Rosicrucian Writings Online
Is the Bible Infallible?OR IS IT SUBJECT TO HUMAN INTERPRETATION AND
By The Imperator
[H. Spencer Lewis]
[From The Rosicrucian Digest April 1938]
THROUGHOUT the past five years we have received hundreds of letters from sincere and devout Christians and Bible students commenting upon statements contained in some of our books which deal with the life of Jesus, the Christian doctrines, and the practices of the Christian churches of today. In nearly all of these critical letters the basic complaint has been that we have ignored or set aside the definite and positive statements contained in the Christian Bible, and that since the Bible is "the Word of God" and therefore infallible, no human being has the right or privilege to utter a statement or to offer a proposition that does not conform to the letter and the dot of the Christian Bible.
Nearly all of these critics have either ignored the fact, or were unaware of it, that the Christian Bible has passed through so many interpretations, translations, and different printings under different commands and with varying motives and intentions, that the most modern editions of the Bible do not conform literally to the earliest editions, and that when one speaks of strict adherence to the wording of the Bible, one must qualify that statement by saying which edition or version of the Christian Bible is referred to.
Ever since the Christian era, eminent ecclesiastical and scriptural experts have been commissioned and assigned and commanded by church councils, by kings, queens and rulers of countries, to revise the Bible or to bring forth new editions, new versions, and new interpretations. In some cases the church councils have definitely limited these groups of experts in what they are to revise or accept or interpret in preparing their new versions of the Bible, and in some cases they have been commanded in advance to reject certain books that originally composed the scriptural writing from which the Bible was compiled, and to classify certain holy books and scriptures as unauthoritative, unacceptable, untrue, or unauthentic. An unbiased and careful study of the history of the Christian Bible as we have it today reveals that in its arrangement, interpretation and translation, emphasis and selection of text, the Bible is almost a human document rather than a divine book. But certainly one cannot believe, after analyzing the whole history of the Christian Bible, that the present-day versions, or the accepted King James version, is so exact and so precise, and so truly "the Word of God" or the word of the Disciples and Apostles who were quoted in it, that it is infallible.
And in regard to the application, interpretation, or understanding of the doctrines of Jesus the Christ and Apostles as accepted by and preached by the various Christian sects, we have to admit that most of the Christian doctrines, practices, principles, rules and regulations set forth by the larger of the Christian denominations are more human-made, more of human manufacture and churchly invention or creation, than spiritual and divine. For centuries the high councils or high commissions and Holy Fathers of the various Christian denominations have met and held secret sessions and long and very controversial arguments regarding the emphasis to be placed upon certain Christian doctrines, the rejection of other early Christian doctrines, the acceptance and understanding of fundamental Christian principles, and the convenient or harmonious adoption of certain Christian principles that would blend most easily and most satisfactorily with the standards of Churchianity regardless of the interpretation which any student of the life and teachings of Christ might place upon them.
And now we learn that once again a high commission has rendered its newest interpretation, understanding, and acceptance or rejection of important parts of the Bible and important doctrines of the Christian Church. In the year 1922 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York appointed what was called the "Commission of Christian Doctrine." Very eminent ecclesiastical authorities and scriptural experts were assigned to this commission, and for fifteen years the majority of them had been laboring individually and collectively not only in revising or reinterpreting all of the important passages of the Bible, but in revising the very nature and understanding of Christian doctrines and the doctrines of the Church of England, to conform to their newer interpretation or understanding of the Bible. A few months ago this Commission rendered its report in a 242-page book which it presented to the Church of England. In this report it made certain recommendations and presented its views in regard to many matters of doctrine and many matters of Bible interpretation. And so once more we have a version of Christian doctrines and Christian scripture that is admittedly of human creation, human editorship, human understanding and human application.
Because of the many changes made by this high Christian Commission as rendered in its report, we have to admit once more that either the Bible is not infallible; or that "the Word of God" is subject to church authority and church interpretation, and to modernization and modern application in accordance with modern human evolution; or that the doctrines of Jesus and the divine principles which He taught were of only temporary usefulness and dependent for their efficiency upon the passing of time and the development of human nature.
This High Commission, for instance, admits that the church has been wrong in the past in taking the attitude that the scientific theories of the evolution of the earth and the people living upon it were heretical in nature and inconsistent with the Bible and the teachings of Jesus the Christ. The High Commission now claims that the scientific theories and explanations, postulations and propositions regarding the evolution of the earth, the evolution of plant and animal life, and even the evolution of man, may be absolutely correct, and that the stories of the creation of the earth and all life upon it as given in the few accounts in the Book of Genesis in the Christian Bible may be only allegorical and symbolical and not absolutely true in the spirit of every word and thought expressed therein.
Thus, the Commission admits that the story of the creation of the earth in seven days may be the story of the evolution of the earth in seven cycles, or seven centuries or seven periods of time, and not in seven days; and that God may have created the universe, and particularly all animal life, in stages of evolution as science claims, and that this would not be inconsistent with the fundamental fact that God created everything. In other words, this Commission takes the viewpoint that the important point about the whole story of creation is not how God created it, or what process He used, or what steps or stages of development may have been employed, nor how long a time it may have taken, but the simple fact that God did decree it or that it was done under His command and control. This certainly is a new and unique position for the Christian Church to take, and it is a very marked victory for science and its findings and postulations.
But the Commission has gone even further than this, and has expressed itself in regard to a large number of Christian doctrines and Christian understandings. In the first place, the Commission claims that the sexual union of man and wife should not be looked upon as a sinful act and that "human generation" is not sinful in itself, nor is sin conveyed to the offspring of any sexual union because of any sinfulness in the sexual process. Even the Virgin Birth of Jesus the Christ and the general conditions of His Birth in earthly form are commented upon. And the Commission expresses its conviction that it is legitimate for a devout and true Christian either to suspend judgment regarding his belief in the existence of spiritual beings other than humans, or alternately to interpret the language of scripture regarding angels and demons "in a purely symbolical sense."
The Commission also expresses itself regarding the miracles of the Bible, and it seems that the Commission was divided in its opinion regarding the genuineness or authenticity of many of the Biblical miracles. In part, the report of the Commission says: "We ought to reject quite frankly the literalistic belief in a future resuscitation of the actual physical frame which is laid in the tomb. It is to be affirmed, none the less, that, in the life of the world to come, the soul, or spirit, will still have its appropriate organ of earthly life--in the sense that it bears the same relation to the spiritual entity." In other words, the Commission admits that a devout Christian may question the literal interpretation of the church doctrines regarding the resurrection of the physical body from the grave. The Commission seems to admit that the soul or spirit of man, being the only immortal part and the only part of man worthy of existence in the spiritual kingdom, is the only part of man's expression here on earth that is required to have a place in a future spiritual kingdom, and that there is no necessity in such a spiritual world for a physical body. This will certainly be a shock to a great many Christians who have argued against cremation on the basis that it would so disrupt and disintegrate the human form that it would be difficult for the human body to arise from the grave and ascend to Heaven when the great day comes for such world-wide ascension. It has always seemed to us ridiculous to think that God could reassemble the disintegrated parts of a human body that had been allowed to decay in the ground and to break down into its primary earthly elements, but could not assemble into human form again the ashes of a cremated body.
The British newspapers have published much regarding this report of the Commission, and the letter columns of the London newspapers have been filled with letters by eminent church members protesting against the attitude of the Commission, and in other cases applauding it. Even eminent ecclesiastical leaders of the Christian Protestant Churches of America have expressed themselves pro and con in regard to the Commission's report, and it appears quite evident that in the very near future the Church of England, and very likely the Episcopal Church in America and some other Protestant denominations, will modify their church doctrines and their interpretations of the Bible in accordance with the report of this Commission.
The important matter for our members and readers to keep in mind is the fact that what was looked upon as the "infallible Word of the Bible" and the infallible interpretation of the most high ecclesiastical authorities during the past few years is now to be modified, and what was unquestionably "true and beyond human doubt" yesterday is now legitimately and properly questionable, and in some instances unreliable. To the mystic who finds his truths in the laws of life and the laws of God as expressed in all things, there is never the embarrassment of finding that a so-called truth of yesterday is either an untruth today or a questionable fact. What the mystic learns from interior and spiritual experience is always an immutable law, a fixed principle, and a universal truth.
Those of our members and friends who have read our book dealing with The Secret Doctrines of Jesus will realize now what is meant in some of the chapters of that book by the references to and illustrations of various interpretations, modifications, and misrepresentations of the original doctrines of Jesus. In the hands of human editors, human authorities and representatives of specialized creeds and sects, the pristine doctrines taught by Jesus and the fundamental laws of spiritual life as expressed by Him have been mutilated and so modified and so misapplied and so misunderstood that there is little wonder that mystical students or students of the mystical life and the spiritual laws of God are ever seeking outside of sectarian doctrines the great truths which will reveal God in a divine manner rather than through a human interpretation.
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