Three Views on Errors in the Bible

Is the Bible without error? When Christians and others discuss this question, they are debating or discussing a particular topic: The inerrancy of the Bible. Inerrancy just means “without error,” so what is really being asked is, “how much of the Bible is inerrant (or without error)?

Much has been said and written on this topic, but it all comes down to three distinct views of inerrancy. But before we get to those, we need to ask, why does this subject even come up?

When we encounter Scripture, we encounter some incredible stories—and those stories provoke questions. For example, did God really flood the earth in Noah’s day? Did Samson really kill 1,000 enemies with the jawbone of a donkey? What about Jonah, who managed to survive a few damp nights inside an organic submarine (a large fish)? Did that really happen?

And the king of all questions: What about Jesus? Did he really resurrect from the dead?

Related Resource: Why Did God do that? 

These stories all come from the Bible, and people understand them differently depending on how they understand the inerrancy of Scripture. Let’s look at the three big views.

The classic view of inerrancy 

The classic view of inerrancy holds that the Bible is right in everything it teaches. So, understood rightly, the Bible will never truly contradict itself, nor will it contradict good history, good science, etc. However, the classic view of inerrancy does NOT say our interpretation of the Bible is inerrant. For example, Christians may disagree over whether the Bible teaches a literal 6-day creation of the world but still agree that the Bible is right in whatever it teaches.

The limited view of inerrancy

Those who hold to the limited view of inerrancy believe that the Bible is without error in some things it teaches. They might say the Bible is wrong about the people who showed up at Jesus’ empty tomb, but the big idea is that Jesus resurrected, and that’s the part we can trust. They may also hold that certain facts surrounding historical events may be incorrect, but the goal is to focus on what God is communicating through the event, not the specifics. 

The non-view of inerrancy

The final view of inerrancy is the non-view. It states that the Bible has errors. Plain and simple. While it’s easy to see atheists and skeptics holding this view, some theologians see the Bible this way. They may say that the Bible is still God’s sacred Word, but perhaps Moses was wrong about God commanding the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 7. The point, then, is to not focus on that and instead look to Jesus and learn from past mistakes.

Which view of inerrancy should we hold?

Of these three views, I find that the classic view is the best way to understand inerrancy, and the best approach to take as we allow Scripture to transform our lives. I say this for a few reasons. 

Related: Isn’t the Bible full of disagreements? 

First, Jesus consistently used the Scripture as God’s Word, which He claimed can always be trusted, even in the small details. He also empowered His closest followers to spread His message to the world through teaching and writing the New Testament. Of course, this argument assumes Jesus’ words can be trusted, an issue outside of the scope of this article, but discussed in many other articles on this website.

Second, those who hold to a limited or non-view of inerrancy often tout portions of Scripture they do believe are inerrant and true. However, the same kind of evidence that gives credence to their favored portions of Scripture also provides credence to portions they don’t want to accept as inerrant. They end up with an inconsistent method for evaluating Scripture. 

Finally, if we say (as many across all views of inerrancy do) that the Bible is “God’s Word,” then the Bible ultimately reflects the character of God. It would be tough to believe in a God who is always truthful while also believing that God’s message to us contains falsehood. And as for apparent contradictions, these can be resolved in other ways without compromising inerrancy. I recommend our article “Do Alleged Contradictions Skew the Truth” for more helpful thoughts on this. 

In the final analysis, Scripture is Scripture because its words come from God so that we might know and love Him more as we trust in His voice. Next time you read the Bible, read it with that high expectation! Inerrancy is worth defending because it helps us do just that.