The Catholic or OEcumenical Creeds make no affirmation whatever concerning the Bible. This theory is found alone, in formal official statement, in the creeds of minor authority, the utterances of councils of particular churches; as, for example, in the Tridentine Decrees and the Protestant Confessions of Faith. There is no unanimity of statement among these several Confessions. Some of the Protestant Confessions of the Reformation era state this theory moderately. Some of them hold it implicitly, without exact definition. One at least is wholly silent upon the subject. The later creeds of Protestantism vary even more than the Reformation symbols. Such important Churches as the Church of England, our own Protestant Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Church have nothing whatever of this theory in their official utterances. These three Churches unite in this simple, practical, undogmatic statement (the sixth of the thirty-nine articles):
“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
The Bible nowhere makes any such claim of infallibility for itself.
The prophets did indeed use the habitual formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” So did the false prophets, as well as the true. It was the common formula of prophetism, indeed, of the Easterns generally when delivering themselves of messages that burned in their souls. The eastern mind assigns directly to God actions and influences which we Westerns assign to secondary causes. We are scientific, they are poetic. We reach truth by reasonings, they by intuitions. No one can follow the processes of the intuitions. To the mystic mind they are immediate illuminations from on high, inspirations of the Spirit of God. In the realm of law we trace the action of natural forces, and are apt to think there is nothing more. In the realm of the unknown we feel the supernatural, and are apt to think it all in all.
The great prophets themselves did not accept this language of other prophets unquestioningly. They denied the claim unhesitatingly when satisfied that the messages were not from on high. They distinguished between those who came in the name of the Lord; and so must we. They tried the spirits whether they were of God; bidding us therefore do the same.
Tried by the severest scrutiny of successive centuries, of different races, the great prophets prove to have spoken truly when they declared, of their ethical and spiritual messages, “Thus saith the Lord.” If ever messages from on high have come to men, if ever the Spirit of God has spoken in the spirit of man, it was in the minds of these “men of the spirit.” But they made no claim to infallibility, or if they did, took pains to disprove it. Every prophet who goes beyond ethical and religious instruction, and ventures into predictions, makes mistakes, and leaves his errors recorded for our warning. We must try even the inspired men, and when, overstepping their limitations, they err, we must say, Thus saith Isaiah, Thus saith Jeremiah.