It's become fairly commonplace that someone will claim that the concept of inerrancy is a relatively recent development in the history of Christianity. Some trace it back to the 19th century and then claim that anyone beforehand held some weaker view of the authority of scripture. I'm not sure how this got started, but it's been popularized by people who are otherwise good scholars, such as George Marsden. I've had it on the backburner for at least several months now to put together a post on this issue, but I haven't managed to get the impetus to do it until a commenter on this post threw this canard at me. So here is what I consider to be absolutely clear statements from some historical figures long before the 19th century holding to views that seem to me to be pretty much the same view as the inerrancy of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, which has become a standard account of contemporary evangelicals mean by the term.
Now I've always thought the biblical authors would be shocked at any suggestion that there were errors in any genuinely divinely-inspired scripture. I think there are reasons for thinking this in the various parts of the canon. But Jesus and the authors of the epistles very clearly saw the psalms as authoritative in a way that they would base arguments on particular words. Clearly they took the psalms seriously.
I find it extremely hard to take Psalm 119 seriously without concluding that its author held (at least what at the time was considered) God’s word to be absolutely infallible. It doesn’t take reading very far into the psalm to see that. Verse 13 says that all the laws come from God (which the Torah itself repeatedly stresses). Throughout the psalm there are statements about how trustworthy God’s word and law are, e.g. v.86 “all your commands are trustworthy”, and v.139 says they are fully trustworthy. V.89 says it’s eternal and in the heavens as if some might have thought that it was a merely humanly authored set of documents that are temporary or not fully what God would want expressed, and v.91 explains the continuance of the laws in terms of everything serving God, including the laws, which were authored under his sovereign decree. In v.118, straying in any way from God’s decrees deserves God’s rejection, which amounts to saying that God rejects any deviation from them, i.e. seeing any of them as in error. According to v.151, all of them are true, and v.172 says all of them are righteous, with v.142 tying them together: “your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true”, which in Hebrew parallelism connects the truth of the laws to the righteousness of God. The contrast of v.163 between hating falsehood but loving God’s law amounts to saying that none of the laws are false. I don't know how to accept all of that while denying inerrancy.
As for historical figures beyond the canon, let's turn first to Augustine's Letter to Jerome 82.3:
For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, "Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning!"
Augustine generally prefers to use the term for infallibility, mainly because it's a stronger term historically. Infallibility is the inability for something to be wrong, and inerrancy is its merely turning out not to have any errors. Nothing about its nature makes it so. So inerrancy could happen by pure chance, while infallibility suggests a divine source. This isn't how these terms are now (mis)used by some theologians who take infallibility to be somehow weaker than inerrancy, but I'm not going to cater to their historical ignorance. Perhaps if someone wants to challenge me on this, I'll tackle that issue in a separate post. My point here is that even though Augustine usually uses language about infallibility, he is perfectly happy to speak in terms of there being no errors in scripture. If you find something that seems to be an error, he thinks you are the one to have made a mistake somewhere (or else the translator or manuscript copyist did). The original authors did not. So even the language of inerrancy appears in Augustine and not just the concept.
Here is another from another letter to Jerome:
For it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books: that is to say, that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. It is one question whether it may be at any time the duty of a good man to deceive; but it is another question whether it can have been the duty of a writer of Holy Scripture to deceive: nay, it is not another question—it is no question at all. For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made in the way of duty, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to any one difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which, intentionally, and under a sense of duty, the author declared what was not true. [Augustine, Letter to Jerome 28.3]
I don't know how to read this in a way that's consistent with the view that some attribute to Augustine, i.e. that the scriptures are infallible only in "matters of faith and practice". It just doesn't square with what Augustine says. There are lots of other statements by Augustine saying the same thing. Jollyblogger has some here.
Martin Luther very clearly wrote that scripture never errs:
I do not reject them. But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they have erred, as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they give me evidence for their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred. [LW 32.11, as cited here
So again, while Marsden may be right that Luther and anyone else before the 19th century would have preferred to use infallibility-language in many cases, it's simply not true that they didn't speak inerrancy-language also, and Luther clearly did believe that the Bible is without error.
Calvin, to my knowledge, didn't ever address the issue of errors in that kind of language, but it's very hard for me to see how he could say all the things he did say while accepting the view some have attributed to him, that the Bible is only free of error in matters of faith and practice. The issues with Calvin are more involved, but I think John Murray's "Calvin's Doctrine of Scripture" is a pretty good handling of what he says and why it's best to take Calvin's view to be of a piece with what we now call inerrantism.
Now there's a very revealing conversation at the above-linked Jollyblogger post. In the face of these quotes from Augustine, Jack Rogers, who claims in published work that Augustine was not an inerrantist, refused to recant his claim that Augustine was not an inerrantist. He simply insisted that he's using the word differently from how his critics (e.g. John Woodbridge) use it. But that's tantamount to admitting that he's not using the word 'inerrantist' the way inerrantists use it! He's thus not giving them the benefit of the doubt to give an account of what their view actually amounts to. Rogers basically admitted that Woodbridge is correct in attributing to Augustine the same view that Woodbridge holds, which is the same view inerrantists in general hold, the view affirmed in the Chicago Statement.
This has led me to conclude that Marsden and company are really just shooting down a straw man and are attributing to modern inerrantists a position that no one but extreme fundamentalists might hold. I have not encountered someone yet who, when faced with this evidence, can support the claim that Augustine and the Reformers holds a different view from what contemporary inerrantists hold. As far as I can tell the so-called modern view of inerrantism is simply the historic view of the church.