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Inspiration/Revelation: What It Is and How It Works - Contents
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    Part II—Infallibility: Does the True Prophet Ever Err?


    The theological footballs of “infallibility” and “inerrancy” are agitating minds and hearts in evangelical Christendom today, especially as these issues relate to the question of prophetic inspiration. Much of the discussion revolves around semantical considerations, 1For a recent balanced and extremely helpful discussion of various positions and proponents, see editorial “Rhetoric About Inerrancy: The Truth of the Matter” in Christianity Today, vol. 25, no. 15 (September 4, 1981), pp. 16-19. and is rather closely associated with the verbal view of inspiration. Nevertheless, important questions need to be raised—and answered—such as: Does a true prophet ever err? Do all the predictions of a true prophet come to pass 100 percent of the time? Does a true prophet ever have to change anything he or she has written or said?IRWHW 59.1

    Webster defines infallible as “1: incapable of error: unerring; 2: not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint: certain; 3: incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals.” 2Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Mass.: G & C Merriam Co., 1976), p. 590. He further renders inerrant as “free from error: infallible.” 3Ibid., p. 589.IRWHW 59.2

    The issue of prophetic infallibility is raised because the Scriptures claim to be more reliable than ordinary literacy productions of human authors.IRWHW 59.3

    As was noted in part 1 of this series, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is not amenable to “private interpretation” because the message did not originate by private initiative or from private creativity. Instead, “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, said Peter, “take heed” to it (vs. 19).IRWHW 59.4

    In what may well have been the first book of the New Testament to be written, Paul, in the same spirit as the reference cited above from Peter, admonished the Thessalonian Christians: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).IRWHW 59.5

    Why? Peter responds, because we have a “more sure” word of prophetic writings (2 Peter 1:19). More recent translators have rendered the passage: the word of the prophetic writers is “made more certain,” 4Holy Bible: New International Version. Copyright © 1978 by the New York International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. “made more sure,” 5Holy Bible: American Revised Version. American Bible Society edition. Copyright © 1901 by Thomas Nelson & Sons, New York. The Bible: Revised Standard Version. American Bible Society edition. Copyright © 1946 and 1952 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, New York. New American Standard Bible (Carol Stream, Ill.: Creation House, Inc.). Copyright © 1971 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif.. Used by permission. “surer still,” 6Confraternity New Testament—The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Translated from the Latin Vulgate. A Revision of the Challoner-Rheims Version. Edited by Catholic Scholars under the Patronate of the Episcopal Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. (Patterson, N.J.: St. Anthony Guild Press). Copyright © 1941 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. “firmer still,” 7The Amplified Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House). Copyright © 1965 by Zondervan Publishing House. “confirmed,” 8King James II Version of the Bible (Byron Center, Mich.: Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc.). Copyright © 1971 by Jay P. Green. The New Testament in Modern Speech. Translated by Richard Francis Weymouth. Revised by James Alexander Robinson (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers). Copyright © by James Clarke & Co, Ltd., London. “reaffirmed,” 9The Holy Bible: The Berkeley Version in Modern English (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House). Copyright © 1945, 1959 by Zondervan Publishing House. and “more fully guaranteed.” 10The New Testament: An American Translation. Edgar J. Goodspeed, trans. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Copyright © 1923, 1948 by The University of Chicago.IRWHW 59.6

    The question, then, is not the uniqueness of the inspired writings in being “more sure” than uninspired writings; it is, rather, what is the essence of this “more sureness”? In what way are these writings “more sure”?IRWHW 59.7

    Several possible analogical models may be found among evangelical Christians and among Seventh-day Adventists:IRWHW 59.8

    1. Thestraight-jackettheory: This view holds that the control of the Holy Spirit over the prophet during the process of inspiration is so rigid, so tight, that the prophet is prevented from making any type of error.IRWHW 59.9

    This position is well illustrated in the words of one Seventh-day Adventist evangelist in a sermon explaining Ellen White to non-Adventists:IRWHW 59.10

    And by the way, Ellen White’s predictions up to this very minute have been right every time. The psychics like to talk about their batting average. They are proud if they are right seventy-five or eighty percent of the time.

    Listen! A prophet of God with a batting average? Never! A prophet of God is right one hundred percent of the time or he isn’t right at all!

    And another thing! A prophet of God doesn’t change his mind!

    I think you are beginning to see the difference between a prophet—a true prophet—and a psychic.

    Three postulates are thus suggested: (a) The true prophet has a PAQ (Prophetic Accuracy Quotient) of 100 percent, whereas psychics (and false prophets) typically have only a 75-80 percent PAQ; (b) if a prophet of God is not right 100 percent of the time, he or she is not right any of the time; and (c) a true prophet never has to go back and change anything he wrote or said in his professional capacity as a prophet.IRWHW 59.11

    This position borrows heavily from the basic philosophy of inspiration held by the author of a popular book about Ellen White published a few years ago:IRWHW 59.12

    A true prophet [italics in original] is not a psychic who performs with the aid of a mental or “spiritual” crutch, but is someone who has no degree of freedom either in tuning or in controlling the prophetic impulses or prophetic recall. These impulses are superimposed over the prophet’s conscious mind by a supernatural personal being, having absolute knowledge of both past and future, making no allowance for error or human miscalculation. 11Rene Noorbergen, Ellen G. White: Prophet of Destiny (New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1972), p. 21. Italics supplied unless otherwise indicated.

    This position has serious problems and implications with regard to both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White, as will subsequently be noted.IRWHW 59.13

    2. Theinterventiontheory: This view holds that if in his humanity a prophet of God errs, and the nature of that error is sufficiently serious to materially affect (a) the direction of God’s church, (b) the eternal destiny of one person, or (c) the purity of a doctrine, then (and only then) the Holy Spirit immediately moves the prophet to correct the error, so that no permanent damage is done.IRWHW 60.1

    This position can be squared with the objective reality of Scripture and of the writings of Ellen White. But before we apply the acid test of these two theories, we should pause to examine the nature and source of religious belief.IRWHW 60.2

    Several penetrating questions are relevant here: (1) Which of the two theories presented above do you believe? (Or do you have a third theory to which you subscribe?) (2) Why do you believe it? This second question may be even more important than the first.IRWHW 60.3

    Is your belief based on source credibility—some favorite preacher, pastor, Bible teacher, or Biblical scholar whom you highly respect has taken this position, and because of your high regard for this person, you have accepted, uncritically, what you were told? Or do you hold your belief because you have objectively validated the position?IRWHW 60.4

    In Paul’s day the Christian believers in Berea were said to have been “more noble” than their counterparts at Thessalonica for two reasons that have great relevance for us in this discussion:IRWHW 60.5

    1. They received Paul’s words “with all readiness of mind.” That is, they were open to new light; they did not have closed minds.

    2. They “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). That is, they validated what they had heard before they accepted it; they did not gullibly, uncritically accept what they were told without personally verifying it in God’s Word.

    Paul might have been forgiven somewhat had he told the Bereans, “I am not only an inspired prophet of the Lord, but I also have the highest spiritual gift—that of apostleship. You don’t need to check out what I have told you; you can take my word for it, for I have the highest authority from God on this earth.”IRWHW 60.6

    But he didn’t tell them that. Instead, he praised them for not simply taking his word for things, but for going instead to the previously inspired writings to verify what he had said.IRWHW 60.7

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