“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether” (Ps 19:7-9).
Recently I preached a sermon on Ps 19, which C.S. Lewis calls, “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” In vv. 7-9, the psalmist describes Scripture as “perfect,” “sure,” “right,” “pure,” “clean,” and “true.” The terms overlap quite a bit. The main idea is that the Word of God is flawless, totally trustworthy. Not only this, but also the Word is necessary. Notice what Scripture does: it “revives the soul (or life),” that is, it restores us to a right relationship with God; it “makes wise the simple”; it “rejoices the heart,” brings joy and deep satisfaction; it “enlightens the eyes,” guides us in the right choices; and it “endures forever.” It is the unchanging, always trustworthy, ever necessary Word. Stated another way, Ps 19 teaches us that when we read Scripture we are never reading incorrect or unneeded instruction.
Let’s think a little more about the “never reading incorrect instruction” part. How would you respond to the question, “Do you believe the Bible to be an infallible book?” I field this question from time to time, and my answer usually goes something like this. Yes, I do affirm the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture, though I say this with the understanding that biblical truth involves form as well as content. To make arguments for biblical inerrancy without attaining biblical literacy makes Christians look like halfwits in an already skeptical world. We have to learn how to read the Bible rightly. For example, Ps 19 speaks of “the work of God’s hands.” Is this indicating something about God’s physical body? Does he look like an old man with well-worn hands? No. This is poetry. Here’s another example. The Gospel writers talk about Jesus feeding 5,000 people. Is this an exact count? If some papyrus fragment shows up claiming a different number of people were present that day, does this mean the Gospel writers erred? No. Because ancient writers were not interested in this sort of precision. Today, we read the news and we want exact numbers: How many people were killed in the shooting in Orlando? But ancient writers gave approximations. Still another example would be the Book of Genesis. Must we read Genesis and conclude that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that it was created in six twenty-four-hour days? No. Some Christians choose to believe the world was created in six literal days, but Genesis leaves ample room for other options. We do not have to choose between science and Christian theology; they are not irreconcilable views. It very well may be the case that the universe burst into being some fourteen billion years ago. And if so, Christians believe it was God who lit the match.
All this to say, “Yes, I believe the Bible is infallible, providing God’s people are reading it rightly, not trying to make Scripture affirm things God himself never intended it to affirm.” You can’t claim a map is in error for not telling you how to make a good curry. You’re trying to find in the map something it was never meant to communicate, and you end up lost … and hungry.