What do we mean when we state that the Bible is infallible as well as being inerrant?
As discussed above, the Bible is inerrant, or, in other words, without error. The idea of infallibility takes the premise one step further. When we say that the Bible is infallible, we say that the Bible is incapable of making mistakes, or in practical terms, that the Bible is incapable of leading the believer into error. This is not to say that there have never been students of the Bible that have drifted into error, indeed, the history of the church is filled with those who have done just that. Yet, the reason that they drifted into error is not because they were misled by scripture, but it was because their own sin got in the way of the proper interpretation of scripture. To understand scripture fully, it must be approached in faith and with respect for what it is, and thus guided by the Holy Spirit for its interpretation. Many non-believers have spent their lives studying the Bible and have often provided valuable insights into the text, but they eventually fall into error because they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and as a result, their minds are not illumined by the Holy Spirit. Yet, for those who are born again believers, those who are trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, prayerful study and application of the scriptures will not lead them into error.
In addition, the scriptures are infallible in teaching the way by which men and women must be saved. To put it another way, it is through the writings of scripture, being taught and proclaimed, that people come to know the beauty of Jesus and to experience the wonders of salvation that Jesus wrought. So important was this idea that the Apostle Paul wrote the following words:
Therefore, how are they to call on him of whom they have not believed? And how can they to believe in whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without one preaching? And how can they preach if they have not been sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who proclaims the good news!” But they have not all heard the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what they heard from us?” Therefore, faith comes out of hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17)
Thus, the very content of our proclamation of the gospel and of our preaching in the church must always be God’s word. The thoughts and ideas of the pastor can lead one to fall, but God’s word is incapable of doing just that.
There have been different approaches to this concept in the history of the church. The Eastern Orthodox church has largely held that since the early Christian councils were so scripturally based, said councils should be considered to be infallible as well as the scriptures. The difficulty with this view is that there have been many books, creeds, and confessional texts that are deeply based in scripture, but when one argues that infallibility extends from scripture to those writings based on scripture, one enters into subjectivity in terms of what constitutes a document based on scripture. Such a view also places a great deal of weight upon the interpretation of scripture and not upon the scriptures themselves. Invariably, this view will lead you into theological error and toward crediting the minds and the pens of men with honor that God never intended that they be given. Such a position elevates the writings of these church councils to the level of scripture as well, and the dangers of that matter have already been touched upon. While there are many wonderful texts that have been written to guide our studies, we should always be cognizant that they have been written by men and not by God.
The Roman Catholic church has taken a different approach to this as well. They have held that the Pope, as “Christ’s Vicar” on earth is preserved by God from entering into error on matters of the church, faith, and morality. He is said to demonstrate that infallibility when he speaks from “Peter’s Chair,” properly known as speaking ex cathedra. This is built on the assumption that Peter was the first Pope of the church and that through the process of a succession of Popes, the Apostolic authority of Peter was handed down from generation to generation. Again, this makes the error of assuming that men are incapable of failing, something all sinful men can do, no matter the character of the individual. It is only God who is infallible and thus the infallibility of God extends to his divine word alone, not to the words of men. What we do with that word is what opens us up to error.