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Author Topic: Biblical Infallibility  (Read 2933 times) Average Rating: 0
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falafel333
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« on: June 02, 2006, 12:21:09 PM »

How does the Orthodox church understand the concept of Biblical Infallibility?

Wouldn't this mean that the authors of the Biblical texts themselves must have been infallible in order to be able to author infallible texts?

Wouldn't this also mean that the church is infallible as it is the one that infallibly recognises the infallibility of the text of scripture?
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« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2006, 12:36:16 PM »

For a studied and comprehensive answer to your questions, see Fr. Ted Stylianopoulos' The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective, which, among other things, discusses the nature of Scripture, its authority, its relation to Tradition, and the ways in which the Church has established exegetical and hermeneutical practices.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1885652135/103-3267059-6579009?v=glance&n=283155
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« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2006, 12:40:07 PM »

Thanks, i'll definitely look into that...you got anything that can help in the meantime?
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« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2006, 12:57:16 PM »

I commend you for exploring these epistemological issues, but I don't think you are going deeply enough. All the questions you ask are fine, but if you really want to get at the heart of the issue as it actually is in reality and practice, you need to look towards your own self. Is falafel infallible? I'm guessing that you would answer no. Thus, it doesn't matter whether any or all of the informational sources you listed are infallible, because you as the receiver and processor of those informational sources are not infallible. So, even if it could be proven* that Scripture was infallible, it wouldn't matter a single iota except in theory. Even if the Church was the infallible interpreter of the infallible Scripture, it wouldn't matter an iota except in theory. Unless someone is going to come along and claim that they are infallible themselves.

Put another way, if someone was infallible, or at least insightful enough to recognize and verify that something was infallible, then they wouldn't need the Bible in the first place, because they would already have the answers; but of course we know that no one is like that (Catholics don't even make that claim about the Pope, but greatly restrict under what circumstances he is considered infallible). If a person is not infallible, on the other hand, (which includes all of us) then it doesn't matter whether something like the Bible is infallible or fallible, because either way the person can expect to make mistakes, misunderstand reality, etc. Infallibility is, in my opinion, a word that never leaves the realm of theorizing, for it is impossible to do so except perhaps in the mind of an omniscient God (if she exists).

I know this isn't an orthodox answer, at least according to most, but I think it will save you a lot of trouble if you just cut right to the end. I ran my head through the ringer many years trying to figure out such epistemological points, only to realise that the answer was exactly in the opposite direction than what I was searching. Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

* Which it can't, without either using circular reasoning, or relying on a fallible authority to verify the supposedly infallible authority.
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« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2006, 02:40:52 PM »

but I think it will save you a lot of trouble if you just cut right to the end.

This may be the end, in your finite human logic,  but I believe you have missed the forest for the trees. 

One can become so enamored of the intellectual process that they convolute and distort what has been given by God with the grace to receive it in faith, until they find themselves  totally mired in a deep swamp of human logic, which brings no peace, no understanding, and no joy.  And most dangerous of all, no salvation.

May God in His infinite mercy and compassion grant you salvation.

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« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2006, 08:00:51 PM »

Anastasia

The introduction of the concept of faith really just justifies what I said, for faith is meaningless if there really is such a thing as infallibility. That Christians have to fall back on such a notion as faith demonstrates exactly what place the concept of "infallibility" has in reality: it is the attempt of imperfect beings to convince themselves that they can be more sure of their beliefs than they really can be. Infallibility is the back-up plan for those who lack faith. Faith, of course, is the back-up plan for those who can see that Christianity doesn't make sense. It's all terribly circular, but when the two are added together they produce quite an impervious world view, almost impossible to disprove. Thus, if you attack any one part of the system, the other part is invoked as a defense, and vice versa, so that Christians are always able to appeal to some other explanation, and it is difficult to disprove any one point in the system; you normally have to slay the entire beast if you are to be successful.
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« Reply #6 on: June 02, 2006, 09:51:49 PM »

Asteriktos,

I think you make some very valid observations here...however, in resolving the dilemma by doing away with infallibility it seems that a new dilemma is introduced, ie don't we open up every single aspect of the faith to question including the canon of scipture, the creed, ecumenical councils, dogma, etc?

...in such a case don't we simply become agnostics, precarious skeptics vulnerable to the ceaseless whims of the human mind swaying in a capricious ocean of volatile vagaries, albeit the violent fluctuations of the innumerable impulses that constitute man's fickle composition?
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« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2006, 10:27:27 PM »

Asteriktos,

I think you make some very valid observations here...however, in resolving the dilemma by doing away with infallibility it seems that a new dilemma is introduced, ie don't we open up every single aspect of the faith to question including the canon of scipture, the creed, ecumenical councils, dogma, etc?

...in such a case don't we simply become agnostics, precarious skeptics vulnerable to the ceaseless whims of the human mind swaying in a capricious ocean of volatile vagaries, albeit the violent fluctuations of the innumerable impulses that constitute man's fickle composition?

In a word: yes.
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« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2006, 11:27:38 PM »

Allow this fallible (and sinful) person to take a stab at the question.  Smiley

The question of infallibility is one that other disciplines have had to deal with, particularly the discipline of science.  For a long time those who sought to understand natural phenomena built often elaborate systems of reasoning based on some positive truth claim.  This philosophical or religious approach was found insufficient and led to many contradictions between logic and observable reallity.  Therefore, an opposite approach was developed, a method based not on positive claims but rather on negative claims (sort of like apophatic theology).  Under this approach, a claim was not evaluated on the criterion of absolute truth, but rather on whether the claim was sufficient to explain all observable data related to the phenomenon.  In other words, systematic logic and reasoning was downplayed in favor of observation, experience, and sensory perception.  This method has worked wonders in our ability to explain many natural phenomena, and laws governing gravity, motion, thermodynamics, and so forth have achieved a great deal of sophistication, all based on empirism.  For this reason we are often willing to bet our lives on technologies based on these rules, none of which are absolute truth's in themselves.  We fly in aeroplanes, descend under the seas in submarines and scuba gear, ascend to space, determine with great precision the location of planets, etc.  The proof of science is that it works, even though there is not a single absolute claim in it.

Is there a lesson here for theology?  Is the quest for infallibility a red herring subject to our own fallibility?  Perhaps.  Doctrines of infallibility are like the positive truth claims about nature, subject to contradiction and ultimately inaccessible to formal proof.  Don't the Fathers speak of the heart as being the means by which we perceive the spiritual?  Is that not ultimately our Spiritual Method?  Perhaps the way forward is to put more faith in experience and the perceptions of our hearts than in formal systems of reasoning.  How do we know whether the Bible is the infallible Word?  Seek the answer in your heart, pray constantly, and pay attention to the fruits.  In this manner are we taught to discern the true from the false.  Does the Word of God received with an open prayerful heart and informed by the experience of tradition lead one astray?  I think you know the answer already.  That is where infallibility ultimately lies I think.

Pray for me, the sinner.
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« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2006, 11:47:53 PM »

Nice reflection, Brian. This touches on some of the reasons why the Fathers never consider, say, the Scripture itself to be the "first principle" of our Faith. The first principle is and always will be Christ, the Crucified Lord. Thus, our first principle is always personal (i.e. the person of Christ), and our response to that first principle is always confessional (i.e. the Crucified Christ is Lord) -- not empirical, "logical" or even historical observations (that all comes later, after the first principle, etc.).

I believe there are some published reflections on this issue (none of which I can remember off the top of my head), but I do recall that St. Athanasios the Great has some relevant things to say on the matter. Unlike some modern catechisms, which claim that Ecumenical Councils are "infallible", St. Athanasios does not speak of the infallibility of Nicaea, but of its sufficiency. An Ecumenical Council is sufficient for declaring the truth in a particular problem. In this sense, Ecumenical Councils are limited. They produce truths, but not exhaustive truth. Athanasios, for example, says that the homoousion spoke "more brightly" about the relationship of the Father and the Son. Truth, however, can and may be clarified "even more brightly."

This seems to bear some similarity to the nature of science.
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« Reply #10 on: June 03, 2006, 12:21:00 AM »

Wouldn't such rationalisations though destroy the function of scripture, the fathers and the church, ie the very foundation of our faith...our world would simply be reduced to an everchanging solipsistic cyclic of affirmations and denials of one's own egoistic vacillations...

...to seek the truth and know the truth and not be lead astray...how does one know...and yet every person knows with a certain conviction and certainty, man is fickle and unstable, not knowing and yet he knows...surely "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jer 17:9)
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« Reply #11 on: June 03, 2006, 12:32:13 AM »

Wouldn't such rationalisations though destroy the function of scripture, the fathers and the church, ie the very foundation of our faith...our world would simply be reduced to an everchanging solipsistic cyclic of affirmations and denials of one's own egoistic vacillations...

To whom are you directing your thoughts/questions? Or, rather, in response to which statements?
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« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2006, 01:07:20 AM »

My comments are directed towards yourself, brian and others who seem content to do away with a doctrine of Biblical infallibility...
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« Reply #13 on: June 03, 2006, 01:13:59 AM »

My comments are directed towards yourself, brian and others who seem content to do away with a doctrine of Biblical infallibility...


Huh Could you offer me a single quote from my post just above that even talks about Biblical infallibility (much less "seems content to do away with" it)?

That aside, you should probably re-read Brian's post more carefully. I think you misunderstood his point if you think he "seems content to do away with a doctrine of Biblical infallibility"...
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« Reply #14 on: June 03, 2006, 02:25:10 AM »

Asteriktos seems to suggest that infallibility is limited to the divine realm; chrisb seems to be content with a form of agnosticism; while Brian and pensateomnia seem to appeal to a form of personal revelation and a form of solipsistic infallibility...i'm not sure if the question of Biblical infallibility is addressed in the affirmative or otherwise here or is left open as a moot point...

would this be accurate?
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« Reply #15 on: June 03, 2006, 02:55:26 AM »

Asteriktos seems to suggest that infallibility is limited to the divine realm; chrisb seems to be content with a form of agnosticism; while Brian and pensateomnia seem to appeal to a form of personal revelation and a form of solipsistic infallibility...i'm not sure if the question of Biblical infallibility is addressed in the affirmative or otherwise here or is left open as a moot point...

would this be accurate?


chrisb content with a form of agnosticism! woah...Derrida speaks of violence to a text, but that's murder. <grin>

I suppose I can see how you could twist Brian's apparent intent toward solipsism, but, again, he seems like a man who uses words with some degree of precision, and we should therefore read his posts in like manner. First, he is mainly speaking about the QUESTION of infallibility. Second, his conclusion actually indicates that the Word of God is infallible within a given context. (If we must presume intent, I would say he was providing an explanation for why he believes the Scripture to be infallible.)

Another way of putting part of what he said: We can claim (but not prove) that the Scripture is infallible, but what does infallibility actually mean, especially if we must interpret that infallible Scripture?

Other questions: Is the TEXT itself infallible? For that matter, what is the Word of God? Is it words? Text? Books? If so, then the Word of God is subject to generic considerations, scribal manipulation and many manuscript contradictions. Or is the Word of God actually an infallible person (as if infallibility is even the most important predicate here!), namely Christ Himself, and the Scriptures are the life-giving, Apostolic account of that Christ, Whom we encounter in the Scriptures through Faith, prayer and our ecclesiastically centered life? (See St. Irenaeus on Christ as a treasure hid in the field of Scripture).
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« Reply #16 on: June 03, 2006, 03:39:59 AM »

The Bible is a nice collection of writings of a few Church Fathers, which while placed higher in honour than most other Patristic writings probably shouldn't be regarded as substantially more authorative. For, if I recall properly, at the seventh Oecumenical Synod when biblical prohibition of idoltary was used against Icons, one of the responses was that Chrysostom had supported the use of the Sacred Images. As to how much authority Scripture should have, that should depend on the author, I hold the writings of St. John in much higher regard than the gospel of St. Matthew or Law of Moses.
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« Reply #17 on: June 03, 2006, 03:47:45 AM »

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, infallible is defined as "incapable of error regarding issues touching on faith or morals."  When I think about infallibility (of Scripture, the Papacy, the Church, etc.) this is the definition I try to keep in mind.  I'm sure there are other variations on this definition, but I think this works best for me.

As far as how the Orthodox understand the Scriptures, I defer to Pensateomnia's emphasis a couple of posts ago on our encounter of Christ in the Scriptures.  If one were to look to the Bible (or the Pope, or the Church, or an Ecumenical Council, or yada yada yada) as a source for rational, articulate dogma/doctrine in keeping with the general Western approach to faith, I think such a person misses the whole point of the Bible.  Dogma and doctrines are necessary only to protect the purity of our encounter of Christ unto salvation.
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« Reply #18 on: June 04, 2006, 04:40:53 AM »

Asteriktos seems to suggest that infallibility is limited to the divine realm; chrisb seems to be content with a form of agnosticism; while Brian and pensateomnia seem to appeal to a form of personal revelation and a form of solipsistic infallibility...i'm not sure if the question of Biblical infallibility is addressed in the affirmative or otherwise here or is left open as a moot point...

would this be accurate?

Not accurate in my case at all.  Solipsism?  Personal revelation only?  I hope that wasn't what my musings implied, for that certainly was not my intent.   Please forgive me if my words left that impression!  Shocked

I believe the Scriptures are inspired and inerrant.  But I didn't arrive at those conclusions because others TOLD me the Scriptures are 'supposed' to be that way by some doctrine or another.

The ultimate proof (or ratification) of a doctrine of Biblical infallibility is not through exercises in formal theological logic, or by reference to Biblical proof texts or exegesis or whatever method is currently popular, but rather through continual spiritual discernment and experience over generations by the community of believers united in prayerful worship and communion under the direct and loving guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is the SAME inspired community that first wrote the Scriptures, and collected them into a canon, and defends them against attack, and provides commentary on the lessons they contain, and uses them at the center of both doctrinal and liturgical life in Christ.  In my humble opinion, belief in Biblical inerrancy stems, in a manner that seems at least superficially similar to scientific beliefs, from accumulated experience and observation over nearly two thousand years.  In short, it 'just works', and any formal doctrines regarding the inerrant nature of Scripture are more acknowledgement of this communal and experiential fact than proof of it, just as scientific theories are an acknowledgement of accumulated observation and experience by the community of scientists rather than the source of that experience.

This is the true 'Spiritual Method', at least as I understand it.  This is where I see interesting parallels with the Scientific Method's epistemological approach, even though these cover radically different domains of inquiry.  I pray this makes clear my personal thinking on the matter inerrancy, and particularly the question of how we know.

As an aside, it is this common anti-scholastic attitude in both scientific theorizing and orthodox theologizing that makes me think Orthodoxy is particularly well situated to tackle the spiritual needs of the modern/post-modern age, even though it superficially seems 'old-fashioned'.  But that is for another topic I think.

In peace.
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« Reply #19 on: September 01, 2009, 03:28:00 AM »

Forgive me for responding to an ancient thread. I have read the above posts with great interest, and I will attempt to summarize my view based upon what I have learned so far:

The Scriptures/Bible constitutes the Word of God. The Word of God is a* divine revelation to man which is sufficient to instruct and guide us in matters of morality, faith, and eternal life; and true morality, true faith, and hope of eternal life are predicated on the Author, Subject, and Fulfiller of the Scriptures- Our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we read it with a heart of faith and devotion, Our Lord Jesus Christ is to be found on every page and in every verse of the Holy Bible. The Holy Scriptures are a foundational pillar of our Christian Faith- supported, illuminated, and enlightened by that other foundational pillar of our Faith: the Holy Orthodox Church. Breath comes only from the body; and thus the breath of God (II Timothy 3:16) comes to us through the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. It is only in and through the mystical Body of Christ that will can hope to comprehend and obey the very Word of God.

The Bible leads us to Christ, and Christ speaks to us through the Bible. What more do we need to  know about the sacred Scriptures than these basic but profound truths? If we focus our contemplation on whether or not the Word of God is inerrant or infallible, then we will most certainly lose sight of Our Lord. If we question the teachings and traditions of the Holy Orthodox Church, then we shall surely incubate ourselves from this life-giving divine revelation, this very "breath of God."

Those who spend their energies looking for error will find error, but those who spend their energies seeking Christ will find eternal life. Mysteries are not understood with brilliance of mind; they are accepted and revered with a humble and contrite heart.

*"a"- The Bible - or "special revelation" - is a divine revelation to man, not the only divine revelation. Natural revelation (i.e. the truths, laws, and glories of the natural universe) is also a form of divine revelation. And the Holy Orthodox Church is the other form of divine revelation that assists us in our interpretation and understanding of both special and natural revelation.

(I realize all that was poorly worded. Forgive me. I am very tired right now. But please let me know if my basic statement is Orthodox in tenor.)

Selam 
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« Reply #20 on: September 01, 2009, 10:04:17 AM »

I agree!

The Gospels were Divinely inspired and we have been warned not to change even a "word".

The Scriptures and Tradition are the foundation of our Faith.
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« Reply #21 on: September 01, 2009, 12:00:38 PM »

I think that some people see Divine Inspiration (God's scribes etc.) as some sort of possession, where the scribe is rendered useless and becomes completely subject to the Holy Spirit. At least people who watch many movies do see things that way... Tongue
Anyway, free will never ceases to exist and as Grace is resistible, so is Divine Inspiration. There many mistakes in the Scripture, some which might have been there for a certain purpose (for example, to show Protestants that we can only read the Word of God within a Church and not on our own).

I believe that the Bible is true to its accounts (what the authors of Her books have witnessed or thought about), but may still contain theological and scientific errors.
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« Reply #22 on: September 02, 2009, 02:14:32 PM »

I think that the scriptures are entirely true in what the writers meant to record. That is, if the writer wasn't intending to write a literal history, then it might not measure up (see the book of Judith).

Gammaray, what do you mean "there may be theological errors"? Surely the scripture 100% true theologically?

And whats up with the recent practice of necromancy on the forum?
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« Reply #23 on: September 02, 2009, 02:43:25 PM »

Allow this fallible (and sinful) person to take a stab at the question.  Smiley

The question of infallibility is one that other disciplines have had to deal with, particularly the discipline of science.  For a long time those who sought to understand natural phenomena built often elaborate systems of reasoning based on some positive truth claim.  This philosophical or religious approach was found insufficient and led to many contradictions between logic and observable reallity.  Therefore, an opposite approach was developed, a method based not on positive claims but rather on negative claims (sort of like apophatic theology).  Under this approach, a claim was not evaluated on the criterion of absolute truth, but rather on whether the claim was sufficient to explain all observable data related to the phenomenon.  In other words, systematic logic and reasoning was downplayed in favor of observation, experience, and sensory perception.  This method has worked wonders in our ability to explain many natural phenomena, and laws governing gravity, motion, thermodynamics, and so forth have achieved a great deal of sophistication, all based on empirism.  For this reason we are often willing to bet our lives on technologies based on these rules, none of which are absolute truth's in themselves.  We fly in aeroplanes, descend under the seas in submarines and scuba gear, ascend to space, determine with great precision the location of planets, etc.  The proof of science is that it works, even though there is not a single absolute claim in it.

Is there a lesson here for theology?  Is the quest for infallibility a red herring subject to our own fallibility?  Perhaps.  Doctrines of infallibility are like the positive truth claims about nature, subject to contradiction and ultimately inaccessible to formal proof.  Don't the Fathers speak of the heart as being the means by which we perceive the spiritual?  Is that not ultimately our Spiritual Method?  Perhaps the way forward is to put more faith in experience and the perceptions of our hearts than in formal systems of reasoning.  How do we know whether the Bible is the infallible Word?  Seek the answer in your heart, pray constantly, and pay attention to the fruits.  In this manner are we taught to discern the true from the false.  Does the Word of God received with an open prayerful heart and informed by the experience of tradition lead one astray?  I think you know the answer already.  That is where infallibility ultimately lies I think.

Pray for me, the sinner.

It seems that some militant Atheists are trying to make "absolute claims" from it.

I'm all for science, I just don't like people making "universal absolute claims" from partial observable evidence. And sometimes this is done by Atheistic highschool teachers and professors.


If all the observable evidence today says that ducks are "brown", but someone 10 years down the road finds a "red" duck, then it's wrong for people to make "universal absolute claims" from partial observable evidence. Instead, what should be said is, "at this point in time, all the ducks we are aware of, are brown."









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« Reply #24 on: September 02, 2009, 03:04:15 PM »

I agree!

The Gospels were Divinely inspired and we have been warned not to change even a "word".

The Scriptures and Tradition are the foundation of our Faith.


Well someone must have missed that memo considering there are AT LEAST 3 major manuscripts we base our scriptures off of.  And they do vary from each other  Shocked Shocked Shocked
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« Reply #25 on: September 02, 2009, 03:12:35 PM »


Well, as long as the Gospel sits on the Altar table and is read from during the Divine Liturgy...I will believe every word written in it.

I am a "simple" Orthodox.  I do not delve too deeply in to things I don't understand.

Sometimes we can dissect things into meaninglessness, and miss the forest for the trees.

For me the Gospel holds the Gospel Truth.

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« Reply #26 on: September 02, 2009, 03:35:21 PM »

And whats up with the recent practice of necromancy on the forum?
Necromancy on the forum?  What do you mean? Huh
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« Reply #27 on: September 02, 2009, 03:51:31 PM »

He was trying to be clever about the resurrection of dead topics.
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« Reply #28 on: September 02, 2009, 06:10:07 PM »

He was trying to be clever about the resurrection of dead topics.
Okay. Undecided  Good comment if it goes over my head, right? Cool
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« Reply #29 on: September 03, 2009, 02:24:47 PM »

Gammaray, what do you mean "there may be theological errors"? Surely the scripture 100% true theologically?
To be honest, I haven't spotted any theological errors from any Prophet or Saint in the Bible yet, but I still feel that I must not blindly trust a Prophet or a Saint's views or theology (although I may completely be convinced about the trueness of his/her visions).
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« Reply #30 on: September 10, 2009, 04:52:43 AM »

Asteriktos,

I think you make some very valid observations here...however, in resolving the dilemma by doing away with infallibility it seems that a new dilemma is introduced, ie don't we open up every single aspect of the faith to question including the canon of scipture, the creed, ecumenical councils, dogma, etc?

...in such a case don't we simply become agnostics, precarious skeptics vulnerable to the ceaseless whims of the human mind swaying in a capricious ocean of volatile vagaries, albeit the violent fluctuations of the innumerable impulses that constitute man's fickle composition?

I love this forum.
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« Reply #31 on: September 10, 2009, 11:50:07 AM »

Gammaray, what do you mean "there may be theological errors"? Surely the scripture 100% true theologically?
To be honest, I haven't spotted any theological errors from any Prophet or Saint in the Bible yet, but I still feel that I must not blindly trust a Prophet or a Saint's views or theology (although I may completely be convinced about the trueness of his/her visions).

Ok, but you do have to admit though that there are some very precarious aspects of the scriptures, especially in the OT
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