One of the debates that circulates around Christian church circles has to do with what that core body of information happens to be to which all Christians must assent. There are many who would say that the Apostles’ Creed stands as the most basic test of the Christian faith. Yet, I think that we would all agree that there are essentials to the faith that the Apostles’ Creed does not cover: the inspiration of Scripture, the dual nature of Christ, that we are justified by Grace through faith alone, etc… Further, most Mormons that I have interacted with will claim to affirm the Apostles’ Creed, though arguably there are differences by way of definition. So, while the Apostles’ Creed clearly provides a starting point, it is by no means able to stand on its own.
The Heidelberg Catechism addresses this very question prior to launching into a long exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. Question 22 asks: “What then must a Christian believe?” The answer is: “All that is promised to us in the Gospel, which are taught in summary in the articles of the universal Christian faith.” In other words, the Apostles’ Creed is at best a summary that needs clarification, thus questions 23-58 provide that clarification within the Heidelberg Catechism.
But what does it mean when it says, “All that is promised to us in the Gospel”? To answer that question, we must first address the question of what the Gospel is. Certainly, we use the word to refer to a variety of things. Our Bibles contain four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that are explicitly referred to as “Gospels.” Further, when we speak to others about the “Gospel,” what we usually mean is explaining the basis of the Christian faith — man is a sinner in need of redeeming (and cannot redeem himself); Jesus, who had no sin and is the Son of God, came and died a substitutionary death for all who believe; so, repent and believe and you can share in this eternal promise…
Yet, on the most basic level, the word “Gospel” means “good news.” And where can this good news be found? It can only be found in the Bible. What is the good news? The good news is that though man is rebellious and fallen from the beginning, God had ordained a plan to redeem an elect people for himself through faith in His Son, Jesus. Where is that found? In the Bible. It is found in all of the Bible. The Old Testament lays the foundation for and prefigures the work of Christ in the New Testament, and the New Testament makes little sense unless rooted firmly in the Old. It is one complete book that contains and records the complete revelation of God. It is indispensable to the Christian faith…all of it. And thus, Heidelberg states unambiguously that we must believe all of the promises contained in he Gospel.
I think that it is high time, as a church, that we make a commitment to the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy the test of orthodoxy. Of course, that leaves a lot of people that we know, love, and care about in the cold. Then again, did Jesus not say that it is those who keep his commandments that love him (John 14:21)? Did Jesus not say that all authority in heaven and on earth is his (Matthew 28:18)? Does Moses not say that this Word was our very life (Deuteronomy 32:47) and that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3)? Every word… And does not Peter point out that all things that pertain to life and godliness come to us through the knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:3)? And how shall we have knowledge of God apart from embracing the Scriptures? Without the Scriptures we could know nothing about the God we worship. And since men are not qualified to give counsel to God (Romans 11:33-36), of which part of Scripture can man say to God, “I do not need this”? No, it is all breathed out by God to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
So, what am I suggesting? I am suggesting that the test of orthodoxy be that the Scriptures are inspired by God in the original manuscripts (every word and letter — what is called “plenary inspiration”) and are thus inerrant (without error and without the possibility of error in what they teach) and are infallible (they will not fail the one who puts their trust in them). It is a commitment to the whole counsel of God that we must look to and our friends in the community who might believe otherwise may very well not be Christians as they are not being Christian as the Bible so presents.
Does this mean that we shut out as heretics everyone who disagrees with us? No. There are certainly areas of disagreement that take place within the orthodox church, areas where believers with a commitment to inerrancy have honest disagreements. Further, there may very well be some genuine believers who are being deluded into error by the false churches they attend. While in the first case, we can discuss and debate and not break fellowship, in the second case, we evangelize, we make an apologetic, and we try and sway those friends attending bad churches to seek out a church that upholds the Bible. It is by this manner that we add light and clarity to the muddled mess of our watered-down and politically correct church environment.
“clinging to the Word of Life, that I will be satisfied in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor did I labor in vain.”
Much can be said from these words of Paul, but I want to focus first on the initial words which follow the statement in the previous verse. What is the way in which we live our lives in a way that is blameless and pure? The answer is that we must do so clinging to the Word of Life. It is the Bible that provides us with every standard by which we may know the life we are to strive to live. It is the Bible that gives us wisdom and discernment for the decisions we make. And it is the Bible that records all of the promises of God that will give us the courage to live the way we are called to live…that is if we trust the Bible.
But Paul doesn’t simply say for us to trust the Bible. He says we are to cling to it like one might cling to the edge of a great cliff lest we fall to our doom on the valley floor below. This clinging is a life or death clinging. These scriptures for us are our very life (Deuteronomy 32:47). For we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). And it is not only our calling to live by them, but to speak of this word to others at every opportunity and no matter the cost (Acts 5:20).
Yet, how many professing Christians reject this word that God gives to us…or at least pick and choose that which they want to follow and that which they wish to ignore. Selective hearing does not an obedient follower make.
Thus, friends, set the Word of God before you, which is God’s Word of Life. Do so in all things and in every way. Let it guide your steps and do not deviate to the right or to the left from that which it instructs and commands. Let the Word of God guide your speech and your attitudes as well as your reasoning. Do not let any idea into your life except through the sieve of the Scriptures. It will always prove faithful and reliable…cling to it for it is your very life.
“Now, it was the Day of Preparation of the Passover and it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King.’”
This is one of those passages where enemies of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy say, “Aha! See, there is an error!” They go on to say that this is the “Day of Preparation for Passover,” not the Passover itself and that while John records the sentencing as taking place during about the “sixth” hour, Mark records the crucifixion as having taken place at the third hour! Oh my, such a dilemma we are put into if we hold to Biblical inerrancy…well, not really.
First of all, the language of the Day of Preparation is used in the Gospel accounts to speak of the Preparation for the Sabbath (for the Jews, Saturday), not in terms of the Passover (see Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31,42). Thus, as the Passover this year fell on a Friday, it was also the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath…oh my, one objection answered simply by looking at the context.
The second objection has caused a little more consternation amongst commentators. As noted, Mark speaks of the crucifixion as taking place at the third hour (Mark 15:25). Different answers have been given for this from speaking about variant manuscripts that substitute “third” for “sixth” in John’s text to suggestions of scribal changes. Yet, the simplest answer is often the best. One should recall that John is writing at least 30 years after the other Gospel writers had penned their Gospel texts and arguably is familiar with the synoptic accounts. The Synoptics, writing before the destruction of the Temple, when the traditional Jewish sense of marking time was still in active use, chose to use the Jewish method of counting hours from sunrise. John, writing after the destruction of the Temple, when everyone would have been under the Roman system of marking time, used just that — the Roman system of marking time — a system which began marking hours at about midnight. That means that there is about 3 hours of time that will pass from the time that the sentence is uttered by Pilate (6 AM) and the hanging Jesus on the cross (9 AM), but this is not unrealistic as the execution had to be organized and Jesus had to proceed from there to Golgotha bearing the weight of his cross at least part of the way. Carrying such a burden would have taken a strong, healthy man a fair period of time; Jesus, being beaten and stumbling, would have taken considerably longer.
As with most cases, answers are available to every challenge to Biblical inerrancy and most challenges come as a result of surface readings, not being willing to look more deeply into the text.
What is much more important is the dialogue that follows. “Behold your King!” Pilate knows he has lost the chess game with the Chief Priests but he nevertheless wants to get in a final dig. This, though, will be the final rejection of Jesus that these men will make…denying Jesus’ Lordship to their own condemnation. How many in our world today insist, like these Jewish officials, that they have no king but Caesar! Yet, we get ahead. Here, though given as a taunt, we find Pilate speaking truth…Behold the King not only of the Jews, but of all creation. For them, all they saw was a broken and bloody man…one day all mankind will witness the risen and glorious Christ, King of all the universe — a King of power and might — how great the contrast will be, yet how these will find themselves not with him in their power, but under his crushing foot of judgment. Loved ones, there is a call given to each of us, flee to Christ as King while there is still breath in your lungs.
One of the things we talk a lot about in church circles is the authority of scripture—that it is given by God and is designed to instruct us in every area of life. One of the terms that we use when we speak of why the scriptures are authoritative is the term “inerrant.” But I have found that while we often throw that term around, a lot of times, people aren’t entirely sure what the term means.
To be “inerrant” means far more than something has no errors in it. When I was in school, I regularly had “error-free” mathematics tests; when I was in seminary, many of my Hebrew vocabulary tests were found to be “error-free,” but none of these were inerrant. The word inerrant means not only that something has no errors, but that it is incapable of making an error. The Oxford American Dictionary defines “inerrant” as “incapable of being wrong.” One writer described the inerrancy of the scriptures in this way: “They are exempt from the liability to mistake.”
So why do we ascribe such a nature to the scriptures? To begin with, they are God’s word, and if God is incapable of making a mistake, then his word also must be incapable of making a mistake—remembering that those who wrote down God’s word were “moved along by the Spirit” as a ship is blown by the wind filling its sails (2 Peter 1:21). In the language of the Apostle Paul, scripture is exhaled by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and thus is the source of all training and guidance for the believer. These are God’s words and not man’s and thus we ought to expect them to carry the authority and attributes of God’s character and not man’s character.
It is granted that there are many these days that doubt the inerrancy of scripture. For some, it is a plain matter of unbelief. For others it is misinformation or not having studied the evidence. For others it is the fear that if one acknowledges these words to be the inerrant word of God then one must submit one’s life to scripture’s authority and demands, and such is true. Regardless of the reason that people doubt, Scripture has withstood every test and challenge that has been leveled at it.
There is one other thing that is worth noting about such a book as we have. Not only are the scriptures our only guide for faith and life, but they are the only book to guide us as we go to our deaths. The Bible shows us Jesus Christ, our need for him as a redeemer, and his promise that if we trust in him in life, confessing him with our lips and believing in him in our hearts, he will confess us before the Father and guarantee us eternal life in paradise. For the one who is facing death, this is the kind of knowledge that brings peace and enables them to leave this world with grace and not fear. It is no wonder that the Scriptures are what most people ask to have read to them on their deathbeds, and not Shakespeare or Coleridge. The Bible is the one book that transcends death because it was written by a God who died and rose again—promising that he would do the same for us.
“he spoke to us through the Son…”
What a wonderful gift has been given to us in Jesus Christ. All of the many parts and pieces of scriptures, all of the narratives, all of the prophetic literature, all of the songs, the poems, the laments, the dirges, all of the exalted praise find their meaning and unity in Jesus Christ. In Christ scripture finds its fullness of meaning, apart from Christ we are left with a puzzle that is disjointed and confusing. Is it any wonder that so many non-believers have looked at the Bible and have seen nothing but random words of men through the history of the church and of Israel, while as believers we come to the word of God and see Christ! Oh, beloved, do not back down, shy away from, or give up this great truth! How great a truth that the church in our own day has given up, when they give up the doctrines of the plenary inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of scripture, for when you let go of these views, you begin looking at scripture as the unbeliever looks at scripture and you lose its unity because you lose the one piece that gives it significance, unity, and life—you lose Christ. The writer of Hebrews states boldly and clearly that in the ancient times God spoke to his people in many and sundry ways, now, in these last days—they days between the cross and the return of our Lord, God speaks to us through Christ—through the Word made flesh, and now written out for us in the complete scriptures.
Have you ever noticed how often our God speaks? This is one of the wonderful attributes of our God—he is communicating and he designs to communicate with his creation—an infinite God condescending to communicate with a finite man. God did this with Adam and Eve in the Garden and even after their sin and the fall, God continued to communicate with them. We even see God communicating with himself before mankind existed, during his creative process (Genesis 1:26), and God used communication as the means by which he created in the first place, for he spoke creation into existence. What a wonderful thing that communications is—it is the way that ideas are shared, thoughts are put together, and societies are united. Communicating is part of our very nature for it is part of God’s nature. The sad thing is that often we fail to communicate or refuse to communicate truth to others. In turn, that is why relationships, marriages, and cultures break down. Now, notice the connection to our passage, for while God has many ways of communication at his disposal, his preferred and happy means of communicating with his people is through his wonderful Son, Jesus Christ!
Oh, loved ones, how we often fall into sin and error when we refuse to communicate in the context of Christ. What do I mean by that statement? What I mean is this: if God chooses to reveal all we need to know for living (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 for the reminder that the scriptures are profitable for all of life) through his Son, then we also should communicate all we do through God’s Son as well. Thus, if you are a historian, we should communicate all of history on the basis of its relationship to the life and work of Christ. If you are a philosopher, all philosophies should be understood and communicated in their relationship to Christ. If you are a mathematician, mathematic principles should be communicated in their relationship to Christ, knowing that all things were created through and for Christ—hence the regularity of mathematical or scientific descriptions of the world was established for the glory of Christ himself. Christian, if you want to see reformation and even revival in our culture once again, it begins by breaking down the dichotomy between life in Church and life elsewhere. If you want to see real change, you will need to communicate as God communicates—through Christ—in every endeavor you undertake.
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.
To what extent is the Bible inspired and thus inerrant? Does the inspiration extend only to the ideas conveyed or to the very words of scripture?
A debate that has been taking place between the Orthodox branches in the church and what is normally called the Neo-Orthodox movement, is over the question of the extent of revelational authority. Another way of phrasing the question is, “Is the Bible the word of God or does the Bible contain the word of God?” This presents a contrast between a view of the inspiration of scripture and the view of the plenary inspiration of scripture.
The Neo-Orthodox movement in the church has held that it is not the words of scripture that contain the inspiration of God, but it is that when those words find themselves to rest upon the ears and the heart of a believer, then, and only then, genuine inspiration takes place. This allows the Neo-Orthodox theologian to not get very hung up by source critical arguments because, after all, it is not the words of scripture that are important; rather, it is the effect that those words have on the believing heart that is important. As one can see, this scheme of understanding revelation becomes extremely subjective and robs the text of any genuine content, for content, according to this view, comes from the hearer’s interpretation of the words. Exegetical theology also becomes nearly impossible, for exegesis becomes about “what this text means to me…” instead of what this text actually says. And though this position can be attributed to Neo-Orthodoxy today, it is not a new sin, but one that can be traced all of the way back to Adam and Eve who doubted God’s word that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit.
In response to this, the Orthodox theologians have taken a strong stand on the plenary (or complete) inspiration of scripture. In other words, every single word of scripture is a result of the inspiration of God. Every noun, every verb, ever preposition, every adjective, every pronoun, ever article is a result of the breathing out of God and thus carries with it the full authority of God himself. This view holds that meaning comes from within the text and not from within the hearer. This view holds that God is a rational and intentional God and that as a result, when he rationally and intentionally communicates with his people, he has a plain and intended purpose and meaning behind what was said. This view holds that the very statements of scripture contain propositional truth given to God’s people so that we might know him and glorify him with our lives. This view holds that while we see the stylistic fingerprint of the human authors within each text, that it is God who is writing through them, using all of their gifts and talents to produce his word, and that word—every word of it—is true and perfectly given and preserved by the Holy Spirit.
There are many in the post-modern world that would contend that words in themselves contain no meaning. They would continue that words are nothing but culturally formatted symbols with which we communicate and that it is the context in which language is used that conveys meaning. On one level, there is a degree of truth to this argument. We have already spoken of the dynamic nature of language as it is used by a culture. Many of our words carry with them very different meanings depending on the context in which they are found. For example, depending on the context, the word “dope” in English could refer to illegal drugs, to someone who is foolish or not intelligent, to gossip that is shared, to a form of varnish used on aircraft, or to lubricant that is used as a sealant. Context, then determines which form of the word you are using. This being said, words in a culture do have a fixed and limited set of meanings. Dope does not also mean dog, cat, and grocery cart; it cannot mean anything we want it to mean. If it could, then language would become meaningless, for “Dope dope doped dope” could then mean, “I need you to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store.” If such use of language were ever to become the case, then, as a culture, we would be returned to the state people found themselves in at the Tower of Babble, when God confused the languages. Culture cannot exist and reproduce itself if language is rendered meaningless.
Yet, even the post-modern thinker, when pressed on the issue, would assert that language does contain meaning, though it pains them to do so. Post-modern thinkers write books for people to read. Certainly in writing a book, the post-modern thinker expects people to understand what he is trying to teach. When a post-modern thinker goes to the bank and asks that his paycheck be deposited in his checking account, certainly he expects the teller to understand what he is saying and he trusts that the money will actually go into his account rather than in some random account. When the post-modern thinker goes to the emergency room in agony because he has kidney stones, when he communicates this to the doctor, he does not expect the doctor to start by examining his knees. When the post-modern thinker goes to a restaurant and orders an expensive meal, the post-modern thinker expects to be served the meal he ordered. Thus words have meanings and any rational person is forced to admit such by the way they use their words in practical situations. And, as God is a rational God, the words that God speaks in scripture are spoken with an expectation that they be understood—and that they be obeyed!
It is important to note that scripture was not given as dictation, squelching the various personalities through whom God wrote. We see stylistic language, artistic structure of texts, and themes that run through the writings of given authors, showing us something of the human nature of the Bible. Exodus 4:14-17 records the calling of Aaron to be Moses’ prophet (also see Exodus 7:1). God would tell Moses what to say, Moses would tell Aaron what to say and Aaron would speak it. The words that the prophet speaks belong to God (or in Aaron’s case, Moses), but the mannerisms, inflections of speech, and personality belong to the prophet. So too with scripture—the words belong to God, but the structure and personality of the writings belong to the prophetic or Apostolic author.
It is worth emphasizing here that only the Orthodox view of plenary inspiration preserves the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture. When the meaning of scripture becomes subjective, the truth of scripture becomes subjective as well. In addition, scripture itself claims to be the word of God, not just to contain God’s word. As the scriptures claim to be inspired in a plenary sense, to claim otherwise is to invalidate the value of scripture as a whole, suggesting that it is nothing more than a book of lies.
If the Bible is incapable of error, to what extent does that infallibility extend, just to theological matters or to all maters to which it speaks?
We have already touched on this idea but it bears repeating. Given that the Bible is written by God, it is impossible for the text to be in error. God is omniscient and as he is the author of the Bible, the Bible reflects his omniscience in all areas. This means that the Bible is inerrant in the history of which it speaks, of the geography of which it speaks, of the science of which it speaks, and of real existence of the miraculous deeds that it records. It is our obligation, when our own understanding seems to contradict the revelation of scripture, to submit our understanding to the revelation that is given. Anything that compromises this view accuses God of being untruthful in his revelation of all things or it denies that scripture is divine revelation altogether and accuses its authors of being charlatans and frauds in the name of religion.
How do we know that the Bible is a unified and complete book in its presentation to us and that it alone contains the written revelation of God for his people?
While the Bible has many human authors through which the text was written, there is one divine author. This is clear by looking at its overall unity. There is not a humanly produced book, wherein multiple authors have contributed over a long span of time, that contains the unity that scripture contains. Not only does the Bible not contradict itself, it also presents a progression of theology that could not have evolved from the imagination of men. Themes and theological concepts are found in their infancy in early Old Testament writings, are developed further in later Old Testament writings, and are found complete within the New Testament—all without contradiction or inconsistency.
More importantly than its unified nature are the many claims that the Bible makes of itself being God’s word. Throughout the scriptures there are commands to “write this down” or “speak this to my people” given by God to his prophets and apostles. The Old Testament itself contains more than 600 instances of “and God said” or “thus says the Lord.” That in itself is an occurrence of about once every 35 verses. The New Testament contains numerous direct quotes from Jesus himself, again being God’s speech recorded by the Apostles. The Bible goes as far as to refer to itself as being the very “breath” of God and thus the revelation of God to his people.
To those who would suggest that there are other texts that necessarily supplement the Bible that also contain God’s word, the Bible contains strong warnings that judgment will come upon those who suggest such things. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians and told them that anyone who proclaimed a gospel not consistent with that of scripture would be accursed. The consistent witness of every prophet and apostle within the history of the Biblical writings is that these words that are recorded in the scriptures contain the very words of God.