I've already linked to Jollyblogger's excellent post on the view that the Bible is inerrant, in which he makes clear what the historic inerrancy view is not. It makes no claims that the Bible is perfectly precise, and therefore rounded numbers (e.g. the Chronicler's rounding of pi to 3 or a king's reign for 40 years when it might be 40.3 years) are not errors. It makes no claims that descriptions in the Bible will be on the scientific level, and therefore reports of the sun rising are not errors, just as it's wrong in English today to say someone said something false when they say the sun rises. What they said was true, but the words don't describe it on a scientific level. They describe it on a phenomenological level. There are lots of other fine points to make, but I won't worry about details for my purposes. This is enough to get a sense of what inerrantism requires. It requires that all the sentences affirmed by the scriptures will come out true, in context, at the level of intended precision, on a phenomenological level if that's the perspective being used, etc.
Now Darren at Nicene Theology wants to pick a bone with this description of inerrantism. He argues that inerrantism is false, and demonstrably so, but it's not because he's found anything contradicting the view of inerrantism I've just explained and Jollyblogger has gone into more detail about. He agrees with everything that view says. He just doesn't think that view is really what inerrantism says. He acknowledges that the definition of 'inerrancy' is what's at stake here, not any substantive view, and I agree. I just don't think he's right in his claims about what 'inerrancy' means or should mean.
One thing that confuses Darren's discussion is the way he defines 'infallible', which means without possibility of error. He treats infallibility as weaker than inerrancy, when it's actually a stronger claim. The Catholic view of scripture shows that. Catholics believe scripture is without error in fact but didn't necessarily have to be, because it's one way God has used to guide the Roman Catholic Church, which is the real source of infallibility. When you get technical, only the Pope's ex cathedra statements are really viewed to be infallible, and that's only happened twice, both times in the 20th Century, but that's irrelevant to showing that they see scripture as inerrant but not infallible, whereas Protestants have historically believed that scripture must logically be inerrant due to its being infallible. the main point here is that being infallible requires being inerrant. You can't be without possibility of error while having errors. It doesn't go the other way around. You can have no errors in fact but have the potential to have had errors. You just happened to say nothing false, even though you could have said something false.
Darren's main point seems to be that the word 'inerrancy' was never used historically by people who hold the view Darren and David (Jollyblogger) both accept. It was introduced by 19th and 20th Century fundamentalists with a more extreme view. There are people who have held this more extreme view, and they have used the word 'inerrancy', but I don't think they were the first to use the term. This view can so easily be ruled out that it's not worth spending the time, except that I want to make clear how obvious it is that this view is false in what it includes under the term 'error'. the more extreme view has to say that any dialect of a language besides the one later deemed to be official must be wrong. Otherwise there would be no way to say statements made in that dialect contain grammatical errors. The view requires that statements not intended to be precise to more than whole numbers are therefore false. The problem here is even worse, because you can't then make it be without error. You can round off more precisely, say to the third decimal point in (not that they had such mathematical systems, but supposed they could have gotten that precise). Even so, you've rounded. Then go a bit further. You'll never approximate pi to the point of not having an error. The extreme view requires saying that you can't refer to a book associated with someone's name, which everyone would have called it, even if they didn't think that person wrote every part of it, without meaning that that person wrote the words quoted. We do this today by calling a book Ruth that no one thinks Ruth wrote. If we quote the book and say "Ruth says..." we're not claiming the words we quoted were written by Ruth, and the same might be true if the psalms were called David or the Torah was called Moses, as I think likely. The same sort of thing goes for quotations that also allude to other places, where the name of the person who wrote the alluded to text is the one mentioned. If all these things count as errors, something really strange is taking place in the meaning of the word 'error'. I could go on, but it's easy to see how ridiculous the assumptions of that sort of view would have to be.
In ordinary English, we have some understanding of what it means to make an error. If someone asks me what time the sun rises, and I tell them what time sunup is that day, they're the one who makes an error if they then say "Ha! I got you! The earth moves around the sun!" In the context of discussion, what I said was true. My sentence was the correct answer to the question, and it wasn't in error. It wasn't scientifically precise. If it were a science course, and a professor asked "does the sun really rise at 7am?" it might well be an error to say yes. When someone asks me what time it is, and I say that it's 3:00, and I know my minute hand is a bit beyond 3:00, the context of utterance determines whether I said something incorrect. If we had no idea what time it might be, and it could have been between 2:00 and 4:00, and we just were interested in what five-minute interval we were closest to, that answer is sufficient. It's not wrong. It's true, even. If, however, we're timing something to the second, my statement is false. I'm not giving the precision required for the context.
It seems to me that Darren is saying all these things amount to errors, and therefore we're using the term 'inerrancy' wrongly if we say inerrancy allow these kinds of imprecision. That just doesn't seem right to me. His view requires saying that we say all kinds of false things all the time, things we would ordinarily describe as being true. As with the term 'error', we need to look at how the word 'true' is used to see what it means. We say statements are true when they're imprecise. A police detective asks a witness what time they saw the robbery, and they say it was at 5:00, because the sun was setting. The detective remembers that the sun has been setting between 5:55 and 6:05 that week, and says, "But the sun has been setting at 6:00 this week." The witness says in response, "Oh, right, that's true. It must have been 6:00 then." There doesn't seem to be any misuse of the English language in there. The detective didn't make any errors, and the witness's only error was getting the time off by an hour.
The other argument Darren gives seems equally unfair to those who have long used this term to refer to this view. Completely aside from the issue of who used it first in which way (which I think Jollyblogger is correct on), there's the issue of who uses the term now and how it's used. After all, words can change their meaning due to changes in use. There are radical people today who claim their extreme view is what the term means, thus ruling out people who believe in a round earth from being inerrantists, but most people who claim to be inerrantists believe what Jollyblogger explicated (or would upon reflection realize that inerrancy doesn't require anything stronger than what he said). The reason is because the commonsense view of what inerrantism claims is that the Bible is true. Most people who are inerrantists think in terms of truth and falsity, and they don't believe the Bible says anthing false. I've already explained why the things Darren calls errors don't amount to the Bible claiming anthing to be true that isn't true. Therefore, the view Jollblogger calls inerrancy fits with the commonsense view. Now there's this other group of people, the critics of inerrantism, who claim it must mean the more extreme view. Isn't it more fair to look at the vast majority of people who use that term for its meaning, particularly because they're in the mainstream of theological discussion, rather than those who claim not to hold the view?
The main objection at this point seems to be merely that the term seems inaccurate. Darren says this. If there are errors, and you just don't call them errors, then you're misleading by using the term. I've already explained why I don't think the ordinary English speaker would call these things errors if an ordinary English speaker did something along the same lines. Then Darren says that it's at least going to mislead the people who see inerrantism as being that extreme view, and for their sake it's best to discard that term. That just sounds to me like encountering a bunch of people who want to insist that there are no such things as butterflies. Their reasoning is that butter doesn't fly, flies don't have any important characteristics of butter, and there's nothing that's a combination of flies and butter. The term is just inaccurate. Well, it's not a descriptive term (not anymore, anyway). It's a name. Names don't have to be descriptive of the thing they name. We know what 'The Holy Roman Empire' refers to even if we don't think it was holy, Roman, or an empire. The same seems to be true of the term 'inerrancy'. Those who hold to the view know what they believe, they explain the view when they discuss it and distinguish it from that other view, and those who ignore their plain statements of what the view means and require it to mean something else seem to be the ones who have made an error.
I was going to end the post there, but then I checked out this post from A Physicist's Perspective, which had tracked back to Darren's post. Reading that post and the comments have made me want to say two more things, but I'm too lazy to work them into the post where they might fit, if there's such a place. First, David (David Mobley, of A Physicist's Perspective, not David Wayne the Jollyblogger) quotes Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology on the terms 'infallible' and 'inerrant'. I don't think Grudem is right. I don't think the traditional view is that the terms are synonymous. The traditional view is that infallibility is stronger than inerrancy, as I said above. The revisionist view reverses them, and that seems to be what Darren is going along with. [I already said this, but it wasn't in the context of Grudem's claim that the two were synonymous.]
Second, the comments brought up the question the issue of Genesis 1. I disagree with both Darren and David (Mobley, not Wayne) on this one. Darren says it would be an error to affirm Genesis 1 if the creation events described in that passage actually took longer than six days to come into existence. David says the passage requires six days unless the word 'day' means day, but it could mean a longer period of time. Most Genesis scholars (and I mean most evangelicals) say otherwise. They say that the poetic imagery in the chapter (including parallelism, a structure of repetition not just from day to day but in the first half and second half of the passage, etc.) does not require the passage to be a prose account of what happens in chronological order with scientifically exact terminology. If the temporal language in Gen 1 does not refer to a time period at all but rather an ordering God imposed on creation in distinction from what surrounding creation myths said, then it's not an error merely if it turns out to be a longer period, as Darren says, nor is it an error if it turns out creation took longer but the words within the framework of the passage really do talk about days. I think the evidence points to a longer creation, and I think the evidence points to the words being used quite literally, just as the words in the parable of the sower are quite literally talking about seeds within the framework of the story. It's the whole parable that refers to something other than sowing seed, and in that true somethingn else the seed refers to the word of God and the soils to the character of people's receptiveness to the word. The word for seed is still used literally, as the terms in Genesis 1 are used literally even if the poetic view is correct. It's not like referring to Jesus as a door and then not telling a story about doors. That's a real metaphor and is not literal language. If Jonah turned out to be a parable, then it's not as if the word for fish isn't used literally. In the story, it's referring to a fish. In the spiritual point of the parable, it might refer more generally to God's discipline of those who disobey, but it's not as if the word for fish is used in an erroneous way.
I go into all this mainly to say that none of these things constitutes an error, since what is said is still true in all these cases.