The Doctrine of Inerrancy of the Bible
has remained a theme central to all Judaic and Christian theological thinking.
Throughout the ecclesiastical history this view, has either been clearly
stated or tacitly presumed. As one may appreciate, in addition to the ongoing
inspirations, visitations and revelations, to which the Christian saints
so often have a claim, the Christian religion relies completely on the
Biblical texts for the formation of its doctrine and theology. All that
Christianity is today has been precipitated by the texts the world knows
as Bible; hence the importance of this subject in Christian literature.
At the same time the question of belief
in the Inerrancy (or Errancy) of the Bible assumes unusual importance for
the followers of another great world religion. Muslims, who follow Muhammad
(sws) and believe in the Inerrancy of the Qur’an, have an altogether
different approach. Not only do they strongly contest the claim of inerrancy
of Bible, but also discard it as thoroughly corrupted text, and instead
present the Qur’an as the only inerrant scripture which is extant.
Qur’anic Comment on the Scripture
The Qur’anic passages reject
the earlier scriptures as fabricated. (These passages shall be reproduced
with brief notes in the later sections of this dissertation, so that the
reader may have a clear concept of how the Muslims view the Old and the
This piece of writing is an attempt
to examine the doctrine of inerrancy of Bible as the Christians believe
in it. Biblical texts shall be studied to help the readers form an opinion.
For the purpose of presenting authentic information regarding Christian
views we have relied on the Jerome Biblical Commentary (Ed. by Brown, Fitzmyer
and Murphy, 1987, New Delhi) and A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture
(Ed. by Fuller, Johnston and Kearns, Hong Kong 1981.) for Catholic view
point A New Bible Handbook by G.T. Manley for Protestant belief, and various
other authors whose reference the readers will find as they appear in this
Terms and Concepts
The idea of God-inspired scripture
was not one of the primordial themes of Israelite religion -- understandably
so, for this religion originated among people who at first had no knowledge
of writing and who existed for a long time under general conditions unfavourable
to literary pursuits. Nevertheless, in the course of time the religion
of Israel did become centred round the collection of books that we now
called the Old Testament. ‘In spite of the centrality it acquired in Judaism,
the Old Testament does not itself contain a doctrine of the inspiration
of Scripture.’ (Richard F. Smith F.J.: Inspiration and Inerrancy p- 2).
But before we proceed ahead we owe an explanation of the term ‘inspiration’
and the phrase ‘divine origin’.
To the Jews and Christians the phrase
‘divine origin of the Scripture’ denotes the special influence of God upon
the human writers of the Bible, an influence of such a nature that God
is said to be the author of the Biblical books. Vatican Council I expressed
it thus: ‘The Church regards them as sacred and canonical because having
been written under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their
author and as such have been entrusted to the Church.’ (Enchiridion
Biblicum, Rome 1961, page 77). In the Catholic view the divine inspiration
of Scripture is in the strict sense a supernatural mystery. They hold that
it is a reality which can never be fully comprehended and which will always
remain obscure and opaque to the human mind.
In Christian theology the words ‘inspired’
and ‘inspiration’ are frequently used both generally of any and all prompting
of God’s grace in and on the human psyche and specifically of the divine
prompting at the origin of the books of the Bible. The basic Latin word
in this area is the verb ‘inspirare’, meaning literally to ‘breathe into,
upon, or in’. Apparently not employed in pre-Augustan and Augustan writings
except poetry. ‘Inspirare’ is chiefly a post Augustan word, used both in
its literal meaning and in a transferred meaning, namely that of arousing
a state or attitude in the human mind as in the statement: ‘His words inspired
anger.’ In Tertullian, the inspirare words are already found in a transferred
Christian application though only in the generic sense of the prompting
of God and not in the specific sense of those prompting that led to the
writing of Scripture. Early Christian Latin vocabulary used such words
as ‘afflatus’, ‘inflatus’, and ‘instinctus’ -- the classical equivalents
of our modern word ‘inspiration’. Gradually however ‘inspirare’ came to
be generally used for that influence by which God is the source of the
Greek has a larger vocabulary to cover
the area we are considering. English and Latin use the same terms to refer
both to the books and the their human writers (‘libri inspirati’ -- inspired
books and ‘scriptores inspirati’ -- inspired writers). Greek, however,
provides one set of words for inspired documents and another for inspired
human writers. An inspired book is described as ‘theopneustos’ (God breathed)
and an inspired person is defined as ‘theophoretos’ (God borne) and by
‘pneumatophoros’ (Spirit borne).
As far as Hebrew is concerned the
matter of terminology is simple; there is no set of words to cover the
idea of the divine inspiration of Scripture.
What does the Old Testament say of itself?
Although the Old Testament refers
to the divine action of God upon the minds of the prophets (sws) , this
influence was phrased in terms of the oral proclamation of a message that
God had communicated to them but not stated in terms of its dictation by
God which needed to be recorded in writing. We sometimes find God commanding
a prophet (sws) to write (Exodus 17:14, Is. 30:8, Jer. 30:2, 36:2, Hab.
2:2) and that Isaiah (sws) referred to his own written prophecy as ‘the
book of the Lord’ (34:16). But none of these expressions seem to indicate
anything more than the prophet’s consciousness (sws) to a pressing duty
to write. In other words, it might be true that the prophets (sws) claimed
to have received divine revelation, and that God commanded them to write
it down, but there is no reason to believe that the prophet (sws) actually
recorded the revelation under the guidance of God and the Scripture we
now have in our hands is the one so recorded. Thus, there is no indication
in the Old Testament of a divine influence upon the prophetic writer which
makes it obvious that God is the author of such writing. Moreover, the
emphatic sentences such as ‘the spirit of the Lord came upon him’ are limited
to the action and speech of the prophet (sws) and do not extend any where
to the domain of writing. Thus, seemingly, the doctrine of the inspiration
of Scripture, as it is understood in the Church today, is not mirrored
in the writings of the Old Testament: it is not denied, but it is not affirmed
How and when did the Jews come to believe in the divine
inspiration of the Scriptures?
The later sections of the Old Testament
start referring to the ‘Sacred Books’ (1-Mach. 12:9). But two famous events
of Jewish History were instrumental in giving final shape to the doctrine.
One was the Josiah’s adoption (sws) of the Book of Covenant (2-Kings 23:1-2).
The other was Ezra’s reading out (sws) to the people from the Book of the
Law of Moses (sws) as something ‘the Lord had commanded to Israel,’ (Neh.
8). The later Jews merely actuated the possibilities latent in these events
and from them sprang the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Old Testament.
Difference between the status of Pentateuch and books
of the Prophets
Owing to the primary position which
the Torah (written law) earned in the life of the Jews, it was natural
that the doctrine of divine origin should first form round the Torah. According
to the doctrine, which gradually took a more developed form, the Torah
was caused by God before the creation of the world and was revealed to
Moses (sws) by mental-oral instruction, or by delivery of the written text
of the Pentateuch, or by literal dictation. This Platonic pre-existence
of Torah was probably introduced by the Jews who absorbed Hellenistic ideas
among whom a notable name is that of Philo of Alexandria. Thus, the Pentateuch
was believed to be God’s words. (Although some exceptions within the Pentateuch
were made such as Dt. Ch. 28) Under this influence the doctrine of the
divine origin of the Prophets and of the writings also sprang up. Yet there
was a difference in kind and quality between the Pentateuch and other books.
The ‘Prophets and Writings’ were written under the influence of God but
this influence was not thought to be the cause of every jot and tittle,
as in the case of Torah. (Schurer E.: A History of the Jewish People in
the Time of Jesus Christ [sws], Vol 2 page 306.) Nevertheless, the divine
origin of the Prophets and writings was fully accepted.
The Christian Belief in Divine Origin of the Old Testament
The belief in the divine origin of
the Old Testament is repeatedly expressed or implied in the New Testament
when Jesus (sws) refers to passages in the Old Testament as words of God.
The Christians have also argued on the strength of Acts 1:16, Heb. 5:12
and 1-Peter 4:11 that in the words of Scripture the Holy Spirit spoke by
the mouth of human beings and that the words of the Old Testament are ‘oracles
of God.’ The argument is reinforced by citing two more verses (2Tim. 3:16
and 2Pt. 1:21) which have become almost classic description of the involvement
of God in the production of Bible.
Peter stood up... and said, ‘..this
scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth
of David [sws] concerning Judas’. (Act. 1:16).
All Scripture is given by inspiration
of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for
instruction in righteousness. (2Tim. 3:16).
*. It is hoped that this
portion from the writer’s dissertation will stimulate interest in the question
of the inerrancy of the Scriptures. It is also hoped that the readers will
be able to appreciate the reasons for writer’s viewpoint when it is presented
in the remaining portions of this dissertation.