Infallibility & Inerrancy

“To me, this always has been the root question, the answer to which answers most other questions in religion. Who—or what—is the (Christian) authority? Is it a living Church, endowed with a magisterium guaranteed, in some way, to hand on faithfully the deposit of faith and capable of deciding fresh questions in a definitive way, or is it the individual Christian, relying on what appears to him/her to be the perspicuity of Scripture?

The claim that the Bible is the final authority reduces to the claim that its reader is the final authority. This perhaps can be appreciated best when discussing infallibility. The Catholic position is that the Church itself is infallible and that its infallibility may be manifested in one of three ways: by formal decrees of ecumenical councils, by highly-circumscribed decisions of popes making definitions on their own, and by the centuries-long, consistent teaching of the Church. (Ed.  It DOES NOT MEAN Popes, or the lesser, are not sinners!!!  Pssst…the Church is FULL of SINNERS!!!!  That is its raison d’ etre!!! Mk 2:17, Lk 5:31-32, Mt 9:12.  I look at infallibility as I look at my father when I was a child calling a definitive halt to debate in our house.  The reason being the debate was becoming more destructive than resolution would have been beneficial, if possible, which it was not looking like by the time he called a halt, imho.)  Protestant churches have no equivalent of the magisterium, even those that have structures that formalistically mirror those of the Catholic Church, such as an episcopacy and councils. If these churches admit infallibility, that charism, by the end of the discussion, is found always and only in Scripture itself. Proponents says that it is the Bible that is infallible. That is a misuse of the word. The Bible is inerrant—that is, its teaching, when properly understood, contains no error. This is a necessary consequence of the inspiration of Scripture: God could not inspire a sacred writer to propose as true what in fact is false. But inerrancy is not infallibility. Inerrancy is a static thing. It is a testament that both testaments are accurate in conveying the truths they attempt to convey…Inerrancy is a good and, for the economy of salvation, a necessary thing—the Bible would not be of much utility if it were awash in errors—but inerrancy is not infallibility.

Infallibility is the inability, under certain circumstances, of deciding or defining in error. Infallibility means not being able to make a mistake. Its existence suggests the possibility, under other circumstances, of a wrong decision being made. It is this second status that all of us are familiar with, since we make wrong decisions regularly. It is the very making of wrong decisions that lets us imagine that it might be possible to have a situation in which making wrong decisions is not possible.

Only an active agent can make a decision, right or wrong. To make a decision, a decider is required. No book, not even the Bible, can decide anything. Even an inspired book is a static thing. It is purely passive. It does not have within itself the power of judgment, of discrimination, of reasoning. It may be inerrant, as the Bible is inerrant, but, on its own, it is incapable of drawing inferences from its own text. Something or someone outside the text is required for that. This means that a person may be infallible, or an institution (such as the Church) manifesting itself through one or more persons may be infallible, but no book is infallible…(Ed. it simply can’t be by definition of the word “infallible”.)

(Ed. Tradition is inescapable, even for Protestants. Not Catholic Tradition, but their own. And, of course, that individual interpretation leads to Protestant unity (sic), etc.)…What simple, unscholarly Christian in fact derives his belief in the Trinitarian doctrine of the Athanasian Creed from his personal reading of the Bible text?…

…Just look at the hodge-podge of books that make up the New Testament: “four fragmentary records of Christ’s life and teaching,” “an inadequate sketch of the early years of the apostolic age,” “some letters,” and “a prophecy.” Nothing suggests that this collection of documents, none of which purports to be a compendium of doctrine, contains everything that the Apostles learned from Christ or that they considered important. . . . The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture does not involve a belief that Scripture is our sole available source of Christian truth. And, hackneyed though the argument is, it must be pointed out that it is by Tradition and the authority of the teaching Church that we know both the number of the inspired books and the fact of their inspiration.”

-Keating, Karl. Booked for Life: The Bibliographic Memoir of an Accidental Apologist (Kindle Locations 2276-2299, 2309-2310, 2312-2319). Catholic Answers Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

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