An assertion I frequently see made by proponents of the doctrine of inerrancy is that Jesus espouses an inerrant view of scripture in Matt 5:18–19 and John 10:35. I can’t agree with this reading of those two scriptures, and disagree that inerrancy is found anywhere in the ancient world. Here are the texts (RSV):
Mat 5:18–19: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
John 10:35: If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken . . .
Neither of these scriptures, however, asserts anything about infallibility. Rather, the texts asserts the inviolability of the scriptures. Their authority is supreme. Inerrantists frequently conflate the two notions without argument, but the fact that authority does not imply inerrancy is evidenced in the Ketiv/Qere readings in MT. The Masoretes viewed the text as inviolable, and so they would not alter it, but they certainly recognized errors within the text, which they corrected (to the best of their ability) in alternate readings in the margins.
Additionally, there are rhetorical reasons for the assertions made by these two texts. Thom Stark discusses this in his book, The Human Faces of God:
By the time Matthew’s gospel was written, there had already been mass conversions of Gentiles to Christian Judaism. The policy of Paul and others was that the laws of Moses did not apply to the Gentiles, and this policy was highly controversial. Many Jewish Christians dissented from Paul’s position, arguing that the laws of Moses were still in effect. Matthew’s gospel seems to take that stance of opposition to the policy of Paul and other gentile churches. In Matthew, Jesus says that “until heaven and earth disappear, not one letter, not even a stroke of a letter, will disappear from the law.” This phrase, “until heaven and earth disappear,” is an idiom in Hebrew which basically means, “until forever.” In other words, in Matthew, Jesus says that the laws of Moses will never become irrelevant. There will never be a time when they should not be obeyed.
Luke’s position is the opposite. He states, “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail,” but he also states in the verse preceding, “The law and the prophets [were] until John.” For Luke, it is difficult for the law to fail, but it happened when John began preaching the gospel. The two gospels preach opposite positions on the question of the role of the law of Moses in nascent Christianity, putting their arguments in the mouth of Christ for maximum rhetorical impact.
John 10 is also of little help to the inerrantist position. Not only does it refer to the text’s authority and not its infallibility, but it also couches the notion in a conditional phrase. “If he called them gods, and if the law cannot be broken” (the “if” is elided in the subordinate conditional clause). In this case, one can’t even assert that what we have is Jesus’ position. He is taking up the position of the Jews regarding their law in trying to show their charge to be scripturally groundless. At most, we could say he might agree with the propositions he forwards.