Ask Pepsi how much error can cost you.
Error can have consequences. A computer error back in the ’90s cost Pepsi their money and reputation in the Philippines when they accidentally printed the winning number for a million peso giveaway on 800,000 bottle caps (mentalfloss.com). People make mistakes. We err. But what if the Bible could make mistakes?
I’ve already covered inerrancy. Scripture is free from error. This week the subject is infallibility, which means that Scripture is incapable of error. It cannot err. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy makes the point that this safeguards “the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe, and reliable rule and guide in all matters” (70). Scripture cannot err. And how could it? Error is introduced by mistake or by deceit. Can God be mistaken? Nope. Psalm 147:5 says:
…his understanding has no limit (NIV)
Balaam spoke truthfully in Number 23:19 when he said:
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
This verse sums up the truth that God speaks the truth so well. God’s very nature makes untruth or failure an impossibility (477). God cannot be mistaken. Can He deceive? Again, nope. Just check the same verse I already cited. Or how about Hebrew 6:18 that tells us it’s impossible for God to lie. It’s not part of His nature. So if He cannot be mistaken and He cannot deceive, then He cannot err (597–598). Scripture is the Word of God, therefore, it too is incapable of error. His Word is truth (John 17:17).
The Bible says a lot of things. And many of those things it says will happen from when it’s written. The Bible would be in error if those things did not happen. Scripture will not fail. None of it. Not what it says about salvation. God’s Word will not fail to achieve its end. Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). As D. A. Carson explains, this means “Scripture cannot be annulled or set aside or proved false” (399). What is the cost of error when it comes to the Word of God? What is at stake if we deny infallibility? And this brings us to our featured theologian: Clarence Macartney.
Small world— old Clarence and I used to work for the same newspaper in Pennsylvania. He was a reporter for the Beaver Times in 1901 or so. And I was a paperboy for what’s today called The Beaver County Times back in the 1990s. Macartney was a pastor in the Presbyterian church and one of the main conservative leaders in the Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy. He had something to say on the cost of denying infallibility. He said:
Those who have departed from faith in an infallible Bible have made desperate, but utterly vain efforts, to secure a suitable substitute and other standing ground. But as time goes by, the pathetic hopelessness of this effort is more and more manifest.
His point is that there is no substitute for an infallible, inspired Bible that Macartney compares to a “sword bathed in heaven.” What power can there be behind preaching a Bible capable of error? How do we know how to deal with sin, passion, pain, sorrow, death, and the beyond-death if we don’t have a Bible that cannot be wrong (45)?
Macartney got it right. Like Pepsi knows how costly error could be, we can know how costly error in the Bible would be. If the Bible could error, how could we trust what it says about any of these things? But it can’t. Scripture is infallible because its author—the Lord—is infallible (428). So you can turn to it and know how to face all the circumstances of life, death, and beyond-death. You can trust the Word of God based on its own testimony and the character of the God who spoke it that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe, and reliable rule and guide in all matters. Be confident that what God says God will do. Salvation and every other promise He’s made. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:20:
For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.