What does the bible have to say about its own accuracy? For centuries the word “inerrant” has been used to describe scripture, usually meaning the entire canon of new and old testaments. To the western mind the term inerrant can have a range of meanings. It seems to me high time we stop making up our own definitions and start looking at how scripture interprets itself.
Paul wrote of the whole Old Testament (as we know it today): “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (1 Tim 3:16-17, ESV) Paul often quoted from the Old Testament, using it as an authoritative source for teaching and evangelism. We can see from his remarks to Timothy that he had the highest regard for the canon of Old Testament scripture. The most remarkable part of Paul’s comment here is that he credits God as the originator of the content of scripture. Certainly human hands put ink to scroll, so to speak, but those hands moved under the inspiration and influence of God. This passage is certainly the most often quoted in support of the dogma of inerrancy, but there are many more passages to consider.
Knowing scripture is inspired by God is one thing, but knowing it is true is another. Balaam prophesied: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind.” (Nu 23:19a, ESV) God’s character is such that He will not lie. Since scripture is breathed out by God (even though written down through the hands of human beings), it stands to reason that scripture will not lie. It also stands to reason prophecy given by God will come to pass since God does not change His mind. Context is critical and the prophet speaking here is not someone we would normally heed, so we need to consider more examples.
Moses is credited with authorship of the first five books of the bible, also called Torah or the Pentateuch. In Dt 18 Moses speaks on the subject of prophecy and whether to listen to a prophet: “Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the LORD?’ — whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” (Dt 18:21-22, NET) A prophet of God will be identified by the fulfillment of the prophecy. The acid test of whether to trust the prophecies of scripture is whether those prophecies are fulfilled. If you read the account of Balaam in Nu 22-24, the prophecies he gives from God are fulfilled, thus his words regarding God’s character (Nu 23:19) are to be considered trustworthy.
“And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true…” (2 Sam 7:28a, ESV) David validates that words given by God are true. David also writes: “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true;” (2 Sam 22:31 and Ps 18:30 ESV). Once again scripture declares its source to be truthful.
“Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (1 Pe 1:20-21, NET) Here Peter essentially confirms what Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy. In this case Peter is specifically speaking of prophecy found in scripture which is why this passage is used less often to support the doctrine of inerrancy. It is worth taking a moment to clarify the meaning of the term “prophecy.” Most people would define the term prophecy as a forecast of future events. While this is frequently how prophecy is applied, it is a poor definition. Prophecy (of God) is any message given by God, for God’s purpose and glory, usually given to God’s people and fulfilled in God’s timing. By this broad definition the whole Old Testament (this is what Peter was talking about here) can be categorized as prophecy. If you want to be more specific, every part of the Old Testament that quotes God (e.g. God says…) or is a revelation from God is prophecy. As such, most if not all of the Old Testament is to be considered divinely inspired. The words which were written were given to the prophets through the work of the Holy Spirit.
After the resurrection Jesus spoke to his disciples: Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk 24:44, NET) Jesus was very clear here. The “law of Moses” is the Torah (first five books of the bible). The “prophets and psalms” refer to the rest of the biblical canon. It should be noted here that by the time of Jesus, all of the books we currently have in our Old Testament were already collected into a complete set. This set was made up of the three parts: law, psalms and prophets. Psalms included various writings such as Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Chronicles, Job, and a few others. Prophets included all of the books we consider prophets today plus books we would probably call histories, such as Samuel, Kings, Judges, Joshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah. The point here is that Jesus ranked all sections of the Old Testament equally in terms of prophetic value. Jesus declared himself to be the source of ultimate prophetic fulfillment.
When Jesus uttered his final words, “It is finished,” (Jn 19:30) he was not saying all prophecies were finally and fully fulfilled. Instead, he was saying his work on earth was complete and the final act of atonement for sin for was finished. Jesus himself gave several prophecies about events which would take place long after his own death and resurrection. This passage gives us proper perspective for understanding Lk 24:44. The Old Testament contained hundreds of specific prophecies concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Those prophecies were fulfilled with startling accuracy. This does not mean the Old Testament does not contain other prophecies about events yet to unfold. What this does mean, however, is that those as yet unfulfilled prophecies can be trusted because other prophecies given by those prophets concerning the advent of Jesus were fulfilled accurately.
Then he said to me, “Write it down, because these words are reliable and true.” (Rev 21:5b, NET) The rules for prophecy did not change after Jesus rose. These words of reassurance given to John near the end of Revelation confirm the reliability of God’s revelation to John.
James also writes regarding God’s unwavering character: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (Jas 1:17, ESV) One of God’s attributes is immutability. In other words, God’s character never changes. He does not lie and He does not change His mind (Nu 23:19). His words are true (Ps 18:30) and we can expect Him to do what He says He will do (1 Th 5:24). God gave us the scriptures (2 Tim 3:16) through the Holy Spirit, not through human invention (1 Pe 1:20).
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:9, ESV) “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Pr 14:12, ESV) We can seek external support to validate or verify scripture (New or Old Testament), however scripture is a weightier authority than any idea, philosophy, or conclusion reached through natural human understanding alone.
There is a common logic problem Christians often fall into today. Many Christians seek to use natural evidence to validate faith. This is a dangerous practice for various reasons. First, the evidence we work with can be interpreted in other ways. For example, an archeological excavation may reveal a particular artifact. One expert may claim it proves a particular passage of scripture is true while another expert may claim it proves the scripture false. Perhaps the most hotly debated area of such debate relates to creation and the flood. The same hard data exists, yet some claim the evidence proves the earth is very old while others claim the evidence proves the earth is very young. In this age where scholarly support has shifted heavily in favor of an old earth, those who prefer to accept the plain reading of Genesis often fail when relying on interpretation of nature to prove their position. This failure is because authority is too often given to human interpretation of natural evidence alone, apart from the divine authority of scripture. This same fallacy occurs on other fronts as well, such as debates over morality on issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and ethics.
If you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, you need to know and remember that the person you trust with your eternal soul claims to be the Creator (Jn 1:1) and the ultimate source of truth (Jn 14:6). This Jesus Christ is one with the Father (Jn 10:1) as well as the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26). Through God’s divine spirit came scripture. If you believe in Jesus and trust him with your soul, you can and should trust his revelation of himself to us through scripture. If you trust in scripture, no matter how you came to trust scripture, then scripture is a reliable authority. Your authority as a Christian witness is related directly to the authority on which you stand. Do you stand on the authority of Jesus Christ and his revealed word, the bible, or do you stand on the authority of natural facts and data that are subject to human interpretation?