Biblical (In)Errancy: A Red Herring


Although I have long been fascinated with history and, thus, quite interested in Biblical history, I recently began to take an interest in historical criticism of the Bible. In searching these forums I found that this is a source of great controversy within Catholicism.

Some of the controversy seems to stem from the theological disputes that are raised by it. Which brings us to the classic debate of Biblical (in)errancy.

I want to argue here that Biblical (in)errancy is, for Catholics, a red herring. I invite your response.

Usually we hear about claims of Biblical errancy from atheists and fellow travelers. The Bible is full of errors in history, science, and even morality. It is therefore not to be trusted.

At the other extreme we have fundamentalist Christians who take the position that every sentence in the Bible is a literally true statement literally spoken by God.

But if you don’t take the view that the Bible is literally true in every sentence, what does it mean to claim that it is inerrant? Generally, the Chuch take the view that the Bible is a tool for teaching.

Obviously much of the Bible is regarded by Catholics as reliably true in at least a semi-literal sense (e.g. Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead as related in the NT) but even a work of fiction can be used to teach. If, for example, Job is a fictional story it still would serve a teaching purpose. What would it mean to say the book of Job is in error or not?

The Catholic view is that everything depends on interpretation.


The Bible is inerrant about salvation history. The particular scientific details, or people’s exact names, do not matter in as much as the history of God’s interactions with His people.


I think that as long as the “moral” message of, say, a fictional book of Job, is true, then it would not be in error. Do we say Jesus’ parables are in error because they don’t refer to true events? However, I don’t claim that my opinion represents the Catholic Church’s view, and I’m not sure if that’s what you wanted specifically or you just wanted general opinions.


So what precisely is “salvation history”? What would be an example of something that an atheist would claim is an error in “salvation history”?


Something can be not true in a literal sense but still very much true. Jesus said we must be born again. This is not literally true…but it is 100% true because Jesus meant we must be born again in the spiritual life.

Similar, from an every day example: If I said “I’m freezing” its not literally true…but it is a 100% true that I am very cold.


That’s more or less my argument. If you can find truth even in fiction then what does it mean to say that the work is inerrant? Job is a good moral lesson irrespective of it’s literal truth.


A common misconception is that Catholicism teaches that Bible inerrancy is determined by subject matter: Matters of faith and morals are inerrant, and other matters, such as science and history, are not necessarily inerrant. It turns out that there aren’t any Catholic Biblical scholars that believe this. Conservative Catholics disagree with this because they find the Bible to be inerrant in matters that go beyond the bounds of just faith and morals, and liberal Catholics disagree with this because they see mistakes regarding faith and morals in the Bible.


You have to read it within its genre. There is poetry, journalism, history, fiction, music, etc.

Fundamentalist Christians read it as literal history. This is what a lot of people think of when they say inerrant, but inerrant just means without error. That means that the Bible has no error regarding the faith, who God is, Salvation, moral living, etc…

It should also be noted the Bible is inerrant only in the original forms (Greek/Hebrew). Translations can sometimes cause problems.


WHy are we using knowledge and our own predetermined thinking…Follow the events of Medjugorje . org or… another ?.. Marytv.TV

Why must we look so deep in the old…It’s history…Christ gave us the new…Love one another and Love GOD with your all…Blessed Mothers apparations tells us waht is needed to gain Heaven at our death…That’s alll that is important…not argument.


It means the Bible contains the infallible religious truths necessary for our salvation.


Hi Bubba

I think that raises an important point - that we’re so used to a scientific mind-set these days that we equate ‘truth’ with ‘factual’. As you point out, truth is something bigger and wider than facts.

As for inerrency, I prefer to stick with how scripture describes itself - Theopneustos, or God-breathed.

God bless +


The vatican II document Dei Verbum (The Word of God) has paragraph 11

  1. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).


Thanks, Even. This is as good a statement as any and hits all the main points. That said, it is obviously not as straightforward a statement as “the Bible is inerrant.” It is, I would say, more nuanced. You will search in vein for a more precise description of divine inspiration. So let’s take it for a test drive.

Notice, for a start (per your bolded text), that it declares inerrant only “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation.”

The closest it comes to a general claim of inerrancy is this: “they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.”

Thus, I don’t think it precludes a fictional Job but it does suggest that if Job is fiction (as most scholars seem to agree) then it is because God wanted it. The sort of error that is precluded is the inclusion of material contrary to God’s will. Is anyone prepared to claim that God would not will a fictional story to tell a moral truth?

Now the realistic view is that the Biblical authors were writing based on their own knowledge and experience and, thus, the writings reflect this. That requires no faith in divine inspiration but does it conflict with it? Is anyone prepared to claim that God would not will this loose an authorship? Would such a loose authorship produce teaching contrary to God’s will?

If a fictional Job is ok, what about a fictionalized Joshua? Just as someone pointed out the scientific bias of modern readers there is also the historical bias. We tend to expect historical accounts to be faithful to history in every detail. And, yet, I seem alone in my complaints against Hollywoodized history movies. Very often, in taking artistic license, they bend history to the moral of the story. Should we really look down our noses at Biblical authors who did the same?

Finally we have perhaps the toughest historical critical nugget to swallow: paraphrased quotations. It seems difficult to imagine earnest and faithful authors putting words in God’s mouth, even if only to paraphrase. Yikes. But would that fail the above test of divine authorship?

The bottom line, I would claim, is that we should not blame God for changes in human communication. We don’t blame God becase we don’t speak Hebrew or Aramaic. Instead we translate the works. In the most benign sense, assuming inerrancy of Biblical writing simpy puts the burden on us to take into account the form in which the Biblical authors wrote rather than assuming that they were commincating to us in our own language and culture.


My own personal view is that the bible is part history, part philosophy, part metaphor etc. it is incorrect to view the bible as “A” book, it is a collection of several books each written for different purposes.

It’s like taking a history book, a book by dr. seus, well you get the picture.

I would also point out that the bible is the most well preserved document ever. Even documents that scholars consider historically reliable are so far removed from the event it’s laughable compared to the bible. So if the bible says something happens and historical scholars say something different happened I tend to believe the bible.

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