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Monday, March 03, 2014

What Does 'the Bible Is Inerrant' Really Mean?

The question over the reliability of the Bible is one that Christians must deal with from time to time. However, I've found that there is just as much confusion from believers as there is from skeptics concerning this issue. One such point of confusion is the reliability of biblical texts.

Because the King James Version of the Bible had such an enormous impact on the English-speaking world, many people still consider it the definitive version of the Bible. There are some, though, who take this idea ever further and hold that the King James translation is somehow inspired itself. I had written on this some time ago, but I still receive questions from people discussing the issue. I'd livke to let you "eavesdrop" on one such question I received recently. My correspondent wrote the following:
You know, I keep hearing that our Bible The "King James" version, is not necessarily the true and accurate version and that these new translations have searched and found a more accurate account of what is true. I have a very big problem with what has been said. First of all, if there are any errors in the Bible, then it is not the true Word of God. So when the Bible says that it is the inerrant Word of God, then that would be a lie.

It also says to not add or take away from the book and that is being done. If we cannot believe that we have the one and only true Word of God without error then why even read it? I read on one of your articles that only a hand full of men translated the "King James" but that over a hundred translated the NIV. To me that makes absolutely no difference. God could use just one man, if he so chose to, so just to say that more men studied and wrote more about what is right, is null and void. God knew what we needed and used the men he wanted to use and it has to be 100% accurate or we may as well not believe any of it. By changing the Word of God (and the beauty of the words), there is confusion in the church. Who can follow along with what is being read and preached if there are dozens of different translations and why would we need God to speak to us about what he wants for us to get out of His Word if several different men are writing different versions of the Bible? We don't need a bunch of different versions, we just need to ask God to show us what he has for us in the verses that are being preached or when we read by ourselves. Besides these people are making millions of dollars by writing different versions and trying to make it easier to understand by their understanding. Not only that but it is a tool of Satan to keep confusion in the church and in the minds of the people. What about the versions that leave the blood out of the translation? It is playing with fire to mess with Gods Word and there is no reason to change it or try to simplify it.

Thanks for listening. I love the Lord Jesus with all my heart. He is my Savior and I love His Word
Notice some specific piece in this letter. The questioner is concerned with the concept of inerrancy, but she has taken that too far, to mean that the KJ translation must be inerrant. Inerrancy has never been held to such a strict standard, though. She then equivocates the idea of retranslating the Bible to "changing the Word of God." She also appeals to "the beauty of the words" so there is more than a mere concern over accuracy here. Lastly, she believes that different translations somehow make the text say different things. (The point about versions that "leave out the blood" is in reference to Colossians 1:14, where the KJV reads "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" while all the modern translations don't include the phrase "through his blood" as it is missing from the oldest manuscripts.)

My goal in online exchanges like these is to help people see the problems to which a faulty view leads. I want them to realize it themselves instead of just telling them they are wrong. So, I usually begin with a question that they should agree with. My initial response was this:
Hi and thanks for your concern. I appreciate your love of the Bible and your desire to follow God's word. But before we get too far into the discussion, I'd like to ask you a question. In 1631, Robert Barker published a version of the King James Bible, but when typesetting Exodus 20:14, he accidentally left out three letters. Unfortunately those three letters make up the word "not" so his version of Exodus 20:14 read "Thou shalt commit adultery." I am absolutely certain that Robert Baker had no malicious intent whatsoever. He made a mistake, that's all.

My question: Is it possible that the King James Bible could have other mistakes as well, and if so how would we tell?
My correspondent's answer was quick, although it missed the point of the initial question a bit. However, she did get to the crux of the issue.
Hi Lenny,
Thanks for answering my email. In my "King James" Bible, the word "not", is not left out, so where do you get your information?

How can anyone believe that there are errors in God's Word? Which part then would you believe? Have you gone to the Lord to ask the truth of His Word? Just asking!!!!!

Thanks again.
I replied:
Thanks for the exchange! I sure appreciate you reading and dialoguing. Many different people print the KJV. My claim was about one of the printers from every early on. (This version of the Bible was dubbed "The Wicked Bible" and you can find more information on it here.)

Your question is a really good one. How can anyone believe there are errors in God's word? I for one don't. I believe that God inspired the authors to write the very words that He would have them write. I also subscribe to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. I make a big deal of this point in my article "Is The Bible Completely Error Free?"

However, while the Christian church has always held that the original writings by the Biblical authors are inerrant, it has NEVER held that someone couldn't make a mistake in copying or translating the work. The Jehovah's Witnesses offer a distorted version of the Bible in their New World Translation. Wycliffe translators working with indigenous tribes have made may errors in translation, sometimes simply because they didn't know the language that well.

Since we don't have any of the original writings, we need to go back and compare all the copies that we do have and make sure that the copies that have mistakes (like leaving out the word "not") are corrected. That is one reason why your copy of the KJV doesn't have this mistake. The original translators of the KJV didn't have nearly as many copies of the texts as we do today, and they didn't have as many early copies—copies that were less generations removed from the original writings.

I hope you can see how all this makes a big difference in understanding inerrancy. Let me know if you'd like more detail about it.

In a previous blog post, I showed the importance in asking questions in doing effective apologetics. Here is another example that allows for discussion while developing a rapport with your interlocutor. I'm not done with this exchange, though. In part 2, I go into a bit more detail as I continue my conversation. I hope you'll join us.


  1. At the time the KJV bible was translated koine Greek was still a living language. Mightn' t they, who studied it have a better grasp than those who have never heard it spoken?

  2. No, Koine Greek wasn't spoken for some 1300 years when the King James translators created their version in 1611. It definitely wasn't used in England throughout the Medieval period, and even prior was only spoken by transplants.

    Aside from that, the translators didn't have the better manuscripts that we have now.

  3. Almost all Christian doctrines are based on the New Testament of the Bible. But, how do Christians know that these 27 books are the inerrant, inspired words of God, as Christians tell us?

    Answer: A bunch of fallible, scientifically illiterate Churchmen in the second, third, and fourth centuries said so! That's it!

    When and where did God say that a bunch of old Churchmen have the authority to determine what is and what is not his Word? When and where did God say that Saul/Paul of Tarsus was speaking on his behalf? Or the writers of the Gospels? Or James? Or Peter? Or any other writer of the New Testament? Even if the apostles themselves had voted unanimously for the 27 books of the current New Testament to be designated as the "Word of God", that still would not prove that God had authorized them to do so. We have no evidence that the Eleven achieved a state of perfection and omniscience on Pentecost. They, like every other human being, were fallible. So where is the evidence that God left a list of what should and what should not be considered his Word in a new testament?

    Answer: No where!

    We have no evidence from the Bible or anywhere else that God gave Christians a list of what is and what is not his Word! Christians have created an "inerrant, inspired, you-are-damned-to-Hell-if-you-don't-believe-it" Holy Book based solely on the opinions of men living almost 2,000 years ago.

    Bombshell: Christians have zero evidence that proves the New Testament of the Bible to be the Word of God; the inerrant message of the Creator of the Universe to mankind. Zero!

  4. Thanks of writing Gary As to your claim, "Christians have zero evidence that proves the New Testament of the Bible to be the Word of God; the inerrant message of the Creator of the Universe to mankind. Zero!" You are completely wrong. There is very specific evidence and Paul explained it specifically to the Corinthians. He pointed to the resurrection as a real event, one that could be verified by multiple witnesses. Paul claimed that if the resurrection wasn't real history, then Christians have zero evidence (or as he put it, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.")

    Because we can start with the Gospel accounts not as scripture but as ancient documents and study them that way, we can then use the standard methods of historical research to determine the legitimacy of the resurrection. If the resurrection is true, it has HUGE implications for Jesus's teachings and his authority. So, there really is evidence that Christianity is true. These former atheists looked at the evidence and changed their minds.

    1. My comment was not directed at the historicity of the Resurrection, but the evidence for the claim of divine inspiration of the 27 books of the New Testament.

      Even if Jesus was bodily resurrected, his resurrection would only prove that he was God as he is alleged to have claimed. His resurrection does not prove that the 27 books of the NT are God's Word. Do you have any evidence that Jesus or God the Father gave mankind a list of which writings written after Jesus' resurrection should be considered God's Word and which writings were simply the writings of men?

    2. Yes. Peter calls Paul's letter as scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16) and lumps them in with the Old Testament. That accounts for at least 13 books of the NT. Paul, in 1 Timothy 5:18, quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and then quotes from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:7), citing both sources as equal in authority.

      Paul aught in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is inspired by God. So, here's the logical argument:
      - If all scripture is inspired by God
      - and Paul's epistles are scripture (as Peter recognized)
      - Then, Paul's epistles are inspired by God.

      Beyond that, Jesus Himself taught that the words of His disciples would be brought to remembrance through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus claimed to be able to speak authoritatively on the subject. That is, He said that he had the authority to say what God's word is. When questioned on his claim to authority by the Jewish leaders (John 2:18), he pointed to his resurrection as proof that he could authoritatively speak on behalf of God the Father. That means that Jesus sanctioned the recounting of those witnesses who were his disciples as authoritative.

  5. 2 Peter 3:15-16 (NRSV)

    15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

    To which writings of Paul is the author of this epistle referring? Do you believe that every piece of correspondence written by Paul was the inspired Word of God? Do you have proof of that claim? We know that Paul wrote more letters than the ones we have in the New Testament. Paul even mentions these letters. He mentions to the Corinthians that he has previously written to them. Where are these other letters? If ALL Paul's correspondence to any church or Christian were the inspired, inerrant Word of God, then some of God's Word has been lost, and that contradicts other Bible passages in which God says he will not let one jot or tittle of his Word be lost. About which specific writings of Paul is the author in this passage referring?

    1. The contest is obvious that the letters Peter has in mind are those a) addressed to the churches, b) "Speaking of this" that is, offering instruction and teaching about matters of Christian theology and instruction.

      Of course, paper was expensive and scribes required effort This isn't like today where writing off a quick note and saying "Having a wonderful time, wish you weer here" would be the norm.

      Peter did not use the more generic Greek "graphe" which would impy any writings. He used the word epistle. According to Kittle, "In the NT the few instances of the verb (Acts 15:20, 21:25; Heb. 13:22) suggest the authoritative and almost official nature of the early Christian epistle." (Theo Dictionary off the New Test., Eerdmans, 1985. 1028).

      There's a lot written on this already. You need to take the accounts fairly.

    2. Again, who gave Peter the authority to decide which of Paul's letters were God's inspired, inerrant Word or if ANY of Paul's writings were God's Word. I fail to find any passage in the Bible that gives Peter or any other human being this authority.

      Who gave Paul the authority to write even ONE "epistle" and call it the inspired, inerrant Word of God?

      I am not looking for a quote from some Christian author I am looking for authorization from God the Father, Jesus, or the Old Testament for proof that ANY of the writers of the books of the New Testament were authorized to write in God's inspired, inerrant name.

    3. Are you saying that the New Testament ISN'T Scripture? If yes, then all of Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church is in error. If no, then what is your criteria for determining what is scripture?

    4. My point is, that Jesus only referred to the Old Testament books as Scripture. Nowhere do we have record of Jesus or God the Father authorizing the apostles or anyone else to write books, after Jesus' ascension, inferring that their books were God's inerrant, inspired Word.

      The entire Christian religion, including the Roman Catholic Church, assumes that the New Testament is God's Word, but they give no proof for this assertion. The Catholics assert that the statement, "Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" gives Peter and his successors (the popes) the authority to determine what is and what is not God's Word and what is and what is not correct Christian doctrine. But as a Protestant or evangelical, I would assume that you, Lenny, do not believe this interpretation of that passage. So, based on what statement by Jesus or God the Father do you believe that the authors of the 27 books of the NT were written under God's divine inspiration?

  6. "Paul, in 1 Timothy 5:18, quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and then quotes from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:7), citing both sources as equal in authority. "

    I am not questioning the inspiration of the Old Testament because Jesus quoted from the Old Testament. i am questioning the inspiration of the New Testament.

    Just because Paul repeats one phrase that sounds similar to a passage in Luke, does not mean that the entire book of Luke is the inspired Word of God. Remember, when Paul was writing his letters, the Gospels had not yet been written. How could Paul be quoting from a book which did not yet exist? Paul may have been repeating a version of the same oral tradition that Luke later wrote down, but that does not prove that the Gospel of Luke is the Word of God.

    And, how do we know that Paul was speaking for God? Do we have any evidence from God the Father, Jesus, or the Old Testament that gave Paul the authority to speak for God? Christians simply take Paul's word for it. No where does Jesus give any of his apostles the authority to speak in the name of God to write a new set of Scriptures. They were only instructed to spread the message of Jesus, not create a new Scriptures. Christians assume that God inspired the authors of the New Testament to write down his inerrant, inspired Words but there is no evidence that justifies this belief.

    Only a Roman Catholic has an answer to this dilemma: "God gave all authority to Peter and the Church, therefore whatever the Church says is true IS true." I personally do not believe that Jesus gave Peter nor the Church this power. Do you?

    1. Paul did not "repeat one phrase that sounds similar to a passage in Luke," He QUOTED from Luke and laid it right beside Deuteronomy as equal in authority.

    2. Did Paul say, "I am quoting from the Gospel of Luke which is the inspired, inerrant Word of God"??

      No. He didn't.

      You cannot claim that Paul was asserting the canonicity of the Gospel of Luke just because he says something that sounds like a passage from a book that hadn't even been written yet.

  7. "Paul aught in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is inspired by God. So, here's the logical argument:
    - If all scripture is inspired by God
    - and Paul's epistles are scripture (as Peter recognized)
    - Then, Paul's epistles are inspired by God. "

    When during his lifetime did Jesus give Peter or Paul the authority to write a new set of Scriptures?

    Jesus commanded his apostles and all his disciples to preach the Gospel---his words---we have no evidence that he ever commanded them to write books that would claim to be the very words of God.

    So you have no evidence that God authorized Paul to speak for him, and no evidence that Peter had the authority to validate Paul's authority to write letters in God's name. Unless you are a Roman Catholic who believes that God gave all authority to the Church, you have no evidence for claiming that any book of the New Testament is the inspired, inerrant, very words of God.

  8. "That means that Jesus sanctioned the recounting of those witnesses who were his disciples as authoritative."

    I agree with you that Jesus sanctioned his disciples to preach HIS message. However, no where does Jesus say that he authorized or sanctioned them to write books that they could claim were the inspired, inerrant Words of God.

    If you want to believe that all the red letter passages in your Bible are the Words of God, I won't argue with that. But to claim that any of the other words, those not spoken by Jesus, are the Words of God, is based on nothing but wishful thinking and assumptions.

    1. "
      I agree with you that Jesus sanctioned his disciples to preach HIS message. However, no where does Jesus say that he authorized or sanctioned them to write books that they could claim were the inspired, inerrant Words of God." I don't think that is even Roman Catholic dogma.

      If the book was written by someone with proper authority to instruct the church (read : the apostles or those sanctioned by the apostles), then the book carries that authority. John and Matthew are apostles, so their writing is authoritative. Mark and Luke captured the accounts of the apostles and therefore held the authority of the apostles (the apostles gave them their "stamp of approval"). Papias confirms these things. Peter, Jude, and James were all leaders of the early church and endowed with that authority. We don't know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know that those who were taught by the apostles accepted it as scripture and quoted from it as they did all the other scriptures as a source of authority.

      The church never declared what is scripture, it merely recognize the scriptures given to it. That's a big difference.

    2. "If the book was written by someone with proper authority to instruct the church (read : the apostles or those sanctioned by the apostles), then the book carries that authority."

      Are you Roman Catholic? If yes, I apologize for wasting your time as I realize that the Roman Church holds that Church tradition and the edicts of Councils and Popes have the same level of authority as Scripture. I had assumed you were Protestant or evangelical.

      If you are not Roman Catholic, please provide a quote from Jesus where he gave his apostles and their disciples (the Church) to write books in the name of God.

    3. No, I am not Roman Catholic. But, I want to make sure I understand you. Are you stating that scripture does not become scripture unless the Roman Catholic Church declares it to be scripture?

    4. No, writings by men, even apostles, do not become Scripture unless God the Father or Jesus declare them to be Scripture.

      When and where did God the Father or Jesus declare the 27 books of the New Testament as the very words of God?

    5. You are simply wrong, here Gary. Where did you get that rule from? The Old Testament Scriptures weren't added in that fashion. Israel would receive a word from a Prophet and either he or a scribe would record those events. Because the prophets themselves identified their message as coming from God, and the prophets had established their prophetic authority their message was accepted as being from God.

      This is also true in the NT. Paul explicitly states he is speaking the worlds of the Lord 1 Cor 7:10) and Peter calls Paul's writings scripture, too. Either both Peter and Paul were wrong--and if they were we should reject EVERYTHING they say (see Deut 18:22) or they knew what they were talking about.

      I guess I could ask you when and where did God the Father or Jesus declare the 27 books of the NT to be scripture? Trent?? So, for 1500 years we had no New Testament?? That's ridiculous.

    6. So just because Jews did something in the past, does that mean that their decisions were the inspired, inerrant will of God and that Christians should determine their beliefs in a similar fashion?

      If you are going to use "what Jews accept" as the criteria for what is and what is not the Word of God, you are obliged to throw out the 27 books of the New Testament. The Jewish people have never accepted them as God's Word.

      Do you have a passage in the Old Testament where God gave the people the right to determine what writings were God's holy, inerrant Word and what were not? Didn't God make known who were his prophets and who was speaking for him?

      It seems you are basing your beliefs on Jewish tradition, just like Catholics base their beliefs on Church tradition. Since when do Protestants and evangelicals elevate traditions to the same level of authority as Scripture?

      If you are a Protestant or evangelical, please show me where God officially recognized the writings we today call the 27 books of the NT as his holy, inerrant Word?

    7. I think your desperation is showing a bit here, Gary. I'm not talking about "something that the Jews did in the past," but on what that unchanging God has always done when He sought to reveal His word to humanity. You can't just dismiss that some cultural choice that is irrelevant today.

      Secondly, you have completely avoided my questions. Before we can continue this discussion, you must answer these three problems with your position:

      1) Do you believe Peter was wrong in calling Paul's writings scripture since they hadn't been declared such by a church council?
      2) Do you believe Paul was wrong when he claimed to speak the Lord's commands in 1 Corinthians?
      3) Do you believe that the New Testament teachings lacked scriptural authority until they were declared to be scripture by the Council of Trent in 1546?

      If you answer yes to any of those questions, it places you outside of orthodoxy. If you answer no to any, it proves that scripture can be recognized as scripture apart from official church sanction.

  9. 1. Who wrote the Second Epistle of Peter. It was not accepted into the canon until almost the fifth century because even in the early Church there was a great deal of skepticism that Peter wrote this book. Most scholars today think that he did not.

    Even if Peter did write it, who gave Peter the authority to determine what is and what is not God's Word. Remember, Peter sided with the Judaizers . Paul had to chew him out. I wouldn't bet all my marbles on Peter's decisions.

    2. I have no idea if Paul was speaking for God. He says he was, but where does God say that he was? Why do none of the author apostles refer to Paul as an apostle?

    3. I see no evidence that any of the books of the NT were ever given divine authority by God, only by fallible men. I believe that the Catholic Church is just as mistaken on this issue as Protestants. Where and when did God certify the 27 books of the NT as his Word?

    1. Thanks for the clarification. I think you now have a bigger problem, though. You require God the Father or Jesus to "declare" certain works to be scriptural, but how do you know the source of that declaration is itself authoritative or telling the truth? There are many writings that are supposed to contain the teachings of Jesus but are forgeries. Jesus never actually said any of those things. You accept Jesus's sanctioning of the Old Testament, but you only know of that through the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which you say cannot be declared scripture themselves. So why believe then here? The level of proof you demand not only undoes the authority of the New Testament, but it undoes the authority of the Old Testament, too.

    2. Exactly, Lenny! The whole thing is a house of cards! If you pull one card out the whole thing collapses.

      We have no objective proof that the books of the NT are the Words of God other than the fact that Christian bishops eventually declared them to be so, and, they condemned as heretical many other writings, some of which HAD BEEN previously accepted as the Word of God such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Gospel of Barnabas.

      And how do we know that Jesus believed that the OT was the Word of God? We have to accept the testimony of four, anonymous books written in the late first or early second century, possibly written by eyewitnesses but possibly by people who wrote down the version of the oral legend passing through their town at the time!

      All we really know is this, Lenny: Jesus most likely lived and was crucified in first century Roman Palestine. That's it! All the rest is based on conjecture, assumptions, and hearsay.

      That is what I am trying to get you to see. You are basing your life on a holy book for which there is no confirmation of its holiness, inerrancy, or inspiration.

    3. Ah! I see where your confusion is. Tell me, Gary, how do you know that Jesus lived and was crucified in the first century? From where did you get that information? If we take the New Testament documents and look at them as *historical* documents of the ancient Near East, not as scripture, those are the sources that tells us these things. But these documents don't just tells us that. They are structured in such a way that they all point to the resurrection as a real historical event. I can conclude the resurrection of Jesus happened because I use the exact same sources that one must use to conclude he lived at all. You can't leave the resurrection out of this, and the Gospels don't need to be scripture in order to conclude the resurrection happened.

    4. Lenny,

      Just because the "Iliad and the Odessey" contains numerous accurate historical details regarding the Trojan-Greek War does not mean that the myth and fiction that Homer included in his book is also true.

      Just because four, first century anonymous books contain some true historical details about Roman Palestine does not mean that the supernatural claims in those anonymous books are also fact.

      Do you see my point?


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