The Nature of the Bible

Christians are people of “the Book.” What is more, Christians believe that this book is essential for all of life. Life can’t be lived without its message. So, we are thankful that God, in due time, inscripturated His Word, that is, the eternal God had them committed to writing “for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world.”[1] To draw the point more fixedly, a professional golfer lives his professional life by The Official Guidebook to the Rules of Golf but they do not affect his marriage or parental skills. The Bible, on the other hand, is a rule for faith and life.

So, it is important for us to ask about the nature of this Book.  How does a Christian describe it? There are three terms often used to describe the nature of the Bible. Those words are infallible, inerrant and authoritative. It will be helpful to spend a minute on each. Notice, that the first two words, infallible and inerrant, have in- prefixed which means “not” or “the opposite of.” Thus, the prefix tells us that the Bible is “not” fallible and “not” errant. 

Now, if we are going to say something is “not” something we had better know what that something is!  So, what does fallible mean?  Fallible (fallibilis)means “liable to err or to deceive.” Thus, to be in-fallible means “not liable to err” or the opposite of deceive, which is why we might describe the Bible as true. But what of inerrant? Well, what does errant mean? Perhaps you will remember Cervantes’s colorful character, Don Quixote? He was a knight-errant! He was a wandering knight.  We might describe him as a vagrant!  And so, in-errant means not wandering. Obviously, the logical question is, not wandering from what?  The answer is not wandering from the truth. So, the Bible is truthful (not liable to err) and it does not wander from the truth that it teaches.

For a while, some scholars thought it necessary to argue that inerrancy was an American invention, which they called the American Inerrancy Tradition (AIT).  However, it is interesting to point out that there is very little difference between these two words.  In fact, the Oxford English dictionary defines infallible as incapable of erring. Can anyone say, inerrant?  What is more, all one needs to do is take a stroll through the writings of church history to discover that the two words were used interchangeably or that infallible was doing the duty of both.  In other words, infallible was understood to be true and not liable to err. 

The final word used to describe the Bible is authoritative. Everyone knows what authoritative means. Something is authoritative because it comes from an authority! The word and its variants contain the idea of finality. Imagine a book club meeting.  On the evening of their discussion of a particular book, the author of the book under discussion decided to attend.  Now, the members of the group may mull over any number of questions arising from the book.  However, if the author offered a correction or an interpretation of his own words who would dispute him? He would know.  He is the authority. Consequently, Christians understand that God’s word is the authority because it is His word. He is the final authority.

Now, if the Author of our life and salvation has spoken, why wouldn’t we consult His word? Imagine you were a mountaineer who wanted to climb a mountain that, thus far, had not been summitted.  In your preparations, you discovered someone who had made the attempt! And they gave you some words of counsel regarding what to do, not to do and where to go and not go.  Would you ignore them?  Likely not.  How much more ought we to heed the words of Scripture given to us for our good from the Author of our salvation?

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth ( an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 


[1] Westminster Confession of Faith 1.1.


Jeffrey Stivason