The Bible is NOT infallible

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 probbly holds to some mathematical errors. If so, that alone would demonstrate that he is not inerrant.

(Postscript: Some might say, of the Bible, that the book itself is not infallible but that the term is properly used of the Bible because the devout reading of it makes the reader infallibly choose the right understanding of the text. The simple disproof of this is that there are more than 30,000 disparate Protestant denominations.)

[quote=Karl Keating]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 probbly holds to some mathematical errors. If so, that alone would demonstrate that he is not inerrant.

(Postscript: Some might say, of the Bible, that the book itself is not infallible but that the term is properly used of the Bible because the devout reading of it makes the reader infallibly choose the right understanding of the text. The simple disproof of this is that there are more than 30,000 disparate Protestant denominations.)
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Hi Karl,

Have you read this text?

iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

Ric:

Your citation was to the lengthy “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” It states:

“‘Infallible’ signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.”

This is a poor definition of infallibility. The way it is phrased, it seems to say that the Bible performs a kind of negative action: It does not “mislead.” But that is not what happens.

If you attend to the definition closely you will see that it is not really saying that the Bible as a book is infallible but that the reader of the Bible is infallible: The reader, on reading the sacred text, will not be misled. This is a quality internal to the reader, not to the Bible itself.

As I said, infallibility is something properly attributed to an active agent, and the Bible cannot be an active agent. It is static. The Bible is understood (or misunderstood) by an active agent (the reader).

This unhelpful use (or misuse) of infallibility arose because the Reformers jettisoned the magisterium. They, like the Catholic Church, still affirmed that the Bible is inerrant. But, unlike the Catholic Church, they no longer had an infallible agent to point to. They tried to shoehorn the Bible into this role, but it was at the expense of clarity of definition. They ended up muddling the meaning of infallibility.

In a way, they had no choice

Hi Ric,

Please allow me to offer a little constructive criticism. Please refrain from quoting whole posts back. I understand that this may seem necessary on a thread that contains several dozen posts, and you are addressing a post from much earlier in the thread. It is obvious that this is not required when your post immediately follows the one you are addressing.

I have had a difficult time reading your recent posts because of your frequent ‘quotes’.

I hope you don’t take offence to my comments, I know that I am not a moderator. :slight_smile:

Firstly, thankyou for the clarification!

Surely, however, Catholics mis-use the terms too? Most (though not all) can speak fallibly can they not?! These threads must be full of examples of inerrant writings regarding these terms! Another e.g. is that old chestnut that the Bible is ‘an infallible collection of infallible writings/books’ etc., and the first time I read that was in Scott & Kimberley Hahn’s ‘Rome Sweet Home’ - although maybe he was quoting a Protestant…

I guess that although I am coming into the Catholic Church it still grieves me at times to hear gripes about Protestants which, strictly speaking aren’t characteristic of that group alone, but often Catholics too. Infact, I hear far more complaint or comment about Protestants from Catholics than I ever did of Catholics in a ‘non-denominational’ church. Thankfully not enough to put me off!!

Anyway Karl, I now have that particular complaint off my chest and I will strive to use the terms infallibly from now on. :wink:

Thanks,

That’s a big “Ten Four” and many thumbs up! :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

I have a question. What is a good way to show someone, Catholic or not, that the way they are using a term is incorrect? Any time I have tried, from the using the dictionary to any other method, the person seems to get more locked into the wrong method. Perhaps it is my approach. Anyway, what is a good way to deal with misuse of terms…

BTW, this is a great post about an important distinction

Well, Ralph, it may be that you folks down in Birmin’ham aren’t quite using the right technique.

I, too, use the dictionary, but I don’t shove it into the other guy’s stomach and say, “Here, read this!” :wink:

The authors of the Bible infallibly recorded history and teachings on faith and morals. Therefore the Bible contains no error concerning the above.

Karl, you sure are wonderful :bowdown2:

I have been trying to understand the “infallibility” position for ages.

You have made it so clear in one post.

Thank you ! I now know how to spread the Word a little easier due to you and your wonderful way with language and writing.

Love Kellie

[quote=Karl Keating]Well, Ralph, it may be that you folks down in Birmin’ham aren’t quite using the right technique.

I, too, use the dictionary, but I don’t shove it into the other guy’s stomach and say, “Here, read this!” :wink:
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As always, your advice is excellent. I was hitting them upside the head with it. :banghead:

[quote=Elizabeth]Surely, however, Catholics mis-use the terms too? Another e.g. is that old chestnut that the Bible is ‘an infallible collection of infallible writings/books’ etc., and the first time I read that was in Scott & Kimberley Hahn’s ‘Rome Sweet Home’ - although maybe he was quoting a Protestant.
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Yes, Catholics misuse terms too. But I had in mind mainly spokesmen for the Evangelical and Fundamentalist positions, not the average Protestant in the pew.

I think the saying you are referring to actually is: “a fallible collection of infallible books.” The collection, say certain Evangelical writers, is fallible because there was no infallible body to make it–but not to worry, since all the books in the collection are infallible.

But, if the collectors were fallible, how could we know that they gathered together only infallible books? (I prescind here from my earlier comments about not using “infallible” to describe a book.)

Just to get this straight then; the collectors were acting infallibly in drawing together an inerrant collection of inerrant books?

I have a question for Ric, or anyone else that professes that the Bible is Infallable. What did Christ found, a Church or a Book?
Please use Scripture if necessary.

Joao

[quote=Elizabeth]Firstly, thankyou for the clarification!

Surely, however, Catholics mis-use the terms too? Most (though not all) can speak fallibly can they not?! These threads must be full of examples of inerrant writings regarding these terms!
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You are correct. Catholics can misuse terms and these threads are probably full of them. However we are not the one’s given the authority to descern the bible. Nor are the protestants. I am on my way home from a Presbyterian church, so I know where you are comming from. And I actually stayed away too long because of certain Catholics I knew, but then I relized that it only mattered what the CHURCH herself taught through the magesterium that matter. Not what Catholics who misunderstand things think. And no that doesn’t make them right.

In my Presbyterian church, catholics were viewed as diseased people. It doesn’t grieve me to hear how protestants are misinterpreting things or terms, because I was taught to read the bible and however it spoke to me was what I was supposed to get out of it. Just an example. There is a gal in our (old)congragation who thinks homosexuality is just fine and would have no problem with a gay pastor because that is how the bible speaks to her. So even in the same church, many different views.

P.S.
Congrats.

[quote=Shari]There is a gal in our (old)congragation who thinks homosexuality is just fine and would have no problem with a gay pastor because that is how the bible speaks to her. So even in the same church, many different views.
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Oh how fun blanket statements are. From my experience…the Protestants I know are much more united in their beliefs than the Catholics I know. I’ve heard Catholics expressing sundry beliefs…many don’t even know what they believe.

I’m sure this is true of Protestant groups as well…all I’m saying is to be careful of where you are blanketing.

~mango~

[quote=mango_2003]Oh how fun blanket statements are. From my experience…the Protestants I know are much more united in their beliefs than the Catholics I know. I’ve heard Catholics expressing sundry beliefs…many don’t even know what they believe.

I’m sure this is true of Protestant groups as well…all I’m saying is to be careful of where you are blanketing.

~mango~
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Um excuse me, I was not blanketing anything!! I was simply saying what there was in my congregation, that even in the same denomination and church you can have so many interpretaions of the bible. I was in no way saying what goes on in other churches because I don’t go to them. I have been around the block (different denominations and churches)so to speak and in different parts of the country too. I was just pointing out that this is what comes from everyone can interpret the bible anyway they think is right. And I know everyone says the Holy Spirit lead them to that conclusion. I say bull, the holy spirit is not one of dis-unity. Of course there are catholics who don’t really understand what the church teaches. I didn’t say there wasn’t. So please, please, please don’t take my quotes for something they aren’t because then I would have to say you are doing to my quotes what you do when you read and interpret your bible, to fit what you want!!!

[quote=mango_2003] From my experience…the Protestants I know are much more united in their beliefs than the Catholics I know. ~mango~
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Then you know doggone few Catholics, or perhaps you know “Catholics” who claim the title but are not, in fact, Catholic.

The Catholic Church speaks with one voice – the voice of Peter’s successor. Anyone can know what the Catholic Church teaches, including uneducated “Catholics” who don’t bother to check.

All Protestant organizations, on the other hand, have Sola Scriptura and private interpretation as doctrines foundational to their belief system. Anyone may believe anything he thinks the Bible reveals to him, so no one can say that he is “right” or “wrong.” Each individual is his own authority.

The Bible can’t say, “you misunderstand my meaning.”

The Catholic Church alone can say, “That isn’t what that means,” when you misinterpret her own writings. She has the rights of authorship of the New Testament text.

For inclusion into the canon, a writing had to agree with the teaching of the Church. If you think otherwise, then you misunderstand the writing.

[quote=Shari]Um excuse me, I was not blanketing anything!! I was simply saying what there was in my congregation, that even in the same denomination and church you can have so many interpretaions of the bible. I was in no way saying what goes on in other churches because I don’t go to them. I have been around the block (different denominations and churches)so to speak and in different parts of the country too. I was just pointing out that this is what comes from everyone can interpret the bible anyway they think is right. And I know everyone says the Holy Spirit lead them to that conclusion. I say bull, the holy spirit is not one of dis-unity. Of course there are catholics who don’t really understand what the church teaches. I didn’t say there wasn’t. So please, please, please don’t take my quotes for something they aren’t because then I would have to say you are doing to my quotes what you do when you read and interpret your bible, to fit what you want!!!
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Mango, I wanted to apologize for this post. It wasn’t very charitable of me to speak to you like this. :crying: I just felt my words were being taken out of context. Please understand I was just speaking about a situation in my old church. I am sure you didn’t mean anything personal by you blanket statement, you might have just misunderstood my point. I am sure you are very honesty in the practice of your faith and truely live what you believe. Some catholics don’t even do that. Anyway please accept my appology and I ask your forgivness. :slight_smile:

I think that the biggest challenge to my faith is the inerrancy of the Bible. The more that I learn about the Bible, the more difficult that things get. Although there are many theories as to how you can reconcile the contradictions and the scientific difficulties of the Bible, no reasonable person can deny that the belief in inerrancy is difficult. For me this is what makes protestantism so untenable. Without tradition and the guide of the Catholic Church which teaches infallably, I think that the faith breaks down very quickly and easily. The Bible becomes a free-for-all. In this free-for-all, often times the agnostics and atheists win.

When intellectually things get rough, I always look to the Church. Looking to the Bible on my own often is the rough road. As my protestent friends always say: “Let me ask my pastor”. There are many pastors. There is only one Church.

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