Could You Be Wrong About Their Inability To Be Wrong?

We really have no way of telling the difference between God revealing God's self through means which produce literature that looks like other religious literature, and people producing religious literature that expresses their beliefs. But given the difficult theological and moral issues that arise from taking the first stance, the second seems more attractive. Why make it harder for ourselves to disagree with ancient authors when they seem from our perspective to have been wrong, when we might be wrong about their inability to be wrong?

[The above is part of a comment I wrote on Facebook, which someone said they wanted to quote, and so I thought I would post it here.]


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  • Marshall

    Does it always have to be a question of wrong, or can’t it be about interpretation and particularly application? Does literature, God-breathed, religious, or otherwise ALWAYS have to mean the same thing to the author and to the reader? AND to the Impartial Judge?

    • beau_quilter

      Why no, Marshall, I think history demonstrates that religious communities, especially, are quite adept at coming up with multiple meanings for religious literature – and then abusing each other and the rest of the world over their particular interpretation.

      • Marshall

        I’m guessin’ you’ve got your own idea about what is Absolute Truth, to get this far off the point I was making …

        • beau_quilter

          Not quite sure how you came to that conclusion (what I think of Absolute Truth). Honestly, Marshall, I’m just trying to point out the most obvious problem with your original question. It’s not that people can’t interpret scripture from multiple perspectives; it’s just that, when they do, they invariably are judged to be “wrong” (eternally so) by others.

          • newenglandsun

            Only someone with an inept sense of history would make statements such as that.


            “Each phrase [of the Nicene Creed] was very carefully debated and written so that one could say that if you do not agree with even one of these articles of faith then you could not consider yourself a Christian.”

            • beau_quilter

              Thank you for that odd little quotation from St Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic Church.

              What does it have to do with anything I said?

              • newenglandsun

                You said it five months ago, so I’ll give you some credit.

                “t’s not that people can’t interpret scripture from multiple perspectives; it’s just that, when they do, they invariably are judged to be “wrong” (eternally so) by others.”

                It’s in response to what you said.

                • beau_quilter

                  Yes, I can see what I said five months ago. I just don’t see how your quotation about the Nicene Creed disputes the fact that Christians often judge each others’ interpretations of scripture to be wrong (sometimes vehemently, sometimes with grace).

                  • newenglandsun

                    There’s more to it than just interpretation of scriptures. When you study religions solely from the outside, you can’t understand. When studied from both the outside and the inside, it’s more understandable.

                    When debates, arguments, and apostolic succession go into Christianity and not just scripture, that’s why there is a wrong and a right.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Ok … so taking all these factors together you believe there is a wrong and a right. (About every scripture?)

                      But what did you mean when you said I had an “inept sense of history”?

                    • newenglandsun

                      I was referring to the seven ecumenical creeds of the Christian faith. You should read someone like Jaroslav Pelikan who has works covering these seven creeds.


                      Today, approximately 70% of all Christendom references these seven creeds as the basis of their faiths. High Church Anglicans, Anglo-Catholics, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

                      When you understand the history of these creeds and what it took to pronounce them as final authorities of the faith, then you understand why some interpretations of the Bible are considered “out of bounds”.

                    • beau_quilter
                    • newenglandsun

                      That one’s more on the history of the Bible though. If you’re looking for the interpretation of the historic orthodox positions, I’d recommend researching the ecumenical creeds.

                    • newenglandsun
                    • beau_quilter

                      Yes, I’m sure we could trade good texts all day long; but none of the texts you cite explains why you think my original comment displays an “inept sense of history”.

                      Neither Pelikan nor McGrath would argue that the history of the church does not include major conflicts over matters of faith and interpretation.

                    • newenglandsun

                      Neither would I but that’s not the point. If you want to know why doctrines are considered anathema though, turning to works on Church history would explain that.

                      If you had an adequate sense of Church history, you would get why your statement is invalid.

                      “It’s not that people can’t interpret scripture from multiple perspectives; it’s just that, when they do, they invariably are judged to be “wrong” (eternally so) by others.”

                      McGrath’s work is highly recommendable on this subject even if I think he does a poor job answering the Protestant vs. Catholic question.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Yes, that IS the point. I should know; I’m the one who made the point.

                      I have no earthly idea what your point is, except that you have a penchant for condescension and sharing your latest reading lists.

                    • newenglandsun

                      I must then outrank you in order to be condescending :)

                    • beau_quilter

                      Who knows. You’re anonymous.

                    • newenglandsun

                      That I am. I’m an anarchist.

                    • beau_quilter

                      Of course if you’re referencing McGrath and Pelikan to establish what is “out of bounds”, then your reading of them is enormously shallow.

                    • newenglandsun

                      I’m not reading *them* to establish what is “out of bounds” and what is “in bounds” when it comes to Christian doctrine. I am absorbing their understanding of the *creeds of Christendom* to reflect back on the *effort* to establish what is *orthodoxy* in the first place.

                      This conversation is about the interpretation of Christianity and why certain things are wrong.

                      You need to stop slandering your opponents if you want them to buy into your argument. Thus far, you have not done that.

                    • beau_quilter

                      What a childish thing to say. You call my “sense of history” inept. I call your reading shallow (you’ve only substantiated that opinion further).

                      But “slander”? If you knew the meaning of the word, you would know that anonymous blog commenters are immune from slander (if calling someone shallow even qualified).

                    • newenglandsun


                      A) You’re sense of history (at least Church history) IS inept.
                      B) You did not examine as to how I read either McGrath or Pelikan so your argument that my reading of them was shallow is entirely unmerited.
                      C) Since I don’t read them in such a way as you accused me of, you’re argument is poop (for lack of better words).

                    • beau_quilter

                      A) just restating a baseless assertion – childish, yes.
                      B) not only do you not understand the definition of “slander”, you apparently do not know the secondary definition of “reading” – childish again.
                      C) poop?

                      Clearly childish.

                    • newenglandsun

                      I’ve just been giving you recommendations as to how to expand your understanding of Church history so you know precisely why “that, when [people interpret scripture from multiple perspectives], they invariably are judged to be “wrong” (eternally so) by others”. Something that only an inept understanding of Church history can lead you to ponder.

                      A) McGrath’s treatment that I have given you is actually a full-out explanation and defense why the seven ecumenical creeds define Christianity albeit from an Anglican perspective.
                      B) Pelikan gives the overview of the *effort* that went into *establishing* the ecumenical creeds as official orthodoxy which in turn also explains why the ecumenical creeds establish what is in bounds.

                      Shallow reading? Hardly.

                    • beau_quilter

                      I’ve read both McGrath and Pelikan. Your oversimplified summaries can’t be described as having any particular depth; and when you use them as proof-texts for a childish insult – that is most definitely shallow.

                      And you haven’t even addressed your laughable use of the word “slander”.

                    • newenglandsun

                      We’re done. Don’t ever comment to me again. Future comments will be ignored.

                      You have done nothing but make childish statements to me. I’ve talked to Christian fundamentalists that are thousands of times smarter than you.

                      You can call me childish if it helps you feel better. You can say I’m laughable if it helps you feel better. You’re the worst person I’ve ever talked to on the internet.


                    • beau_quilter

                      When you choose to insult rather than to engage, when you choose to toss out hyperbolic accusations of “ineptitude” and “slander”, and when you attempt to impugn someone’s intelligence rather than respond, don’t be surprised when you are called on your childishness.

    • newenglandsun

      That is actually a good question. The Church fathers rarely take the Bible entirely literally and mostly, they look at how to apply the text. I think McGrath’s question assumes the position that there can only be *one* potential interpretation.

      • Gary

        I do not pay attention to old, dead, bishops. I use common sense.

        • newenglandsun


  • Gary

    It’s obvious to me. Politics and scenarios should make it obvious. Might even combine Orwell’s political language (dept of Truth) into it, eg. Strong man Solomon dies, allowing northern tribes to separate from South. Tribal leadership vs single king, tribes call up soldiers vs standing army, tabernacle in Shiloh vs temple in Jerusalem, two groups of priests. Hate and discontent with Solomon’s conscription of workers from north for construction projects. Northern land given away to non-Israelites in trade for lumber for temple. So two different kingdoms established for over 100 years. Then scribes and priests in the back room, writing to justify good and bad happening to them. Good scenario for spin-doctoring like 1984. Then one kingdom falls. How could politics and personal opinion not be interjected into writings. Same throughout, from Genesis to Revelation. A grain of salt for all. Not to be too negative however…but Nicea fixed it all :-) those old, ornery bishops.

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