Infallibility: An Escapable Concept

“I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them” (lsa. 42:8–9).

God, in this word spoken through the prophet Isaiah, declares that, when he speaks, his word surely and infallibly comes to pass, He declares moreover that he alone is God, and he will neither share nor give his glory to another. But in our day, as in Isaiah’s, many question this declaration: they reduce it to religious poetry, Isaiah’s rhetoric, or Hebraic imagery, and they deny to God his sovereignty and to his word its infallibility. This denial is taking its toll of the churches, of society, and of individuals.

The Immediacy of the Word

This toll is a very real one: the immediacy of the word is gone. Instead of the direct and inescapable word of God, a realm of cultural accretions, imagery, myth, and vagueness intervenes. A devout Christian woman who for many years attended a church where the doctrine of infallibility was slurred over or rejected, reacted with radiant joy when, at a conference, the doctrine was set forth clearly and unequivocally. Instead of a “dullness” and “joylessness” in her faith, she now realized suddenly and happily that “the Lord is very near. Right here, His very words are speaking to me.” The clarity of that faith in the infallible word gives to the believer an assurance, strength, and joy in the immediacy of God. Men have lived confidently in darker eras than ours in the confidence and victory of that faith, whereas today the oppression and the fear of evil are very near to men, and the force of God’s word very remote.

The historian Friedrich Heer has described the estrangement of man from God in the 13th century as a result of faulty theologies:

The sense of great joy and inward freedom which the early church derived from its possession of the Good News (which everyone could read for himself), and its sense of union with the resurrected Lord, had long since been overlaid by feelings of terror and estrangement. Men at their prayers no longer raised their arms and turned toward Christ, their rising sun, but folded their hands in the attitude of serfs, serfs of God and of their sin. Where formerly the priest had celebrated the Mass facing the people, in proof of his accessibility, now he turned his back on them and retreated to the fastness of the sanctuary, separated from the people’s part of the church by a forbidding screen. Finally, the Mass was read in a tongue the people could not understand.1

Whenever people feel that God has no word for them, fear and terror begin to dominate society, and evil roams the streets unafraid. If there is no immediate word from God, the immediate word of evil dominates men’s lives. Today, the vitality and joy is again being drained out of the church, and its strength is ebbing fast. The open or the practical denial of the infallibility of Scripture is again exacting a deadly toll in society.

Infallibility is Inescapable

The doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture can be denied, but the concept of infallibility as such cannot be logically denied. Infallibility is an inescapable concept. If men refuse to ascribe infallibility to Scripture, it is because the concept has been transferred to something else. The word “infallibility” is not normally used in these transfers; the concept is disguised and veiled, but, in a variety of ways, infallibility is ascribed to concepts, things, men, and institutions.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a Jesuit geologist, was honest enough to speak of the “infallibility” of the evolutionary process. In speaking of the evolutionary process supposedly at work in the world, he wrote:

To bring us into existence it has from the beginning juggled miraculously with too many improbabilities for there to be any risk whatever in committing ourselves further and following it right to the end. If it undertook the task, it is because it can finish it, following the same methods and with the same infallibility with which it began.2

Because of his belief in the infallibility of evolution, Teilhard could feel confidence as he faced the future. He looked forward, indeed, to an evolutionary pentecost, with “the coming of the Spirit of the Earth”:

The atomic age is not the age of destruction but of union in research. For all their military trappings, the recent explosions at Bikini herald the birth into the world of a mankind both inwardly and outwardly pacified. They proclaim the coming of the Spirit of the Earth.3

Teilhard’s sorry trade is the infallibility of the sovereign, omnipotent God in his word for the infallibility of a blind, evolving process.

Infallibility concepts are all around us, a great variety of substitutes for the infallible word. Democracy is one such substitute. From ancient times, as essential-faith has been Slimmed up in the Latin motto, vox populi vox dei, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” This new god, the people, or democracy, speaks infallibly in and through majorities. One liberal scholar, in affirming democracy, has emphasized this; Herman Finer, in the Road to Reaction, has noted that “in a democracy right is what the majority make it to be.”4 Not surprisingly, every movement towards democracy has a direct or indirect attack on Christian orthodoxy. Because democracy has an explicit doctrine of infallibility, it is necessarily and logically hostile to a rival doctrine of infallibility, and the claims of Scripture are either implicitly or explicitly denied.

In passing, it can be noted that the philosopher Croce ascribed infallibility to the esthetic experience.

Marxism and Infallibility Concept

More import-lilt to us today is the Marxist dogma of the infallibility of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dr. Leo-Paul de Alvarez has made an interesting analysis of Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin speeches. The initial attack on Stalin served an important purpose: it disassociated the new leaders from the crimes of Stalin. It was actually stated that Stalin’s writings, long official dogma, contained nothing worthwhile. The attack, however, involved certain dangerous concessions. The infallibility of the dialectical process and of the dictatorship had been seriously endangered. The Marxist theory of contradictions was immediately applied to repair the damage: society always progresses through contradictions, but socialist society docs not have the dangerous and evil class contradictions. The contradictions in Soviet society were due to the fact that people reflected backward conditions of production. Stalin’s policies were correct, but the contradictions led to paternalism, to the cult of personality, and other problems. The problems of Stalinism sprang therefore out of a “rotten survival” in people’s minds. Supposedly, the Party had always been alert to the problem and had struggled against it. The conclusion of this re-thinking was that the errors of Stalin became the sins of the people, and the Party’s infallibility was preserved. Khrushchev, in a speech of December 18, 1957, concluded:

…Stalin will take a due place as a dedicated Marxist-Leninist and a stalwart revolutionary. Our party and the Soviet people will remember Stalin and pay tribute to him.5

Infallibility has always been a basic faith in Marxist dogma, and much of the Marxist power stems from its intense belief in the infallibility of its basic faith.

This should not be surprising. For a man to live successfully, he must have an ultimate standing ground; every philosophy is authoritarian, in that, while it may attack savagely all other doctrines of authority, it does so from the vantage point of a new authority. This new authority is a basic pre-theoretical presupposition which is in totality religious and which rests on a particular concept of infallibility. Every man has his platform from whence he speaks. To affirm that foundation without qualification is an inescapable requirement of human thought.

It is a naive and foolish error to assume that “deliverance” from the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture “frees” man’s mind from the concept of infallibility. Rather, it means the adoption of a new infallibility as a rival and supposedly liberating concept. Thus Rousseau, in formulating his dogmas of democracy, plainly asserted the infallibility of the general will of the people. Rousseau emphatically asserted, after developing his doctrine of the general will, that…

It follows from what has been said above that the general will is always right and ever tends to the public advantage.6

The infallibility of the general will as embodied in either the majority, the democratic consensos, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the folk, or in elite groups is a doctrine which has dominated the world scene in the 20th century. War has become totalitarian because it has become the clash of infallible philosophies with mutually exclusive claims. The departure of modern man from Biblical faith has been an exodus to a new Egypt, another and an enslaving doctrine of infallibility.

Similarly, the departure of the Church of Home from the single ultimate authority of Scripture has not been a denial of infallibility. Infallibility has rather been transferred to the church. First, it was held implicitly that the church is infallible, then explicitly so, and, with the First Vatican Council, the infallibility of the pope under certain general conditions was asserted. If this infallibility should at some future date be denied, it will only be in favor of another infallibility concept.

Another infallibility concept, succinctly formulated by the Deists of the 18th century, is again with us. Alexander Pope declared, in his Essay on Man, that, “Whatever is, is right.” Existentialism has once again affirmed this faith. The validity of any transcendental law, of any standard outside of and beyond man, is denied by the existentialist. For him, reality “is,” and there is nothing else; therefore, what is, is infallibly right. Standards, supremely Scripture, must be challenged as opposed to this new reality, in that they are ruled out of court by a presupposition of infallibility in the existential moment.

The new left, in terms of these existentialist premises, opposes the “Establishment” as an alien standard; it seeks revolution, not in terms of any purpose or goal, but simply to overturn everything except the infallible moment. Only man’s momentary antinomian will can be allowed to prevail, because it is by definition infallible.

Clearly, then, if the infallibility of Scripture is denied, it is denied only in order to ascribe infallibility to nature, to man, or to some aspect or institution of man.

The Necessity of Total Self-Consciousness

But another necessity ensues. A necessary aspect of the doctrine of infallibility is the total self-consciousness of whatever or whoever is infallible.

For orthodox Christians, this means, as Cornelius Van Til has so ably pointed out, that God is totally self-conscious. There is no unconscious or subconscious mind in God , nor does the Almighty God sleep. He is totally self-conscious; there are no hidden potentialities in God. Man, on the contrary, is not totally self-conscious; there are hidden recesses in the mind of man, unrealized potentialities unknown to the person. Man cannot therefore fully determine what he is or what he can do. Many retired people, freed from their work, develop sometimes surprising potentialities, but no man has ever fully known himself. Solomon observed that “Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own ways?” (Prov. 20:24). The determination of man is not in man, nor docs man even have a full self-consciousness about himself.

God, on the other hand, not only determines all things but is totally self-determined and self-conscious. There arc no hidden potentialities in God, who knows himself totally, and, therefore, when he speaks, speaks authoritatively and infallibly. An infallible word requires a totally self-conscious speaker who can speak in total knowledge of himself and his abilities. Not surprisingly, Sartre saw this dilemma, and, at the beginning of his analysis of existentialist man, attacked the Freudian concept of the unconscious. What is repressed by the mind, Sartre held, is knowingly repressed in order to escape from difficulties: There is much to be said for Sartre’s thesis, but the reason for his attack on the subconscious in a study of ontology is what concerns us. Sartre as an existentialist frankly states that the god of man is to be god: “man fundamentally has the desire to be God.”8 A true god, however, must have full self-consciousness, and hence Sartre finds it imperative to deny the concept of the unconscious.

The Necessity of Omnipotence

Thus, an infallible word must come from a self-conscious source, from one who speaks in fun knowledge of himself and of his abilities. But this is not enough: an authoritative and infallible word requires not only total self-consciousness but also total power, omnipotence, in order to speak the word and then bring it to pass. The God of Scripture, who is totally self-conscious and has no hidden potentialities, declares, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). This no man can say, in that both lacking perfection and having hidden potentialities, man both changes and is in need of continuing change. Man grows and regresses. God, on the other hand, does not change, and, being omnipotent, can declare his word and bring it to pass. Hence the challenge issued through Isaiah: “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.” God, being omnipotent and totally self-conscious, can predict because his word is the controlling word. God’s word comes out of his unchanging and omnipotent being, and the word of God is thus of necessity infallible. The only word the sovereign and triune God call speak is an infallible word. To deny the infallibility of the word of God is inescapably to deny the God of Scripture. When the omnipotent God speaks, his word is of necessity infallible. This is the only kind of word that God can declare. Because God is God. it is utterly impossible for God ever to speak a word which is not infallible.

Omnipotence plus total self-consciousness necessitates an infallible word. Therefore, anyone who denies the infallibility of Scripture is saying that God is not sovereign, that he can neither predestine nor predict. No prophecy can then come from God. Deny infallibility, and the only God that remains, if any, is a struggling, weak, and stammering God, incapable of knowing himself or of issuing an eternal decree. This is n0t the God of Scripture.

A sovereign, predestinating, self-conscious God can only declare an infallible word. When infallibility then is transferred to some false god, these other attributes of God ml1st be transferred also. Omnipotence and omniscience must then he ascribed to some new agency. Teilhard ascribed them to evolution, others to the dictatorship of the proletariat, to philosopherkings, to the general will, or to whatever else is the new god of man and society.

Because the modern state, in all its variations, is based on Rosseau’s concept of the infallible general will, it is moving steadily towards totalitarianism, seeking total power over man. Marxism openly gives us the dictatorship of the proletariat, plus total planning and control. Total planning is the statist version of predestination.

The doctrine of predestination is, of course, the doctrine of total planning and control. To hold to the eternal decree of cod is to say simply that God from the beginning, planned, predicted, and totally controls everything that comes to pass. The modern state, as the new god, seeks total control over man in order to speak an infallible word, in order to experiment with man and control him from cradle to grave. Planning is thus increasingly a necessary aspect of the modern state, because the modern state wants to predict, to prophesy, to control. The goal is total planning in order to prophesy, total control for total power.

A State of War

Infallibility is thus an inescapable concept. What we face today is not an abandonment of the doctrine of infallibility, but its transfer from God to man, from God’s word to man’s word. But as Isaiah warns us, God declares, “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another.” Thus speaks the LORD, He Who Is.

We are therefore in a state of war, war between heaven and humanism, war between the—Almighty God and the totalitarian state, war between God and the scientific planners, predicters, and controllers, war between God and all those who deny his infallibility. Such a conflict is a very uneven one, and there can he no doubt as to the outcome of this war.

God will not share his glory nor give it to another. Even as the builders of the Tower of Babel were confounded and scattered, even as Pharaoh and his host were destroyed and his troops swallowed up in the Red Sea, even as God declared his judgment on Amalek, and Amalek is gone, even as Assyria and Babylon, and the empires of old, were brought down to dust, so those who today deny his infallible word and ascribe infallibility to the things of man shall be brought low by the Lord of Hosts. “This is the victory that overeometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). We have the infallible word of the infallible God. Let Christian men rejoice therefore, for our God is Lord of Lords, King of Kings, the mighty Conqueror.

1. Frierdrich Heer: The Medieval World, Europe 1100–1350, p. 159f. Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1961.

2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: The Phenomenon of Man, p. 232. With all introduction by Sir Julian Huxley. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959.

3. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: The Future of Man , p. 147. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. See also C. Van Til: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution and Christ: Nutley, New Jersey Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966.

4. Herman Finer: Road to Reaction, p. 60, Chicago: Quadrangle Books. 1945, 1963. Filler holds that if the majority had voted Hitler into power, and he states that the majority did not, then Hitler’s regime would have been “the Rule of Law”, ibid.

5. Nikita S. Khmshchev, “Forty Years of Great October Socialist Revolution” (Report to the Anniversary Session of the USSR Supreme Soviet. Nov. 6. 1957), in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, IX: 45 (December 18, 1957) p. 9; cited in Leo-Paul S. de Alvarez: Sino-Soviet Ideological Relations: 1956–1957, p. 52, unpublished ms., 19–59.

6. J.J. Rousseau: The Social Contract, Bk. II, Chapt. III, para. 1.

7. Jean-Paul Sartre: Being and Nothingness, An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, p. 50 ff. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.

8. Ibid., p. 566.

9. Ibid., p. 626.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony is a minister in California in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This article is from a work in progress, a book on this subject with the same title, and is reprinted by permission.