The following is a Foundation Statement most Christadelphians have in their statements of faith,
That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation.
This was added to existing statements of faith precisely because an article considering inspiration had caused controversy. The word “wholly” was added to rule out any suggestion that the writers, although inspired, were allowed to have limitations of understanding (therefore affecting what they wrote down) due to their humanity, culture or situation. They therefore rule out any changes of understanding throughout the Bible and such views have been termed “partial inspiration.” All the words in the Bible are considered to be the actual words that God gave to be written down. The writer was simply a vehicle in this process. They represent only God’s thoughts and no element of the writers. God is believed to have inspired in a way that is both scientifically and theologically accurate.
There is usually the qualification that this is true only for the originals which were in the ancient languages of Hebrew, Greek and Chaldee. Christadelphians do believe there are errors due to transcription and translation, but would suggest that the transcription errors (with a couple of exceptions) are small and errors with translation can be overcome by using an “accurate version” and checking the root meanings of words. They usually believe bias in translation has entered into most translations due to the beliefs of the translators.
It should be noted that this view of inspiration is not simply a Christadelphian belief, but is a belief that the founder John Thomas retained from the churches he came from. It is an historical Protestant belief and can be shown to be one that gained ground after the Reformation. Verses from the New Testament and reason show it is unlikely to have been the principal method of the early church.
If we place the route to salvation as being based on reading and understanding the Bible alone (as Christadelphians do) it does have some inevitable consequences. It firstly requires that the Bible is transparent to being understood. The messages have to be clear and not hidden or esoteric. This is known as perspicuity. It also requires that most people are capable of doing so. They have sufficient and accurate reasoning skills or perspicacity. A message can be clear, but discerning it can be complex if it has to be built up from a complete understanding of the Bible, context and other factors. The two obvious questions if it has perspicuity and perspicacity are, “why so many very different interpretations of the Bible?” and, “why did it require the unique personality of John Thomas to rediscover it?”
This view of how inspiration works also requires all parts of the Bible to be in complete harmony since God cannot contradict himself. There can be additions to understanding, but not alterations of understanding. Since every word is considered not only inspired, but infallible, every word is considered to have equal validity. This is particularly an important consideration when looking at how early Christian writers used quotations from the Old Testament and how they regarded the Law of Moses. In short, it seems many early Christians spiritualised much of the Old Testament and had a belief in a “hidden” understanding. The need to gain complete equivalence between verses (which can seem to oppose other ones) also leads to a belief that scripture needs to be “balanced.” Nowhere do we see this more than when people of opposing Biblical interpretations raise competing proof quotes against each other. Is the problem one of interpretation, one of balance, or having an unsustainable view of inspiration?
It should be noted that not all Christian traditions hold to a rigid view of inspiration, nor do they place understanding salvation down to the individual reading and understanding of the Bible. Many Orthodox churches (including the Roman Catholic) believe faith is transmitted by the teaching of “the Church.” They hold that the understanding of the church is a collective (rather than an individual matter). They therefore believe in three important elements – the Bible, the magisterium (or church authorities) and tradition. When the idea of Biblical infallibility was elevated at the time of the Reformation a major objection was that the independent interpretation of the Bible would lead to variance and division. When individuals take the concept of “the Bible alone” on board without any consideration of other factors (such as how verses have been understood previously) it has a strong tendency to lead to new churches, new denominations, leaders and some would say, cults. The divisive nature and history of Protestantism in particular suggests this has some validity. Although, it should be noted that a complete belief in a collective visible church tradition dating back to the apostles does not consider fully the elements of apostasy in the church.
The initial big questions that are raised by the view of inspiration embraced by Christadelphians are these. Why did it require a unique personality with such independence of thought to recover it and do we need those same characteristics too? Why so many varying interpretations on all issues and if the book is transparent to being understood and people have sufficient keenness of reason why is there so much variance? I would suggest that in fact the arguments that it isn’t read enough and that tradition has shaped people’s thinking and we need to look at concordances and root meanings in fact shows it is a complex method that can easily lead to intellectualism. I would also suggest despite much reading of the Bible and often a large ability to “proof quote,” within themselves and their own hearts, many Christadelphians cannot honestly be sure they alone have “the Truth.”
If the Bible alone was God’s only creed as the founder of the Christadelphian’s suggested then there would be no need for statements of faith and systems of church authority. The Catholic church marvelled as the early Protestants condemned church authority and promoted the Bible alone only to then set up their own systems of authority and tradition, as indeed the Christadelphians have also done. If the Bible alone is the authority no one’s interpretation has any weight or authority over anyone else’s. No church or individual has infallibility and has none has God-given authority to discipline or disfellowship on that basis alone.