When did Jesus speak infallibly?


The topic question, I admit, is a bit quirky. So please let me explain.

In my thinking and review recently, I honestly have this question regarding Scripture and history.

There have been a couple threads regarding the authors of the Gospels writing that Jesus said that Moses wrote this and that in the Torah. And the debate is whether or not Moses actually wrote it.

If Moses didn’t write it, then Christ was apparently not meaning to define a historical truth. He was speaking to the lack of faith of his audience.

And then there is the more general discussion regarding whether or not Scripture is accurate in all the historical statements.

I realize that is a big topic and I’d like to think I fully grasp all of the Church’s wisdom on this topic, but it’s possible that I’ve missed a minor nuance…:shrug:

To me it seems some people try to address the topic in a similar way as when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra” as Vatican I defined.

Pope - Faith & Morals for the whole Church
Scripture - Truths regarding salvation for mankind

Am I wrong in thinking that the “extent” of truth in the Bible is greater than the limits regarding the Pope’s extent of Infallibility? Or is that just my Protestant upbringing holding me back?



Perhaps reviewing the Catechism on Scripture, Tradition and the relationship between the two would help.

Scripture is inerrant and inspired. It is the Church, however, that is infallible.


Hi Rob,

I invite you to read the document of the Council on Scripture, called Dei Verbum.


In this document the continuous mind of the Church is affirmed, namely that all of scripture is inspired and therefore true. But it must be read in the way that it was intended both by the sacred writer and by God Himself :

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to “literary forms.” For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. (7) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (8)

But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, (9) no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God. (10)

You will have noted two important criteria of interpretation : the literary forms and the content of all of scripture.

An example from the “literary forms” criteria. Ancient historians often constructed speeches and conversations from what they knew about certain characters. For example, Livy puts a long speech in the mouth of Hannibal before he crosses the Alps. Livy did not have a transcript or a recording. He invented the speech and made Hannibal say what sounded correct to him. So if the bible recounts an episode where someone after an important event burst into poetry and composes a long canticle, you might not have to take that account as historical. The canticle device might be used to enhance the spiritual and/or messianic significance of the event. And that is what is true and meant by God.

As for taking into account the context of all of scripture, we might look at some of the sapiential writings, like Ecclesiastes, where the author seems to have no knowledge of the after-life. God has revealed some things to us gradually. We know about the after-life from other parts of scripture.

So, whereas the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra, the bible is always infallible, but when it is understood correctly. All the recent popes have emphasized the importance of studying the environment in which the scriptures were written. Although a lot of progress has been made, scholars have hardly begun to scratch the surface. We should not let this stop us from reading the bible for our spiritual benefit, without burdening our minds with too much technical stuff. This is God’s intent in giving us scripture.



Thanks for the reply.

That’s not really what I was getting at though. I understand the difference between infallible and inerrant.


So perhaps you can restate your question. I don’t really understand what you are driving at.



Yes, I have read Dei Verbum. I read it after reading *Providentissimus Deus *by Pope Leo XIII.

Pope Leo XIII wrote that…

  1. It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration, or make God the author of such error.

Also, in section 20.

It may also happen that the sense of a passage remains ambiguous, and in this case good hermeneutical methods will greatly assist in clearing up the obscurity. But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican.

It seems to me that a great many lay Catholics have fallen prey to this idea that the Bible is only to be taken as accurate in regards “faith and morals” ie…things regarding salvation.

But, if God’s Word is not true in all things, why would we believe it to be true in regards faith and morals?

Also, Pope Leo XIII uses the word “Infallible” referring to Scripture.


Since Jesus is God (as well as man), he can only speak the truth. But, I don’t think infallibilty applies, as I understand its use in Catholic terms. In my view this is because “without error” (infallible) doesn’t necessarily mean the “complete” truth.


I suppose, what I’m asking is…

If the Pope can be wrong on matters of science, can the Bible be wrong on matters of science?

If the Pope can be wrong on matters of history, can the Bible be wrong on matters of history?

If the Pope can only solemnly define matters of faith and morals, then should the Bible only be taken for truth in matters of salvation.

The way I would answer those questions is…

God has blessed the Church with the Bishops as the Successors of the Apostles. The Successor of Peter is gifted with the chrism of Infallibility, so that when it is necessary, he can wisely define truth regarding what Catholic are to believe touching a certain doctrine, and how we are to order our lives touching a practice of morality.

While the Pope may be educated in science, history, poetry, and other things, his chrism of Infallibility does not extend to those matters.

The Scriptures, since they are the very word of God, are laid down and given to us as completely true in every point they touch. If some particular point were not true, then the entire collection of Scriptures would be of doubtful truth.

There may be things we may not understand, but that does not give us reason to question them. It gives us reason to heed the voice of the Church and seek better understanding.

Typists, scribes, translators, copy machines, they may make errors (ie run out of toner), but the authentic Scriptures are the Word of God. If there is anything untrue touching any point, then God inspired a man to write something which was untrue.


I agree. To try to have “complete truth” on anything would be pretty much impossible.

But Leo XIII used the word “infallible” in referring to the Scriptures

  1. Among the reasons for which the Holy Scripture is so worthy of commendation - in addition to its own excellence and to the homage which we owe to God’s Word - the chief of all is, the innumerable benefits of which it is the source; **according to the infallible testimony of the Holy Ghost Himself, who says: **“All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.”

For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then** willed faithfully to write down**, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth.

If Infallible means “incapable of error” then it seems like it would apply to Scripture. That’s how I’ve always seen it defined.

Fallible - capable of error
Infallible - incapable of error

If Infallible means something referring to the Pope specifically, then no, it couldn’t apply to Scripture.

However, we lay Catholic participate in the Church’s infallibility. It’s called “passive infallibility.” When we teach what the Church infallibly teaches, we are incapable of error, because what we are teaching is true. We’re not defining it, we are repeating it.


A distinction needs to be made. The quote from Leo says that it is the “testimony” that is infallable, not the text. Only teachings can be infallable. So a better definition for infallable is “incapable of teaching error”.


Ok, that helps. I expected there to be some sort of distinction there.

I have always understood Scripture to be not “infallible” in the way that we say the Church is “infallible.”



Addressing what led to the question in the first place: Over in the other thread, I tried to make this point a couple of times and finally just gave up:

When I look up a word in Webster’s Dictionary, my use of “Webster’s” does not imply I think Noah Webster wrote every single word of the dictionary I am using. I can still use his name, however, in referring to the dictionary.

Likewise when Jesus, Paul, and others refer to the writings of Moses. The Torah IS the Law of Moses. That doesn’t necessarily mean, nor does it prove, Moses wrote every word of it.

So neither Jesus nor the N.T. writers are wrong in what they say. But what they say doesn’t prove complete authorship by Moses, either.


Hi Cpayne, Yes, I understand what you are saying. That happened to be a recent example that I hadn’t thought about until I saw that thread you’re talking about. I pretty much understand the framework that the Church teaches on this. So I’m not going to try to figure out all the details anytime soon. I have other things to do. Your explanation/comparison above helps, thanks@! Robert


Dear Robert: I didn’t mean to shut down the questions you raised, if I did. Best, cpayne


Hey, no I didn’t take it like that. Actually, it was just something on my mind and I figured the best way to get it out would be here on the forums.

I guess I don’t have enough questions to get to the answers I’m asking for.


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