Inerrancy refers to a text that is accurate, truthful, and free of errors by the most common definition. The term inerrancy does not appear in the Bible, but Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the Bible does not contain errors in its teachings. During the first centuries of this era, there was no need for the term. The consensus was that the Bible was accurate and infallible, meaning that its text does not deceive the reader into falsehoods. The concept of inerrancy was introduced by conservative theologians when European religious authorities started to view the Bible as a historical document and doubted the literal truthfulness of its texts. Theologians from some 2,000 Christian denominations consider that their theological views and interpretations of the biblical texts are the only true beliefs. Many of them affirm that the original manuscripts, autograph copies, are free of errors. An original manuscript is an authentic document as written by the author. The problem is that no autograph copies have survived. All we have are copies and translations of other copies. For Christians, inerrancy refers to the content of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments; religious authorities from Judaism will refer to the Torah; Islamic believers to the Qur’an. Each religious’ faith will apply the term to their holy books. When we consider that each of these books teaches different beliefs and commands, how are we to decide which one of them is genuinely inerrant? Consider that inerrancy is not restricted to moral and religious truth. It applies to all scientific, geographical, or historical statements. As expected, the disagreements are a source of profound controversies.
The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, attended by over 300 evangelical scholars, affirms that “copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.” Although they understood that inspiration applies only to autographic texts, the absence of the originals does not affect the essential elements of the Christian faith. The ICBI does not represent the point of view of most Christians. When asked, only 30% believe “the Bible to be the actual word of God and must be taken literally, word by word.” 49% believe it to be “the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.” 21% answered that the Bible is just” a compilation of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.” Formal education is of significant influence when considering biblical inerrancy. In a recent poll, 46% of persons with high school education believe that they should interpret the Bible literally. Not so when the pollsters interviewed people with some college education; only 22% responded favorably. Among college graduates, the percentage is even lower, barely 15%.
To justify the skepticism of many modern theologians and historians, we must review the culture in biblical times. Consider, for instance, widespread human slavery. A slave owner could beat a slave to death with impunity as long as the slave survived for a couple of days before dying. Female slaves were typically enslaved for life. Not only that, females who lost their virginity before marrying and did not tell their husbands would be stoned to death. For others, the rationale is simple: they have to believe the whole Bible is true because if even a tiny part of it is not true, then the entire book is in doubt. If we assume that God inspired the Bible authors, then the result is the inerrancy of the texts. The Hebrew Scriptures, as well as the Christian Scriptures, offer passages that support inerrancy. Let’s look at some: “The words of the Lord are flawless” (Psalms 12:6); “Every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5-6); “Your word, o Lord, is eternal, it stands firm” (Psalms 119:89); “For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
Those who believe in the Bible's inerrancy, as currently known, base their beliefs on the exactness of the texts they read, which are copies and translations of the original autograph books. The problem is that no such books exist. It is almost certain that changes occurred due to copyists' errors and errors due to translating from Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew into English and then from English into Spanish or any other language. Furthermore, if we believe that the Bible is accurate and precise and we decide to follow its laws and commandments to the letter, it would be mandatory to change our current laws. We will ban eating pork, slavery will be legal again, working on Saturdays will be condemned to die, and each woman getting married will be checked to make sure she is a virgin and stoned to death if found that she engaged in sexual activities before.
It isn’t challenging to derive false beliefs from studying the Scriptures. According to their interpretation of their reading, on topics such as salvation, homosexuality, abortion, transgender people, etc., different religious organizations have their theological ideas about biblical moral truths. An objective reader will have to decide which one of these interpretations is correct. Some of these groups hold opposed positions. Even within one group, teachings differ significantly. I watched a debate between four religious leaders who presented their views on a mutually exclusive explanation derived from the same biblical passages. As only one of them was right, the others expressed false beliefs taken from the biblical texts. There are 613 requirements and prohibitions in the Old Testament, which most Christians don’t feel obligated to obey. The interpretation of the Mosaic Code contained in the Torah is the source of the most significant conflict on biblical infallibility.
Because on this continent, most of us identify as Christians or Jews, it is of paramount importance that we distinguish the striking differences between the types of societies in which we live. Some still support the traditional point of view that the Bible is the word of God who inspired the authors, is inerrant in its original autograph books, defines our actions and what we believe, it is consistent, trustworthy, and infallible. These believers defend that we should base our moral and ethical decisions on what the Bible teaches. On the other side of the equation are those skeptical about some positions commanded by the Scriptures. They see the Bible as the product of human efforts designed to promote their faith and explain the supernatural concepts of our existence. The Book is a human document written under the limited scientific knowledge of the authors, influenced by ideas from ancient Pagan religions.
Its contradictions reflect the gradual evolution of Hebrew and Christian cultures, largely unreliable because many of its statements on the cosmos and the earth are wrong, as proven by modern science. Many of its instructions for living are regarded as immoral by theologians and scientists. Based on these convictions, many of these believers opine that we should base our moral and ethical decisions on reason, observation, and experience, not on the Bible.
Whether God inspired the human writers of the Bible or they did it to promote their beliefs, the Book has been a guide for moral and ethical decisions for over 3400 years. If we believe it, it will never let us down, and it could be the key to happiness and financial and spiritual prosperity.