bible infallibility & the act of reading
Someone on my Facebook News Feed wrote the other day something along the lines that God used fallible people to write his infallible Word (the Bible) and so people should stop thinking they are smarter than God (I assume by questioning this apparent fact).
I don’t mean to disrespect this person (if they are reading this, hello!) …
… but I do wish to ask questions about this way of thinking.
To me the idea of an infallible Bible is riddled with problems. This is not because I doubt the power of God in any way, but rather because I doubt the ability of humans to write anything that is infallible, even under divine inspiration.
(Yes that’s right, I am differentiating infallibility and inspiration – they are not the same thing.)
Some may argue that God can overcome the shortcomings of humans to achieve his will, including the composition of the biblical text. This is however a problematic claim – does God override the will of the person to do so? Why use a person at all?
We could explore this for ages, so I’ll move on to my main question – even if the Bible is an infallible text, and God somehow used fallible humans to compose it, what good is this if the readers/interpreters of the Bible are themselves fallible?
This is a genuine question by the way.
I mean, if the Bible really is infallible it is nonetheless written at a particular time, in a particular cultural setting, in a particular language.
Since I don’t come from the time periods of the Bible I will have problems interpreting the text.
Since I don’t naturally comprehend the cultural settings of the Bible I will have problems interpreting the text.
Since I don’t speak all the original languages I will have problems interpreting the text.
(By the way, is the English translation I have infallible even though fallible translators translated it?)
Since the act of reading is just as important as the act of composition for communication, what good is an infallible text if the reader is unable to perpetuate the infallibility of the meaning? Meaning is, after all, complex, particularly across time, culture and language – it is not simply the case that texts contain meaning that can and should be objectively extracted. Even if it were the case it would nonetheless be impossible in practice, particularly after a couple of thousand years.
Couldn’t God foresee this issue?
Surely the Bible continues to have central meaning in the Christian faith without infallibility. What if God never intended infallibility; could it be that we make the text into something it is not by insisting on it? Could this descend into idolatry?
Or could it be that the whole infallibility debate is a recent creation that would have made no sense to pre-modern, pre-scientific people? Certainly inspiration is possible without necessitating infallibility, particularly when you consider the complexity of meaning.
I look forward to your thoughts on this one.