Sign up ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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.

share|improve this question
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 8 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.

share|improve this answer

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).

share|improve this answer

Inerrancy: To say that the scriptures are "inerrant" literally means that they are "without error." That is, that there is not one single error in spelling, grammar, fact, etc. any where in all of scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 5:18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." Based on Jesus' declaration, we conclude that there cannot be one single error in recording even the smallest letter or stroke anywhere in the scriptures. However, that is only true of the original documents (or autographs) as they were written by the various authors who were moved by the Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). In this process God somehow had His perfect word "breathed out" or "inspired" (2 Tim 3:16) and it was without error. We believe this by faith because of numerous statements in the Bible by God about the perfect nature of His word (e.g. Psalm 19). There is no external evidence that can prove the inerrancy of those original autographs.

After those writings were recorded without error, they were carefully copied by thousands of scribes or copyists over many centuries and those copyists did make some errors in copying. We call those copying errors "variants" in the text. Because we have so many copies (e.g. 25,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament), we are able to identify where most of the errors are and we have been able to produce a text of the Bible in its original languages for which we are certain that we have been able to recover the exact wording and spelling for almost 95% of the text. So, although the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts of scripture that we have today do contain some errors (mostly in spelling, word order, grammar, etc.), the original texts did not.

Thus, the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy in Article 10 states:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

("Inspiration" implies "inerrancy.")

Infallibility: Making an error is one thing; being wrong is another. The word "infallibility" literally means "not able to fail." It simply means that the scriptures are never wrong. They have never failed to be true or failed to come true. Every word of God is tested and proves true (Proverbs 30:5). God's word is truth (John 17:17). This is the case for every single word that the Bible records throughout its entirety and on every single subject that it addresses including matters of science, geography, history, relationships, church doctrine, the future, eternity, etc. (in recognition of various figures of speech). Thus, you can rely on it to be true and never fail. Because God's word, the Bible, is infallible, it is trustworthy.

Contrary to the lack of external proofs for inerrancy, there is much external evidence that can prove the infallibility of the scriptures. Archeology has demonstrated the infallability of the word of God time and time again in recent years. Many times, names and places recorded in the Bible, although questioned by some scholars in the past, have been proven to be accurate. The exact fulfillment of thousands of prophecies clearly demonstrates that God's word is true.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview of what this site is about, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an extensive and detailed answer, with a clear description of the two terms. One thing that would help your answer here is to provide a few more references to where these statements are made, either in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy or elsewhere. See: What makes a good supported answer? – Lee Woofenden yesterday
Very nice answer, welcome! I have shared this in the "new answers to old questions" chatroom to make sure it is not overlooked. Feel free to contribute your own answers there in the future... for which we are certain that we have been able to recover the exact wording and spelling for almost 95% of the text It's more like >99% assuming your are talking about the New Testament (the Old Testament can't be objectively measured since very few ancient manuscripts exist.) – ThaddeusB yesterday

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.