Clunkiness and Clarity image

Clunkiness and Clarity

If you believe in biblical infallibility, one of the most common objections you'll hear is that it's not the best word to use. Calling the Bible "infallible", or (heaven forbid) "inerrant", or even Unbreakable, is clunky. It unwittingly elevates an incidental property of Scripture to the highest place, and thereby demotes words with a far stronger biblical basis (like "true", "inspired" or whatever). Nitpickers and pedants talk about infallibility (unless they're American, in which case they talk about inerrancy); the rest of us talk about truth. Leave it there.

In almost every sense, I agree. I’d far rather say that the Bible is true than have to use abstruse jargonese (often followed by a plethora of qualifications, which kill the word by a thousand paper cuts) to bolster my statement. Most of the time, in fact, I do. But because we live in a world where some people are happy to say both (a) the Bible is true and (b) the exodus never happened, I know that the word “true” must mean different things to different people. So although I’d rather just say “true” and be done with it, I need words to explain that when I say “true”, I mean “correct in what it affirms”, rather than “spiritually useful and interesting, but historical cobblers.”

Anyway: it occurred to me recently that the same is true of Christology. Sceptics love to jeer at the apparent pedantry of debating one letter at Nicea - homoousios versus homoiousios, and all that - whether or not they realise that there is only one letter’s difference between atheist and theist, and between papist and rapist, and in fact between sceptic and septic, and so on. But they’re probably not alone in finding it odd that “being of one substance with the Father” found its way into the creeds, as one of the handful of things affimed by all Christians, everywhere. Surely there are better ways of describing who Jesus is, ways which are more accessible, more devotionally uplifting, and truer to biblical usage?

There are, of course. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact imprint of his nature, the image of the invisible God, and so on. Yet because there were (and are) people around who could say all of those things with a straight face, yet still maintain that “there was a time when he was not”, the creed used language that left no wiggle room: “God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” Clunky, admittedly. But clear.

The same is true of words like “infallible”, “unbreakable”, “inerrant”, and the like. They’re not the first words I’d choose to use - and I suspect the same is true of many who use them - but they’re rendered necessary by the Humpty Dumptyish way in which professing Christians, both ancient and modern, have used biblical language. So yes, I’d rather simply say that Jesus was Lord and the Bible was true. But sometimes, clarity requires clunkiness.

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