Just for Catholics

Infallible Interpreter

Question: What’s the use of having an infallible Bible unless you have an infallible interpreter to give the correct meaning?

Answer: This is yet another argument designed to bolster the authority of Rome and to undermine the authority of the Bible. For, as you say, what’s the use of having an infallible Bible if we cannot understand it correctly? Hence the need for an ‘infallible interpreter,’ the Roman magisterium, which is supposedly infallible (cannot make a mistake) and therefore consistently interprets God’s Word correctly. The average Roman Catholic could blindly trust the magisterium and keep his Bible closed on the shelf.

Evangelicals frankly admit that they are fallible. We can, and often we do, make mistakes. Our teachers are fallible, and they too are liable to make mistakes. Sometimes they disagree among themselves, and there is a measure of error in the best Christian churches. We are not dissimilar from the early Christians in the apostolic churches. Sometimes their leaders disagreed too (Acts 15:39), and there was a measure of error and false doctrines in the churches of Colosse, Galatia and Corinth.

Yet we, like the early Christians, also uphold the essential truth of the Gospel. To be fallible is to be liable to error; it does not mean that one must always be in error! We thank God that He uses weak and fallible instruments – like our teachers and our fallible understanding – to teach us His truth. Being aware of our limitations should make us more diligent in our study of the Scriptures, and more humble and willing to be corrected, thus becoming more mature in our understanding.

Despite the claim of an infallible magisterium, our Roman Catholic friends are not better off. Some Catholics frankly admit that Catholic bishops have been mistaken, and that there is a diversity of beliefs and opinions among the Catholic people similar to the situation in the Evangelical camp.

Even if the magisterium was infallible (in fact, it is not), the Catholic is still caught up in a dilemma. If, as you argue, there is no use for an infallible Bible if there isn’t an infallible magisterium, then there isn’t much use for an infallible magisterium either. You may not realize this, but your belief in the infallibility of the magisterium is itself a fallible opinion. You may have been indoctrinated since childhood or you may have studied the issue yourself and came to this conclusion about the magisterium. Whatever the case may be, it is still your fallible decision, your fallible belief. Also, Catholic doctrine is taught to the laity by fallible priests, fallible teachers, and fallible catechists. Their teaching may not accurately reflect the official Catholic position. And finally, Catholic doctrine is received by the individual who is also fallible and liable to misunderstand and misinterpret the official teaching.

Protestants have no delusions about infallibility, and I hope that many Catholics would come to realize this evident reality in their church too.

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A