I have never researched but am very curious what views of Biblical Inerrancy did the reformers generally hold, such as Luther and Calvin?

I found these description about different kinds of views:

  1. Detailed Inerrantists

    • claim that a commitment to Scripture's inspiration demands that the original copies of the Bible be considered without error, factual or otherwise.
  2. Irenic Inerrantists

    • agree that the Bible is without error, but believe Scripture itself must determine according to its intent the scope of that inerrancy.
  3. Complete Infallibilists

    • reject "inerrancy" as a helpful term for describing the total trustworthiness of the Biblical writers' witness, substituting the word "infallible" in its place.
  4. Partial Infallibilists

    • believe that the authors' intended message is in error at points, but their witness to the gospel is trustworthy and authoritative.

I wonder where among these the Reformers stood, or under a different class altogether? I suspect somewhere between ① and ② but am not sure? If someone can provide references direct from the reformers writings it would be highly valuable to a good answer. The more detail the better, feel free to post a long answer If you have one. I will read it.

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    The guy you should start with is Francis Turretin. He is the "Father of Inerrancy" and comes in the late 1600s, well after Luther and Calvin. Simply put, at the time of Luther and Calcun, nobody really thought about the issue, because it was so obvious that the Scriptures were perfect. Criticism is the modern sense really is a product of the Enlightment. Aug 19, 2012 at 12:52
  • @Mike: When you say "Bible", are you referring to the Hebrew/Greek or the English translations?
    – user1694
    Aug 19, 2012 at 14:26
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    @Matthew7.7 - I mean the original scriptures in Hebrew and Greek. I think Affable already answered the basic notion, but I wonder if they had a slightly different view of what a 'fact' is. For example all the various ways the synoptic gospels describe the same events slightly differently. I always feel pressured to find how to do a 'Houdini wiggle' until I synthesize all the facts to prove no contradiction exists because I basically fall under (1) but I feel somehow they were not as stressed to do this. Maybe Affable is right they just did not sweat it as hyper literal attacks were not raised.
    – Mike
    Aug 19, 2012 at 15:03
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    @Mike: funny, possibly related story: I recently purchased 4 heavy tomes on the topic of "The lineage of how we got the Bible", thinking that reading them would strengthen my faith. I couldn't make it pass 10 pages in any of them. Then, I read Tozer's "Faith beyond Reason" -- and realized -- I don't care -- I accept that the key teachings of the Bible are accurate by faith; and am more interested in understanding the mysteries of the Bible than how we got it.
    – user1694
    Aug 20, 2012 at 0:42

1 Answer 1


Sometimes it is best to see a theologian in action to determine their view and attitude about inerrancy. There is a classical error in most of our Bibles in Matthew 27:9 where Matthew means to quote Zechariah 11:13 concerning the 'thirty pieces of silver' but it says ‘Jeremiah’. I have glanced at a few modern explanations about this and it seems sufficiently resolved under several theories, one of which the original did not have the prophets name and the error creped in by a copyist mistake. The Syriac version, for example reads only, It was spoken by the prophet, not naming any.

Alright but how would Calvin and Luther approach this when maybe this kind of explanation was not readily available?

Here is what Calvin said:

How the name of Jeremiah crept in, I confess that I do not know nor do I give myself much trouble to inquire. The passage itself plainly shows that the name of Jeremiah has been put down by mistake, instead of Zechariah, ( 11:13 ;) for in Jeremiah we find nothing of this sort, nor any thing that even approaches to it.Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke

This is what Luther said:

Jerome brings up the question why the evangelist Matthew cited this testimony as being from Jeremiah when it never appears in Jeremiah but in this prophet, Zechariah. Briefly, I have this to answer: the evangelists do not generally cite testimonies from the prophets word for word. They merely bring out the sense. This is what Matthew also does in the passage we mentioned above in chapter 9:9, where the prophet said: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.” Matthew cites this as follows (Matt. 21:5): “As it is written, tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, etc.” Here, clearly, the words are different. Yet nothing of the sense has been changed. Then, too, Matthew added (Matt. 27:9) “by the children of Israel,” which does not occur in the prophet This Matthew obviously did to explain that buying and selling and to warn that the children of Isarel were responsible for it. As to the fact that He cites the testimony as coming from Jeremiah, I have nothing else to respond than this common answer, that the prophet perhaps had two names or that in the custom of other evangelists, too, Matthew was quoting generally, without any concern for the name of the prophet. Augustine (q. v.) discusses this passage carefully, would not readily believe that the names of the books of the prophets were exchanged because of changed tittles. Then, too, there undoubtedly were with Matthew saintly and learned men, filled with the Spirit, who advised him that the Scripture which he cited was in Zechariah, not in Jeremiah. Admonished by their advice, he could have corrected that slight error, had he wished or had he thought it important. But there is no reason for us to bother ourselves with these and similar difficulties. After all, the life and sum of our faith do not lie in them. Those people who labor over nonessential matters of this sort are more than mad. Yet this is one thing which the prophets of our day try to do when they read Scriptures for the purpose of searching out texts like this which they can use as the handle and material of debate and controversy. In the meantime, they neglect the lifeblood of religion, when they ought to be performing this one duty especially—teaching a ruling Christ, This is something all the apostles do with unanimous agreement.

Conclusion: The reformers certainly believed in the inerrancy of scripture (as they usually make effort to resolve apparent contradictions) but they did not feel the need to resolve every little minute detail and fact and actually did not seem overly bothered if a small fact, unrelated to anything, was wrong. They seemed less obsessed about small unrelated facts compared to us. They did not seem to put their hands over the ears like Edward Much's famous painting 'scream' and think, ‘If we allow one mistake then who is to say that all is not a mistake, Oh boy, worry me, the sky is falling, what shall we ever do?’ I am not saying there are any mistakes in the original text, but I do wonder at times whether it matters. I think we could learn from the attitude of the reformers a bit on this one.

  • 5
    Calvin used winky face emoticons!?!? Wow, something new every day...
    – Caleb
    Aug 21, 2012 at 8:02
  • @Caleb - Ha ha, I never noticed that. I guess so.
    – Mike
    Aug 21, 2012 at 8:55
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    The most readily available theory I have encountered (for the Jeremiah vs Zechariah quote) is also the simplest: per Jewish belief, these two were contemporaries and they both could have said the same thing. Matthew (and others) would have at the very least received this by oral tradition. In other words: just because something was said, but wasn't written down, doesn't necessarily mean it was never said.
    – tniles
    May 27, 2016 at 0:47

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