Bible infallibility

RaphaCam

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Fr. Seraphim Rose says in God's Revelation to the Human Heart:

There are some who look at our Orthodox Church and say, (...) you don't believe in the Scriptures like a Protestant might and say tha they are the absolutely 'infallible' word. (...) If you haven't got the feeling that this is so, then you devise things like making the Bible infallible, making the Pope infallible.
So, isn't Bible infallibility an Orthodox thing? Or not a necessary doctrine for Orthodoxy? Should we just stop caring about answering possible contradictions such as Herod and Quirinius reigning at the same time,* or about the authorship of some books ascribing themselves to people that some doubt to have actually written them?

Maybe Fr. Seraphim wasn't trying to say something other than it seems?

*I know the word used to describe Quirinius's position isn't necessarily the one he assumed years after Herod's death, but it's still something that makes people scratch their heads over Bible infallibility.
 

rakovsky

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RaphaCam said:
Fr. Seraphim Rose says in God's Revelation to the Human Heart:

There are some who look at our Orthodox Church and say, (...) you don't believe in the Scriptures like a Protestant might and say tha they are the absolutely 'infallible' word. (...) If you haven't got the feeling that this is so, then you devise things like making the Bible infallible, making the Pope infallible.
Orthodox don't teach "inerrancy" of the Bible.
 

LizaSymonenko

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Don't miss the message in the Bible, while nitpicking it to pieces.

For these people who claim inerrancy in the Bible...will you defend the teachings of a real Adam and Eve...a real flood...plagues of locusts?

I believe Adam and Eve were the first humans and are our parents....I believe the great flood occurred and wiped out humanity, other than Noah and his family....I believe Jonah spent time inside a whale....I believe Christ walked on water and was resurrected on the third day after death.

However, often you will read on this forum, comments from people who think many of these "stories" were merely symbolic.  Adam, Eve and the snake are just a symbolic story.  The flood never really took place, etc.
 

TheTrisagion

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A book can't be infallible because it is always subject to interpretation which is inherently fallible.
 

rakovsky

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wgw said:
According to Fr. John Whiteford, scriptural inerrancy is an Orthodox position.
I've heard otherwise on OC.net. The writer noted that we would have trouble translating "inerrancy" in real ways.

Often, people who hold to Biblical Inerrancy will say that we cannot dispute whether the Torah stories are allegories, or say that man came from primates.

First, there is the issue of allegories: If in the Old Testament the Canaanites are called "bread" for Israel's troops, this doesn't mean that they are literally bread. So we have to admit that many places things are stated explicitly and yet remain allegories. And once we accept that principle, then theoretically anything could be considered an allegory, so long as it is not stated otherwise. If we accept "Biblical inerrancy", we will have to define "inerrancy" as allowing for things stated explicitly to be allegories. And once we accept that allegories fit into "inerrancy", then what do we do with Adam and Eve? If someone says that it's an allegory, he therefore has not violated the rule of "Biblical inerrancy".

So at some point, Biblical inerrancy would just mean that you cannot say "The Bible is wrong in every way." It means that "In some way the Bible must be right".

Secondly, again does it mean to say that every verse in the Bible is "inerrant" too? This also becomes tough to say, considering disputed passages and LXX v. Masoretic and even times when Jesus "corrected" OT teachings, or at least gave ones that appear at first glance to be much different.

...
Deacon Kuraev, a major theologian, teaches that Jonah's Book was an allegory. We don't have a record of Nineveh/Assyria's capitol worshiping Israel's God. Assyria conquered Israel. To think that Jonah survived three days in a fish's belly would be more fantastic than Jesus' raising of Lazarus on the fourth day when things were smelling bad.
 

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wgw said:
According to Fr. John Whiteford, scriptural inerrancy is an Orthodox position.
Fr. Whiteford said:

We believe that Scripture does not contain any error in anything that it intends to convey.
I think St. Augustine put it about as well as anyone has:

"For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error...."
(Church fathers though in real life disputed how to take some Torah stories as literal or not)
http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2012/01/inerrancy-of-scripture.html

That's a major qualification. The scripture might say one thing on first reading, but it turns out that what it "intends to convey" could be different, such that the first reading was wrong.
And then this goes back to the same kind of debate as before, eg. how do you show what the author intended to convey?

Fr. Hopko, who took the opposite view from Fr. Whiteford noted:
As an example of such contradictions -- in fact the clearest example, according to Fr. Thomas -- he pointed out that the four Gospels all have different inscriptions on the Cross of Christ. Here are what the four Gospels actually record:

"THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Matthew 27:37)

"THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Mark 15:26)

"THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Luke 23:38)

"JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS" (John 19:19)
And he concludes his comments on this question with the statement "So much for historical accuracy."

Does this example prove that the Bible contradicts itself or is in error? No. For one thing, if someone gives an approximate quotation of something, and another person gives a more precise quotation, and these two quotations essentially agree, but the more precise quote provides more detail, have they contradicted each other? No... they have corroborated each other.
SAME SOURCE AS ABOVE
So it turns out, per Fr. Whiteford's logic, that each evangelist was only intending to convey an approximation of the real title, not to actually quote the title explicitly.

But then once we accept that principle, then theoretically anything in the Bible could become an author's intention to convey some approximation of truth. And that "approximation" is inerrant.

But considering writers' intent to be infallible also seems sticky.
If Moses' own intention when telling the Levites to kill anyone who disobeyed some rules like carrying wood on the sabbath was an infallible approximation of truth, then we are really forced to "spin" the Truth of this statement very hard. We have to say under Christianity that a rulebreaker deserves death in some metaphysical way because he is separated from God. But we are also forced to come in with Jesus' compassion and say that we have to do the opposite and forgive the rulebreaker, as Jesus did.

So I think we can't say that Moses' intended meaning - we must kill rulebreakers - is a close approximation of truth, but can only say that it contains at some level "a Truth", the metaphysical one I mentioned. Moses' intended teaching on this topic was compassionless, but Jesus taught compassion on the topic, therefore at best Moses' teaching has an aspect of a deeper truth about obedience and rlationship with God and Law.

This is like the issue of immutability of canons. On closer inspection it appears the most we can say is that canons have a deeper level with truth.

Getting back to Orthodoxy, in the Creed we say that God inspired the prophets. God inspired Moses too. And God's inspiration is true. If we do accept "infallibility", then it is in that sense. But we don't have as a faith fundamental that every verse in the Bible is correct in every way.
 

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I have not read a book on the topic written by an Orthodox Christian, only snippets here and there. However, fwiw, anyone interested in the topic might want to check out: Debate About the Bible: Inerrancy Versus Infallibility by Stephen T. Davis. I certainly don't agree with all his points, but the text can be good for generating 'leads' that can be pursued using more (capital-O) Orthodox resources should you so desire.
 

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wgw said:
St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote that Scripture is not in the reading, but the interpretation.  I don't mind regarding the Orthodox interpretation as infallible.
In practice that is tough though.
Because sometimes Orthodox have different interpretations. Sometimes the main Orthodox view even changes.

To say Bible is infallible could be IMO misleading, because it can connote that each word and verses stated happened exactly as said, and then you are stuck with real life contradictions.

So the consensus must be in Orthodoxy that God inspired the Bible writers as Nicene Creed said, and God's inspiration is True. But beyond that in practice things about infallibility of the scripture are harder and are debated among Orthodox.

To say "inerrancy" I think has even tougher connotations.

I think often we say that Bible and Councils are infallible, but people even debate that.

 

TheTrisagion

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I think using terms like "trustworthy" or "efficacious" gives a better perspective on Scripture, the Creed or the Councils as opposed to infallible.
 

Luke

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The author is infallible.  The book is infallible.  The readers are fallible.
 

Asteriktos

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Too bad no one added an infallible table of contents...
 

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Asteriktos said:
Too bad no one added an infallible table of contents...
Good point: Slavs, Greeks, and Ethiopians differ on the books of the Bible. Ethiopians have 1 Enoch. It may be a deuterocanonical issue though.
 

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rakovsky said:
wgw said:
According to Fr. John Whiteford, scriptural inerrancy is an Orthodox position.
Fr. Whiteford said:

We believe that Scripture does not contain any error in anything that it intends to convey.
I think St. Augustine put it about as well as anyone has:

"For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error...."
(Church fathers though in real life disputed how to take some Torah stories as literal or not)
http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2012/01/inerrancy-of-scripture.html

That's a major qualification. The scripture might say one thing on first reading, but it turns out that what it "intends to convey" could be different, such that the first reading was wrong.
And then this goes back to the same kind of debate as before, eg. how do you show what the author intended to convey?

Fr. Hopko, who took the opposite view from Fr. Whiteford noted:
As an example of such contradictions -- in fact the clearest example, according to Fr. Thomas -- he pointed out that the four Gospels all have different inscriptions on the Cross of Christ. Here are what the four Gospels actually record:

"THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Matthew 27:37)

"THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Mark 15:26)

"THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Luke 23:38)

"JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS" (John 19:19)
And he concludes his comments on this question with the statement "So much for historical accuracy."

Does this example prove that the Bible contradicts itself or is in error? No. For one thing, if someone gives an approximate quotation of something, and another person gives a more precise quotation, and these two quotations essentially agree, but the more precise quote provides more detail, have they contradicted each other? No... they have corroborated each other.
SAME SOURCE AS ABOVE
So it turns out, per Fr. Whiteford's logic, that each evangelist was only intending to convey an approximation of the real title, not to actually quote the title explicitly.

But then once we accept that principle, then theoretically anything in the Bible could become an author's intention to convey some approximation of truth. And that "approximation" is inerrant.

But considering writers' intent to be infallible also seems sticky.
If Moses' own intention when telling the Levites to kill anyone who disobeyed some rules like carrying wood on the sabbath was an infallible approximation of truth, then we are really forced to "spin" the Truth of this statement very hard. We have to say under Christianity that a rulebreaker deserves death in some metaphysical way because he is separated from God. But we are also forced to come in with Jesus' compassion and say that we have to do the opposite and forgive the rulebreaker, as Jesus did.

So I think we can't say that Moses' intended meaning - we must kill rulebreakers - is a close approximation of truth, but can only say that it contains at some level "a Truth", the metaphysical one I mentioned. Moses' intended teaching on this topic was compassionless, but Jesus taught compassion on the topic, therefore at best Moses' teaching has an aspect of a deeper truth about obedience and rlationship with God and Law.

This is like the issue of immutability of canons. On closer inspection it appears the most we can say is that canons have a deeper level with truth.

Getting back to Orthodoxy, in the Creed we say that God inspired the prophets. God inspired Moses too. And God's inspiration is true. If we do accept "infallibility", then it is in that sense. But we don't have as a faith fundamental that every verse in the Bible is correct in every way.
But the ultimate author of Scripture is God. Moses's human intent may have been compasionless, but God's intent was to ultimately point to Christ. Obviously, this carries problems regarding whether God inspired something deceptive. But the intent can still be unified.
 

Volnutt

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Asteriktos said:
Too bad no one added an infallible table of contents...
What difference does it make, though?  Maybe 1st Enoch and the Book of Jubilees are inspired, maybe they aren't. Would Christian dogma be any different either way?

Focus on the books that all little-o orthodox churches have in common (and the ones that they reject in common, like the Gnostic Gospels), not the ones that they differ on.
 

rakovsky

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Volnutt said:
But the ultimate author of Scripture is God. Moses's human intent may have been compasionless, but God's intent was to ultimately point to Christ. Obviously, this carries problems regarding whether God inspired something deceptive. But the intent can still be unified.
Yes, and I could give that answer to explain infallibility of scripture should I wish to justify it.

Nonetheless, in Fr. Whiteford's article, he refers to the authors' intent being infallibility and then cites authors as being the direct scribes who composed the verses, eg. Moses. THis was what I was writing about.
 

Volnutt

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rakovsky said:
Volnutt said:
But the ultimate author of Scripture is God. Moses's human intent may have been compasionless, but God's intent was to ultimately point to Christ. Obviously, this carries problems regarding whether God inspired something deceptive. But the intent can still be unified.
Yes, and I could give that answer to explain infallibility of scripture should I wish to justify it.

Nonetheless, in Fr. Whiteford's article, he refers to the authors' intent being infallibility and then cites authors as being the direct scribes who composed the verses, eg. Moses. THis was what I was writing about.
I know.

I think he's kind of off on a non-sequitur. We have no idea what the Evangelists intended in giving different versions of the titulum (why would they do such a piecemeal job of it? Lack of paper? Fr. John suggests that each was focusing on a different language, but again this is all just guess work) nor what Moses intended when he instituted such Draconian laws.

At best we can make some kind of argument that they knew they were writing Scripture. And if we do that then we're getting away from the fallible intentions of men and back into God's intention anyway so the argument is pretty moot.
 

rakovsky

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Volnutt said:
rakovsky said:
Volnutt said:
But the ultimate author of Scripture is God. Moses's human intent may have been compasionless, but God's intent was to ultimately point to Christ. Obviously, this carries problems regarding whether God inspired something deceptive. But the intent can still be unified.
Yes, and I could give that answer to explain infallibility of scripture should I wish to justify it.

Nonetheless, in Fr. Whiteford's article, he refers to the authors' intent being infallibility and then cites authors as being the direct scribes who composed the verses, eg. Moses. THis was what I was writing about.
I know.

I think he's kind of off on a non-sequitur. We have no idea what the Evangelists intended in giving different versions of the titulum (why would they do such a piecemeal job of it? Lack of paper? Fr. John suggests that each was focusing on a different language, but again this is all just guess work) nor what Moses intended when he instituted such Draconian laws.

At best we can make some kind of argument that they knew they were writing Scripture. And if we do that then we're getting away from the fallible intentions of men and back into God's intention anyway so the argument is pretty moot.
I think the argument is not really moot.
I think when Moses wrote scripture about killing people for disobeying the Sabbath, he did not have an intent of mercy and intended for this rule to actually be followed in real life. But Jesus has an attitude where we forgive this stuff, and personally I doubt whether Jesus would have even wanted the rule on killing to be followed in 100 BC before His incarnation. I mean, he would want people to respect Sabbath, but killing over it?

Likewise, if you asked the author of Jonah: "Are you really writing this about the Messiah?" I would be very interested to know!
Jonah did not in real life get into a whale and convert Nineveh, so maybe the writer was talking about a later, miraculous figure. And maybe the author was not talking about getting into a material whale and converting just one city, but really meant escaping from death and converting the pagan world - the Messiah. Maybe the author did intend this really to be a Messianic book!

However, on face value, Jonah does not sound Messianic, it just sounds like a story of a prophet like Noah and the Ark or Elijah and the chariot, which also are Types.

So I think it's not a moot point, because I think it's best to say that God's Truth inside of the passages is infallible, but what that Truth is might not be the same as the human, specific book authors' own intents were.

This is not even to get into the extra-vengeful genocidal story of Esther, which freaks me out a little bit and might have no explicit references to God.
 
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The Bible is infallible. And yes, there are good reasons to believe that what is written in Genesis truly happened. I know that plenty on oc.net don't like the idea of Bible infallibility, maybe (and I say maybe) because of the allergy they have to anything that sounds Protestant. Maybe the fact that many of them are converts from Protestant denominations, they decided to throw the baby with the bath water.  In the end, whether you believe in the Bible infallibility or not, doesn't determine if you're Christian or not. Being Christian is most of all about Jesus Christ, the word incarnate.
 
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