You see, if we question the infallibility of the Bible, that can give us an opportunity to excuse sinful behavior. In other words, it can lead to disobedience to God.
I personally believe the Bible is definitely infallible. God’s Word never fails. Let’s explore why I think so, as well as what infallibility means, and what it does not mean.
First of all, the Scripture itself tells us that God’s Word is infallible. We learn from Scripture that God cannot lie, and that God inspired all Scripture.
The apostle Paul wrote to Titus, “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.” (Tit 1:2) Just as the writer of Hebrews taught (Hebrews 6:18), so also Paul taught that it is impossible for God to lie.
Other passages refer to the purity of God’s Word. The psalmist wrote: “Your word is very pure, Therefore Your servant loves it.” (Psa 119:140). And again, “The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.” (Psa 12:6). Another passage says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Psa 19:7-8). My friend, you can trust God’s Word to be pure and undefiled.
So what is the Word? We know that Jesus is the Word of God, according to the apostle John. He began his gospel with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Joh 1:1). This entire passage is clearly about Jesus Christ. He also taught, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Joh 1:14). Therefore, the Word is a Person, named Jesus Christ, who is God.
But we also know that there is the written Word of God. Paul wrote to the Romans “the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.” (Rom 3:2). When Jesus spoke to the Jewish, religious leaders of his day, He said, “thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." (Mar 7:13). He said that they made the Word of God null and void by their traditions that they placed above Scripture.
Jesus often referred to the written Word of God as Scripture. For example, when he read from the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, he said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luk 4:21).
The Word of God was also the message that Jesus proclaimed. “Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret.” (Luk 5:1). They were listening to the Word of God that was spoken by Jesus.
The good news of Jesus Christ was also considered the Word of God and was proclaimed by the early church. Luke wrote about them, “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Act 4:31). The apostles refused to neglect the Word of God. And as a result, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” (Act 6:7).
Paul preached the Word of God. He said, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God.” (Col 1:25). He also wrote to the church in Thessalonica and said, "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God." (1 Thes 2:13).
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2Ti 3:16). While men wrote the Scriptures, we know that God inspired what they wrote. This includes the writings of the New Testament, such as those of the apostle Paul, who wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The apostle Peter referred to Paul’s writings as Scriptures. He wrote, “… just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2Pe 3:15-16). When Peter indicated that some people distorted Paul’s letters as they did “the rest of the Scriptures,” he indicated that Paul’s letters are themselves Scripture.
Jesus and the apostles used the Old Testament in a way that assumed it is inerrant. Jesus taught that every tiny detail of the Law must be fulfilled. "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mat 5:18) In order for every stroke of Scripture to be fulfilled, it would have to be correct down to that level of detail. Paul assumed that when he wrote to the Galatians about the promise given to Abraham and Christ. He wrote, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.” (Gal 3:16). Notice how Paul trusted the Word of God right down to the detailed level, even to the point of whether a word is singular or plural. We should have that same trust in God’s Word.
There is so much more I could write about the witness of scripture about itself as God’s Word. But this is enough to establish my point. All Scripture is God’s Word. He inspired it all. And since God cannot lie, the Word of God is true.
What infallibility does not mean
I’ve established what I mean by infallibility. Now I’d like to clarify that by saying what it does not mean. The autographs were the original sacred writings, written by the authors, as God inspired them. These were inerrant. But the manuscript copies of those original autographs are not perfect. Infallibility exists only in original manuscripts, and not the copies or translations.
There are instances where scribes have made mistakes in the way they copied the manuscripts. So there is the potential for error in these copies. And the same applies to modern translations, since these are based on manuscript copies. That’s why scholarly translation committees will take this into account and try to use the most reliable manuscripts on which to base their translation. Most of the errors that were made by scribes are not show stoppers. These don’t affect any major doctrines of the faith, so we don’t need to be worried about that. To that end, I think we can view most of the scholarly, modern translations (such as the NIV) as a faithful rendering of the original meaning of God’s Word to the extent that it is necessary for our daily walk with God.
In addition to that, the infallibility of the Bible doesn’t mean there are no errors in the Bible. Here’s what I mean. Not every statement made in the Bible is true. Some people are quoted in Scripture as saying things that are absolutely false. But these false statements are recorded accurately. For example, when Satan is quoted in Scripture, he is quoted accurately, even though we know he is a liar, according to Jesus. Likewise, when the enemies of Christ spoke lies about Jesus, they are quoted accurately, even though their statements were false. So I am not saying everything recorded in Scripture is true, but that God’s Word is completely accurate.
You also need to understand that when I say the Bible is accurate, I don’t mean exact. Sometimes approximations are given for the number of people present or someone’s age. These are not critical and are close enough for us to get the main point. When the Bible says Jesus fed five thousand men, it’s not an exact head count. There were about that many men. And to that you need to add the women and children. But it gives you a correct order of magnitude, so that you know he did not simply feed fifty or a hundred people.
We also find that the quotes of Old Testament passages that we find in the New Testament are not necessarily exact. They may be more of paraphrase. But it is close enough for us to know which passage they were referring to.
And when there is more than one record of the same event, the details may differ. The two witnesses of an event may give slightly different accounts. That’s why you may find slightly different accounts of how things happened, depending on which of the four gospels you read. Four different men wrote them. But the differences are not critical to our understanding of the essential doctrines of the faith.
We see this also in the Old Testament. In one record, it says that God incited King David to take a census count of Israel and Judah. Another record says Satan incited David to do it. One account says, “Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.’” (2 Sa 24:1). Yet another account says, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” (1 Chron 21:1). Which was it, God or Satan? You could get hung up on this. Or you could understand that it was God’s idea and He used Satan to carry out the work.
This understanding would agree with what we read in Job, for example. There we read, “Then Satan answered the LORD, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.’ Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’ So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:9-12) In the case of Job, the thought is from God, but the action from Satan. God allowed Satan to carry out an evil plan against His righteous servant, Job. Satan was given permission to act within very specific boundaries.
Then there is the passage where it is recorded that David killed the giant named Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4). Yet in another passage, it is written, “There was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.” (2Sa 21:19). So in this second passage, it says Elhanan killed Goliath. Which man killed Goliath? Was it David or Elhanan? If you read Chronicles, which is a parallel account of the books of Samuel, it says, “And there was war with the Philistines again, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.” (1Ch 20:5). So it is only when we read this third account that we understand Elhanan did not kill Goliath, but the brother of Goliath. It appears that when the scribe was copying the manuscript of 2 Samuel 21:19, he made a mistake. He left out the words for “brother of,” and simply wrote Goliath. This is a simple mistake that would be easy to make, and it does not affect any major doctrine.
Jesus once presented a parable saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES." (Mat 13:31-32).
Someone may point out that Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest garden seed, yet it’s not the smallest seed. You might say the poppy seed is slightly smaller. Based on that fact, a person without faith may challenge the infallibility of God’s Word. He may wonder why Jesus Christ, who made the universe, does not know which seed is the smallest. But here’s another way to look at this with the eyes of faith. Most of the people Jesus was speaking to would not be familiar with the poppy seed. So Jesus used an illustration that everyone would be familiar with instead. Besides, it gave a better picture of the kingdom of God than a poppy seed, because of the contrast between the size of the mustard seed and the tree that it produces. This was a more fitting analogy of the kingdom of God, which starts small at the beginning and grows to be very large, a place where many can find refuge.
What is not the Word of God?
I just want to mention that there are some books of questionable authenticity, known as the Apocrypha, which are included in some Bibles. For example, the Catholic Bible contains these. It's important to note that these books are spurious. They include such books as Tobit, Judith, The Additions to the Book of Esther (contained in the Greek version of Esther), The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, The Prayer of Manasseh, 2 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151.
The authors of these books never claimed to be inspired by God, nor were they ever cited by Christ or the apostles. There are many other reasons why these cannot be accepted as part of the canon of Scripture. But I simply want to make it clear that I am definitely not referring to these books when I use the terms "Bible," "Scripture," or "Word of God."
A word of caution
You should be careful not to jump to hasty conclusions about the Word of God, trying to find fault with it. You can get yourself into trouble doing that.
I saw an excellent video that illustrates this. A man is driving a concrete mixer truck down the street. He’s on his way home from work. He glances down and smiles at a photo of his lovely wife on the dashboard. He’s looking forward to seeing her when he gets home. But as he pulls up in front of the house, he sees a brand new, blue Mercedes convertible parked in his driveway. Unfortunately, he immediately gets suspicious of her.
He stops the truck, walks over to the window of the house, and is shocked by what he sees. Inside he sees a handsome man, dressed in a suit, hugging his wife. He is now certain that she is cheating on him. Assuming that the new sports car belongs to the man he saw embracing his wife, he backs his concrete mixer truck right into the car, denting the shiny vehicle. Then he proceeds to dump fresh, wet cement into the car.
As he is doing so, he looks into the house through the curtain once again. His wife notices him watching and is all excited to see him. She has nothing to hide, but waves her hand, beckoning him in. Then the handsome man that was hugging her stands beside her for a photo in front of the cameras. It is now obvious that his wife has just won a brand new car, and the sponsor of the prize is presenting the keys to her.
As the realization hits the husband that the car belonged to his wife and she was not cheating on him, he is mortified. But it’s too late. The car is filled to the top with cement! It’s ruined permanently. And all this was because he jumped to hasty conclusions. He didn’t trust his wife or think the best of her.
The same thing can happen when you read the Bible with an eye out for errors. If you assume the Bible is not true, then you may come up with reasons to support your assumption. But that’s a faulty starting point that will lead to dangerous consequences! You would be sorry in the end that you did that, just as the man who dumped concrete in his wife’s new car.
Putting it All Together
We know that God cannot lie, and that He inspired all Scripture. That includes both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. His Word is pure and without defilement. The Bible is infallible.
Jesus and the apostles used Scripture in a way that indicated they believed it was without error. All Scripture must be fulfilled, right down to the smallest detail!
But infallibility exists only in original manuscripts, and not the copies or translations. Even so, the errors in the manuscripts and modern translations are so minor that most of them cannot even be detected in the modern languages.
When you do see an inconsistency in the Bible, you should always start with the assumption that there is a good explanation for it. How you handle inconsistencies in the Bible depends on whether you trust the Lord and His Word. Your ability to harmonize Scripture depends on your faith.
If you believe that God inspired all Scripture, and that it is impossible for God to lie, you will not stumble over these things. The writer of Hebrews taught that those who did not mix the Word with faith disobeyed God. “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” (Heb 4:2). He goes on to say that they failed to enter their rest, because if their disobedience (Heb 4:6). And he warns us not to follow their example of disobedience. So always begin with an attitude of faith, trusting in the Word of God, Jesus Christ and the Scriptures.
Jesus is the stone that the Father has laid, and upon which the church is built. But he was a stone of stumbling for those who don’t believe (Rom 9:32-33). I hope that you will not stumble over Him.
Lastly, when you read the Scripture, you cannot understand it apart from the help of the Holy Spirit. If you try to, you will simply find the letter of the law. Keep in mind that the Spirit gives life, but the letter kills (2 Cor 3:6). Always pray before you read the Bible, humbling yourself before God, asking for Him to speak to you. Allow the Holy Spirit to show you what the Spirit was saying in the original passage. Look for the spirit of the Word, the heart of God, and the intent of what He meant. If you do, you will see that the Word of God is true, and it never fails.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's note: This post was adapted from a message I recently heard preached at a church in Budapest, Hungary. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page, such as The Bible is the Word of God, Read the Bible for All Its Worth!, All Scripture must be fulfilled, The Uniqueness of God's Word, and The Bible Never Fails. I also invite you to take a look at my collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.