The original Hebrew and Greek autograph copies of the Bible were inerrant. Certainly the copies of copies which have come down to us contain errors common to the craft of the copyist as do all English versions. However, with diligent study, we can ascertain the original words of the inspired writers. Consequently, the doctrine of inerrancy applies to the biblical text in our day as well--insofar as the Bible has been accurately translated.
Inerrancy is fundamental to the doctrine of biblical authority. Packer wrote, "Only truth can be authoritative; only an inerrant Bible can be used... in the way that God means Scripture to be used."1 If the Bible contains mistakes, then it is unreliable as a true guide to matters of salvation. If mistakes exist in one part, mistakes may just as easily exist in another part. If the Bible is a mixture of truth and error, then it is like any other book and simply not deserving of any special attention.
If the doctrine of inerrancy is not true, then the Bible lacks the very criteria and credentials necessary for authenticating its divine origin. Human beings would be incapable of distinguishing between it and all other religious books which seek acceptance by men (e.g. the Koran, Book of Mormon, the Vedas). If the biblical writers demonstrate incompetency and fallibility in matters of ordinary knowledge where uninspired humans can check their credibility, then their infallibility in all other areas is discredited. As Archer noted, "If that revelation is to come in a usable and reliable form... it must come in an inerrant form."
Since many books claim divine origin, we human beings must be able to recognize whether a book is in fact the word of God. Our reasoning faculties must be sufficiently competent to consider the evidence of inspiration and inerrancy, applying the law of contradiction and other self-evident rules of logic in order to ascertain whether the Bible is consistent with a supernatural origin. If the Holy Spirit is responsible for what the biblical writers wrote, and if the Bible contains errors in historical details, then the Holy Spirit is the author of error. If the Scriptures are not inerrant and completely trustworthy, then God himself is equally untrustworthy.
Passages like II Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:1-2, I Peter 1:10-11, and II Peter 1:21 attribute the utterances and writings found in both Old and New Testaments to God-- though conveyed by human authors. When Jesus said "scripture cannot be broken" (Jn. 10:35), he was affirming Scripture's indefectible nature in even its most casual phrases. The Bible makes no distinction between "moral" or "religious" truth on the one hand and "historical" or "scientific" truth on the other. Paul alluded to Adam and Eve as literal, historical persons (I Cor. 11:8-9; I Tim. 2:13-14). Jesus treated Jonah in the great fish, the Flood, Adam and Eve, and Abel as historical fact (Matt. 12:40; 24:38-39; 19:4-5; Luke 11:51). Indeed, the fundamental facts of the gospel itself are rooted in and inextricably bound up with history!
No other literary production in the history of the world has been subjected to such meticulous scrutiny with the expressed purpose of identifying discrepancies. Yet all the critics of all the centuries have not succeeded in verifying even one legitimate criticism. Many charges have been advanced, but in every case the alleged contradiction or error has been successfully explained or, in those areas where adequate information is currently unavailable, sufficient alternative explanations have been presented to dispel the credibility of the charge.
Examining specific examples of the Bible's unparalleled accuracy demonstrates its inerrancy. Such an undertaking is expansive, but the investigation is made easier by classifying alleged discrepancies according to three types.
(1) The first category, the Bible's historical and geographical credibility, has been consistently validated in every case where sufficient knowledge is available to modern investigation. For example, Hodge and Warfield noted that the New Testament alludes to the names of some 30 different people, between 40 and 50 countries, about the same number of foreign cities, and 36 Syrian and Palestinian towns. The great majority of these have been eventually identified, vindicating the Bible's strict attention to accurate detail.
Lewis identifies 44 Old Testament and 17 New Testament persons for whom inscriptional and coinage archaeological confirmation exists with an additional 11 cited in literary sources for a total of 63 biblical figures historically authenticated. McGarvey aptly summarizes the massive amount of confirmatory evidence corroborating biblical inerrancy:
Whether its writers speak of their own or of foreign lands, they always speak with faultless accuracy, so that their angus-eyed critics for two thousand years have not been able to detect them in an error. This accuracy extends not only [to] the relative location of places, and to the points of the compass, but to the most minute details, even to the relative elevations of places mentioned in the narratives.(2) A second category is the Bible's internal harmony. Skeptics have long charged that the writers contradict one another. Yet, once again, in every case the writers have been exonerated by a more careful examination of the biblical text. The alleged contradictions between the inspired writers (particularly the synoptic writers) turn out to be supplemental information concerning the same event which, when put together, forms a cohesive, harmonious whole; or two different events are being described. Hodge and Warfield conclude, "It is not rash to declare that no disharmony has ever been proved between any two statements of the New Testament."
(3) A third category of inerrancy is the New Testament's use of the Old Testament. Objections to biblical inerrancy in this regard may be summarized as follows:
... quotation appeals to the sense, not the wording, of a previous document and appeals to it for a definite and specific end; any dealing with the original is therefore legitimate which does not falsify the sense in the particular aspect needed for the purpose in hand.Lack of space prevents a treatment of sample alleged discrepancies. Suffice it to say that any honest-hearted person who cares to put in the time and effort to examine the evidence will come to the same conclusion articulated by Jesus: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."