Unlimited vs. Limited Inerrancy
Unlimited inerrancy affirms that the Bible is true on whatever subject it speaks on—whether it is redemption, ethics, history, science, or anything else. Limited inerrancy affirms that the Bible’s inerrancy is limited to redemptive matters.
Unless otherwise noted, when we use the word “inerrancy” in this website, we mean inerrancy as understood by the ETS framers and defined by the founders of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI), namely, what is called total or unlimited inerrancy. The CSBI defines inerrancy as unlimited inerrancy, whereas many of ETS participants believe in limited inerrancy.
The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), the largest of any society of its kind in the world, with some 3000 members, began in 1948 with only one doctrinal statement: “The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.” After a controversy in 2003 (concerning Clark Pinnock’s view) which involved the meaning of inerrancy, the ETS voted in 2004 to accept “the CSBI as its point of reference for defining inerrancy” (Merrick, 311). It states: “For the purpose of advising members regarding the intent and meaning of the reference to biblical inerrancy in the ETS Doctrinal Basis, the Society refers members to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978)” (see J. Merrick, 311). So, for the largest group of scholars believing in inerrancy, the officially accepted definition of the term “inerrancy” is that of the CSBI.
We, like the CSBI, support unlimited or total inerrancy, declaring: “The holy Scripture…is of divine authority in all matters upon which it touches” (A Short Statement, 2). Also, “We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Art. 12). It further declares that: “The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own” (A Short Statement, 5, emphasis added).
Unlimited inerrancy has been the historic position of the Christian Church down through the centuries (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church, Moody). Thus, the history supporting the doctrine of inerrancy is supporting unlimited inerrancy.
View of Unlimited Inerrancy
View of Limited Inerrancy
|True in both whole and parts||Truth in the whole but not in the parts|
|True spiritually and scientifically||True spiritually but not always scientifically or historically|
|True in what it intends and affirms||True in what it intends, not in all it affirms|
|Truth is found in correspondence||Truth is found in intention|
|Consistent use of correspondence||Inconsistent use of correspondence|
|Divine adaptation to finitude||Divine accommodation to error—especially when they utilize pagan literature and genre criticism|
|No errors of any kind in the Bible||No major or redemptive errors in the Bible|
|All mistakes are errors||Only intentional mistakes are errors|