Textual Authority Within The Faith

Nov 2015
Greetings friends, I'm sorry if I'm opening a huge can of worms here which was already partially discussed in a previous thread asking the authority of the UHJ and the Guardian.

During a gathering last night in celebration of the Declaration of the Bab, someone had mentioned that the Universal House of Justice is the infallible word of God on Earth... Which I would agree with, but to an extent. This got me thinking. In my mind, textual authority in the faith is as follows:

The writings of the Bab and Baha'u'llah are the most authoritative texts we have, as they are revealed by God.

Then, either slightly lesser or on par with them, are the interpretations of Abdu'l-Baha, along with his plans.

On par with or possibly below that would be the interpretations of the Guardian.

Below this would be the letters regarding interpretation written on behalf of the Guardian as opposed to directly written by him.

And still being infallible though at the 'last rung' so to speak would be the plans of the Universal House of Justice.

Then, being things that generally are not infallible, but still have validity, would be the spiritual concepts expounded by Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian which are not found in the writings of Baha'u'llah, which for example I would say is saying who was and was not a prophet in the past if they were not mentioned by Baha'u'llah, among other things.

And in this category as well would be the advice given by the UHJ to individuals.

I have been trying to wrap my head around this all day and this is the conclusion I have thus far. Essentially I'm asking two things:

Are concepts expounded upon by the Master and the Guardian which are not found in the scriptures considered infallible too?
And is the advice given by the UHJ fallible or infallible?

I'm sorry, I know this is a huge can of worms but after looking into some topics I've had my worldview really rocked and I'm having a bit of a crisis. I know I believe in Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the UHJ but there are some ideas present that I just can't wrap my head around quite yet.
Aug 2010
New Zealand mainly
Whoever said that " the Universal House of Justice is the infallible word of God on Earth" was not quoting the House of Justice on this. Sometimes people say more than they know.

The Universal House of Justice says its own infallibility is limited - nothing it says is an authoritative interpretation of the teachings, and its ruling depend on the information available to it:

"It must always be remembered that authoritative interpretation of the Teachings was, after 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the exclusive right of the Guardian, and fell within the 'sacred and prescribed domain' of the Guardianship, and therefore the Universal House of Justice cannot and will not infringe upon that domain. The exclusive sphere of the Universal House of Justice is to 'pronounce upon and deliver the final judgment on such laws and ordinances as Bahá'u'lláh has not expressly revealed'. Apart from this fundamental difference in the functions of the twin pillars of the Order of Bahá'u'lláh, insofar as the other duties of the Head of the Faith are concerned, the Universal House of Justice shares with the Guardian the responsibility for the application of the Revealed Word, the protection of the Faith, as well as the duty 'to insure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of our Faith, to safeguard the unity of its followers, and to maintain the integrity and flexibility of its Teachings.' However, the Universal House of Justice is not omniscient; like the Guardian, it wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge."
(The Universal House of Justice, 1977 Aug 22, Clarification on Infallibility)
And the Guardian's infallibility was also limited, to a sphere, and by the information available. The House writes;

...Letters written on behalf of the Guardian by his secretary to individuals who asked similar questions clearly define the sphere of the Guardian's infallibility. We quote from two of these, one written in 1944, and the second in 1956.

"The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretations of the Teachings; he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc."
"The Guardian's infallibility covers interpretation of the revealed word, and its application. Likewise any instructions he may issue having to do with the pro- tection of the Faith, or its well-being must be closely obeyed, as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith. He is assured the guidance of both Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb, as the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly reveals."
Now, in the matter of the accuracy of historical fact, Shoghi Effendi had to rely on available information. ...
(The Universal House of Justice, 1974 Jul 25, Infallibility of the Guardian)
However working out the scope of the infallibility of the Guardian and the House of Justice is only part of the picture. What is the meaning of infallibility?

Wherever Baha'u'llah refers to infallibility, it is associated with the authority to change what would otherwise be sacrosanct. The example Baha'u'llah gives to explain what infallibility means is the change of the laws of pilgrimmage, fasting and prayer (from those of the Torah to the Islamic ones);

"... call to mind the time when Muhammad appeared. He said, and His
word is the truth: 'Pilgrimage to the House is a service due to
God.' And likewise are the daily prayer, fasting, and the laws which shone
forth above the horizon of the Book of God, the Lord of the World and the
true Educator of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. It is incumbent
upon everyone to obey Him in whatsoever God hath ordained; ... Were He to
pronounce right to be wrong or denial to be belief, He speaketh the truth
as bidden by God. This is a station **wherein sins or trespasses neither
exist nor are mentioned.** "
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 108)
And then he highlights the difference between that authority, and other religious authorities:

"It devolved upon those invested with authority after Him to observe
whatever had been prescribed unto them in the Book. Unto no one is given
the right to deviate from the laws and ordinances of God. Whoso deviateth
therefrom is reckoned with the trespassers in the Book of God, the Lord of
the Mighty Throne."
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 108)
The House of Justice too has a certain authority, in which it must be obeyed, and in which it is entitled to change what previous Houses of Justice have ruled. If I say, "the ruling of the HoJ is not appropriate, it is hereby abolished, we are going to do so-and-so" that is a sin, and I would be rightly accused of wrong-doing. When the HoJ says exactly the same thing, it is not a sin and no-one may object, "but this is the ruling of the HoJ, and the long practice of our community."

The lesser infallibility is thus analogous to the most great infallibility, in that it is an authority to change, and a protection from the accusation of wrong-doing, but the difference is crucial: the House of Justice must observe whatever is revealed in the Book, the Manifestation writes the Book.

I don't think the doctrine itself is hard to understand. The problem is first eliminating false associations, for example with the engineer's "infallible", the Catholic's "infallible", the Protestant's "innerrant" (Bible) and so on. They all steer us in the wrong direction for
understanding the Bahai doctrine of infallibility