“The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (v. 6).- Psalm 12:1–6
One important fact about divine revelation is its veracity in all that it affirms. God’s disclosure about Himself and the nature of reality are always inerrant. Inerrancy applies first to natural revelation: whatever the Lord says to us in nature is without error. Our interpretation of this revelation is not always without error, as the continual revision of scientific hypotheses demonstrates; nevertheless, what the created order tells us is true, whether or not we understand it.
Although God’s revelation in nature is no less true than His inscripturated or written revelation, we are usually thinking of the Bible when we use the term inerrancy. Psalm 12:6 is one of the many biblical texts that affirm inerrancy. The words of the Lord are pure, like silver that has been purified so thoroughly that no impurities remain. Unlike the speech of human beings that is filled with lies (vv. 1–4), the Word of God contains no dross — no error is mixed with His truth.
Biblical inerrancy must be understood rightly, otherwise we run into all kinds of problems. Importantly, inerrancy applies only to what Scripture actually affirms, not to every statement a biblical character makes. Consider Joseph’s experience with Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:11–18. What is inerrant here is the record of what Potiphar’s wife said and did. Scripture does not affirm the inerrancy of the statement of Potiphar’s wife itself. Though she did say what the text attributes to her, the meaning of her words to the men of the house was false (vv. 16–18).
The focus on the veracity of what Scripture actually affirms also allows us to take into account the use of poetic imagery. Isaiah 55:12 speaks of the trees clapping their hands when God redeems the exiles. Were the Bible to actually affirm here that trees have hands, this text would not be inerrant, for trees are clearly handless. But all that Isaiah is affirming is that creation itself will rejoice at the salvation of God’s people (Rom. 8:19–23), and he is using metaphor to do so.
A full exposition of biblical inerrancy is impossible within the confines of this study, and a good resource on the topic like Scripture Alone by R.C. Sproul is commended for further study. And as Dr. Sproul and other scholars have shown, we can be confident in the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible.
The health of the church depends upon a firm commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture. Once the idea that Scripture teaches some false things is accepted, what fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith will fall next? But inerrancy must be properly understood lest we falsely accuse others of denying it. We must also take care in interpreting the Bible, for while the text is inerrant, our interpretations are not necessarily so.
Passages for Further Study
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343