Biblical Writers: Infallible or Inerrant?

In the comments section of this Strange Notions article, Brandon Vogt makes the following statement:

We [Catholics] don’t maintain the biblical authors were infallible (i.e., incapable of error), only that the specific biblical texts they authored are inerrant (i.e., they don’t contain errors.) This is a crucial distinction. From the Vatican II document “Dei Verbum”:

“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 the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.” (DV, 11)

How do we understand historical errors that may arise from studying Scripture? Such as the timing of the Census of Quirinus and Jesus’ birth. I’ve read from NT Wright that Luke 2:2 might have originally been read: “This census took place before the time when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (emphasis mine). Regardless, I myself do not believe historical blunders would take away from the theological inerrancy of Scripture. How do we Catholics understand this? Thank you.

Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII on Holy Scripture:

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Yes. Infallibility is presented in Vatican I

Those with Faith don’t trip over potentially uncrossed “t”'s -
with the emphasis upon Faith…

With Faith - God’s very Spirit becomes our Primary Guide…


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How do we understand that the Biblical writers were inerrant and not infallible? What can they be fallible or “capable of error” on but at the same time “contain no errors” in their writings?

It is not clear to me if they actually can have historical errors or embellishments while maintaining theological inerrancy?

Infallibility - has a very specific understanding and applies specifically to the pope, and, to him with an assembly of bishops gathered in council - and only when Teaching on Faith and Morals… Doctrines…

The definitions of “infallible” and “inerrant” in the original post are different from how I’ve normally seen them used in regards to the Bible. According to the usual definitions I’ve seen used, biblical infallibility is the belief that the Bible is free from error in regards to faith, but not necessarily history and science. Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the Bible is free from error entirely.

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Thanks for the clarification, I’ve read it that way as well. Would you agree that the Bible is infallible - free from error in faith, but not necessarily from history and science?

Infallible … is never applied to the Bible…

Sacred Scriptures - are solid as a Rock…

History? Where does any get that notion…


The only area ever discussed - connects with the understanding of the word “day” in Genesis.


That the Church is infallible in her definitions on faith and morals is itself a Catholic dogma, which, although it was formulated ecumenically for the first time in the Vatican Council, had been explicitly taught long before and had been assumed from the very beginning without question down to the time of the Protestant Reformation. The teaching of the Vatican Council is to be found in Session III, cap. 4, where it is declared that “the doctrine of faith, which God has revealed, has not been proposed as a philosophical discovery to be improved upon by human talent, but has been committed as a Divine deposit to the spouse of Christ, to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted by her”; and in Session IV, cap. 4, where it is defined that the Roman pontiff when he teaches ex cathedra “enjoys, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith and morals”.

I would assert that, yes. I am undecided on the issue of absolute inerrancy.

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It’s my understanding that “inerrancy”, as Vogt said and as Dei Verbum said, related to teaching without error the truths of the faith. It did not mean that Scripture had no minor errors in spelling, dates, “uncrossed T’s” etc.

A spelling error, a minor date error etc does not take away from the teaching of the truths of the faith. There is also scholarly debate over things like the Census, and a number of possible explanations that would make such things historically correct. We don’t know everything about history; I seem to recall that until a relatively recent time, there was debate over the historicity of King David’s existence, for example, until some archaeologist found an inscription proving he did in fact exist.

So this is really not a big deal to Catholics.


That never stops those who’ve dedicated their entire lives futily attempting to disprove what is true.

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