Inerrant and Infallible

DEFINING THE TERMS 

                The church historically has seen that the Bible alone, of all the written literature in history, is uniquely inerrant and infallible. The word inerrant means without error. “The word infallible may be defined as ‘that which cannot fail’; it means something is 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, as mistakes on subsequent tests would verify.”

                “The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice…. 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.”

                Liberals argue that “the Bible is infallible only when it speaks of faith and practice…. In other words, the Bible is authoritative only when it speaks of religious faith; its teaching on anything else [history, science, and cultural matters] are considered fallible.” (31)

THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST

                Interestingly, “there is widespread agreement even among the critics that the least-disputed portions of Scripture with regard to historical authenticity are those that contain Jesus’ statements about Scripture…. 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, Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35); and “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17; cf. Matt 5:18). “Jesus frequently rested His case on the Old Testament, saying simply, ‘It is written,’ to settle a theological dispute.”

                “However, many of those same scholars turn around and say that Jesus was wrong in His view of Scripture.” They reason “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. They are quick to point out…that there were things the human Jesus, despite his divine nature, did not know [e.g. Matt.24:36].”

                But the fact that Jesus’ human knowledge was limited does not mean He was guilty of error. To be ignorant of a truth is not the same thing as to teach an error. To accuse Jesus of teaching an error, 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 [cf. John 3:12].”  

                “When we say that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice, it is because we believe this rule has been delegated by the Lord, whose rule it is. Therefore, we say that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.” Inerrancy “flows naturally from the concept of infallibility – if something cannot err, then it does not err.” (34)

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