Inerrancy and Canonicity

by Elmer Towns

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Matthew 5:18


     There was a time when it was not known that oil existed in the Middle East in general and Egypt in particular. The story of the initial discovery is a remarkable demonstration of one man's faith in the integrity of the Bible.

     One of the directors of the company was a Christian who practiced reading the Scriptures. One day, while he was reading -through Exodus, one verse stood out in particular. He read concerning the mother of Moses, "And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink" (Exod. 2:3). Being an oil man, his mind went into overdrive when he read the word "pitch." He knew pitch was a byproduct of oil, and if a slave could find pitch in Egypt, there must be oil somewhere nearby. On the basis of one word in one verse, Charles Whitsholt was sent to Egypt by Standard Oil to find oil.

     The amazing accuracy of the details of the Bible also had a tremendous impact over a hundred years ago on a young English scholar named Ramsey. Like many intellectuals of his day, Ramsey believed the Bible was unreliable. Unlike his contemporaries, he set out to prove it. He traveled to the Near East to gather evidence to prove his point. As he searched and dug in ruins, he soon discovered the New Testament was extremely accurate even to the smallest detail. The lesson learned so impressed the young student that he entered the ministry. Even today, the works of Sir William Ramsey are considered by many as important contributions to biblical studies.

     Today it has become popular among some evangelicals to question the integrity of the Bible yet still to claim to believe it is inspired. The amazing accuracy and reliability of the Bible is the natural by-product of supernatural inspiration.


     As we look back into history, the great theologians and Bible teachers of the past didn't address themselves to the problem of inerrancy because inerrancy was assumed. But that has all changed. Today, the issue of inerrancy is one of the most important questions currently faced by Christians.

     According to a contemporary scholar, James Montgomery Boice, "Inerrancy states that what is inspired is also authoritative." Historically, Christians have believed in verbal inspiration, that every word of the Bible as it was originally given, in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, is inspired by God. By this they have assumed that every word was therefore accurate and authoritative, as the author meant it to be. The Bible is not deceitful or fraudulent.

     Today, some people are wavering, teaching that the Bible is inspired but that the part of Scripture which speaks of geography, history, and creation may not be accurate. Some critics suggest the Bible is inspired and accurate in matters relating to God and doctrine, but when the Bible speaks on science, it contains scientific inaccuracies. There are many good reasons to reject this suggestion.

     The Bible teaches inerrancy. Paul wrote, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter claimed,

     "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21). When New Testament writers quoted from the Old Testament, they considered they were quoting God. This is seen in one of the prayers of the early church. 'Lord, thou art God, who hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; who by the mouth of thy servant, David, has said. . . " (Acts 4:24, 25). The writer to the Hebrews wrote, "As the Holy Spirit said. . . " (Heb. 3:7) and then went on to quote David.

     Even while some New Testament books were being written, other New Testament books were already recognized as Scripture. Peter wrote, "Even as our beloved Paul ... hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:15, 16). Peter classified Paul's writings with the other Scriptures and in fact was saying Paul's writings are Scripture.

     Jesus testified to biblical inerrancy. Jesus used the Bible authoritatively during his ministry. When he was tempted by Satan to sin, three times he said, "It is written" (Matt. 4:1- 11). He appealed to the Scriptures to defend his actions (Matt. 26:54-56; Mark 11:15-17). He claimed the "Scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:34, 35). What he was saying was that "the Scriptures cannot be treated as if events never happened."

     Jesus believed every letter of Scripture was accurate. He taught "till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18).

     Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. The yod was the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Caph and beth are very similar letters, distinguished only by an extended line at the base of the letter beth. Many Bible commentators believe that Jesus was referring to these letters when he said not one "jot or tittle" would change a letter in the Hebrew alphabet much less a word. As far as Jesus was concerned, even the smallest letter of the alphabet or an otherwise insignificant mark distinguishing two letters "shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled." Had the Bible been originally written in English, Jesus might have said "not one dot over an i or one crossing of the t would pass from the law." Jesus obviously believed in inerrancy.

     In Exodus 3:6, God is recorded as saying, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Yet, these three men were dead when Moses heard this message from God. Jesus argued on the basis of the tense of the verb when he confronted the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection or life beyond the grave. Here Jesus said, "God is," not "God was." Even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead when God spoke to Moses, they had not ceased to exist. "God is their God because they are alive with him." For Jesus, not only the spelling of the words but the tenses of the verbs were important and inerrant in the Scripture.

     The apostles believed in inerrancy. Paul had no question but that he was proclaiming the Word of God as he wrote. He told the Corinthians, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). John referred to his writings as "the record that God gave of his Son" (i John 5:10).

     Concerning the Old Testament authors, Peter wrote, "Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Pet. 1:12).

     The writers of the New Testament claimed to be speaking by the Holy Spirit. This was in fulfillment of Jesus' promise to his disciples that "the Holy Ghost ... shall teach you all things" (John 14:26). When these men wrote, they were aware that they were speaking God's message, not that which they had themselves developed (Acts 2:4; 4:3, 31; 13:9; Gal. 1:1, 12; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:28; Rev. 21:5; 22:6, 18, 19).

     The character of God demands inerrancy- The real issue of inerrancy is centered in the character of God. Some who deny inerrancy will eagerly point out that the Bible is God's revelation, but they do not necessarily believe the Bible is completely accurate. But we recognize the Bible comes from God, and the perfect nature of God would make it impossible for him to write a book that was not perfect. God, because he is God, could not have produced other than an inerrant revelation of himself. If a choice is to be made, the Bible says,

     Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). Twice the Bible says it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). The divine attribute of truth is also ascribed to the Bible (Ps. 119:160; John 17:17).

     The argument against inerrancy today states, "God inspired the Scriptures but he included some things he knew were wrong because the people of that time thought they were right." There were times when God responded on the basis of man's understanding of nature. When Joshua prayed for the sun and moon to stand still (Josh. 10:12), he evidently didn't understand what caused the sun and moon to move across the sky. Obviously, it was the earth's turning that God stopped, which gave the appearance of the sun and moon standing still, to give Joshua a longer day to finish the battle. But this accommodation of God to man's understanding in no way lessens the inerrancy of God's Word.


     It would be foolish to try to argue that the Bible is a textbook of mathematics. Any reader would realize that it contains some arithmetic, but not a presentation of the science of mathematics. However, anything the Bible says about mathematics is reliable. Apparent numerical inconsistencies, such as the ages of certain Old Testament kings, are cleared up by treating them as different methods of counting rather than as errors. The same could be said about botany, geology, history, or any other subject. God's nature would prohibit him from writing a book to accurately reveal himself, yet use innovative data from history or physical science.

     Science and the Bible. There is no proven fact of science that creates an inexplicable problem for any verse of Scripture; however, some theories of science disagree with Scripture.

     But, as has happened on many occasions, after examination and testing, many of the theories of men have been prove false. More and more scientists are now accepting the biblical accounts of creation and flood as an accurate scientific explanation of the events that happened. Simple medical advances, such as isolating those with contagious diseases, washing hands thoroughly, and giving careful thought to diet, were all part of the Mosaic writings. Some argue the Bible is unscientific when idioms like the "sun rising" (Eccles. 1:5) or the "dew falling" (Num. 11:9) are used, but somehow the same critics fail to apply the same standards when the same phrases are used by meteorologists on television today.

     History and the Bible. Whenever there has been a conflict between the Bible and another document of antiquity, further study has shown the Bible to be reliable. The Bible was written largely by eyewitnesses to the events recorded in its pages (2 Pet. 1:16; 1 John 1:1-3). Most historians, like Luke (Luke 1:1-4), tried to uncover primary sources when they were preparing to write about historical events. Many of the passages in Scripture were written by witnesses of the facts. This should be proof enough of the credibility of God's Word, yet the eyewitnesses also had the enabling of the Holy Spirit by inspiration to record an accurate Book.

     Archaeology and the Bible. One of the strongest arguments for the reliability of the Bible is archaeology. Professor H. H. Rowley says, "It is not because scholars of today begin with more conservative presuppositions than their predecessors that they have a much greater respect for the patriarchal stories than was formerly common, but because the evidence warrants it."

     Another archaeologist, Sir Fredrick Kenyon, observes, "Archaeology has not yet said its last word; but the results already achieved confirm what faith would suggest, that the Bible can do nothing but gain from an increase of knowledge." As you read the writings of the archaeologists today, it is evident that a profound respect for the accuracy and historicity of Scripture exists in their minds.

     Prophecy and the Bible. Over 40 percent of the Bible was prophetic when it was written. Some Scriptures told of nations which would be judged by God, and they were judged. Others dealt with the future of individuals, and they too were fulfilled. Hundreds of prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus to save men were literally fulfilled during his lifetime. The odds of this happening by chance are 1 in 1023 or about the same as a blindfolded man finding on the first try a particular silver dollar thrown into a pile of silver dollars large enough to cover the state of Texas two feet deep. The following chart illustrates some of those prophecies fulfilled in Jesus' life.


1. Virgin birth Isa. 7:14 Matt. 1:23
2. Descendant of Abraham Gen. 12:2, 3 Matt. 1:1
3. Birthplace Mic. 5:2 Matt. 2:1
4. Miracles performed Isa. 35:5, 6 Matt. 9:35
5. Use of parables Ps. 78:2 Matt. 13:34
6. Resurrection Ps. 16:10 Acts 2:31
7. Betrayed by friend Ps. 41:9 Matt. 10:4
8. Crucified with thieves Isa. 53:12 Matt. 27:38
9. Prayed for persecutors Isa. 53:12 Luke 23:24
10. Gambling at the cross Ps. 22:18 John 19:23, 24


     Some religious groups today accept the Bible as one of their religious books but they also accept other so-called "revelations from God." We deny that any of these claims are accurate. The sixty-six books of the Bible form the completed canon of Scripture. "Canon" comes from "reed or measurement." A canonical book is one that measured up to the standard of Scripture. Today, books in the canon are those that are universally recognized by Christians on the official list of books of Scripture. Christianity accepts sixty-six books of the Bible, thirty-nine Old Testament books and twenty-seven New Testament books.

     Josephus, a Jewish historian during the life of Christ, testified that the books of the Old Testament were brought together during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus (464 to 424 B.C.) during the life of Ezra the Scribe (Neh. 8:1, 4, 99 14; 7:6, 11; 12:26, 36). H. C. Theissen notes:

     By the end of the second century all but seven books, Hebrews, II and III John, II Peter, Jude, James and Revelation, the so called antilegomena, were recognized as apostolic, and by the end of the fourth century all the twenty-seven books in our present Canon were recognized by all the churches of the West. After the Damasine Council of Rome A.D. 332 and the third Council of Carthage A.D. 397 the question of the Canon was closed in the West. By the year 500 the whole Greek-speaking church seemed also to have accepted all the books in our present New Testament.

     The early Christian church used four criteria to determine what books appeared in the canon. First, they included books that were written by apostles or an author in special relationship to an apostle, such as Mark, Luke, and James. Second, the contents were revelatory in nature; hence, apocryphal, (of doubtful origin) and pseudepigraphical (written under pseudonyms or anonymously) books were eliminated. Many such books appeared around 200 B.C. Third, the church accepted books that were universally recognized as Scripture. These were the books that were used in preaching and teaching. Finally, the books that were considered inspired or gave evidence of inspiration where placed in the canon.

     There are several reasons why these sixty-six books were included in the canon.

     The end of doctrinal revelation. God implied in Scripture that the giving of revelation would terminate and come to an end. By implication, those who added to revelation would be judged and those who took away from the revelation would also receive God's condemnation (Rev. 22:18, 19). This verse is integrated specifically to the last book of the Bible, and by application can be extended to all sixty-six books.

     God's wisdom anticipated the tendency towards corruption of his message, and he issued warnings against those who would "corrupt the Word of God" (2 Cor. 2:12). The same warning was given to those who "pervert the gospel" (Gal. 1:7). Any tendency toward heresy was also condemned by God, apostasy being that which took away from God's message. God warned in the Old Testament not to add to his Word (Prov. 30:6). The New Testament concludes with a similar warning (Rev. 22:18, 19). James spoke of the Bible as the imperfect [complete] law of liberty" (James 1:25), again implying a full system of doctrine. Since God warned that no one could add or subtract from his doctrine, we conclude that the revelation of God in the Bible is complete.

     Completion of the task of writing revelation. All the truth that God is going to reveal has been revealed. This means God will not add to the truth about himself that he revealed in the Bible. The task of revealing truth is completed. God began by revealing himself (theology proper) and ends with the doctrine of eschatology (the last things). Everything that man needs on every subject has been revealed, but this does not include everything that man wants to know. Since this revelation is complete in content, there came a time when Jude could say, "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). We do not need additional revelations from God, therefore the canon is closed.

     Prophetic office. Revelation was recorded by "holy men of God ... as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21). When Paul says that the church was built upon the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20), he was indicating that these two offices were recipients of revelatory truth.

     Acceptance by spiritual people. A message from God is recognized by people who have his Spirit. One of the criteria to determine the canon is its recognition and acceptance by the church. We believe that the message of God is spiritually discerned, and that only those who possess the Holy Spirit can recognize God's Spirit (1 Cor. 3:6-9). Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice and follow me" (John 10:24). In essence, God's people will recognize his voice in the written page and obey his commandments. But at the same time, they will recognize that certain claims to inspiration are false claims. While this is a subjective argument and will not stand alone, it will support the other arguments for a closed canon. There has been no large movement by evangelical Christians to recognize a new, inspired book.

     The acceptance of the Old and New Testament and the apparent indestructibility of the canon are additional arguments for a closed canon. When the Bible is read alongside its contemporary literature, the mark of God becomes even more obvious in its pages.


     There is no good reason for anyone to doubt the authority and accuracy of the Bible. The foundation of Scripture is the basis for Christian living (Matt. 7:24-27). And when the Bible is applied to the lives of Christians, it becomes a further source to demonstrate its credibility. Paul used this argument when writing to the Corinthians, "Ye are our epistle written in our heart, known and read of all men" (2 Cor. 3:2). People today will not recognize the Bible for what it is until they see it lived out in our lives.

     Mahatma Gandhi has been identified as one of the most influential men of this century.' This Hindu leader brought democracy to the nation of India. He was a man who had at one time seriously considered converting to Christianity. After studying Christianity and Christians, Gandhi is reported to have said, "I would be a Christian, if it were not for Christians." He failed to see the principles of the Bible lived out in the lives of Christians.


     Monday: Matthew 5:17-20

     Tuesday: John 17:9-19

     Wednesday: John 10:22-42

     Thursday: Matthew 12:38-41

     Friday: 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:3

     Saturday: Mark 7:1-13

     Sunday: Luke 24:13-29  

Taken from: What The Faith Is All About by Elmer Towns