In every generation since Jesus walked the earth, Christians have had to think about, describe, and defend their teaching about what the written word of God is. One of the words that recent generations have used to help describe what we believe about the Bible is the word “inerrant.” Basically, it means that the Bible is without error. In our day, this idea is again being questioned. Of course, we expect non-believers to take issue with this idea, but many today within the Church are questioning both the use of word “inerrant” and the idea it expresses. I thought these two passages from John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Word of God were helpful in terms of thinking through all of this.
First, after a short study in the meaning of the word “inerrant,” he states:
…Our brief lexical study justifies the following usage: inerrant means, simply, “without error.” Infallible denies the possibility of error. In those senses…I would say that Scripture is both inerrant and infallible. It is inerrant because it is infallible. There are no errors because there can be no errors in the divine speech.
This conclusion follows from our previous discussions of God’s personal words, particularly his words to us in human words. In chapter 1, I proposed a thought-experiment in which we imagined God speaking to us face-to-face. In that direct encounter, it would have been unthinkable for any of us to accuse God of error or wrongdoing. We would recognize that God spoke with absolute authority (the right to impose obligation on his hearers).
Error arises from two sources: deceit and ignorance. Deceit is intentional error, lying. Ignorance may lead to unintentional error. But God does not lie (Num. 23:19; 2 Tim. 2:13; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18), and he is ignorant of nothing (Ps. 33:13-15; Heb. 4:12-130. If Scripture is his Word, therefore, it contains no errors. It is inerrant.
Later in the same chapter, Frame goes on to say that, though he wishes things were simpler, he still thinks it best to use words like “inerrant” to describe what we mean when speaking about the Bible:
In my definitions presented earlier, inerrancy simply means “truth,” in the propositional sense. I could wish that we could be done with all the extrabiblical technical terms such as infallible and inerrant and simply say that the Bible is true. But in the contexts of historical and contemporary theological discussion, that alternative is not open to us. Theologians are too inclined to distort the word truth into some big theological construction that has nothing to do with simple propositional correctness. As we have seen, there are several ways in which truth is used in Scripture, and in John 14:6 it is a title of Christ himself. Theologians have taken license from these facts to ignore or deny the more common propositional use of the term, or its relevance to the doctrine of the word of God.
So it seems that to express what we want to say, we must choose another term instead of (or as a supplement to) truth. Infallibility is a good term, as we have seen, arguable stronger than mere truth, for it denies the very possibility of untruth. It also has the advantage of a historical usage going back to the Protestant Reformation. But as we have seen, such writers as Rogers and McKim have hijacked infallibility also, going against responsible lexical usage to turn it into a weaker term than either truth or inerrancy.
So although I still prefer the word truth, I will hold on to inerrancy as an alternative, along with the adjective infallible, not to mention reliable, accurate, correct, and others, so there can be no doubt as to the view I am defending, the view that Scripture teaches and the church has affirmed until the advent of the seventeenth-century rationalistic theology.