Clarifying Our Discussion

by Greg Tidwell

“Are all doctrinal errors fatal?” my friend asks. It seems to be a straightforward question. Yet, within the wording of this question is a paralogism, guaranteed to get us off track if we don’t weed it out early in our discussion. It is found in the simple word “all.”

The dangers of over generalization are seen in one of the classic paradoxes of all time. Epimenides, a native of Cnossus, the capital of Crete, is quoted as saying, “All Cretans are liars.” So here we have a Cretan saying that all Cretans are liars. Since Epimenides is a liar, all Cretans must be truthful…and round we go. (The apostle Paul was in on the joke, and referenced this quote in his letter to Titus.)

The word “all,” without qualification, leads into the pedantic fallacy of the liar’s paradox, and the word “all,” without qualification leads us into doctrinal fallacy as well.

When we say, “all Cretans are liars,” we do not mean that all Cretans lie all of the time. Reality is more nuanced than our simple statement indicates.

And so it is with the question, “are all doctrinal errors fatal?”

Just as all Cretans have the potential to be liars but are not always lying, so all doctrinal error has the potential to condemn but does not always do so.

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12 Comments on “Clarifying Our Discussion”


  1. Are you telling us that doctrine is not the primary determining factor in salvation? If not doctrine, then what?


  2. “All doctrinal error has the potential to condemn but does not always do so.”

    I can agree with that if I understand its meaning correctly. So, some doctrinal error condemns and some do not. But all doctrinal error has the potential. So, what makes the difference? Is it something other than “doctrine” itself…such as motive, heart, etc…that makes the difference? Or, are there some “doctrines” that automatically condemn?

    Given your statement and Phil’s, I think many of us can agree on this: doctrinal error potentially leads to condemnation but not all doctrinal error actually condemns.

    Would that be a statement upon which all four major participants would agree? If so, then it seems to me that it would be profitable to explore what lies underneath that shared perspective. Which condemn, which do not? Why do they condemn, why do they not? Is it really something other than the doctrine itself that condemns or is it the doctrine itself?

    Shalom, John Mark

  3. Terrell Lee Says:

    So when does “doctrinal error” condemn? How do we determine that? This post is on the right track if it takes one more step, the one John Mark requests–an answer to his question:
    “So, some doctrinal error condemns and some
    do not. But all doctrinal error has the
    potential. So, what makes the difference?”

  4. Randy Says:

    Obviously, disagreements over the Holy Spirit residing in the believer are not fatal doctrines ( per Phils reply ), but IM seems to be in many conservative churches. I agree with JMH … So when does “doctrinal error” condemn? How do we determine that? We allow some disagreements, while condemning others.

    To me, the Holy Spirit residing in the believer is a “bigger doctrine” than that of IM. But, as Phil confessed, we allow this disagreement. And the reasoning he sited, was because IM is disruptive and divisive, while the Holy Spirit disagreement is not….is this how we decide??? And would not this be matter of opinion?


  5. It was noteworthy, that Phil’s acknowledgement on the controversy over IM is more disruptive than that over the Spirit, because it observably changes what we do each week.

    But also noteworthy is that Phil chose to say that IM is divisive.

    Actually, it seems most often that people who oppose IM are divisive, because most in the CoC who have no problem with IM have tolerated those who oppose it for years.

    Am I being divisive by arguing that the Text does not define IM as doctrinal error and is therefore an acceptable form of worship?

    I think not, it is those who refuse to fellowship me, or seek to suppress my freedom to express myself in worship that are being divisive.

    To John Mark’s point — it is the heart which divides and separates us either from each other or from God. Why else would Jesus command to love each other the way he loved us.

  6. Richard May Says:

    I’m following you here, John Mark. Is the question less about the issue and more about the motive. Does God consider the heart behind the belief and practice? If “not all doctrinal error condemns” is that because of the nature of the error or the heart of the sinner.

  7. Randy Says:

    I think you make a valid point, Richard. I think we all fall prey to this way of thinking. I know I have looked at various debates and weighed them by strength of the argument.

  8. Bob Brandon Says:

    When does “doctrinal error” condemn in the NT? What really mattered then?

  9. Mark Says:

    I would agree with the “all” problem in defining terms. I would also say to “error” semantically has challenges too.


  10. […] are a few realizations I have come to as a result of reading the comments on […]

  11. ED Boggess Says:

    All food is given for man’s good, Mk 7. Some deny this, doctrine: veggies only, but do so to the Lord, Rom 14. Others teach against some foods, doctrines of demons, and do so against the Lord, 1 Tim 4. Why the difference? Apparently the difference involved the heart. The Romans were simply practicing to the level of their maturity. But the 1 Tim 4 folks were “speaking lies in hypocrisy”. Of course, this does not solve the practical application because we cannot see the heart, but “the Lord knows those who are His.”

  12. Richard May Says:

    I appreciate that 1 Tim 4 and Rom 14 comparison, Ed. In that same vein, I compare Paul’s instruction to the Colossians “Don’t let anyone judge you in regard to what you eat…” to the instruction to the Romans “don’t judge…, but accept”. Thanks.


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