Papacy & OT Infallible Prophets Analogy (vs. Gavin Ortlund)

Papacy & OT Infallible Prophets Analogy (vs. Gavin Ortlund) March 14, 2024

Dr. Gavin Ortlund is a Reformed Baptist author, speaker, pastor, scholar, and apologist for the Christian faith. He has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in historical theology, and an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. Gavin is the author of seven books as well as numerous academic and popular articles. For a list of publications, see his CV. He runs the very popular YouTube channel Truth Unites, which seeks to provide an “irenic” voice on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life. See also his website, Truth Unites and his blog.

In my opinion, he is currently the best and most influential popular-level Protestant apologist, who (especially) interacts with and offers thoughtful critiques of Catholic positions, from a refreshing ecumenical (not anti-Catholic), but nevertheless solidly Protestant perspective. That’s what I want to interact with, so I have issued many replies to Gavin and will continue to do so. I use RSV for all Bible passages unless otherwise specified.

All of my replies to Gavin are collected on the top of my Calvinism & General Protestantism web page in the section, “Replies to Reformed Baptist Gavin Ortlund.” Gavin’s words will be in blue.

This is my 27th reply to his material.


I am responding to two portions of Gavin’s video, “Trent Horn on the Papacy REBUTTED” (4-6-21).

23:41 None of the Old Testament offices had the ability to speak infallibly, for example, so the papacy, I would say, is not consistent in any specific way with God’s general ways of working throughout the Old Testament. It is an innovation or a new development.

I don’t see how Gavin could say this. I believe that he didn’t think about it long enough before saying it, because he’s a very sharp guy. The analogous examples in the Old Testament are numerous. The following Bible passages are from KJV rather than my usual RSV, because they are taken from my book,  Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths (2009), which had so much Scripture it had to be KJV, for copyright reasons.

The most obvious Old Testament analogy to infallible popes are the prophets, who spoke infallibly, passing along the “the word of the LORD” — and quite arguably, these were inspired well, since God’s words are His words, and they are always not only infallible, but inspired (literally “God-breathed”). So the argument would be that OT prophets had an even greater gift of certain teaching than popes: they were absolutely right all the time. when proclaiming a prophetic message. Here are many examples of that:

Deuteronomy 5:5: (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the work of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;)… (RSV: “to declare to you the word of the LORD”; Moses; cf. 1 Chron 15:15; 2 Chron 35:6)

1 Samuel 15:10: Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, (cf. 1 Chron. 11:3)

2 Samuel 7:4: And it came to pass that night, that the word of the LORD came unto Nathan, saying, (cf. 1 Chron 17:3)

2 Samuel 23:2: The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. (King David: cf. 1 Chron. 22:8)

2 Samuel 24:11: For when David was up in the morning, the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,

1 Kings 6:11: And the word of the LORD came to Solomon, saying,

1 Kings 13:20-21: And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back: [21] And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee,

1 Kings 15:29: . . . according unto the saying of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite:

1 Kings 17:24: And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth. (see also: 16:1, 7, 12 [Jehu]; 16:34 [Joshua]; 17:2, 8, 16 [Elijah]; 18:1 [Elijah] )

2 Kings 1:17: So he died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken . . .

2 Kings 7:1: Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD . . .

2 Kings 9:36: Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite . . . (cf. 10:17)

2 Kings 14:25: . . . according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet . . .

2 Kings 20:4: And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, (cf. 20:16, 19; 23:16)

2 Kings 24:2: . . . according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servants the prophets.

2 Chronicles 11:2: But the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, (cf. 12:7)

2 Chronicles 24:19-20: Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the LORD; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear. [20] And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you.

2 Chronicles 30:12: Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the LORD.

2 Chronicles 36:21: To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah . . . (cf. 36:22; Ezra 1:1; Jer. 1:2, 4; 2:4; 7:2; 13:3, 8; 14:1; 16:1; 18:5; 19:3; 21:11; 22:2, 29; 24:4; 28:12; 29:30; several more times in Jeremiah; Dan. 9:2)

Nehemiah 9:30: Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets:… (RSV: “Many years thou didst bear with them, and didst warn them by thy Spirit through thy prophets”)

Isaiah 38:4: Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, (cf. 39:5, 8; 66:5)

Jeremiah 25:3: From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, even unto this day, that is the three and twentieth year, the word of the LORD hath come unto me [Jeremiah], and I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye have not hearkened.

Jeremiah 26:15: But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the LORD hath sent me [Jeremiah] unto you to speak all these words in your ears.

Ezekiel 33:1: Again the word of the LORD came unto me [Ezekiel], saying,

“Word of the LORD” appears sixty times in the book of Ezekiel, usually in reference to the prophet Ezekiel.

Hosea 1:1: The word of the LORD that came unto Hosea . . . (cf. 4:1)

Joel 1:1: The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.

Amos 7:16: Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD . . .

Jonah 1:1: Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, (cf. 3:1, 3)

Micah 1:1: The word of the LORD that came to Micah . . .

Zephaniah 1:1: The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah . . .

Haggai 1:13: Then spake Haggai the LORD’s messenger in the LORD’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD. (cf. 1:1, 3; 2:1, 10, 20)

Zechariah 1:1: . . . the word of the LORD unto Zechariah . . . (cf. 1:7; 6:9; 7:1, 4, 8; 8:1, 18)

Zechariah 7:12: Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 1:1: The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.

The following passage refers to the Levites, who were the appointed teachers in Israel:

Malachi 2:6-8: The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. [7] For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. [8] But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.

The prophets received their inspiration by the Holy Spirit (Num. 11:29; 2 Chron. 24:20; Neh. 9:30; Ezek. 3:24; 11:5; Zech. 7:12; Acts 28:25; 2 Pet. 1:21). The Holy Spirit (as a result of the New Covenant) is now given to all Christians (John 15:26; 1 Cor. 3:16), so it is perfectly possible and plausible that an even greater measure of the Holy Spirit would be given to leaders of the Church who have the responsibility to teach, since James wrote: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). The disciples were reassured by Jesus: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13; cf. 8:32, RSV), so surely it makes sense that shepherds of the Christian flock would be given an extra measure of protection in order to better fulfill their duties.

Jesus called John the Baptist “more than a prophet” (Luke 7:26, RSV) and stated, “among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28, RSV). Therefore, it is not in the least implausible that one man: the pope, could be infallible, which is a far lesser gift than the inspiration and direct revelation from God exhibited by the prophets.

Briefly put, then, the argument is: “If prophets spoke with inspiration, then popes can plausibly speak infallibly, since the latter is a far less extraordinary gift than the former.” Or, from a different angle: “If those with lesser gifts can do the great thing (inspired utterance), then those with greater gifts can certainly do the lesser thing (infallible utterance).”

Here is how the New Testament describes prophets:

Matthew 1:22: Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, (cf. 2:15)

Luke 1:70: As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:

Acts 28:25: And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,

2 Peter 1:21: For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Further New Testament references to prophets (which remain an office) and prophesying: Acts 2:16-18; 11:27-28; 13:1; 15:32; 19:6; 21:9-10; Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 11:4-5; 12:10, 28-29; 14:1, 3-6, 22, 24, 29, 31-32, 37, 39; Eph. 3:5; 4:11; 1 Thess. 5:20; 1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14.

Infallibility is a limited, far less profound “negative” protection against error. Everyone who holds to the inspiration of Scripture already believes that St. Peter wrote inspired words from God in the Bible. Where, then, is the inherent difficulty in believing that he and his successors could be protected by the Holy Spirit to write infallible documents (see, e.g., John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13; Acts 15:28)? The more difficult thing to believe, the thing that requires far more faith, since it is a greater gift, is already accepted, so what insuperable prima facie difficulty remains in the notion of infallible (as opposed to inspired) popes (and an infallible Church)?

The prophets are the most analogous to the infallibility of popes. But they were not part of the religious system; they were outside of it: usually rebuking the corrupt people in it. The difference in the new covenant is that God promises to protect the institutional system of the Church from error (“it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” — Acts 15:28: the Jerusalem Council). The Church is a far more spiritually advanced entity.

25:02 There’s no qualitative difference in terms of authority between Peter and the other apostles 

Galatians 1:15-19 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, [16] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, [17] nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. [18] Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. [19] But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

Why did Paul first go to Peter, when he wished to consult with Christians besides Ananias? This is just one of many indications of Peter’s leadership.




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Photo credit: The Prophet Isaiah, by Valentin Bouché (1490–1541) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: Gavin Ortlund claimed there was nothing in the OT anything like infallibility, so that the papacy was an “innovation.” Really? The prophets spoke “the word of the LORD.”



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