The Gift of “Fallible” Scripture
On September 13, 2005 the Catholic Communications Network announced the publication of “a major new teaching document from the Bishops of England, Wales, and Scotland” (“New Document...,” 2005) that was later presented in Rome to Pope Benedict XVI and the various Catholic delegates assembled there from around the world (“The Gift of Scripture—A New Teaching...,” 2005). Prepared for the purpose of explaining the Dei Verbum (the “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council”) and several other Catholic documents published in the last forty years, this 60-page booklet is offered by the Catholic Truth Society so that “all who value the ‘gift of Scripture’...may be more richly nourished at the ‘table of God’s word’” (“The Gift...,” n.d.). Although very little still is known about this document by the masses (largely due to its text being neither available in an on-line version nor in a printed format in many Catholic churches), at least one portion of it appears to be more of the same mumbo-jumbo that self-professed “non-fundamentalist Christians” are increasingly spouting.
Ruth Gledhill of London’s Times Online quotes from one section of The Gift of Scripture where the authors wrote: “We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision” (2005). Allegedly, passages on human salvation can be trusted, but the bishops explained “[w]e should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters” (as quoted in Gledhill, 2005). A plethora of problems could be cited concerning “believers” who assert Bible writers made various scientific and historical mistakes when penning Scripture (see Lyons and Miller, 2004 for more information), but note particularly the illogic of suggesting that salvation passages can be trusted, whereas portions of the Bible dealing with other matters (e.g., history, geography, astronomy, medicine, etc.) may not be accurate.
First, no statements in Scripture lead a person to believe this manner of interpreting the Bible is acceptable. Conversely, both Jesus and the Bible writers always worked from the premise that God’s Word is entirely true, not partially true. Neither Old Testament nor New Testament writers ever criticized each others writings. They always viewed statements by each other as being truthful.
Second, were it true that only the “salvation” sections of the Bible are inerrant, everyone who reads the text would have the personal responsibility of wading through the Scriptures to decide exactly which matters pertain to salvation (and thus are correct and pertinent) and which do not matter. Such an interpretation of Scripture, however, makes a mockery of biblical authority. Who gets to say whether baptism is a matter of “salvation”? What about the role of women as addressed by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:8ff.? Is this a “salvation” passage, a “historical” passage, or a “secular” passage? Is it correct or incorrect? Who gets to decide? If Christians abandon the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, then having a standard of truth by which all humans are to live their lives would be impossible. Like the son who obeys his father insofar as he agrees with the father’s rules, a Christian would have his own standard of authority because the Bible would be authoritative only when he judged it to be a reliable guide. Simply put, Scripture cannot be demonstrated to be divinely authoritative if the Bible (in its original autographs) contained factual errors.
Finally, if a person believes that the Bible is fallible, then one is forced to accept the inevitable conclusion that, on some occasions, God “breathed” truth, while on others He “breathed” error (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). But, if God can inspire a man to write theological and doctrinal truth, He simultaneously can inspire the same man to write with historical and scientific precision. If God cannot handle correctly “trivial” matters (such as geographical directions, or the names of individuals), why would anyone think that they could trust Him with something as critically important as the safety of their immortal soul, and expect Him to handle it in a more appropriate fashion?
The truth is, God has provided sufficient evidence to allow an honest person to arrive at the truth and to know His will (John 6:45; 7:17; 8:32). Those who are willing to compromise, and who back away from a devotion to verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, demonstrate a lack of faith in both God and His Word.
“The Gift of Scripture” (no date), Catholic Truth Society, [On-line], URL: http://www.cts-online.org.uk/Sc80.htm.
“The Gift of Scripture—A New Teaching Document from the Bishops of England, Wales, and Scotland” (2005), Clifton Diocese, [On-line], URL: http://www.cliftondiocese.com/Articles/497/.
Gledhill, Ruth (2005), “Catholic Church No Longer Swears by Truth of the Bible,” Times Online, October, [On-line], URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-13090-1811332-13090,00.html.
Lyons, Eric and Dave Miller (2004), “Biblical Inerrancy,” Reason & Revelation, 24:57-63, June, [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2541.
“New Document Stresses the Importance of the Bible for Catholics” (2005), The Catholic Church in England and Wales, [On-line], URL: http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/cn/05/050913.htm.