Is the Bible Infallible and Literally True?

This entry is part 15 of 57 in the series Mysteries

Part Two

Questions on The Bible

Question Fifteen

Is the Bible Infallible and Literally True?

A Gallup poll released July, 2011 tells us that 30% of the population of the United States believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. 49% do not take it all literally but see it as inspired. Then there are 17% who see it as merely a book of fables and legends.

The idea that every word of the Bible is literally true and comes from the actual mind of God is not logical and not supported by the Bible itself. In this case the majority of the people have the closest approach to the truth – which is the Bible is an inspired book and should be read and interpreted with good judgment.

Those who see the Bible as infallible and literally true will often quote this verse:

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” II Peter 1:20-21

The idea often taken from this is the reader should not use his mind and attempt to figure out the meaning of scripture but just read and follow it literally.

The problem with this idea is we get hundreds of different interpretations of the Bible from those who take this approach. Obviously, reading the Bible literally doesn’t lead to consensus and judgment still must be used.

But… Is the scripture really telling us to not use our own minds to interpret scripture?

Of course not; the writer is merely telling us that we cannot make the scripture say whatever we want it to but should go by what it actually says. If the meaning is obscure then, of course, we must use our best judgment.

Here is another scripture quoted by literalists:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” II Tim 3:16-17

The idea here is since the scriptures can make the man of God “perfect” they are also perfect and infallible.  On top of this they see God as perfect so anything he inspires would be perfect also.

The word “perfect” here is from the Greek ARTIOS.  This is the only time in the entire Bible this word is used and doesn’t mean flawless but more like “fitted” or “complete.” Most modern versions do not use the word “perfect.”

Here is a better translation from the New International Version:

“So that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Outside of the Ten Commandments, there is nothing in the Bible that tells us that the scriptures were written by the finger of God or that they are infallible.  A work that is inspired still has to be put into words by a fallible human and then interpreted by another fallible human.

Most of the Bible was originally written in Greek and Hebrew and the original manuscripts are long lost. Scribes made many handwritten copies over the centuries and changes have been made. When translated into English judgments had to be made and some of them were wrong.  The King James is a beautiful translation that has been used for centuries but it has many glaring mistakes in translation.  That is one reason why so many modern versions have appeared. No one seems satisfied that there is a perfect translation of the Bible available.

Logic therefore tells us that the Bible cannot be interpreted literally, or as infallible, for two reasons:

(1) Even if God himself came down and wrote the  text with his own hand we still have a problem. We do not have the original text.

(2) No translation is flawless.

There are numerous examples of where believers get into trouble by taking the Bible too literally. For instance, in the first book of Genesis we are told that on the third day God created the earth with all it’s vegetation, but then on the fourth day he created the sun, moon and stars. This is of course an impossibility as the creation of the sun had to precede the creation of vegetation.

Then the Bible has a few very odd admonitions that are problematic to take literally. Here’s just one:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience.” I Cor 14:34

Fortunately most churches, even the ones who say they literally believe, ignore this and other teachings that are obviously flawed.

Another problem with inerrancy, even if one believes an inspired work to be flawless, is this question:  Which books are inspired?

This was a question that puzzled church fathers for the first 500 years of Christianity and, even after the dust settled, the Catholics wound up with books in their Bible that are missing from the Protestant one.

There are 28 Books of scripture mentioned by Biblical writers that are missing. Most of these are lost but several are extant.

In addition to this there were numerous books of scripture used by the early Christians that didn’t make it in the Bible. One of these is the Book of Enoch, which was accepted by many of the early Church Fathers, such as Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Tertullian and actually quoted in the New Testament as follows:

“And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,  To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Jude 1:14-15

This quote is very close to one from the first chapter of the Book of Enoch which has surfaced in our day and readily available on the internet.

So, a major problem we have in taking the Bible literally is this consideration:  The canon of scripture has varied over the centuries and popular opinion has decided which books were to be included. Is popular opinion reliable enough so we can be sure all the books included today are inspired?  And did we leave out some books which were inspired?

Neither the Bible, or God or any prophet has given a solid answer on this so we are left to our own judgment to come up with the answer. We must remember that when the ancients talked about the scriptures they weren’t talking about the Bible but were referring to a handful of scrolls at their disposal.

A final point to consider is this. If truth is written as clear as word can be it is still dangerous to take a literal approach. Even the simple words of a plain spoken person like Jesus can be interpreted several ways by those who take them literally and wars have been fought over who was correct.

Conclusion: The Bible is not infallible because our language is not infallible and our ability to interpret language is not infallible. Even if one considers the Bible to be inspired throughout one must still use his own mind.  If something doesn’t sound right, question it, and see what does register as correct to your own soul. “To thine own self be true.”

Copyright by J J Dewey 2014

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