by Gilles Despin
An old thesis written in 1868 in Strasbourg, France, presents some principles in Bible translation. While criticizing a few very literal versions (like those of Lausanne and Darby), the author declared that the versions had been done according to the principle of ‘plenary theopneusty,’
“A theory of inspiration recognized to be false today by many enlightened people and by skillful theologians who cannot be all accused of incredulity and impiety. Those translators, even without knowing it, made many different errors, their method being entirely false. It is because they saw inspiration in the words instead of being in the thoughts; they emphasized the written word instead of the living mind of the sacred writer. […] I do not deny the inspiration of the sacred writer, but I want that inspiration to be more on the person, above the book. We must remember that that inspiration does not exclude fallibility and error, leaving intact the whole person of the author with his faults and his prejudices received from education […]” (emphasis added).
Although written more than 140 years ago, this thesis still reflects the thinking of many so-called students of the Bible today. The doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible are still attacked from many sides. In what follows, the present writer will first present a definition of biblical inerrancy. Then, several proof texts and some problematic texts of the Bible will be briefly surveyed.
Inerrancy basically means ‘without error.’ Biblical inerrancy means that the Bible is without any error and wholly accurate both theologically, historically, geographically, and scientifically. The Bible is “free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit” in its original manuscripts because its writing was verbally and divinely superintended by the Holy Spirit. Finally, inerrancy also “refers to the trustworthy and authoritative nature of Scripture as God’s Word, which informs humankind of the need for and the way to salvation.”
Some proof texts in both Testaments
In his book entitled Does Inspiration Demand Inerrancy? Stewart Custer presents 24 passages of the Old Testament and 49 of the New Testament which, according to the author, support the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. Introducing the Old Testament passages, Custer writes:
Some scholars claim that Scripture does not teach that it is inspired without errors. They therefore charge conservatives with reading into Scripture their own preconceived ideas about inspiration and inerrancy. This charge of adding to Scripture is just as serious as one of taking away from Scripture. Therefore, let us survey the Old [and New] Testament in order to see what it teaches concerning its own inspiration. Does Scripture teach a doctrine of inspiration which demands inerrancy, or does it leave room for errors in its message? In many passages in the Old [and New] Testament there are clear statements concerning itself and concerning the nature of God’s revelation to man.
The Old Testament passages which will be briefly surveyed are: Exodus 4.10-16 (from the Law section), 2 Samuel 23.1-3 (from the Historical books section), Psalm 19.7-9 (from the Poetical books section), and Isaiah 30.8-10 (from the Prophetic books section).
Exodus 4.10-16: Here Yahweh promised Moses not only ‘to be with his mouth,’ but also to teach (perhaps better ‘to instruct’) him what to say. In verse 15, the Lord insists on his presence and guidance when Moses and Aaron would speak. Literally, the Hebrew text says: “And I, I will be with your mouth and with his mouth.” So it is clear that Moses’ words would be Yahweh’s words. Since Yahweh is true, his words are also true, without any error (2 Samuel 7.28). Therefore, Moses’ words, which are indeed Yahweh’s words, are true and inerrant.
2 Samuel 23.1-3: David declared that his last words were the words spoken by the Spirit of Yahweh in him. He added that the Spirit’s word (millāh) were on his tongue. The word here particularly denotes an utterance, that is, “what is stated or said, with a focus on the content of the utterance.” Moreover, David also wrote that Yahweh ‘said’ and ‘spoke’ to him, emphasizing the source of the words. Since the Spirit is truth (John 14.17), his words are therefore true and inerrant.
Psalm 19.7-9: In this passage, David used 5 synonyms for the Word of God: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, and judgments. He says that the Word of God is perfect, sure, right, pure, and true. One could hardly add to this list the possibility that the Word might contain errors. Inerrancy is probably the best word to summarize this passage.
Isaiah 30.8-10: Isaiah received a clear command from Yahweh to write and inscribe his word as a witness forever. The sure and right enduring word of the prophets is contrasted with the pleasant (or false) illusions (or deceptions) claimed by the rebellious people. The words of the prophets of God were the words of God. Therefore, they are true and inerrant.
Now, turning to the New Testament, the following passages will be briefly surveyed: Matthew 5.18 (from the Gospels), Acts 24.14 (from the historical book of Acts), 1 Thessalonians 2.3-5 (from the Pauline Epistles), Hebrews 1.1, 2 (from the General Epistles) and Revelation 3.14, 22 (from the prophetic book of Revelation).
Matthew 5.18: The Lord Jesus, who is the Son of God, perfect in deity, introduces his saying with the small word ‘ἀμὴν.’ That word literally means ‘surely,’ ‘truly,’ or ‘let it be so.’ This very word is a strong argument for inerrancy. When used as an introduction to a saying, it is always found in the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here in Matthew 5.18 the Lord identified a certain extent of the inerrancy of Scriptures: “Not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” The smallest letter in Greek is the ‘iota,’ which is a very small letter, particularly when it is subscript (ι / ῃ). The stroke might be an accent or a breathing mark in the Greek language. However, in Hebrew, that would correspond to the smallest stroke of a Hebrew letter, like the horizontal stroke over the ‘waw’ (ו).
Acts 24.14: Here it is clear that Paul believed “everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.” Paul’s Christianity “was an outgrowth of the Old Testament.” For Paul, the whole Old Testament (Law and Prophets) was worth believing. Thus, it seems clear that the whole Old Testament was inerrant for Paul who, as is well-known, rejected any form of falsehood (2 Corinthians 2.17; 4.2).
1 Thessalonians 2.3-5: Paul’s teaching was free from error, impurity, or deceit. This is a clear affirmation of inerrancy in his apostolic teaching (see 2 Peter 3.15, 16). Moreover, the God who entrusted him with the Gospel was witness to Paul’s truth in his teaching.
Hebrews 1.1, 2: The author of Hebrews confirms here that it was God who spoke in the Old Testament. Moreover, it is also him who spoke in the Son, referring to Jesus’ person and work as set out in the Gospels. Since God is truth, he speaks the truth. Therefore, both the Old Testament and the Gospels are inerrant.
Revelation 3.14, 22: The words of Revelation are inerrant because they are spoken by both the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Here, Christ is the ‘Amen’ (see that word above), the ‘faithful and true Witness.’ Those titles emphasize the truth of Christ’s message.
Those passages are only a sample of the overwhelming testimony of the Scriptures to its own inerrancy. Yet, according to some, there are also some passages that would present some errors. Therefore, in the following section some of these passages will be briefly surveyed in order to show the fallacy of that assumption.
Some problematic texts in both Testaments
Before surveying some passages of both the Old and New Testaments, Custer is worth quoting once again here:
The Liberal will call anything in Scripture which he cannot explain an “error.” This is a manifestation of his underlying assumption that Scripture is just another human book with all the human frailties and mistakes which an ordinary book has. Any classification of these errors usually includes textual errors (1 Sam. 17:14–57; 2 Sam. 21:19); historical errors (Josh. 10:15, 43, 21); scientific errors such as the “primitive” world view of Genesis 1; errors in chronology or numbers (Gen. 5 and 11); and morally unworthy passages (1 Sam. 15:33). Perhaps under the historical errors they would subsume “myths” or “legends,” such as Jonah and the great fish. At least they would clearly deny the historicity of such accounts. […] Although the Conservative may not be able to account for some things in such passages, he will not automatically assume that there are “errors” in the Scripture. He would rather assume that his own understanding of the passages may be in error.
Once again here, one passage from each Protestant division of the Old Testament will be first examined: Genesis 30.37-43 (an alleged scientific error from the Law section), Joshua 10.15, 43, 21 (an alleged historical error from the Historical section), Proverbs 26.4, 5 (an alleged contradiction from the Poetical section), and Jonah 1.17 (an alleged myth from the Prophetic section).
Genesis 30.37-43: Could it be possible for the flocks simply to look at striped rods to get striped offspring? Some say that Jacob’s superstition here has nothing to do with natural order. Therefore, they say that that passage presents a scientific error. However, Jacob’s action may simply be explained as acting according to the usual manners and customs of his time. It should be noted that Jacob also employed another method, that is, the mixing of his flocks with the flocks of Laban (v.40). Moreover, Jacob later recognized that his flocks were the fruit of God’s blessing (31.9).
Joshua 10.15, 43, 21: In verses 15 and 43 it is said that Joshua and Israel came back to the camp at Gilgal, while verse 21 mentions that they return to the camp at Makkedah. Therefore, some say that those verses present a historical error. It seems clear, however, that the stop at Makkedah was done while the people returned to Gilgal. Verses 12-15 give a general account of the campaign while verses 16 to 43 present the details.
Proverbs 26.4, 5: There is no contradiction here as the second clause of each verse is much different, showing that each case and each goal is much different. In the first verse, one should not answer a fool according to his folly so that to avoid becoming like him. The implicit command is not to speak like him or argue like him. In the second verse, one should answer a fool according to his folly so that he does not see himself wise while he is fool. The implicit command is to rebuke or refute the fool. Thus, there is absolutely no error here.
Jonah 1.17: René Pache explained the alleged error here thus: “Everybody knows that the throat of a whale is so narrow that no man could possibly go down it. So the Bible must be wrong – that is, if it really mentions a whale! Actually, the text calls it only a great fish (Jonah 2.1). Now it is common knowledge that a ‘shark’ can swallow a human body whole. Just recently an instance was cited of a man rescued alive out of a sperm whale.”
Finally, one passage from each major section of the New Testament will be examined: Matthew 17.27 (an alleged scientific error from the Gospels), Acts 9.7; 22.9 (an alleged contradiction from the historical book of Acts), 1 Corinthians 7.20-22 (an alleged moral error from the Pauline Epistles), Jude 9, 14, 15 (an alleged literary error from the General Epistles), and Revelation 1.4, 5 (an alleged grammatical error from the prophetic book of Revelation).
Matthew 17.27: This passage does not present an error except for those who do not believe in miracles. Moreover, some have tried to eliminate the miracle by affirming that the kind of fish Peter caught was known to ‘eat’ brilliant pieces of metal like coins. However, the true miracle was that Jesus knew which fish would be caught by Peter’s line at that very moment and that it would have exactly a shekel in its mouth.
Acts 9.7; 22.9: These passages seem to contradict one another. In the first passage it is said that the men with Paul heard the voice but saw no one. In the second passage, the men saw the light but they did not hear the voice. However, there is no contradiction here. It is clear that the men saw a light, but they did not discern the person of Jesus Christ. Also, they heard a voice, but they did not understand what it said. These passages are not contradictory; rather they are in fact complementary.
1 Corinthians 7.20-22: Is Paul approving slavery here? The answer is no. Paul’s point is not about the approbation of slavery or not. Paul is simply teaching the Corinthians to honor Christ in their conduct in whatever social situation they might find themselves. As slavery was a social reality at that time, it was important for the Christian slaves to adopt a proper Christian attitude. A Christian slave could look for liberty (v.21), but not for example in a rebellious manner. Therefore, this passage is not morally incorrect.
Jude 9, 14, 15: Some say that Jude’s quotation of two Jewish apocryphal books was a literary error. Indeed, Jude quoted from two books which were very well-known at his time. It is noteworthy that Paul also quoted from non-inspired writings (Acts 17.28; 1 Corinthians 15.33; Titus 1.12), in his case pagan writings. Therefore, Jude’s quotation of non-inspired works is not an isolated case. There was nothing wrong in quoting from those books as long as the quotations really supported the writer’s message and did not contradict anything in the Word of God. Moreover, those quotations were inspired by God as they became part of his Word. However, that did not make the original source an inspired book. The quotation itself is inspired as it stands in the Word of God, but it is not inspired in the original source. If one reads a quotation in its original source, he’s simply reading a book like any other book. But if he reads the same quotation in the Bible, he’s reading the inspired Word of God.
Revelation 1.4: This verse really presents a grammatical difficulty and not necessarily an error. Custer explains the problem: “In Revelation 1:4 the phrase ‘the one who is and who was and who is coming’ follows a preposition (apo) which normally requires the genitive case, but here the phrase is in the nominative case.” This is true. However, it is also true that a personal name may remain in the nominative case even when preceded by the preposition ‘apo.’ Here, it seems clear that John considered the expression ‘the one who is and who was and who is coming’ (entirely in the nominative case) as a personal divine name of Christ. Therefore, it was grammatically justifiable to leave it in the nominative case.
These few examples show that any alleged error can be explained, though some difficulties might remain. Moreover, the overwhelming unity and harmony of the Scriptures is sufficient to prove its divine inerrancy. Custer concludes: “It is not logically necessary to prove a precise interpretation for each passage; it is only necessary to show that solutions exist. The reader is then impelled to face again the question of whether he will believe the divine Word of the Living God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The skeptic can always multiply objections, but the believer may rest on the trustworthiness of the revelation which he has found sufficient to cleanse his heart and to transform his life.”
Aland, K., Aland, B., Karavidopoulos, J., Martini, C.M., and Metzger, B.M., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012.
Arndt, W., Danker, F.W., and Bauer, W., A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Cadiot, E., Essai sur les conditions d’une traduction populaire de la Bible en langue française, Strasbourg, France : Faculté de Théologie Protestante, 1868.
Custer, S., Does inspiration demand inerrancy? A study of the Biblical doctrine of inspiration in the light of inerrancy, Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1968.
Grenz, S., Guretzki, D., and Nordling, C.F., Pocket dictionary of theological terms, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
Holladay, W.L. and Köhler, L., A concise Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament, Leiden: Brill, 2000.
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 1978, Vol.21, No.4.
Marshall, I. H., Biblical inspiration, Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 1982.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 update, LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
Pache, R., The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1976.
Swanson, J., Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament), Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
The Hebrew Bible: Andersen-Forbes Analyzed Text, Logos Bible Software, 2008.
Walvoord, J.F. and Zuck, R.B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
 Present writer’s free translation of the French. See Emile Cadiot. Essai sur les conditions d’une traduction populaire de la Bible en langue française. (Strasbourg, France : Faculté de Théologie Protestante, 1868): 24, 25.
 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21, no 4 (1978): 291.
 Grenz, S., Guretzki, D., and Nordling, C.F., Pocket dictionary of theological terms, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999, p.66.
 Custer, S., Does inspiration demand inerrancy? A study of the Biblical doctrine of inspiration in the light of inerrancy, Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1968, p.13.
 Except when otherwise indicated, Scriptures quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 update, LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
 The Hebrew text says: “רוּחַ יהוה דִּבֶּר־בִּי” Compare with Hebrews 1.1: “ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις.”
 Swanson, J., Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament), Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
 The Hebrew word contains the idea of a decree.
 The word ‘amen’ is used 101 times in the Gospels, out of 128 occurrences in the whole New Testament.
 The Hebrew ‘yod’ is also very small.
 Toussaint, Stanley D., “Acts,” ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985, p.421.
 Custer, Does inspiration demand inerrancy?, p.93.
 Pache, R., The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1976, p.143.
 The Testament of Moses (v.9) and the Book of Enoch (v.14, 15).
 Custer, Does inspiration demand inerrancy?, p.112.
 Ibid., p.113.