The Importance of Inerrancy-Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
The authors explain the weakness of the alternate position held by many: limited inerrancy. They say limited inerrancy is simply meaningless, biblically and practically. In fact, no Scripture ever gives us the right to view any Scripture as less than fully inspired and inerrant.

The Weakness of the Alternate Position (Limited Inerrancy)

Assuming verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy restricts us to the evangeli­cal camp. The “neoevangelical” believes in verbal plenary inspiration (more or less) but also in limited inerrancy. Perhaps the quandary faced here is best illustrated by theologian and apologist R. C. Sproul, who cites, verbatim, a dis­cussion he has had “on numerous occasions.”

On numerous occasions I have queried several Biblical and theological scholars in the following manner.
— “Do you maintain the inerrancy of Scripture?”— “No!”
— “Do you believe the Bible to be inspired of God?”— “Yes.” — “Do you think God inspires error?”— “No.”
— “Is all of the Bible inspired by God?”— “Yes.”
— “Is the Bible errant?”— “No!”
— “Is it inerrant?”— “No!”
At that point I usually acquire an Excedrin headache.[1]

One problem is equivocation in the term “limited inerrancy” itself as Dr. Ryrie observes:

But why say “limited inerrancy”? Why not “limited errancy”? If the Bible has limitations on its inerrancy, then obviously it is errant, though not completely so. So limited inerrancy and limited errancy amount to the same thing…. Limited inerrancy is a much more palatable label than anything that has the word errancy in it…. To speak of limited inerrancy seems much more respectable, but it is also more deceitful. Intentional or not, it is a semantic game played to help cover up a dangerously deceptive view. We need to expose limited inerrancy for what it is. If parts of the Bible are not inerrant, then those parts are errant. That is an inescapable conclusion.[2]

Limited inerrancy is simply meaningless, biblically and practically. Biblically it is incorrect to speak of degrees of inerrancy or inspiration. Where does the Bible make such a distinction—anywhere? No Scripture ever gives us the right to view any Scripture as less than fully inspired and inerrant. If someone claims that an invisible, intangible, purple and green spotted giraffe lives in his or her back yard, how would you prove it? There is not a shred of evidence in support—only the incredible assertion. You couldn’t prove it. It’s the same for errancy—it cannot be proven, and the weight of the evidence is so strongly against it that maintaining it is rather like believing in the giraffe. To maintain the Bible is errant, when it does not teach this (to the contrary) is like maintaining the Bible teaches Christ is not God when it so clearly affirms His deity. Practically speaking, limited inerrancy leave us in the same subjective quagmire as limited inspiration. How limited is the inspiration? How limited is the inerrancy? How much is true and how much is false? Who determines where the “limitation” is? How do we do this? By what infallible means—for infallibility is certainly needed. And again, if there really are errors should we not correct them? But would this not often require divine omni­science on the part of the one making the corrections? Again, the only criteria for making corrections is fallible human scholarship. This means that outside criteria have become the judge of the credibility of biblical content. In turn, this means that if outside criteria are to stand in judgment over Scripture, such criteria must be truer or more reliable than the Bible. The conclusion is that an admittedly non-inspired source of data is given preference over one that not only claims divine inspiration, but one that offers substantial evidence for its claim.[3]

Here, at least, the errantist has more in common with the cultist than evangelicalism. Cultists claim to believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, but undermine its authority by how they approach it. Indeed, if the errantist position is true, given a potential plethora of subjective factors at work, how can we even logically maintain the Bible is an authority and trustworthy? On the other hand, a truly biblical concept of inspiration rescues us from coming to any part of Scrip­ture and saying, “Can I trust it?”

James Barr’s book Fundamentalism, points out the problem of the limited inerrantist here, as to the inconsistency of their message. They claim to believe in the authority of the Bible yet think it contains an undetermined number of errors. Here one is reminded of the dilemma of the Christian theistic evolutionist whose denials of Scripture are so blatant that even militant atheists cite their works to prove Christians don’t really believe the teaching of their Bibles, i.e., that the Bible is the authoritative word of God.[4]

Perhaps it goes without saying, but when evangelical literature provides legiti­mate ammunition for the enemies of the church to reject God, something is terribly wrong. Of course, if real Christians do not trust God, why should non-Christians even consider Him? Barr’s book thus shows the inconsistency of those who wish to retain the benefits of Biblical authority and yet are clearly errantists.

Some, presumably, do so in hopes of greater scholarly recognition or dialogue with liberals and secularists: “These writers are convinced that greater respect for the Christian faith will be retained in the academic community if Christian schol­ars demonstrate an openness to evolution and higher criticism.”[5] Nevertheless, the same fate meets the limited inerrantists as the theistic evolutionist: ridicule by those who would never accept their dubious beliefs anyway and derision for their compromise and inconsistency. Certainly it is not compromise that honors Christ and leads men into His kingdom.

For example, consider what the following statement does for biblical authority. Jack Harwell, editor of the Christian Index, a publication of the Baptist Conven­tion of the State of Georgia stated:

I do believe that the Bible is the Word of God. I do not use the word infallible because the Bible is written by men…. I do not believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible…. I do not believe that Adam and Eve were one man and one woman. I believe that the terms Adam and Eve represented mankind and womankind. There are volumes and volumes of Biblical scholarship which document this theory many years back.[6]

Yet both Jesus and Paul clearly taught that a literal Adam and Eve were created by God (Matt. 19:4-5; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:45). Is this kind of compromising helpful? If we cannot trust God with Adam and Eve, who introduced sin, why can we trust God with Jesus Christ, who completed the atonement for sin?

When T. C. Smith, president of the liberal Association of Baptist Professors of Religion, says “It is the Bible, not God, that we are questioning”[7] what can one say? God declares He exalts His word according to His Name (Ps. 138:2, cf., Isa. 42:21), so how can they be separated?

Indeed, the very nature of the limited errantist position is inherently indefensible, as John Murray points out:

Those who thus contend should, however, be aware of the implications of their position. If human fallibility precludes an infallible Scripture, then by resistless logic it must be maintained that we cannot have any Scripture that is infallible and inerrant. All of Scripture comes to us through human instrumentality. If such instrumentality involves fallibility, then such fallibility must attach to the whole of Scripture. For by what warrant can an immunity from error be maintained in the matter of “spiritual content” and not in the matter of historical or scientific fact? Is human fallibility suspended when “spiritual truth” is asserted but not suspended in other less important matters?
Furthermore, if infallibility can attach to the “spiritual truth” enunciated by the Biblical writers, then it is obvious that some extraordinary divine influence must have intervened and become operative so as to prevent human fallibility from leaving its mark upon the truth expressed. If divine influence could thus intrude itself at certain points, why should not this same preserving power exercise itself at every point in the writing of Scripture? Again, surely human fallibility is just as liable to be at work in connection with the enunciation of transcendent truth as it is when it deals with the details of historical occurrence.[8]

The choice is simple. Do we choose the opinions of errantist brethren, or of biased critics as per the Jesus Seminar, or the testimony of God and His Son? Do we accept the infallibility of the critic, or of the Scriptures? Of the one who doubts God’s word, or of the God who testifies to it? Was Christ ever in error on His views of Scripture, or anything else? If He was, then how can He be a sinless Savior or incarnate God?

If God inspired errors concerning the creation, the Flood, Joshua’s long day and Jonah’s great sea creature, if He deceived us with the false prophecies of a pseudo-Daniel and deutero-trito Isaiah, the alleged sexism of the apostle Paul (or pseudo-Paul) the rank deception of pseudo-Peter, and the cultural accommoda­tions of Jesus—then certainly He may also have erred or deceived us in the matter of our salvation. Who can prove He has not, if the critics claims be true? “What does inspiration mean if it does not involve reliability?”[9] Is an allegedly demonstrable error “profitable”? Should 2 Timothy 3:16 be revised to correct its error?

Most of Scripture is partially God-breathed and profitable (usually) for teaching (except where wrong) rebuking (assuming you are certain you have the authority) correcting (when you find the inerrant parts) and training in righteousness (unless it concerns culturally prejudiced ethics) so that the man of God (possibly) may be thoroughly (?) equipped for every good work.

What is at stake here is nothing less than the integrity of God. This is why we believe that, indeed, God will “be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

Again, if God could and did preserve the Bible from error in matters of theol­ogy (faith and practice) why would He not do so in non-theological matters of science and history? If He could not do so in the latter, how could He in the former?

We end our discussion by citing Dr. Feinberg:

I have never been able to understand how one can be justified in claiming absolute authority for the Scriptures and at the same time deny their inerrancy. This seems to be the height of epistemological nonsense and confusion.
Let me try to illustrate the point. Suppose that I have an Amtrak railroad schedule. In describing its use to you, I tell you that it is filled with numerous errors but that it is absolutely authoritative and trustworthy. I think you would be extremely dubious. At least the schedule would have one thing going for it; it declares itself to be subject to change without notice.[10]

That, of course, is precisely the problem of the errantist position—its view of any given Scripture is subject to change without notice. Jesus however, said, “Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).

Good enough for us.


  1. R. C. Sproul in Montgomery (ed.), God’s Inerrant Word, p. 257, formatting added.
  2. Charles Ryrie, What You Should Know About Inerrancy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 17.
  3. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1977), p. 203.
  4. See e.g., George H. Smith, Atheism and the Case Against God (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1974), pp. 112-113. Smith states: “On occasion, however, even the Christian is forced to acknowledge the supremacy of reason if he is to avoid pushing his beliefs beyond the limits of absurdity. This is where his religion undergoes a rewrite. Previous articles of faith, once dis­proved, are declared to be non-essential, and those beliefs that cannot be discarded without demolishing Christianity are now interpreted ‘symbolically’ instead of literally.“Through history Christianity has sought to eliminate scientific principles that conflict with Christian faith, and it has not hesitated to employ intimidation and violence in pursuit of this end. When science finally triumphed, Christianity refused to abandon its appeal to faith. Previous conflicts between religion and science were attributed to misunderstandings. Former articles of faith, after they are conclusively refuted, are now viewed as misinterpretations of the ‘true’ faith; and new theories, such as evolution, are incorporated within Christianity.“It is rather amusing that, after years of violent hostilities between religion and scientific discovery, a modern Christian will claim that the Christian faith (properly understood, of course) really supported the new theory all along. Evolution ceased to contradict divine creation only after the evidence for evolution became overwhelming. Now every enlightened theologian can deliver an impressive account of how evolutionary theory actually magnifies the greatness of God.”
  5. John D. Woodbridge, “Does the Bible Teach Science?” in Roy B. Zuck (gen. ed.), Vital Apologetic Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1995), p. 40.
  6. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, p. 97.
  7. Ibid., p. 98.
  8. John Murray, “The Attestation of Scripture” in N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley (eds.), The Infallible Word: A Symposium (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967, Third Rev. Edition), pp. 4-5.
  9. Harold Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), p. 214.
  10. Paul Feinberg in Geisler (ed.), Inerrancy, p. 285.

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