Could God inspire error?
Published: 29 September 2020 (GMT+10)
Christopher S., US, writes to ask:
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.