The Only Thing Incapable of Error

Ever since I was knee-high to a gnat, I have been taught and have believed in the infallibility of Scripture.

Among the upper echelons of doctrinal truths, this one ranks alongside the Godhead, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace. We may fuss around with a few of the events in God’s eschatological calendar or leave breathing room for differing opinions regarding angels and local church government . . . but when the subject turns to infallibility, the inerrancy of Holy Writ, there’s no wobble room. Can’t be. Take away that absolute and you’ve punched a hole in your theological dam. Given enough time and pressure, it wouldn’t be long before you and everything around you would get soggy and slippery. Make no mistake about it; the infallibility of Scripture is a watershed issue.

But wait . . . let’s stop right there regarding infallibility. Before I make my point, allow me to quote Webster’s definition: “incapable of error . . . not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint.”1 That is certainly true of Scripture, but it is not true of people. When it comes to people, fallibility is the order of the day. What I mean is this: there is not one soul on this earth who is incapable of error, who is free from fault, who never makes mistakes, or who is absolutely reliable. There can’t be. And knowing that should keep all of us from making two very common mistakes: first, idolising certain individuals (including ourselves, of course) and second, disillusionment when we discover faults and mistakes in others. Just as infallibility assures us that each page of the Bible is without error or deception, fallibility reminds us that every person we know is capable of both error and deception. The lesson is clear. When it comes to the Bible, keep trusting. But when it comes to people, be discerning.

This includes all people. The page isn’t long enough to complete a list, so I’ll mention only one group. I choose this group because, well, it’s the group I’m part of. I’m referring to pastors. What influence pastors possess! What good they do! How necessary they are! Most of us, if asked to name ten people we admire and appreciate the most, would include at least one from this group. How gracious of God to give us people to help us through this veil of tears! Yet each one has something in common with everyone else—fallibility. Those whom we most admire can sometimes remind us of human fallibility. Pastors can disappoint us. They can be wrong. Nevertheless, we are reluctant to admit it. Quite often it is the minister whom people tend to put on a pedestal.

It is certainly an unscriptural practice. The Berean believers are to be commended for listening to Paul; but they still “searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts 17:11 NLT). Apollos and Paul are referred to merely as “servants through whom you believed the Good News” (1 Corinthians 3:5 NLT) and later assume a humble standing: “it’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow” (3:7 NLT). It’s so easy to forget that we are all human, especially in a day when we hunger for spiritual leaders whom we can respect. Sometimes we come across a pastor whose life is admirable, whose leadership seems to be blessed of God, and whose instruction is biblical, wise, and dynamic. Everything’s great until one such minister teaches something that is different from another minister who is equally admired. That never fails to send groupies into a tailspin.

I could just as easily have used an illustration regarding a doctor’s diagnosis or a therapist’s counsel. The issue is identical, and it brings us back to where we started. All humanity is fallible. Yes, all. If you remember that, you’ll have fewer surprises and disappointments, greater wisdom, and a much better perspective in life. Rather than slumping into cynicism because your hero showed feet of clay, you’ll maintain a healthy and intelligent objectivity. You’ll be able to show respect without falling into idolatry. And when you really need to know the truth, you’ll turn to infallible Scripture with first-hand confidence.

Why? Because Scripture is the only thing that’s incapable of error . . . not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint.

  1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 2007), see “infallible.”

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Accuracy, clarity, and practicality all describe the Bible-teaching ministry of Charles R. Swindoll. Chuck is the chairman of the board at Insight for Living and the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. Chuck also serves as the senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, where he is able to do what he loves most—teach the Bible to willing hearts. His focus on practical Bible application has been heard on the Insight for Living radio broadcast since 1979.