Effects of inspiration : Inerrancy



 By Fr. Raymond Taouk



I. introduction.



1.    Thesis

·      The original texts : the inerrancy of the Bible follows from the nature of inspiration. The Bible is de facto and de jure free from all error. Providentissimus echoes the constant teaching ‘...and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true... And so emphatically were all the Fathers and Doctors agreed that the divine writings, as left by the hagiographers, are free from all error that they laboured earnestly, with no less skill than reverence, to reconcile with each other those numerous passages which seem at variance’ (Provid. E.B. 109, 112).

·      the copies : this inerrancy is directly attributed to the originals of the s. writers, but applies to the transcriptions (Massoretic text, Greek N.T.) and translations (Septuagint, Vulgate) in so far as they are faithful to the originals. These copies and translations per se do not exclude error, yet de facto by divine Providence they were preserved as regards their substance (Provid. E.B. 109).


2.    Problem.

·      The problems came with the progress of profane sciences (XIX-XXc.) which brought some difficulty to reconcile the absolute truth of the SS as affirmed by the Church Tradition, and some affirmations of things which seem contrary to the new data of sciences.

·      Certain Catholics rather isolated proposed then new principles for a proper solution. Mgr. d’Hulst, rector of the Cath. Institute of Paris wrote in the ‘Correspondant’ (Jan. 1893), and distinguished between the elements of faith and morals as inspired and the rest which would not be inspired. “Perhaps, the inspiring God, who could have prevented even in this case the material errors of the sacred writer, judged useless to do so... There are serious difficulties in maintaining the absolute inerrancy as a necessary effect of inspiration. If we abandon this, the most serious objections to the Bible fall of themselves.” 

·      Leo XIII reacts and writes the Encyclical ‘Providentissimus’. The Pontifical Commission of Biblical studies speaks of the inerrancy as a Catholic dogma.[1] Mgr. d’Hulst retracted his theory.

·      Following the condemnation of the theory of Mgr. d’Hulst, the liberal school had to find new principles of solution, which it did by the introduction of new historical genera, new theories  of historical affirmations and implicit citations (Lagrange, Prat, Hummelauer...).




ii. the fact of biblical inerrancy.



1.    Thesis : The absolute inerrancy of SS has always been accepted everywhere by the Church both in her ordinary universal Magisterium and her extraordinary magisterium. It belongs to the deposit of revelation and is definable as a dogma.[2]

2.    Magisterium 

·      Jn XXII considers one a heretic if  he contradicts the sentence of SS (re. the fact that Christ and the Apostles had material goods) (E.B. #29).

·      Clement VI demands from the Armenians to believe in the ‘doubtless truth of all the books of the O.and N.T. as given by the authority of the Roman Church’ (E.B. #31)

·      Leo XIII in Prov. (see above).

·      St. Pius X in Lamentabili (ppst 11 condemned). Pascendi, regarding the existence of errors in SS, ‘since the H.G. is the inspirer of the s.writers, and God the author,  this is equivalent to affirm that a useful or officious lie is attributed to God Himself’ (E.B. #273).

·      Benedict XV in Spiritus Paraclitus ‘Scriptura mentiri non potest’ (E.B. #450)


3.    The Fathers of the Church

·      In general ‘The Fathers of the Ch. have learned this doctrine [of inerrancy]upon the Sacred books and at no other school than that of OLJC’ (Bened. XV  in E.B. #463). ‘All the Fathers and Doctors were convinced that the SS ...were exempt of any error’ (Leo XIII E.B. # 109-112, see above). All of them prefer to confess their ignorance and their non understanding of a text than to admit an error.

·      St. Justin would never profer such enormity as to admit some contradiction in the SS.[3]

·      St. Ireneus idem.[4]

·      St. Augustine :If I would find in the SS some passage which seems contrary to the truth, I would not hesitate to believe either that the manuscript is falsified, or that the interpreter has not followed what was said to him or that I did not understand anything.’[5]  And ‘it is normal that there be no falsity from the Evangelists, not only the falsity proferred by lying but also the one which is given by lack of memory.’[6]


4.    S. Scripture : O.L and the Apostles simply assert the ‘Scriptum est’, e.g. Jn x 35.


5.    Theological reason. This is a necessary consequence of inspiration since God Himself is the main author, so that ‘to think otherwise is to lose the faith’ St. Basil. ‘He who would think otherwise would be a heretic’ (ST see above). Hence Leo XIII speaks of biblical inerrancy as the ‘constant and ancient faith of the Church.’  Hence those who would deny it would commit at least an error against the Faith, and others affirm that one would be a heretic denying a truth de fide divina Catholica (even if it has not been solemnly declared) .



iii. the specific contents of the sacred bible


1) Inerrancy of the original autograph only


·      The subsequent versions or copies are not ncssly exempt of error, since there can be some extra commentary incorporated, etc.

·      Even the Vulgate can have some defects and errors (even if it is faithful to the s. text on faith and morals, cf. CT), e.g. Lk xiv 5 (donkey for Vulg. or son for surer Grk vers.).

·      In any case, the judgt will have to be based on the sure and traditional critique.


2) dogmatic teaching


1.    There is certainly a progressive evolution of the Dogma. In the OT., the H. Trinity is only insinuated, the last ends were vaguely known to the Jews; the mosaic ceremonies which became abrogated by O.L. were similar to the pagan religious worships of the East;[7] the moral teaching is very imperfect to a Catholic eye.

2.    This evolution however is not a contradiction between opposite teachings. There can be found no dogmatic contradiction between the most ancient books of the Bible and the more recent ones. As a wise pedagogue, God did not reveal all things at the same time and revelation went on until the death of the last apostle. This revelation is mainly oral and not exclusively written. The moral law was developed as well as the dogma.


3) natural sciences and the bible


1.    S.Q. The rationalists drew up a list of the many ‘scientific errors’ in the SB, the creation of the world in 6 days, the hare considered as a ruminant; the earth seen as the centre of the world.

2.    In Genere

·      Providentissimus formulated the principle of solution to all these difficulties, since God is the author of the Bible, ‘Nothing can be found in the nature of things, nothing can be collected from the monuments of history, which would be opposed to the SS’. I.e. there is no opposition between the certain sense of SS & the certain conclusions of profane sciences.

·      consequences

·      whenever it is evident that the SS can and must be understood in only one sense, the opposite scientific conclusion is false.

·      whenever the SS can be understood in several senses, do not pretend one is true against the others.[8]

·      We must not affirm with temerity that a mere scientific opinion contradicts the SS. An opinion only probable today may gain quasi certitude with the scientific progress.

·      If a given interpretation of the Bible is admitted by the exegetes, and later on is proved false by scientific investigation, the falsity was not on the part of SS, but of the human ignorance  ‘non hoc habebat divina Scriptura, sed hoc senserat humana ignorantia.’[9]


3.    Principles of solutions laid down by Leo XIII following St. Aug. The sacred writers

·      ‘did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature’[10].

·      ‘described and dealt with things in a more or less figurative language’ i.e. they made use of comparisons taken from nature to illustrate spiritual doctrines.

·      ‘used terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are daily used to this day,’ i.e. they gave a popular account of the events accommodated to the intelligence of their auditors.[11]


4.    Application

·      narration of Creation (Gen 1) is interpreted by the B. Commission (E.B. 338) : “the intention of the author was not to teach us scientifically the intimate constitution of things visible or the complete order of Creation, but rather to give the people a popular relation, as common language had it in that time, accommodated to the sentiments and comprehension of men.”

·      Hence, we can easily explain the creation of light in the first place, darkness and light considered as distinct realities; the sky considered as a vault above which are the upper waters vs. the lower waters of the sea; the naming of diverse plants following the knowl. of the gardener, and of animals following that of a shepherd, the days (whatever the meaning of yôm) are set in a practical frame (7 as days of the week, 6 days of work as the discipline of the Law, and the seventh given to the Sabbath).


4) historical events and the bible


1.     Is everything mentioned in the SS truly historical, esp. facts of profane history?


2.    Positions

·      Broad school : Lagrange, Prat, Von Hummelauer affirm the possibility of hist. error, given that the hagiographer was not intending to teach history. They explain that the hagiographers speak of 1º ‘history according to the appearances’, or 2º they introduce new literary genera; or 3º they have recourse to the ‘implicit citations’ not approved clearly by the s. writer.

·      traditional school (Billot, Delatte, Funck)


3.    Thesis : The Bible contains a historical teaching in which there is no error.[12]

·      to deny it would give a mortal blow to the Bible since a great number of hist. facts are so closely knit to the Jewish or Christian religion that one could not put them in doubt wo doubting the nature of these 2 religions. Dogma and history are stms so united that they are inseparable, e.g. the Passion and Resurr. of O.L.

·      History is easy to grasp for anyone, unlike science; archeology proved to us the superiority of Hebrews.

·      the point of view of the old historiographer, unlike the modern historian who tries to have a perfect list of details, is to give the great lessons from the dust of the events dealt with, ‘when some like to object that the s. writers departed from the hist. fidelity or narrated stg with little exactness, we see that these are only ways of speech or of narrating customary among the ancients... and that they were licitly and commonly employed’[13].

·      the ‘errors’ set against the SS come from the fact that the texts have not been properly understood. Often, what was thought to be erroneous proved true with the archeol. discoveries, some real errors on details come from copyists. Often the oppositions betw. the text of the Bible and profane documents are oppositions only betw. the exegets and the documents (cf. Biblical chronology).


4.    a false interpretation, the method of the hist. appearances. Some of the broad scholars base this method on the text of Leo XIII speaking of the sciences ‘this method will help if it is transferred to other cognate disciplines, part. history’ (E.B. # 108),

·      Critique :  but this transition never meant to apply the method of appearances to biblical history. What the Pope meant was that hist. difficulties must be resolved in the same way wo restraining the extent of inspiration and inerrancy.[14]

·      However to say that the SS does not contain any allegory or parable would be false (c/f decree of B. Commiss. 23 June 1905). The Fathers themselves showed the way, acknowledging the anthropomorphisms of Genesis which could not be taken in their proper literal sense.[15]


5.    Is Inspiration compatible with the literary genera? Yes,except those which would be irreconcilable with the absolute and perfect veracity of the divine word.’[16]   Thus:

·      The fable, if recognized as such, does not induce into error. The determination of the literary gender of any given book will be done with a prudent critique ‘with a careful study of the ancient oriental literatures.[17]

·      parable : it is not as such impossible that such passage or book be classified as a parable or poetry.[18]

·      prophecy is not history properly speaking, but one must carefully distinguish what is the essential element of prophecy from what is symbolic only. It would a gross countersense to interpret our prophetical books as history composed prior to the event.

·      Many things in Genesis and later hist. books were derived (possibly) from traditions handed down for generations by families. But it is entirely false to claim that these traditions were necessarily mixed with fabulous additions. The history of primitive peoples demonstrates the possibility of traditions being handed down for many generations uncorrupted. The Hebrew traditions were faithfully handed down by a special divine Providence. And nowhere do the s. writers indicate that they were merely writing popular traditions and not objective reality.


6.    implicit citations : inerrancy applies only to the assertions of the s. writer as such. “All those things which the hagiographer asserts, enunciates, insinuates, must be accepted as asserted, enunciated or insinuated by the H. Ghost[19]. What of the sources or documents used by the s. writers?  What of the implicit citations or sources?  There can be as such 2 types of truth re. a citation itself (veritas citationis) or truth re. the thing cited or objective truth (veritas rei citatae). The biblical inerrancy demands at least the veritas citationis if not the veritas rei citatae.

·      explicit citation. Regarding the veritas rei citatae, sometimes, the s.writer reproves positively the words he uses [20]; sometimes he approves it and then it must be held as true.[21] Often, he does not give his appreciation.[22]

·      The citations of the O.T. in the N.T. are usually taken from the Septuagint version, which is an authentic version (like the Vulgate, i.e. exempt from dogmatic errors and substantially in conformity with the original), which is sometimes different from the original text.

·      implicit citations can be recognized after examination of the s. text and its comparison with other texts.[23]  Applied too broadly, the theory of the implicit citations is a solution more dangerous than sure : it would diminish the guarantee of the inspiration of historical books and bring suspicion on all the narrations of the Bible. Generally speaking, the s. writer accepts his sources as true, and thus takes the responsibility of what is affirmed.



[1]It declares, founded on this dogma, that the Apostle St. Paul has always spoken correctly of the Parousia ‘utrum prae oculis habitis... dogmate catholico de inspiratione et inerrantia sacrarum Scripturarum’  E.B. #433.

[2]ST in Quodlib XII q.16, 26 ‘It must be held that everything which is contained in the SS is true, and he who would think otherwise would be heretic, ‘alias qui contra hoc sentiret esset haereticus’. And even more concisely ‘Scripturae enim divinae a Spiritu Sancto traditae non potest subesse falsum--Nothing false can exist in the SS given by the H.G.’ (De Pot. iv, 1 ad 6).

[3]Dial .c. Tryph (Rouet de Journel, # 138).

[4]Adv. Haer. II # 28.

[5] ‘nihil aliud quam vel mendosum esse codicem, vel interpretem non assecutum esse quod dictum est, vel me minime intellexisse non ambigam’  Ep. 82, P.L. xxxiii 277.

[6]P.L. xxxiv col. 1091

[7]the resemblance found with the Eastern religions is only material. The spirit and the finality of the mosaic practices were quite different.

[8]ST I 68 1 follows St. Aug De genesi ad litt I c.18; PL XXXIV 260, saying that when there are several interpretations we should not hold to one as the only sense, lest the SS be derided by the infidels and lest we close them the way to the true faith.

[9]St. Aug. De Gen. ad litt I 19,38

[10] Leo XIII ‘Scriptor sacer ea secutus est quae sensibiliter apparent’. Cf  St. Aug. Gene ad lit II 9. Lusseau I p 196 : “We do not read in the Gospel that Our Lord said ‘I send you the Holy Ghost, who will teach you about the course of the sun and of the moon.’ He wanted to make them Christians, not mathematicians.” Baronius said:  ‘Deus non docuit nos quomodo it caelum sed quomodo itur ad caelum’;

[11]Bened. XV in Spir. Par. explains this clearly “sound philosophy has this for certain that the senses do not deceive in the immediate perception of things, and thus by describing the natural phenomena accdg to appearances, the s. writers were not deceived : they say the truth although their language is not properly scientific.” Eg. we distinguish betw. truth accdg to appearances and real fact when speaking of ‘the sun rises’, but not when we say ‘Queen Elisabeth visited Australia in 1999’. See Renier, p. 69, #3; cf. Lusseau p. 191 ff.

[12]Bened XV in Spiritus Paraclitus Dz 2186.

[13]Pius XII Divino Afflante AAS 1943, p.316.

[14] Bened. XV also protests against the confusion some make betw. history and science : sc. can be object of improper writing since the hag. would write about the phenomena as he sees them, history is about h. facts (Dz 2187).

[15]E.g. St. Greg. Nazianzum does not admit the reality of the tunics of skin which God would have made for Adam and Eve.

[16] Spiritus Paraclitus Dz 2188.

[17]Divino Affl Spiritu. Only 2 fables are known in SS : Judges 9, 8-15; IV Kings 14, 9.

[18]In the book of Job, written in verses, not all details are historical. Some exegets thought they could  deny the historicity of Tobias, Judith and Esther, but the B. Comm. 23 June 1905 : the presumption is for the historical style, proof of the contrary must be brought forward.

[19]Bibl. Comm 18-vi-1915, E.B. #420.

[20]Jer xxviii proclaims the falsity of the false prophets.

[21]Titus I 12-13.

[22]Act vii 15-16 referring to Gen. xxxiii 19 : St Sephen was inspired by the H.G. not ad scribendum, but ad loquendum (similar insp. given to the CC  which preserves it from errors in its definitions).

[23]IV Kings xviii-xx reproduces Is xxxvi-xxxix. Maybe many genealogies too are implicit citations.