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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Infallibility and amputation in the Torah

This was posted to the Bahai-library forum on 22 March 2010

Before you are in a position to say that X is or is not infallible,
or has shown himself to be fallible in case Y, you need to have a
definition of “infallible.” It should be drawn from the Bahai
Writings, not something borrowed from Catholicism or Islam, or the
Protestant doctrine of biblical innerrancy, or a dictionary or common-
sense definition.

Does infallibility in the Bahai writings mean “never making a
mistake?” If it does, there are obvious problems. But that just
indicates that the definition is untenable.

For more on the meanings of infallibility try:

Of course you do not need to wade through this lot to understand
infallibility. The point of reading different people’s points of view is
that it alerts you to your own presuppositions, which you can then

> RobertD wrote:
> ‘Abdu’l-Baha … once said that under the Law of Moses the hand of
> a thief could be cut off,

The talk of 8 November 1912 , reported in Promulgation 402 and Foundations
of World Unity 92 and Star of the West 6:1, p3, cannot be authenticated
because no Persian notes approved by the Master are available. They might
come to light, but without them, this talk is just a pilgrim’s note.
Abdu’l-Baha spoke, an interpreter passed on what he understood of that,
Joseph Hannan wrote down what he could of what the interpreter said, and
then one or more editors worked it up to continuous text. The Star of the
West version, which is the oldest available, says :

In the holy Bible there are certain commandments which, according to those bygone times, constituted the very spirit of the age the very light of that period. For example, according to the law of the Torah, if a man committed theft to the extent of a dollar they cut off his hand; but now is it possible to cut a man’s hand off for a theft of a dollar?” – SW, Vol. 6, p. 4.

It’s easy to see that the interpreter has inserted a familiar term
“dollar” for whatever term Abdu’l-Baha would have used. It is equally
possible that “holy bible” is the interpreter’s familiar term for
“scripture” or “books of God” or some such; and that “Torah” is what the
interpreter thinks Abdu’l-baha means (since he is speaking in a synagogue)
by the term shariah (religious law).

Shoghi Effendi writes that we should :

… regard such statements as merely personal impressions of the sayings of their Master, and to quote and consider as authentic only such
translations as are based upon the authenticated text of His recorded utterances in the original tongue. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 4😉

Robert D Wrote:
> Many Baha’is have told me: “Shoghi Effendi was infallible
> and so were his secretaries”. I disagree. There is a difference between
“authoritative” and “infallible”.

The distinction between Shoghi Effendi’s authority as head of the Faith
and his authority as authorised interpreter of the writings (“He is the
Interpreter of the Word of God” – The Will and Testament, p. 11) is
important, and so is the distinction between what Shoghi Effendi writes
himself and what his secretaries write in their own words – but they are
two different distinctions. On the letters written on behalf of Shoghi
Effendi, and some of the reasons why we should differentiate them from his
own words, see On the distinction
between Shoghi Effendi’s authorities as head of the faith and as
interpreter of the Teachings, see

I have not found a statement from Shoghi Effendi or Abdu’l-Baha that says,
in English, the Guardian is infallible. There is one letter from a
secretary ( that assumes
it. However the Will and Testament says that “... the Guardian of the
Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice … are both …
under the shelter and unerring guidance (`ismat) of the Exalted One.

(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 11)

`ismat is the word used in Shiah Islam for the infallibility of the
Imams, and `ismat-e `azami is the phrase that Shoghi Effendi
translates as “the supreme and infallible authority” (of the
Manifestation) in Gleanings LXXV; `ismat-e kabri is the term Shoghi
Effendi translates as “most great infallibility” in God Passes By p
214. So the Will and Testament promises the same “unerring guidance” to
the UHJ and to the Guardian, and this “unerring guidance” is an
alternative translation for the term infallibility.

However – `ismat is also the word that Shoghi Effendi translates as
“purity” in the Iqan page 216 (the Source of Purity), as “immaculate
souls” in Iqan page 35; as “inviolable” treasuries in Iqan page 167, and
“inviolability” in Iqan page 90; as “purity” in the Advent of Divine
Justice page 32 (twice). There is not a simple one-to-one mapping between
the term `ismat in Persian and infallibility in English. `ismat has a
cloud of meanings, just as infallible means something different in the
contexts of medicine or engineering, protestant theology, Catholic
theology and so on.

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