This short essay was written as Justin Bailey, my nephew, simultaneously wrote his own essay. Read it here. The point was to organically see how our reactions to this particular quote from Sproul differed due to some theological differences my nephew and I have.
My initial reaction to R.C. Sproul’s assertion that the Bible is a “fallible collection of infallible books” was one of discomfort bordering on alarm. I believe the Bible to be inspired by God. There was a time in my walk of faith, when that simply stated belief was all I needed to trust the Bible. Then I went to Bible College and found out that my belief in inspiration had to be expanded to include the adjectives; verbal, plenary, inerrant, infallible and unlimited lest I fall prey to the teaching that the Bible “contains the Word of God” rather than “is the Word of God.”
So, when I heard R.C. Sproul use the word “fallible” in conjunction with the Word of God, it took me a while to simmer down. Once calm, I was able to consider the claim for what Sproul intended it to be, a clarification of why we can rely on the authority and authenticity of Scripture. The key is the meaning and usage of the word “fallible.” Saying something is fallible does not mean that it is flawed, but that it has that liability or possibility. Applying it to the “collection” as opposed to the “books” means the fallibility is in reference to the assembling of the books, not to the content of the books. This is an important distinction.
The virtue and will of men was circumvented in inspiration.
To claim that the collection is infallible implies that the ones doing the collecting were infallible. We know from personal and historical experience, as well as from Scriptural admonition, that anything involving the virtue and will of man, especially in a collective effort is rife with fallibility and sin. So, the effort to assemble the canon was performed by fallible men, while the giving of the books in the canon performed by the infallible God through the supernatural act of inspiration — theonuestos — “God breathed”. The virtue and will of men was circumvented in inspiration.
The inspiration of Scripture and the compilation of the cannon are different products achieved through different processes. The Bible does not specifically describe the process God used to lead men to assemble the books He inspired, but it can be seen in Romans chapter eight. God works all things together (even the good, bad, errant and fallible) for good. He doesn’t make all the things good (or infallible), but makes the eventual result good. So it is with the canon.
When God “breathed out” His Word to man (2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21) the product is completely up to His Mind, His Virtue, and His infallibility. The inspiration process eliminates and overrides the fallible nature of man as Peter wrote, “for prophecy never came by the will of man but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
…as you move closer you see greater detail and begin to appreciate the scope of how the painting was created.
Pondering the concept that the Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books had the same effect on me as moving closer to a painting done by one of the Masters does. We are blessed in Sarasota to host the Ringling Museum, which houses some great masterpieces of art. From far away they are breathtakingly beautiful, fully satisfying from that perspective. But as you move closer you see greater detail and begin to appreciate the scope of how the painting was created. Moving closer still, you can see the brush strokes and the shadings that make the two dimensional image appear to be three dimensional. That’s when you see the genius of the artist. The end result is astounding, but so is the mechanism.
The infallible, authoritative, perfect, flawless, righteous and holy God used fallible, errant, flawed and sinful man to assemble the Word that He inspired into a canon. And He did so over thousands of years. Amazing! But, which canon am I referring to?
I believe the 66 books in the traditional Protestant Bible represent the correct (yet fallible) collection of inspired writings that God intended. Regarding the Old Testament, I believe the Masoretic text is the most reliable presentation of the Jewish Canon (the Greek Septuagint added some books not inspired by God, even though they may be relevant and authentic). Regarding the New Testament, I believe the 27 books almost universally accepted by the 300’s, by Christians of all varieties comprise the New Testament canon. So, although the canon has the liability to be incomplete and inaccurate it is neither thanks to the grace and providence of God.
I do not consider these 66 books canonical because of trust in infallible councils or processes, but because of my trust in infallible God’s ability and will to use fallible man to compile the infallible books He gave. The collection of the books has the possibility of error, but not the content. It is as authoritative as God Himself. Human interpretation of the content, however, is another story.
Written by Dr. David Anderson