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The Human Fossil Record, Part 2: Bipedality

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January 5, 2011 Tags: Human Origins

Today's entry was written by James Kidder. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This is the second part of a series by James Kidder on the human fossil record. The first part can be found here.

One of the most fruitful and exciting areas of research in palaeoanthropology is the search for the last common ancestor to the higher apes and humans. This question is inextricably tied to concepts of what separates humanity from the animals around us. This is a question that has spiritual as well as physical ramifications. In this set of posts, we are dealing with what makes us human from a biophysical perspective.

Traditionally, paleoanthropologists have considered the hallmark of humanity to be habitual bipedalism. While we share many characteristics in common with the higher apes, this trait alone is practiced by no other animal. Some animals practice facultative bipedalism, allowing them to go short distances on two legs when necessary, but only humans use it as their only form of locomotion. Put a man on all fours and even a squirrel can outrun him. Bipedalism is a skill that we learn early in life, before we are sentient and even understand what makes us different from the animals around us. It is programmed into us.

Bipedalism is marked by a number of anatomical modifications to the standard primate body. These center on the pelvis and involve changes in the head (cranium) and the rest of the body (postcranium), reflecting a shifting of the center of balance from the abdominal cavity to the hip. In mammals, the hip is composed of three mirrored sets of bones: the ilium, the ischium and the pubis (Figure 1). The top part of the leg fits into the bottom-rear portion of the ilium, into a round socket called the acetabulum. It is one of two ball-and-socket joints in the body, the other being where the arm fits into the scapula at the top of your shoulder.

Where the two pubis bones fit together in the front and the two ilia meet in the back with the sacrum forms the birth canal. In chimpanzees and gorillas, the ilium is narrow and tall (Figure 2). Consequently, the connection to the upper leg bone, the femur, is straight up and down. In humans, the ilium is flat and flared, creating an outward bowing of the top of the femur, which allows for the balance necessary for walking upright (see Figure 1). This, in turn, creates what is known as the valgus knee, where the bottom of the femur meets the top of the large lower leg bone, the tibia, at an angle. The fact that the two bones meet at an angle provides for a better balance of the body mass for upright walking. In contrast, when higher apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees stand, the femur and the tibia are both perpendicular to the ground, resulting in a straight knee joint. Consequently, when chimpanzees walk upright, they swing side to side in an ungainly fashion to simulate the balance that is inherent in human walking.

Other changes are present above the hip, as well. Because they are quadrupedal, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans have a straight backbone, or vertebral column (Figure 3). In humans, the vertebral column resembles a double “s” shape, which balances the torso above the hip (and creates the back problems we suffer later in life). At the top of the spinal column, the top vertebra, the atlas, has facets that balance the head and the second vertebra, the axis, has a prong that fits directly into a hole in the skull. This hole, which is called the foramen magnum, is at the back of the skull in higher apes, as in all quadrupedal animals. This allows the animal to keep its head up while it is trotting along the ground. In humans, the foramen magnum is at the base of the skull, allowing us to look forward as we walk. It also makes it hard to look forward when we crawl on all fours. Each of these modifications is diagnostic of humans and easily recognizable in the fossil record in specimens for which these anatomical areas are present.

Ardipithecus ramidus and the Origins of Bipedality

The origins of bipedality have traditionally been understood as having evolved at the end of the Miocene epoch, around 6 to 8 million years ago (Crompton, Sellers and Thorpe 2010) when the climate began to dry out and cool. Unfortunately, there are only scattered presumed hominin remains from this time period, all of which are taxonomically controversial and fragmentary and none of which have diagnostic postcranial remains. It has also been thought that the transition to bipedality likely did not happen all at once but in mosaic fashion (as evolution often proceeds) and this has recently supported by the fossil record. Up until a few years ago, the most widely-accepted model was that bipedality originated among a group of large-bodied hominoids that had adapted to the savannah-jungle fringe. The jungle, itself, was ceded to the precursors of the modern chimpanzees and gorillas and the savannah to the precursors of the modern baboons and other terrestrial monkeys. As a result, some workers (Crompton et al. 2010) suggested that both arboreal (tree-dwelling) and terrestrial locomotion might have been present in our earliest ancestors. Recent evidence has corroborated some parts of this model, but not others.

In 1994, the remains of a remarkable hominin, dated to 4.4 million years ago, were unearthed in the Afar Triangle of Northeastern Ethiopia. Examination of the surrounding deposits, however, yielded a conclusion that this hominin lived in a woodland environment, rather than a savannah/forest fringe environment (White et al. 2009a). Requiring over ten years of extrication from the surrounding rock and painstaking reconstruction, this fossil form, Ardipithecus ramidus (now represented by 110 individuals) yields diagnostic parts of the pelvis (Figure 4), as well as sections of the arms and skull (Figure 5) (White et al. 2009b). Although the base of the skull is not preserved, one striking aspect of humanity is present in the teeth. The canine (eye tooth) does not extend beyond the tooth row. Humans are the only hominins for which this is the case. In all other ape species, fossil and extant, the canine projects well beyond the tooth row.

Biomechanics specialist Owen Lovejoy and colleagues (Lovejoy et al. 2009) write about this species:

“The gluteal muscles had been repositioned so that Ar. Ramidus could walk without shifting its center of mass from side to side. This is made clear not only by the shape of its ilium, but by the appearance of a special growth site unique to hominids among all primates (the anterior inferior iliac spine). However, its lower pelvis was still almost entirely ape-like, presumably because it still had massive hindlimb muscles for active climbing.”

Figure 6 shows the intermediate nature of the pelvis of Ardipithecus ramidus compared to later hominins (Homo sapiens, Au. Afarensis) and chimpanzees (P. troglodytes).

Ardipithecus, then, represents a shift away from the primitive locomotion employed by the last common ancestor of our line and that of modern chimpanzees. Here is a hominin that maintained a link with its tree-dwelling past and yet had progressed toward the bipedal future. This evidence is striking because it firmly demonstrates that a species had arisen that was advanced in the human direction. Whether or not it led to the hominin forms that followed is not known but it clearly represents a phenomenal example of a transitional form in the human fossil record.

From this point on, the forms become noticeably more human in appearance, leading eventually our own species some four million years later. In his infinite wisdom, God had set us on a path toward our eventual communion with Him. That this path took such a long period of time and through so many varied forms of humanity is a testament to His creative power and patience.

Next, the successors to Ardipithecus and true human walking.


Crompton, R., W. Sellers & S. Thorpe (2010) Arboreality, terrestriality and bipedalism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365, 3301.

Lovejoy, C. O., G. Suwa, L. Spurlock, B. Asfaw & T. D. White (2009) The Pelvis and Femur of Ardipithecus ramidus: The Emergence of Upright Walking. Science, 326, 71, 71e1-71e6.

White, T. D., S. H. Ambrose, G. Suwa, D. F. Su, D. DeGusta, R. L. Bernor, J.-R. Boisserie, M. Brunet, E. Delson, S. Frost, N. Garcia, I. X. Giaourtsakis, Y. Haile-Selassie, F. C. Howell, T. Lehmann, A. Likius, C. Pehlevan, H. Saegusa, G. Semprebon, M. Teaford & E. Vrba (2009a) Macrovertebrate Paleontology and the Pliocene Habitat of Ardipithecus ramidus. Science, 326, 67, 87-93.

White, T. D., B. Asfaw, Y. Beyene, Y. Haile-Selassie, C. O. Lovejoy, G. Suwa & G. WoldeGabriel (2009b) Ardipithecus ramidus and the Paleobiology of Early Hominids. Science, 326, 64, 75-86.

Figure 1: http://www.bikemonkey.net/2010/01/3-series-tune-up-checking-the-pelvic-girdle/

Figure 2: http://www.boneclones.com/KO-303-P.htm

Figure 3: http://www.fixscoliosis.com/entries/13-The-Human-Spine-and-Idiopathic-Scoliosis

Figure 4: Bone Clones

Figure 5: National Geographic Images

Figure 6: from Lovejoy et al. 2009

James Kidder holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Tennessee (UT). He currently employed as an instructor at UT, and as a science research librarian at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He has been involved in the Veritas Forum at UT and runs the blog "Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist."

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Martin Rizley - #48113

January 19th 2011

As far as I’m concerned, the only questions you raised that I did not answer either directly or indirectly, are those found in 47642-650.  What I said about the self-authenticating nature of certain books and the role of the church fathers as ‘pointing’ to the authority of those books, not ‘conferring’ authority on them, answers the various questions you raised about how a canon may be established apart from an infallible magisterium making these decisions ’by proxy’ for the church.  If the canon was established by certain books commending and imposing THEMSELVES on the church through an historical process involving their recognition by Christians generally as inspired by God, no infallible magisterium was needed to make the canon ‘known,’ nor did the church have to bow to the decree of such a magisterium with implicit, blind faith.  It is true that, in the process of canonization, God used godly leaders from the first century onward as guardians and heralds of the apostolic writings.  They were used to lead the whole church into the recognition and reception of certain books as inspired by God.  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #48114

January 19th 2011

.  They did that, first, by preserving the apostolic writings and passing them on to future generations, reading, expounding and teaching them to the churches so that the whole church came to see and confess their inherent divine authority and life-transforming power.  The authority of those books which came to be received as canonical did not rest on the decree of an infallible magisterium, therefore, but on the self-authenticating nature of the books themselves, which God’s people were enabled to perceive through the illuminating witness of the Holy Spirit.  Concerning this witness, the Westminister Confession says, “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem for the Scriptures. . .yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #48115

January 19th 2011

The fact that not all the inspired books of the canon had been written during Jesus’ lifetime is quite irrelevant to the larger question of whether or not there is in fact a definite number of books that God expects His people to embrace as canonical.  You yourself have acknowledged that Jesus recognized certain books as divinely authoritative—those which the Jews of His day referred to as “the Law and the Prophets.”  Jesus recognized the divine authority of those books and made provision for the writing of future authoritative books by investing infallible teaching authority in His apostles and promising to instruct the whole church through them in the future.  Thereby, He established the principle by which future books would be recognized and received by the church as canonical—the principle of apostolic authority.  Any writing composed by the apostles or by their close associates (which would therefore carry the apostolic ’imprimatur’) was to be recognized as equal in authority to the Law and the Prophets.  So apostolicity was the chief requirement for any book to be recognized and received as canonical.  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #48117

January 19th 2011

Now, it is true that every church is fallible in its judgment (being made up of fallible members and leaders). Because the Holy Spirit is God, however, His witness is infallible and cannot reasonably be doubted by those who receive it.  Therefore, every church must acknowledge and confess, despite its own human fallibility,  which books it BELIEVES the Spirit is bearing infallible witness to as inspired Scripture.  In other words, they must declare what they believe are the limits of the canon.  The question, then, becomes,  “Which group of professing Christians, if any,  has most likely discerned with accuracy the limits of the canon?  To answer that question, one must look at the ‘gospel’ that different self-proclaimed churches are confessing.  That group which holds to apostolic gospel in its purity and rejects traditions that are alien to the logic and spirit of the gospel is most likely to have discerned correctly the limits of the canon.    Why do I say that?  When Christians lose hold of the true gospel, their spiritual judgment is impaired, and they are less likely to discern with accuracy the Spirit’s witness. (continued)

Martin Rizley - #48118

January 19th 2011

As a Protestant, I believe that aberrant beliefs and practices entered the church early on,  leading to a corruption of the church’s doctrinal purity.  This led to the misguided elevation of the Apocrypha to the level of inspired Scripture, a status which it never held for the Palestinian Jews of Jesus’ day.  Neither Jesus nor the apostolic writers ever quote the Apocrypha, nor was its canoncial status recognized by Josephus or the Jewish scholars of Jamnia.  Many of the fathers of the early church—including Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Jerome, and (I believe) Gregory the Great spoke out against regarding the Apocryphal books as canonical.  It was not recognized by any church council as inspired for nearly four centuries; and even many Roman Catholic scholar during the Reformation rejected its canonical authority.  Only at the Council of Trent in 1546 did the Apocrypha officially receive full canonical status by the Roman Catholic church.  That is not surprising, since the RCC bases some of its beliefs—such as saying prayers for the dead—on passages in the Apocrypha.  For that same reason, Protestants have never recognized its canonical authority.

Rich - #48123

January 19th 2011


Thanks for your detailed reply.  I’ll try to be brief.

1.  I never spoke of any “infallible magisterium.”  I’ve never defended the idea of infallibility; in fact, I reject the notion of infallibility, along with the notion of “inerrancy” (as inerrancy is commonly understood by American fundamentalists).  I think that *both* the Bible *and* the Church are inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that *both* are flawed representations of the truth that the Holy Spirit is trying to convey—flawed by the human element in transmission.  You agree with the flaws in the Church but not with flaws in the Bible.  I think your position—and by extension the Protestant position—is arbitrary.  In fact, an infallible or inerrant Bible cannot logically be maintained without affirming that the Church made at least one perfect decision—the decision regarding the canon.

2.  That you think that 66 books and no others are self-authenticating is sweet.  It’s also meaningless from a practical point of view.  For some Churches, Baruch and Jubilees and Clement are self-authenticating.  Either one accepts the judgment of one’s church or one defies it in the name of one’s private judgment.  It’s that simple.

Rich - #48125

January 19th 2011

Martin (continuing from 48123):

3.  Your comments about Jesus are wildly speculative.  The fact is that Jesus knew of no “New Testament” and he didn’t even have a complete “Old Testament”.  You can believe that the Church got the New Testament canon right—that in itself violates no law of logic—but nothing Jesus teaches in the Gospels would cause an intelligent Martian observer to think that he was anticipating the 27 books we now call the New Testament.  To read that into the Gospels is gross eisegesis driven by wish fulfillment.  The fact is that *no* New Testament writer or character *ever* means “New Testament” or “Bible” when he says “Scriptures.”  The term means always the Jewish writings, and never more than part of them. 

4.  Your opening statement about early Church history “as a Protestant” is shockingly partisan.  It’s also reactionary.  Historically speaking (I’m not making a personal comment about you, but about the origins of the view you are expressing) this view is motivated by a crude and uninformed anti-Catholicism.  No serious Protestant scholar today reads Church history in that way any more.  So when you grossly oversimplify, don’t speak for “Protestantism”; speak just for Martin.

Rich - #48131

January 19th 2011

Martin (continuing from 48125):

5.  I’m not concerned to defend the Apocrypha.  My point was never that one or another Church got the canon right or wrong.  My point was that Churches take upon the themselves the authority to define canons.  That’s a sociological and historical fact. 

6.  How did all this canon talk get started?  You said Genesis had to be read literally because of Paul.  I said that Paul’s meaning re Adam wasn’t clear, but if he *did* read the story as the literal origin of sin, then he misunderstood Genesis.  Your rebuttal hinged on Paul’s canonical status.  But you can’t appeal to canon without accepting the corollary—the Church’s authority.  You want it both ways.  When you judge the Apocrypha to be uncanonical, you’re all for the right of the individual to use some books as the doctrinal basis for rejecting other books.  But when I want to excise 10 verses of Paul from the canon as theologically inconsistent with both Genesis and the Gospels, out goes your support of individual judgment and in comes tradition.  So by an ironical twist I’m rejecting a passage on “Protestant” grounds as doctrinally un-Biblical, and you’re defending it on the “Catholic” grounds of Church authority.

penman - #48148

January 19th 2011

It may not need saying but…

Sola Scriptura, for the Lutheran & Reformed wings of the Reformation, never meant that Scripture by itself, ripped out of all context, naked & uninterpreted, was the only thing that deserved to be taken seriously by the believing community in its understanding of the faith. What it meant was that scripture was the only INFALLIBLE repository of divine truth.

But then one has to INTERPRET scripture. If one reads (e.g.) Calvin, it’s clear he didn’t step outside the interpretive tradition of the believing community, & try to offer some freelance, lone-ranger interpretation. He was steeped in the patristic tradition. And the structure of the Institutes is based on the Apostles’ Creed.

For the process of interpreting scripture, there wasn’t actually much “sola” about the Reformers. And quite right too, in my opinion. Once the individual becomes the arbiter of what scripture means, all you have is a thousand conflicting egos, each saying “The Bible says!” where what they really mean is “I say the Bible says!”

It may be that the very phrase “Sola Scriptura” has now become so debased in popular usage, we may have to do what Gingoro suggests, & prefer to say “Prima Scriptura” or suchlike.

Rich - #48149

January 19th 2011


Essentially I’m in agreement with you.  Yes, Calvin and Luther paid a great deal of attention to previous tradition in interpreting Scripture So much so that they retained infant baptism even though they knew it had scant support in Scripture. 

My problem with Martin is that he writes *as if*, supposing the Bible floated down from heaven for the first time, and landed on his front lawn, and he woke up and found this book lying there, he could, by dint of careful study, eventually reconstruct all the doctrines and practices of true Christianity, even if he had never before heard of churches, hymns, baptisms, communions, Trinity, providence, Jews, etc.  And he writes as if that careful exegesis would always, wonder of wonders,  produce Protestant Christianity (since any objective study of the Bible would never produce the false Catholic or Orthodox versions).  I think this is nonsense.  Without some prior idea of what to expect in the Bible, what to look for, what to regard as central and what peripheral, it would be incredibly hard to make any overall sense of it, and 50 different individuals, if allowed no communication, would produce 50 different religions Scripture is not self-interpreting.

Rich - #48151

January 19th 2011

penman (continued):

Given the Old Testament alone, no uncoached reader would conclude that sin is transferred from generation to generation due to the original deed of Adam; not even after reading the Gospels would one think up that idea.  And when arriving at the passage of Paul, the reader would be brought up short, saying:  “Hey!  That’s not the Genesis story I remember!  What’s this guy up to?”  Without the presence of an exegetical and theological tradition, the natural question to raise would be whether Paul is consistent with Genesis, or just making stuff up.  If Martin would admit that “the plain sense” of the Bible often yields discord and confusion when one reads it without the aid of tradition, I would have no problem.  But he keeps suggesting that it’s just obvious to any careful reader that Genesis is meant to read in the light of Paul.  But it *isn’t* obvious; in fact, it’s ruddy unlikely, unless you presuppose a whole bunch of things, like the unity of scripture, and a number of exegetical conventions and theological priorities.  And those things don’t just pop out of the naked text; they are *learned* within Christian life, from living traditions.

Rich - #48154

January 19th 2011

penman (continued):

Church traditions are not highly suspect things concerning which Christians must always be vigilant, lest they be seduced by the “Catholic” Dark Side.  They are mostly more like the schematic diagram which helps one to make sense of what might otherwise look like a maze of unrelated parts. 

To the orthodox Jew, the whole Scripture versus Tradition mentality borders on insanity.  The Jew values the Talmud almost as much as the Scriptures; the Talmud is the setting forth of the originally oral traditions without which it is impossible to carry out the requirements of the Law, which are not explained in anywhere near sufficient detail in the Scriptures.  Why would one want to be without the living tradition passed down from Moses through all the ages of Israel to the present?  Similarly, why would one want to read the Bible with contempt for the thoughts and practices of living Christians whose understanding and instruction have been built up in continuity with that of the first disciples?  In this respect, Catholics and Orthodox people are closer to the Jewish attitude than many “sola scriptura” Protestants are.

Rich - #48159

January 19th 2011

penman (concluding):

So, if Martin wants to say to me:  “We may not always be able to see the coherence between certain New Testament statements and their Old Testament antecedents, but we have to trust in the living wisdom of the Church which produced the New Testament that the connections are there” —I would find that a plausible appeal.  But he implies that the Bible is just obviously unified, that the Old Testament teaching flows without bumps into the New Testament as day follows night, that all one needs to do is to carefully and humbly follow “the plain sense” of the text, and correct Christian theology will just drop out of the text like a foal dropping from a mare.  Thus, after reading Paul, one can see how obvious it is that Genesis teaches that sin is inherited.  Rubbish.  It isn’t obvious; it’s still a very difficult exegetical leap.  The Bible is not self-interpreting, and thus the motto sola scriptura (at least as used by a good number of non-Reformed Protestants) is materially misleading; it does not accurately describe what free-church Protestants actually do when they read Scripture.  It’s a form of self-delusion that conceals from many Protestants how much tacit tradition they bring to Scripture.

Martin Rizley - #48226

January 19th 2011

Rich and penman,
Both of your are imputing to me attitudes toward church tradition that I have never expressed.  I have never said that I am against all tradition as useful for understanding the meaning of Scripture.  I have simply asserted along with Luther and the Reformers that there is no such thing as an infallbile magisterium in the church or an infallible tradition parallel to and equal with the Scriptures.  You may reject that the whole concept of ‘infallible authoirty,’ Rich, but that has not been the historic position of any Trinitarian confessional group that I am familiar with.  Last time I checked, the doctrine of papal infalliblity was still the official position of the Catholic church.  The conflict between the Reformers and Rome was not over whether or not there is such a thing as an infallbile authority.  The question was, “Where does infallbile authority lie—in the Scriptures alone, which impose themselves on the church trhough an historical process by virtue of their own inherent excellencies?”  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #48227

January 19th 2011

Or does infallibility also lie in councils and popes—that is, in an infallible magisterium or sacred tradition that all Christians must recognize to be faithful to Chirst—a tradition that is not subject to the judgment of Scripture, because it stands alongside and on a par with Scripture, and is essential to a proper interpreation of Scripture?  It is this particular view of tradition that the Reformers rejected.  When Calvin quoted the fathers—as he often did—he was not resting his case on the authority of tradition.  He was pointing out that there was nothing novel about Protestant beliefs, to refute the claims of Rome that Protestantism was some ‘new-fangled’ heresy without historical precedent.  On the contrary, said Calvin, it is the accretions and medieval traditions of Rome which are “new-fangled” and represent a departure from the ancient faith proclaimed by the apostles and upheld, with varying degrees of purity,  by the early church fathers.  Calvin appealed to tradition, not as infallible, nor as the final authority for any matter of doctrine or practice, but to show that what he was teaching was no new thing, but simply the ancient, apostolic faith from which the pope himself had rejected. (continued)

Martin Rizley - #48228

January 19th 2011

You call me anti-Catholic, which is of course, a pejorative expression.  If you simply mean that I oppose the pretentioYou call me anti-Catholic, which is of course, a pejorative expression.  If you simply mean that I oppose the pretentious claim of the pope to be the head of the universal church, then I must say, “Guilty as charged.”  But what Protestant accepts that claim?  I am no post-modernist when it comes to truth.  I do not believe that A equals B and that A does not equal B at the same time and in the same relationship.  The pope makes certain claims about himself that are either true or false.  If the claims are true, and he is the head of the church that he claimms to be, then I am being arrogant and proud to reject those claims.  On the other hand, if the pope’s claims are false, then he is being arrogant and proud to make them and is leading a lot of people astray in the process.  There can be no middle ground here.  What if I claimed to be the head of the universal church and claimed that Reformed Baptist tradition is an infallible, supplemental source of divine revelation alongside Scripture which all the faithful are bound to accept because I say so (continued)

Martin Rizley - #48230

January 19th 2011

they may not judge those traditions by some higher authority?  What would you say to that?  Do you see why there must be some ‘highest authority’ which acts as the final arbiter of truth claims made by any church or by any church leader?  Sola Scriputra says that while tradition—in the form of creeds, confessions, commentaries, etc.—may be helpful in clarifying the meaning of the Scriptures, since godly people have been reflecting and meditating on the meaning of the Sciptures for centuries, tradition is always subject to judgment by some higher, overruling authority which judges the value of that tradition and the faithfulness and teaching of every church leader— and that higher, overruling authoirty is the Scripture itself.  What cannot be demonstrated from the Scriptures to be true cannot be imposed on the conscience as divinely authoritative.

Rich - #48257

January 19th 2011


Your replies seem to be focusing on the Pope and the Catholic Church.  But my remarks about “the Church” all along have never been narrowly limited to the current Catholic Church.  I have written of “Church” to mean the authoritative tradition of Christians, and have not taken sides regarding which currently existing body, if any, is deserving of that name.  So my remarks could be applied to the Anglican Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church, etc.  My point all along has been that no Christian body has survived or can survive without the dual authority of Scripture and Tradition, and that this is true even of those Churches which loudly proclaim that they give authority only to Scripture.  In such Churches, tradition still has authoritative force, but its operations are tacit and unobserved by their own members, who entertain the ahistorical delusion that all that they believe and do comes from “Scripture alone.”


Rich - #48263

January 19th 2011

Martin (continued):

I don’t like the word “infallible” in any context, but the Catholic teaching of infallibility is much broader than simply the view that the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals (a doctrine not proclaimed until the first Vatican council).  There is certainly a case to be made that Christianity requires that the Church, taken as a whole, must be in some respects infallible.  I recommend that you take a break from your usual evangelical sources and read some Catholic views on the subject, starting with the introductory article posted here:


I’m not endorsing the article overall, or any particular argument, but I don’t think the position taken is to be sneered at, and copious documentation is provided from Scripture and the Fathers.  (Some of the Scriptural arguments strike me as a bit weak, but not any weaker than some of the Scriptural arguments you have made for Protestant doctrines.)

Rich - #48265

January 19th 2011

Martin (continued):

Certainly if the Church—any Church, not just the Roman—is not infallible *at least* in its judgment concerning the canon, it will mislead its people, either by offering them false Scriptures, or by failing to provide them with a complete set of the true ones.  On that point the Church’s judgment must be as certain as the truth of the Scriptures themselves.  If nowhere else, you must grant the Church “infallibility” there.  “Sola Scriptura” is a toothless tiger unless the boundaries of “Scriptura” are *guaranteed*; and only the Church as a body has the authority to offer such a guarantee.  No individual layman, minister, priest, or theologian can do so.


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