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Could God inspire error?


Published: 29 September 2020 (GMT+10)

Christopher S., US, writes to ask:

Dear CMI,
Is it possible for inspired writing to teach or approve of a pseudoscientific statement, such as Lamarckian evolution? For instance, could Paul, “by permission, and not of commandment,” meaning out of his own opinion, write that Lamarckian evolution is excellent and still be an inspired writer? Thank you very much for your time! May God bless you!

Lita Cosner, CMI-US, responds,

Thank you for this excellent question! First, we need to understand how inspiration works. Sometimes God directly dictates the words of Scripture, which is generally indicated with a statement in quotation marks like “Thus says the Lord”. These clearly have no error. Then we have reports of things that happened historically, like most of the book of Judges and Acts. These are inspired by direction from God, but the reporting of simple facts does not always condone what is being said or done. There are other places where Scripture uses quotes or literary conventions that are not meant to be read literalistically (e.g. “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” In Titus 1:12). In those cases, we need to look at the context to see what is actually being taught. We need to look carefully to see whether any statement or practice is something that we would be encouraged to believe or emulate or not.

Didactic statements, like most of Paul’s epistles, are direct teaching that Christians are commanded to believe and obey. When the Holy Spirit was inspiring him to write the documents that would make up a large portion to the New Testament, He superintended Paul’s thinking processes so that Paul’s personality and writing style were intact, but the writing was free from error.

This is important because Christianity teaches that God works in the world, and the events of the Bible can be placed on a map and timeline. Thus, truth regarding physical reality is just as theologically important as doctrinal reality, for example, the truth that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man.

So no, the Holy Spirit would not allow Paul to make an incorrect statement about the physical world in an inspired document any more than He would allow Paul to express a Christological heresy. This does not mean that Paul knew everything we know about modern science. It just means that untrue things should not have crept into the Bible, according to the doctrine of biblical inspiration.

In response to the article Is Hell Unfair?, Kenneth J. asks:

I’m a bit confused. You said that the sinners in hell will continue sinning but I have never heard that before. As I understand it, those in hell will be tormented to the praise and glory of God. The depictions of hell we get in the NT don’t explicitly state more sinning. Do you have a passage that this idea is pulled from?

Lita Cosner responds:

Thanks for writing in. The idea that sinners will continue sinning in Hell is not explicitly stated in Scripture but is an inference. Humans don’t become sinners after committing a sinful act; we don’t start in a neutral state and become sinners. Rather, humans commit sinful acts because we are born with a sinful disposition that we inherited from our first ancestor, Adam.

Theologians use several terms when discussing these things. One of these is sanctification, the process by which the Holy Spirit works in the life of the Christian to make them more holy, more conformed to the image of Christ. This work is completed in the resurrection, where the believer will be completely sinless.

The person who fails to trust in Christ does not have access to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and thus does not experience sanctification. When the unbeliever enters the eternal state, he or she is permanently unsanctified, permanently sinful. Their thoughts, actions, and attitudes remain opposed to God—for eternity.

This is important because it emphasizes how much we need Christ. We don’t just need to have our actions dealt with, but we have a much deeper problem. At the very core of our being we are contrary to God, and we are powerless to change ourselves. Only Christ’s saving work, and the application of that work by the Holy Spirit, can make us right with God.

I hope this explanation helps.

Helpful Resources

From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
US $14.00
Soft Cover
How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Ken B.
Romans 8:7 'the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so', This seems to support Lita's answer to whether sinners continue to sin in hell. I suspect that a particular understanding of Philippians 2:10,11 may lie behind the question. Philippians 2:10,11 'so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father'. This translation says 'will bow' which many take to mean that when Christ returns sinners will repent. However other translations say 'should bow' or 'may'. This highlights that every tongue may and should confess NOW, not just at some time in the future.
Richard G.
Sister Lita, You do such a wonderful if nearly impossible job. We need you for another 100 years, at least. When I read your questioner's words I immediately thought of Revelation 22 verse 11 near the end of the Bible. "he that is unrighteous, let him be unrighteous still." Is it splitting a hair to say that only applies to us when we are on earth? One certainly gains the impression that unrepentant people keep on sinning for ever. Hope this helps. Keep up the good work. I don't seek a reply.
Philip S.
Actually, isn't Lamarckian 'evolution' is far more accurate than 'Neo-Darwinism', if only in as much as the latter was initially and truly based on 'speciation' or (built-in) variety within 'Kinds'? Surely Epi-genetics now shows that external influences such as drugs, atmosphere/pollution etc do have a direct influence on the mother's, especially, DNA, and that influence is transferred to the young? We also presumably see that in the suppression or expression of relevant gene combinations for heat and cold/long or short hair etc? (Remember the Creationist cause celebre of an escaped, short-haired Siamese Cat that wandered Dartmoor throughout one cold winter by quickly expressing 'forgotten ' long hair genes!).........Beautifully, ironically, that is also seemingly shown in 'Darwin's Finches' whereby the parents transfer last-minute food size parameters to the embryo's DNA/etc to ensure correct beak size to cope with large or small seeds! Creation - & Fall - only explained by Gods WORD....
Robert Carter
You might be interested in my article Darwin’s Lamarckism vindicated? I have never heard the story of the Siamese cat of Dartmoor.
King T.
The idea that sinners continue to sin and therefore continue to receive punishment for that sin is something that answers one big charge that sinners like to make against God, namely that He is unfair to mete out eternal punishment for temporal sin. The continuing sinning in hell is something I fairly recently came across when listening to John MacArthur and if one thinks about it, it makes perfect sense. God is the one who gives us new life and makes us a new creation so that we can stop sinning in the end. But God and His merciful resurrection power will NOT be present in hell to enable those who are there to repent of their sins. In hell there is no repentance from sins available to anyone. Hence, the punishment from a righteous God lasts forever. This also means that Catholics who go to hell will never come out of there - purgatory is just a euphemism for hell. One can clearly see the unrepentant nature of those who absolutely rebel against God in Revelation 9:20 Now the rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the works of their hands. They did not stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. 21 Furthermore, they did not repent of their murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, and theft.… The article "Is Hell unfair?" deals with all the issues surrounding hell that are mostly thrown at believers. I think it is very well written, as is Lita's answer given here.
Abe M.
Is sin literally a 'lie'? I thought of this when reading one of the comments on this article, and I started thinking that the 'sins' people in hell would continue to commit would be lies (cursing God (from a lie/lies) for his eternal judgment on them when they had heard the way out of his eternal judgment (Jesus) while alive and of sound minds. Don't we go to war because of lies (sin)? Don't we divorce because of lies (sin)? Don't we practice immoral, disobedient (to Authorities), rebellious, etc. behavior because of lies (sin)? I heard it years ago that there is one global sin (the lie). Didn't Adam/Eve sin (sin against God's spoken instructions to them) because they accepted the lie(s) of the serpent? I know this is not a Q&A forum. Just a little understanding I seek. =).

Thank you.
Lita Cosner
Lying is certainly a sin, and all sin involves deception, but it seems a little simplistic to me to say that all sin is lying.
Richard P.
I think we all tend to underestimate the sinfulness of sin, because it is so pervasive all around us and within us. What is sin? One definition is that it is the breaking of God's commandments. So what is the greatest sin? That must be to break the greatest commandment. Jesus said that the "first and great commandment" is "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matt 22:37-38). I believe we are all guilty of breaking this commandment, all the time: that's how sinful we are. And those in hell must surely be guilty of the same, for how could they be imagined to give Him this perfect love? So yes, their sinning will continue indefinitely. Perhaps another Scriptural evidence in support of this teaching (which is, as Lita says, an inference from the Bible) is found in the parable of the tares. Jesus says "there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:42), and He uses the same expression on several other occasions too. Doesn't it seem as though the "wailing" is descriptive of misery, but "gnashing of teeth" is more to do with anger? Raging against God, and His judgments? Well, it convinces me, anyway!

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