Is there a difference between biblical inerrancy and textual errors?



Is there a difference between biblical inerrancy and textual errors? If not, I don’t know how to read the content of the webpage on the Bible below.

I am sharing with a Muslim friend who always picks on the scripture for having “blunders” and am trying to share with him how we as Catholics understand the bible. This is definitely a learning experience for me! Thanks be to God!

Thank you for your help!

The Bible, as the inspired recorded of revelation, contains the word of God; that is, it contains those revealed truths which the Holy Ghost wishes to be transmitted in writing. However, all revealed truths are not contained in the Bible (see TRADITION); neither is every truth in the Bible revealed, if by revelation is meant the manifestation of hidden truths which could not other be known. Much of the Scripture came to its writers through the channels of ordinary knowledge, but its sacred character and Divine authority are not limited to those parts which contain revelation strictly so termed. The Bible not only contains the word of God; it is the word of God. The primary author is the Holy Ghost, or, as it is commonly expressed, the human authors wrote under the influence of Divine inspiration. It was declared by the Vatican Council (Sess. III, c. ii) that the sacred and canonical character of Scripture would not be sufficiently explained by saying that the books were composed by human diligence and then approved by the Church, or that they contained revelation without error. They are sacred and canonical “because, having been written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that have God for their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church”. The inerrancy of the Bible follows as a consequence of this Divine authorship. Wherever the sacred writer makes a statement as his own, that statement is the word of God and infallibly true, whatever be the subject-matter of the statement.

The Bible is plainly a literature, that is, an important collection of writings which were not composed at once and did not proceed from one hand, but rather were spread over a considerable period of time and are traceable to different authors of varying literary excellence. As a literature, too, the Bible bears throughout the distinct impress of the circumstances of place and time, methods of composition, etc., in which its various parts came into existence, and of these circumstances careful account must be taken, in the interests of accurate scriptural interpretation. As a literature, our sacred books have been transcribed during many centuries by all manner of copyists to the ignorance and carelessness of many of whom they still bear witness in the shape of numerous textual errors, which, however, but seldom interfere seriously with the primitive reading of any important dogmatic or moral passage of Holy Writ.

In respect of antiquity, the Biblical literature belongs to the same group of ancient literature as the literary collections of Greece, Rome, China, Persia, and India. Its second part, the New Testament, completed about A.D. 100, is indeed far more recent than the four last named literature, and is somewhat posterior to the Augustan age of the Latin language, but it is older by ten centuries than our earliest modern literature. As regards the Old Testament, most of its contents were gradually written within the nine centuries which preceded the Christian era, so that its composition is generally regarded as contemporary with that of the great literary works of Greece, China, Persia, and India. The Bible resembles these various ancient literatures in another respect. Like them it is fragmentary, i.e. made up of the remains of a larger literature. Of this we have abundant proofs concerning the books of the Old Testament, since the Hebrew Scriptures themselves repeatedly refer us to more ancient and complete works as composed by Jewish annalists, prophets, wise men, poets, and so on (cf. Numbers 21:15; Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Chronicles 29:29; 1 Maccabees 16:24; etc.). Statements tending to prove the same fragmentary character of the early Christian literature which has come down to us are indeed much less numerous, but not altogether wanting (cf. Luke 1:1-3; Colossians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 5:9). But, however ancient and fragmentary, it is not to be supposed that the Biblical literature contains only few, and these rather imperfect, literary forms. In point of fact its contents exhibit nearly all the literary forms met with in our Western literatures together with other peculiarly Eastern, but none the less beautiful. It is also a well-known fact that the Bible is so replete with pieces of transcendent literary beauty that the greatest orators and writers of the last four centuries have most willingly turned to our sacred books as pre-eminently worthy of admiration, study, and imitation. Of course the widest and deepest influence that has ever been, and ever will be, exercised upon the minds and hearts of men remains due to the fact that, while all the other literatures are but man’s productions, the Bible is indeed “inspired of God” and, as such, especially “profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice” (2 Timothy 3:16). -


I grew up in a very basics-oriented Pentecostal denomination for whom the KJV was THE Bible, and whatever the KJV said was The Truth (never mind the inconsistencies). As we all grew up, and as I expanded to other preachers and teachers with more education (and common sense), the “take” on this subject came to be like this statement from the Wiki article on Biblical inerrancy: “Biblical inerrancy, as formulated in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”, is the doctrine that the Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching”; or, at least, that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”.” It is the task of textual analysts (the word “critics” is too loaded) to figure out what changes have been introduced into the text by the carelessness (or sneakiness) of scribes.

(Sometimes it crosses my mind that this was not a very reliable way to transmit the Word of God.)


Have you read Dei Verbum? That is a good place to go to understand the Church’s teaching on inerrancy.

Yes, inerrancy is separate from copyist errors. That the Bible is without error does not protect every single person who has ever or will ever copy the text from making a “typo”.

The amount of these types of copyist errors is actually pretty minimal overall. For example, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, scholars noted how very close they were to later copies – mainly because they were so faithfully copied throughout the centuries. Further, none of theses copy errors really change anything of substance. They are all pretty minor.



This was thoroughly documented in Josh McDowell’s book from several decades ago, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Unfortunately, I disposed of my copy, but I would imagine that the relevant passages are on the internet somewhere.

(Just so we know, McDowell was and still is an Evangelical Protestant, not a Catholic.)


So if the bible has textual errors, does that render the bible less complete somehow or not inerrant? Maybe, I am not following you guys…


Some monk in Iceland spelling a few words wrong and not noticing doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t infallible.


I’ve read here somewhere (correct me if i am wrong) the bible is not infallible, but inerrant, since only an interpreter can be infallible, such as the Pope.


I’ve read here somewhere (correct me if i am wrong) the bible is not infallible, but inerrant, since only an interpreter can be infallible, such as the Pope.


Correct, but the point that Random is trying to make still holds: errors in transcription of the Bible do not imply that the Bible itself is in error.

That’s an easy one to assert. The more difficult one, of course, is when there is not a transcription error that’s evident, but there’s nevertheless a difference in what various books of the Bible state. (For example, if two Gospel writers tell the story a bit differently, or if two books of the OT make a claim, but refer to different names of kings in making that claim.) Could we then claim that scriptural inerrancy is false?

We would say ‘no.’ The claim to be made is whether God’s message is affected by seeming discrepancy – or whether it’s a simple conscious (or unconscious!) decision by the human author! For instance, in the Gospels, the evangelists were writing to different audiences. Therefore, in telling the story of Jesus to these different audiences, they might tell the story in slightly different ways. In each telling, God’s truth – His self-revelation – is maintained in its integrity.

But, what about the case in which OT authors seem to get it wrong? In this case, we’d assert that a faulty memory on the part of a human author about a historical detail does not affect the literal meaning of the Scriptures in question. Again, God’s truth is not affected by it.

In other words, ‘inerrancy’ speaks to the integrity of God’s message; the self-revelation of God contained within Scripture is never in error.


You are correct. A text can be inerrant (without mistakes), but only a human can be infallible (incapable of making mistakes).

However, that distinction is lost on most people.

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