It can only be with great sadness that one finds the question of the infallibility of Scripture questioned within Reformed circles—again. Even sadder when it enters what is usually labeled as the conservative sector of the Reformed arena.
The definition of infallible can be simple and brief. Whatever is infallible is free from error. Charles Hodge wrote, “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore infallible, and of divine authority in all things pertaining to faith and practice, and consequently free from all error whether of doctrine, fact, or precept” (Systematic Theology. Vol. 1, p. 152).
The infallibility of the Scriptures is tied directly to our confession of divine inspiration. Jesus declared that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Article 7 of the Belgic Confession confesses that the Holy Bible is the “infallible rule.”
The Scriptures given by the Holy Spirit are inerrant and infallible. As soon as we say that, however, we have to add that such a statement can only be made about the original documents. Those who transcribed or copied the Scriptures were not infallible. In addition the various translations that are available today are also not to be declared as inerrant and infallible.
I once heard a televangelist give a soliloquy on how the italicized words in the King James Version are italicized because God wanted those words stressed—not realizing that they were italicized by the translators because they were added by them. And, I am sure our readers have all heard of those who claim to be “Red-letter Christians” who hold only to the words that translators attribute to Jesus Christ.
Still, it is significant and also reassuring to know that none of the basic and fundamental truths of Scripture are changed whether we adopt one particular reading or another. In visiting a Scriptorium containing centuries-old Bibles—some even with margin notes—the director noted that very few changes have taken place throughout the years. Those who study the Dead Sea Scrolls find the writings of Isaiah and other Old Testament writers hidden away for millennia to be nearly identical to what is available at any Christian book store. Perhaps the best way to deal with the infallibility of Scripture is to look first at the author of Scripture. Some theologians who are more progressive in their thoughts may think that the Bible was composed by several authors throughout the history of Israel. Thankfully, most Reformed theologians still adhere to the inspiration of Scripture. Several decades ago a candidate for the ministry would not be ordained into the ministry if he failed to state that he believed all of Scripture was God-breathed. Today a variety of phrases can be used, but they all lead to the same concept—the Holy Spirit led men to write the Holy Writ.
The Holy Spirit worked in and through the human authors in such a manner that they were told not only what to write but how to write. This inspiration is plenary—pertaining not only to some but to all of Scripture; it is verbal—not only thoughts and ideas but the words that express them; it is organic—leaving room for each writer to be used by God according to his own individuality.
Inspiration is not to be confused with spiritual illumination, in which all believers share. The inspiration of the writers of Scripture was a special work of the Holy Spirit whereby He caused the authors to write a God-breathed Book of which God Himself was the Author. The Bible is, then, a divine Book in distinction from all other books. It is the Book of which it must ever be said, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Since this is true, and it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18), how can anyone possibly come to the conclusion that a God-breathed, inspired Scripture can be fallible? Such an assumption implies that God breathed in error. If the Bible is inspired throughout, then of necessity it must be infallible throughout.
The question of whether or not the Bible is infallible is by no means unimportant. It strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith. To budge so much as one inch on this truth would open up the floodgates to a global deluge of error.
Unless we have an infallible Bible, we have no Bible at all. Once we begin to question parts of Scripture as being unreliable, we begin to question all of Scripture. Then we would have no certainty, no hope, no message, no authority, no rule or standard for faith and practice. Each individual would be left to decide what is true and what is not true for him, what is reliable and what is not reliable, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Then what is truth becomes subjective, leaving us adrift without an anchor, relying on our own fallible minds to determine what is infallible. Ultimately it would lead to utter despair.
Without an infallible Bible we have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the co-pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and the editor of The Outlook.