Bible: The Authentic Source Texts

3 - What Most Conservative Pastors & Scholars Believe About 'Inerrancy'

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
As soon as I finished preaching, I knew I was in trouble with the pastor.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 3 of a series. Read part 2.

As soon as I finished preaching, I knew I was in trouble with the pastor.

A few years ago I became acquainted with the senior pastor of a large fundamentalist Baptist church. He later invited me to preach on a Sunday morning during their annual missions conference.

After introducing me as the guest speaker, the pastor took a seat in the congregation near the front. I began my sermon, as I often do, by calling the congregation's attention to the Scripture text with these words: "Let us hear the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God." When I said this I noticed a fleeting change in the pastor's expression, and momentarily wondered what it might mean.

I soon found out. During the closing hymn, the pastor led me to the church foyer, where we were to greet people after the service. Before the congregation began to disburse, this fundamentalist Baptist pastor turned to me and said, with irritation in his voice, "I noticed that you called it the 'inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God.' I agree with you on "inspired and infallible," but I don't believe we can call it the inerrant Word."

People were now lining up to shake hands with us, so I had no further opportunity to question his disturbing statement. But during a subsequent conversation he raised the subject again. He said that he objected quite strongly to the term "inerrant" and explained why.

This pastor said he does not believe that any Bible we now hold in our hands, even a Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek, can be called "inerrant." Only the original manuscripts of the Bible were inerrant, he declared.

What Most Conservative Pastors & Scholars Believe About "Inerrancy" Today

Dear reader, if this shocks you, it should not. More than likely, your own pastor believes the same thing. This is the majority opinion that has been taught at Evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges for more than a century. Do a web search of the phrase "doctrinal statement" combined with "Scriptures" and "in the original manuscripts" and you will find well over 20,000 entries for churches and ministries whose doctrinal statements read like this one, from a Bible church in Colorado: "We believe all 66 books of Scripture are God-breathed, authoritative, and without error in the original manuscripts." Or this one, from another Bible church: "We believe that divine inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the Bible in the original manuscripts. We believe that the whole Bible in the original manuscripts is, therefore, without error."

The 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, considered a landmark statement of the 20th century Evangelical position, was signed by nearly 300 noted church leaders such as James Montgomery Boice, Norman Geisler, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell, Francis Schaeffer, and R. C. Sproul. The Statement declared that "inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture," and that "the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration."1

What is the problem with this position? Simply this: We have no original manuscripts of the Bible in our possession today. God in His providence has not preserved them, just as He has not preserved the staff of Moses, the wood of the Cross, or the cup used by Jesus when He instituted the Lord's Supper.

The Darwinistic Theory of the Biblical Text

However, the situation in the Bible-believing church today is worse yet. The vast majority of conservative pastors and Bible scholars do not believe, or at least are not certain, that the text contained in the original manuscripts of the Bible has been preserved intact. They have been taught, in college and seminary classrooms, what can truly be called a Darwinistic theory of the Biblical text. They have been taught that for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years much of the original text of Scripture has been lost to the church or has at least been unclear. The logical outcome of such a theory is that Christians cannot be certain that we have the actual and complete inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God in our hands.

This Darwinistic theory of the Bible goes further. The present generation of Bible-believing pastors has also been taught that because this is the case, for the past 150 years highly trained scholars have been engaged in the process of attempting to restore the original, pristine text of Scripture using the theories and techniques of textual criticism. If you pressed one of the Bible scholars who holds this position to show you "the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God," the best he could honestly do is to take you to one of the world's great libraries, point to shelves containing hundreds of books on textual criticism and to vaults containing thousands of Biblical manuscripts of varying quality, and tell you that somewhere among them collectively exists the actual "inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God" - yet to be fully identified.

Such a scholar would also inform you that the problem of restoring the actual text of the Bible is exceedingly complex. But he would reassure you that you should have no fear, because highly skilled men using a well-developed theory are diligently working on the problem, and in the meantime you can be assured that no major doctrines of the church are at risk because of this uncertain situation.

Such assurances are cold comfort to the Bible believer.

Next: How Did Conservative Pastors and Teachers Come to Embrace Such a Theory?


  1. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) as housed in the archives of Dallas Theological Seminary, as viewed in 1/3/2012 at


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