether the 'contradictions' is due to our reading our low-context interpretation into the Bible, as the Bible is a high-context text rather than a low-context one as our modern society now is. It is my belief that most of the supposed errors and contradictions in the Bible are in actually neither and are simply presenting the truth in different ways which may cause difficulties due to our low-context reading lenses[1].

However, are there any errors or contradictions in the Bible which are really valid? A few numerical errors found in the Bible, like a numerical inflation of 10 times could be seen when comparing passages like 2 Sam. 10:18 and 1 Chron. 19:18. Also, there seem to be a discrepancy found between the genealogies of Luke and Genesis, with Lk 3:36 having an extra Cainan, supposedly the son of Arphaxad, in it, which is not found in the Genesis account[2]. However, when one counts such errors, there are in actual fact extremely few of such genuine errors in the manuscripts[3],[4] and such errors do not necessarily show that these contradictions are also found in the autographs. Also, such errors only implicate a small amount of the Scriptures and their existence do not touch any major teaching or doctrine in the Bible. Since such is the case, their existence do not negate the teaching of the inerrancy of the Bible in its autographs.

But then some may say that such a move make the inerrancy of Scripture unfalsifiable and also it is ridiculous for us to say that the Bible is inerrant except for the few errors in the Bible. First of all, inerrancy is preserved for the autographs only, not the apographs, which are inerrant inasmuch as they conform to the autograph. For the charge that such a claim would make the teaching unfalsifiable, let it be clear first that this doctrine is primarily for Scriptural and theological reasons, not for its 'scientific' verifiability. Secondly, that is what the science of (lower) textual criticism is for, to correct any copyist errors which had made its way into some of the manuscripts and our Bibles. Thirdly, as I have mentioned, no major doctrines, in fact not even one doctrine mentioned in the Bible, is affected by these copyist errors[3]. For all these reasons, the doctrines of the inerrancy of Scripture and the preservation of Scripture, which will be talked about later, are still maintained.

(ii) Contradictions with established scientific and historical facts

As I have mentioned before in the previous sections, the scientific method is fallible, especially when dealing with the historical sciences, as there are way too many variables and events which are assumed a priori when trying to reconstruct what actually happaned. Typically, the philosophical theory of uniformitarianism is assumed which the scientific data can neither prove nor disprove. The historical theories and 'facts' of relevance to the biblical data falls to the same fallacy also since their dates are often found using scientific methods such as carbon dating. Since such is the case, such contradictions are not important to the doctrine of inerrancy, since if there exists a contradiction, the scientific or historical 'facts' can legitimately be assumed to be wrong as they rest on an unproved philosophical principle.

(iii) Pointing out textual variants and then extrapolating that to say that this show errors in the Bible

The existence of textual variants, most notably that between the Critical Text and the Majority Text traditions, could very well be exploited and extrapolated to say that such variants show that there are errors in the Bible, since the autograph would definitely have only one reading. However, approximately 99.5% of the Bible which account for all the doctrines in the Bible agree completely all of the time[3], and therefore to extrapolate from the existence of textual variants to the existence of errors found in the Bible is invalid.

(iv) Saying that doing so makes the Bible a 'paper pope' and is bibliolatry (OR Christ is bigger than the Scriptures).

When all else fails, this is often the 'best' accusation, often made by the liberals within so-called Protestant circles[5]. However, this is simply ridiculous, as obviously, this charge is not about people bowing down to a physical Bible and offering incense and sacrifices to it (which would be true bibliolatry) but of people revering God's Word. If the Bible is truly the Word of God, and the words therein are God-breathed, then what the Bible says is what God says. Since that is the case, believing the Bible and following its precepts is the same as following God. These people therefore blaspheme God by implying that to obeying Him and to treat His words with reverence is idolatry. To liken the words of God to the pope is highly insulting, noting that the Pope is an antichrist[6]. Nevertheless, the issue of the comparison is related to that of ultimate authority, which we shall cover later.

(to be continued)


[1] For more information, see Josh McDowell (1999), The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, IMprint Edition (2006), published by Campus Crusade Asia Limited, Singapore.

[2] For an examination of this contradiction, see the article Cainan: How do you explain the difference between Luke 3:36 and Gen. 11:12? at

[3] Illustration of Bible text manuscript tree and variant readings (

[4] See also Gleason L. Archer, Alleged Errors and Discrepancies in the Original Manuscripts of the Bible, in Norman L. Geisler (1980), Ed., Inerrancy, published by Zondervan Publishing House, Gran Rapids, MI.

[5] Making the Bible an Idol, Mainstream Messenger, 3:3 at (

[6] The Wesminster Confession of Faith Chapter XXV Sentence VI states that the Pope is The Antichrist. I will not speculate about whether the Pope is indeed THE Antichrist, but I believe he is definitely one of the anitichrists.


Evangelical books said...
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vincit omnia veritas said...

Sorry Daniel, I cannot resist this :)

You write in the 7th paragraph, “First of all, inerrancy is preserved for the autographs only, not the apographs, which are inerrant inasmuch as they conform to the autograph.”

Food for thought:

1) Autographs are inerrant & infallible.

2) Apographs are not inerrant & infallible.

3) We don’t have the autographs today.

4) Textual criticism cannot give us a 100% reconstruction of the autographs.

5) So logically, we do not have the inerrant & infallible Word of God (autographs) today.

I know you mentioned that this doctrine is for “theological reasons, not for its 'scientific' verifiability.” But the Bible we have in our hands depends upon the “science” of textual criticism and its collative verifications. So how do we reconcile this apparent contradiction in logic, that is to say, “We don’t have the autographs, but it doesn’t matter, so long as we have 99% of the autographs.”

But this begs the question, “How do we know EXACTLY what is the autograph if we DO NOT HAVE IT?” Also, 99% similarity to the autograph is not a 100% reproduction of it. Therefore, what we have today i.e. Nestle Aland Greek NT is not inerrant and infallible.

Will the textual critics explain this to me?

Daniel C said...


Maybe I wasn't clearer. I was talking about liberals wrt to Scripture, all other issues being irrelevant. (Thus you may have coservative liberals, German higher critic liberals etc ad infinitum ad nauseum.) According to this clearer definition then, there are two groups of liberals; (for lack of a better term) 'liberal' liberals and 'evangelical' liberals. The former are normally known just as liberals and the latter are normally known as 'evangelical' partial inerrantists.

Regarding the Pope, I do know that the WCF (and the LBCF too) identify the Pope as THE Antichrist. I myself am not too sure about the Antichrist's identity, so I utilize the small letter version 'antichrist'. Pending further revelation of the Man of sin as history unfolds, I would not be dogmatic on the identity of THE Antichrist.

(sigh :P)

I knew you will say this. Perhaps you could wait for my post on the Preservation of Scripture? I agree with you that VPI alone, with the science of textual criticism, will not give us the inerrant and infallible Word of God. As a Christian, my faith on the Word of God being inerrant and infallible is not in any way dependent on the science of textual criticism, if that's what you think I driving at. Maybe that would be clearer when I post on the preservation of Scripture.

Daniel Chew.

Evangelical books said...
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Daniel C said...

Eh... Jensen,

actually, the words looks quite similar to ones we know in English, can you see it?

ad = to/ towards/ near/ up to/ until
infinitum = infinite/ boundless/ infinity
nauseum = nausea/ sea-sickedness

Eh... just ask you, what do the acronyms FP stand for?

Daniel C said...

Oops... grammatical error. Should be 'the words look'. Sry.

Daniel C said...

Eh ...

ya, just edited the article slightly, regarding the use of the word antichrist instead of Antichrist.

Evangelical books said...
This comment has been removed by the author.