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Infallibility, from Latin origin ('in', not + 'fallere', to deceive), is a term with a variety of meanings related to knowing truth with certainty.

In common speech

When a statement, teaching, or book is called 'infallible', this can mean any of the following:

  1. It is something that can't be proved false.
  2. It is something that can be safely relied on
  3. It is something completely trustworthy and sure

When a person is called 'infallible', this can mean any of the following:

  1. Some statements or teachings made by this person can be relied on to be certainly true
  2. All statements or teachings made by this person can be relied on to be certainly true
  3. All information believed by this person is true
  4. This person is free from flaws or defects, especially of a moral nature
  5. This person is always right. It seems everything they says becomes true

These definitions differ widely. In common speech, 'infallibility' can refer to a person (or a group of persons), to an act of teaching by these persons, or to the information being taught.

Furthermore, infallibility can refer to the 'absence of error' or to the 'inability to err'. Although these are similar, they are philosophically distinct categories. For example, it is theoretically possible for a person to live their entire life without ever uttering a false sentence, even though they had the ability to err.

Infallibility is sometimes used to refer to someone's ability to 'learn' something with certainty. For example, a careful researcher might study a hundred books, each of which contains a few errors, and after carefully judging the statements in these books might deduce the complete, error-free truth. This is referred to as 'learning infallibly' or 'knowing infallibly'. However, this meaning is rarely used.

In psychology and sociology

Infallibility is inseparable from human nature as a result of the aspect of the human condition called self-awareness. It is one of the features that set us apart from animals, and as such, civilization cannot exist without it. In some cases, this may mean that a fact is to be accepted as true by all people; in others it may mean that an arbitrary decision must be made, and then not disputed.

Bank transactions are an example of this. If one cannot obtain certainty when counting out a withdrawal, then all transactions would become negotiated. "I think SIX twenties make a hundred. After all, you can't be certain it is only five, and the customer is always right."

In philosophy

Epistemology, a branch of philosophy, is concerned with the question of what, if anything, humans can know.

Some philosophical schools deny that people can know anything; others deny that people can know anything with certainty. For details, see existentialism and skepticism.

The German critical rationalist philosopher Hans Albert presented a logical argument that fallibilism is ubiquitous and inevitable, even in the fields of mathematics and logic. For details, see Münchhausen Trilemma.

Other philosophical schools agree that people can know things with certainty. See metaphysics, epistemology, reason and logic.

In theology


A standard work, "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church",[1] defines infallibility as 'Inability to err in teaching revealed truth'. Many Christians maintain that the Church is infallible, but disagree as to where infallibility exists, whether in doctrines, scripture, or church authorities: see Infallibility of the Church, Papal infallibility, Biblical infallibility and Biblical inerrancy.

Semantic notes

In Roman Catholic theology, only the actual 'act of teaching' is properly called "infallible". For example, according to Roman Catholic dogma, Pope Pius IX's teaching regarding the Immaculate Conception was infallible; it is grammatically incorrect to say "the pope is [sometimes] infallible" or to say "the Immaculate Conception is infallible". Nonetheless, these phrases are frequently used in conversations or Catholic writings.

According to the First Vatican Council (1870-71) and as reaffirmed at Vatican II (1963-1965) the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals.

Infallibility does not refer to the inability to sin (impeccability), or to the personal holiness of a person, although it is occasionally misunderstood in that sense.


The notion of infallibility in Judaism as it relates to the Tannaim and Amaraim of the Talmud, as well as the Rishonim, Achronim and modern day Gedolim is one surrounded by debate.

Some who reject infallibility cite the Talmud, Pesachim 94b:

The sages of Israel say: "The sphere (Earth) remains fixed and the constellations revolve," while the sages of the nations say: "The sphere revolves and the constellations remain fixed."...the sages of Israel say: "during the day the sun moves below the canopy (sky) and at night above the canopy," while the sages of the nations say: "during the day the sun moves below the canopy and at night below the ground." Rebbi said: "Their words seem more correct than ours..."

The words of the Mishna are commented on by numerous commentators, and Yehuda Levi argues that evidence mounts that the Geonim and the Rambam perceived that the sages of the Talmud "erred in a matter of astronomy.[2] The Rambam wrote that the great sages are not expected to advocate positions perfectly in-line with modern science because they were "scholars of that generation," often basing their assessments of what "they learned from the scholars of the era."[3]

In the Hassidic tradition, however, infallibility is taught in the Chabad tradition in connection with a Rebbe.[4]


Universal teachings

In Islamic theology, the widely held belief is that the prophets of Allah were infallible, meaning they did not sin nor make mistakes. The Prophets were there to guide mankind.If they were prone to making mistakes than it would negate the whole aspect of guidance because muddy water cannot purify muddy water. You would of course, need pure water to make the muddy water less muddy. Islam also teaches that the Qur'an is an infallible text, one that is certainly true and is something that can be safely relied on.

Additional Shi'a teachings

In Shi'a theology, the belief is that the Ahl al-Bayt, including Muhammad, his daughter Fatima Zahra and Shi'a Imams are all infallible and do not make mistakes. It is believed that they are infallible in the sense that all statements or teachings made by them can be relied on to be certainly true, that all information believed by themselves is true, and that they have complete knowledge about right and wrong and never intend to disobey God , in a sense, perfect creation. It is also held by Shi'as that there were 124,000 Prophets, beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad - with all, including the latter, being infallible in the same sense as the Ahl al-Bayt. [5] [6]


  1. Cross, F.L. and Livingstone, E.A. (eds), "infallibility" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p831. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997. ISBN 0-19-211655-X
  2. Levi, Yehuda, The Science in Torah, Feldheim Publishers 2004, page 92.
  3. Maimonidies, The Guide for the Perplexed part 3, chapter 14.
  4. Sources about infallibility of Tzaddikim
  5. "Shia News:Infallibility of the Prophets". Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  6. " - The Khalifatullah in Shi'a Belief". Retrieved 2007-05-14. 

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