John 17:17 “Thy word is truth”
Biblical infallibility is a subject of crucial importance for us and the whole church of Christ There are people who say that evangelical Christians make too much of the Bible. They dismiss the phrase, “The Bible says,” with the comment that anything can be proved from the Bible. They patronise us, speaking in terms of admiration for our orthodoxy and zeal but saying that the greatest weakness of evangelical Christians is to trust in an infallible Bible. They believe that this doctrine is utterly unacceptable in the modern age, that it is scientifically and intellectually impossible for Christians to believe it.
They think it wrong to try to unite around a book or a doctrine. “Let us unite,” they say, “around the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Truth.” We are, of course, very happy to unite around the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and to make him our authority, to say with the apostle, “For me to live is the Lord Jesus Christ”. In fact, it is because of him that we find ourselves also uniting around an inerrant Scripture.
Firstly, let us consider the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ
Who is this extraordinary person? He is the one who claims that one day he is going to judge the world, and he is going to separate all mankind as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats. Men are going to receive their eternal destinies from His lips. Consider something more than this; that the criterion by which men and women are going to be judged is their relationship to Himself. Have they obeyed Him? Have they bowed to Him? Have they been ashamed of him? Their destinies are all going to depend upon that. More than that, he claims preexistence. “Before Abraham was I am,” he says. More: he claims absolute equality with God, “I and my Father are one”. John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2), and it ends with Thomas saying, “My Lord and my God,” (John 20:28).
This, then, is the Jesus Christ of the Bible. He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He designed the human brain. He upholds all things by the Word of his power. If the sparrow is going to fall then Jesus Christ must give the word of command. If a meteor will burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, the Lord will decree the occurence. Nothing can happen without him. I believe all the laws of the universe are his. When our children bring home their textbooks from the new school with the forbidding heavy volumes of mathematics and physics those books are simply the attempt of men to describe the world Christ made and sustains. One day He will come again in power, majesty and great glory to take apart this universe atom by atom. He will also put it all together again, a whole new universe in which righteousness will dwell.
Everyone must stand before Him. We shall meet Him and receive from His lips the destination where we will spend eternity. When we see Him we meet ultimate and final reality. I believe He is the only God there is. He is the whole form of God and the very Glory of God. In Jesus Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found infinitely and immeasurably. We do confess the infallibility of Jesus Christ, and that means for us He can say nothing wrong. He speaks on marriage, and on divorce. He speaks on creation both primary of all things from nothing, and then secondarily of those creatures he made out of the dust of the earth – the animals and man. He speaks on the human predicament and explains why people kill other people. He knows the heart of man as none other and all its devices. He speaks on death; he know the eternal world.
The Lord Jesus pronounces inerrantly on every single item that you and I will meet in life. He alone was free from all the prejudices, misconceptions and traditions that cluttered His age. We are creatures of our time. He was not a creature of his time. Some religious people living then thought that it was wrong to eat ears of corn on the Sabbath day. Some believed it was wicked to eat food without first correctly and ceremonially washing their hands. Others thought it was right for a man to divorce his wife for any reason if she offended him. There were also those who thought they might be freed from the responsibilities of caring for aged parents by simply pronouncing the word, “Corban,” meaning “my help to you is a gift of God.” There were those who thought it was acceptable to love their neighbours and then to hate their enemies. Jesus was surrounded with the confusion of people who were children of their time. He was not a child of his time. He was God’s “Holy Child Jesus,” and He corrected His generation on all such issues and many more. He stood against the tide and against his foes, even if it meant that they crucified Him. He could never be bought nor bribed. He could not be won by a smile or intimidated by a frown. He never taught error. This is the Son of God who said, “I am the truth,” and it is around this Christ that men want us to unite. We have no objection at all to be doing that. Then let us go on and ask this question –
Secondly, How did this infallible Christ view the Scriptures?
It would be incredible if He were silent or merely noncommittal on so crucial a matter. We observe that he used the Old Testament Scriptures in all sorts of circumstances. He took them up in temptation when there was a full-frontal attack upon him from the devil. He overcame the devil by quoting from the book of Deuteronomy three times. “It is written,” the Son of God said as the ultimate answer. He quoted the Bible pertinently and reverently throughout his temptations to triumph over Satan. He also used Scripture to answer His enemies. He appeals to the Bible when they are arguing about divorce, or about the right attitude to the Sabbath. He says to his opponents, “You err, not knowing the Scriptures”. He encouraged people in their faith through the Bible. There was a man, Cleopas, and his companion, who were distraught walking along the road to Emmaus. The Lord Jesus Christ had been murdered two days earlier and the bottom of their lives had fallen out. Jesus helped them get on with their lives and trust in God completely by opening up the Scripture. He began with Moses and then appealed to all the writing prophets. He showed the two men all the details about himself which were there in the Old Testament, and he judged them to be “foolish and slow not to believe the Scriptures.” Again, he used Scripture to express His own faith. When he preached in Nazareth it was that the Scriptures should be fulfilled. When He was betrayed by Judas it was that the Scriptures should be fulfilled. When they put Him to death, Scripture had said the Messiah would thus die. When they hung Him upon a cross, it was because that very Scripture – “cursed is he who hangs upon a tree” – should be fulfilled. When He is dying He quotes from Psalm 31 and also Psalm 22. Scripture must be fulfilled. He totally trusted the Word of God. He wholly obeyed the Bible. His faith is Bible faith. He never used any other book extant at his time. He never quoted from the Apocryphal books on a single occasion. His appeal was to Scripture continually and alone.
Again, Jesus quotes from every part of Scripture. There are 179 verses of Jesus’ own teaching in which He refers to Scripture, that is, about ten per cent of his recorded ministry consists of quotation from the Old Testament. He appeals to virtually all those passages that men grumble about today. He refers to Genesis 2 saying “In the beginning God made them male and female.” He appeals to the murder of Abel, Noah’s flood, reminds them of Lot leaving Sodom with fire and brimstone falling upon it – “Remember Lot’s wife,” he says. He refers to Moses being spoken to at the burning bush, Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, Jonah in the whale, the men of Nineveh repenting, Namaan being cleansed from his leprosy, Elijah going to the widow of Zarephath, and the Queen of the South coming to Solomon. He quotes five prophets directly. He quotes every part of Isaiah as “Isaiah” saying those words. He quotes from eight Psalms. He is familiar with Old Testament biblical theology and its whole history of redemption. His teaching is full of Scripture.
Again, He teaches a doctrine of Scripture. He calls the Scriptures “the commandments of God”. He refers to them as “the Word of God”. When He repeats words from a Psalm he says, “David himself said in the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 22:41-45). That is a very interesting doctrine of Scripture: there came a time when the spirit of revelation came upon David and then he wrote the 23rd Psalm or other Psalms. Jesus also said that the Bible was going to endure. He compares the Scriptures with the earth we stand on, and he alsocompares them with the stars of heaven saying simply, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass than that one tittle of the law should fail.” For the Lord Jesus Christ Scripture is inviolable. They “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). “Verily, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away not one jot or tittle shall in any wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.” He says the Scriptures are true. “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). he appeals to the way Scripture is phrased: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the Scriptures cannot be broken” (John 10:34&35). Again, “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matt. 22:31&32).
This was the doctrine of Scripture that Jesus taught. He taught the doctrine of the nature of God. He taught the doctrine of redemption. He taught the doctrine of the eternal state. But this is what He taught about the Bible. Now, if the Word of God were full of mistakes should He not have warned us – would He not have told us? He warned his disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees. Was not there one occasion on which He said, “If it were not so I would have told you?” (John 14:2).
So we have seen, firstly, who Jesus Christ is, God incarnate, the infallible Lord who used the Truth, and secondly, that He taught the doctrine of the truth of Scripture. He binds the consciences of all who love and serve him to this same attitude if He is our Lord. If the disciple is not greater than his Master, then we are committed to believe in an infallible Bible. The issue is not an intellectual one it is a moral one. Will we obey our God?
Thirdly, The Lord Jesus Christ gave His Word to the apostles
Paul was very conscious that the Christian message was not an original message thought up by him. He was aware of the secondary nature of his understanding , that his was a derived message, he had ‘received’ it. “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received,” he said. When he is summarising the gospel in I Corinthians 15:1ff. he says, “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand” (verse 3). And again, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures: and that he was buried and rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” When he spoke to the Galatians (1:11-12) he said: “I certify brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” So Paul and the apostles are conscious that they are simply passing on something, an unoriginal message, that they are mere delivery boys, or heralds declaring a message that they have received from someone far greater than themselves, to whom they must answer for the stewardship of their message.
There is this great New Testament teaching about the Lordship of Christ, his incarnation and redemption. It speaks about the meaning of his sufferings, his resurrection from the grave. Paul says, “I am handing it down in my preaching and in my letters”. It did not originate in the apostle. He simply ‘received’ it. But he did not get it from man, not even from the apostles. He got it directly from Jesus himself. Like the prophets who were called into the presence of Jehovah and came from there with a word burning like fire in their bones, so Paul went to Jehovah Jesus and came from him with specific given good news for all men. He had spent those years in the wilderness of Arabia. Just as John the Baptist received his commission and preparation during years of sojourn in the wilderness coming out to awaken the nation, so Paul spent time in the presence of Christ, and the same Lord who had spoken to him on the road to Damascus proceeded to clarify to the apostle eternal truths. It was from the Lord Jesus that Paul got his doctrine of revelation. There is not a hair’s breadth of difference between the apostles’ attitude to the Word of God and their Lord’s evaluation of it. Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16 are, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The apostle Peter tells us “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). That attitude to the Hebrew Scriptures they learned from the example and teaching of their God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So the authors of the New Testament letters had the very same approach to Scripture as their Lord himself. The apostles quote every part of the Old Testament. The only book from the Old Testament that is not quoted directly in the New Testament is the book of Esther. In the letter to the Hebrews where David or Isaiah are being appealed to you will find the author to the Hebrews prefacing his quotation with the words, “God said” or “the Holy Spirit says” (note the present tense, as referring to a living reality). Paul in Acts 24:14 confessed that he believed in everything that was written in the law and the prophets. In other words, if it were found in the Bible Paul believed it. This is how God had taught him to respond to Scripture Then we also learn that for the apostle Peter the writings of his brother Paul are laid on exactly the same level as the ‘other’ Scriptures, that is, of the Old Testament itself (2 Peter 3:16).
So all Scripture is believed to be God-breathed, that is, the expiration of God. This is the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles. If you then could have inquired asking the Saviour how comprehensive is this inspiration, He would answer you that, “not a jot or a tittle of the law shall pass away until all be fulfilled.” What we mean by inspiration is that God came in the exercise of a very special providence and supervised the writing of the whole of the Scriptures. The Bible is the Word from God. It is not simply that God showed men something and let them write it down as they were pleased. He did not let them feel something numinous and inspirational, and then they composed it in their own words. The inspiration is related directly to the writing.
You might protest, “But to err is human. We can’t have human activity without sin or error.” The issue is a different one. Is not Almighty God able so to superintend, control and overrule the operations of the human mind so as to ensure that men say exactly what God wants them to say, and to write precisely what God wants them to write? Is this an impossibility with God? He can make the universe and raise the dead but he cannot prepare a man in his providence so that the man inscribes what God wants? It is interesting in Revelation 10:4, where John is about to write down some words and God intervenes and says to him, “Write them not”. So God assisted these men as they used their distinctive personalities, the exercise of their faculties, minds, memories and emotions. God freely enabled them to use their experiences and even a number of biographical references. In all their writings God determined that they freely put down and recorded what transpired to be exactly he wanted them to say. The Lord worked all things after the counsel of his own will.” He prevented them, as the foundation of the church for the next two thousand years, from laying a foundation of error. There was no destruction of their personalities. Paul remained different from John and also from Luke. It was not always dictation on God’s part, although there is an immediacy and an intimacy in their relaionship to God, like a servant whose eyes are on the face of his master. The great comprehensive idea and the whole of this concept of divine inspiration through men is that every single Scripture is God-breathed. All the parts of the Bible say exactly what God intended them to say. The Scriptures are God’s infallible testimony to himself, and to us about himself to the end that we might be saved.
Fourthly, there are some difficulties.
There is a difference between difficulties and errors. In all of science there are difficulties. Consider two or three aspects of biblical interpretation which might cause inerrantists some difficulty.
Creation. The Bible is insistent that the universe is God’s creation. It would have no existence without Him. In fact, we are told that God made everything in Christ: “By him were all things made;” “Without him was not anything made that was made.” In Genesis 1 we are introduced to God’s approach to creation. The plan was from the simple to the complex in six great acts – the first day light; second day the skies and sea; third day the earth: fourth day the sun and moon; fifth day birds and fishes; sixth day animals and man; seventh day God rested. Some of these acts were out of (or in) nothing, and in others of those acts God created out of already existent material. Immediately God intervenes and creates something, then it is not natural; it is a miraculous intervention. The sum of factors that have been so far made are not sufficient to explain the changes. For example, God said, “Let there be light,” and immediately there is light. Not a pinprick, but a universal curtain stretching out from one end of the universe to the other. We might argue that light travels so many millions of miles in a year and the time the light from a distant star reaches us indicates (with other factors) that the universe should be 300 million years old. hat does not take into consideration the creative power of God. In fact the intrusion of God meant light was made in a moment. When God had made Adam and then Eve they would probably have looked as if they were in their early 20’s, but they received life in a moment. Adam was made out of the dust of the earth, and Eve out of a rib in Adam’s side. God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and it was because of that inflatus that he became a living being. The making of our first parents is due to a totally supernatural action.
Consider the light cast on this from the mighty works of the Lord Jesus. In his first miracle Christ turns water into wine, and the man who tastes it judged that it was fine old wine. We know, in fact, that it was only minutes old. In the world rain falls upon the soil of a vineyard. It is absorbed though the roots of the vine and by osmosis taken up to every part of the plant. Flowers are pollinated, fruit appears and ripens as the sun beats down. Finally, the grapes are picked, crushed, purified and aged at the climax of the actual wine-making process. The Lord short-circuited that in a moment’s creative supernaturalism. Again, Christ multiplies the loaves and fishes to a super-abundance. It is bread he makes, not grain, nor flour nor dough. When he multiplies the fish it is not fry he makes but mature fish, a year or two old, and cooked. Who are we dealing with? It is Jehovah Jesus, the God of Genesis one. That chapter is doxological, of course. But we are turned to praise only because it is true. God created the universe. He made our first parents, and he placed them in a state of probation. They turned against him and sin entered the world and its inevitable companion death. When God made man there was no death. It was a perfect world and sin was death’s trigger. It was that historic fall that plunged Adam and all of us into sin and brought death to mankind. The Lord Jesus and his apostles throughout the New Testament teach this and so must the Christian faith in its mighty confessions for twenty centuries. Creation, fall and redemption are the structures on which the Christian religion is erected.
Old Testament violence. This is another difficulty. For example, the Old Testament teaches very simply “an eye for an eye” – just an eye. It forbids revenge that would takes a life when one has caused the loss of a man’s eye. “A tooth for a tooth,” not a life for a tooth. The civil punishment must justly fit the crime. That is the basis of universal justice. The passage is not addressing personal relationships but civic justice.
Another problem is caused by the abominable depravity of local cultures. They were so evil that divine judgment fell upon them and they were ‘devoted’ to God. It was an anticipation of the great day of judgment. There was the flood, for example, in Noah’s time. This man of God lived for long years in the midst of an irredeemable civilisation. He preached the Word of God into the teeth of their disdain. Finally a unique and unrepeatable judgment fell upon them from heaven above and the earth beneath. There was a cascade and an eruption of waters together so flooding the earth that the world has changed beyond recognition from that one in which lived Noah and his little ugly Cainite civilisation. Then there started a new beginning to mankind in a new world.
Joshua’s army similarly, faced a Canaanite culture verminous in its wickedness and power to corrupt. God as it were took his black cap and pronounced a sentence of death upon it. His executioner was Joshua and his hosts. When Israel falls into the same sin, the same judgment of death comes upon all of them and their bones are scattered in the wilderness. So the genocide was not motivated by racial hatred. The ‘devoting’ of the people to God was a demonstration of the divine rectitude and justice. They remind us that we are living in a moral universe. Man sows that which he also reaps. They are types or models of judicial activities that are in Scripture not to galvanise the Church today to take up the sword. The weapons of our warfare are exclusively spiritual, and mighty through god. The few racial judgments in the Old Testament rather point forward to the Day of Judgment; they are eschatological in their purpose.
Consider in that light some of the sentiments expressed in such Psalms as 58:6-10, 59:12&13, 69:24-28, and especially Psalm 137:8&9, “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” These are known as the “Imprecatory Psalms”. Some critics have judged that these sentiments cannot be reconciled with the New Testament God of love. When I met the South Wales Area Superintendent of the Baptist Union in 1964 and told him that I believed in biblical infallibility he immediately quoted word perfect the above text from Psalm 137. He barely paid attention to my attempt to explain it. He said, “Principal Wheeler Robinson said that he did not believe in an infallible pope nor did he believe in an infallible Bible.” So the matter had long been closed for him, and he had his authorities for his religion, whatever Jesus Christ might have said about jots and tittles not passing away from the Scriptures, or about the place the Saviour speaks of where the fire is not quenched, where the worm does not die – a place of eternal judgment – nor what John says in Revelation 18:5-8, “Mix her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself.” ‘Children’ in Psalm 137 is not a reference to age, but to relationship. The children of Israel are not the babies of Israel, and the children of Babylon are people who lived for Babylon and hated the God of Israel and would throw his followers into the burning fiery furnace at the drop of a hat.
Those prayers in the book of Psalms are expressions of Old Testament believers who are surrounded by such enemies. Those men were like “the bulls of Bashan” pawing the ground in their anger, wanting to gore God’s people to death. The church is set forth, says Christ, like sheep amidst wolves who want to tear them in pieces and devour them. They blaspheme the name of their God and want to wholly exterminate his name, his word and his people from the face of the earth. These Old Testament believers are pronouncing their longing for vindication and judgment in the name of Jehovah the righteous one, and in vivid poet ic language. They are crying, “Let God arise; let his enemies be scattered”.
So there are difficulties, but that does not mean there are errors in what is expressed.
But there is one other difficulty and that is your own difficulty – and I do not know what particularly it might be. But I seem to observe every Christian having one particular passage in the Bible, and somehow it gets under his skin. The floating axe-head, the conflicting numbers in Chronicles and Kings, the universal flood, the talking donkey, Christ walking on the water, the smiting of the fig-tree, the mini-resurrection when Christ was hanging on the cross – and they really worry about those kinds of verses. It seems that the devil who observes them appropriately gets at them and sows doubts in their minds – “Can God really have said that?” Remember the first temptation man met, when Satan came to him and said, “Has God said?”. Those were the words spoken to our first parents, and it would seem incredible if that approach of Satan’s casting doubt on the Word of God, which had proved so effective for him then, was no longer used by him today. It would seem to me that God is telling us that we can reckon on it that Satan will do his best to undermine our faith in particular passages of the Word of God, and we are to “watch and pray.”
We acknowledge that there are problem verses, though there are not many of them, and they have been around for hundreds of years. Augustine wrote about some of them 16 centuries ago. Christians have been considering them during the millenia and answering objections to them from cynics, despisers of the Gospel, right up to the liberal critics of our own day. There is nothing new under the sun. I have found an old book which is always in print, John W. Haley’s “Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible”, to be helpful and sure in its judgments. Buy a good commentary to help you understand the Scriptures and consult it. Talk to another Christian, or to your pastor. That is what he is there for!
There are difficulties, but most difficulties are greatly exaggerated. The word ‘infallible’ seems to raise the hackles unnecessarily. Yet we all have books that are free from error – manuals that come with machines we have bought and that are wholly true. If there is a mistake in them, which is possible, the manufacturer will correct those errors in their next edition. These are human books which are wholly true, and so how much more this Book, which every generation is summoned to take, read, understand, learn, live out, proclaim and charge to the consciences of his children. Believe this Word is the Word of God.
Fifthly, in closing I want to say something about our own coldness to Scripture
That is the greatest difficulty of all, not the Word itself, but us. We read the opening psalm in the book of Psalms and we meet there the blessed man. We are told that, “His delight is in the law of the Lord and in that law does he meditate day and night”. Here is a man who really loves the Bible. Now that is a searching test of the Christianity of any man, not only that we have the correct revealed doctrine of Scripture, and read it diligently every day, and sit under the best preaching that we can hear each Sunday, but more than all those things, that we actually to love it, that we have fallen in love with the Bible. Now, is that our relationship to Scripture? Is it not true that sometimes our preference is for other literature, that the delight has shifted from divine oracles to some devotional book or a biography.
One of the intriguing things is what some people say they do for relaxation. Now when a person relaxes he does something he loves doing. Do you say, “I study the Bible because I have to, because it is food for my faith, it is part of my discipline, but to relax I do something else”? Then that whole element of delight has passed away and we have ceased turning to God’s Word for pleasure. When we want delight we go to something else; but we go to God’s Word for duty, discipline and information. Before we know where we are, we have ceased to delight in the law of the Lord.
I think increasingly we make some distinction between our religion and our affections. There are people who would never think of coming to a Christian conference for a holiday, who would never consider the prayer meeting as a night out. We have lost this commitment to the delights of the Word of God, the joy of our devotion. But the blessed man who is described for us at the beginning of the book of Psalms delights in the law of the Lord. His pleasure is religion. There is no dichotomy between his faith and his enjoyment. His chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him. That is his preferred occupation. When he has time you will find him reading the Bible and meditating on it. He is reflecting on the law of God. He loves the Bible! Sometimes when he finishes reading it he will hug it to his chest as his greatest treasure. God’s infallible word can take his breath away. He is intrigued by it day by day, never growing weary of it, but increasingly struck by the evidences of its inspiration, the marvellous accuracy of every word, the complexity of so many of its statements, its stirring concepts, even its remarkable use of prepositions. He is moved by the details of its language and he is quite taken up by Scripture. Here is a man loving the Bible; he is enthused by Scripture. It is a miraculous book that we may yet handle and weigh. It is one of those tangible proofs that God exists, that God is. It is the great evidence for the reality of God. We worship the God who inspired this Book. So the Christian is in love with the Word of God.
So let us hold fast to our confession of the inerrancy of Scripture. Let the infallibility of Christ drive us to that confession as we submit to him as our Lord and God. Then we ourselves will echo his words that Scripture is true – “Your word is truth”. But never stop there. Not only does every member of every cult believe that, the very devils believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Demons are very orthodox. There are no modernist demons. They confess that it is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. I am saying that we must go on and love and delight in the Word of God. The devils never delight in the Word of God. But all God’s people are summoned to love this Word of God more and more, until they meet him whom they have met in its pages throughout their lives.