The Bible
LESSON FIVE
"The Character of the Scriptures"

Douglas Gleason, AncientLight.org

D.    The Character of Scripture

Scripture, as the inspired word of God bears certain characteristics.  Theologians have said that the Scriptures are, as a result of inspiration, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient or complete.  In this section we will investigate these characteristics and their implications to the doctrine of the word of God.

1.      Introduction

a)     Lesson Outline

II. Bibliology
      D.  The Character of Scripture
                  1.  Introduction
                              a)  Lesson Outline
                              b)  The Problem
                  2.  What the Scriptures Teach
                              a)  The Hebrew Books of Poetry and Wisdom
                              b)  Early Christianity and Acts
                              c)  Pauline Writings
                              d)  Johannine Writings
                  3.  Systematic Formulation
                              a)  It is Infallible and Inerrant
                              b)  It is Authoritative
                              c)  It is Complete (Sufficient)
                              d)  It is Comprehensible (Perspicuous)
                  4.  Alternative Views
                              a)  The Historic View of Israel
                              b)  The Historic View of the Church
                              c)  The Modern Period
                  5.  Defense of the Doctrine
                              a)  Inerrancy Allows for Variety in Style
                              b)  Inerrancy Allows for Variety in Details
                              c)  Inerrancy does not Demand Verbatim Reporting of Events
                              d)  Inerrancy Allows for Problem Passages
                              e)  Inerrancy Demands the Account does not Teach Error
                  6.  Application   

b)     The Problem

A major difficulty that we face when we discuss these characteristics is defining them.  This is particularly true of inerrancy and infallibility.  Those who oppose the doctrine of plenary inerrancy complain that no one has ever satisfactorily defined it or that the definition was so complex that it would die the death of a thousand qualifications!  So we’ll try to keep it simple.

When it is said that Scripture is inerrant it simply means that, in the original manuscripts, Scripture is free from error.  To say that it is infallible is to say that it is incapable of error and true in all that it teaches.  The Scriptures affirm that God is the supreme power or authority in the universe.  The Scriptures are the record of the verbal expression of God.  The Scriptures, therefore, speak with the authority of God.  When theologians say that it is sufficient, they mean the Bible is complete in itself.  It does not need any complementary information, i.e., church traditions, inner light, etc., to supplement it because it is complete. 

How are we to view the character of the Bible?  The Bible has been traditionally held to be inerrant and infallible.  Without doubt, these two are the most important and controversial of the characteristics that I have listed above.  The others mentioned above all flow from them.  Some contemporary theologians have taken umbrage with this characterization of Scripture.  Robert Trayer, representative of the group says:

“There is nothing in the Bible about scripture being literally true, or infallible or inerrant. These are ideas that have been imposed on the Bible by Christians in order to defend certain interpretations of it. To argue that the Bible is literally true, word for word, and not in some places figuratively true or allegorically true, is to interpret the Bible. To assert that the Bible is the infallible word of God, as though it is fixed in time and does not require any translation or interpretation, is to defend an interpretation of the Bible that flies in the face of church history.” [1]

Others argue that because humans were involved in the process of inscripturation, the Bible is demonstrably full of errors.  They agree that because God is perfect, what He revealed to mankind was without error.  On the other hand, man, being sinful, introduced error as he made the record of what God said.  We ask, however, must the writing reflect the limitations and frailties of the human author?  Or did God supernaturally superintend (manage) the process so that what the human authors of Scripture wrote was His word, without error?


2.      What the Scriptures Teach

a)     The Hebrew books of Poetry and Wisdom

A recurring theme of the Psalms is the perfection of Scripture.  David said, “The law of the LORD is perfect [and] the testimony of the LORD is sure.” (Psalm 19:7, 8)  David draws a close analogy between the perfection of God and His word.  In another of the psalms, an anonymous psalmist wrote, “Thy testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul observes them.  The unfolding of Thy words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:129,130)  God’s law, they wrote, is understandable by all who would consider them.

b)     Early Christianity and Acts

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-19)  The Law and Prophets are synonymous with the scriptures contained in the Old Testament.  Here Jesus is saying that they will endure, unchanged, without error.  In the same vein He said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)  We can count on all of His words being trustworthy and true for they will accomplish His purposes.  In fact, the Old Testament writings and teaching was an important element in all that Jesus taught.

In Acts, Luke tells of a controversy in the Sanhedrin caused by the preaching of the Disciples of Christ.  We see the authority of the Scriptures when “a certain Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men…in the present case [the case currently before the Sanhedrin], I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God." (Acts 5:38)  Gamaliel was relying on the authority of the Scriptures as the basis for his advice to the council.  Luke records the words of Paul to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)  Paul is describing the power of God’s word toward those who are the saved.  It is a living word that has the power to build us up.

c)      Pauline Writings

Paul argues for the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  In his letter to Titus[2], he asserts that God cannot lie and this fact is manifest in His word.  In other words we can rely upon the truthfulness of God as contained in the Scriptures.  In Paul’s second letter to Timothy [3], we learn that the Scriptures are complete for all of them are inspired and nothing more is needed.  Moreover, the living word has the power to save the lost and to perfect the saved. Paul said, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” [4] 

d)     Johannine Writings

John echoes the other writers of Scripture in affirming its truthfulness because it is God’s word.  Reminding us of that great prayer for his disciples on the eve of His betrayal, John quotes Jesus as saying "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)  Since the Word of God is truth, it provides the unchanging standard for the course and character of life. When Jesus said ‘thy word is truth, His use of the expression "Thy word" raises the possibility that Jesus may have been referring to himself when he spoke. Jesus said earlier in the evening (14:6) that he was "the truth"; it seems, then, that as the Logos of God Jesus embodied truth in its totality.


3.      Systematic Formulation

a)     It is Infallible and Inerrant

Charles Ryrie said, “A full and high view of [verbal plenary] inspiration requires inerrancy as a natural and necessary part of it.  Errancy and inspiration are incompatible.” [5]  Until the modern period, plenary inspiration and its companion plenary inerrancy has been the firm belief of the church.  The logic behind this settled belief has been well stated by John Witmer:

“Only with the acceptance of the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture is the validity of the Bible safeguarded from deterioration, because only by this doctrine is the existence of the totality of the Scripture as ‘God breathed,’ the Word of God assured.  The logic involved is simple.  To the extent that verbal plenary inspiration is modified, infallibility is removed, human error is admitted.  Since error cannot be ascribed to God, therefore, to the extent that human error is admitted, divine authorship is removed and purely human authorship remains.  To the extent that purely human authorship remains, the authority of God departs.  When the authority of God no longer can be ascribed to all the Bible, then some principle for determining which parts have the authority of God and which do not must be adopted.  And when the adoption of such a principle is necessary, the eternal, objective authority of the Bible—the principle of Sola Scriptura is gone, and subjectivism reigns supreme.” [6]

As we said earlier, when it is said that Scripture is inerrant it simply means that, in the original manuscripts, Scripture is free from error.  To say that it is infallible is to say that it is incapable of error and true in all that it teaches.  According to Ryrie, “if there is any difference in the shade of meaning [between the two terms] it is simply this: infallible includes the resultant idea of trustworthiness while inerrant emphasizes principally the truthfulness of the Scriptures.” [7] 

Now that we have defined inerrancy, we must ask at this point, what is error, anyway?  Robert Horn advises us to:

“Think for a moment about what needs to be demonstrated concerning a ‘difficulty’ in order to transfer it into the category of a valid argument against doctrine.  Certainly much more is required than the mere appearance of a contradiction.   First, we must be certain that we have correctly understood the passage, the sense in which it uses words or numbers.  Second, that we possess all available knowledge in this matter.  Third, that no further light can possibly be thrown on it by advancing knowledge, textual research, archaeology, etc.  Difficulties do not constitute objections.  Unsolved problems are not of necessity errors.  This is not to minimize the area of difficulty; it is to see it in perspective.  Difficulties are to be grappled with and problems are to drive us to seek clearer light; but until such time as we have total and final light on any issue we are in no position to affirm, ‘Here is a proven error, an unquestionable objection to an infallible Bible.’  It is common knowledge that countless ‘objections’ have been fully resolved since this century began.” [8]

We should be very careful, then, about making a mountain (error) out of a molehill (discrepancy).

I want to emphasize that it is only the original autographs (manuscripts) that are inerrant and infallible.  Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is important to note that only the original texts of the original documents were inspired and are therefore inerrant and infallible.  To the extent that the copies of the originals are accurate, they are inerrant.  The original manuscripts are thus said to have original inerrancy and the copies derived inerrancy. 

This should cause no concern regarding the copies that we presently have.  It is reasonable to expect that God would somehow watch over the process of the transmission of His word to the world throughout the ages.  If He communicated truth to us infallibly and inerrantly so that we could know Him, it logically follows that He would superintend the transmission of that truth from the inspired authors to us the uninspired listeners.  This has proven to be the case.  Scholars specializing in textual criticism assure us that we have a remarkably pure text.  Westcott and Hort say that only about one one-thousandth of the text is in doubt.  Further, this infinitesimal variation does not affect any basic doctrine. [9] Concerning the statements of Westcott and Hort, Geisler and Nix say, “Only one-eighth of all the variants had any weight, as most of them are merely mechanical matters such as spelling or style.  Of the whole, then, only about one-sixtieth rise above ‘trivialities,’ or can in any sense be called ‘substantial variations.’  Mathematically this would compute to a text that is 98.33 percent pure.” [10] For all intents and purposes, we have in the Scriptures the content of the original manuscripts.  This is what one would expect if they were the inspired.

Infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture are generally restricted to the intended meaning of Scripture as understood by the ordinary or normal exegesis of the text.  The student of the Scriptures must interpret the text properly to determine the truth or falsity of its teaching.  “So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth.” [11]  Only by careful employment of the normal method of interpretation can the intended meaning of Scripture be ascertained.  The plain and literal sense is what Scripture intends. 

It is also very important to distinguish the subject matter that is taught by Scripture from the terms it uses to teach it.  For example, Hannah, at the dedication of her son Samuel prayed:

"He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S,
And He set the world on them."
[12]

Here, when she speaks of the pillars of the earth, she has in pictorial language referred “to the firmness and stability of God's creation…” [13]  We can see from the context that Scripture has no intention to teach cosmology.  The biblical writers described their world in the terminology of their day, not ours.  This is why we must look to discover what is being asserted in the passage and not give undue emphasis to the terminology used.

The next question is what evidence can we offer in support of this doctrine?  According to Ryrie, the doctrine rests on four concepts; 1) the witness of scripture, 2) a proper concept of communication, 3) the analogy of Christ, and 4) faith. 

Evidence #1 – The Witness of Scripture

Scripture testifies to its own inerrancy.  This is a perfectly acceptable proof for everyone has the right to speak for himself.  On this point A.C. Gaebelein states: “Internal evidence is always the essential subject matter of criticism.” [14]  There are three classes of scriptural references involved.

First, there are those that testify to the truthfulness of God.  Paul and John inform us that God is true.  For this reason, by His very nature, He cannot lie. [15]  Both men use the Greek term alethes (true).  This signifies something which is true in fact as compared to something which is false.  Later on, speaking of the true God, these same writers use the term alethinos. [16]  In this case, it refers to that which is true or genuine contrasted to that which is counterfeit or spurious.  “In other words, this genuine God is trustworthy and truthful in all He does and says.  Is it conceivable that such a God would impart erroneous information to His church?” [17]  It is argued that although God did indeed pass a reliable and truthful revelation to man, man, being fallible, corrupted the process and the record is therefore, errant.  While we will deal with this objection later, we should say now that God fully realized the fallible nature of his chosen instruments.  He is therefore able to safeguard the record from error.

The second class of scriptures emphasizes the abiding character of the complete Scriptures.  Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.  Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  The best interpretation of these difficult verses says that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets in that they point to him, and he is their fulfillment. The smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the yod.  The smallest stroke is a little stroke of the pen that distinguishes several of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet from one another.  Jesus here upholds the full authority of the OT Scriptures right down to the "least stroke of a pen." His is the highest possible view of the OT. [18] It goes without saying that the Lord’s argument here is irrelevant if the Scriptures are subject to error. 

Again, Jesus said, "If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, `You are blaspheming,' because I said, `I am the Son of God'?” [19]  In this place Jesus is defending Himself against the accusation of the Pharisees that He was committing blasphemy by declaring that He was the Son of God.  He rests his argument on the words of Scripture which “cannot be broken.”  This argument is invalid if the Scriptures are not true in each particular and in all of its parts.  These two passages guarantee that the revelation of God is truthfully communicated to us.

The third class of scriptures comprises those in which an argument turns on a word or form of a word.  One afternoon, late in His ministry, Jesus was challenged by some Sadducees over the issue of marriage.  They set the stage by telling of a man who was married.  He died so according to the Law, his wife became the wife of the next eldest brother.  This brother died and so on until all the brothers were dead.  The question posed was in the resurrection whose wife was she?  Jesus responded “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, `I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." [20]  In this case Jesus’ argument is based on the present tense of the verb to be.  This is seen in His quotation of Exodus 3:6.  I AM is the Hebrew verb to be and is in the present tense.  This makes God the ever living one.  Change the tense of this term and the argument falls apart. 

Paul makes a similar argument in Galatians.  “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.” [21]  In this case his argument turns on the singular form of the word seed in contrast to the plural seeds.  None of these arguments or others like them in Scripture is valid unless the grammatical forms, i.e., the gender, number, case and tense, the words themselves all are to be trusted.  If the Scriptures are not inerrant, then nothing about them can be trusted.

Evidence # 2 - A Proper Concept of Communication

One objection made to inerrancy is that the word forms that are verbalized are not what are important, it is the concepts or intended meaning that are important.  This makes one ask, what is the objective basis for determining the accuracy of a communicator’s meaning or concept?  The only answer is an objectively accurate verbal statement of the concept.  Charles Hodge so correctly said, “Men think in words, and the more definitively they think the more are their thoughts immediately associated with an exactly appropriate verbal expression.  Infallibility of thought cannot be secured or preserved independently of an infallible verbal rendering.” [22]

Evidence #3 – The Analogy of Christ

Earlier, we raised the objection of the corrupting influence of the sinful human to the inerrancy of Scripture.  It is admitted that God has transmitted an inerrant revelation to mankind, but sinful men have transcribed that revelation and because of their sinfulness, somehow corrupted the record.  As a result it is errant to some degree and fallible. 

The rebuttal to this objection is to be seen in the analogy of Christ.  It starts with the same logic expressed in the objection to inerrancy and goes like this.  If Jesus Christ was truly human, and humans are sinful, then if follows that Jesus Christ was sinful. 

We know that this logic is faulty on two counts.  First, Jesus Christ, while truly divine, was truly human and sinless. Scripture repeatedly affirms the genuinely human nature of Christ. [23]  Paul said that, “what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin…” [24]  The Lord took on Himself the form of sinful flesh, not sinful flesh itself. Paul could have said en sarki hamartias, but this would have made Christ a partaker of sin.  He also could have said en sarki, but then the bond between His manhood and sin would have been absent. What Paul said was en homoio mati sarkos hamartias, and thus he seems to mean the Son of God had a nature like sinful human nature, but had not Himself a sinful nature. [25]  This human nature came through the instrumentality of Mary, a fallen sinful woman.  The sinlessness of Christ was made possible by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. 

Second, while mankind is indeed sinful, the objection argues that sinfulness is necessary to humanity.  However, sinfulness is not necessary because we know that the first man was created as a sinless being.  For this reason the characteristics of real humanity are not to be found in the universal examples of fallen men around us, they are to be found in Jesus Christ.  We can see in Him that sinfulness, while apart from Christ a universal reality in mankind, is not to be regarded as a requirement of humanity.  Likewise, errancy and fallibility are not a necessary result of human involvement with the process of inscripturation of God’s word.  As we see in the living Word, so too with the written word.  The Holy Spirit in combination with human beings produced the book, the Bible, which is the infallible inerrant Word of God.

Evidence #4 - Faith

The doctrine of inerrancy is not without its problems, some of which we will discuss in later.  These are known as the “phenomena of Scripture” and are apparent discrepancies and errors.  We have alluded to some of these earlier.  The point to be made at this juncture is that when such problems are encountered, we place our trust in the Scriptures rather to our own fallible understanding and resting sure in the knowledge that time after time in the past, the word has been vindicated. 

David Rohl, an Egyptologist who specializes in the third intermediate period, the period coincidental with the Old Testament, in his 1995 work Pharaohs and Kings, postulates that the accepted chronology of Egyptian history is flawed.  He asks why there is apparently so little archaeological evidence for the history of Palestine as recorded in the Old Testament.  He quotes Professor Thompson as saying:

“If we reflect on how easy it is to challenge the historicity not only of a David or Solomon but of events in the reigns of Hezekiah or Josiah, … the very substance of any historical product that attempts to write a history of the late second or early first millennium B.C. in Palestine on the basis of a direct integration of biblical and extra biblical sources,… must appear not only dubious but wholly ludicrous.”

Rohl then comments,

“[Thompson] is basically saying that the Old Testament stories are a fictional composition written in the second century B.C. and that, as a result, it would be a ‘complete waste of time’ (in his words) for anyone to attempt to confirm those stories through archaeology… the Old Testament has no value as an historical source.” [26]

Rohl, who by his own admission is not a believer, goes on to soundly refute Thompson’s statement.  He analyzes the logical pillars upon which the current Egyptian chronology rests and demonstrates from recent archaeological discoveries that they are pillars of straw.  He concludes that the succession of the various dynasties of Egyptian Pharaohs was not one after the other, but that several were simultaneous or parallel in time.  Because Old Testament chronology is linked to and established by Egyptian chronology this means that archaeologists were looking in the wrong geologic strata for their evidence of the destruction of Jericho, for David, Solomon, et. al.  With his revised chronology he takes us to various archaeological sites and looking at the proper strata, there we see the evidence of the biblical story before our eyes.  The student of the Bible would be well advised to have a copy of this work in his library.

b)     It is Authoritative

Authority is defined as “legal or rightful power…exercised by a person in virtue of his office or trust.”  It is in this light that the Scriptures hold that God is the supreme or primary power or authority in the universe.  As God, He by definition is the supreme authority.  As creator, He has the highest authority over His creation.  Other authorities do exist.  God is the primary authority, He as given authority to others.  For example, Paul declares, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” [27]  In this verse we see both primary authority (God’s) and delegated authority (man’s). 

Delegated authority is found in a variety of situations.  In the verse above, Paul is speaking of civil authority or human government.  Men have been called to speak for God with His authority. [28]  The Bible also possesses delegated authority.  This authority is somewhat different from the others because the Bible is the verbal expression of God.  This is much like a proclamation made by a government official, or a decree made by a judicial court, etc.  The authority of the Bible is, therefore, the authority of God.

There are several lines of evidence that support the Bible’s authority.  First, many of the attributes of deity are applied to the Scriptures.  The Psalmist said,

“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is
sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are
right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is
pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are
true; they are righteous altogether.” [29]

We see here the terms perfect, sure, right, pure, enduring forever, true, and righteous. We see these terms applied to the Word of God in other scriptures as well. [30]  The same is seen in the New Testament.  The word of God is called holy, truth, living, and eternal. [31]  All of these testify of the divine character and therefore the divine authority of the Bible.

Second, the authority of the Scriptures is seen when they exercise the prerogatives and do the works of God.  The writer to the Hebrews said, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” [32] 

Third, the authority of the Scriptures is seen in how Jesus regarded it.  Jesus acknowledged the authority of the Bible by the subordination of Himself and His personal authority to it.  Jesus declared His personal authority when He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” [33]  He had this authority from the Father from all eternity.  He demonstrates this subordination of authority when He combats the temptations of Satan by relying on the Scriptures.  His response to temptation in each case was “It is written.” [34]  He could have said “I said…” for this would have been an expression of His personal authority.  By referring to the Bible, He established its authority.

Fourth, it should be said that extent of the authority extends to the entire Bible.  This is plenary authority.  This is a result of verbal plenary inspiration.  Let’s look at Witmer’s logic again:

“Only with the acceptance of the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture is the validity of the Bible safeguarded from deterioration, because only by this doctrine is the existence of the totality of the Scripture as ‘God breathed,’ the Word of God assured.  The logic involved is simple.  To the extent that verbal plenary inspiration is modified, infallibility is removed, human error is admitted.  Since error cannot be ascribed to God, therefore, to the extent that human error is admitted, divine authorship is removed and purely human authorship remains.  To the extent that purely human authorship remains, the authority of God departs.  When the authority of God no longer can be ascribed to all the Bible, then some principle for determining which parts have the authority of God and which do not must be adopted.  And when the adoption of such a principle is necessary, the eternal, objective authority of the Bible—the principle of Sola Scriptura is gone, and subjectivism reigns supreme.”

Anything less than plenary authority leads to confusion.

Finally, just because the Scriptures are inerrant and infallible doesn’t mean that they always record ideas or words that are in complete accord with the mind of God.  Let me explain.  Scripture records statements that are lies and we know that lying is definitely not in accord with the mind of God.  Consider the conversation that Eve had with Satan while in the Garden of Eden.  Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, `You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"  And the woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, `You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.'"  And the serpent said to the woman, "You surely shall not die!  "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." [35]  Satan lied to Eve when he told her she would not die if she disobeyed God’s command.  The inerrancy of Scripture is maintained because it accurately recorded the statement of Satan.  While Satan’s statement is not true, the record of that statement is.

c)      It is Complete (Sufficient)

When theologians say that it is sufficient, they mean the Bible is complete in itself.  It does not need any complementary information, i.e., church traditions, inner light, etc., to supplement it because it is complete.  All of the information required for God’s purposes was communicated to us.  We have a complete record of that communication in the Scriptures.  Since the Scriptures are the only supernatural revelation that God has chosen to superintend and preserve they are sufficient to answer all questions of faith and practice.

At the conclusion of his gospel, John summing up the his record of the life of Jesus Christ said, “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” [36]  Out of all that he observed Jesus Christ doing and saying, out of all that he had reported to him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, John selected some for inclusion in the record.  This fact together with Paul’s statement to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15-17) indicate that the Scriptures are complete. 

John verifies this when in the last book of the New Testament (both in time and position) said, I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” [37]  It is commonly argued that this prohibition to adding to the contents of the prophecy that John records but extends to the rest of Scripture. 

d)     It is Comprehensible (Perspicuous)

When we say that the Scriptures are perspicuous we mean that they are plain to the understanding.  Since God is the ultimate author of the Scriptures they are comprehensible.  After all, God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.  In order for that revelation to be effective, it must be understandable.  This is not to deny that there are difficult things to understand or mysteries or that there is no need for careful exegesis.  It is to say that human beings have been equipped with minds that can understand what God has to say else why would He say it?

Not only are the Scriptures comprehensible, but for those difficult things, for those mysterious things, God has also provided additional help for us.  He has given us the Holy Spirit with His illuminating power to help us understand the mind of God.  Paul clearly teaches us that:

"THINGS which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
AND which HAVE not entered the heart of man,
ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM."

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.  But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man.  For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE SHOULD INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. [38]

Paul does not does say that we need the aid of a church or a priesthood.  He does say that we need the Holy Spirit who is promised to every Christian to help us.  All things that are essential to faith and practice are clearly revealed to us and are clearly understandable.


4.      Alternative Proposals

a)     The Historic View of Israel

Israel, throughout her history, has regarded the Old Testament Scriptures as the very word of God and as such, inerrant and infallible. 

b)     The Historic View of the Church

"Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of Life;
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty;
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life;
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life."

The words of the old hymn reflect the Church’s historic teaching concerning the character of Scripture.  The church, with Israel, has seen the Old Testament as the very words of God.  It has included the writings of the New Testament in its catalogue of Scripture.  They, too, are inerrant and infallible.

c)      The Modern Period

A survey of the literature on the subject reveals that one’s view of the character of Scripture is a direct product of one’s view of inspiration.    A review of the alternative proposals to the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration will demonstrate this fact.  With its roots in the philosophy of German Rationalists liberalism denied that God had spoken and rejected the Bible as the Word of God as their basic presupposition.  The neo-orthodoxy of Barth and Brunner did much to restore the view of the Bible as the Word of God; however, it stopped short of plenary inspiration.  The result is that with Barth, “the prophets and apostles…were real, historical men as we are, and therefore sinful in their action, and capable and actually guilty of error in their spoken and written word.” [39]  Even so, Barth would say, God spoke through the Bible and the person responds in faith.  At that point the Bible becomes the Word of God.  This means that the character of the Scriptures is that of any other book of human authorship until the reader responds to God in faith.  God then enters into some relationship with that person and the Scriptures become His word.  For Brunner, Scripture is merely an errant human word about Christ, the divine Word.

Dewy Beegle, a modern evangelical on the “left wing” of evangelicalism sees different types of inspiration for the various authors of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit endued the great writers of Scripture (Moses, Paul, Jesus), with a special charismata which insured the infallibility of their teaching.  The lesser writers used their own natural abilities. “In all essential matters (emphasis mine) of faith and practice, therefore, Scripture is authentic, accurate, and trustworthy.  It is the indispensable record of revelation, product of inspiration, and source of authority.” [40]  Beegle restricts the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible to these essential matters of faith and practice. 

According to G. C. Berkouwer, when the Word be came Scripture, is succumbed to “time-bound notions, culturally conditioned expressions, and scientific misconceptions.  But none of these imperfections cause the Bible to swerve from its central purpose, which is to uphold the truth of the gospel.” [41]

The 2nd Vatican Council, greatly influenced by protestant neo-orthodoxy, limits the truthfulness and authority of the Bible to matters relating to our salvation when it says, “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings…(emphasis mine) for the sake of salvation.”  [42]


5.      Defense of the Doctrine

Those who oppose plenary infallibility and inerrancy do so on the grounds of what they claim are observed errors.  Harrison has classified these so called errors, called the “phenomena of Scripture,” as 1) textual errors, 2) chronological errors, 3) numerical errors, 4) the Gospels, 5) the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics, 6) the Acts and the Epistles, 7) error in sources, and 8) ethical harmony. [43]  Space prohibits a detailed discussion each of these categories.  However, brief discussion is in order.

Concerning the apparent discrepancies Paul Enns has done an excellent job in summarizing these fundamental issues. 

a)     Inerrancy allows for variety in style

The gospel of John was written in the simple style one might expect of an unlearned fisherman; Luke was written with a more sophisticated vocabulary of an educated person; Paul’s epistles reflect the logic of a philosopher. All of these variations are entirely compatible with inerrancy.

b)     Inerrancy allows for variety in details in explaining the same event

This phenomenon is particularly observed in the synoptic gospels. It is im­portant to remember that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and the writers of Scrip­ture wrote their accounts in Greek, meaning they had to translate the original words into Greek. One writer would use slightly different words to describe the same incident, yet both would give the same meaning, albeit with different words. There is an additional reason for variety in details. One writer might have viewed the event from one standpoint while the other gospel writer viewed it from another standpoint. This would make the de­tails appear different, yet both would be accurate.

c)      Inerrancy does not demand verbatim reporting of events

According to Young, “In times of antiquity it was not the practice to give a verbatim repetition every time something was written out (E. J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth, p. 119).”  A verbatim quote could not be demanded for several reasons.  First, as already mentioned, the writer had to translate from Aramaic to Greek in recording Jesus’ words. Second, in making reference to Old Testament texts it would have been impossible to unroll the lengthy scrolls each time to produce a verbatim quote; furthermore, the scrolls were not readily available, hence, the freedom in Old Testament quotes (William R. Eichhorst, The Issue of Biblical Inerrancy: In Definition and Defence, Winnipeg, Man.: Winnipeg Bible College, n.d., p. 9).

d)     Inerrancy allows for departure from standard forms of grammar

Obvi­ously it is wrong to force English rules of grammar upon the Scriptures. For example, in John 10:9 Jesus declares, “I am the door,” whereas in verse 11 He states, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In English this is considered mixing metaphors, but this is not a problem to Greek grammar or Hebrew lan­guage. In John 14:26 Jesus refers to the Spirit (pneuma = neuter) and then refers to the Spirit as “He” (ekeinos = masculine). This may raise an English grammarian’s eyebrows, but it is not a problem of Greek grammar.

e)     Inerrancy allows for problem passages

Even with so vast a work as the Holy Scriptures it is impossible to provide solutions to all the problems. In some cases the solution awaits the findings of the archaeologist’s spade; in another case it awaits the linguist’s research; in other cases the solution may never be discovered for other reasons. The solution to some problems must be held in abeyance. The answer, however, is never to suggest there are contradictions or errors in Scripture. If the Scriptures are God breathed they are entirely without error.

f)       Inerrancy demands the account does not teach error or contradiction

In the statements of Scripture, whatever is written is in accord with things as they are. Details may vary but it may still reflect things as they are. For exam­ple, in Matthew 8:5 13 it is noted that the centurion came to Jesus and said, “I am not qualified.”  In the parallel passage in Luke 7:1 10 it is noted that the elders came and said concerning the centurion, “He is worthy.” It ap­pears the elders first came and spoke to Jesus, and later the centurion him­self came. Both accounts are in accord with things as they are.

The phenomena of Scripture that Harrison lists present some difficulties to the doctrine of plenary inerrancy.  But do they rise to the level of error?  Remember   Robert Horn’s advises:

“Think for a moment about what needs to be demonstrated concerning a ‘difficulty’ in order to transfer it into the category of a valid argument against doctrine.  Certainly much more is required than the mere appearance of a contradiction.   First, we must be certain that we have correctly understood the passage, the sense in which it uses words or numbers.  Second, that we possess all available knowledge in this matter.  Third, that no further light can possibly be thrown on it by advancing knowledge, textual research, archaeology, etc.  Difficulties do not constitute objections.  Unsolved problems are not of necessity errors.  This is not to minimize the area of difficulty; it is to see it in perspective.  Difficulties are to be grappled with and problems are to drive us to seek clearer light; but until such time as we have total and final light on any issue we are in no position to affirm, ‘Here is a proven error, an unquestionable objection to an infallible Bible.’  It is common knowledge that countless ‘objections’ have been fully resolved since this century began.” [44]


6.      Application

Every generation has had its doctrinal problems and debates.  Not only do these problems exist between liberal and conservative but among conservatives themselves.  This is to be seen, for example, in the on-going debate over the pre-, mid-, post tribulational rapture of the Church.  This is a healthy debate.  However, the debate with liberals over the character of Scripture, more importantly, the debate over the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is of great importance to each and every believer in Christ.  The liberals argue that although God has revealed Himself inerrantly, none-the-less, the human recorders in the original autographs have corrupted that revelation and the record is errant. 

Even though we have in our possession copies of the original Scriptures, they none-the-less bear the marks of those original documents.  They are a complete, infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and trustworthy copy of God’s original revelation to us. These same Scriptures have withstood the attacks of the world, liberals, and fools alike.  In spite of them all, they will continue to be as they always were, the Word of God. 



[1] Trayer, Robert. (2000). Literalism, Infallibility, and Inerrancy. 1 in Faith: A Christian Bible Study [Online]. Available:  http://www.geocities.com/christianbiblestudy/Exegesis/inerrancy.htm.  July, 2002.
[2] Titus 1:2
[3] 2 Timothy 3:15,16
[4] 1 Thessalonians 2:13
[5] Charles C. Ryrie, “The Importance of Inerrancy”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 120, 478, April, 1963
[6] John A. Witmer, “The Authority of the Bible”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 118, 270, July, 1961
[7] Charles C. Ryrie, op. cit.
[8] Robert M. Horn, The Book that Speaks for Itself, (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1970), 86-87
[9] B. F. Westcott, F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, (Macmillan Co., New York, NY, 1881), Volume II p. 2
[10] Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, (Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1968), p. 365
[11] Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, 2002. 
Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy [On-line].  Available www.carm.org/creeds/chicago.htm
[12] 1 Samuel 2:8
[13] Expositors Bible Commentary, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979), in. loc.
[14] A. C. Gaebelein, cited by Cook, “Biblical Inerrancy and Intellectual Honesty”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 125, April, 1968
[15] John 3:33; Romans 3:4
[16] John 17:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:9
[17] Cook, “Biblical Inerrancy and Intellectual Honesty”, op. cit.
[18] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, in. loc.
[19] John 10:33-36
[20] Matthew 22:23-33
[21] Galatians 3:15-22
[22] Charles Hodge, cited by Cook, “Biblical Inerrancy and Intellectual Honesty”, op. cit.
[23] Cf. Romans 1:3; 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:14; 1 John 4:2; Philippians 2:7; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 3:5
[24] Romans 8:3
[25] Cf. Henry Alford, The Greek New Testament, II, 387; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, I, 280
[26] David Rohl, “Pharaohs and Kings, A Biblical Quest, (Crown Publishers, New York, 1995), 7
[27] Romans 13:1, cf., 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17
[28] Cf., Jeremiah 1:7, 9-10; 2 Corinthians 10:8
[29] Psalm 19:7-9
[30] Cf., Psalm 119:39, 43, 62, 75, 86, 89, 106, 137-138, 142, 140, 144, 160, 162, 164, 172
[31] Cf., 2 Timothy 3:15; John 17:17; James 1:18; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23, 25; Matthew 24:34;
[32] Hebrews 4:12; cf., John 5:45; 12:48; Psalm 19:7; James 1:18; 1Peter 1:23.
[33] Matthew 28:18
[34] Matthew 4:4, 7, 10
[35] Genesis 3:1-5
[36] John 20:30-31
[37] Revelation 22:18-19
[38] 1 Corinthians 2:9-16
[39] Karl Barth, cited by Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996), Volume 1, 133
[40] M. James Sawyer. (1995-2000). Theories of Inspiration. Biblical Studies Foundation [Online]. Available http://www.bible.org/docs/theology/biblio/theorins.htm
[41] Lewis and Demarest, ibid. Volume 1, 135
[42] 2nd Vatican Council. (1965). Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum. Catholic Information Network [Online]. Sections 11, 12, 13. Available: http://www.cin.org/v2revel.html
[43] Everett F. Harrison, “The Phenomena of Scripture”, Revelation and the Bible, Carl F. H. Henry, ed., (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1958), 235.  This article is an excellent discussion of the phenomena of Scripture.  Harrison points out what are “real problems” with plenary inerrancy together with solutions.  He has honestly dealt with the subject.  While we agree with Harrison in the substance of the article we do, however, disagree with one of his conclusions.  While he does not repudiate a belief in inerrancy, he makes great concessions in that direction when he says that “It [inspiration] does not require us to hold inerrancy, though this is a natural corollary of full inspiration.”
[44] Robert M. Horn, The Book that Speaks for Itself, (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1970), 86-87