Is the Bible Inerrant?
For someone coming from a background where the Bible was taken for granted to be "The Word of God", writing this is something i never thot would be required - to tell other Christians, including even Seventh-day Adventists, that the original Bible is indeed free from error in any form or manner. Sadly, there are many voices today in the church telling us that the Bible is "Imperfect Yet Trustworthy" 1 (SDA sponsored web site), "discrepancies we find in the Bible" 2 (Samuele Bacchiocchi), and "James took the text...and misused it" 3 (William Grotheer) etc. Some people may not see any problems with this view of the Bible, but this is in fact one of Satan's masterpieces in tearing down the Christian's foundation.

This study will be divided into 5 parts:
1. Poll results on how Seventh-day Adventists and other Christians perceive inspiration
2. History of official SDA position on the Bible with word definitions
3. Compare Ellen White's writings on this subject with what is currently taught
4. Why do many (most) Adventist scholars reject inerrancy in inspiration?
5. Conclusion - based on belief, and what future plans Satan has to destroy the Bible's influence

Poll results on inspiration

Doesn't everyone believe that the Bible is the unerring Word of God? "No - and what kind of Fundamentalist hiding under a rock type are you anyway?" is the usual kind of response to this question. So just how many people do believe in the Bible being perfect, unerring in all it says?

Biblical Inerrancy and Infallibility 4 :
"Historical support. What people believe, etc. What Christians really believe"
A book by George A. Marsden, "Reforming Fundamentalism" quotes a survey of student belief at one of the largest Evangelical seminaries in the US. The poll indicated that 85% of the students "do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture."

This book also lists the results of a poll conducted by Jeffery Hadden in 1987 of 10,000 American clergy. They were asked whether they believed that the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God in faith, history, and secular matters:
95% of Episcopalians,
87% of Methodists,
82% of Presbyterians,
77% of American Lutherans, and
67% of American Baptists said "No."

However, Christians generally are far more supportive of the inerrancy position. The Barna Research Group 5 reported in 1996 that among American adults generally:
58% believe that the Bible is "totally accurate in all its teachings"
45% believe that the Bible is "absolutely accurate and everything in it can be taken literally."

Support dropped between that poll and another taken in 2001. Barna reported in 2001 that:
41% of adults strongly agrees that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches.

They also published beliefs by denomination:
Above average: Pentecostal / Foursquare: 81%
Assembly of God: 77%
Christian, non-denominational (mostly Fundamentalist) 70%
Baptist: 66%
Seventh-day Adventist: 64%
Church of Christ: 57%

Seminary students, future pastors and leaders in the church, show very little support for the inerrancy of the Bible position. What does that foretell about the future of the church? Undoubtedly, just as the poll results show in the 1996 - 2001 time frame, the number of people believing the Bible is inerrant will drop. It is nice to see my own SDA church in the "above average" category, but sad to think that of every 3 people in the SDA church, 1 of them does not believe the Bible is absolutely correct in everything written in it. One other note about the poll - the denominations in the "above average" category are also those in the "above average" growth category. Is there a connection?

Short history of official church teaching on the Bible

For a little history of this issue in the SDA church, let's look at what the Church Manual has to say about the inspiration of the Bible. In doing this, we will need to define 2 words. First, let's look at the Manual's themselves. Here is what the original Church Manual said in 1932: "That the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, contain an all-sufficient revelation of His will to men, and are the only unerring rule of faith and practice. 2 Tim. 3:15-17." 6

The fundamental beliefs have been updated several times, and now this reads:
"The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.)". 7

The two words needing definition are:
1. unerring (inerrant)
2. infallible

American Heritage Dictionary
Adjective: Committing no mistakes, consistently accurate.

Adjective: 1. Incapable of erring: an infallible guide; an infallible source of information. 2. Incapable of failing; certain: an infallible antidote; an infallible rule. 3. Roman Catholic Church Incapable of error in expounding doctrine on faith or morals.

Notice that part of the the first meaning of "infallible" is "incapable of erring". Probably most people first think of this meaning when they hear this word. The 3rd meaning struck me as having a direct bearing on the question at hand - that is - a "limited" inerrancy. This form of inerrancy is limited to "expounding doctrine on faith or morals". It is with distress that i see this definition become the standard usage in the SDA church to explain how we should view the Bible. Because the word "infallible" is used, many people who believe in absolute inerrancy see no problem with this definition. But those who believe in "limited" inerrancy see the same word in a totally different light, one that limits the Bible to being inerrant only in major doctrines, but not in details such as matters of science, geography, and history.

Comparison of Ellen White's writings with current teaching

Of course Ellen White's writings are not above the Bible, but as an inspired writer, let's take a look at what she had to say about the Bible's authority.

The Signs of the Times 01-03-1878: "The character of the people before the flood as given by the unerring pen of inspiration is explicit." ST 04-17-1879: "In the providence of God the unerring pen of inspiration withheld not the mistakes and sins of good men." Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 07-10-1883: "All who take the word of God as their rule of life are brought into close relationship with one another. The Bible is their bond of union. But their companionship will not be sought or desired by those who do not bow to the sacred word as the one unerring guide. They will be at variance, both in faith and practice. There can be no harmony between them; they are unreconcilable. As Seventh-day Adventists we appeal from custom and tradition to the plain "Thus saith the Lord," and for this reason we are not, and we cannot be, in harmony with the multitudes who teach and follow the doctrines and commandments of men."

Above are 3 of the many quotes regarding the Bible as being "unerring". Yes, there are a couple of places where problems are mentioned in the Bible, but you will notice that both of these places have to do with those people who were (are) committed with transmitting the Bible, not the original writers. The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels (1858) chapter 19: "I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible, yet learned men, when the copies were few, had changed the words in some instances, thinking that they were making it more plain, when they were mystifying that which was plain, in causing it to lean to their established views, governed by tradition." And probably the most famous one among Seventh-day Adventists, regarding what is written in Daniel, Christian Experience and Views of Ellen White (1851): "Then I saw in relation to the "DAILY," that the word "SACRIFICE" was supplied by man's wisdom, and does not belong to the text; and that the Lord gave the correct view of it to those who gave the judgment hour cry. When union existed, before 1844, nearly all were united". Also, this word "sacrifice" is italicised in some Bibles, showing that the word has been supplied.

There are two very powerful statements regarding how the Bible was transmitted - R&H 01-22-1880:
"The scribes of God wrote as they were dictated by the Holy Spirit, having no control of the work themselves." GC (1858) chapter 30: "He who is the father of lies, blinds and deceives the world by sending his angels forth to speak for apostles, and make it appear that they contradict what they wrote when on earth, which was dictated by the Holy Ghost. These lying angels make the apostles to corrupt their own teachings and declare them to be adulterated. By so doing he can throw professed Christians, who have a name to live and are dead, and all the world, into uncertainty about the word of God; for that cuts directly across his track, and is likely to thwart his plans."

Twice the words "dictated" are used. What does Samuel Bacchiocchi, a "conservative" scholar have to say about this? (In answering someone who believes the Bible was dictated) "If that were true then the language of the Bible should be that of the Holy Spirit who dictated every word to the writers. Such a notion is discredited by the difference in style, vocabulary, and sentence construction among the various books of the Bible." And also: "Simply stated, their reasoning is that if God is perfect, the Bible must be perfect (inerrant) because it is the Word of God. This absolute view of inspiration, despite protests to the contrary, results in a "dictation" view of inspiration which minimizes the human factor." 2

And yet, despite protests to the contrary, the Bible, at least that penned by the apostles, IS dictated.

Why do many (most) Adventist scholars reject inerrancy in inspiration?

"What we know is that Bible writers did not passively write down what God whispered in their ears, because each of them uses his own language style and sources available. It is a known fact that many of the books of the Bible were compiled from older documents, history of kings, genealogies, and oral traditions. The fallibility of these sources is clearly reflected in the discrepancies we find in the Bible." 2

Some people think that dictation is something that God would not do, and they try to show how silly the idea is of God dictating something. In this they show their misunderstanding of what "inspiration" (breathed in) is, and they put themselves above God's prophets. In effect, they are saying, "we are better scholars than those of old. Let us determine for you what is truth and error. After all, we have degrees showing that we are the specialists". There is nothing wrong with a degree used for God, but so often it makes the holder think him/herself wise enough to pronounce judgment on God and his workings.

Is dictation only someone "whispering in the ear" and then someone passively writing it down? No, of course not. The Holy Spirit can so work thru an individual, that the words they write when under the Holy Spirit's influence would be the exact words that God would write if he would write it up in heaven, and toss the finished book down to earth. For reasons known only to God himself, using humans to get his message across is the best way to reach us. There are differences in writing styles and prose, because God has to use these books to reach ALL of humanity in EVERY age of the earth. The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy were not written solely for scholars from famous universities in the 21st century. This is the biggest problem i see with the whole "Bible has some little errors" position. People who hold this position are in effect placing themselves above the Bible and God's inspiration.

In a strange passage where Samuele Bacchiocchi is trying to debunk Biblical inerrancy, he shows his colors: "One will search in vain for a biblical passage that teaches that there are no inaccurate or misleading statements in the Bible. The reason is that its writers were not apologists or systematic theologians who had to deal with the modern critical views of the Bible that question its authority." 2 "Thanks to modern critical views of the Bible, we are now so much more enlightened on how there are small errors in the Bible" seems to be his tune.

Why this is "strange", is because in the same article showing liberal theologians are wrong in their interpretation of the Bible, he says: "The negative impact of Biblical Criticism can be seen in the increasing number of Bible scholars, preachers, and lay-Christians who have lost their confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible. While historically the Bible has been regarded as God's revealed Word, today liberal critics refuse to identify God's Word with the message of the Bible. The crisis of Biblical authority is a fundamental problem facing many Protestant churches are facing today" 2 .

Then why are you adding to the problem Brother Bacchiocchi? Because you have a reputation as one of the "most distinguished", "most influential", "conservative theologians" in the Seventh-day Adventist church today, does that mean you can redefine the authority of the Bible? How much further confidence drop are you willing to contribute to?

In discussing Mark 6:8) and (Luke 9:3) Samuele Bacchiocchi writes: "It is evident that the two accounts are inconsistent and at least one of the Gospels is in error." 2 Which one is it? Have i been misled all these years by one of these accounts? (maybe both???) I do not have any degree in anything except computers, so cannot tell my exegesis from my hermeneutics. Perhaps i should just leave the reading of the Bible to the pros...

Being on the front lines as a missionary in Japan, i can assure you that having a "mostly error free book" is a sure way to turn off prospective Bible students. Currently i know of an American missionary who is telling one of my friends who is studying the Bible, "the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not to be taken literally". My friend rightly rejects that advice, recognizing that this missionary is putting his so-called knowledge above the Word of God.

Just how deep has this "Bible has errors" thinking seeped into the Seventh-day Adventist church? Well, it wouldn't be strange for "liberal" scholars to believe this way, so i will give only one reference: Alden Thompson, theology professor at Walla Walla College. "As one who finds an absolutist approach to Scripture impossible to defend..." 9 . Most liberal thinkers do not think in absolutes, so of course the Bible itself is open to their "higher-critical" interpretation.

Why would "conversative" scholars trumpet the same tune? This article is written mostly as a response to Samuele Bacchiocchi's views on Bible errors, but in researching this, i was stunned to find out the the official church position is that the Bible is NOT inerrant. Here are some quotes from church officials. Please read them keeping in mind the Fundamental Statements of Belief, where the Bible has changed from being "unerring" to "infallible".

This is written of Neil Wilson when he was the president of the General Conference: "As Wilson continued, he described the church as standing at the crossroads. "We must go one way or the other. That is the reason for this meeting." He depicted the church as "largely conservative," but as not "extreme in its conservatism." "Adventism has always developed its own approach to Scripture. We have not adopted inerrancy, though some of our group may hold that view."" 9 .

In reviewing the book: "Messenger of the Lord (1998)" written by Herbert Douglass, authorized by the Ellen G. White Estate, and co-sponsored by the General Conference Department of Education and the Board of Higher Education, Alden Thompson writes: "Perhaps most importantly, in spite of lingering skirmishes, he has stepped away from inerrancy and infallibility. If the book can help break the stranglehold of inerrancy in Adventism, it could be a great blessing." 10 .

Larry Kirkpatrick, a pastor who usually stands tall for the truth writes: "The theory of inerrancy, which creates more problems than it solves and can force labored harmonizations, is not compelling." 11 .

Roger Coon of the Biblical Research Institute writes: "In inspired writings, ancient and modern, there are inconsequential errors of minor, insignificant detail. This is true of the Bible, as well as the writings of Ellen White" 12 .

Why has this happened? The progression from "unerring" to "infallible" (meaning some small errors) seems to be caused by the way Ellen White's writings are viewed. We saw earlier in this article that Ellen White wrote the Bible was "dictated". Yet it is true that things purported to have been written by her, for example, the preface to the 1888 Great Controversy, say the opposite. This little article is not going to delve into this problem in detail, but it should be remembered that the man most opposed to Ellen White, the chief editor at the Review, publicly said a committee of his was going to "remove the...imperfections" 13 . In any case, for many of us SDAs the slide from believing the Bible is inerrant, to being mostly free from errors, usually starts by questioning what we find in the Spirit of Prophecy.

Conclusion, and Satan's future plans

So which way should we believe? Is the Bible totally accurate in everything it says, or are there some mistakes and errors? It all comes down to a matter of belief. No matter what anyone says, no matter how many purported "discrepancies" there are, i choose to believe that the Bible is just what Jesus said: "the word of God" 14 . There may be some who would like to point out the errors to the one called: "The Word of God" 15 when they get to heaven, but i don't care to join them.

Is all this just an academic exercise, trying to prove who is right? No, you see, Satan is planning in the very near future to send his angels to speak for the apostles, and to act their parts 16 . Those watching and preparing for this almost overwhelming delusion will not be taken in when they see on the news where Peter, John, and Paul have appeared telling everyone that what they really wrote was a little different. That little difference will be the difference between eternal life, and eternal death.

What will happen to those who imagine errors in the Bible when the actual writers of the Bible (played by Satan's angels) appear and tell how they really wrote it? What foundation will they be able to stand on? If they have to qualify a "thus saith the Lord" with "except for small unimportant errors", how will they be able to stand? Satan's angels and all the world will riducule them for good reason - they've built their trust on an almost sure foundation!

May we build on the eternal rock, on the sure foundation, and be prepared to stand during the Shaking so we can give the Loud Cry with force and give glory to our lovely Saviour - Jesus Christ.

2 Biblical Errancy And Inerrancy Endtime Issues No. 102 - Part 2 19 August 2003
3 "Watchman, what of the night?" 9(03) p.5
6 Church Manual (1932) p. 180
13 Selected Messages Book 3, page 96
14 Mark 7:13, Luke 4:4, John 10:35
15 Revelation 19:13
16 1858 Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels chapter 30

Back to top
Back to home page
Go to EarlySDA site