Inerrancy is not a popular term in the world of biblical studies today. For many, it is viewed asananti-intellectual, fear-motivated invention of nineteenth-and twentieth-century American fundamentalists who were tryingto protect the Bible’s authority from the rising tide of Enlightenment rationalism. A.E. Harvey, in his recent book Is Scripture Still Holy? captures the modern academic sentiment quite well: “Inerrancy…is both theologically and philosophically indefensible and rightly rejected by the majority voice of a generation which has, in this respect, genuinely ‘come of age.’”
Unfortunately, these sorts of criticisms are all too common. Inerrancy is portrayed as out of date, academically naive, intellectually dishonest, and (perhaps most surprisingly) even unbiblical. In the midst of such a climate, more and more evangelicals are shying away from the doctrine of inerrancy for fear that they will be the unfortunate recipients of such labels.
Definition of Inerrancy
So what is it about inerrancy that engenders such reactions even from some professing evangelicals? One might think that inerrancy must be one of the most ridiculous doctrines ever conceived. Surely it must be the equivalent of belief in a geocentric universe (actually, such comparisons have been made). But, in fact, the doctrine of inerrancy is simple and, in the scope of church history, uncontroversial.
Put simply, the doctrine of inerrancy is the belief that the Bible is true.
Of course, there is much more to say about the definition than this. Countless books have been written explaining, defining, and defending this doctrine, not to mention the affirmations and denials of the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. But the gist of inerrancy is the belief that the Bible is God’s Word and that when God speaks, He speaks truth. Thus, belief in inerrancy is the conviction that whatever the Bible affirms is accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
The belief that the Bible is true is hardly a scandalous and unprecedented idea. Indeed, the belief in inerrancy is rather tame when compared to other language that Christians have used regarding the Bible. Christians have historically claimed that the Bible is infallible, an even stronger claim than inerrancy. Whereas inerrancy simply means that the Bible is free from error, infallibility means the Bible is incapable of erring—a much more rigorous property. Inerrancy does not require infallibility, but infallibility requires inerrancy. Put differently, inerrancy flows naturally from other Christian truths we already believe (and that have been believed throughout church history).
Objections to Inerrancy
Given these considerations, one might wonder what the fuss is all about regarding inerrancy. In order to answer that question, let us examine some of the main objections that have been made.
1. Inerrancy is a new (and American) idea within the history of Christianity. Some have insisted that inerrancy is an invention of American fundamentalism and is thus an idea without precedent in the history of Christianity. Such a misconception may be due to semantics—some are hung up on the history of the word inerrancy itself. But the concept of inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is true in all that it affirms, is by no means an American invention. It has been the standard view throughout the history of the church. In the fifth century, Augustine said, “Only to those books which are called canonical have I learned to give honor so that I believe most firmly that no author in these books made any error in writing.”