Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Bible alone is the inerrant and infallible revelation of God to man. This doesn’t include the translations of Scriptures into English. All translations are the works of men and are fallible and contain some errors. We have some very good translations and they are very trustworthy, but this does not equate infallibility or inerrancy to them. Therefore it is legitimate to question and debate the meaning of certain Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words and how they are translated in our English Bibles. If our translations were infallible, as the Scriptures (original autographa) are then there would not (and could not) be any debate in such matters.

This is the reason we need Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic scholars in the Church. These scholars, like the translations are fallible and prone to make mistakes. They are not gifted with an infallible translation or interpretive ability, but they are very important to maintaining the truth.

Every person, be he a Christian or not, be he a wheat or a tare, brings his own biases, prejudices, preconceptions and misconceptions with him when he (she) picks up an English translation of the Scriptures to read and study. We are wholly unable to approach God’s Word devoid of error, prejudice, preconceptions or misconceptions. To do so we would have to live in a vacuum and be devoid of experience and thought, but even if this were possible it too would hinder our ability to correctly understand God’s Scriptures. The Scriptures were written in certain cultural settings and are addressing particular sins and situations. Lack of knowledge of these particulars will also lead one to err in his interpretation of God’s Word.

There is no way for us to have an inerrant knowledge of biblical doctrine, but this does not mean that we can not have true knowledge of the Scriptures and the Doctrines taught in them. We can have true knowledge of the truth of God’s Word, though we can not have an infallible understanding of biblical Doctrine. We all have errors in our understanding, but knowing this we can not become relativists. The Scriptures teach objective truth and they are not subjective or relative to any individual or culture.

If I and another Christian are debating a doctrinal issue there are, at most, only three possible options. One option is I am right and my brother is mistaken; another option is my brother is correct and I am in error. The third option is we are both mistaken and there are other possibilities. It is never the case that if I interpret something one way, and my brother interprets it another that we are both correct. This defies logic (X can never be the same as non-X). God’s Word is objective, inerrant and infallible truth, and it is wholly non-contradictory truth.

If something in God’s Word is interpreted one way by me, and at the same time it is interpreted in a completely contradictory way by another, than one of us (perhaps both) is surely wrong. To deny this is to deny objective truth. If we say that one thing can be true for you and not true for me then we affirm relativism and deny that the Bible contains objective truth. In doing so we deny truth itself. All is then relative and subjective, and there is no truth to be found. This is an irrational position that can not stand.

We all approach the Scriptures with in a given paradigm that is hard to escape. No person has ever commented on the Scriptures who has not imposed upon the Scriptures his or her own misconceptions and prejudices. No one can see his own error without much study and prayer, and none will ever completely escape this fact. We will all go to our graves with certain doctrinal errors and failings.

Doctrinal error has always existed in the Church and it always will. I believe this problem is compounded today, because of our atomistic, individualistic mind set. For most American Christians it is "ME" and "I" who’s view is most correct, even if it is totally divorced from a knowledge of the original languages, historic doctrinal understandings and Church history. Protestants rightly condemn the position of the RCC (since Vatican I) that the Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra, but we have practically made every individual a pope over doctrine. For the modern individual it is the all important "I" that determines what is doctrinal and what is not.

One of the great errors in both theology and philosophy throughout history has been the inability to bring together "the one and the many" (unity and diversity). This is true in Church history as well. At the end of the High Middle Ages Rome erred and made the "one" to be all important at the expense of the "many." All had to bow before the Roman Pontiff. Today we have enthroned the "many" and there is no one (unity). The "I" is all important. There is no unity because all "I" or "Me" pronouncements are sacred and beyond question. Church history, doctrinal history and all else be damned if it is in contradiction to what "I" believe the Bible to teach. There is no one (unity). There is no Church; there are only churches filled with multiple popes.

There will always be tension between the one and the many, just as there is tension between men and women in marriage. This tension between husband and wife is there because God made us to think differently and prioritize things differently. God did this for a reason. The same is true with the pull of the one and the many. God has built this tension into the system. To go completely over to the "one" is to fall in a ditch (which I think Rome did at Vatican I), but modern Protestants have, for the most part, gone to the other extreme (the many). They too are in a ditch.

Throughout most of Church history the church has swayed back and forth, usually avoiding the extremes of either ditch. I believe today Rome is in one ditch, and the Protestants are in the other. Both of us are in ditches and we need to crawl out of them. We need to get back on the path and out of the ditch. The study of the Scriptures in light of Church history and the history of Doctrine is a good place to start. We need to escape our own paradigm. This is hard to do. We can only do this by reading Christians from earlier eras. We need to read the ancient writings of the Fathers, the mediaeval saints, the Reformers and counter-Reformers, etc... They all err at some point, but they err at different points than we do today. The can help us see our own errors.

Coram Deo,