There’s a line in a Sting song that says, “I’m laughing through my tears.”
That was my feeling yesterday when I read a string of Tweets by Union Seminary in which they defended their denial of the infallibility of Scripture (the doctrine that the Bible is without error).
I was laughing because their argument was so profoundly ludicrous on so many levels. If you want a perfect example of the utter befuddlement that has befallen so much of the church, this Tweetstorm huffing and puffing has to be it.
But the profoundly ludicrous was accompanied by the profoundly sad. The simple truth is that when you deny the infallibility of scripture, the Christian faith truly does unravel. And I don’t say that lightly.
If Scripture isn’t infallible, then I’m out. I’m buying a first-class ticket on the Agnostic Express. Nihilism, here I come. Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
By denying the infallibility of Scripture, Union Seminary has effectively cut their legs off, leaving them nothing to stand on.
Or, to put it more graphically, when you decapitate scripture you also decapitate yourself.
Let me explain a bit further.
Wait…What Is The Infallibility of Scripture?
Before I can even dive into the blunt nuances (love that oxymoronic combo of words) of their argument, we need to chat for a second about infallibility. It’s pretty clear that whoever banged out that string of Tweets is fundamentally confused about what it means that the Bible is infallible.
So what is infallibility (or inerrancy)?
Wayne Grudem provides a nice, succinct definition in his book Systematic Theology:
The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.
It’s important to note that infallibility refers to the original manuscripts, not the study Bible I have on my bookshelf or The Message Remixed For 90’s Kids. The inerrancy of scripture means that what was written in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts is without error and does not affirm anything false.
But Aren’t Humans Fallible?
A big part of the Union argument is that humans are fallible, culturally bound, and prone to errors. Under normal circumstances, this is true. Me trying to assemble anything from Ikea is a prime example of this.
As they say:
And then again…
To use a phrase that I deployed with devastating effect when I was 11, “No doi…”
Yes, people are fallible. Nothing new here.
Honestly, this is an old, tired, worn out argument that has been around for thousands of years.
But here’s the deal.
The doctrine of the infallibility of scripture never denies that fallible, imperfect humans wrote the books of the Bible. In fact, the orthodox doctrine of infallibility (or inerrancy) explicitly embraces the fact that flawed, sinful, imperfect people wrote scripture.
However, there is a caveat to this reality that Union fails to mention, which is that God superintended the writing of Scripture. Or put another way, the doctrine of inerrancy asserts that God divinely guided and oversaw those who penned the books of the Bible, ensuring that they were truthful and without error in every sense of the word.
WE AFFIRM that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.
WE DENY that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.
So yes, humans are fallible. But God is not.
God used normal, fallen humans to create the Bible. He didn’t turn them into unthinking Borgs, but communicated eternal truths through their personalities, writing styles, etc.
Ultimately, here’s the big question we have to answer: do we believe that God is truthful and wants his people to know him?
If the answer is, “Yes,” then it’s not hard at all to believe that God could and would use fallible humans to write inerrant truths about him. In fact, there is a sense where we have to believe these things.
Because he’s God and has that whole omnipotence thing going for him, he’s more than able to use both a highly trained Pharisee and a simple fisherman to speak truth.
However, if the answer to the above question is, “No,” then we’re dealing with a lying God who doesn’t mind deceiving his people. That kind of God is a monster.
But What About the Canon and Translations And All That Jazz?
Union also tries to argue that the decisions regarding which books to include in the canon of scripture, as well as how the original manuscripts are translated into English, introduce more errors into scripture.
This is another old hag of an argument that has been addressed approximately 12,000 times throughout history.
Both of these can be addressed quickly.
Regarding the canon of scripture, the Old Testament books selected were the ones that had long been regarded by the Jews as divinely inspired.
And the New Testament books were not selected at random from the numerous early texts.
Rather, the books included were those written by the apostles (those who directly witnessed the resurrection), those extremely close to the apostles (like Mark was with Peter), and those books that, over time, were recognized by the church as having divine authority (like Hebrews, Jude, etc.).
This a simplification, for sure, but so much has been written about this that I don’t think I need to spend a ton of time on it.
For a helpful, in-depth look at this, this article by Darrel Bock is helpful.
If you want a really in-depth guide, this lengthy video by Tim Mackie of The Bible Project also adds helpful context.
In regard to the translation of the Bible, it’s certainly true that fallible men and women sit on the translation committees and make decisions about how to translate words from Hebrew and Greek into English.
But the number of Biblical manuscripts available combined with the rigor of the process makes it possible for us to be confident that at least 95% of the translation is accurate. And when there are discrepancies on the meaning of words and passages, those are always noted in footnotes.
Honestly, if you’re willing to accept the peer review process that governs which articles get into authoritative publications, you should be more than willing to accept the Bible translation process.
If you want more, here’s a helpful article by Daniel Wallace on myths about translation.
But again, there’s a bigger question at stake. Does God want his people to know him truly or is he okay with people trying to figure him out on their own?
If God wants his people to know him, then he’s certainly able to guide us in the translation process. I’m not making any mind-blowing logical jumps here.
This brings us to the heart of the matter regarding the infallibility of scripture.
The real problem with denying the inerrancy of scripture is that you essentially make it impossible to be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.
If we can’t rely on scripture as a faithful guide…
…then how are supposed to know anything about God?
Do we rely on science? Feelings? Our own infallible, time-bound, personal-history-shaped opinions? The current cultural zeitgeist (I’ve always wanted to use that word in an article)?
Union tries to cover their butts by saying:
These are absolutely absurd statements given their first statements. How can we even know what the “clear” passages in scripture are? Those that seem clear may contain grievous errors about God. How do we distinguish between where “God speaks through scipture,” and where it’s simply blustering buffoons spouting their own opinions?
Why should we trust biblical scholarship to help us know the truth? If there are fundamental falsehoods about God in scripture, scholars certainly can’t know which they are.
After all, we’re talking about God here, not a math problem. God doesn’t conform to the scientific method. You can’t develop hypotheses about him and then test to determine whether they’re true. We’re talking about the one who created all things, sustains all things, is outside of time, and numbers the grains of sand.
Do we really have the chutzpah to think that being a critical reader of an error-ridden Bible will somehow bring us to the true knowledge of God?
And once you fatally wound the infallibility of scripture, every other key doctrine in Christianity dissolves. Why should we believe that Jesus was the Son of God? For all we know, that’s an idea invented by fallible humans who wanted certainty in life rather than the “beauty” of doubt.
Forgiveness of sins? Yeah, that one should probably go to. The same goes for the existence of the Trinity.
And honestly, why should we believe in God at all? For all we know, the book of Genesis is riddled with errors, and every other book of the Bible built on those initial errors.
If the Bible isn’t infallible, the Christian faith has nothing to stand on. We might as well become agnostics or atheists or Buddhists or Muslims. After all, the Koran was also written by people who were “grappling with God and what it means to be human”. There’s no reason that the Koran and the Book of Mormon and the Tao Te Ching shouldn’t also be a part of the Christian faith.
When you decapitate infallibility, you end up (to use a tired old phrase that matches Union’s tired old arguments) like a chicken with its head cut off. Running around in circles, embracing the ideas that you like and dismissing any that rub you the wrong way.
So here’s my response to Union and anyone else who denies the inerrancy of scripture: You go right ahead, but don’t try to tell me what God is like or wants. Because why is your opinion any more valid than anyone else’s?
On the other hand, when we submit to scripture and trust what it says, we encounter the true and living God.
I’ll take that option every day.