This question was stated by a friend of mine on Facebook recently, and not surprisingly it inspired a vigorous debate. I jumped in towards the end and want to repost some of my comments here. But first, let’s understand and acknowledge why even asking this question is so troublesome. For centuries, there was an assumed belief in the veracity of the holy scriptures, even if you weren’t necessarily a Christian. In the past century, that implicit respect has eroded. Secondly, the track record of Christians that have questioned the infallibility of Scripture is not a good one. Once belief in the Bible is rejected, history has seen a pretty quick path to heresy.
But here’s why this question (as properly defined) is important: in today’s increasingly secular world, non-Christians are taught and indoctrinated with an inherent skepticism towards Scripture. Evolutionists would cite proof that Genesis is a fable. Archaeologists would question the historicity of the story of Exodus. If you weren’t raised in church, in Sunday School, with a foundational assumption that the Bible is true, accepting all of the miracles and the historicity of the biblical narratives can be a steep hill to climb. And if belief in all the Bible is necessary for salvation, then creating even reasonable doubt over one portion of the Bible disproves all of it. At that point the Bible becomes a house of cards: disprove one section and the whole thing comes tumbling down. (I’ve written previously on this subject: does a person have to believe Noah’s Ark really happened to be saved?)
Here’s where it’s important to properly define the question. As stated, the question is whether belief in the infallibility of the Bible is necessary in order to become a Christian. Many of the comments on the original Facebook debate steered off course and warned of the dangers of heresy if a Christian rejects the authority and infallibility of Scripture. Those warnings are real and justified, but that’s not the question at hand. Can a person doubt certain portions of Scripture (the Creation story, for instance) and become a Christian? Is belief in the infallibility of all the Bible a pre-requisite for salvation, or can it be something that happens afterwards during the discipleship process?
And as stated that way, there really should be no debate: one does not need to believe in the infallibility in order to become a Christian. Sounds like heresy? It’s not. I’m not talking about an outright rejection of Scripture. I personally believe in the complete infallibility of Scripture. But that’s not what made me a Christian. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, God’s revelation to mankind. But a book didn’t come down from heaven to die for my sins. A book didn’t rise from the dead on the third day. A person did that: Jesus. This book that Christians so treasure affirms that it is through faith in Christ and Christ alone that saves. 500 years ago there was a Protestant Reformation to guard that simple fact and rebel against a Church that had begun to add additional requirements to salvation.
This would be an interesting debate to have with Peter, Paul and the multitude of Christians that believed and followed Jesus hundreds of years before the Bible as we know it became canonized at the Council of Carthage in 396 A.D. The Bible as we now have it (66 books, Old and New Testament all bound together with a leather cover and tassle) didn’t become officially recognized by the church at large until nearly 400 years of church history had passed. So how did those earliest disciples become Christians if belief in the infallibility of the Bible is necessary for salvation? How did Peter become a Christian when the New Testament hadn’t even been written yet? (Interestingly enough, why is it that the most explosive growth in church history happened before we even had a Bible? My two cents is that once the Bible was canonized, in our minds as a church we replaced the Holy Spirit with a book. Now, the Bible is incredible and contains the inspired words of God, but the Bible is not God. Instead of relying on God (Holy Spirit) we’re relying on a book, and they’re two different things).
The foundation of our faith is not a book, but an event (the Resurrection) that inspired the book. Before the New Testament was written, Peter, Paul and the early church changed the course of human history because of their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. So, to answer the original question: one must believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. That’s it. In fact, I think that’s actually written somewhere (John 3:16). If we add anything else as a pre-requisite for salvation, even something as important as belief in the infallibility of the Bible, we’re the ones wading into heretical waters.
In the end that’s incredible news for anyone wanting to make a meaningful attempt to engage a skeptical world with the gospel of Christ. We don’t have to get hung up on the six-day creation and the worldwide flood. Just preach Jesus. Preach his death and resurrection. If your skeptical friend can believe that, then salvation is right there. Stick with the four Gospels. The rest of it will come in time.