Does a Human Bible Mean a Fallible Bible?

In the last article we noted that verbal inspiration by no means commits us to the position that God’s holy Word was mechanically dictated. In fact, a careful study of Scripture itself precludes the possibility of such a conclusion. On every page we find the imprint of the activity of the “human” authors.

This acknowledgement on the part of those who believe that the Bible is inerrant is taken by the critics to be a concession on our part to their destructive positions. It is with this question that we would concern ourselves briefly in the present article.

Here our starting-point must be clear.

We have confessed that the Bible is reliable, thoroughly reliable. This is what the Bible says about itself. And even though inspiration pertains only to the “autograpba” (the original writings) and not to the work of copyists, translators and printers, the Bible which we have in our hands today is completely dependable as God’s own Word to us.



Further, we have seen that faith in verbal inspiration does not demand that we believe in the “diction” theory. In fact, the Bible itself emphasizes that the bulk of its material was not transmitted to man in that fashion. The Holy Spirit plainly used natural, human factors in the inspiration process.

It should be of great comfort to the Christian student to realize this. H it were not for that human side of the Bible, there would have been no Psalm 51, a Psalm that gives real wisdom and comfort to those Christians who have committed adultery. Similarly, all who are afflicted seemingly unbearably -will derive deep satisfaction from knowing that II Corinthians 12 was not an unrealistic phantasy, dictated by the Holy Spirit. As they read, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my power is made perfect in weakness … for when I am weak then am I strong,” they will rejoice to know that Paul went through a similar painful experience and that this was God’s answer. Here, then, is one of the comforts of the divine-human Bible: it is human enough so that it deals with our experiences and not an angel’s, and it is divine enough so that we have complete surety as to the trustworthiness of the answer.

Because the Bible is replete with such data as have just been given, it is impossible to say that the Bible has been mechanically dictated. Instead, it is possible to say unequivocally that most of the Bible is 100 percent the word of man as well as 100 percent the Word of God. It is all human and all divine.

If orthodoxy insists that the Bible is 100 percent human, the critics counter with the objection that it is the very humanity of the Bible that proves that the Bible is erroneous. A favorite illustration is the other Word of God, Jesus Christ. Neo-orthodoxy, especially, never tires of pointing to the human nature of Christ and then drawing the conclusion that the inscripturated Word of God must also be truly human. Then they make the inexplicable leap in logic when they go on to say with Brunner, “The Bible is the human, and therefore not the infallible, witness…”1 Neo-orthodox Reid follows Brunner at this point when, interpreting Luther’s concept of Scripture. he writes that just as tears were an evidence of Christ’s humanity, so scriptural imperfections were no embarrassment but rather an evidence of the humanness of the Bible.2

Barth exploits the same parallel by appealing to the Christological controversies which centered around the ancient heresy of Docetism.3 The Docctae taught that Jesus Christ was wholly divine and not human at all. He was not God-man, but only God. He never had a body from Mary but only a phantom one—an apparent one but not a real one. Rejecting the Docetic heresy and desiring to keep the parallel of Cluist and the Bible, Barth asserts that the Bible is not only divine but also fully human. This means for him that there are errors in the Bible.

Others compare the orthodox doctrine of the Bible to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Just as Rome makes the created elements of bread and wine divine, they say, so orthodoxy has made the Bible completely divine, neglecting its human aspect.

It seems a foregone conclusion to many today that a human element in the Bible necessarily means a fallible element. For them, just as it is axiomatic that inerrancy equals mechanical dictation, so also the other blade of the scissors is the proposition: humanity equals fallibility.

A.G. Hebert writes: “The principle that God has revealed himself though human instruments makes it inevitable that there should be imperfections in the Bible.”4

But because the Bible is 100 percent human, it does not follow that it must have errors in it. Is our God so small that he cannot take men and control them so that they will naturally and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit write precisely what he desires to be written?

The analogy of the two Words of God does not prove the erroneousness of the Bible. For the basic supposition that humanness infallibly leads to erroneousness cannot be substantiated. It may be axiomatic that “to err is human,” but the reverse is not Biblical, namely, “to be human is to err.” In the first paradise, Adam was fully human and yet he was free from error. In the second paradise, man will still be human and he, too, will be free from error. These two examples prepare us for the Biblical data that although Jesus was completely human, he was not sinful or erroneous in his judgment. Matthew tells us that according to Jesus’ human nature he was not omniscient, for he did not know the day or the hour of his coming (Mk. 13:32). (As God, of course, he was omniscient.) But lack of omniscience does not necessarily mean erroneousness, as is seen in the case of the first and second paradises. The basic reason Jesus could neither sin nor think incorrectly is that the Divine Person, with whom his human nature is in personal union, can neither sin nor err intellectually.

Thus the incarnation is the prime refutation of the simplistic reasoning: humanity equals fallibility. Jesus does not distort the truth because he is also human. On the contrary, it is impossible for him to be erroneous because the Divine Person is the author of his words. Just as the Divine Person is the author of the words that proceed from Jesus and consequently they cannot be wrong, so also the Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, is the author of the words that are in the Bible and consequently they cannot be wrong. Thus the very parallel which the critic uses to prove errors in the Bible proves the very opposite.

1. E. Brunner, Revelation and Reason (Philadelphia, 1946), p. 276.

2. J.K.S. Reid, The Authority of Scripture (London, 1957), pp. 68, 87.

3. K. Barth, op. cit., pp. 510, 520, 525, 529.

4. H.G. Hebert, The Authority of the Old Testament (London, 1947), p. 10.