About us
How we can help
Latest news
Press Releases
How to join
Contact us
Quick links
Church Society Trust

 Issues | The Bible | Reliability

The Inerrancy and Infallibility of the Bible

The Anglican Homilies describe the Bible as 'God's infallible Word' (Homily 22 part 2) and it is common for evangelical statements of faith to make such claims.

Inerrant and Infallible

In older literature the word infallible tends to be used (as in the Homilies) and no theological distinction appears between the words. However, in modern use the words have different meanings for many.

In terms of their strict English:
inerrant = without error
infallible = not only without error but incapable of error.

R.C. Sproul speculates that evangelicals began to use the word inerrant of Scripture because the word infallible was used, erroneously, by the papacy for itself.

Whether this is correct in later theology evangelicals began to draw a distinction between the two terms which actually turns the English on its head:
infallible has come to mean without error in theological assertions
inerrant has come to mean without error in matters of fact

The reason for the distinction appears to have arisen because in the 19th Century some evangelicals became embarrassed by some of the facts asserted in Scripture - such as the days of creation, the age of the earth, the ages of the patriarchs, and also because they accepted that archaeological discoveries cast doubt on the accuracy of some of the historical claims of the Bible.

'Open evangelicals' today tend to accept infallibility but not inerrancy, whereas mainstream evangelicals insist that if the Bible is unreliable in one area it cannot be trusted in another. The distinction is modern and artificial and serves to undermine the authority of the Bible as God's Word written.

Augustine on the reliability of Scripture

At the end of the fourth century there was an interesting exchange of letters between Augustine of Hippo and Jerome who was 12 years his senior. Augustine raised a few questions about the rationale behind Jerome's translation of the Bible into Latin but also about a particular point in Jerome's commentary on Galatians where the monk had asserted that Paul had not rebuked Peter, despite what the letter of Galatians appears to say. Henry Chadwick in "The Early Church' observes that 'Jerome was a prickly figure' who 'could not endure criticism'. At first Jerome ignored the letter so that Augustine had to write twice more (the post was also not so fast in those days). Jerome then said he ignored the letter because he thought it a fake - he was sure Augustine would not have written to him in such terms.

Finally he rebuked Augustine for being so impudent and accused him of seeking to use the letter (which has apparently found its way into the open) to boost his own reputation. Although at the end of his life Jerome seems to have recognized the great talent of Augustine he deflected the substantive simply stating that his own commentary merely followed that of Origen. Sadly, I don't believe any copies of Origen's commentary have survived.

Augustine wrote in his first letter; 'it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books' (Letter 28 chapter 3). He repeated the point in his second letter; '…by the admission of falsehood here, the authority of the Holy Scriptures given for faith of all coming generations is to me made wholly uncertain and wavering' (40.5).

Later he spelt out His own understanding of the nature of authority,

'I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error'.

He accepted the authority of other writers only 'because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by argument addressed to my reason.' (82.3)

Articles on the reliability of the Bible

"The Word of God : Its Divine Inspiration, Infallibility, And All-sufficiency for Salvation. Church Association Tract 401 (from 1909) by James Maden Holt.

back to top

Related Links

Bible Pages
BulletBible introduction
BulletAuthority and nature

Doctrine - Other Sub Issues
BulletHeads of Theology

BulletThe Three Creeds
BulletThe Thirty Nine Articles
BulletBook of Common Prayer
BulletThe Homilies
BulletAnglican theology (other)
BulletTheological Movements

BulletOther doctrine pages

Other Issues
BulletLocal Church
BulletNational Church
BulletGeneral Synod
BulletAnglican Communion
BulletOther Faiths

 Issues Sitemap
 List all issues
 search site
Home | About us | Publications | Store | Issues | Events | Press releases
Membership | Contact us | Search | Links | Churchman | Church Society Trust | Cross+way