The Bible is infallible, but!
“Words just don’t seem to mean anything any more,” said my friend.
We had been listening to a theological lecturer who, after assuring us that he was an evangelical Christian and believed in the infallibility of Scripture, then proceeded to compare what he called the Genesis creation myth with the Babylonian and the Baalic myths.
From the lecture we gained the impression that, while Scripture was certainly inspired by God, the interpretation is left to the individual guided by tradition, literary criticism or even science.
One student who was listening went so far as to suggest that you cannot really understand Genesis unless you know Hebrew.
The interpretation of Scripture
This has been a source of controversy for hundreds of years. For example, when Copernicus (1473–1543) and Galileo (1564–1642), after careful observation and experimentation, advanced the view that the sun did not revolve round the earth, but rather that it was the earth’s rotation on its axis which caused night and day, they were accused of heresy. This was because the church at that time had borrowed from the pagan Greeks the scientific theory that the sun went round the earth.
They were comfortably entrenched in defending this ‘intellectual’ view.
They even supported it by biblical texts, particularly Psalms 19:4,6 and 93:1,2. Copernicus and Galileo found these passages from the Bible being quoted against them, and Galileo had to face imprisonment by the Roman Catholic Inquisition for his beliefs. The theologians were interpreting Biblical texts to justify a non-biblical idea taken from the ancient Greeks, and thus to oppose the scientific views of Copernicus and Galileo.
As a parenthesis we may ask: Can modern creationists be accused of making the same error as the theologians of the Inquisition?
Are we ever guilty of taking ideas derived from outside Scripture and then looking for proof texts from the Bible to support them? If we are, how can we recognise that fact? This leads us back to the topic of interpretation, for to avoid these errors we must understand the principles by which we interpret Scripture. Using Genesis 1–3 to illustrate, these principles are:
Principle 1: Consider the context
The context is that of the God-given account of the origin of the world. In particular we are told that the world was created GOOD. It therefore makes no sense to understand Genesis as a parable of evolution, since evolutionary theory majors on cruelty and the death of millions of animals over long periods of time, including some which were supposedly turning into humans.
Principle 2: The force of repetition
The fact that God created the world in six days is repeated in Exodus 20:9–11 and again in Exodus 31:13–18. Read verse 18 and see the autograph of God himself. One day of rest in seven has been confirmed by inference every week from the time of its institution to the present. To claim that these days are unimportant, or mysterious, or of unknown duration is to fly in the face of the Biblical text.
Principle 3: Consider the total thrust of Scripture
The Gospel does not make sense without the creation story. For there to be a Fall there had to be a GOOD earth, with a sinless man and woman on it. This idea is repeatedly confirmed in the New Testament. Look, for example, at the way Peter uses the word ‘restoration’ in his sermon at Solomon’s gate. (Acts 3:21) Peter tells us that Christ must remain in Heaven until the restoration of all things, that is, until the time comes for him to restore the whole earth. But restore it to what?
The only worthwhile restoration would be to a perfect world, as it was before man ruined it by sinning. (Similarly see the word reconcile in Colossians 1:16,20).
Principle 4: Nothing must be added or taken away
Nowhere in the Bible is there any hint of evolution or eons of time. Indeed the opposite is true: we read of decay, not evolution. The creation was cursed by God because of man’s rebellion and is now subject to decay. There is every indication in Scripture that the world is getting worse not better, and will continue to do so till the end of time. (Matt. 24:6–12, 22, 29). Finally, if the Scriptural account of the origin of the earth in six days is God’s revealed word to man—all this was the universal belief of Christians until the 19th century—then presumably any theory at variance with God’s account must be considered as either incorrect, or as a new revelation from God.
Man is now being told that the story of origins as originally given was in error, or at any rate, that the church down the centuries has been misguided in its interpretation of Scripture.
In 2 Peter 1:20 we read the statement: “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own private interpretation”. Tyndale and the other reformers taught that the plain words of the Bible could be understood even by the unlearned. Interpretation by experts is not required. (Although in saying this we are in no way degrading sound scholarship).
God, who is the Word, has not left us in darkness. Scripture can be understood even by babes (Matt. 11:25). It is the ‘clever’ people who make the difficulties.