The Inerrancy of Scripture

Russell W. Maatman is professor of Chemistry and chairman of the Division of Natural Sciences at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.

This material on “The Inerrancy of Scripture” is taken from Dr. Maatman’s book, THE BIBLE, NATURAL SCIENCE, AND EVOLUTION published in 1970 by Reformed Fellowship, Inc.

What Is Meant By Inerrancy? Various kinds of error might exist in a book purporting to be the holy book of a religion. To clarify the use of the term “inerrant,” some of the possible errors are listed and discussed.

(1) The holy book might teach incorrectly how man can meet with God’s favor.
(2) The holy book might give incorrect information about life after death.
(3) The holy book might give incorrect ideas about the nature of God.
(4) The holy book could record the acts of God incorrectly.
(5) The holy book could record human history incorrectly.
(6) One part of the holy book might interpret another part incorrectly.
(7) The holy book might incorrectly describe the physical environment incidental to events recorded.
(8) The holy book might provide incorrect answers to scientific-philosophical questions, such as questions concerning whether or not the universe is finite with respect to age and size.

The meaning of Biblical inerrancy is that the Bible cannot make either any of these errors, or any other error which might be supposed. There are difficulties in understanding the Bible. difficulties which arise from the reader’s limitations and not from an inherently clear Bible. At times the words have meaning only as they are understood in the context of the culture in which they were spoken or written. Regardless of how much we must cast on our culture to understand the Bible, and regardless of the difficulty of reconciling supposedly irreconcilable passages, there is one conclusion which cannot be made, namely, the conclusion that the Bible contains error.

What Is the Proof of Biblical Inerrancy? Attempting to prove Biblical inerrancy from the Bible itself seems at first to be circular reasoning. Yet, proving the inerrancy of the Bible from the Bible is just the procedure which will be used. To justify this procedure, consider the answer to the question. “If the Bible is inerrant, how could it be known to be inerrant?”

There are apparently two ways whereby Biblical inerrancy could be known. In one way, God could give us private revelation, telling each person that the Bible is inerrant. Christians do not claim to have received these private revelations. They do not maintain that they know of inerrancy because of dreams, visions, and other private revelations.

The other way Biblical inerrancy could be known is by the testimony of others. For example, God might have revealed the fact of inerrancy to ancient writers. Ordinarily, one would suppose that ancient writers were fallible and not to be depended upon any more than anyone else. Yet, if an ancient writer did indeed learn from God that the Bible is inerrant, his writing itself becomes a part of the Bible. Thus, there cannot be reliable, extra-Biblical testimony concerning the inerrancy of the Bible, and if there is reliable testimony concerning the inerrancy of the Bible, it will be found in the Bible itself. Thus, the Christian position is that God did indeed tell various ancient writers that the Bible is inerrant, and that God, through bis Holy Spirit, instructs the individual Christian to accept their witness. Therefore, one must turn to the Bible to learn of inerrancy. There is no other place one could possibly learn of Biblical inerrancy . . . .

Many problems concerning inerrancy have been raised by scholars. There are, for example, several pairs of apparently contradictory Biblical passages. Scholars can in some instances understand how these contradictions may eventually be reconciled. It is not as important as is sometimes thought that there be such a reconciliation. What is important is that man has no means of finding a contradiction is the Bible.

How can such a sweeping claim be made? Suppose there were a means of determining that there are contradictions in the Bible. For example, one might hold that “common sense” could be used as a yardstick to ascertain whether or not passages are contradictory. Whatever yardstick one would use, however, the use of the yardstick could not be limited to certain passages. The Bible docs not indicate that certain passages may be judged, while others are to be left alone. Therefore, any element of Christian theology could be evaluated with the use of such a yardstick, and Christian theology would then ultimately depend upon this man-made yardstick. The Christian position is that Christian theology cannot depend ultimately upon man. Therefore, a yardstick whereby contradictions can be found does not exist.

Can Scientific Truth Be Found in the Bible? Even if the Bible is inerrant, the question concerning whether or not inerrancy has meaning for the scientific investigator must be answered.

Frequently it is said, “The Bible is not a science textbook. Therefore, one cannot expect to find science in the Bible.” Such a statement is not a claim that the Bible is in error. It is a claim that the contents of the Bible are not relevant for scientific investigation.

A statement which declares that the Bible does not contain science is a statement about the Bible, and such a statement is not derived from the Bible. A very important rule which is used by many (perhaps most) Bible scholars is that the only true statements about the Bible are those which can be derived from the Bible. The truth of this rule is accepted in this discussion, but it is not enough to accept it on the authority of Bible scholars.

To prove this rule, it will be temporarily assumed that the opposite of the rule is true, and the consequences of such an assumption will be examined.

Assume that one is able to formulate true statements about the nature of the Bible which cannot be deduced from the Bible. It is always in principle possible that such statements could at least in part determine the correct interpretation of the Bible. In fact, it is difficult to conceive of statements about the nature of the Bible which could not affect interpretation. Because these statements could affect interpretation of the Bible, they would in effect be put on a par with Biblical statements. Since such addition to the Bible by man is not permitted, these statements about the nature of the Bible cannot be known to be true.

The error in asserting the truthfulness of statements about the nature of the Bible is a subtle error. There is a tendency by those who accept inerrancy to fall into this error. Once the inerrancy of Biblical statements is accepted, it apparently is easy to postulate the truthfulness of a characterization of those statements, even if that characterization cannot be derived from the Bible.

There are many statements about the nature of the Bible which are correct because they can be deduced from the Bible. Thus, the Bible is said to be inerrant because this concept is taught by the Bible. The Bible teaches that it is the Word of God. It is the Bible that teaches that the whole Bible is to be used for instruction in righteousness. Likewise, it is deduced from the Bible that God’s salvation in Christ is at the heart of all of the Bible.

The statement, “The Bible is not a science textbook,” is deficient because it cannot be deduced from the Bible. Similarly, the statement, “The Bible is a textbook of . . .” is also deficient. The Bible cannot be limited by any statements such as these. The Bible teaches what it teaches. For example, it is a mistake to expect that the book which explains God’s plan of salvation would not at the same time give us a correct biological fact. One Biblical statement or set of statements which seems to outline God’s plan of salvation cannot be used to predict correctly the contents of another Biblical statement of set of statements.