The Bible is Not Sufficient or Inerrant

And your faith doesn't depend on your view of the Bible.

Many Christians see the Bible as the primary source for their religion. It's their source of knowledge, authority, even affiliation. Like an oddly ironic Christian sorting hat, your view of the Bible can actually place you in a number of different denominations. Many other doctrines can be mixed and matched, but if the Bible is the starting point, then everything else will be colored by how you see it and paint you into a particular corner.

For example, the three main branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism) all confess the inspiration of Scripture. Whereas other Christian groups that are not considered part of historical orthodoxy (like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) confess a more conditional inspiration. Which means that your view of biblical inspiration can determine whether or not most of the confessing church thinks you belong in the faith.

Other Scriptural views are less severe. Things like sufficiency and inerrancy won't kick you out of the kingdom, but unfortunately, they can break fellowship. While most of the church agrees that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God, some have chosen to exaggerate issues that are not only tertiary, they're irrelevant. Because when you take a closer look at them, you'll find that the only thing that sufficiency and inerrancy are good for is creating division.


The sufficiency of Scripture as a doctrine directly relates to authority. Protestants refer to their view of the Bible's authority as sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone") and it means that the Bible is their sole authority. This came as a response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of sola verbum dei ("by God's Word alone") which extended authority to church tradition, especially the words of the Pope. Anglicans created a bridge between the two by formulating theirs as prima scriptura ("Scripture above all") to acknowledge the value of church tradition while establishing Scripture as preeminent.

Sufficiency falls into the first camp, particularly evangelicalism. While sola scriptura simply affirms that all doctrine is subject to and determined by Scripture, sufficiency declares that Scripture is all the Christian needs for their faith.

The key proof text for this comes from Paul's second letter to Timothy where he says that the Bible is, "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." It should be noted that Paul never said Scripture was the only useful thing. All he was saying was that all of it is useful and that it makes us thoroughly equipped (which suggests that we can be equipped through other means).

Of course, evangelicals would never say that we're expected to figure all of this out on our own. Unlike Anglicans who say that tradition and logic inform our reading (Methodists also adding experience), evangelicals claim that the Holy Spirit illumines our comprehension of Scripture.

Support for this often comes from Jesus' words to his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide their understanding of truth. As true as that is, it conveniently ignores the fact that Christians who disagree both have the same Spirit. For this illumination doctrine to work, all Christians would have to agree lest they be resistant to the Spirit.

It's precisely that kind of circular reasoning that makes sufficiency less about God and more about us. It's a cheap way of hiding our faith in ourselves by claiming the consistency of Scripture and the guidance of the Spirit--both of which are perceived by us individually. No matter how much we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, using the Spirit to corroborate our clever hermeneutic is just another way of avoiding accountability.

Evangelicals would likely say that challenging the Bible's sufficiency challenges its authority, and they would be right. The Bible isn't our sole authority; the church is. Jesus literally gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter and gave the church final say in matters of discipline. Scripture is certainly imperative to our faith, but without the church, biblical sufficiency makes us think we can be self-sufficient. Only the church, made up of many voices speaking as one through the power of the Spirit, can keep our sufficiency in Christ.


Inerrancy is a doctrine closely tied to inspiration which affirms that Scripture is the Word of God and that it was actually in-spired ("breathed into") by God, not dictated. That means that human agency was involved on some level rather than God handing down thousands of stone tablets.

Of course, whenever humans get involved, we tend to foul things up quickly. Enter inerrancy. According to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, this doctrine claims, "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact." It's a way of reconciling the trustworthiness of the Bible with our malleability.

Proponents say that this idea comes from Jesus himself when he said that the smallest letter of Scripture would not pass away until all of it had been accomplished. Others would include his words about Scripture being truth, as well. Evangelicals are the only major group that affirm this doctrine in its strictest sense while most of the others affirm a more limited or historical inerrancy--meaning that the Bible doesn't err on essential doctrines.

The problems with this should be self-evident. If only the original manuscripts are inerrant, then the translations we all use every day are not completely trustworthy thus nullifying the need for inerrancy in the first place. Like most of God's people who aren't fluent in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek (or have access to thousands of papyrus fragments), we don't trust in the text itself; we trust in God's sovereignty over the translation process. What's odd is that, apparently for some, this trust doesn't extend to the transmission process. This is not only illogical, it's historically ignorant.

At the heart of inerrancy is the fear that if the Bible were found to be in error, then this would indict our perfect God as equally in error. So since God cannot mislead us, neither can his word. Except when he has.

At least on one, long occasion, God allowed his word to be "lost" to his own people. After the kingdom of Israel split, the book of the law (or the first five books of the Bible) was not consistently read. In fact, one writer even said that the Passover wasn't observed like it was during the days of Samuel until the reign of Josiah, over three centuries later.

To be clear, I'm not saying that the Bible is erroneous or that God enjoys tricking us. But I am saying that if we need to trust in the historical accuracy of the Bible to trust it at all, we don't really trust God. Inerrancy is just a sad way of dressing up that mistrust as trust in a God who doesn't exist. Because the truth is God has done exactly what that little doctrine claims he wouldn't do: allowed us to live in error.

Which brings us back to the church. Your faith doesn't depend on your view of the Bible, your faith depends on your view of Jesus. He is our primary source, not the Bible, and the church is his body using his Spirit and his word to exercise his will and keep his people on track. Sufficiency and inerrancy, on the other hand, make the church and God optional. And anything that makes God or his church optional is that which is truly optional.

Photo credit: Artondra Hall via / CC BY


  1. "As true as that is, it conveniently ignores the fact that Christians who disagree both have the same Spirit." - True story.

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