Fundamentally*, an inerrant Bible is one without errors and an infallible Bible is one that cannot have errors, as David Stratton pointed out in his answer. As for the Roman Catholic Church, all of its doctrines are infallible, so presumably, they believe the Bible is infallible as well.

My question is: when and why was inerrancy/infallibility formally declared? I'm looking for any combination of these four sources:

  1. an Old Testament text declares itself or another OT text to be inerrant/infallible,

  2. a New Testament text declares itself or another NT text to be inerrant/infallible,

  3. one or more early church authors declare some OT/NT text to be inerrant/infallible, or

  4. the closed canon (with or without the Deuterocanon) is declared inerrant/infallible by the Church, before or after the Great Schism.

I'm most interested in writings from the early church fathers, and 2 Timothy 3:16 is allowed in the answer only if the link between "God-breathed" and "infallible"/"inerrant" is shown in a clear and direct way. Also, declarations of inerrancy/infallibility should apply to the whole text, not just God's directly-spoken words.

*Stealthy or lame, take your pick.

  • I think Inerrant is the only word you need to describe sacred scripture. Since public revelation is over and done with, it doesn't need to be infallible going forward.
    – Peter Turner
    Apr 15 '13 at 2:14
  • 1
    @PeterTurner: Technically, yes, but I threw "infallible" in there anyway. :P Also, technically, an OT text declaring infallibility would have an effect on the later NT, would it not? Apr 15 '13 at 3:03
  • Read "A Peculiar Glory" by John Piper. It discusses this question at length. Apr 8 '16 at 13:40

A biblical case for inerrancy can certainly be made on the basis of passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:16, but these are limited in that they do not obviously refer to the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments. So to address this question it's best to turn to the writings of the early fathers.

Clear statements of the truthfulness and perfection of the Bible appear very early. Here are several examples:

The definition of "Scripture" for these authors varied to some extent, but later fathers, like Augustine, more carefully emphasized the importance of defining a canon and gave even more explicit statements of inerrancy:

I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. (Letter 82)

  • 1
    One should note that for all of these and basically the entire early Church, the Old Testament was the Alexandrian/Diaspora/Greek canon with more books (i.e. the books called 'Deuterocanon' or 'Apocrypha' and rejected by Protestants but retained by Catholics). St. Augstine,whom you quote there, says that "But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." Aug 6 '17 at 15:03

Here's some verses on infallibility:

  • 2 Timothy 3:16
  • Isaiah 55:10-11
  • 2 Peter 1:19-21

The latter is worth citing here:

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit

Lest the reader shout circularity, the train of thought here is as follows:

  1. Let us assume/trust the general historicity of Scripture (all we need to assume is also corroborated by seconday/tertiary accounts)
  2. Then we know Peter is an apostle of Jesus, invested with great authority from him (able to call Paul's writings Scripture, 2 Peter 3:16)
  3. So when Peter declares the infallibility of Scripture, which his readers would have understood to be all of the OT as well as Paul's writings, he is, right then and there, formally declaring that the Word of God through these writings is infallible.

To get back to your question, I can't recall a specific OT passage declaring its own infallibility, but there are plenty of passages that emphasize that God spoke directly to the writers of these books (Prophets basically just transcribed his words, for example) and I think that speaks for itself.

I've got to run but I'll examine more closely 2 Tim. 3:16 when I return and I'll also dig into my church history books. I know I've failed to meet some of your more strict answer requirements so I'll try to clean that up as well. In the meantime, feel free to edit this, folks.

  • 5
    Ps.119 (e.g., vv. 86 ["trustworthy"], 89 ["eternal" cf. 1 Cor. 13:10], 96 [beyond other perfections], 138 ["fully trustworthy"], 151 ["all ... true"]) indicates that the Law was considered perfect (though some might argue poetic hyperbole). Apr 14 '13 at 21:40
  • @PaulA.Clayton feel free to edit that into the answer or post your own! Apr 15 '13 at 0:47

When was the Bible formally declared to be inerrant and/or infallible?

Many people and even denominations have declared the Bible inerrant. Most would clarify by saying "as originally written in the original language". Most of these declarations are relatively recent and largely in a defensive response to the massive assault on Biblical reliability by so-called scholars using textual or higher criticism, German rationalism, and a host of other techniques flowing from humanism and secularism originating in the ironically named period of enlightenment.

Prior to this period the Bible was assumed to be inerrant by almost everyone. Those who took a closer look (not many) might have acknowledged the superiority of one translation over another, but most would have not questioned that the Bible was truth as Jesus said;

John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

There were of course many people who were not Christian and they mostly ignored the Bible.

The use of the phrase "formally declared" implies an authority that supersedes the Bible such that this authority in itself becomes the standard of truth. Some denominations may declare this authority and many "scholars" have implied in their declarations that they see themselves as having this authority. However, I see the Bible as declaring truth and that those who are of the truth will respond and those who are not are not able to understand.

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

The determination of inerrancy has to be in the hands of each person. Those called by God can judge most accurately. Those hostile to God may attack the reliability of the Bible with various assertions. Those weaker that God calls may be harmed by those who attack. Therefore those who attack should be warned;

Matthew 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

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