Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture – Absolute or Limited?

The Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture: Absolute or Limited?

By Bro. Isahel Alfonso

What They Did With God’s Word

Many Biblical Scholars today begun to doubt the absolute inerrancy of Scriptures. Most of those who hold the position that the Sacred Scripture erred in matters of physical reality and history abandoned the general rule of Biblical interpretation as laid down by the Fathers of the Church, that came down to us through Apostolic tradition. Higher criticism also known as historical criticism [1] is a methodology used by modernist and liberal Biblical scholars in order to bring out the full sense of a passage in Sacred Scripture. In the right hands, historical criticism is a valuable tool in proving the historicity of dogma, but at the hands of modernist and liberal Biblical Scholars it is detrimental to the Catholic faith. Pope Leo XIII, commenting on higher criticism of Scriptures said;

There has arisen, to the great detriment of religion, an inept method, dignified by the name of the “higher criticism,” which pretends to judge of the origin, integrity and authority of each Book from internal indications alone. (Providentissimus Deus no. 17)

Using the historical criticism heterodox exegetes set aside the theological and spiritual sense of Scripture and approaches it as an ordinary book that contains historical accounts. In using the scientific methodology of gathering historical accounts it does not consider miracles as historical event. Hence they conclude that the Sacred Scripture contains historical errors when it records miracle accounts (Resurrection, Virgin birth etc.) as part of history. To accept that the Sacred Scripture contains errors and denial of the historicity of miracles lead to a complete rejection of dogma. Fr. Raymond Brown who pioneered the historical criticism in Catholic Biblical Scholarship ends up in denying the virgin birth. In his entry to the “The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible” he said;

In terms of evidence, Is.7:14 currently has less important role in the discussion: first it is widely agreed that it refers to a conception in the eighth century B.C that somehow continued or supported the Davidic line of kings, rather than to the conception of Jesus, second, even the LXX [Septuagint] reading, “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son,” does not necessarily envisage a virginal conception, for the future tense may mean that a woman who is now a virgin will conceive; third, granted that in his infancy narrative Mathew himself probably added the “fulfillment citation” (1.22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23) to existing material, the citation of Is.7:14 did not create the idea that Jesus was virginally conceived but was used to illustrate it.[2]


Furthermore they also attributed error to the writers of the Sacred Scripture.

Isipin na lamang na si San Lucas na buong ingat na nagsuri upang lubusan nating matiyak ang katotohanang (Lc. 1:3-4) ay nagpakita rin ng maraming kamalian.[3]

Translation:

Think of it, St. Luke who meticulously and carefully studied so that we can know the truth (Lc.1:3-4) also shows numerous errors.

Kaya hindi na dapat ikabigla kung madiskubre man na maging si Jesus, na nagturo ng may kapangyarihan (Mt.7:28-29; 22:15-16), ay lumitaw na hindi pamilyar sa mga textong kanyang binaggit mula sa Lumang Tipan.[4]

Translation:

We should not be surprised to discover that even Jesus, who taught with authority (Mt.7:28-29;22:15-16) shows that he is not familiar with the passages He quoted from the Old Testament.

In order to solve difficulties in the Bible, they did not hesitate to compromise Divine inspiration by stating that it was the hagiographers who erred in writing the inspired text. On the first place how can the writers of the Sacred Scripture erred if they are inspired? This is a total departure from Catholic orthodoxy; we must rally for the defense of God’s Word.

Magisterial Teaching On The Inerrancy Of Sacred Scripture

In establishing the inerrancy of Scripture we must first prove that the Sacred Scripture is inspired by God. Inspiration thus means that God is the divine author of the books of Scripture, and this is why the Church reveres them as sacred and canonical.[5] The Council of Trent dogmatically defined the Inspiration of Scriptures;

These [books of the Bible] the Church holds to be sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by simple human industry, they were later approved by her own authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author and were delivered as such to the Church. (Dei Filius 2)

Decades after the Council of Trent new theories on inspiration arises. Some proposed that the scope and inspiration of Scripture is only limited to matters of faith and morals, and outside of these parameters the Scripture can err. Against this heresy on the inspiration of Scripture Pope Leo XIII reaffirmed the long held tradition of the Church that the Sacred Scripture whole and entire, with all their parts is inspired by God and free from all kinds of error (Faith, Morals, history and natural science.

But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose that he had in mind in saying it this system cannot be tolerated.(Providentissimus Deus)

Therefore anyone who is a minister of the word of God must above all accept the dogmatic pronouncement of Church on the Inspiration of Scripture. He must not limit the inspiration of the Holy Scripture on matters of faith and morals but accept that the Scriptures whole and entire, with all their parts are divinely inspired by God.

The Effects Of Inspiration

There are numerous effects of inspiration that are open to theological investigation. One is the canonicity of Scripture. But the most debated effect of inspiration is inerrancy, the belief that the Scripture is trustworthy and true, untainted by anything false, erroneous, or deceptive. This follows logically from the divine authorship of Bible if God is the primary author, and God himself is the perfection of truth, then all that Scripture claims to be true must be necessarily be true.[6] During the European Enlightenment Christian tradition on Holy Scriptures was seriously challenged. With the influence of Existentialism in Biblical studies heterodox scholars begun to proposed theories that are contrary to the beliefs commonly held by the Church about Holy Scriptures, such as the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, Historicity of the miracle accounts in the four gospels, the historicity of Genesis chapter 1-11, the belief that Adam and Eve are the precursor of humanity and the Gospel of Matthew as being the first Gospel being written. And at the birth of historical criticism these are no longer theories but have become the foundation of exegesis. Using the historical criticism beyond the norms established by the Church will lead to the rejection of the fundamental dogmas of the Church. Against this error Pope Leo XIII reaffirmed the ancient tradition of the Church in the absolute and positive inerrancy of Scripture.

For all the books that the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit. And so far is it from being possible that any error can coexist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God himself, the Supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.(Providentissimus Deus)

According to Catholic teaching on inspiration and inerrancy, the Bible does not make strictly scientific statements. Rather, when the writers of Scripture talk of the natural world, they speak either “figuratively” or “phenomenologically,” that is, according to the way things appear to the senses. References to the rising of the sun, for example, are not actual scientific assertions that insist the earth is stationary and the sun follows an ascending and descending course of motion. Such expressions are based on sense perception and common experience, and many are still used today. Saint Augustine, whose view on this was endorsed in modern papal teaching, holds that Scripture was not written to tell us about “the essential nature of things of the visible universe”. Thus, since the Bible makes no properly scientific assertions, it cannot be charged with teaching error on scientific matters.[7] Since it is now impossible for modernist and liberal exegetes to deny the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, they retorted saying that God as the primary author of Scripture cannot err but the writers employed by God to write down His words fell into error. Against this rationalistic approach Pope Leo XIII addressed this problem;

Hence because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write He was so present in them that the things which down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. (Providentissiumus Deus)

Pope Leo XIII said, “that anyone who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration, or make God the author of such error.” We must accept the declarations of the Magisterium regarding the Holy Scriptures in order to safeguard the orthodoxy of authentic Biblical studies. And if ever we encounter difficult passages in the Sacred Writings that appears to be irreconcilable with the rest of Scripture or might contradict history, we need not worry about it, but recall the words of Saint Augustine, “And if in these Books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”[8]


So what is their escape goat?

In spite of the constant admonition from the Church, liberal and modernist Biblical scholars continue to propagate their heretical belief about the nature of the Sacred Scriptures. During the Vatican II Council, Cardinal Konig of Vienna proposed to the Council that the teaching of the Church regarding the inerrancy of Scriptures must be modified. He proposed that absolute inerrancy of Scripture must be abandoned, and limited inerrancy must be accepted. However, during the deliberation of the Council on the schema of Dei Verbum Cardinal Konig’s proposal was rejected. The outcome of the deliberation is what is now written in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, which says;

It follows that the book of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.[9]

Liberal scholars when interpreting this passage from the Vatican II document Dei Verbum asserts that inerrancy of Scripture is only limited to matters that deals with our salvation specifically about faith and morals. However, they misinterpreted what the Council really meant. In response to liberal interpretation(s), it is worth it to quote Dr.Sungenis’ words;

The clause “for the sake of our salvation” was added precisely to counter the very idea of limited innerancy. A simple and unbiased reading of the context reaveals this. It says:

“…we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scripture. Thus ‘all Scripture is inspired by God…”

How much clearer could it be? It clearly says that:

(a) ”the books of Scripture” are “without error.”

(b)  the “truth” was “confided to the sacred Scripture.”

(c) “all Scripture is inspired.”

Do we see in any of those statements a dichotomy between what Scritpure says about salvation and what is not about salvation? No! It simply refers to Scripture at large, the whole of Scripture, with no separations or divisions into salvific or non-salvific portions.

Hence, if we read the statement of Dei Verbum in light of both its context and the traditional teaching of the Church, we understand that, all of Scripture was inspired to be without error so that it could serve as a firm foundation upon which we can know the truths of salvation. It’s very simple. In other words, Scripture is inspired and inerrant for the sake of our salvation. Everytime we open Scripture and read it we can be sure that its words are trustworthy, and each passage will relate, in one way or another, to our salvation, for we need all of Scripture to know all the truths about our salvation. The veracity of one passage is dependent on the veracity of another, and so on and so on.[10]


Dr. Scott Hahn clarified the disputed expression “for the sake of our salvation”, in his Catholic Bible Dictionary, Dr. Hahn said,

. . .in fact, it should be noted that the penultimate schema of Dei Verbum did refer to “saving truth” (Latin, veritatem salutarem), but at the request of numerous Council Fathers and the urging of Pope Paul VI, it was amended to read “truth” (Latin, Veritatem) alone, so that its scope would not be restricted by the adjective “saving” to matters of faith and morals and nothing beyond. The final and official wording of the Constitution thus tells us the purpose of inerrancy, not its extent.[11]

Both, scholars agree that the phrase “for the sake of salvation” does not imply the extent of inspiration rather it stresses the purpose of inerrancy of Sacred Scriptures. The Church is consistent in teaching the absolute inerrancy of Sacred Scriptures thus we are obliged to accept it entirely without questioning or doubting it.

——End Notes

[1] Historical criticism studies a narrative purporting to convey historical information in order to determine what actually occurred in so far as this is possible. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J, Interpreting The New Testament: A Practical Guide, page 85[2] Keith Crim, gen. ed., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, suppl. Vol., pp..940-941

[3] Araling Pambiblia Para Sa Mga Dinedebateng Katoliko, page 30, Nonoy Lopez

[4] Araling Pambiblia Para Sa Mga Dinedebateng Katoliko, page 31, Nonoy Lopez

[5] Catholic Bible Dictionary, Dr. Scott Hahn, pp. 383, Doubleday 2009

[6] Catholic Bible Dictionary, Dr. Scott Hahn, pp. 386-387, Doubleday 2009

[7] Catholic Bible Dictionary, Dr. Scott Hahn, pp. 390, Doubleday 2009

[8] Ep. Ixxxii., i. et crebrius alibi.

[9] Dei Verbum No.11

[10] http://bellarmineforum.xanga.com/663127989/question-80—instrumentum-laboris-re-scriptures-inerrancy/

[11] Catholic Bible Dictionary, page 389, Ed. Dr. Scott Hahn

5 thoughts on “Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture – Absolute or Limited?

  1. Is the Bible Infallible?

    The earliest surviving Bible manuscripts are dated centuries after the original authors, wide variations exist among surviving manuscripts, the question of which scriptural writings are canonical took centuries to define and is still disputed among Christianity’s oldest denominations, and the church was almost the exclusive “guardian” of scriptural records until the sixteenth century. Modern Bible scholars almost universally acknowledge that claims of an inerrant bible are indefensible,[19] and any regular reader of the Bible will inevitably encounter some inconsistencies. In spite of non-Biblical denominational tenets that the Bible is complete and inerrant, only 22% of Episcopalians, 26% of Catholics, 34% of Lutherans, 38% of Methodists, and 40% of Presbyterians in the United States believe that the Bible is totally accurate.[20] Nonetheless, many modern Christians still accept notions of Biblical infallibility.

    After passing through many hands, some with questionable motives, the Bible has come down to us with many differences among manuscripts and some internal discrepancies. Hundreds of Bible contradictions and errors, both real and perceived, have been cited by varying sources. To name a very few, did David destroy 700 chariots[21] or 7000 chariots?[22] Did Jesus baptize others,[23] or did he not?[24] Does God tempt man[25] or not?[26] Did Judas die by hanging himself[27] or by falling headlong,[28] and was the potter’s field purchased by Judas or the priests with the betrayal money? Which genealogy of Jesus is correct, that of Matthew[29] or Luke?[30] If “no man hath seen God at any time,”[31] why do the scriptures record that Jacob,[32] Moses[33] and the seventy Elders of Israel,[34] Isaiah,[35] Stephen,[36] and many others saw Him?

    Which Bible?

    Gary Amirault, a Protestant minister, wrote:

    “If you say, ‘I believe in the Bible,’ then you are faced with the question of ‘which Bible?’ … Nearly all Christian Bibles rely on the Jewish Masoretic Hebrew text for translating the Old Testament into current languages. How was it possible for the translators to produce an ‘inerrant’ Bible, when the ‘guardians of the so called ‘inerrant’ Hebrew text’, did not know the meaning of many words and passages? Unfortunately, the problem does not lie with the Jews lack of understanding of their own language, but with a false doctrine perpetuated by fundamentalists for many years. The Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy … They say the 66 books of the present King James Bible are inerrant, but they don’t tell you it lacks 14 entire books which were in the original King James of 1611. They don’t tell you the King James Bible has been changed many times in the last 350 years and there have been thousands of corrections!”[37]

    In a different essay, Amirault observed:

    “One of the greatest disservices ever rendered me as a Christian has been being given books, articles, audio tapes, etc. stating that the Bible is ‘inerrant.’ I have read and heard many messages assuring me that ‘the Bible’ is inerrant. Some of these sources qualify that to mean that the original autographs [texts written or supervised by the author] are inerrant, but considering the fact that we do not have any of the original autographs, the point of them being inerrant is rather moot. After all, how do they know they were inerrant since no one in any recent generations has ever seen them …”[38]

    The fact that so many translations of the Bible exist (over eighty in English alone) suggest that none of them are particularly satisfactory. It seems almost unbelievable that critics attack Joseph Smith’s Inspired Translation of the Bible — which corrects many glaring errors and contradictions in the King James Version[39] — while maintaining that the Bible is “inerrant” and that the dozens of widely differing Bible translations have no substantial difference.

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