Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Biblical Evidence for Papal and Church Infallibility

By Dave Armstrong (5-16-06)

From: The One-Minute Apologist (2007), with additional commentary.

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How can one man be infallible?
We know that all men make mistakes, so this is an unreasonable doctrine

Initial reply

With God all things are possible. If He chooses to protect a man from error, He can do so, and in fact, we often see this in Scripture.

Extensive reply

Infallibility, according to the Catholic Church, means that the pope (or an ecumenical council in agreement with a pope) cannot err in a teaching on faith and morals that is intended as binding on all Catholics. It isn't the equivalent of "inspiration," and it doesn't mean that the author is morally or otherwise perfect, more intelligent than others, etc. It's a supernatural gift granted by God's grace alone, for His purposes, in order to uphold and make known (with certainty, in faith) spiritual and theological truth.

Since infallibility is inferior to, and a less extraordinary gift than inspiration, we should not be more surprised at it than we are at inspiration, or think it is less likely to occur, or implausible. God worked through the writers of the Bible (inspiration means, literally, "God-breathed"), and this made it possible for the Bible to be without error. Some of the biblical writers, like David, Paul, Matthew, and Peter, had been great sinners at one time or other in their lives. Yet they were used by God to write inspired Scripture. Even in Old Testament times, some were granted this gift of special protection from error; for example, the Levites, who were teachers, among other things:

Malachi 2:6-8: "True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts."
Prophets routinely purported to proclaim the very "word of the LORD." This is a much greater claim than infallibility under limited conditions. Papal infallibility is primarily a preventive, or "negative" guarantee, not positive inspiration. It is easy to argue, then, that infallibility is a far less noteworthy gift than the "revelation on the spot" that we observe in the prophets:

1 Samuel 15:10: "The word of the LORD came to Samuel:"

2 Samuel 23:2: "The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me, his word is upon my tongue." [King David]

1 Chronicles 17:3: "But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan,"

Isaiah 38:4: "Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:"

Jeremiah 26:15: ". . . the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears."

Ezekiel 33:1: "The word of the LORD came to me:" ["word of the LORD" appears 60 times in the Book of Ezekiel]

Haggai 1:13: "Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, 'I am with you, says the LORD.'"

But that was in the Old Testament. Prophets had to have a special word from God to proclaim their message, because they didn't know the future. That doesn't prove that any such gift exists today. Even if the apostles had this gift, it was only for the time when the gospel was first proclaimed (they also performed relatively more miracles).

Reply to Objection

To the contrary: the prophets received their inspiration by the Holy Spirit (2 Chron. 24:20; Neh. 9:30; Zech. 7:12). The Holy Spirit is now given to all Christians (Jn. 15:26; 1 Cor. 3:16), so it is perfectly possible and plausible that an even greater measure of the Holy Spirit would be given to leaders of the Church who have the responsibility to teach, since James wrote: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (Jas. 3:1). The disciples were reassured by Jesus: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (Jn. 16:13; cf. 8:32), so surely it makes sense that shepherds of the Christian flock would be given an extra measure of protection in order to better fulfill their duties.

John Henry Newman
If Christianity is both social and dogmatic, and intended for all ages, it must humanly speaking have an infallible expounder. Else you will secure unity of form at the loss of unity of doctrine, or unity of doctrine at the loss of unity of form; you will have to choose between a comprehension of opinions and a resolution into parties, between latitudinarian and sectarian error. You may be tolerant or intolerant of contrarieties of thought, but contrarieties you will have. By the Church of England a hollow uniformity is preferred to an infallible chair; and by the sects of England, an interminable division. Germany and Geneva began with persecution, and have ended in scepticism. The doctrine of infallibility is a less violent hypothesis than this sacrifice either of faith or of charity. It secures the object, while it gives definiteness and force to the matter, of the Revelation.

(An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845, Part I, Ch. 2, Sec. 3)
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Perhaps the clearest biblical proof of the infallible authority of the Church is the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-30), and its authoritative pronouncement, binding on all Christians:

Acts 15:29-30: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity."
In the next chapter, we learn that Paul, Timothy, and Silas traveled around "through the cities" and "delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4). This is binding Church authority - with the sanction of the Holy Spirit Himself -, and an explicit biblical proof of the gift of infallibility that the Catholic Church claims for itself when it assembles in a council.

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I commented on the above passages (Acts 15:29-30 and 16:4) in my book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passsages That Confound Protestants (pp. 7-11):

These passages offer a proof that the early Church held to a notion of the infallibility of Church councils, and to a belief that they were especially guided by the Holy Spirit (precisely as in Catholic Church doctrine concerning ecumenical councils). Accordingly, Paul takes the message of the conciliar decree with him on his evangelistic journeys and preaches it to the people. The Church had real authority; it was binding and infallible.

This is a far cry from the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura - which presumes that councils and popes can err, and thus need to be corrected by Scripture.

[ . . . ]

A Protestant might reply that since this Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts consisted of apostles, and since an apostle proclaimed the decree, both possessed a binding authority that was later lost (as Protestants accept apostolic authority as much as Catholics do). Furthermore, the incidents were recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture. They could argue that none of this is true of later Catholic councils; therefore, the attempted analogy is null and void.

But this is a bit simplistic, since Scripture is our model for everything, including Church government, and all parties appeal to it for their own views. If Scripture teaches that a council of the Church is authoritative and binding, it is implausible and unreasonable to assert that no future council can be so simply because it is not conducted by apostles.

Scripture is our model for doctrine and practice (nearly all Christians agree on this). The Bible does not exist in an historical vacuum, but has import for the day-to-day life of the Church and Christians for all time. St. Paul told us to imitate him (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:9). And he went around proclaiming decrees of the Church. No one was at liberty to disobey these decrees on the grounds of conscience, or to declare by "private judgment" that they were in error (per Luther).

It would be foolish to argue that the way the Apostles conducted the governance of the Church has no relation whatsoever to how later Christians engage in the same task. It would seem rather obvious that Holy Scripture assumes that the model of holy people (patriarchs, prophets, and apostles alike) is to be followed by Christians. This is the point behind entire chapters, such as, notably, Hebrews 11.

When the biblical model agrees with their theology, Protestants are all too enthusiastic to press their case by using scriptural examples. The binding authority of the Church was present here, and there is no indication whatever that anyone was ever allowed to dissent from it. That is the fundamental question. Catholics wholeheartedly agree that no new Christian doctrines were handed down after the Apostles. Christian doctrine was present in full from the beginning; it has only organically developed since.

John Calvin has a field day running down the Catholic Church in his commentary for Acts 15:28 [i.e., from Calvin's Commentaries]. It is clear that he is uncomfortable with this verse and must somehow explain it in Protestant terms. But he is not at all unanswerable. The fact remains that the decree was made, and it was binding. It will not do (in an attempt to undercut ecclesial authority) to proclaim that this particular instance was isolated. For such a judgment rests on Calvin's own completely arbitrary authority, which he claims but cannot prove. Calvin merely states his position, rather than arguing it, in the following passage:

[I]n vain do they go about out of the same to prove that the Church had power given to decree anything contrary to the word of God. The Pope hath made such laws as seemed best to him, contrary to the word of God, whereby he meant to govern the Church.
This strikes me as somewhat desperate argumentation. First, Catholics have never argued that the Pope has any power to make decrees contrary to the Bible (making Calvin's slanderous charge a straw man). Calvin goes on to use vivid language, intended to resonate with already strong emotions and ignorance of Catholic theology. It is an old lawyer's tactic: when one has no case, attempt to caricature the opponent, obfuscate, and appeal to emotions rather than reason.

Far more sensible and objective are the comments on Acts 15:28 and 16:4 from the Presbyterian scholar, Albert Barnes, in his famous Barne's Notes commentary:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost. This is a strong and undoubted claim to inspiration. It was with special reference to the organization of the church that the Holy Spirit had been promised to them by the Lord Jesus, Matthew 18:18-20; John 14:26.

In this instance it was the decision of the council in a case submitted to it; and implied an obligation on the Christians to submit to that decision.
Barnes actually acknowledges that the passage has some implication for ecclesiology in general. It is remarkable, on the other hand, that Calvin seems concerned about the possibility of a group of Christians - in this case, a council - being led by the Holy Spirit to achieve a true doctrinal decree, whereas he has no problem with the idea that individuals can achieve such certainty:

[O]f the promises which they are wont to allege, many were given not less to private believers than to the whole Church [cites Matthew 28:20, John 14:16-17] . . . We are not to give permission to the adversaries of Christ to defend a bad cause, by wresting Scripture from its proper meaning.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, 8, 11)

But it will be objected, that whatever is attributed in part to any of the saints, belongs in complete fulness to the Church. Although there is some semblance of truth in this, I deny that it is true.

(Institutes, IV, 8, 12)
Calvin believes that Scripture is self-authenticating. I appeal, then, to the reader to judge the above passages. Do they seem to support the notion of an infallible Church council (apart from the question of whether the Catholic Church, headed by the Pope, is that Church)? Do Calvin’s arguments succeed? For Catholics, the import of Acts 15:28 is clear and undeniable.


st bosco said...

Hi, so the pope and the magisterium got handed the word to go burn people at the stake for owning bibles, and or believeing the bible over the catholic church? m sory, but i reaaly dont beelieve God works thru this organization. thanks for your time

Maroun said...

st bosco,who told you that the pope and the magisterium ,burned people for owning bibles?Probably you have read it in some anticatholic sites or books right?
With all my respect which is less than 1% for people like you pretending to be wise go and check some books not written by liars and anticatholics,then come back plz.

st bosco said...

Hi, thanks for response.Hey, i might be wrong. ive been wrong befor. My spelling might be off ,but the waldensee extermination? i was sure i read about that in common college texts on history. And i thought i read something about an inquisition. When i was in europe, part of the tour was visiting inquisition chambers. lots of the torture devices were still there. I almost vomited once. Maybe they were my imagination. sorry to bother you.

Dave Armstrong said...

See also my web page that examines the many and varied Protestant scandals throughout history, too. Don't buy the sheer nonsense that only Catholics have ever persecuted anyone else, or that they are infinitely worse than Protestants, who supposedly have a spotless, pure record (LOL):

Historic Protestant Persecution and Intolerance


Randy said...

The real answer is it does not matter. Sure many accusations are false. Sure protestants are as bad. But neither fact matters. What matters is the office is protected even when the office-holder sins badly. So even if the pope was personally in that torture chamber killing people for owning bibles that would not be a reason to reject the doctrine of the papacy. The doctrine says nothing about the popes being nice guys. Praise God that most of them have been holy men. But that is beside the point. What is the point is they are the rock Jesus is building His church on. Jesus is the cement that turns a foundation of sand into one of stone. That is who we trust when we trust the papacy.

st bosco said...

Hiand thanks for your honest relplies. My point is; is this organization what Jesus wants to build on? One guy said; forget how bad the popes act, it is their office that god directs. Jesus makes it very plain.Can a well give bitter water and sweet? My friends, find a quiet time alone and ask Jesus to reveal himself to you. Then you wont have to guess anymore.

Randy said...

find a quiet time alone and ask Jesus to reveal himself to you. Then you wont have to guess anymore

Is that a process that is immune from error? People do that and end up doing immoral things or embracing heresy.

Nobody in the church is protected from sin. So if God wants to clarify some truth to us, how could He do it? You seem to think He can't. But is it not at least possible God left some way for us to know true teachers from false ones? How can you be sure God does not work that way?

st bosco said...

Hi Randy. People throw the word TRUE around alot. The jehovas call themselves the true church, the mormons are the true church.Saying it dont make it so.Yes, god left us with a guide book. Its called the bible.i use King James.Every religion tells its members that they are the true church.I got true churches coming out of my ears.I just follow the Lamb where he goes. The rest of yall can follow who and what you like.Remember what the bible teaches;Let god be true and EVERY man a liar

st bosco said...

Hi Maroun, Yes protestant leaders have tortured and killed.The early americans(colonists)tortured its own people for things the thought were bad.They took their ques from the catholic henchmen.Did i forget to mention that i dont belong to any religion?

Randy said...

Hi Randy. People throw the word TRUE around alot. The jehovas call themselves the true church, the mormons are the true church.Saying it dont make it so.
Just saying so is not enough. We must test everything. The Jehovah's Witnesses begain around 1870. The Mormons about a century before that. They cannot be the true church because they have not existed the entire time the true church existed. That is from Pentecost to the present day.

Yes, god left us with a guide book. Its called the bible.i use King James.
How did He leave us with a guidebook? What was the process by which we came to know the bible as the ispired word of God? What did Christians do before they had the bible?

Every religion tells its members that they are the true church.I got true churches coming out of my ears.
Actually most do not. Most protestant churches will say the true church is invisible and spiritual. That they are simply a collection of believers who try and follow the bible as best they know how. It is a very different claim than the one the catholic church makes.

I just follow the Lamb where he goes. The rest of yall can follow who and what you like.Remember what the bible teaches;Let god be true and EVERY man a liar

I beleive I am following the Lamb. Do you know that I am not. I don't think most men lie. I think they are sincere. But logic tells us most must be mistaken. You can assume that you are not among the mistaken ones. Your odds are not good.

The alternative is to do what Christians did for the first 1500 years. That is to take leadership from a bishop who is in unity with the pope. Then you will share the one faith that has transcended time and culture.

Ryan Fortenberry said...

You're assuming that the pope and bishops can't be mistaken by accepting their teachings as infallible. Take another look at Malachi chapter 2, which was quoted out of context for this article. It is better to start from verse one and read through verse nine to get the whole picture that God is cursing the priests, but even in the last part of verse eight, it is obvious that God is not at all pleased with the priests. This was referenced to provide biblical evidence of infallibility but in reality, it shows the opposite. Judaism was the church back then and the law was the doctrine that was taught; God said, “… you have caused many to stumble at the law.” If the priests caused many to stumble on the doctrine of the day, it is painfully obvious that God didn’t make their doctrinal decisions infallible.

Also, if teachers of the Word are granted infallibility in matters of doctrine, what would be the reason for them to receive a stricter judgement as it says in James 3:1? The tradition of claiming doctrinal infallibility in the Catholic Church makes this verse of no effect, which is what Christ blistered the Pharisees for: making the commandment of God of no effect because of their tradition (Matthew 15:1-14).

The Catholic Church takes a very liberal interpretation of Scripture, while evangelical churches, like the one I attend, take a very conservative interpretation of Scripture. The difference being that the Catholic Church claims all its doctrines are protected by infallibility, while evangelical churches (or at least mine) say, "We can be taught. Show us in the Scriptures if we're wrong." Which of those sounds prideful and which sounds humble?

Dave Armstrong said...

We can be taught. Show us in the Scriptures if we're wrong.

Excellent! I have written probably over 25 books of my 42, showing from the Scriptures how Protestantism gets some major things wrong and Catholicism gets it right. So I'm absolutely delighted that you are open to correction.

If you or anyone is interested in my biblical argumentation, see my books page:


Dave Armstrong said...

See also this web page of mine:


Ryan Fortenberry said...

Virtually all of the major differences between Protestants and Catholics stem from the Catholic belief in the doctrinal infallibility of the church and our disbelief in it. So, not trying to be a pain, but before we even consider the other differences, you need to show how the Catholic Church is infallible in all doctrines, which you try to do in this article The quotation from Malachi chapter 2 was clearly taken out of context and was a key part of your argument. Take it in context, however, and you not only lose evidence for infallibility, but give evidence against infallibility. And let's not forget that the Pharisees included Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests, who were the anointed spiritual leaders of Israel. They were absolutely certain they were serving God while they were killing the Son of God.

Did the Holy Spirit anoint and approve what was written in the Jerusalem Council, yes. Does that say that every time the leaders of the Catholic Church (or any church for that matter) get together that they're made infallible in doctrine, no. From this passage, Catholics would say that you can reasonably infer that the church is made infallible in all doctrinal decisions. That is a key difference between Catholic and evangelical beliefs: reasonable inference, which is man’s opinion. Does the Spirit guide men and councils in the church, yes, but men and councils do not always follow. In Galatians chapter 2, Peter, Barnabas, and all the other Jews except Paul violated the Jerusalem Council and played the hypocrite until Paul publicly rebuked Peter. If your strongest example of infallibility only stands because of reasonable inference, then, in my humble opinion, you should rethink that belief. Reasonable inference is the reason for different beliefs on baptism, communion, naming of saints and asking them for intercession, penance, required celibacy, having a pope, etc. If you have to use reasonable inference (once again, man’s opinion) to explain so many of your traditions, it sounds like you’re twisting Scripture to suit you, and (not calling you the devil or trying to disrespect you or anyone else) that is exactly what satan did when he tempted Eve and Christ. He quoted God’s Word, but with his own twist on it.

God Bless

Mike Oconnor said...

I tend to look at the issue of infallibility this way.. It seems that God is perfectly humble. He is so humble that he gives to us - attributes that are only His. So we actually become true Sons of God. Now Jesus is a Son by his nature. We are Sons by adoption but we are true Sons. I have two adopted sons and three biological sons. My adopted children are no less my children. They have all of the same rights as the biological sons.

Now the Church - which is the "body of Christ" and the "bride of Christ"(the two become "one flesh")by Gods' grace has the same attributes as Christ. So just as Christ is the "sole mediator" by His nature - we are given a right to "mediate" through prayer - and share in Christs' action (united to Him and solely based on him)Just as Christ performed miracles - we see members of the Church have performed miracles - Just as Christ is priest prophet and King - the Church has Priests Prophets and Kings - and Yes just as Christ taught with infallible assurance - the Church can teach with infallible assurance. All of this is based completely on Christ and His promises. he says "He who hears you - Hears Me" and "If they won't hear two witnesses - bring them to the Church" and so forth. Yes God is that Humble.
When one thinks of prideful arrogance one need look no further than the Protestant principle of Private interpretation. The very concept is one of Pride.

I always ask the Protestant how he knows that the books of Mark, Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and perhaps Hebrews = should be contained in the New testament and how does he know that these books are inspired. The books were not written by apostles. They do not claim to be inspired. so why do we include them in the holy Writ.

The Catholic answer is because we received the books from the apostles who gave them to us. So it is the Tradition passed on from the Apostles that we believe. The same reason I believe in infant Baptism is the same reason I believe in the Book of Mark. Its not about my personal opinion. Its about believing what has been passed on . . .