“Infallibility” in the Early Church
The ‘Infallibility’ of Scripture
Current attempts to understand the ‘violence texts’ of the Old Testament in light of the nonviolent revelation of God in Christ have been renewed with vigor in recent years.
Eric Siebert (Disturbing Divine Behavior), David Lamb (God Behaving Badly), Thomas Römer (Dark God), Paul Copan (Is God a Moral Monster?), Eryl Davies (The Immoral Bible), Michael Hardin (Jesus Driven Life) and Peter Enns (The Bible Tells Me So) are among the host of scholars who address the problem of the so-called ‘toxic texts’ of the Hebrew Scriptures in an effort to read them in the light of the Father revealed by Christ.
More recently, Derek Flood’s must-read book, Disarming Scripture, caught the attention of Gregory Boyd (who is also writing an epic tome on the topic). While I know these two teachers have much in common, Boyd took Flood to task on the question of “biblical infallibility.” He began a four-part blog critique, beginning with a post entitled “Must We Deny Biblical Infallibility to ‘Disarm’ Scripture?” Derek blogged a series of responses, beginning with his post, “A Reply to Greg Boyd’s Critique of Disarming Scripture.”
For my part, I would like to affirm both men for modeling a gracious exchange between Christians on a matter of striking disagreement. If only this were the common standard: charitable dissent without hostility. Well done, I say.
Second, to distill the exchange down to its essential feature, Boyd argued for ‘biblical infallibility’ and Flood argued against it … however, Flood rightly noted how they did not necessarily agree even on the definition of ‘infallibility,’ which could reasonably cause them to argue past each other. While the tension is in part a verbal one, I think they would both say it goes deeper than that. That is, even if they could come to a mutually shared definition of ‘infallible,’ they would still disagree as to whether the word should or should not be used as a descriptor for the Bible.
Third, this leads to a particular question that does not solve the problem, but may speak to its background. Namely, what did the early church teach about infallibility? I’ll pose the question as Derek asked it.
Q: Would you say that the church fathers taught the "infallibility" of Scripture?
This strikes me as wrong. Inspiration yes, but infallibility? Do you know of any articles or books that deal with this (whether infallibility was something taught by the early church)? What does the Orthodox Church say?
My response (expanded for this article):
Based in my late-coming knowledge and brief surveys of the early church fathers, 'infallible' was indeed a word they employed, but not with reference to Scripture. The 'infallibility of the Bible,' as best as I can tell, is a specifically Protestant notion, introduced as a point of leverage (under sola scriptura) in order to cut itself loose from the authority of the Vatican and from church tradition. An infallible Bible then becomes the final authority for faith and practice. Unfortunately, ‘an infallible Bible’ is often a code for ‘my interpretation of the Bible,’ and the schisms go viral.
On the other hand, while the early Greek fathers definitely speak of the 'inspiration of Scripture' they reserve the word 'infallible' for the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s guidance as they preserved the gospel (the ‘canon of faith’ or ‘faith once delivered’ – Jude 3) and summarized it in the creeds as they convened the early councils. That is, only God himself is the infallible Subject.