I read an article the other day about the PCUSA church, and I will preface this question with the disclaimer that I have not done extensive research on the church, but it said that they hold the Bible to be doctrine and teach from it, but do not believe that it is without error. The article was written in response to the PCUSA changing their definition of marriage from "between a man and a woman" to "between two people", essentially supporting gay marriage.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 - "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

If the Bible itself says that ALL scripture is God breathed, how can one believe this is not true (by saying it is not inerrant) and yet still hold it to be doctrine?

I guess I'm just curious as to the logic behind teaching from the bible which explicitly says something is wrong, but then supporting it? The Bible doesn't really seem to me like something you get to pick and choose what of it you want to believe.

  • See also christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/381/…
    – James T
    Jun 28, 2014 at 2:30
  • also related: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/1225/69
    – warren
    Jun 28, 2014 at 4:07
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    Are you trying to ask about the general principles the PCUSA (and yes, you should edit your question to define that acronym, as @robertbristow-johnson says) uses to interpret scripture? Are you asking what the PCUSA believe about homosexuality, and how they support that belief with scripture? Are you asking about how the Bible should be interpreted (on either or both of the above points)? Or are you asking all of these things at once? Basically, I think your question is unclear, and hence not useful.
    – TRiG
    Oct 17, 2014 at 19:18
  • I'm in agreement with @TRiG: if the question is just about how PCUSA arrives at their position, the excursion to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is unhelpful. I considered an edit, but I don't know exactly what you are asking. So I'm going to close the question as a duplicate of a more general question. If someone edits the question to be more clear/specific, it can be reopened. Oct 17, 2014 at 20:28

4 Answers 4


If you hold from the outset that the Bible can contain errors, then it would obviously be easy to say that the passage in the Bible that says otherwise (2 Timothy 3:16-17) is itself in error. So I suppose that's the answer. Inerrancy is not a doctrine you can derive from the Bible if you don't already believe in inerrancy, since you will simply dismiss 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as wishful thinking if you aren't already convinced of the doctrine of inerrancy. Why do people who don't believe in the Bible not all of the sudden change their minds when 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is read to them? Because they don't believe in the Bible, so why would a quotation from the Bible convince them?

But when you're dealing with a church that doesn't believe in inerrancy, its more than with some atheist. They need the Bible to legitimize themselves, but they don't want to accept certain things it says. Its just like politicians who wrap themselves behind the Constitution, or more particularly the Bill of Rights, while at the same time trying to take away some of the rights guaranteed there. When you need a document to legitimize your business enterprise, you use as much of it as you want, to your profit, and reject as much of it as you don't want.


One such way is to distinguish between inerrancy and infallability. Inerrancy is the view that scriptures are without factual error and even that the translation of scripture is guided by God so so as to make even the English translation of the work 100% without error in translation and by extension impossible to misinterpret because it is in clear and plain English (at the most extreme holding of the view.)

Infallability on the other hand is the view that the truths that The Bible is teaching are without error - in other words, the moral of the stories are true. One needed throw the baby out with the bath water by saying if you dispense with one, you dispense with the other. It is possible to say that the bible remains infallable while not being inerrant. In fact, in some ways, dispensing with inerrant can strengthen beliefs in that a factual error can now be tolerated.

For example, we know that ancient peoples believed that the earth is flat and that you could fall off the earth if you went to it's edge. Were Biblical writers to believe that the earth were flat, this would be consistent with the view of cosmology that all other ancient peoples held. Were they to write down that the earth was flat in verses like Isaiah 11:12, Revelation 7:1, Psalm 75:3 and other verses, this would again be consistent with all ancient peoples' worldview. With a hard line on biblical inerrancy this becomes problematic. Either you must claim that ancient writers posessesed special revelation and understanding that all other ancient peoples did not posess, or that the earth is actually flat (as some flat-earthers do). If you dispense with biblical inerrancy however, you then have the freedom to believe that The Bible does in fact record a flat earth and we now know that this view is wrong, yet The Bible can still retain all of it's moral truths and continue to be divinely inspired and useful for teaching, rebuking and training in Christ.

Similarly, were a translator to make a mistake (or mistakes) or were entire sections of scripture to have been missing or lost for many years, no serious issue is posed if inerrancy is dispensed with while infallability maintained. It allows humans to be human and make mistakes and allows God to be God and remain perfect.

It also potentially opens up entirely new ways of looking at scripture. For example, the framework view of Genesis in which you can retain a literal meaning and interpretation of Genesis while recognizing that the events recorded may never have actually happened due to factual errors. This frees the reader to consider things like Panbabylonism and how comparing and contrasting creation stories might actually teach us more about God and our faith.

Likewise, it allows us to consider that perhaps we are mistranslating arsenokoites and malakos (typically translated as homosexuals) and that we don't actually know what it means or that we lack context when reading Romans' purported prohibition on homosexuality and that Paul was addressing homosexuality as a religious practice.

By my maintaining that The Bible is infallable but not inerrant, the PCUSA can maintain that it is divinely inspired while still teaching that we can come to the wrong conclusion because transmission of this divine inspiration is not supernaturally preserved (nor is our reception and understanding of it) can be corrupted by our humanity and our fallen nature. It allows us to realize that The Bible was written to an audience of Middle Easterners 2000+ years ago and that can lead to some interesting differences in understanding that we ought to account for. Inerrancy really inhibits most or all of the above leeway afforded to the reader otherwise.


Translations of the Bible I'm familiar with quote 2 Timothy 3:16 as saying all Scripture was "inspired" of God, not "breathed out". That God might have "breathed" Scripture into the world renders the phrase far more authoritative than an awareness of metaphor might support, and might well reveal certain prejudices held by the translating organization. Further, if "inspired" is the word that pushes one's hot button (in prayerful preference to "breathed"), and if one accorded it the same authority as God's actual breath, one would also need to assume that inspiration was always and ever received perfectly. I do not believe that any of the imperfect vessels God inspired to write on His behalf was infallible such that this was likely to be the case. Thus I have no difficulty in tempering the harsher dictates of Leviticus (and other books) with the recorded words of Jesus. They stress love and acceptance the last time I looked. Maybe the truth is that Scripture does all the things for us that Timothy claims - not from the viewpoint of unthinking automatons, but from a viewpoint that says God's word is constantly revealing itself and requires honouring in ongoing attention and contemplation. This would seem to me to be the best purpose of any Christian community rather than bouncing heavy copies of the bible off their neighbours' heads.

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    A language study of the original text will tell you where the "God-Breathed" comes from. "Inspired" is a very poor choice in today's English. Perhaps you should take a look at this post Jun 30, 2014 at 2:54
  • While I'm at it.. Welcome to the site! This next is just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites?, and What makes a good supported answer? Jun 30, 2014 at 2:55

Although I've met many who claim to do so, I've not yet met a single Christian individual who followed each and every one of God's laws explicated in the Bible without exception. Doing so, would prevent a person from wearing most garments manufactured today, as Leviticus 19:19 would prohibit all fabrics made from fabric blends (e.g., "cotton-polyester"). I've known several male persons, who, though they claim to believe and follow the whole bible, are in clear violation of Leviticus 19:27-28 (You shall not round off the hair on your temples, nor mar the edges of your beard. You shall not ... tattoo any marks upon you.), not to mention Leviticus 7:22-23 ("You shall eat no fat").

The point here is that there are few (if any) who adhere to all of God's laws, but most instead pick and choose what laws they are going to adhere to, and which they will find a reason to ignore. Further, I don't know anyone who claims to be Christian, and supports the death penalty, who insists on following Jesus teaching with respect to that punishment (there must be one without sin to initiate the execution).

Anyone who ignores some parts of what is taught in the Bible, yet criticizes others who ignore other parts of what is taught seems to me to have forgotten Jesus' teaching about foreign objects and eyes.

  • There's a flaw in the logic here and your points don't address the question. The question isn't "Do people obey the Bible", it's "Is the Bible infallible or not?" Jun 28, 2014 at 14:53
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    ... According to the PCUSA. (forgot that part of the question) Jun 28, 2014 at 15:23
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    This is a nice paraphrase of one of Obama's speeches attacking the Bible and Christianity, but its not a good answer to the question. The reason Christians don't follow the OT laws about not mixing wool and linen, and so on, is because the NT teaches we don't have to, not because we are denying inerrancy. Epic fail for the liberal agenda. Jun 30, 2014 at 1:38

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