But it is important to move beyond this simple definition, because people often come away with misconceptions about the doctrine. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy explicates what evangelicals mean when they speak of inerrancy. I highly recommend that anyone interested in Inerrancy read this statement. It clears up a number of misconceptions.
A rejection of inerrancy is frequently due to a misunderstanding of what the doctrine means. Here are some common misreadings of the doctrine:
1) Inerrancy does not mean that there will be no discrepancies between Gospel accounts. These discrepancies, based upon an interpretation given by one who affirms inerrancy, are not seen as errors but as the different authors expressing their biographical accounts in different ways. Unlike modern conceptions that a quoted phrases must be exact, historians in the first century felt at their liberty to rearrange temporal events to better illustrate a common theme. The Gospels can be seen to utilize several methods of ancient biographies as they emphasize certain aspects of Christ’s life.
2) Inerrancy does not mean that there are no cultural or personal aspects to Scripture. An example of this can be seen in the geocentrism in the Bible. That there is geocentrism in the Bible does not undermine inerrancy. Inerrancy is the belief that what the Bible teaches is without error. The Bible does not teach geocentrism, but features it as part of the background beliefs of the cultural context of the authors. The authors have imported their culture into expressing God’s word, but that does not undermine the teachings.
3) Inerrancy does not mean God dictated the Bible word-for-word. This point ties into 2: God used human authors and gave them the leeway to write within their cultural background.
Those who reject inerrancy have taken an easy way out. Rather than investigating the issue of historical grammatical interpretation of Scripture or looking into what inerrancy means, they find what is perceived as an “error” in Scripture and reject the doctrine. The misconceptions outlined above are just a few of the errors made by people who do not investigate the issue seriously enough. Rather than coming upon a difficulty in the text and rejecting inerrancy, I urge readers to explore the difficulty, see what people have to say about it. I’ve found on more than one occasion that something I thought could be an error was explained by a cultural tradition or misreading of the text.
Finally, I’d like to address something that might come up to those reading through this. Often atheists object to the doctrine of inerrancy. I’ve run into this in my own personal discussions with those outside of the faith. They say things like “Do you really think a book written by a bunch of humans is without error?”
Well, if the Christian God exists, then the Bible is not just a book written by a bunch of humans. If God exists, there is no reason to think that God would be incapable of guiding His people to write a book to reveal Himself in a way that allows them to use their historical and cultural contexts without transmitting error in teaching. It would take a very powerful argument to convince me that an omnipotent deity would be unable to do this.
I blog about a number of issues related to Christian Apologetics at Always Have a Reason.