Is the Bible Infallible and Inerrant?

After we’d discussed what the Apostle John meant when he cautioned against adding to or subtracting from the words of the scroll of his prophecy, my Jehovah’s Witness friend, Epignosis, stated that the Bible was both infallible and inerrant. 

When I asked him to show me the scriptural reference, he directed me to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, a letter from the Apostle Paul to a fellow disciple: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, … that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.

I noted I’d heard this same argument from childhood in churches I’d attended, and from Christians with a wide range of beliefs. I asked Epi to look carefully at the verse and consider its implications.

RELATED: Does “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” Mean Only Christ?

First: What does Paul mean by “all scripture”? Before the passage quoted, in 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul said: 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

When you use the words “all scripture,” you are referring to both the Old Testament and the Evangel, which was being composed even as Paul wrote his letter to Timothy. But Paul is referring to the Holy Scriptures he and Timothy have known from infancy — the books of the Tanakh — and he is echoing Christ’s words in John 5:38-40: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  

Christ and Paul both say the Torah speaks of Christ (specifically, Deuteronomy 18:15), but the Jewish scholars certainly didn’t believe it. In my spiritual journey, I found it important to understand why they didn’t.

If  “all scripture” is to include verses beyond Jewish scripture — that is, if it’s to include the Gospels or the Epistles written by the Apostles to the Christian congregations — then the question arises: Who decides what is scripture?

We’ve discussed the fact that there are a variety of different Bibles with different numbers of books — Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic Bibles among them. Which number of books is correct?

Second: What does the passage from Timothy tell us about scripture? It tells us it is inspired of God, beneficial (or profitable) for teaching the Faith, and that it can make us wise and equipped to do good work.

It does not say it is infallible or inerrant, and it does not include books that had not yet been written.

I am not saying that the Gospels are not Holy Scripture. I believe they are with all my soul. I am saying that if you apply the verse as Paul is giving it, you would also exclude books you now consider divinely inspired.

The Jews believed that God’s revelation had ended with their Holy Book, that He would not speak again until the Day of Judgment. As a Christian, I believed that there had been a further revelation through Jesus Christ, but adopted the belief that there would be no more until the “end of the world,” which the disciples of Christ believed would be in their lifetimes. Yet, over two thousand years have passed, and millions of Christians still wait for the end of the world. 

This poses a problem because, as you’re aware, verses have existed for hundreds of years in “authorized” translations of Christian Bibles that were later discovered not to have been in the earliest manuscripts or which had been translated inaccurately. One of these inaccurate translations caused a significant edit to be made to even the King James Bible. Specifically, scholars looked at the original Greek texts for a passage in Matthew 28:19-20 that had been translated, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world.” They realized that, for whatever reason, the Greek word “eon”, which means “age”, had been translated as “world” instead.

That’s a significant difference with serious consequences. Ideas about the end of the world have shaped Christian belief and doctrine for millennia. But we now know that Christ did not use that word, and most Bibles have been updated to reflect this. The Watchtower Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I note, uses the phrase “the conclusion of the system of things,” and views this as the end of one epoch and the beginning of another. Baha’is share this understanding. 

As a child, I repeatedly asked my pastors and parents, “Why would God stop revealing Himself to us for 2,000 years?” I never got a satisfactory answer, until the answer I ultimately got from Baha’u’llah – that He hadn’t stopped. Rather, some of us stopped listening because we believed we’d heard everything: after the advent of Christ, many believed, the world would simply end.

RELATED: What My “Yes” to Baha’u’llah Means for My “Yes” to Jesus

Imagine my embarrassment when I realized that I had developed a belief in the finality of Christ’s message based, in part, on an erroneous translation that contradicted Jesus’ own words in John 16:

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking what is mine and making it known unto you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known unto you. 

Here Christ foretold a further revelation of God by another Counselor – one who will have access to the same infinite fount of divine knowledge and authority as Jesus Christ himself.

In April of 1912, speaking before a Christian audience in a church in Washington D.C., Baha’u’llah’s son and successor Abdu’l-Baha reflected on that very passage of scripture, which the pastor of the church had used in his sermon that morning. Abdu’l-Baha said

The century has dawned when the Spirit of Truth can reveal these verities to mankind, proclaim that very Word, establish the real foundations of Christianity and deliver the nations and peoples from the bondage of forms and imitations. The cause of discord, prejudice and animosity will be removed, the basis of love and amity be established. Therefore, all of you must strive with heart and soul in order that enmity may disappear entirely and that strife and hatred pass away absolutely from the midst of the human world. You must listen to the admonition of this Spirit of Truth. You must follow the example and footprints of Jesus Christ.

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