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Amended for clarity


Two passages from Paul that are often used together:

In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:2)

All scripture is given by inspiration of God... (2 Timothy 3:16)

The latter passage is also often rendered that scripture is "God-breathed".

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3 questions:

  1. Does the combination of these two passages indicate that scripture is without error?

  2. If yes, in what sense is it without error? (Doctrinally, scientifically, historically, grammatically, other? Is it all or nothing?)

  3. What γραφή/scripture/writing is in scope for your answer to the first 2 questions?


Related questions that may be of interest discussing the usage of the word γραφή are found here and here.

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  • This is a real Pandora's box indeed!!
    – Dottard
    Mar 23, 2021 at 9:35
  • Are you asking if "All Scripture" refers to : copies & translations of God's inspired Word? Example - If you copy the Teacher's notes, and misspell a word.. Does that mean the Teacher misspelled it? Mar 23, 2021 at 17:08
  • Hi @חִידָה I tried not to over-specify the question, but I added a clarifying question at the end. "If so, which γραφή/scripture/writing?" To your point, the answer would make little sense if we were using different meanings of γραφή. If somebody wants to take γραφή to mean one thing, and provides an answer different from somebody who take γραφή to mean something else, both answers would be interesting. Mar 23, 2021 at 17:26

4 Answers 4

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Before dealing with your 3 questions, the word 'inerrancy' must be understood, for there is a semantics trick employed by those who wish to appear as if they totally accept the whole Bible (the scriptures in question here) yet who think they are at liberty to 'adjust' some of its words and its gospel message.

From the early 1800s the spade-work began for switching from the traditional, orthodox Christian view of the inerrancy of all biblical scripture, to claiming that the Bible contained the word of God, but that not everything in it was accurate. Around the 1860s, the orthodox view was expressed by Dean Burgon who countered that latter view with:

"The Bible is none other than the Word of God: not some part of it, more, some part less; but all alike, the utterance of Him who sits upon the Throne: - absolute, faultless, unerring, supreme!" Inspiration and Interpretation, Seven Sermons before the University of Oxford in 1860-61, p.89

That is the meaning of 'the inerrancy of biblical scripture.

However, the idea that with more critical appraisal of the scriptures (assuming errant men wrote it, and not that it was inspired of God), "new light" would come with this new apologetic. Well, certainly new ideas began to arise from the 1800s on, resulting in various new denominations that all claimed to believe the Bible to be the word of God, yet producing new literature, without which, they said, the true meaning of the Bible would never be found. This meant that replacement writings were arising, supposed to be on par with the Bible, written by people who did not claim to be infallible, yet which resulted in their denominations supplanting the authority of the Bible - as "truth" could only be properly understood according to their leaders' interpretations.

The 'church' would actually replace the Bible, for individuals were not qualified to interpret it; only their leaders could do that for them. Further, the new departure from the inerrancy of scripture meant that doctrines could no longer be built simply on the text of scripture. When there is no agreement on the authority of scripture, unity is impossible, and a plethora of different denominations today witness to that. To quote re. one such source of division:

"The greatest disaster that ever happened to the churches of Britain was when the teaching entered that you can live without dependence on the truth of the word of God and not lose the presence of the Holy Spirit... It is possible to hold Christ as an article of faith and yet not to know communion with him... Once it is thought that we are at liberty to modify, or discard Scripture, it will not be Christianity that is left. Countless now empty church buildings bear witness to this fact." Evangelical Holiness, Iain H. Murray, pp.25, 29, 65 The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013 [Emphasis mine]

Now to deal with your 3 questions: 1) Does the combination of these two passages indicate that scripture is without error?

The indication is clearly to be seen with both those texts. Indeed, "God cannot lie," and every word of the Lord is utter truth, and as Christ calls himself "the Truth", every word of Christ is equally true. It follows, then, that if Christ (who is also called The Word of God) and God who cannot lie caused the autographs of the whole Bible to be 'breathed' into existence by the Holy Spirit, all of those Bible writings will be true - utterly dependable, and not to be tampered with.

Of course, we all know that various men, throughout the centuries, have tried to tamper with the Bible, and the many different translations we have today contain examples of alarming differences between themselves and the Bible that came down to us from the first century. The context of 2 Timothy 3:16 is what the apostles knew to be the holy scriptures handed down to them from their forefathers, beginning with the writings of Moses, ending with that of Malachi.

The Greek for 'scripture' in 2 Timothy 3:16 is 'graphe' which means 'writing, anything written'. Young's Concordance lists that verse under 'graphe'. It applies to those Hebrew scriptures Jesus quoted from, and which foretold him, and which all Jews of the first century revered as the word of God, meticulously preserved by phenomenal scribal attention to detail and standards. When Paul wrote to Timothy about the inspired scriptures, that was what he meant. The writings that came to be collated into what we call the New Testament had only recently begun to be written, including that second letter of Paul to Timothy. Strictly speaking, it was the ancient writings that Paul said were inspired of God. The Holy Spirit had 'breathed into' the writers the very words God wanted to be penned, and as God cannot lie, those writings were inerrant. Later on, as the Greek scriptures were completed, it was seen that they, too, had that same hallmark of authenticity. They agreed with the Hebrew scriptures, and took up from them to explain Christ as the foretold Messiah, and went on into the future with the Revelation (continuing to agree with the Hebrew prophecies). Christians today who uphold the inerrancy of scripture include the N.T. writings in with the O.T. writings as holy scripture, utterly true. You cannot have Christianity without both testaments.

2. If yes, in what sense is it without error? (Doctrinally, scientifically, historically, grammatically, other? Is it all or nothing?) To answer that with proofs would require a book and I am not going to try to do that. Here is the basic point, though. God cannot lie. Everything that God says comes to pass, otherwise he is a liar. Therefore, if the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the word of God, it is inerrant (as I defined at the start). But the words of men are not inerrant, which can be seen from man-made words either put into the scriptures or used to explain doctrines and explanations about the Bible that actually do not originate with the Bible. And this is why so many arguments abound regarding what is biblically sound doctrine, or historic etc. When a doctrine is believed that actually is not biblical, strenuous efforts will be made to invoke science, grammar and other things in the Bible to support the 'new' doctrine. Many will happily claim that, because they do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture, they can better explain the 'real' meaning, or doctrine, than those who do.

3. What γραφή/scripture/writing is in scope for your answer to the first 2 questions? Here is a small sample from some of those writings that logically show why I answered the first 2 points as I did (all from the A.V.):

"For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. ... The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." Psalm 119 vss. 89, 130

"...for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name." Psalm 138:2

"Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth" Jeremiah 1:9 (which words the prophet then wrote down.)

"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which please, and it shall prosper whereto I sent it... the word of our God shall stand forever." Isaiah 55:11 & 40:8

"The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life... To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." John 6:63 & 68 (which words have been written down in the New Testament.)

"Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away" Matthew 24:35

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The answer requires multi-level considerations. The meaning of "inerrant" is free from error.

First, is all scripture speaking truth? That answer is No, as we must determine who the speaker of record is. When the adversary speaks, he is speaking a lie (John 8:44). He lied to Eve in Gen. 3:4 by adding the word "not" to God's commandment. Abraham shaded the truth when he told others that Sara was his sister, without also disclosing that she was his wife (Gen. 12:10-12).

So, if the speaker is other than our Creator, then we have to know that they may not be telling the truth. Men and women will lie. The adversary lies continually, and we must have that in mind whenever we read the words spoken by the adversary.

If God is speaking it is absolute truth.

"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." (John 17:17, KJV)

"For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth." (Psa. 33:4, KJV)

Second, is the record of the events inerrant? Yes, if it is from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The Holy Spirit accurately recorded the events even if it portrayed the individual person in a bad light. The Holy Spirit did not and does not pull punches.

Third, we must recognize that the translations into the other languages may have added some bias from the beliefs of the translators. That is why we must compare the different translations against each other, and back to the original texts to weed out any bias and preconceived ideas. That is why there are commentaries, dictionaries, lexicons, etc. to help students of the Bible research and understand the original texts.

For instance, Heb. 9:27 in the KJV is translated as -

"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:"

But, it is better translated in Young's Literal as -

"and as it is laid up to men once to die, and after this -- judgment,"

The definite article "the" in the KJV translation is not in the original Greek, and it lends itself to a belief in one day of judgment all at one time, when actually the original text shows that every person is judged after their bodily death. This has been the process since the beginning as is depicted in the picture of Hades that the Holy Spirit gave us in Luke 16:22-23.

Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom after his death, while the rich man was consigned to the place of torment in the grave. How was that accomplished if they had not been subject to their judgment at their death?

So, essentially, Yes, YHWH's word is truth, and the record of the events given in the scriptures by the Holy Spirit is inerrant. But, we must discriminate between speakers within the word, and between translations from the original texts.

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  • 3
    You wandered from the subject in order to convey an opinion about the Last Judgment which was not the question.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 23, 2021 at 6:18
  • 1
    I disagree. I did not wander from the topic. I used an example to make the point about errors in translations, and it is an egregious one. I could have used the example about transliterating the Gr. "baptisma" instead of translating it as "immersion" as another error in many translations if that would work better for you.
    – Gina
    Mar 23, 2021 at 11:01
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    That would be just as bad, I am afraid.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 23, 2021 at 12:34
  • @Gina - You offer an excellent Conclusion : "That is why we must compare the different translations against each other, and back to the original texts". Mar 23, 2021 at 17:39
  • 1
    @Curious - sorry, no it was a finger slip...
    – Gina
    Mar 23, 2021 at 17:54
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Apart from the nature of Christ, there are few matters as divisive among Christians as the doctrine of Inspiration of the Bible. The questions that arise from the doctrine of inspiration: (1) How does divine inspiration work? And, (2) What is inspired? (I will not address the second question here).

How Does Inspiration Work?

Traditionally, there have been three broad views about how the Bible writers were inspired:

  1. Verbal Inspiration: The Holy Spirit dictated the Bible, word for word.
  2. Thought Inspiration: The Holy Spirit inspired men’s ideas; prophets then expressed these ideas in their own words.
  3. The Bible contains the Word of God, that is, it records the experiences of great and Godly men and so has other material not necessarily inspired. That is, in the judgement of those who subscribe to this view, some parts of the Bible are not worthy of the sacred canon. This might be called “non-plenary”, “incomplete”, or “partial” inspiration. We will ignore the third view as an example of “Cafeteria Theology” where one is free to decide what parts of the Bible to believe and what can be ignored. Let us assume immediately that the entire Bible, as we have it, is inspired, as declared in 2 Tim 3:16, 17, 2 Peter 1:19-21. See also 2 Sam 23:2, Neh 9:30, Eze 2:2, 11:5, 24, Micah 3:8, Zech 7:12, 2 Peter 1:19-21, Rom 1:2, 3:2, Heb 3:7, 5:12, 9:8, Mark 12:36, Acts 28:25, 1 Tim 4:1.

The central question here is what does, “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16, 17) or “inspired” mean? That is, Did God inspire men or words? Or, Did the Holy Spirit prompt ideas or dictate?

To answer this central question of inspiration we observe the following:

(A) The mechanism of inspiration in the Bible was quite varied.

  • Some writers saw visions and then recorded the vision (Dan 8:1, 2, 10:1-3, Revelation (numerous times), etc.)
  • The prophet is awake and talking directly with a messenger (Zech 4:1, 2)
  • Luke researched events and interviewed witnesses before compiling his Gospel and Acts
  • Some passages are direct quotes from non-inspired sources (see table below) that the Bible writer used.
  • Balaam was possessed and unable to curse Israel (Num 23, 24)
  • Some passages are clearly direct quotes from God (eg, the 10 commandments in Ex 20:1-17, 31:18, Deut 10:4, 5)
  • Moses even used another person (Aaron) to deliver his messages (Ex 7:1, compare Ex 4:15, 16)
  • A dictation model of inspiration would have all four Gospels recording the same event in exactly the same language; but significant variations are obvious.

(B) The language of the Bible is quite varied and depends on the background of prophet.

  • John wrote very simply (at times, stretching Greek grammar); Paul and Luke used quite complex Greek constructions with a large vocabulary; Matthew’s Gospel is very Hebraistic is style; Peter’s two epistles are quite different in style because he used different translator-secretaries to record them (Silas in the first instance, 1 Peter 5:12). If the Holy Spirit had dictated the Bible, its style would be uniform.
  • Paul says that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32) indicating that the prophet does not lose his/her personality in the process.

Lastly, if God had dictated the words of the Bible intending that they would be immutable and important, then God would have miraculously preserved the exact words as inspired and “dictated”. Even a casual glace at the history of the Bible text suggests that this was never the case – there are thousands of variations in the Bible text, but all preserve the ideas in the text. That is, while many “errors” and variations exist in the Bible text between manuscripts, none are significant for the message.

Thus, the Bible, God’s Word and its central message of God’s love and salvation, has been miraculously preserved but not necessarily the exact words that the Bible writers used. (It is possible that some Bible writers produced more than one version or revision themselves!)

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According to Bart Ehrman, if a book is inerrant, that has no bearing on whether it comes from God or not. Phone books and dictionaries are inerrant, that doesn't mean we believe they are inspired by God.

The concept of inerrancy is itself riddled with ambiguity and controversy. According to Timothy Paul John, the early (Roman/Gentile) churches believed in the doctrine of inerrancy, however, his pragmatic definition of inerrancy is inconsistent to the traditional definition.

Here’s one other quotation that reveals, functionally, how pastors such as Ambrose of Milan applied their understanding of Scripture to their readings of the biblical text: “Matthew depicts this woman pouring ointment on Christ’s head. … According to Luke, a sinner poured ointment on Christ’s feet. She cannot be the same woman, otherwise the Gospel-writers would seem to have contradicted each other” (exposition of Luke 7:36).

What Inerrancy Is (And Isn’t)

Inerrancy doesn’t require, of course, that everything in Scripture has been reported with scientific precision or in the exact order that the events occurred. The Scriptures are perfectio respectu finis—“perfect with respect to purpose”—and, because God has chosen to reveal himself in history, this purposeful perfection extends to what Scripture declares about particular events in history through which God revealed his Word and his ways. John Frame explains it like this:

"Inerrancy … means that the Bible is true, not that it is maximally precise. To the extent that precision is necessary for truth, the Bible is sufficiently precise. But it does not always have the amount of precision that some readers demand of it. It has a level of precision sufficient for its own purposes, not for the purposes for which some readers might employ it".

That’s why Tertullian of Carthage could say that “it matters not that the arrangement of the narratives [in the New Testament Gospels] varies, so long as there is agreement on the essentials of the faith” (Adversus Marcionem 4:2:2).

The Roman christians, like today's believed that the whole scripture is authored by one person, and ignored the subjective fallible human aspect of it, as seen from their quotes like Ambrose of Milan, that they believed in a kind of dictation theory of inspiration.

Even if you give room for errors pertaining to the modern perspective, such as scientific errors or minor historical inaccuracies. It still fails to take into account the nature of literature and inspiration where fallible men with fallible means can be used to convey divinely inspired prophecies and wisdom. The scripture can be divinely inspired despite having a fallible textual transmission, and internal inaccuracies, because they are written by humans according to their cultural and individual beliefs and literary genre.

In order to protect their deductive reasoning of inerrancy, people had to create ingenious theories such as KJV-onlyism to form a uniform text, even though the KJV had been ever improving and evolving. They had to come up with a stark difference between the Bible authors and the rest, in the doctrine of Cessationism, which protects divine inspiration by limiting it to the Bible authors (of a certain Canon list); in this view, God is not allowed to inspire revelation and prophecies after the last book of the NT, a view convenient to explain and limit the scope of scripture and inspiration, as well as the non-existence of God and his inspiration or miracles in their lives. Another view creates a divinely inspired oral tradition or council (Judaism & Catholicism) to substantiate their view of the scripture and interpretation.

If we take the inductive reasoning that is a bottom-up approach rather than deductive top-down, we avoid the pitfalls of defining the scope and meaning of inspiration. The verse 2Tim 3:15-16 appeals to the old scripture for wisdom and knowledge of Christ. The statement "God cannot not lie" should not be seen violated due to minor contradictions in revelations or visions, which maybe for individual context and perspective, and may even be full of errors due to personal narratives of the authors. The authors themselves admitted to give personal opinions on certain occasions.

The authors of NT did not equate their own writings with the high view of Scriptures, although we can certainly do. I am sure, the apostle Paul would have openly condemned the virgin birth narrative in the Gospels if he was asked a direct question, as he has already condemned such controversial ideas in his letters in subtle words. Having defined the nature of the divine inspiration to be man centric and man authored, we can develop a strong view of scripture:

  1. Does the combination of these two passages indicate that scripture is without error?
  • Considering the human authorship or source, we can easily solve every possible error of any kind, just as we explain them in any historical literature.
  1. If yes, in what sense is it without error? (Doctrinally, scientifically, historically, grammatically, other? Is it all or nothing?)
  • It is best to avoid and abandon the term inerrancy, to rid of the inextricable dilemmas and problems such as Canon, uniformity of Textual tradition, hermeneutical ambiguity etc.
  1. What γραφή/scripture/writing is in scope for your answer to the first 2 questions?
  • I would include as many books as possible, that the first century Jewish Church held with respect; and even the later apocryphal books without necessarily assuming the traditional dating and authorship of the NT books. The pseudographical tradition was always perfectly acceptable and common. In order to provide wisdom, a book does not have to be inerrant or error free.

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