A Few Comments on Biblical Inerrancy

We are obliged by faith to believe:
A. Scripture is entirely inspired by the Holy Spirit
B. Scripture is entirely inerrant
C. All the truths of Scripture have been preserved by the Holy Spirit

(A) and (B) are the infallible teaching of the Magisterium. Total inspiration is a dogma of the faith, taught by the Council of Trent and other Councils and Popes. And total inspiration implies total inerrancy, for God cannot be the author of error:

Seven Words on the Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture

1. Pope St. Clement I: “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them.”
[Pope St. Clement I, Letter to the Corinthians, chap. 45.]

2. Pope Leo XIII: “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 all the books which 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 co-exist 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. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican.”
[Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, n. 20.]

3. Pope St. Pius X condemned the idea that “Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.”
[Pope St. Pius X, Lamentabili Sane, ‘Syllabus of Errors,’ n. 11.]

4. Pope Benedict XV: “St. Jerome’s teaching on this point serves to confirm and illustrate what our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, declared to be the ancient and traditional belief of the Church touching the absolute immunity of Scripture from error: So far is it from being the case that error can be compatible with inspiration, that, on the contrary, it not only of its very nature precludes the presence of error, but as necessarily excludes it and forbids it as God, the Supreme Truth, necessarily cannot be the Author of error…. But although these words of our predecessor leave no room for doubt or dispute, it grieves us to find that not only men outside, but even children of the Catholic Church — nay, what is a peculiar sorrow to us, even clerics and professors of sacred learning — who in their own conceit either openly repudiate or at least attack in secret the Church’s teaching on this point…. Divine inspiration extends to every part of the Bible without the slightest exception, and that no error can occur in the inspired text….”
[Pope Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus, n. 16, 18, 21.]

5. Pope Pius XII: “they put forward again the opinion, already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters.”
[Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, n. 22.]

6. Pope Pius XII: “The sacred Council of Trent ordained by solemn decree that ‘the entire books with all their parts, as they have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old vulgate Latin edition, are to be held sacred and canonical.’ In our own time the Vatican Council, with the object of condemning false doctrines regarding inspiration, declared that these same books were to be regarded by the Church as sacred and canonical ‘not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author, and as such were handed down to the Church herself.’ When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the ‘entire books with all their parts’ as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as ‘obiter dicta’ and — as they contended — in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules.”
[Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, n. 1.]

7. Second Vatican Council: “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit….”
[Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, n. 11.]

Now, some foolish persons are of the opinion that only the original manuscripts of Scripture are entirely inspired and entirely inerrant. So they hold that errors may have entered Scripture, and truths may have been lost, in the passage of time as the text has been copied and handed down.

To the contrary, inspiration and inerrancy would be useless if it only applied to the original manuscripts, since no original manuscripts of any books are extant. Therefore, we must hold also that the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church has preserved all the truths of Scripture, without any truths being lost, or changed in meaning, and without any falsehoods being added.

The work of the Holy Spirit also protects Sacred Tradition in a similar way. As the truths of tradition are handed down, they are protected from corruption by God.

However, this does not imply that individual letters and words in extant copies are the same as in the original inspired manuscripts. As long as the truths are retained, the exact letters and words can be different. This is obvious from the fact that we can read Scripture in any language, and still attain to all its truths.

For more, see my booklet:
The Writing of the Gospels and Biblical Inerrancy

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to A Few Comments on Biblical Inerrancy

  1. John says:

    Some commentators have tried to water down biblical innerancy saying it only applies to faith and morals using wording from DV in Vatican II. Is their merit to this claim? They are basically saying that the Bible is not infallible in science, history, etc.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Magisterium teaches total inerrancy, and that inerrancy is absolutely incompatible with error of any kind. See the quotes in the article above. Inerrancy extends to every subject about which Scripture makes an assertion, whether in the domain of “physical science or history” or any other topic. It is heresy to say that inerrancy only extends to faith and morals.

      Vatican II: “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books 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.”

      The purpose of Scripture is our salvation, but this does not imply that only assertions pertaining to salvation are true. The claim of “limited inerrancy” in which only assertions pertaining to faith and morals, or to salvation, are considered inspired and true is contrary to magisterial teaching.

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