Over the last few weeks, Dave Jenkins and I have been looking at the big question of inerrancy. What does it mean? Where did the idea come from? What does it mean if we lose it? Today, I want to quickly look at a nagging issue that comes up again and again in conversations and debates surrounding the inerrancy of Scripture and that is the issue of infallibility.
Understanding Inerrancy: A Quick Recap
As was stated in the first post in this series, inerrancy means that the Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in the original manuscripts. At the risk of oversimplifying, inerrancy means that the Bible is free from error. Because God is truthful (cf. Titus 1:2 among others), and the testimony of Scripture is that it itself is “God-breathed” (what theologians have referred to as “verbal plenary inspiration”)[1. 2 Timothy 3:16. See also Ex. 20:1; 2 Sam. 23:2; Is. 8:20; Mal. 4:4; Matt. 1:22; Luke 24:44; John 1:23; 5:39;10:34, 35; 14; 16:13; 19:36-37; 20:9; Acts 1:16; 7:38; 13:34; Rom. 1:2; 3:2; 4:23 among other passages that either implicitly or explicitly point to this truth.] we can trust that what He has said, through authors inspired by the Holy Spirit, is true.
So that, at it’s most basic level, is the idea behind inerrancy. But what about infallibility?
Infallibility is closely related to inerrancy, yet distinct. In fact, infallibility is a much stronger term than inerrancy in many respects. To say that the Bible is infallible is not simply to say that it is free from error, but that it is incapable of erring. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is extremely helpful on this point:
We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses. We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.[1. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Art. XI as quoted in Can I Trust the Bible? by R.C. Sproul, p. 35]
So, can something or someone be fallible yet still inerrant? Theoretically, yes. Here’s what I mean: It is possible for a person who is capable of erring (making a mistake) to not err. He or she is fallible, yet made no error. But what about the reverse? Is it possible for someone to be infallible, yet err?
Not at all. If infallibility means being incapable of error, then it is not possible in any way, shape or form.
This again draws us back to the source of Scripture, that being God. If God is indeed perfect, always true, always doing exactly what He promises and always doing what is right, then it is impossible for Him to err. He is not only free from error, but incapable of committing it. Thus, if Scripture is truly inspired of God, if it is truly all that it claims to be, then it too is incapable of committing error. It is infallible and inerrant.
Infallibility addresses possibility—inerrancy addresses fact. They are distinct, but they are inseparable.