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Good Question: Is the Bible Infallible?

Faith, Biblical Authority, Bible

October 16, 2019

By Jordan Burgen

Question:

"I have a question that I have been struggling with every since it popped into my head. I'm not sure where to go to ask this question, but figured I would start here.
I want to start by saying that I believe in God and that He is the one true God. I believe that Jesus died for my sins and is the son of God. However, I have a problem understanding the bible. The bible is supposed to be the word of God, but it is not written by God, but by man. God communicated to these men through vision/dreams/angelic messages/etc. and then it was written down by these men to later (not with intention) be put in the bible.
In the bible it states many times that man is fallible. If men are fallible, how can we hold faith to the bible without knowing if these men didn't misinterpret a message, or add/remove things from the message based on their own desires/bias/views/etc, or be false prophets (saying they heard God when they didn't, but they wrote a compelling story so it was taken on faith)? It all comes down to faith, I know, but faith has been used by men in the past to corrupt and lie and hold power.
Not only can the stories of the bible be inflicted with this, but the bible as a whole was put together from different texts and scriptures, by man. How do we know certain texts/scripts weren't excluded or included (falsely) (especially based on the views and culture of the world then)? How do we know that, even if someone misinterpreted a message, that God didn't speak to someone else to try and get the correct message out there, but these people were called fakes/frauds/false due to the bible already being published and everyone having faith that the messages in the bible are infallible BECAUSE of faith.
I'm sure that the entirety of the bible isn't this way and most of it holds true to what it claims to be, the word of God, but when men are in control, and not God, because God works through us, not Himself, how can we have faith in something that may not be true or not ACTUALLY be the word of God, but the word of man?
In the end, I'm torn between what it says about having faith (taking the bible at face value) and realizing that God also gave us free will (and the ability to do what we want, good or bad) and how would we know if a bad apple didn't get put in there? We rely on the bible being infallible, but I struggle with knowing if this is what God wanted.
I'm hoping you can give me guidance on how I should go forward with thinking about the bible based off the above criteria. I may be completely wrong and ignorant, and honestly, that would be a relief. I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing back from the church."

Thanks for reaching out! First, I just want to provide you with an answer I gave for a very similar question previously that may address some of your concerns: https://www.flatironschurch.com/sermon/good-question-is-the-bible-really-gods-word/

That doesn’t answer all of your questions (though the links provided in there may), so I do want to address a couple more things. First, I want to talk about how the Bible that you currently hold in your hand came to be, also known as the canonization. Basically, the image we have in our minds of a group of people voting on which book is in and which book is out isn’t exactly accurate. The canonization was more of a legitimizing of a list of books and letters that were already being widely read in the early church. The Old Testament, of course, is just the Hebrew Bible, which was in circulation during the time of Jesus. The New Testament consists of early writings by eyewitnesses to Jesus and the early church, including some of the apostles. The reason some writings were left out of the official canon was because they were not seen as legitimate by the people of the early church and were not widely read or distributed. Take the gospel of Thomas, for example. This book is radically different than the other gospels and written substantially later than the evidence suggests the others were written. As biblical scholar F. F. Bruce says in his book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?: “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect…what these [canonization] councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.”

Canonization also had to do with setting out the larger narrative that Scripture as a whole tells. It is one continuous story that has its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Another biblical scholar, N.T. Wright says in his book Scripture and the Authority of God: “…canonization was never simply a matter of a choice of particular books on a “who’s in, who’s out” basis. It was a matter of setting out the larger story, the narrative framework, which makes sense and brings order to God’s world and God’s people.” In other words, the coherency and consistency of narrative, theme, and direction of the entire Bible (namely the salvation of the world by God through Jesus, the Messiah), of which the stories and writings span thousands of years, speak to the Bible as a whole not being either a random collection of writings or the work of a single culture with an agenda other than God’s agenda."

As for if a “bad apple” got in there, it does come down to faith. But not faith in humanity or fallible men or society as a whole. It comes down to faith in God. If God is who the Bible says He is, is He capable of inspiring fallible men to write exactly what He wants them to and preserving those words for thousands of years? If He is the God that created the entire universe, I would say this is completely within His capability. How exactly did it work – speaking to and inspiring prophets and apostles and shepherds and slaves to write what He wanted? I don’t know for sure. But there are some clues. Scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. writes in the book Hard Sayings of the Bible: “But 1 Corinthians 2:13 is the most definitive statement that we have on the nature of inspiration and how it took place on most occasions. Paul argued there that just as no one knows the thoughts of a person except that person, so no one knows the thoughts of God except the Holy Spirit. Now it is the same Holy Spirit who takes the inner thinking of God and makes it known to his prophets. He does this by “expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” Thus, it is not a mechanical symbiosis [puppet-like control] between the divine and the human, but instead a living assimilation between the skills and personality of the writers and the mind of God takes place. Accordingly, all that has gone into the preparation of that writer, the vocabulary, the metaphors of life, the occupation entered prior to the call of God, all play a real part in the “teaching” experience of preparing the speakers for their roles as prophets.”

So, it comes down to having faith that God is capable of inspiring people to speak and write His truth, sometimes in their own words, and preserving his Word in written form throughout history (as archaeology and textual scholarship have show has been done remarkably well). And yes, people have free will, and yes, people have tried to add things to the Bible that should never have been there, but that does not mean that God cannot and will not intervene when it comes to His revelation to humanity. He continues to inspire people to be used by Him to protect Scripture like I believe He did when the Bible you hold today was officially canonized.

 I hope this begins to answer some of your questions. I understand that this is a massive topic to tackle, so please reach back out if you have any more questions. I would be happy to continue this discussion. Also, take a look at the links I posted in the blog post above. And if you would like any more resources, I would be happy to point you in the direction of a few more!

Thanks again for reaching out!


The "Good Questions" blog is a place where some of the really good questions people email into the church can be shared with everyone, along with Jordan Burgen's response. Jordan Burgen is the Content & Theology Pastor here at Flatirons, so he answers a lot of the emails sent in to us. To ask a question (about anything, really), please fill out a contact form here or email Jordan directly at 

 

"He continues to inspire people to be used by Him to protect Scripture like I believe He did when the Bible you hold today was officially canonized."

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