The Inerrancy of the Holy Scripture


Q: Can you tell me if, within the Orthodox Tradition, one can find the idea of the infallibility or inerrancy of Holy Scripture?

A: This is a more complicated question that you might imagine. First of all, Orthodox Tradition does hold the inerrancy of Scripture; it does not, however, vouch for all the interpretations of Scripture. One of the problems with understanding infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is precisely the problem with interpretation. The Scripture is not always literal in the modern fundamentalist understanding. The Bible is rich in metaphor and poetic imagery, especially in the Old Testament. Aspects of the Scripture become better understood with the advance of science and archaeology. As an example, the statement that "the sun knoweth his going down" (Ps.) personifies the sun in the way that those who believed the sun to be a god would view it. This occurs because that formula for referring to the sun had become merely a commonplace of language. Secondly, the sun does not "go down," let alone know about it. What is meant by the statement is simply that the sun behaves in the way God intended for it to.

Sunset occurs in the natural order of things because that is the way God has ordained matters. If the statement was more than a commonplace of language and metaphor, then it would strongly hint at a shadow of sun god worship in Israel. This kind of metaphorical statement is much more lovely, poetic and pleasing than saying, for example, "the earth rotates on its axis so that the sun appears to go down, and this happens because that is the God-created normal order of things." The same is true of the time frame in the creation narrative and the details given of the creation. The Scripture gives us the meaning of the events, not the complete details. The earth is about four billion years old, and the process of creation lasted many billions of years more than that. Scripture is not concerned with giving us the fine details of the process of creation, but with explaining to us in clear terms the meaning of it so that we can understand the nature of our relationship with God, Who did the creating.


Scripture is unerring, our understanding of it is not always so. This is why we depend on the holy and God bearing fathers to explain to us the meaning of the words of Christ and the Apostles, and of the Old Testament. One has only to read St Gregory of Nyssa's On The Life of the Prophet Moses to see how far off the mark many non-Orthodox interpretations of Scripture actually are. Remember that the Arians used the same Scripture to prove that Christ is not God as the Orthodox did to prove that He is. Ultimately, the question was resolved by other Sacred Tradition, in addition to Scripture, by which the Scripture could be correctly understood. There are statements in Scripture which were understood in terms of the science and philosophy of a given period which would clearly have to be understood differently when science had clarified the matter more accurately.

You see, John, that the question is not simply a "yes or no" one, and is more complex than first meets the eye. Scripture is inerrant, our understanding of it is not always so. Contradiction which appear to occur in Scripture are often the result of the natural dissonance of metaphorical language. This must be born in mind when understanding the meaning of the inerrancy of Scripture.


By Archbishop Lazar 

Source: http://www.orthodoxcanada.org/qa_archives/question7.html



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