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.


3 Answers 3


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

  • 1
    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.
    – Double U
    Apr 27, 2014 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. Apr 27, 2014 at 15:35

The belief that the scriptures are without error or fault in all its teaching can be traced to the early Christians, and further.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

They would have believed the gospels and epistles as the testimony of the apostles, and thus, not as the word of men, but the truth and the word of God

John signed off his gospel with:

John 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

Paul testified that:

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness

Jesus himself said of the Old Testament:

John 5:39 these are they which testify of Me.

The Old Testament are the testimony of prophets. Jesus frequently quoted the scriptures against the Pharisees, leaving them speechless. When tempted in the wilderness, Jesus spoke not His own words, but quoted scripture; Satan in return tried to tempt Jesus using scripture. Clearly, these Old Testament writings had great authority because they were the word of God.

The Pharisees never displayed doubt in the veracity of the scriptures, even if they did not have the Spirit to understand the meaning. They sought to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah by trying to catch Him in preaching against the scriptures. When Jesus justified His actions according to the word, they were speechless.

Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

  • 4
    This starts out great in laying some ground-work for the belief, but I think to really address this question the belief must also be traced up to the present, noting any significant credal statements by the church through history and how the modern definition of the English word stacks up to the historical beliefs.
    – Caleb
    Nov 15, 2014 at 17:54
  • 1
    Biblical inerrancy is a specific doctrine, as defined here. None of these Bible quotes states that doctrine. This answer therefore fails to provide any real information in response to the question of the history of the doctrine of inerrancy. Nov 3, 2015 at 16:48
  • 1
    @LeeWoofenden I think this still counts as an "answer" because it attempts to find historical (in this case, biblical) support for the modern doctrine. They didn't call it inerrancy back then, but the argument is that the doctrine nonetheless existed, though perhaps in a more rudimentary form. Nov 3, 2015 at 17:02
  • Is there any indication that Paul believed he was writing scripture? Cleary beyond that point he only was referring to old testament scripture in Timothy and since Jesus is the word the quote from Thessalonians referred to Him as the truth, not any writings.
    – Adam Heeg
    Dec 19, 2016 at 4:07
  • I would also recommend adding in scriptures on God's inability to lie, or perhaps the purity of the Word. The ones listed do a good job of showing the utility of the scriptures, but I believe the question would be even better answered regarding inerrancy if those were added to round out the answer.
    – DKing
    Aug 9, 2017 at 20:22

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."


  • 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. Apr 27, 2014 at 19:29
  • 1
    Though the quote from Augustine could be part of a history of the doctrine of inerrancy, in isolation it doesn't provide such a history. A history would outline the development of the doctrine over time. Nov 3, 2015 at 16:51
  • It was a useful addition to the overall discussion though. Thanks for sharing.
    – Robopoto
    Apr 2, 2020 at 23:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .