The first doctrine of The Salvation Army specifically references a conviction that the Scriptures are “given by inspiration of God.” The Spirit of God breathes into the original writers, through them, and into us, the readers. It makes the Bible a living word, “God breathed,” inspired.
In the official 2010 Handbook of Doctrine the matter suddenly becomes more nuanced with pointedly less conviction on the matters of scriptural infallibility and inerrancy:
“It is uniquely inspired in a way that is different from other writings or works of art. However, this does not mean that the Bible is infallible or inerrant, so that it is incapable of misleading and contains no human error.”
This statement caused some consternation at its publication. So, what is going on here? Infallibility and inerrancy are the key words to consider, and their definitions and application are important:
Infallibility – We can say that the Bible is infallible in that it will not fail in its intended purposes, while avoiding platitudes.
Inerrancy – We can say that the Bible is without error in all it affirms, while avoiding literalism.
The matter is of utmost consequence regarding how we process ever-evolving cultural and societal matters. Tradition, reason, and experience are vitally important, but scripture always remains paramount. Rather than a smorgasbord of sayings, scripture sets the course for our understanding and “constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.”