I have been following a recent discussion on the City Business Church blog regarding Biblical infallibility. A poster who goes by the handle of “Catalyst” asked, “Is the Bible Infallible?” His answer was “No,” because of a passage in Deuteronomy which commanded that rebellious, unrepentant children in Israel were to be stoned to death. The passage is quoted below:
“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and, though they chasten him, will not listen to them; then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his place; and they shall tell the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.' All the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones: so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
In his view, such treatment of children was never appropriate, and that a passage in the Bible which commanded such severe discipline was proof that the Bible was in error in some cases. Such an assertion brings up some interesting and fundamental points which must be addressed before anyone can begin to properly understand the Deuteronomy passage in question.
First, it must be noted that the City Business Church blog, like many other blogs, was born out of the experiences of individuals who were jacked by an abusive, exploitative evangelical church. The CBC blog, like many similar blogs, pointed out the contradictions between the behavior of church leaders and the Good Book they claimed to be following. The CBC blog, like many similar blogs, used these contradictions to condemn the behavior of abusive church leaders. The fact that their behavior violated the Scriptures became a basis for identifying that behavior as morally wrong.
But if the Bible is not infallible, then the case made by the CBC blog becomes rather shaky. If the Bible is not God's infallible Word, if some parts of the Bible are fallible, then on what basis do we decide which parts of the Bible are truth and which parts are error? Is John 3:16 possibly in error? Is the description of a righteous God in error? Are the four Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ in error? Is Genesis 1:1 in error? Are we living in a world in which, as John Lennon once sang, there really is no Heaven and no Hell? Who gets to tell us? What basis do they get to use to decide?
And what does that do to the case made by the CBC blog and similar blogs that asserted that the behavior of certain church leaders was clearly wrong because it clearly violated Scripture? I, for one, used a lot of Scriptures to make my point that the present American evangelical culture is on the wrong footing, because it is in error regarding its treatment of money, power and lust. I quoted the passage in Matthew where Christ clears the Temple of the moneychangers in my discussion of how the love of money has corrupted the worship of the Church. I quoted passages which condemned the oppression of the poor and the destruction of the earth in my indictment of the Religious Right. I quoted passages that condemned pride and leaders who lord themselves over their flocks in my indictment of certain individuals who become leaders solely to make their flocks into lamb chops.
But if parts of the Bible are actually fallible, maybe my case too is shaky. And what if the whole Bible is fallible? Then how do we decide what is objectively true? And what absolute, objective standard do we use to tell what is right and what is wrong? What if there is no such standard? Then people who are hurt by other people can say nothing more than “This hurts.” They may react in anger, but they cannot say, “What was done to me was wrong,” because there is no longer any objective, absolute standard of right and wrong. Consider cats in an alley – mother cats nursing their kittens may cause the kittens to realize that they are experiencing something pleasant. Cats who are squaring off and getting ready to throw blows over a turf dispute may feel all kinds of unpleasantness. Yet they have no framework for saying, “What's being done to me is right (or wrong).” People who reject an absolute moral standard are reduced to a universe of existential beastliness. In such a universe, I can't say that what was done to me in an abusive church is wrong. I can only say that it hurt a lot. Third World victims of Religious Right policies implemented by the U.S. government can only say that it hurt.
My case has been that the behavior of certain powerful figures in American evangelicalism is wrong, because it violates the Bible, because such behavior is condemned by the Bible. The evidence that the Bible is true in condemning this behavior is the hurt and damage caused by such behavior, yet I hold the Bible to be an absolute, objective standard of morality even when it condemns supposedly “victimless” crimes. Otherwise, I can't say that the people who used religion to hurt me did wrong in hurting me – I can only say that what they did hurt a lot.
If we accept the Bible as an infallible moral standard, the Deuteronomy passage becomes very easy to figure out. First, such a passage is a living, three-dimensional illustration of the Scriptural truth that the wages of sin is death. And there were many such commands in the Old Testament Law – commands which illustrated the terrible consequences of sin. Second, we note that there really is no mention of anyone in the Old Testament actually obeying the command to stone rebellious children. This is because Israel failed miserably in all points in keeping the Biblical Law. The failure of Israel to keep the Law meant that the whole nation was under a death sentence. Third, the failure of Israel to keep a righteous Law was a three-dimensional, living illustration of the sinfulness of the whole human race, which is under a death sentence because of sin. This is what necessitated the death and resurrection of Christ to provide a rescue from that death sentence for those who repent and believe in Him.
Christ Himself said, “Don't think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn't come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18). And the Apostle Paul said, “Therefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.”
I assert my conviction that the Bible is wholly true and righteous and good, and utterly to be relied on. In short, infallible. As I have used the Bible as a basis for condemning modern day evangelical excess, I will continue to do so, and to point out the reasonableness of the life which the Bible actually commands. I hope I don't lose any readers over this, but if I do, “oh, well,” as they say.
Note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the World English Bible, a public domain translation. No royalties are owed to anyone for its use, and it may be freely quoted in all settings, public and private.