Recently, a sincere True Lifer, with a high view of God and Scripture, wrote me an email asking a question concerning my article “Christian Virtues for the End Times” in the March 21st Weekly.
Dear Pastor Jeffrey Khoo
Greetings in our Lord.
Would just like to briefly clarify on your written article in the Church Weekly we received this morning.
In your last paragraph, you wrote: “The Apostles were infallible in their writing (Eph 2:20, 2 Pet 1:20–21), preaching (1 Thess 2:13), and conduct (1 Cor 11:1). I find this contradicts the doctrine of man, who is fallible versus God who alone is infallible.
Our Bible, the Written Word, is perfect, and the writers were inspired by God in writing the Scriptures which is without mistake, as it was not their own but God breathed. This applies only to their God-inspired writings recorded in the Bible. It would not apply to all their other writings, would it?
More specifically, their conduct cannot be infallible. Then they would be equal and be like God, and have no need of the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ which all men need. Even Paul himself wrote in Rom 7:18–19, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Aren’t all men fallen and their conduct fallible?
Shouldn’t we use the word “infallible” carefully, never applying it to fallen men who are in need of the cleansing blood of the Lamb of God to take away our sins?
Saved by grace thru faith
Thank you for your question. It is a good and valid one. Yes, there is a need to clarify.
The “infallibility” of the Apostles was something I learned from Rev Timothy Tow. You are correct to say that God is the only one who is infallible, and He is infallible in every way. You are also correct to say that the Bible is totally infallible since it is divinely inspired. No human being can claim to be infallible (incapable of error) for only God is incapable of error and His Word 100% perfect without any mistake.
The infallibility of the Apostles as biblically understood relates strictly to their ministry of the Word as given to them by God. The Apostles were divinely appointed as very special preachers, teachers, and ministers of God’s Word. The Lord used them to write the Scriptures. The Biblical Canon is complete and final. There are no more such Apostles today.
As such, when we talk about the infallibility of the Apostles, it has to be taken in a qualified sense—it is tied to the Word of God or to the unique Word-ministry that God had given them. You see, if they were given prophecies, visions, and revelations, or the inspired words to preach, teach and write, how then can we say they were capable of making mistakes along the way in their preaching, teaching, and writing? If we say that, would it not impugn the Scriptures and cast doubt on God’s Word?
We need to see that God worked in and through the Apostles in a very special way so that they could make no mistakes when they preached, taught, and wrote the Scriptures. See the proof texts for this in the article itself. The Word of God is the perfect standard by which we judge the Apostles of Jesus Christ and the quality of ministry they had.
In so far as their conduct was concerned, they were not sinlessly perfect for sure. Only when their conduct is absolutely like Christ’s can we say they conducted themselves perfectly. As Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1). Paul to be sure was not sinlessly perfect. Paul himself wrote about his imperfections as you have rightly pointed out. Christ alone is sinless and our perfect standard. If Paul copied Christ in his conduct, then he is a “perfect copy” not because he is perfect per se but because of Christ whom he follows. For instance, one infallible conduct of Paul is found in Galatians 2:20 where we find his life motto which I believe is a perfect motto and something we should all adopt and emulate.
It must be said that no one should conclude through this that we become God. We are not God and can never be God. We can only bear His image. While the image of God in us is now corrupted, it will one day be perfected, and this will happen at the end when the Lord Jesus returns or when we see Him face to face. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2–3).
I hope this clarifies.
Yours faithfully in Christ
From Charles Hodge
The doctrine of the infallibility of the Apostles is not new or unusual. Here is what 19th century Princeton professor Charles Hodge taught in his Systematic Theology, “After the day of Pentecost the Apostles claimed to be the infallible organs of God in all their teachings. They required men to receive what they taught not as the word of man but as the word of God (1 Thess. ii. 13); then declared as Paul does (1 Cor. xiv. 37), that the things which they wrote were the commandments of the Lord. They made the salvation of men to depend on faith in the doctrines which they taught. Paul pronounces anathema even an angel from heaven who should preach any other gospel than that which he had taught. (Gal. i. 8.) John says that whoever did not receive the testimony which he bore concerning Christ, made God a liar, because John’s testimony was God’s testimony. (1 John v. 10.) ‘He that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us.’ (iv. 6.) This assertion of infallibility, this claim for the divine authority of their teaching, is characteristic of the whole Bible….
“This claim to infallibility on the part of the Apostles was duly authenticated, not only by the nature of the truths which they communicated, and by the power which those truths have ever exerted over the minds and hearts of men, but also by the inward witness of the Spirit of which St. John speaks, when he says, ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself’ (1 John v. 10); ‘an unction from the Holy One.’ (1 John ii. 20.) It was confirmed also by miraculous gifts. As soon as the Apostles were endued with power from on high, they spake in ‘other tongues;’ they healed the sick, restored the lame and the blind, ‘God also,’ as the Apostle says (Heb. ii. 4), ‘bearing them witness, both with signs, and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.’ And Paul tells the Corinthians that the signs of an Apostle had been wrought among them ‘in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.’ (2 Cor. xii. 12.) The mere working of miracles was not an evidence of a divine commission as a teacher. But when a man claims to be the organ of God, when he says that God speaks through him, then his working of miracles is the testimony of God to the validity of his claims. And such testimony God gave to the infallibility of the Apostles.” (I:161–2).
“Ye are gods”
Consider Psalm 82:6 where God said, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” (cf John 10:34–36). God called the kings and the judges of Israel “gods” (Elohim) by virtue of their divinely appointed office and function. And if God (Elohim) called them “gods” (also Elohim) in a qualified sense, why is it so difficult to see that God (who alone is infallible) could grant to His servants—the Apostles of Jesus Christ—infallibility as far as the ministry of the Word goes? Take time to chew on this meaty and hard part of Scripture (cf Heb 5:9–14, 2 Pet 3:6, 1 Cor 3:2).
The doctrine of the infallibility of the Apostles in their ministry of the Word is not based on human logic but on Scripture; it is not Roman Catholic and should not be equated with Mariolatry or papal infallibility; it does not elevate man to an equal status with God at all.
The 17th century Reformed theologian Francis Turretin, in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, properly denied the infallibility of the church fathers (like Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Chrysostom, et al), not to mention the popes of the Catholic Church. He wrote, “… the fathers, regarded either separately as individuals or collectively, were not prophets or apostles who, acting through an immediate call and endowed with extraordinary gifts, had the privilege of infallibility;…” (I:163).
After refuting the falsehood of ecclesial and papal infallibility, Turretin went on to affirm the truth of the infallibility of the Apostles: “The gift of infallibility was the peculiar distinction (axioma) of the apostleship and cannot belong to their successors who were not furnished with the same gifts.” (I:166).
On this account, we do not in any way subtract from God’s glory when we say that the Apostles were infallible in their divinely gifted ministry of the Word. In fact the opposite is true—God is glorified and His Word exalted. This is one reason why we believe the Bible is the very Word of God, verbally and plenarily inspired, 100% infallible and inerrant from the start (2 Tim 3:16). JK
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