On the first day of my teaching career, working as a freshman-level composition instructor the fall after my own college graduation, I entered my class more nervous than any of my 23 students. I knew I was hardly older than they were. I felt I had to be perfect to keep their trust. Imagine my horror when, as I introduced the course, I found errors in my own syllabus!
Unfortunately, I’m not just referring to typos when I say errors. I’m talking about inaccuracies, contradictions, and bluffs sniffed out by my students. As you can predict, these errors found in my course notes caused substantial damage to my credibility as a teacher—especially since I taught composition.
Errors harm the trustworthiness, usefulness, durability, accessibility, and beauty of the source. Fortunately, readers of the Bible can know with certainty that the Scriptures, and their unified goal to glorify Jesus Christ, are all of these things due to the wonderful doctrine of Inerrancy.
What Inerrancy Is
Inerrancy does not mean the Bible contains nothing false; Inerrancy means the Bible teaches only truth. As one example, John Piper discusses the importance of literary awareness in his article, What Is Inerrancy? He provocatively says, “Job is a book of errors,” and later clarifies by saying, “The book of Job is written to show the advice [given to Job in the middle of his suffering] is bad.”
Those aware of how Job’s friends’ advice functions within the story will not mistake their bad counsel for something affirmed by the Scriptures. After making this point, Piper then attempts a definition of Inerrancy:
The biblical authors, with God as their guide, do not teach anything false or command as God’s will anything displeasing to God…What the authors intend for us to understand or obey, properly understood in its nearer or wider context, is true. It’s not misleading… It’s not false.
Don Carson echoes this idea in his own writing. He writes:
It is potentially misleading to say “all Scripture tells the truth” if we thereby convey the impression that “Scripture is nothing more than factual expressions.” But to say “all Scripture is inerrant” is to affirm that it is without error, and this negation of untruthfulness covers all of the Bible indiscriminately.
One might ask in response to these definitions, what then is the intention of the biblical authors? How can we know what the Bible affirms or intends? Jesus himself answers these questions for us in a response he gave to those looking to kill him:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)
The Scriptures all inerrantly point to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Not only is the message good, but so it the medium that brings us the message. The more we reflect on the doctrine of Inerrancy, the more we come to trust in Jesus Christ as our Redeemer.
What Inerrancy Means For Us
When we reflect on Inerrancy, we reflect on the nature of God. Inerrancy flows not from man-made tradition but from the very nature of God himself. Our perfectly truthful book comes directly from our perfectly truthful Father in Heaven. If this is true, then what does this doctrine mean for us as we approach the Scriptures? Inerrancy helps us understand (at least) five truths about God’s Word:
1. Inerrancy means God’s Word is trustworthy.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
Inerrancy points to how God is ultimately the author over all the Scriptures. What we read, and what we believe, does not come from man alone. The writers of the Old and New Testaments “were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” For this reason, the Bible is more trustworthy than any other book!
2. Inerrancy means God’s Word is useful.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Consider what might have been going through the minds of my students on that first day of class: This guy is our composition instructor? He can’t even write a syllabus without making a mistake! The strategies he’ll teach us must not be that useful, considering they don’t work for him…
Yet, when we read the Bible we should have the exact opposite thought running through our head: The perfect God of the Universe is the author of this book! When he instructs me, I’ll listen. When he commands, I’ll obey. Where he leads, I’ll follow!
3. Inerrancy means God’s Word is durable.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18)
Jesus makes it clear that he was sent to earth to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. This shows that the truths taught in the Old Testament were still active during the New Testament. Not only this, but Jesus makes it clear that those truths also live on until the end of time.
The Holy Bible is not only trustworthy and useful, but also durable. In other words, we can find truth in the Bible “until heaven and earth pass away.”
4. Inerrancy means God’s Word is accessible.
…it is impossible for God to lie… (Hebrews 6:18)
The doctrine of Inerrancy also speaks to the reality that anyone who wants the truth can have it. The Bible is not closed, but open. It is not locked, but freely accessible. God wants us to understand his truths in the Bible. The secrets of the universe are not hidden in heaven, but given to us in the Scriptures!
5. Inerrancy means God’s Word is beautiful.
The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)
I can’t think of a better word than beauty to describe something that is perfectly life-giving, wholly trustworthy, entirely useful, forever durable, and completely open to all. Friends, if there is anything certainly, 100% good in this world, it is the Word of God!
Therefore, I encourage you to seek, every day and every hour, the perfect counsel and eternal truth accessible to you. Remember that God has made this book without error so that we may trust it, use it, and come to know Jesus Christ through it.