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Can We Trust the Bible?

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(By Mark Fontecchio)

Can we trust the Bible?  This is the central question that surrounds the issue of inerrancy.  Merriam-Webster chooses to define inerrancy as, “exemption from error” or “infallibility.” This seems like a reasonable definition.  Applying this definition to the Bible would mean that it contains absolutely no errors.  Many people would certainly scoff at this.  As Charles Ryrie correctly tells us, “The question raised then by that definition is, what is error?  Can the Bible use approximations and still be without error?  Can a New Testament writer quote freely from the Old Testament and claim that the resultant quotation is without error?  Can a biblical writer use the language of appearances without communicating error?  Can there exist different accounts of the same event without involving error?” (Ryrie 92).  Ryrie demonstrates the need to come to a more precise definition of inerrancy, and then provides us with a better one, “The inerrancy of the Bible means simply that the Bible tells the truth.  Truth can and does include approximations, free quotations, language of appearances, and different accounts of the same event as long as these do not contradict” (Ryrie 93).  This is an excellent definition, but the inerrancy of the Bible does raise other questions, including:

  • Is this something that we can prove about the Bible?
  • Is this something that the Word of God teaches about itself?
  • Does it really matter?

bible-study Ultimately we must get our answers from the Word of God.  In Matthew 4:1-11 we have an important passage regarding inerrancy.  In verse 3 the devil said to Jesus, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matt. 4:3).  Take notice of the response of the Lord, “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”’” (Matt. 4:4).  Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3 and, “Its application originally was to Israel, but Jesus applied it to everyone and particularly Himself” (Constable Matt. 4:3).  By quoting from Deuteronomy Jesus made it clear that He recognized its authority.  More noteworthy to our discussion at hand, is that Jesus responded by testifying that man lives, “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  This takes us to the doctrine of inspiration.

Perhaps the most important statement in the entire Bible regarding inspiration is found in 2 Timothy 3:16.  It is there we read, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  Two important points need to be made about this verse.  The first is in regard to the word inspiration. The Greek word used is θεόπνευστος and means literally, “divinely breathed” (Strong 36).  The other word that we need to look at is Scripture. The Greek word used is γραφὴ and means, “writing” (Strong 20-21).  Understanding these words helps us to recognize exactly what the Bible is claiming; all the writings of God are God breathed.  This is often referred to as the plenary inspiration of Scripture.  It is not just the ideas or thoughts that are inspired; it is the very words themselves.

Going back to Matthew 4:4 we now see how important the instruction of 2 Timothy 3:16 is.  Putting these two passages together we see the teaching presented that all the writings of God are God breathed and that man lives, “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  This means all of Scripture sustains us, not just part of it.  If the Scriptures had errors, this could not be true.  Therefore, the only conclusion that can be made is that Word of God does not have errors, it tells the truth.  This is the claim that the Bible itself makes.

Another passage that answers our questions about these issues is found in Matthew 5.  There we read, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18).  This is a powerful and key promise from God.  This is why Jesus started with the words, “For assuredly, I say to you” (Matt. 5:18a).  He was calling attention to the significant truth that He was about to proclaim, “Jesus’ fulfillment would extend to the smallest Hebrew letter, the ‘jot’ (lit., yôd), and even to the smallest stroke of a Hebrew letter, the ‘tittle’” (Walvoord 30).  The smallest parts of a letter are important because they can change the meaning of a word.  The context of the passage is clear that in verse 18 the law is a reference to the entire Old Testament.  The promise of Jesus was that as long as this world lasts not even the smallest parts of the Hebrew letters would pass from the Old Testament.  All of the promises of the Old Testament will be fulfilled.  This should cause us to understand that the inspiration of Scripture extends all the way to the letters and words that the human writers used.  This strong assertion of inspiration teaches us that no errors have crept in from the men used by God to write down His message.  In other words, the autographs (original manuscripts) of God’s Word were written without error.

What does all this mean?  First, we remember that Scripture is unequivocal that God Himself is holy.  We read, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works” (Ps. 145:17).  Proverbs teaches us, “Every word of God is pure” (Prov. 30:5a).  This holy God breathed the very letters and words (in the original languages) of our Bible.  His holiness guarantees that by the process of inspiration the Bible is without error.

Why does all this matter?  These doctrines matter because if there are mistakes in the Bible then every doctrine that Christians hold to could be impacted by them.  This could even include our beliefs about eternal salvation.  Knowing that we can trust our bibles means that we can have confidence in the Word of God.  We can build our lives on the sure foundation of God’s Word.  Praise God that we can trust His Word, even down to the smallest letters!

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The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Constable, Tom. Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible. Galaxie Software, 2003.

Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh ed. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

Strong, James, S.T.D., LL.D. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible: Volume 1. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009.

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999.

Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible KnowledgeCommentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures: Volume 2. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983.


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