Inerrancy and Infallibility

Defining terms

The word inerrant means “without error.” The word infallible means “something incapable of making a mistake.” From a linguistic standpoint, the term infallible is higher than the term inerrant. By way of illustration, a student can take a test made up of twenty questions and get twenty correct answers, giving him an inerrant test. However, the student’s inerrancy in this restricted arena does not make him infallible.

Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The terms faith and practice capture the whole Christian life. Scripture is the rule of our faith, which has to do with all that we believe, and it is the rule of our practice, which has to do with all that we do.

The authority of Jesus

It should be our desire to hold to a view of the Bible that reflects the view of Scripture taught by Jesus Himself.

Scholars and theologians of all backgrounds, liberals and conservatives alike, agree that the historical Jesus of Nazareth believed and taught the high, exalted view of Scripture that was common to first-century Judaism, namely, that the Bible is nothing less than the inspired Word of God. For example, in John 10:35, Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken,” which means Scripture is incapable of making a mistake (cf. 17:17; Matt 5:18).

However, many of those same scholars turn around and say that Jesus was wrong in His view of Scripture. They argue that Jesus was influenced by the prevailing view of Scripture held by the Jewish community of His age, which, in His human nature, He did not know was erroneous.

But the fact that Jesus’ human knowledge was limited does not mean He was guilty of making a mistake. To be ignorant of a truth (like the return of Christ) is not the same thing as to teach an error. To accuse Jesus of making a mistake, even if He did it unknowingly, is to accuse him of being imperfect and sinful in His humanity. It would have been sinful for One claiming to teach nothing except what He received from God to teach an error.

If Jesus was wrong in His teaching about a matter as crucial as the authority of the Bible, I cannot imagine anyone taking Him seriously about anything else He taught.


[Adapted from Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul]