Dialogue Thread: Is the Bible our only Infallible Authority?

There are many threads on these forums where people ask questions about the faith and others respond with there answers. I thought that perhaps it would be nice to start threads that provide a place for those of different faiths to discuss specific issues that seperate them. Since Protestants take the affirmative on this issue, I (and I hope the other participating Catholics) will not defend the Catholic position until the Protestants (or a Protestant) states his/her position.

I look forward to your responses :)!

Hi DNS, I am not sure one can say the Bible is infallible, after all it was written by men. Yes, it was inspired by God. But, does inspiration really guarenteee infalliblity? What exacty is the difference between inerrancy and infallibility?

:confused:

[quote=Daniel Marsh]Hi DNS, I am not sure one can say the Bible is infallible, after all it was written by men. Yes, it was inspired by God. But, does inspiration really guarenteee infalliblity? What exacty is the difference between inerrancy and infallibility?

:confused:
[/quote]

From the CCC: 107 The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

This from a Karl Keating E-Letter:

"Evangelicals and Fundamentalists commonly say the Bible is infallible. I wish they’d stop. It’s a misconstrual of the word.

“Fallible” means able to make a mistake or able to teach error. “Infallible” means the opposite: the inability to make a mistake or to teach error.

When we use these words, we use them regarding an active agent–that is, we use them about someone making a decision that either may or may not be erroneous (in which case that someone is fallible) or that definitely cannot be erroneous (in which case that someone is infallible).

Put another way, the active agent is alive and capable of making decisions. A human being is an active agent. Normally human beings are fallible. In a few instances (the pope when speaking ex cathedra, the bishops united with the pope when speaking through an ecumenical council) human beings may act infallibly.

But a rock never is infallible. Nor is it fallible. It is neither because it makes no decision about anything. Ditto for a plant. No sunflower ever made the right decision–or the wrong decision; in fact, no sunflower ever made any decision, properly speaking.

The same can be said of a book. No book, not even the Bible, is capable of making a decision. Thus it would be wrong to say that the Bible is infallible or fallible–such terms shouldn’t be used about it or about any other book.

The proper term to use, when we are saying that the Bible contains no error, is “inerrant.” The Church teaches that everything the Bible asserts (properly understood, of course) is true and therefore without error.

“Inerrant” would not be the word to use about, say, the pope. A pope may act infallibly in carefully prescribed circumstances, but he is not inerrant. To say that he is inerrant is to say that he contains no error, but every pope does.

So far as I know, John Paul II is not a mathematical whiz. Like the rest of us, he no doubt harbors misconceptions about certain elements of mathematics. Put another way, he probably holds to some mathematical errors. That by itself demonstrates that he is not inerrant."

[quote=Daniel Marsh]Hi DNS, I am not sure one can say the Bible is infallible, after all it was written by men. Yes, it was inspired by God. But, does inspiration really guarenteee infalliblity? What exacty is the difference between inerrancy and infallibility?

:confused:
[/quote]

This ought to invite some responses. :slight_smile:

[quote=Daniel March]Hi DNS, I am not sure one can say the Bible is infallible, after all it was written by men. Yes, it was inspired by God. But, does inspiration really guarenteee infalliblity? What exacty is the difference between inerrancy and infallibility?
[/quote]

To my knowledge infallibility and inerrancy basically mean the same thing when applied to the Bible, specifically, that the Bible is free from error.

The Catholic Church certainly teaches that God’s inspiration guarentees the the Bible’s infallibility. See for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 107.

The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided in the Sacred Scriptures.”

Since I see from your profile that you are undecided on your religion, it would probably be better to show you a passage from the Bible itself that I think might help - 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in rightousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (Revised Standard Version)

I hope this helps

[quote=DNS]To my knowledge infallibility and inerrancy basically mean the same thing when applied to the Bible, specifically, that the Bible is free from error.
[/quote]

Unfortunately it was while I was creating my last post that Sherlock posted in regards to Karl Keating’s E-letter, and therefore I did not see Sherlock’s post until after I posted mine. I guess I was wrong when I said inerrancy and infallibility meant the same thing:(, but I hope Daniel still finds the rest of my post helpful :yup:.

[quote=DNS]To my knowledge infallibility and inerrancy basically mean the same thing when applied to the Bible, specifically, that the Bible is free from error.

[/quote]

The Bible is not free from error. The writers of the books in the Bible were inspired by God, and what they wrote was free from error. But what they wrote is not necessarily what is in the Bible today. But todays Bibles are not error free due to mistranslations, mistakes while transcribing the Bible, and deliberate changes to the Bible. This is one of the reasons why we need the Church to guide us, and not rely on just the Bible.

[quote=Andrew_11]The Bible is not free from error. The writers of the books in the Bible were inspired by God, and what they wrote was free from error. But what they wrote is not necessarily what is in the Bible today. But todays Bibles are not error free due to mistranslations, mistakes while transcribing the Bible, and deliberate changes to the Bible. This is one of the reasons why we need the Church to guide us, and not rely on just the Bible.
[/quote]

You are right that it is only the original manuscripts of the inspired authors that are strictly inerrant; the transmission and translation of Scriptures is not. However, I think that we can be fairly sure that, say, a good translation such as the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, is for the most part free from error and faithful to the original authors intents due to the scholarly and careful work that went into it.

My goodness, this thread has turned into a thread that is a discussion on the difference between inerrancy and infallibility, rather than what I originally intended it to be: a discussion with non-Catholics on the question “Is the Bible our only Infallible Authority.” I’m glad we cleared up the difference between inerrancy and infallibility though. :slight_smile:

Lets try to regain our focus. I’ll change the wording a bit since we’ve learned infallible is not the right term :slight_smile:

Is the Bible formally sufficient in matters of faith and morals?

Would any Protestants be willing to discuss the above issue?

[Note: By formal sufficiency I mean “that the Bible alone is sufficiently clear that no infallible teaching magisterium of the church is necessary to interpret it.” (James White, *The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996, 78-79, quoted by Dave Armstrong on [this page](http://web.archive.org/web/20030604075336/http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ31.HTM#(James%20White,). I would also add that it excludes the need of Sacred Tradition to aid interpretation of the Bible.

I see your question hinging on the word “only.” Is the Bible our only Infallible Authority?

I say: No.

I base that upon these givens, that many may disagree with, but I hold them as tenants of my faith:

Jesus Christ is the Divine Revelation to mankind. Sacred Scripture does not record everything about that Revelation, for if it did there would be no reason to search beyond what is contained therein. There would be no need or reason to pray, or to meditate upon the mysteries of Christ. There would be just reading of Scripture.

These Scriptures (especially here the Christian Scriptures) were not written until well after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. If the supposition of the Bible being the only Infallible Authority were true there would be an infallible list of those Scriptures contained within the same Scriptures. Such a list does not exist. Therefore, there had to be an outside influence that was acted upon to come to that list of what is and what is not Scripture. From history we know that lists of Scriptures for Christians began in the first Century with Pope Clement shortly after the Jewish Rabbinical Council of Jamnia (about AD 85). His list was preserved in antiquity and handed down and it was expounded on until the 4th century when St. Augustine spearheaded several Local Synods in Northern Africa, where we have the Catholic Canon listed in its entirety and signed by Pope Sylvester. This was further established dogmatically by the Council of Trent.

If we hold to the idea that the Bible our only Infallible Authority then we:

can’t be sure if the Bible as we have it today is complete because no list of books is contained in the bible

pass judgment upon all the Christian souls that came before the 4th century that didn’t have a complete canon list – who or what then did they place as their “Infallible Authority” as Scripture Canon was not determined as of yet?

Both of these conclusions, in my opinion, are very poor. Since they are based upon the premise of Sola Scriptura, I find the idea of Sola Scriptura illogical and therefore false.

, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996, 78-79, quoted by Dave Armstrong on [this page]("http://web.archive.org/web/20030604075336/http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ31.HTM#(James%20White,"). I would also add that it excludes the need of Sacred Tradition to aid interpretation of the Bible.

Is that really a quote from James White? Man, is that sloppy. He forgot to include the word “properly” at the end. Of course the bible can be interpreted - that’s the problem - it can be interpreted many ways. The question is whether it is sufficiently clear to be interpreted PROPERLY -that is, as the authors intended it to be interpreted. In addition, it is not simply enough to say that it is sufficiently clear to be interpreted properly, there still must be an objective means of determining whether an interpretation is actually the proper one! An absolute reference is required. Without such a reference point, the interpretation of the bible can only be an ongoing process with doctrine developing and potentially changing with time.

Phil

First, thanks for getting this line back on the original topic. Is the Bible sufficient in itself for our faith and morals?

Let’s start with that famous “Protestant prooftext,” 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which states that all scripture is God-breathed (the original Greek, reflected in the New International Version). Catholic apologists like to claim that the verse doesn’t state “only Scripture.” But this begs the question: WHERE in scripture does it say that any tradition not recorded in scripture is God-breathed?

You can state that the Bible itself doesn’t claim it is the supreme authority for our faith. But this is a case where the doctrine of the Bible’s authority is implicit, as opposed to explicit (an example: we agree the Bible explicitly calls Jesus God in John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:8, for example. But it doesn’t explicitly state there is a Trinity. Nonetheless, the Trinity is Implicitly backed up by scriptural patterns). It’s had to escape the emphasis on the authority of God’s WRITTEN word in both the Old and New Testament.

Then there is the example of an oral tradition that is recorded in scripture, in John 21:20-24. Here is an actual saying of Jesus that was heard by the apostles, who managed to DISTORT what Jesus actually said about John! And how do we know it was a distortion? JOHN SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT WITH THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD! This passage should give pause to Catholics who want to claim that traditions not in the NT can still be traced to the early church. When NT writers mention traditions being passed down, it shouldn’t be a “shock” as it was to former Protestants such as Scott Hahn—for these traditions would not be outside the NT record (it must be kept in mind that these traditions were mentioned when the NT was still being written).

Going back to 2 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy that the God-breathed scriptures are given to us “that the man of God may be COMPLETE, THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED for every good work” (NKJV). Read that again: the written word makes us COMPLETE and THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED! And yet, we’re supposed to give equal authority to traditions that the Catholic Church can’t quite trace back historically to the NT church?

Traditions, by the way, are not bad within themselves; Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:1-9 can be applied to ANY church in Christendom, Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, where tradition obscures or obstructs our faith in God. All churches have man-made traditions, some good, some not-so-good and some that were good at one time but are now irrelevant. Is a tradition drawing one closer to Jesus, or driving him or her away? That’s the central issue of Matthew 15.

I’d like to write more, but it’s getting late! Thanks for hearing me out and God bless!

[quote=b_justb]I see your question hinging on the word “only.” Is the Bible our only Infallible Authority?

I say: No.

I base that upon these givens, that many may disagree with, but I hold them as tenants of my faith:

Jesus Christ is the Divine Revelation to mankind. Sacred Scripture does not record everything about that Revelation, for if it did there would be no reason to search beyond what is contained therein. There would be no need or reason to pray, or to meditate upon the mysteries of Christ. There would be just reading of Scripture.

These Scriptures (especially here the Christian Scriptures) were not written until well after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. If the supposition of the Bible being the only Infallible Authority were true there would be an infallible list of those Scriptures contained within the same Scriptures. Such a list does not exist. Therefore, there had to be an outside influence that was acted upon to come to that list of what is and what is not Scripture. From history we know that lists of Scriptures for Christians began in the first Century with Pope Clement shortly after the Jewish Rabbinical Council of Jamnia (about AD 85). His list was preserved in antiquity and handed down and it was expounded on until the 4th century when St. Augustine spearheaded several Local Synods in Northern Africa, where we have the Catholic Canon listed in its entirety and signed by Pope Sylvester. This was further established dogmatically by the Council of Trent.

If we hold to the idea that the Bible our only Infallible Authority then we:

can’t be sure if the Bible as we have it today is complete because no list of books is contained in the bible

pass judgment upon all the Christian souls that came before the 4th century that didn’t have a complete canon list – who or what then did they place as their “Infallible Authority” as Scripture Canon was not determined as of yet?

Both of these conclusions, in my opinion, are very poor. Since they are based upon the premise of Sola Scriptura, I find the idea of Sola Scriptura illogical and therefore false.
[/quote]

The “outside influence” that determined what was part of the NT canon was the Holy Spirit, not some council. Those earlier councils merely formalized what was already in evidence in the churches, as those church leaders obeyed the discernment of the Spirit regarding which letters were God-breathed, which were helpful but not inspired (e.g.: Sherpherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Didache) and which were forgeries (e.g.: Acts of Paul). God did this once before with the OT canon; there was no reason He could not do this again with the NT canon. Consider also: Peter had already declared Paul’s letters as equal with OT scripture in the FIRST century in 2 Peter 3:15-17; it is also not unreasonable to believe that the Apostle John, who lived until 100 AD, helped determine which NT writings were truly scripture (he continue to govern the churches of Asia after his exile at Patmos—see Ecclesiatical History chapter 23); the early church DID have scriptures while the NT was being written and collected—you may remember the Old Testament, which was quoted quite a bit in the NT. Jesus made it clear that the OT testified of Him (see John 5:46 and Luke 24:27).

I made other points about sola scriptura in another post on this thread, so I won’t repeat a lot of it here. I will only state that sola scriptura is far from “illogical.” The Apostle John states it best: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; **but these have been written ** so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” What we have in the OT and NT is all the revelation we need as the final authority for our faith and morals.

I thought my thread had been forgotten, thanks for bringing it back, sk32900 :)!

Now my response.

[quote=sk32900]WHERE in scripture does it say that any tradition not recorded in scripture is God-breathed?
[/quote]

Scipture never says that any tradition not recorded in the Bible is God-breathed. However, I don’t think the Catholic Church believes her traditions are not recorded in Scripture, but rather that her traditions are neccesary in order to correctly interpret Scripture. For example, Catholics believe Rev 12 teaches Mary’s Assumption, an interpretation aided by looking at the Tradition of the Church.

Now does the Bible indicate that we ought to follow tradition? It certainly does, in verses such as 1 Cor 11:2 and 2 Thess 3:15.

[quote=sk32900]Then there is the example of an oral tradition that is recorded in scripture, in John 21:20-24. Here is an actual saying of Jesus that was heard by the apostles, who managed to DISTORT what Jesus actually said about John! And how do we know it was a distortion? JOHN SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT WITH THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD! This passage should give pause to Catholics who want to claim that traditions not in the NT can still be traced to the early church. When NT writers mention traditions being passed down, it shouldn’t be a “shock” as it was to former Protestants such as Scott Hahn—for these traditions would not be outside the NT record (it must be kept in mind that these traditions were mentioned when the NT was still being written).
[/quote]

I need to do a little research on this one, as I have never heard this argument before.

[quote=sk32900]Going back to 2 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy that the God-breathed scriptures are given to us “that the man of God may be COMPLETE, THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED for every good work” (NKJV). Read that again: the written word makes us COMPLETE and THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED! And yet, we’re supposed to give equal authority to traditions that the Catholic Church can’t quite trace back historically to the NT church?
[/quote]

Here are just a few of the insights I have gleaned from Jimmy Akin on this issue. First of all, the fact that Scripture can make us complete and thoroughly equipped does not neccesarily mean that we know how to use the equipment. Remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” (RSVCE) We need tradition and the Church to help us. Secondly, 2 Timothy 3 also appeals to tradition. Read the two verses preceding 16 & 17.

(I realize that this post is a highly inadequate dealing with 2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim 3:16-17, etc. After a bit of study perhaps we can delve deeper into the issues).

God bless,

[quote=DNS]Scipture never says that any tradition not recorded in the Bible is God-breathed. However, I don’t think the Catholic Church believes her traditions are not recorded in Scripture, but rather that her traditions are neccesary in order to correctly interpret Scripture. For example, Catholics believe Rev 12 teaches Mary’s Assumption, an interpretation aided by looking at the Tradition of the Church.

Now does the Bible indicate that we ought to follow tradition? It certainly does, in verses such as 1 Cor 11:2 and 2 Thess 3:15.,
[/quote]

Thanks for your response, DNS. I’ll get to Jimmy Adkins’ site and let you know what I think of his points (looks like he’s a must-read; anyone who can land a surprise interview with Jack Chick must be top-notch indeed! I think Adkins handled the encounter with great Christian grace).

On your first point: As I stated in another post on this thread, these “traditions” were mentioned while the NT was still being written. So I don’t believe any would be outside what we now have in the NT (my other post goes a little further into this).

On a side note regarding the Assumption of Mary doctrine: my understanding is that this doctrine was formulated centuries after the NT was written, and not made official Catholic doctrine until 1950. Please let me know if I’m off base with this. Is it possible Mary WAS taken into heaven? Well, the Bible says Enoch and Elijah were; scripture also states that believers will be taken bodily into heaven at Jesus’ return (regardless of whether this involves a “Rapture” or if it happens right at Jesus’ return). So it’s possible. Whether it should be a major doctrine (or a doctrine at all), and whether Rev. 12 should be interpreted in this light, is another matter.

Like I said, I’ll get back to you on the 2 Timothy points. God bless and have a great day!

sk32900,

I’ve seen your three posts and will try to formulate a response by Tuesday. I think we need to look closer at the following issues that have thus far been brought up:

  1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 - does it teach Sola Scriptura?
  2. Does John 21:20-24 prove Sacred Tradition unreliable?
  3. Is an infallible authority needed to give us assurance as to the inspiration of Scripture?
  4. Is there any Sacred Tradition that is not recorded in the Bible?

By the way, thank you for your willingness to discuss these important issues.

God bless,

There are NO verses that support sola scriptura, any verse that protestants use to defend “bible alone” is invalid, as the “scripture of the NT was still being formed. If St. Paul ever wrote that scripture was sufficient (he didn’t) but if he did, he would only be referring to the OT.

To infer that St. Paul considered his own writings to be scripture would go against his character, for a Jew to believe that they were capable of producing scripture would have been out of the question. The apostles never believed they were producing scripture, the believed correctly they were simply writing to his fellow Christians to remind them of the oral teachings he had already given them.

Sola scriptura is the product of a severe misunderstanding of the purpose and nature of the bible. Sacred tradition is the mother of the NT.

[quote=DNS]There are many threads on these forums where people ask questions about the faith and others respond with there answers. I thought that perhaps it would be nice to start threads that provide a place for those of different faiths to discuss specific issues that seperate them. Since Protestants take the affirmative on this issue, I (and I hope the other participating Catholics) will not defend the Catholic position until the Protestants (or a Protestant) states his/her position.

I look forward to your responses :)!
[/quote]

I think it causes endless confusion to ascribe infallibility to anyone but Christ.

His infallibility, is what other sorts boil down to, AFAICS ##

[quote=DNS]You are right that it is only the original manuscripts of the inspired authors that are strictly inerrant; the transmission and translation of Scriptures is not. However, I think that we can be fairly sure that, say, a good translation such as the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, is for the most part free from error and faithful to the original authors intents due to the scholarly and careful work that went into it.

My goodness, this thread has turned into a thread that is a discussion on the difference between inerrancy and infallibility, rather than what I originally intended it to be: a discussion with non-Catholics on the question “Is the Bible our only Infallible Authority.” I’m glad we cleared up the difference between inerrancy and infallibility though. :slight_smile:

Lets try to regain our focus. I’ll change the wording a bit since we’ve learned infallible is not the right term :slight_smile:

Is the Bible formally sufficient in matters of faith and morals?

Would any Protestants be willing to discuss the above issue?

[Note: By formal sufficiency I mean “that the Bible alone is sufficiently clear that no infallible teaching magisterium of the church is necessary to interpret it.” (James White, *The Roman Catholic Controversy
[/quote]

, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996, 78-79, quoted by Dave Armstrong on [this page]("http://web.archive.org/web/20030604075336/http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ31.HTM#(James%20White,"). I would also add that it excludes the need of Sacred Tradition to aid interpretation of the Bible.## Someone, somewhere, has confused
[list]
*]formal sufficiency
[/list]with
[list]
*]perspicuity
[/list]- they are not the same thing, not among Catholics or Protestants, AFAIK

The whole topic is a morass of confusions ##

To levi86:

“There are NO verses that support sola scriptura”: As I stated earlier, sola scriptura is IMPLICIT doctrine (see one of my earlier posts on this). Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 again: scripture is called God-breathed (in Greek; see also NIV), and makes us “complete” and “thoroughly equipped” (New King James Version). This verse alone creates lots of problems for those claiming we need traditions to REALLY understand the Bible, especially in light of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 15:1-9, which shows that manmade traditions can get in the way of our knowing God (regardless of which church they come from) by making the Bible “of no effect” (v. 6) upon our lives.

“St. Paul … would only be referring to the OT": So, are you saying the NT ISN’T scripture? Because if the NT IS scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 APPLIES JUST AS MUCH TO THE NT AS TO THE OT, regardless of whether Paul was strictly speaking of the OT scriptures. Keep in mind, Peter thought Paul’s letters WERE Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). And Paul, even with the NT “still being formed,” quotes Jesus from Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:7) alongside Deut. 25:4 in 1 Timothy 5:18, calling both quotes SCRIPTURE.

“The apostles never believed they were producing scripture”—this sidesteps the fact that GOD inspired the NT scriptures! It is likely the writers may not have been aware they were producing scripture: Jude’s letter, for instance, was an “emergency letter” warning about false doctrine, and the letter of 3 John was essentially a letter of recommendation for Demetrius written to Gaius. However, whether the NT writers KNEW they were producing scripture at that moment they penned their works is ultimately irrelevant, because the works that make up the NT were GOD-BREATHED, inspired by the Holy Spirit—and, as cited above, others even within the first-century church recognized them as such!

“Sola scripture is the product of a severe misunderstanding of the purpose and nature of the Bible”: I believe scripture is quite plain in explaining the “purpose” and “nature” of scripture, in such places as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and John 20:31. levi86, I’d really like to know YOUR understanding of the Bible’s “purpose” and “nature."

“Sacred tradition is the mother of the NT?” Any true “sacred tradition” is IN the NT!

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