The Inerrant, Infallible, Inspired Word of God . . . Or Not?

“Infallibility and inerrancy are important for the health of the church, but are not essential for the life of the church. . . .  Personally, I believe in inerrancy. However, I wouldn’t consider inerrancy to be a primary or essential doctrine for saving faith.”

The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of ChristInerrancy: Is It Critical to Faith?
When I read that a few months ago, I was shocked.  I was working through Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus, and read this in the second chapter.  As I worked through this section, which was an interview of Daniel Wallace, I was confronted with the teaching about how inerrancy isn’t all that.  As I kept reading, I had to continually flip back and remind myself that Dr. Wallace is a professor at the conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, and that Strobel is an evangelical Christian author and former teaching pastor.  Here they were, making the case that inerrancy isn’t critical to faith.  Definitely a new thought for me in the 15+ years of being a Christ-follower.

Trust me -- the last thing I want to do is give a dissertation about the meaning of inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration.   (Maybe someone can leave a comment with some suggested links and resources.)  But here is a quick overview, given in this book:
  • Inerrant:  The Bible is true in what it touches.
  • Infallible:  The Bible is true in what it teaches (in matters of faith and practice).
  • Inspired:  God has done great acts in history, and He directed men to write about some of those.

Two Word Pictures
Dr. Wallace gives two images to use to help us understand the nature of these three terms.
  • Pyramid:  Inspiration is foundational, at the bottom.  Then, infallibility is in the middle.  Finally, inerrancy is at the top.  Inerrancy is important but not foundational, so let’s not try to flip this pyramid over.   From both atheists and ultraconservative Christians you tend to hear this, “Find me one error and I’ll throw out the whole Bible.”   
  • Concentric Circles:  Inspiration is most important and is at the center, then infallibility.  Inerrancy is a protective shell; again, it’s important but not essential to salvation.  

Here are examples of how this plays out with truths from Scripture:
  1. Jesus was human and divine, and died for my sins.  This is essential doctrine.
  2. Demons in the Gospels were real.  It will be hard to dismiss this, but this is not essential to salvation.

Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical TruthI recognize that if you really wanted to auger down, someone could make the case that this could lead to a slippery slope of dismissing selective parts of scripture.  That is the perspective of Charles Ryrie (author of Basic Theology, another book that I’m working through), and others.  But in this process of examining my own thoughts and perspectives, my faith in the power of the gospel message has actually been strengthened.  Everyone comes with their own set of biases when it comes to interpretation.  The issue is whether you are willing to challenge those biases.

If you want to read more, I encourage you to buy a copy of The Case for the Real JesusFor now, do you have any questions or comments?  Also, are there any concepts or biases that you have challenged, or maybe need to examine?  It’s OK to debate and disagree, of course.  

Let us not fret over differences in the Gospels or other books in the Bible.  The core message of the Bible is consistent, and very revolutionary.  Remember that among the several hundred-thousand variants of the New Testament, there are no foundational beliefs that are in jeopardy.

To close, here is another summarizing quote from Dr. Wallace:
“Inerrancy is important, but the gospel is bigger than inerrancy. . . . The Bible wasn’t hanged on the cross; Jesus was.”

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  1. It seems that if we marginalize the "inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God," then we are marginalizing the very Gospel itself.

  2. How is that? How are you defining "Gospel"?

  3. What I mean is that if the very words of God are not "essential" to our understanding of the Gospel, then the Gospel message is diluted.

    2 Tim. 3:15-17

    Sola scriptura is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Consequently, sola scriptura demands that only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid deductive reasoning from scripture.

  4. I think "gospel" is defined as the good news that one can know God despite our sinful nature and behavior though the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus took our punishment and was the final sacrifice and work for sin so that we can be reconciled to God. This grand reconciliation is the story, and good news, of the Bible, to the Glory of God.

  5. If the Bible is not held up as God's literal word (in its original text), then I would not understand the Gospel message and would have doubts as to the author's own bias and sin influence.

    I don't believe it is wise, profitable, or gives God glory to state " I wouldn’t consider inerrancy to be a primary or essential doctrine for saving faith."

  6. Great points. But I think that the issue is what is meant by each of these terms, including your use of "literal." The author, as best I can tell, is not saying that anything in the Bible is wrong, but that the text that we have just may not be right in some areas. (And any of those areas where questions are are NOT parts that involve core doctrine.)

    For example, in at least one spot in the OT in David's life), there is no manuscript evidence for what number should be in the blank. In the NT, the oldest texts do not include the account of the woman caught in adultery. What is being stated is that whether that account really happened is not essential to salvation.

  7. But scripture is essential to salvation. And if we are willing to state that its inerrantcy (original text) is not essential, that seems to create some big problems. We just need to be very careful how we frame this.

    Also, doctrines of sanctification (not just justification) are extremely important in the life of the believer, so to parse out the importance of one doctrine over another should be avoided. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul talks about doctrines of first importance being that of Christ's propitiation and resurrection. He opens the door to discuss these as "first importance," but to state that a biblical doctrine is not "essential" seems dangerous and unnecessary.

  8. Getting back to the question of is a belief in inerrancy an essential for saving faith, my answer would simply be, "No, but..."

    The above conjunction will then lead to the understanding that if one is truly born again, the Spirit of God literally takes up residence in that person. The Spirit will eventually, through sanctification, lead the believer to a conviction of the authority of Scripture - Sola scriptura. Belief in inerrancy is, from the world's perspective, a reckless abandonment of logic and reason. And, of course, they think the same thing about the essentials of the Gospel as well. If man leaves the "door open" on the issue of scriptural authority, it will not be long before he promotes himself as editor and chief (you mentioned the slippery slope above). That's my perspective, thanks for the blog post.

  9. Interesting sermon on John 7:53 to John 8:11 (the adulterous woman, and the questioning of the legit nature of the text)

  10. Ah, yes. But we are not discussing here issues of doctrine. What is being discussed is whether what we read in the current text is completely inerrant.

  11. Taking specific doctrines out of the discussion, then I would say that biblical inerrantcy is important as we discuss the original texts. I've always understood that the modern translations that we have today are not inerrant because of the very nature of translation techniques and language barriers.

    This underscores the importance of bible study in the sense that we need to understand the author's original intent and meaning of the text. Original meaning may not be obvious in many cases due to changes in nuance and context over time.

  12. Joey,

    There is a difference between biblical english "versions" and "translations." Versions were tranlsated from the original by a team of scholars who are well versed in all languages pertinent, ie - KJV, NAS, ESV, NKJV. In this sense, as much as they faithfully represent the original text, they are inerrant. To say that our English Bibles contain error is inaccurate.

    Now, "translations" or paraphrases, often done by one man or done in an attempt to keep the english readable and understandable should not be held in the same regard (even though most of these are very accurate particularly dealing with "essentials").

    It seems like this conversation has steered a bit from the original post. Are we talking about saving faith or english bible versions and their authenticity? Regardless, I agree with the above post that mentioned that every born again believer will come, through the Spirit's guidance, to a conviction in the authority (inerrancy) of scripture. I appreciate the discussion - it sheds light on the importance, however clunky it has become, of instutionalized study.

    -- MDIV (by grace)

  13. The humbling continues - that's institutionalized***.

    -- MDIV (by grace)

  14. Points well-taken. Yes, I appreciate the discussion as well; hence "A Different Way." The last thing the world needs is a blog where ever just says, "Amen. I agree." Hey, I even disagree with myself a lot of times!

    What I appreciate about the book referenced, in the interview by Lee Strobel, is the emphasis that the highest rung on the ladder is a repentant and dynamic faith in Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior. The most important thing is not to spend all our energies feeling like we need to prove and defend every word in the Bible. Yes, that is important, but not essential to salvation. I was one of those for a long time, feeling the need to prove/defend every single point, while ignoring the core message of the Gospel.

    When it's all said and done, and we arrive before Christ, I am sure that we'll all be "surprised" by a number of things that we held to be true.

  15. Joey, you make a good point, but its two different things to say "I don't need to defend every word of the Bible" and to claim that is it not essential to the life of the church or for salvation.

    These are distinctions that don't need to be made. Scripture claims that it is "God-breathed," so it seems almost heretical to claim that part of it may be in error, and that would be OK because those parts do not affect "saving faith." All scripture is profitable.

    But I agree that Christians should not be so insecure as to feel the need to defend "every word" to an unbeliever. Casting pearls before swine comes to mind.

  16. Make sure you see what this teacher from DTS is saying: what he's saying is that "inerrancy" is not essential to saving faith. Being God-breathed is an issue of "inspiration," which is a different category.

    Anyway, I had just logged on to give a link to this post, which I think applies to this discussion:

  17. To inspire others, we must do something greater from our almighty.