More Foundation articles from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.


by Rev. David Blunt

In the previous article the subject of biblical inspiration was covered - its need, fact, extent and consequences. In this companion article another concept associated with the Bible - infallibility - is briefly looked at. In order to make progress in our understanding of Scripture we must receive it as is - the faithful Word of God. May we all be brought by the Holy Spirit to that conviction which is necessary for salvation and for service, namely, that the Holy Scriptures in all their parts are indeed "the oracles of God."

Published in thePresbyterian Standard, Issue No. 19, July-September 2000.

"The scripture cannot be broken" - John 10:35.

I N his book on the Shorter Catechism published last century the Rev. Robert Steel provides the following anecdotes - among many others - which help to illustrate the proper regard we should have for the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God written:

"A motion was once made in the English Parliament to raise and embody the militia; and, in order to save time, to exercise them on the Sabbath. When the motion was about to pass, an old gentleman rose up and said, 'Mr. Speaker, I have one objection to this, - I believe in an old book called the Bible.' The members looked at one another, and the motion was dropped."

"In the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, during a cold age, one of the members asked what right had they to send missionaries among the heathen. Dr. Erskine rose up and said, 'Moderator, reach me that Bible;' and he read Christ's command in Matthew 28:19,20."


To be "infallible" is to be reliable, to be certain and sure. When our Lord said to the Jews who were threatening to stone Him, "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), He was in fact affirming the infallibility of the Old Testament, and, by implication, of the whole Bible. He did not say "this scripture cannot be broken," referring to the particular verse in Psalm 82 which He had just quoted, but "the scripture," meaning the whole canon. The word "broken" might be rendered in a literal way "loosed." A believer may break God's law by transgressing it and yet retain his respect and love for that law. The unbeliever though 'looses' himself in his mind from the law of God; to him it has no force, it is not binding, for he does not believe it, just as he does not believe in its Author. In God's account however the Scripture is 'unbroken', binding upon all: men are bound to obey it, as it will witness against them in the Judgment Day. It is "the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God."

Although the terms "infallibility" and "inerrancy" are often used interchangeably it is possible to make a distinction between them. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of twenty years ago, drawn up by assorted evangelicals, included the following definitions:

"Infallible signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable guide in all matters.

Similarly,inerrant signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistakes and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions."

The sum of the foregoing is this: inerrancy is that quality of the Bible which means that it iswholly true ; infallibility is that quality of the Bible which means that it iswholly trustworthy. It can be seen that the latter really depends upon the former - and that both are the inevitable consequence of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

Character of God

We believe, as the Shorter Catechism teaches, that God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in all His attributes, including His truth. He is "the true God" (Jer. 10:10) and He is "abundant in goodness and truth" (Exod. 34:6). It is expressly said that God "cannot lie" (Tit. 1:2; cf. Num. 23:19, 1 Sam. 15:29). This is an obvious presumption in favour of the belief that the Word to which His name is so constantly attached is itself wholly true and trustworthy.

The divine perfection of truth or truthfulness means that God is true firstly to Himself, in that He always brings to pass what He has purposed in His eternal counsel. In the second place it means that God is true to His creation, in that He always fulfils the promises He has made to the work of His hands. Never can we say that the Lord has not kept His word to us! He is ever faithful in His acts of providence. We think of that great promise respecting the world, made millennia ago and fulfilled each year: "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease" (Gen. 8:22). We think moreover of the promises made to His people for their comfort: "The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name" (Psa. 111:7-9). God is unerring in His providence.

Biblical Basis

The truthfulness of God is most clearly displayed in the Scriptures, for "thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (Psa. 138:2). Scripture is the mouthpiece of God; the two Testaments are the two lips by which the Holy Spirit speaks to men. Thus we have statements such as the following: "this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake" (Acts 1:16; cf. 28:25; Heb. 3:7). By inspiration God secured that all that the human penmen of the Bible wrote was true, although not all in the same way. We read sublime utterances about Christ and His saving work and rejoice in the truth of these. But we may also read the words of wicked men like the high priest who said of Christ, "He hath spoken blasphemy" (Matt. 26:65). Clearly these are not true in the same sense. The first is objectively true; the second is true only in that it is a faithful record of what a man said amiss.

When God by His Spirit placed His chosen words in the minds and mouths of His chosen instruments He did not then abandon those precious words, entrusting them thereafter to fallible men. He continued to superintend them in His providence through the dictation, writing, copying and translation processes which were necessary to bring His truth to the world. The Lord Jesus Himself assures us: "My words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). So the church has always confessed her confidence in "the Scripture of truth" - as for example in these words from the Formula Consensus Helvetica, the doctrinal standard of the Swiss Reformed Church which Francis Turretin helped to compose:

"God, the Supreme Judge, not only took care to have His word, which is the 'power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth' (Rom. 1:16), committed to writing by Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles, but has also watched and cherished it with paternal care over since it was written up to the present time, so that it could not be corrupted by craft of Satan or fraud of man. Therefore the Church justly ascribes it to His singular grace and goodness that she has, and will have to the end of the world, a 'sure word of prophecy' and 'Holy Scriptures' (2 Tim. 3:15), from which, though heaven and earth perish, 'one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass' (Matt. 5:18)."

In the Scriptures we find the veracity of the divine promises to saints and threatenings to sinners asserted by both God and men, e.g. 1 Kings 8:56; Jer. 4:28; 2 Cor. 1:20. All these most surely come to pass, having their ultimate fulfilment at the return of Christ and the last judgment.


There have of course been many attempts to allege and to actually demonstrate inconsistencies in the Bible. Men have found fault with its morality, its history, its science. All such attempts have failed and are bound to fail. The Bible is an anvil which has worn out many hammers; it is a rock which has proved impregnable against all the winds and waves of unbelieving criticism.

The great design of the Bible is revealed in 2 Timothy 3:17: "That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." It is perfectly suited to that end, although it is not a complete textbook on every discipline that must be acquired in order to fulfil the divine mandate, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion..." (Gen. 1:28). E.J.Young in his Thy Word is Truth describes how we should view the Scriptures in connection with science, etc.:

"The Bible, it is often said, is not a textbook of astronomy. That we freely grant. The Bible nowhere claims to be such a textbook. It is, however, a textbook of the philosophy of astronomy; when the Bible speaks, as in Genesis 1, upon astronomical matters, it is absolutely in accord with fact in what it says....The Bible, we must conclude, is infallible in all that it says, or we cannot be sure that it is infallible in anything. We cannot with any consistency maintain that only in the realm of faith and practice is it without error."

The Bible itself tells us to expect a rising tide of opposition to revealed truth in the times in which we now live. "There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Pet. 3:3,4). Are there not many today who mock at the idea of "the end of all things"? Because they have wilfully rejected the teaching of Scripture concerning the first cataclysm, the Flood, for all their learning they are sadly ignorant regarding the cataclysm to come, the fire which shall consume the heavens and the earth. To them an infallible Bible says: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness...the day of the Lord will come" (2 Pet. 3:9,10).


The great fact which flows from the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is the authority it therefore has over our lives. As the Word of God the Bible must be the supreme standard for belief and behaviour in the life of the church and in the life of every individual.

In conclusion, Professor Gaussen indicates the preciousness of an infallible Bible to the Lord's people:

"The Scriptures descend, like Moses from the holy mount, bearing to us the tables of testimony. Where you have dreaded obscurity, there you find light; where there has been raised an objection, God converts it into a witness; where there has been a doubt, there rests an assurance."