Evangelicals/fundamentalists who believe in biblical inerrancy hold that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and contains no errors.1 This is typically understood to refer to the original autographs of texts that were written by or under one of the recognized apostles (twelve plus Paul).

There are a number of places in the Gospels where the words of the apostles are obviously wrong, such as when Jesus rebukes Peter in Matthew 16:22–23. This isn't a problem to the inerrantist, because the record is inerrant, not the content of Peter's speech.

Does anything change when we turn to the Book of Acts? That is, do those who believe the Evangelical/Fundamentalist view of biblical inerrancy also believe that the speeches made by the apostles are inerrant?

For example, an inerrantist would say that the Book of Acts is inerrant. Thus, Acts 20 is an inerrant record of a historical event (which happens to include a speech by Paul). But, does the inerrantist extend this and hold that Jesus definitely, without a doubt, said the things that Paul attributes to him in that speech?

Acts 20:35 (ESV)
“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Or is it theoretically possible, according to the biblical inerrantist, that Paul was mistaken, or even lying, about what Jesus said?

I'm not specifically asking about this passage, but more generally about all the recorded speeches of apostles in the book of Acts.

A great answer would cite inerrantist scholars who deal with this question. If there is disagreement among evangelicals, I'd like an overview of the positions.

1. For the purposes of this question, I'm referring to those who would sign the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

4 Answers 4


One way to demonstrate that, according to inerrantists, the apostles' recorded speeches are not necessarily inerrant, would be to find a speech that inerrantist theologians admit contains an error. At least one such example exists. In Acts 20:25, Paul speaks to the elders of Ephesus, and says:

And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. [ESV]

It's a matter of some debate as to whether or not Paul actually did return to Ephesus. If he did, that would perhaps indicate that Paul was mistaken. So how do inerrantist scholars deal with this verse?

The Moody Bible Commentary establishes itself as an inerrantist work in its treatment of 2 Timothy 3:16 ("inerrancy in both historical fact and in doctrine"). Regarding Acts 20:25, it reads:

Because Paul did not know exactly what would happen in the future, he told the elders they would never see him again. Paul did see the Ephesians again after he spent two years in Rome under house arrest; but at this point he did not know he would return to the area, so his concern was to prepare the elders for ministry in his absence.

Similarly, the Reformation Study Bible, whose general editor, R. C. Sproul, signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

Paul's statement was based on his own judgment of the situation rather than on divine revelation. [...] Paul considered it likely that he was seeing the Ephesian elders for the last time. However, it appears that Paul was later able to return to Ephesus after his release from prison in Rome.

Millard Erickson addresses the issue more broadly:

Stephen, in his speech in Acts 7, may not have been inspired, although he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Thus, his chronological statement in verse 6 is not necessarily free from error. It appears that even Paul and Peter may on occasion have made incorrect statements.

So when is a biblical statement considered inerrant? Erickson continues:

When, however, something is taken by a biblical writer, from whatever source, and incorporated in his message as an affirmation, not merely a report, then it must be judged as truthful.

Evangelicals holding to inerrancy have no issue with errors being reported by the biblical writers, even when such errors are spoken by apostles. Thus the speeches of the apostles recorded in the inerrant book of Acts are not necessarily inerrant. The biblical writer must directly affirm or teach a falsehood in order to contradict inerrancy.


According to biblical inerrantists, are the apostles' recorded speeches in the book of Acts inerrant?

There is a transition from disciple to apostle that involves many things.

  1. An apostle is sent by God.

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

  1. An apostle is a special position empowered by God.

2 Corinthians 12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

  1. The word “apostle” means one who is sent.

Apostle = apostolos = one who is sent ambassador, commissioner

An inerrant record of someone speaking as an apostle would record a speech that was also inerrant.

We do have a record when the speech of an apostle could be questioned.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.

Here even though Paul describes his words as foolish (boasting), he cites facts that should be considered inerrant.

The speech of apostles was to be directed by the Holy Spirit and thus considered inerrant.

Mark 13:11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.


As an Ecumenicist I deem myself still broadly Evangelical, howbeit my definition of euangelion has morphed significantly (in line with Israel's Gone Global). Over 50 years my impression is that the inerrantist (I factor in myself) would affirm that the record had God’s general editorship (a nihil obstat unmatched in world literature), that it included nonbiblical teaching (for example, "Curse God and die" in Job 2:9), and that the New Testament Letters were also inspired by him without error.

Genre criticism looks at a range of factors when it comes to applicability (see Fee & Stuart's How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth). Thus, when written, we'd hold no teaching mistakes, given their audience: reader response could still – perhaps mischievously – muck things up (Romans 3:8). Paul and Barnabas could fall out; Peter and Paul could fall out. But their teaching record was at one.

As to quoting Jesus, there were many more quotes in the public domain than the Gospels record, and the Gospels themselves probably toggle between the ipsissima verba and the ipsissima vox. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is a good primer on inerrancy, I think.

  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE! Thanks for taking the site tour. Thanks also for offering an answer. You've brought in some very good points, and made some general references to sources, which is good. Can you go further, and provide actual quotes from inerrantist scholars to make this the type of "great answer" requested by the questioner? For some tips on writing good answers here, please see: What makes a good supported answer? Meanwhile, thanks again, and I do hope you'll stick around. Oct 24, 2015 at 13:13

From your referenced Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, specifically because of the many scholars who signed it, I think the answer can be brought out with the following commentary and examples.

This concept/question doesn't only apply to Paul, but also to other characters (including Satan, often misquoting scripture--although as you point out, this means the record is inerrant, i.e. Satan really said it, but it does not mean it is true). The best example of this may be Luke 4, taking the time to compare the Old Testament Scripture misquoted by Satan. For an inerrantist, these concepts do not only apply to Acts, but to all of the Bible.

This article is a good summary for the Acts passage. You are getting close to the topic of inspiration, specifically "what flavor" of inspiration. I would point you to Verbal Plenary Inspiration (which is my personal perspective, also addressed in What is Verbal Plenary Inspiration).

From your referenced Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (PDF), I would highlight specifically Articles 8 & 9 (VIII & IX) in conjunction with Verbal Plenary Inspiration.

Long story short: not everything Jesus said was written down. The Bible and all its 66 books (not just Acts), carry the attribute of inerrancy. This leaves us at examining internal consistency, and the apostles' writings are held to be consistent with the rest of the Bible. For this, please also refer to the final two articles in the Chicago Statement, Articles 18 & 19 (XVIII & XIX), which express a vital concept: the full counsel of Scripture. The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible, and the high internal consistency marks a simple, general method by which something can quickly be deemed as in harmony with the rest of Scripture or not.

  • Are you saying then that the speeches of Paul in Acts would not necessarily be inerrant, and are only believed to be so on the basis on internal consistency with the rest of the Bible? For another example, consider Paul's different renditions of his conversion experience – could he have embellished the story in one of the tellings, or is that precluded by the inerrancy of Acts? Jun 6, 2016 at 5:39
  • Effectively, one way to think about it is "what really happened?" (history). The speeches are inerrant--they happened, as recorded, and that includes Paul's personality and personal understanding at the time, without negating any truth expressed in the experience (e.g. Verbal Plenary Inspiration and Articles 8&9 of the Chicago Statement).
    – tniles
    Jun 7, 2016 at 18:40
  • Another way to think of it is "what's the point?" (truth). The point is Paul's conversion recounts are consistent, rather than contradictory, with his experiences and the truth the Bible teaches. Bonus material for study: The Whole Counsel of God, which is arguably one of the best displays of the high internal consistency of 66 books with over 40 authors in multiple languages.
    – tniles
    Jun 7, 2016 at 18:43

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