On Scripture

Note: This is a long post and the main point is at the end. Feel free to scroll down to the last paragraph, but if what you read there angers you, please come back up here and start from the beginning.

Jenny has been looking at websites for different denominations and was struck by how often the words inerrant and infallible are used. The United Methodist Church’s official position doesn’t refer to scripture using those words. [1]  (We’re in the company of the majority of the church universal here because nobody used them, at least with their current meanings, until the late 1800’s.) Below is a big chunk of what the church officially has to say about scripture in The Book of Discipline. It’s not a short read, but I think you will find it is worth your time.

United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace. We are convinced that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God in our midst whom we trust in life and death. The biblical authors, illumined by the Holy Spirit, bear witness that in Christ the world is reconciled to God. The Bible bears authentic testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as in God’s work of creation, in the pilgrimage of Israel, and in the Holy Spirit’s ongoing activity in human history.

As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished, our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities for transforming the world become apparent to us.

The Bible is sacred canon for Christian people, formally acknowledged as such by historic ecumenical councils of the church. Our doctrinal standards identify as canonical thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.

Our standards affirm the Bible as the source of all that is “necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation (Articles of Religion) and “is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Confession of Faith).

We properly read Scripture within the believing community, informed by the tradition of that community.

We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole.

We are aided by scholarly inquiry and personal insight, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we work with each text, we take into account what we have been able to learn about the original context and intention of that text. In this understanding we draw upon the careful historical, literary, and textual studies of recent years, which have enriched our understanding of the Bible.

Through this faithful reading of Scripture, we may come to know the truth of the biblical message in its bearing on our own lives and the life of the world. Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.

While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason. [2]

So where do I come down on biblical inerrancy and infallibility? I would not use those words in referring to scripture, but on the other hand, I also would not describe scripture as errant or fallible—that’s a bridge too far. With the UMC, I readily affirm that the Bible consists of “the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit.” More importantly, I believe that in the Bible we encounter Jesus Christ, the infallible, inerrant Word of God who was with God and was God from the beginning. [3]

[1] I did a search using the Kindle edition of the 2016 Book of Discipline. Inerrant was not used at all. Infallible was used, but only to say that The Book of Discipline is not infallible—which is a point so obvious that it could have been left unsaid.

[2] “Section 4—Our Theological Task: Scripture,” in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), paragraph 105.

[3] John 1.1