Is the Bible Infallible?
NCW 32, April 1996 (Part I)
Q. Am I right in thinking that New Covenant Christians do not believe the Bible to be infallible?
The New Covenant Church of God has always avoided dogmatic statements that would either lead to worship of, or disrespect for, the Bible.
The Bible is the work of men whom God used to reveal Himself in written words. We do not believe that any written record produced by men, no matter how inspired, can be infallible, but we believe God is infallible.
Words are not the natural medium of spiritual communication but belong to the physical realm. In the world of spirit, communication is telepathic. Concepts that would take a book to describe and months to write can be communicated there instantly.
The Bible is as fallible as its readers and its writers. The Holy Spirit that entered its writers was, and is, infallible. The concepts that lie behind the written word are infallible. But words, whose meanings are constantly changing with the evolution of language, are not infallible.
The Bible can only be understood in its fullness through the Holy Spirit. Though a man who does not have the Spirit may sit down and read the Ten Commandments and gain a general understanding of what they mean intellectually, they will not necessarily speak to his heart or spirit. Like the layers of an onion, so also is the Bible, and its depths cannot be perceived save through the Spirit. And without the Spirit it is often misunderstood and misapplied. It has been used as the basis of slavery and apartheid and as a justification for immorality by those without the Spirit.
The Bible is a stepping stone into the Spirit for those who are humble, contrite and pure in heart. It is as a stone for bread for the wicked. It is like a bridge, therefore, or a medium of communication. It is not the communication itself.
To ask whether the Bible is infallible or not is like my asking a man if he is infallible. A women who is in love with that man may see him as almost perfect, whereas his enemy will be able to find incessant fault with him.
The books of the Bible bear the marks of the personality of their writers. Matthew and John, though telling the same Gospel, tell it in different ways. And when you read them, you experience the Holy Spirit differently too. You experience it as it was by the writers. Paul does not read the same way as James. Paul emphasised salvation by grace, because that was the greatest revelation of God to him, and that is what he experienced the most. James emphasised works as essential proof of salvation by grace. Paul worked amongst gentiles who did not know the Law. James worked amongst Jews who did. Their approach was therefore different. Both were right but both emphasised differrent things even though they were teaching the same Gospel. Therefore the witness of one is not complete without the other. I only wish there were as many writings of James as there are of Paul as there is an imbalance in the New Testament.
The Bible, whatever it is, is not all of God's Word. It can't be. It doesn't address every question. It mentions the question of marriage beyond the grave only once, and then in a negative context to those who did not believe in the resurrection. The Old Testament says very little about the next life and does not display a great understanding of the anatomy of the human soul. Where it lacks in scientific knowledge it has recourse to poetry. Much of the Bible is simply chronological lists. Sometimes the Old Testament writes from the northern Kingdom of Israel's point-of-view and sometimes from the southern Kingdom of Judah's. It does not see every point-of-view. It couldn't, even if it wanted to do. And most of its composition was dictated by the immediate needs of the time.
For New Covenant Christians the Bible is an open, continuing story of God's dealing with man. We do not, as most Christian do, have a hard cover at the end of the Book of Revelations (which in any case is not chronologically the last book in the Bible). Our Bible goes on -- with the writings of the sub-apostolic era and into our own. It is a book that can never end for, as John himself said, were we ever to try and write all of Jesus' sayings down, there would not be books enough to contain them (Jn.21:25).
The Bible does not, in any case, say that "In the beginning was the Book" but "In the beginning was the Word" (Jn.1:1). It doesn't tell us what that Word was -- that it was a collection of letters or even a sound but that it was a person. The Word is, was, and ever will be, Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is God (Jn.1:1). In other words, everything that is Christ -- everything that is God -- is the Word. And who could ever write the trillionth part of that down?
The Bible is extremely important and is a useful rail line to make sure we don't go wandering off in the wrong direction but it is not the end itself. Christ is "Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End" (Rev.21:6, NIV). And everything inbetween. The Bible could never contain Christ no more than a temple could contain God. Even heaven cannot contain Him! (1 Ki.8:27; 2 Chr.2:6; 6:18).
You will perhaps think that I am evading your question. But what I am trying to say is that your question is unanswerable because it is invalid. If I am to say that the Bible is infallible then it can only be in the sense that an acorn contains an oak tree. But to say that it is an oak tree, that I cannot.
Let us avoid dogma and the temptation to wrap everything up into neat little packages with labels on them. Life is not that simple and may indeed become unnecessarily limiting if we indulge in such needless activities. The Bible contains more than you can read, just as a stretch of river contains more water in it that what you can see at any one moment. But then so also do modern revelations or any other medium, human or written, that the Holy Spirit cares to manifest itself through.
"The absolute best description of the Bible from a Christian viewpoint I have ever come across" (Charles C in A Crisis of Faith).
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