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Is there any reason, biblical or otherwise, not to believe that the doctrine of inerrancy is relatively new (past two hundred years). I found the following statement on Wikipedia.

"It has in fact been noted that only in the last two centuries can we legitimately speak of a formal doctrine of inerrancy."

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy#History

Am I understanding correctly that the idea of infallibility has been the prevalent doctrine for most of Christian history? I'm narrowing the scope to Christianity, as it's my understanding that Jewish tradition does not hold the idea of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) being inerrant.

Personal Anecdote: I grew up attending church in the 60's and 70's; the idea of inerrancy wasn't considered in the churches I attended. It seems that the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" has really changed the Christian view during the past 35 years.

This question is focused on the history of the doctrine of inerrancy, not the doctrine itself.

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2 Answers 2

The doctrine of inerrancy, a salient feature of Christian Fundamentalism, was "a creation not of the 16th century Reformation but of 19th century Princeton University theologians attempting to preserve traditional belief in divine origins."1 As you can see, there is evidence for supporting the notion that the doctrine of inerrancy is a relatively new doctrine.

Infallibility refers to "the divine assistance given by Christ to the Church to teach specific doctrines without error." 2

Whereas, Indefectibility refers to "the divine assistance given to the Church to remain fundamentally faithful to the teachings of Christ, or 'there can be no wholesale departure from the teaching of Christ' even though various leaders and/or various populations in the Church may sometimes go astray. Thus, 'indefectibility' refers to the generic divine assistance that the church will remain basically faithful to the teachings of Christ over the long run, while 'infallibility' refers to the specific divine assistance for the church to teach particular fundamental doctrines without basic error." 2

Biblical inspiration results in inerrancy, 2,3 which the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as "the attribute of the books of Scripture whereby they faithfully and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to have confided through the Sacred Scripture." 2

As you can see, there is support suggesting that the doctrine of inerrancy was originally a Catholic doctrine.


  1. DOYLE, R. (2003). Sizing Up Evangelicals. Scientific American, 288(3), 37.


  3. Gigot, F. (1907). The Bible. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 26, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02543a.htm

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Well, I could do some additional research on whether the Catholic version of inerrancy is different from the Protestant version of inerrancy. I'd probably also check the history of the doctrine of inerrancy in the Catholic church. If the doctrine of inerrancy had been indigenous in the Catholic church, then the first source from Scientific American is just plain wrong. –  Anonymous Apr 27 at 15:30
my previous comment (It seems your 5th paragraph is contradicting the second sentence in your 1st paragraph - is there a way you could re-word this?) was poorly worded, as you clearly refer to the differning statements as 'evidence'. I guess what I would normally expect with a presentation containing contradictory evidence is an argument to either harmonize them or favor one over the other. –  bruised reed Apr 27 at 15:35

For much of Christian history, the view of the inspiration and authority of the Bible outlined above held firm, and it was almost unheard of for Christians to criticize and reject the content of Scripture as erroneous. The position of the greatest of the Western church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, is instructive here. In his "Reply to Faustus the Manichaean" (XI.5), St. Augustine wrote: "If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood."


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This answer does not address the question in any way. Please note that the question specifically asks for the history of the doctrine of inerrancy, and the details are concerned with how old it is or how it comes about. That is, the origin of the doctrine. It is not asking for refutations against or apologetics for the doctrine. –  Anonymous Apr 27 at 15:52
The first statement is an overgeneralization since we really only know about what the clergy of the Catholic church wrote, not what regular Christians thought. –  david brainerd Apr 27 at 19:29

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