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As with many others I know, I believe in both the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible.

But what is the difference between these two important terms?

If something has no errors (inerrant), then must it not also be free from fabrications (infallible)? And isn't the inverse statement also true?

I asked about the Biblical basis for inerrancy previously.

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This may be more suited for the English Language & Usage SE. – Waggers Sep 26 '11 at 15:25
This is an English language question. Actually, it could have been solved by just checking a dictionary. – Paul Sep 30 '11 at 12:07
@Paul - if you look at the available answers, you'll see that "just checking the dictionary" is not viable in this instance – warren Sep 30 '11 at 13:29
As worded, this question is deceivingly simple. In truth, this question is about the doctrines of the infallibility of the Bible versus the doctrine of inerrancy of the Bible. As such, it's not a simple definition, but a doctrinal comparison. – Richard Nov 14 '11 at 16:29

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is a really good site that discusses the two topics. Follow the links at the bottom to find the corresponding article on Infallibility.

In short summary inerrant means "without error" and infallible means "incapable of error. The reason why those seem very similar is that, with respect to the Bible, they are. The word infallible is normally applied to the church, and is a key part of Roman Catholic theology. It means that the church has not only promulgated no errors in the past, but will not do so in the future.

Protestants (who mostly do not recognize the infallibility of the church) have tended to apply the word to the Bible, which they take as their source of ultimate authority. However the word is not nearly as applicable to the Bible, as the Bible is a closed canon, and cannot make any statements "in the future".

The Wikipedia article on Biblical infallibility quotes a theological as saying that 'infallibility' is used by some theologians to refer to the doctrine that the Bible is correct in matters of faith and practice only.

So in short, when applied to the Bible, the two words are virtually synonymous. When applied to other authorities, like the church, they can mean very different things.

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The Wikipedia article on Biblical inerrancy says this:

Another often used adjective to characterize the Bible is "infallible". From dictionary definitions, Frame (2002) insists that this is a stronger term than "inerrant." "'Inerrant' means there are no errors; 'infallible' means there can be no errors." Yet, he agrees that "modern theologians insist on redefining that word also, so that it actually says less than 'inerrancy.'" Lindsell (1978) states that "The very nature of inspiration renders the Bible infallible, which means that it cannot deceive us. It is inerrant in that it is not false, mistaken, or defective."

...which to me is as clear as mud. Wikipedia has a separate article on Biblical infallibility so evidently the Wikipedia community think the two are different concepts.

From what I can make out, inerrancy is purely about the lack of errors; infallibility also speaks about usefulness. Perhaps software is a good analogy to use; a piece of software can be bug free (inerrant) but utterly useless (not infallible).

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The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a 1978 document that outlines an Evangelical Christian view of Inerrancy (full document). It was formulated and agreed to by over 200 ministers and leaders. While I know of no similar effort to define infallibility of the Bible, I think this document will fully explain the concept from a Evangelical point-of-view that many accept.

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It's not that "mainstream". Plenty of evangelicals would not go along with it. – DJClayworth Sep 28 '11 at 18:49
You may be right, the use of the word mainstream may be imprecise. But, while many may disagree many Evangelical churches point directly to this statement as part of their view on the doctrines of scripture. 'Mainstream' was meant to imply many Evangelicals agree with the document. I will edit this answer to be more precise. – blundin Sep 28 '11 at 19:19

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