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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Problem with an Infallible Bible: You're Not!

The late Harold Lindsell, a prominent Evangelical leader, stated that, "The very nature of inspiration renders the Bible infallible, which means that it cannot deceive us. It is inerrant in that it is not false, mistaken, or defective". (The Battle for the Bible. Zondervan, 1978, p.31)  The key phrase, "it cannot deceive us," is the source of the problem. Couple this with biblical literalism and the problem is compounded. For those who believe in infallibility and literalism believe they can read it essentially without error. "The Bible cannot deceive me; therefore, I am not deceived."

You may have wondered why conservative Christians (mostly the leaders) are so sure of themselves. Well, this is part of the explanation. "I understand (literally) what the Bible says, so I have every right to conclude that it is the truth, and those who disagree with me are wrong."  Wrong, even though they come from the same two understandings and approach the Bible the same way. Those who don't come from the same a priori starting point are wrong by definition.

Simply put, the problem with an infallible Bible is that for it to have any value, you need to be an infallible reader. Many have tried to wear the mantle of (practical) infallibility and crown their hubris by consigning to hell (in the most excessive examples) those who would disagree. The Roman Catholic Church relies on an infallible pope, although papal infallibility has been used only once since it was proclaimed in 1870 to make the Assumption of Mary into heaven an Article of faith.

The notion of Absolute Truth is also subject to the same problem of identifying just what it is. Since we are all, as humans, finite beings, we cannot comprehend Absolute Truth. We can only approach it. The absolute cannot dwell in the finite. This is not to say there is no Absolute Truth; only that it is not a helpful notion so long as we think knowing it is possible. So approaching the biblical text must be done in great humility, our conclusions must be open to adjustment at all times, and our openness to other points of view must be observed with respectful consideration. You may not end up with The Truth, but you will be practicing Christian charity. And that's a pathway to a more expansive understanding of the Bible than thinking you have already arrived will ever take you.

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