Sunday, December 28, 2008


I am currently looking through questions surrounding Melito's list. Some scholars such as Dr. McDonald and De Wette believe he includes the Wisdom of Solomon, while others such as Sundberg and Beckwith reject this idea. My opinion on the matter is still in process (expect an upcoming post) and will be greatly shaped by the information provided by Dr. Lee and Dr. Finley along with whatever else I can collect on my own. It is an interesting topic and if anyone has anything that might aid in the matter the contribution would be much appreciated.

Some of the questions being posed:

Dr. Lee (Notable Expert on Canon)

1) Is the translation: “the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon and his Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job…” that apparent? Only judging from the Greek, is Beckwith and Bruce’s translation reasonably plausible?
2) Granted that the Wisdom of Solomon was common in early Christianity, but isn’t Melito’s list coming from the Jews? Did the Jews in the area he got his list from regard the Wisdom of Solomon as Scripture?
3)I asked my teacher Dr. Finley about Melito’s list and he suggested that it might not be a minority view (or that the subject itself is more controversial). He cites... My question: How big is the disagreement? What other scholars take your view (so far I’ve got De Wette and Lake) and are there others that would side with Beckwith and the rest?

Dr. Finley (
Professor and Chair, Old Testament & Semitics)
1) also included that it conforms more closely to Codex B of the LXX and is closer in its titles of books. My question: If it is conforming more closely to LXX titles of books wouldn't the Wisdom of Solomon's addition have a better chance? I ask this because Dr. Lee appeals to the citing of Wisdom along with Proverbs in Vaticanus, Sinaticus and Alexandrinus. How do the titles applied to these books correspond with the title in Melito's list?
2)The ref in Eccl. Hist there something in the Greek that might tip us off that it is not being used as a title but rather something more descriptive?

(Greek Professor)
1) According to the Greek, which way would you translate it? What reasons do you see against and in support of the two translations? With the presence of the other sources, how would you translate it?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Note To The Reader

For anyone who still checks here regularly, I wanted to let you know that the three authors here at By Whose Authority? are all graduate students, and as such we're insanely busy with school work at the moment. I am currently working on several posts that I hope will be ready in the near future, but school must always take priority.

So, our posting will likely continue to be sporadic for the next few weeks, but don't lose heart! We'll be back to normal in no time!

Thank you all for your patience.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Irenaeus (130-200) AD (Cont)

What is the Ground and Pillar of our faith?

"We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at least a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed 'perfect knowledge,' as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles..." Shortly after this, Irenaeus mentions the writings handed down by the apostles and work of Paul.
-ANF, Vol.I, Against Heresies, 3.1.1

What is the Tradition that binds and unifies the Church?

"The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of our beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father 'to gather all things in one,' and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, 'every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess' to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send 'spiritual wickednesses,' and the angels who tansgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same."
-ANF, Vol. I, Against Heresies 1.10.1-2.

What if...

"For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?...Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, and that no lie is in Him.
-ANF, Vol. I, Against Heresies 3.4.1; 3.5.1

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Recommended reading list:

1) all primary sources dealt with
2) Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Vol.I David T. King
3) Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Vol.III David T. King and William Webster
4) The Shape of Sola Scriptura Keith A. Mathison
5) Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church D.H. Williams
6) Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes John Meyendorff

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Infallible Interpreter

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

- 1 John 2:26-27
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you

- Ephesians 1:15-18
It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me

- John 6:45*

Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians all agree that the Bible is infallible. We also agree that an infallible interpreter is needed in order to truly understand what the Bible teaches. But who is that infallible interpreter?

Orthodox and Catholics say that the infallible interpreter is the church, and that may well be true. But these Scripture passages at least give credence to the Protestant response that the infallible interpreter is the Holy Spirit Himself. And moreover, each of these verses seems to suggest that the Holy Spirit works in such a way as to illuminate the individual believer in a direct manner, and not necessarily through a magesterium or councils.

* All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Restricted Canon in the East?

“There are many lists of canonical Old Testament books from various church fathers and councils. The lists from the Eastern churches tend to support a restricted canon very much like that of the Hebrew tradition. In several cases (Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Epiphanius) Baruch and the Letter to Jeremiah are included as parts of Jeremiah-Lamentations, with no other apocrypha mentioned.”

--Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.

More information:
*Also take a look at Melito, Gregory, Amphilochius and note the different lists for Epiphanius
*Origen only includes the "Letter of Jeremiah"
*See previous posts for a brief defense of the Hebrew canon (2/29/08)

* The Canon Debate: The Old Testament Apocrypha in the Early Church and Today Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. (Ch.12 p.199).
* The Canon Debate Appendix by Lee McDonald p.585-586.
*The Canon of Scripture F.F. Bruce p.74-75.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Irenaeus (130-200) AD

This quote and possibly others to follow are meant as springboards for discussion. Enjoy~

"Having therefore the truth itself as our rule and the testimony concerning God set clearly before us,
we ought not, by running after numerous and diverse answers to questions, to cast away the firm and true knowledge of God...If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend our knowledge, so that even these we must leave to God."

--ANF, Vol.I, Against Heresies, 2.28.1-2 [emphasis mine]

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Protestant Response to Michael Garten’s “Arguments for the Reliability of the Church”

The Purpose of this post is to respond to a second post by Michael Garten at the Eastern Orthodox blog Well of Questions. This second post by Michael gives additional arguments for church infallibility. These are five smaller arguments that Michael has given and I will respond to each of them.

Michael Writes:

“1) The principle of testimony says that we should believe someone’s testimony about some event unless we have good reason to doubt the reliability of that person’s testimony. The fact of a person’s fallibility should not detract from thinking that they can be a reliable reporter about some event. When an early Christian after the death of the apostles claimed “I believe x because it was delivered to me by the apostles or someone who received their teaching from the apostles” they are a reporter. Their testimony should be considered reliable unless we have reason to believe otherwise.”

Response: I agree with the principles of this argument that we are warranted in thinking that a testimony is reliable until we have a defeater or a reason to doubt it. It’s hard to see that this is an argument for infallibility. The Protestant would need to see the citation from an early Christian witness and evaluate it on a case by case basis. Furthermore, if the Protestant saw an early church witness claim in writing that the church is infallible in the sense that it is a source of continuing revelation or a divinely inspired interpretation of revelation then the Protestant who believes the Bible teaches that divine revelation doesn’t continue after the completion of the canon would have a good reason to doubt this early church witness. Thus, it seems unclear if even the early post-canonical church did teach such infallibility and that we should trust an early witness that contradicts a teaching in the earliest church witness; Holy Scripture (Ephs. 2:20; 1 Cor. 13).

Michael Writes:

“2) Ancient Greek-speaking Christians’ interpretive skills should probably be taken into account as a reason for favoring the interpretations of early Christians. This isn’t an appeal to the intrinsic authority of Church offices or something; this is just saying “scholars who speak a language or a close derivative thereof, and are not as distantly separated in time, should be given the benefit of the doubt in how they understand a word/idea/sentence/book of that language”. Early Christian scholars who are culturally and linguistically connected to the apostles should be considered very weighty sources of information for how we interpret things. So the early Church’s scholars, at least, should be considered reliable in their biblical interpretations.”

Response: This is a good point, but I don’t see much inferential connection to church infallibility. However, it’s not clear that all people who have a good grasp of Greek should be considered as a beacon of doctrinal truth. Take Origen for example, he knew Greek very well, but we would not consider his interpretations as a part of main stream biblical teaching. Thus, this is all to say that we should look at the Ancient Greek speaking Christian’s remarks on the Greek as weighty and not so much there theology which could or could not be mistaken. Yet, we should take into consideration the theology they support by their linguistical points in the original Greek language. But this of course has nothing to do with church infallibility and it’s hard to see an argument for church infallibility from this standpoint alone (unless Michael supplies additional premises).

Michael Writes:

“3) The principle of early attestation states that we should tend to trust the testimony about some event the closer in time the testimony is to the event reported. Applying this to the teachings of the Church throughout, for instance, the first 3 centuries yields the conclusion that we should consider the Church of the first 3 centuries reliable in what it specifically taught. It is close to the events where the source (apostles and Christ) taught what it had to say, so its more likely to accurately report the source’s information (apostolic and Christian teaching).”

Response: This is a good point that any reasonable person could agree with. However, this argument and many others in this post fail to take into consideration the fact that many of the early teachings either wholly do not include the central parts of the gospel (they are ignorant of them) or they actually contradict the teaching of scripture. This is what many Protestants have claimed and thus if a claim in the early church father appears that go against the Bible (confuses justification and sanctification and a continuation church infallibility) then we would have good reason then to not accept it as authentic apostolic teaching. In the same way, we wouldn’t consider early corruptions of Gnosticism as authentic apostolic biblical teaching. The Protestant can just say that there were corruptions in the church early on and that there was and always will be in the covenant of grace made up of unbelievers and believers. It seems like then these arguments assume church infallibility to be biblical in the first place, which is something that Michael is far from proving in these arguments.

Michael Writes:

“4) Lets assume that the Church considers holy tradition to be a deposit of divinely-revealed truths. If this tradition is contained in oral practices (recitation of creeds, bishops teaching catechumens and clergy, etc.) then we have to ask the following question: is there any reason to think these oral practices would be reliable in preserving the content of the tradition? The answer is yes. The amount of care that is spent to preserve information is directly proportional to the importance of preserving the information. If you believe that you have received God’s words directly or intermediately, you will want to go to great lengths to preserve the content of that message. Given that the early Christians seemed to understand their tradition (including stuff not explicitly contained in the New Testament) as from God, there is a significant prior probability that they would not gratuitously warp the content of their tradition.”

Response: Most of these arguments miss similar types of considerations that Protestants consistently take into account. We don’t accept the Gnostic gospel of Thomas do we? Why not? Because it’s unbiblical and I am sure that most reasonable Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants could agree on that (it also doesn't seem to be self-attesting via Holy Spirits reliable belief production). We don’t trust this early testimony because it doesn’t fit in with what the first century prophets and apostles taught and wrote. Obviously if the Gnostic corruption is possible then it is certainly possible that there were some doctrinal corruption in some early thinkers that were a part of the visible church. Secondly, it’s not even clear if the early church taught the church infallibility that you believe in and if they did the Protestants would argue that such statements contradict what earlier New Testament prophets wrote. Most of the argument given in this post by you could be responded in a very similar fashion (as I have done above).

Michael Writes:

“5) One might construe passages such as “the Church [is] the pillar and ground of truth” (2 Tim 3:15) and “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13) as indicating that there is some kind of divine guidance behind the belief-forming processes of the Church. This divine guidance could be construed in terms of a tendency of the Church to get its beliefs correct, or infallible authority as well. However, there are other possible interpretations of these passages. Whether or not they are more plausible than saying that these passages indicate the reliability (or infallibility) of the Church is another question.”

Response: Protestant happen to think that the church was infallible during this period (even my favorite theologian James White), but that after the prophets and apostles died and when all the completion of canon came this type of divine infallible revelatory function ceased (1 Cor. 13; Ephs. 2:20).

Concluding Thoughts:

Michael has given some interesting arguments in his post, but the fundamental problem with these arguments is that it assumes the Eastern position and fails to take into account basic Protestant reasons for not accepting church authority.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do Orthodox And Catholics Have Infallible Certainty About The Canon?

For the past several months I have been attempting to articulate a point to my Orthodox and Catholic interlocutors, but with little success. Thanks to James White, I think I finally know what I've been trying to say.

One argument against Protestants I've heard used a lot recently is that without an infallible list of books that belong in the canon (an infallible table of contents, if you will), we are left without absolute certainty that we actually have the right books. This lack of certainty seems to jeopardize any attempt at turning around and claiming this fallibly collected list of books to be an infallible and binding authority. But does the Orthodox or Catholic have it any better?

As White points out, each individual Orthodox or Catholic must choose, by his own fallible reasoning faculties, to accept that the church is infallible. But this decision itself is necessarily fallible. And a fallible decision cannot then produce infallible certainty.

This applies not only to the church's proclamation of the canon, but to the very claim of church infallibility itself. Can the Orthodox or Catholic be absolutely certain that the church is infallible? Not at all, for once again their belief in church infallibility is itself a fallible belief.

If the Protestant lacks assurance in his Bible, the Orthodox and Catholic must likewise lack assurance not only in the Bible, but also in the church that produced it. Unless, of course, we accept that our own fallible understanding of God's infallible Word is the best we can hope for in this life, as we look forward to that day when we shall at last know fully.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Protestant Response to Michael Garten's "From Reliability to Infallibility"

The clever Eastern Orthodox MG, at the blog Well of Questions, has presented a interesting argument for church infallibility (which can be found here). The goal of this post is to respond to the defeaters to the Protestant position and to show that the Protestant is still rationally entitled to hold to Sola Scriptura.

Michael writes:

"Most Protestants don’t want to say awful things about the Church. They don’t want to say that the Church became apostate for over a thousand years. They don’t want to say that the Church is just a mere human institution. There is something special about it. The beliefs of its members aren’t just normally-arrived-at human beliefs. There is divine guidance of some kind."

Response: The problem is that a Protestant need not have a problem with saying that the church had a misconception or ignorance of some of the essential biblical doctrines handed down by the prophets and the apostles. The only thing that they ought to categorically deny is that everybody in the Catholic and Eastern church before the Reformation was going straight to hell. Thus, as Calvin and many of the Reformers thought there were always believers in the false external institution of the Catholic and Eastern church, as well as unbelievers. I would say that everything has divine guidance because I am a determinist, but I would not say the church is to be the true external church as prescribed by the New Testament because it contradicts the New Testament.

Michael Writes:

"But in order to not cross the line over to a Catholic ecclesiology, [1] a Protestant must deny the infallibility of the Church. An essential doctrine of Protestantism is Sola Scriptura. This view can be defined as the position about authority and Christian teaching that holds that there are no divine authorities about Christian teaching distinct from the content of the Old and New Testaments. This rules out (a) oral or written tradition distinct from the Scriptures as a source of infallible divine authority and (b) decisions by the Church as a source of infallible divine authority."

Response: Protestants reject that the church today is a source for continuing or new infallible *in being* divine revelation. This is what Protestants mean by church authority. Also we reject the fact that the church can make certain pronouncements true today. Rather, the Protestant view of the church is that the church recognizes certain things that God has already made true either through scripture or right reason (these are the two ways we know what things he has made true). This is what Protestants mean by church authority. I would also take issue with MG's view on Sola Scriptura. I would hold to Sola Scriptura as an epistemological principle and not as a ontological one per se. There could be other traditions from Paul and Peter that we do not know about or we lack rational support for. If MG were to give me an infallible divine revealed tradition from a first century prophet or apostle in a church father and it was self-attesting and lacked historical defeaters then I would take that as divine revelation. However, I have never seen an eastern or western theologian do that with the church fathers so I am warranted in believing that the contents of scripture are inspired alone. Of course it possible that I missed some other divine revelation, but I don't think this is likely. I believe that what we have in scripture is sufficient for faith and practice, but I don't think it's all of the revealed truths of God. Thus, principle (a) could be true, but I am going to need self-attesting grounds for it and a historical tracing to one of the first century prophets and apostles. And lastly, principle (b) was true but because of verses in 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephs 2:20 I think that that type of authority has ceased.

Michael writes:

"How does a Protestant deny the infallibility of the Church but still hold onto the idea that being in the Church tends to make you have the correct beliefs about the content of Christian teaching? The most plausible way to say this is that the Church’s judgments and the collective beliefs of all Christians are reliable but not infallible. To distinguish these two concepts, consider the statement “you should believe this (proposition) because we tend to be right”. The appeal being made is not to some kind of authority inherent in the group that is making the statement that garuntees the correctness of the group’s judgment. Rather, the appeal is to probability. It is an appeal to the duty that rational beings have to pursue reliable methods of belief-forming. This group is claiming to be accurate or reliable. Contrast this appeal with the command “you should believe this (proposition) because we say you should.” Here, the appeal is to the inherent authority of the group as a source of normativity. The duty to believe comes from the authority of the group, not the fact that a rational agent should adopt reliable methods for truth-seeking. This group is claiming to be authoritative."

Response: Obviously, since I reject this need from the outset, this argument wouldn't be entirely effective on me. But let's just take a Protestant who wants to hold to the church having beliefs that are most likely true. Now this Protestant could have a principle that says that they should trust the church for doctrine (since it is mostly true) unless they have a biblical/philosophical defeater for that particular church doctrine. So the church would have in this view an "innocent until proven guilty" epistemic status. Now my personal view of tradition in theology is this: with all things being equal with reason/philosophy and scripture (biblical and systematic theology), if one had to choose between two interpretations in the Bible (one interpretation being untraditional and the other being traditional) one should choose the traditional reading. This is my view of tradition. But I happen to think that if there were any philosophical or biblical reason that would put this tradition into question then of course it would seem that those two things (philosophy/theology or reason and the Bible) would have a trump card over tradition (they have a higher epistemic priority). On all these scores these altered views I have given of church tradition and scripture escape the arguments that MG will give in his next quotes.

Michael writes:

"A person, group, or method, can be reliable without being authoritative. So it is possible for something to be reliable but not infallible. Perhaps a Protestant could maintain that the Church is like this: it tends to get stuff right, but just isn’t authoritative. We should accept what it says, because it tends to get stuff right. It is not mere coincidence that makes the Church tend to get things right; it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But we are not obligated by divine authority to do or think as the Church says, because the judgment of its members is no more authoritative than anyone else’s judgment."

Response: I would tend to agree with this quote, mostly. However, there is one thing I would like to add: the reason why the church (Catholic and EO) tends to get things right is because they do ascribe some authority to the Bible and there are people in these corrupt external churches that are true believers. So perhaps that might be the way in which the Holy Spirit helps these institutions: by believers and the Holy Scripture.

Michael writes:

"A major problem with this view is that if the Church has believed itself to be infallible, and it tends to get its beliefs right, then it is probable that it got its belief about its infallibility right. The ancient view of the Church held by Christians for over a millennium was that the Church had teaching authority, the power to forgive sins, the power to excommunicate, etc. This was held universally by Christians for the majority of Christian history. It was very important to everything they did and believed. The nature of the Church is the kind of thing we would expect a reliable Church to get right. If Christians were wrong about something of such overwhelming, earth-shattering importance for over a thousand years, then claiming that the Church is reliable in the face of this huge error is implausible at best."

Response: The principles I laid out earlier avoid this conclusion well. If one thought that the earliest prophets and apostles reject this view of church authority (according to the Bible) then they would have a good reason for not accepting it (a defeater for it). Furthermore, if one thinks that there are philosophical reasons to doubt church authority then this would be another defeater for it. Thus, either one of these would be a sufficient defeater. And the doctrine of church authority loses its innocent until proven guilty epistemic status. I happen to think both are true, that there are both philosophical (my ockham's razor argument) and theological defeaters (1 Cor. 13 and Eph. 2:20) for church authority. I think these reasonable modified Protestant views of Eastern and Western views of church authority escape MG's argument. But I would grant it true that if someone held to the Protestant position earlier described then this argument would be effective. But I don't know any Protestant that is fully clothed and in his right mind who would accept such a vulnerable view of the church without any qualification.

Michael writes:

"Consequently, if one accepts the reliability of the Church, then one should accept the infallibility of the Church. If you think the Church tended to get things right–especially the important things–then you should probably think that it probably got its self-understanding as an infallible, divinely-authoritative institution right. If you are committed to the fallibility of the Church, then it seems one should give up claims to its reliability as well. A more consistent Protestant position that denies that the Church’s belief-forming processes tend to be reliable would be preferable to a claim that implies that there is a high probability that the Church is infallible."

Response: I think that if someone accepts my qualified views of church reliability then they do not fall prey to MG's brilliant argument. However, I agree that this post is a great argument against a weak and ignorant Protestant position, but I think the more thought out version(s) escape it easily. Thus this argument is an argument against one view of Protestantism that is ignorant for making too much of an unqualified statement, but it is hardly a good argument against Protestantism as a whole. I will conclude by saying that one can thankfully reject church authority and be perfectly reasonable in holding to Protestantism.


A Return to Proper basicality and Sola Scriptura

This post is a continuation of my first post on this blog, which can be found here.

Perry Robinson has attacked my use of Alvin Plantinga's epistemology to warrant the Biblical canon as properly basic.

Perry Writes:

"As an aside, the appeal to proper basicality isn’t going to help you. First, why can’t someone just as easily hold that the Great Pumpkin is properly basic? Why can’t David simply retort that his Catholicism is properly basic? How does a belief being properly basic imply that it is true or amount to a reason for thinking that it is? And can one take a belief to be properly basic and it turn out that it is not in fact so for them? If so, what work concerning warrant has proper basicality done for us? None."

The purpose of this post is to respond to all of these objections and to defend my previous post that Protestantism is more rational than Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Response to Objection 1:First, why can’t someone just as easily hold that the Great Pumpkin is properly basic?

If the great pumpkin was similar to the story of Santa or the tooth fairy then certainly young children who believed their parents and were functioning properly (and fulfilled the other necessary conditions I laid out) would be warranted. But of course as they aged they would see with obvious defeaters that such a belief is entirely unwarranted. Most people in our culture find out that Santa doesn't actually exists because they have no reason to believe it and they have a massive defeater, namely, that it is tradition in our culture to pretend with our children that a overweight man gives us Christmas present if we are good. Once the adult who is functioning properly realizes this to be the case they will of course give up their belief in Santa. The problem is I don't see how the great pumpkin or Santa objection is a threat to proper functionalism. After all properly basic beliefs can be extremely fallible and subject to revision. So no problem here!

Response to Objection 2:Why can’t David simply retort that his Catholicism is properly basic?

He could say this. I have never said that he couldn't say that the church authority is properly basic. The problem is this: Why do you need the church if the scripture is already God's words and that are self-attesting by the Holy Spirit (which forms in us beliefs that fulfill all the necessary conditions that I have given in my previous post). This falls into my ockham's razor argument on a previous post I have made.

Response to Objection 3: How does a belief being properly basic imply that it is true or amount to a reason for thinking that it is?

This third objection is actually two objections. A belief being properly basic implies that it is true because we have a properly basic belief that our faculties are functioning properly to produce mostly true beliefs rather than false ones. The second objection on this part assumes that we need a reason for basic beliefs and thus assumes some form of internalism. Since this theory of knowledge that Reformed epistemologists hold to is externalistic then to assume internalistic view of warrant is to just beg the very question at hand.

Response to Objection 4: And can one take a belief to be properly basic and it turn out that it is not in fact so for them?

I don't even know if this is an objection. This is just asking the question: that can properly basic beliefs be fallible? But of course Plantinga and other Reformed epsiteemologists think so. I happen to think so as well. But it's hard to see how one being possibly mistaken about a properly basic belief could constitute a defeater for things that we know fallibly in properly basic way.

Response to Objection 5: If so, what work concerning warrant has proper basicality done for us? None.

This argument assumes that in order for beliefs to be basic we ought to have infallible justification for them. So in other words Perry is arguing that basic beliefs are worthless if we do not know them infallibly. But my question is this: Why think that warrant and knowledge of properly basic beliefs requires infallible justification? I can see no reason. It seems to me that the statement that properly basic beliefs ought to be infallible in order for us to have knowledge or to be useful is neither infallibly properly basic or something that can be inferred by these infallible basic beliefs. So it seems to me that this requirement is self-referentially incoherent. The question that I think Perry or any internalistic epistemologist cannot answer is this: How do we know about the existence of other minds? What about the existence of the external world? Or that our memory is reliable? Or that our sense perception is reliable? Or that we have existed longer than 5 minutes? What about the problem of induction? These answers internalistic (and especially infalliblist on justification) cannot answer. Thus, this sadly and ultimately leads to some form of skepticism.

In Conclusion:

Perry's questions of doubt about Reformed epistemology seem to be wanting at best. Thus, the Protestant can hold up the Bible and say that he is warranted in thinking that the Bible is the word of God. Further that since this word of God is self-attesting we have no need for the church to justify the canon. In fact such a move would seem to be positing unnecessary entities and thus violating the principle of Ockham's razor.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Don't Blame Sola Scriptura

It is often pointed out that there are 20 - 25 thousand distinct Protestant denominations. I have heard this figure used as an argument against sola scriptura. The doctrine doesn't work, they say. It only leads to division and chaos.

However, it should be pointed out that many of these denominations do not even hold to the doctrine! Liberal groups who claim that Paul just didn't understand sexual orientation and so disregard his teaching on homosexuality can hardly be called strict adherents to SS. And mega mega church pastors in Texas who barely read from the Bible or use it to inform their teachings; it what meaningful sense do they hold to SS?

In short, why should SS be blamed for those who don't even follow it?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Steven Gutmann's Argument against Perry Robinson

"Of course your example is informative since it carries in it conceptual content, but apophatic terms don’t. It is like the term immaterial, which simply means not material or unconfused. Hardly conceptually informative. In any case, you left untouched the examples I gave, namely there are truths that we can’t ever know."

"If God is beyond being, then strictly speaking “existence”, which is a verb is applicable to the energies, since they are doings. To say that God ad intra is not something is not tantamount to saying that God is nothing. And to speak of God ad intra negatively doesn’t imply knowledge of God. You confuse the ways of speaking with the ways of knowing. Try some later Wittgenstein."

- Perry Robinson (Blog: Energetic Procession)

Perry Robinson a clever Eastern Orthodox philosopher and theologian has argued that apophatic (negative terms or the way of negation in modern theology) terms are not informative and do not have conceptual content. Furthermore, Perry argued that terms such as these (negative terms) do not give us knowledge. When discussing this with my friend Steven Gutmann he brought up a very interesting objection to this view. He said if negative terms are not informative and do not yield knowledge then by it's own terms we couldn't know that negative terms do not yield knowledge since that statement is negative. So if Perry would like to argue that he knows that negative terms do not give us knowledge then his view is self-referentially incoherent since that statement is negative. But if he wants to be consistent then he would have to say that he doesn't know if negative terms do not give us knowledge. Either way he is not in a position to argue according to Steven. This is just a interesting argument and I am not sure if it works. But I thought a good idea like this should be put up on this blog and to be flirted with a bit. If it's true then no big deal we have other reasons to doubt the claims of the east.

Check Out Perry Robinson's blog! It's a first class blog and a excellent resource for eastern orthodox philosophy and theology!


Perfect being Theology and Eastern Orthodoxy

This Post is planning to look at a modified Anselmian model of Divine Essence. I will argue that this modified version is more reasonable than not and that it is wholly incompatible with the Eastern view of the Divine essence.

Here are some ontological arguments and then afterwards I will briefly show how these are incompatible with the Eastern view of the Divine Essence:

The Three best ontological arguments:

The one that is falsely attributed to Anselm, but it is still valid and sound:

1) I can think of the greatest possible being (or I define God as the greatest possible being)

2) It is better to exist in reality and in thought than just merely in thought

3) Since the greatest possible being is the greatest then he will have everything that is better to have rather than not to have those great things

4) If the greatest possible being does not exist in reality and in thought then he is not the greatest possible being

5) The greatest possible being would not be the greatest possible being which is a contradiction

6) Therefore, The greatest possible being exists in reality and in thought and this is what we call God

Answering the most popular objection: It is often objected to this argument that just because I can think of the greatest possible thing doesn’t mean that it exists because I can think of the greatest possible Island, animal, house, or girl but that doesn’t mean that those things exists. The problem with this counter argument is it over looks the definition of God as being the greatest possible being. If God is the greatest possible being then he would have only those attributes that would be great to have rather than not have those attributes. One of those great making attributes is that God is entirely unique from the creation which is his creation is lesser than God in many ways. One of those ways in which his creation is lesser is that God is the only being that in his definition or nature there contains a claim of existence. In other words God would be better if he was the only being that could be shown to exist merely by contemplating him rather than not. Since God is the greatest possible being then he is the only being that could be shown to exist merely by contemplating him since this displays a great making property of God, namely his utter uniqueness from the lesser created things.

This is the one that Saint Anselm used (Brian Davies interpretation of Anselm as well as the argument he endorses from Anselm):

1) I can think of the greatest possible being (or I define God as the greatest possible being)

2) It is better to exist necessarily than not

3) Since the greatest possible being is the greatest then he will have everything that is better to have rather than not to have those great things

4) If the greatest possible being does not exist necessarily then he isn’t the greatest possible being

5) Then greatest possible being would not be the greatest possible being which is a contradiction

6) Therefore, The greatest possible being exists necessarily and this is what we call God

Here's Moreland’s formulation of the ontological argument:

1. A maximally perfect being possibly exists.

2. If a being is a maximally perfect being, it exists
in all possible worlds.

3. The actual world is a possible world.

4. Therefore, a maximally perfect being exists in the
actual world.

Now let's get to the incompatibility with this reasonable and ontologically robust view of the Divine Essence's with the Eastern view of The Divine Essence.

The Divine Essence in Eastern Theology does not exist but it is not true that it doesn't exists (the way of negation), but in Anselmian perfect being theology God's essence exists because this is true by definition thus the eastern view is necessarily false since they believe that God's essence doesn't exist. Furthermore, The East doesn't think the Divine Essense is contigent or necessary, but on perfect being theology and philosophy (the second and third argument) the divine essence exists necessarily thus if one holds to perfect being theology he would be most reasonable in thinking that the conception of the Divine essence in Eastern Orthodoxy is necessarily false. From these conclusions it is more reasonable than not that eastern orthodoxy in necessarily false if one wants to think that God is the greatest possible being.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

My favorite eastern quote!

I like this quote because it really fits in well with my previous post which I have been accused of not reading good eastern orthodox theologians. I think we will all agree that this theologian is pretty good as an accurate representation of eastern theology, especially on the essence of God. I think this fellow and I have the same view on the eastern view of the essence of God But I do think there is one small difference....oh yeah...I reject it and he obviously holds to it because he is well...eastern..

“The super-essential nature of God is not a subject for speech or thought or even contemplation, for it is far removed from all that exists and more than unknowable . . . incomprehensible and ineffable to all for ever. There is no name whereby it can be named, neither in this age nor in the age to come, nor word found in the soul and uttered by the tongue, nor contact whether sensible or intellectual, nor yet any image which may afford any knowledge of its subject. . . None can properly name its essence or nature if he be truly seeking the truth that is above all truth.”

- St. Gregory Palamas


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Anyone know of some good books in support of the Eastern Orthodox canon? I can find ones put out by Catholics, but am having trouble locating ones specifically from the EO.

The View of The Divine Essence in Eastern Orthodoxy is Self-Referentially Incoherent

The Eastern Orthodox view of the Divine Essence is outrageously absurd. Eastern Christians hold that there are three things that God is comprised of: the Essence, the Energies, and the Hypostasis. The Essence of God is entirely unknowable in Eastern Orthodoxy. The energies are the uncreated light or actions of God. The Hypostasis is the persons who are distinct but are related to the Divine essence. Now what is the problem with this?

The problem is as obvious as 1+1=9. If we do no know anything of the Divine Essence then we know at least one thing about it: that it is unknowable. So the proposition that we do not know anything of the Divine Essence is not only false but necessarily false. Therefore, Eastern Orthodoxy is necessarily false.


A Philosophical Defense of the Dual Procession Of The Spirit

In Western strains of Christianity there is the Trinitarian doctrine of the dual procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. Eastern Christianity rejects this notion. They happen to believe that the procession only occurs from the Father. The West rejects this. The agreement over the East and the West is that the Father begets the Son and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The East rejects that the Spirit proceeds from the Son and the West confirms the negation of this proposition. The point of this post is to demonstrate that under certain philosophical presuppositions the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son is more reasonable than not.

The Western view is more reasonable because it has a lot more theological and philosophical explanatory scope. Since the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is begotten by the Father how do we distinguish them? Well one might say that they have different contingent relational properties such as the Spirit is the one who sanctifies the church or the Son is the one who purchases our redemption…etc. The problem is that these relational properties are contingent and as a result they just happen to be the case but they don’t have to be the case. They don’t tell us anything essential to the Son or the Spirit they are only accidental relation properties. So for example in a possible world W* where there is no creation what do we really know about the differentiation between the persons of the Trinity, specifically the Son and the Spirit? Nothing! And that seems like a very strange and odd thing to say about the persons of the Trinity in whom we are suppose to know and have a relationship with. The East recognizes that there is a difference between procession and being begotten, but how can they explain this? They are both coming from the Father in terms their personhood is being sustained from all eternity past, so where is the difference between these persons? They could say that it is just mysterious and the causation *has* to be different but we just don’t know how to reasonably distinguish them. This view seems completely ineffable.

The West on the other hand doesn’t seem to be in hot water on this score. For we can say that the difference between being begotten and proceeded from is that being begotten from is from one necessary causal relation whereas being proceeded from is two necessary causal relations (since of course the Spirit presumably comes from the Father and the Son). So if one wants to have more explanatory scope in their Trinitarian theology and philosophy then they ought to adopt the western view of the Trinity.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Church or the Egg? (1)

So, what came first, the Church or Scripture? Often, this kind of question is leveled at the Protestant in the hope that he or she will have to grudgingly admit- “the Church.” While some might dread such an answer, they shouldn’t. There was definitely an oral tradition circulating among believers prior to the New Testament, but the question that should be asked is “does this mean that the Church is what gives something infallible authority.”

When speaking with several Orthodox friends of mine, I have noticed that the question is often posed in order to show that Christianity was able to exist prior to the compilation of the New Testament documents and so the Church community is the necessary ingredient and not Scripture. However, I have a problem with this setup. My reasons for accepting the Scripture as the only infallible guide to faith and practice lies in its source- the apostles. After all, it was to the apostles that Christ promised to guide into all truth (John 16) and send the Holy Spirit to bring back to remembrance all that He said (John 14). I don’t have a problem with the existence of a prior oral tradition before the apostles (or those closely connected to them) wrote down their teachings. My concern is in actually receiving the apostolic word. And Scripture best preserves this for our time (see “By Whose Authority” posts).

It may be brought to the Protestant’s attention that an authoritative body was needed in order for the New Testament Scripture to be brought together. I would agree. However, it need not be agreed that the authoritative body must be infallible. Doing so would add another unnecessary step. What makes Scripture infallible? If the answer is an infallible Church, then what makes the infallible Church infallible? Whether one is Eastern Orthodox or Protestant, infallibility ultimately goes back to God through the apostles. The Protestant position simply eliminates the middle man in the infallible chain.

Hopefully, this will spark some good discussion

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Questions About Nicea: An Invitation To Dialog

According to Orthodox Christians, the Church's infallibility resides not in any single person or group, but primarily in the great ecumenical councils (of which there were seven). These councils made final and infallible decisions regarding (what would come to be) the orthodox position on the doctrines of the Incarnation, Trinity, and others.

For the purposes of this post I will assume my own ignorance. I admit that I do not fully understand the Orthodox teaching on church infallibility, and so I invite my Orthodox brothers to help me by interacting with my musings and perhaps answering my questions.

I have three primary concerns I wish to address here. (1) The manner in which the first ecumenical council (Nicea) was called and conducted, (2) the duplicity of many of the leaders who attended, and (3) the fact that only a short time after the council made its decisions, the majority of the Christian world sided with Arius.

(1) The Council of Nicea was called by the Emperor; the secular power, not the church. This seems odd to me. In fact, it seems entirely likely that had not Constantine wished to keep his Empire whole and secure, we might have seen fracturing in the church not unlike modern Protestant denominationalism today. The bishops of Christendom were quite content to argue amongst themselves, and there doesn't seem any reason to think that such a council would ever have been called had Constantine not stepped in. Moreover, Constantine made it clear that the council's decisions would be enforced, again by secular power. This also seems odd. If there was a clear understanding of church infallibility from the days of the Apostles, and indeed if the bishops at Nicea were also well aware of it, would such enforcement be necessary? I suppose it could have been merely precautionary. In any event, the fact that the whole affair was conducted, from start to finish, in such a stately, secular manner, casts some doubt on what I take to be the Orthodox understanding of the nature of church infallibility.

(2) The wording of the Nicean Creed was such that many of the bishops (perhaps more than half) were able to sign it, while still remaining fully Arian in their thinking. They affirmed the words, but not their orthodox spirit. And in a short time they were again preaching their Arianism. This leads to another important question: if the majority of the bishops at the ecumenical council didn't even truly agree with what was (later to become) the orthodox position of the church (and supposedly the council), where is infallibility located? Again, I am mostly speaking from ignorance here and I'm open to correction, but my understanding of the Orthodox position is that infallibility resides in ecumenical consensus. And yet, it seems that the true consensus of Nicea, at least at the time, favored Arianism. And it seems very strange that many of the bishops present at an ecumenical council, and responsible for its decision, would be so blatantly (and sinfully?) duplicitous in their actions. God can use sinful men, to be sure, but when it comes to the infallible descisions of the church, I assume the presumption is that He is using holy men.

(3) Many times I have heard from an Orthodox brother that such-and-such was the "majority" position of the early church (this is often used as a defense against the Augustinian doctrine of predestination, for example). But just a short time after Nicea, and especially after the death of Constantine, the vast majority of Christendom became Arian. There were times when it seemed as though Athanasius alone was the voice of orthodoxy, which is where we get the phrase "Athanasius contra mundum." It won't do to argue that the church was simply falling away from orthodoxy, for "orthodoxy" was still being established. Nicea was the first council called to deal with questions regarding Christ's deity, and in a sense, Nicea lead to an Arian church. And when Athanasius so vigorously defended Christ's full deity, he did so primarily by making arguments from Scripture, not by arguing over the meaning of the words of the Nicean creed.

Obviously none of this constitutes any sort of proof or knock-down argument against the Orthodox understanding of church infallibility. My only wish here is to offer a few observations and questions, and any response is both welcome and appreciated.

If this is your first time visiting this blog, I also invite you to read the other posts here. Some of them are very good, and they address many issues, ranging from the inclusion of the apocryphal books in Scripture to the possibility of belief in the Word of God being properly basic. Please look around and leave comments!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

By Whose Authority? (2)

Now that my view of infallible authority has been explained, there is still the matter of how God has preserved His truth throughout human history. I come to recognize this by the work of the Holy Spirit (Nate’s post on Ockham’s Razor is helpful) as well as by reason.

Written Ought to Inform Unwritten Tradition

I place infallible authority in the apostles since they were with Christ during His earthly ministry and or were specifically selected by Him after He rose from the grave (Paul). I also include into this category those who were closely connected to an apostle, most likely had apostolic approval and wrote with the intention of conveying what was necessary for faith and practice in part or in whole or bearing witness to the works of God. Some examples of such people are John Mark or Luke.

Both those of Eastern Orthodox and Protestant persuasion trace authority back to the apostles after Jesus Christ. I am committed to the idea that the closer one is to the source, the better. In the case of the writings of the apostles and ones closely connected to them, that is as close to the source as we can get. Since we no longer have the apostles here with us, it seems sensible to look towards their writings to know what God requires of us.

Written tradition leaves much less room for error than Unwritten tradition. In the very beginning, oral tradition was extremely beneficial and acceptable for an oral culture because 1) There was a smaller group and the information did not circulate to nearly as many churches as it did later. 2) The apostles were still alive to correct misconceptions- and they did. 3) The information was fairly fresh since it was closer to the event.

After some of the apostles died and information spread, it was necessary to write the accounts down and preserve key letters. Before, misconceptions and false messages could be corrected. Once the apostles were gone or spread more sparsely, this became more difficult. Misunderstandings and false beliefs are evident throughout the New testament (specifically Ephesians, 1 Corinthians and Romans) and can even be seen when the writings themselves are traced through the manuscript tradition. Although, the mistakes in the manuscript tradition are more minor in my opinion. Little mistakes can be seen down the line. These mistakes came about even in the possession of the church.

With writings however, we have the apostolic word itself preserved more or less as it was written and are able to look back down the line of manuscripts and isolate where the mistakes arose and make the necessary corrections. We have a document that is around 99% reliable. The same can not be said for the EO's use of oral tradition.

Still, pointing out that one system might better preserve God’s truth misses something. A reliable document does not and can not convey infallible authority. This is where active involvement of the Holy Spirit comes in. It is the Holy Spirit that gives authority to the words of the apostles. It is the Holy Spirit who tells us that what we are reading is God’s word, who fills us with Himself and conforms us to the image of God.

I hold the apostolic word to be authoritative. There is reason to think the apostolic word is authoritative because the Holy Spirit convicts me of such and without probable reason to doubt this is actually the case, I am justified in believing it. The writings of the apostles and those directly connected (even speaking on their behalf at times) are a given when it comes to authority. It is up to the Eastern Orthodox to make a case as to why the Church should also be seen in this light or why an infallible Church is needed to interpret infallible documents.


The Eastern Orthodox church’s idea of Tradition consists of the Seven Councils, the Creed, the Liturgy, prayers, calendar, icons, and even the lives of the Saints. So, what do I mean by “oral or unwritten tradition”? I mean that element used in these forms of tradition that was passed down by means other than Scripture, but are supposed to be traced back to the apostles. This includes what was passed down later by word of mouth or gathered later (apart from the criteria already mentioned) by word of mouth and put into writing. I believe these parts of tradition to be authoritative as normative and binding only so far as they line up with what Scripture makes out to be normative and binding either explicitly or what can be gained through a set principle within.

Personally, I view some of the parts of tradition mentioned as highly valuable for faith and practice. I am however opposed to the idea that they are normative or binding in their use for all people at all times if they are not something that Scripture points as necessary. If however, the Eastern Orthodox Church can be shown to be infallible, then I will have to adjust my view of what God requires of His people.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

By Whose Authority?

Some time ago, I was having a discussion with an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine concerning the canon. The discussion was enjoyable and hopefully beneficial for both of us. I benefited immensely by being pushed to question some of my basic beliefs about where I was drawing authority from. The following in particular caught my attention:

“Apostolic authority is a good criteria. I agree that its right, in fact its one of the influences that the church had upon its decision to recognize the canon. But first of all, why is it a correct criteria? Is this something you deduced solely by logical means, or is it something you take on authority? If so, whose authority?” [emphasis mine]

By Whose Authority?

These are some great questions. Is our faith a product of logical deduction or are we taking it on authority? If by authority, then by whose? While I hold that God has given us a sense of reason and wants us to use it, reason alone does not make something authoritative in an infallible sense. Infallible authority must come from a source beyond what seems reasonable to fallible human beings and beyond the change of time, customs and ideas.

It is the Holy Spirit who gives something authority. It is also the Holy Spirit who used the apostles (apostolicity) to bring about His message and continues to work in believers to attest to the truth of these writings. Without strong reason to doubt the work of the Holy Spirit, one is justified in believing that the words found in Scripture are from God. In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who makes something authoritative (infallibly), who used the apostles to convey the message of salvation (and/or process of being filled with the Spirit) and who continues to work in believers attesting to the truth of what He uniquely used the apostles to reveal.


True Christian teaching is un-revisable. By true Christian teaching I mean what is actually the case- what God has done in human history, what He has communicated and what He requires for faith and practice. While interpretations can be incorrect and in error, true Christian teaching is not. People make mistakes all the time whether in groups or individually (I may read the Scriptures and make a mistake in interpreting it just as one who is Eastern Orthodox can make a mistake as to the Church’s meaning or even whether he or she should even view the Church as infallible). The chance for error is present for both of our interpretations of what authority is or the authoritative interpretation itself.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Proper basicality, Sola Scriptura, and Ockham's Razor

When we read the Bible we have spontaneous belief formation that what we are reading is God's word. This is what Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls a "basic belief". Such beliefs have warrant if they produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly in a truth conducive environment with a design plan aimed at the production of true beliefs. Now this particular epistemological view point is externalistic and is pretty contentious view point since the majority of epistemologists are internalist. But despite that fact it seems to me to be the most reasonable alternative since internalistic epistemologists have failed to give sufficient internal grounds for such beliefs as the external world, our memory being reliable, and induction.

Since it seems reasonable to hold to externalistic proper functionalism then we can apply such notions to the reading of scripture. When we read the Bible we often have a belief form in us that makes us think that God is speaking to us in these documents and in the absence of a reason to doubt this we are warranted in thinking that the Old and New Testament is God's word.

Oddly enough Catholics and Eastern Orthodox think that it is a epistemic virtue in it's own right that we have warrant for the canon. This is when their canon argument comes into play. The East or the West will say "you can't justify the canon and this is a problem for your Protestant view point." But if we could be so sly as to turn the tables on them and ask "Why would we want to do such a thing as that?" If the Bible is not already properly basic and there is no reason for thinking it to be God's revelation then why do we need to justify it in the first place. This is because I think the East and the West are presupposing the Protestant view point because they themselves have such a belief formation through the cognitive faculty of the Holy Spirit when they read Holy Scripture. This is why they feel they ought to have an epistemological framework to justify scripture because it is an already had particular of knowledge.

Finally, if this is all true and it seems reasonable to think that it is, then why do we need an authoritative church speaking for God to justify canon? If it is already properly basic and we have good grounds for thinking it true then we don't need to appeal to a church at all. Why are we positing entities beyond necessity? This does seem to be a violation of a basic principle in metaphysics called "Ockham's Razor". This principle says that we shouldn't posit entities beyond necessity. But this is of course this is what the Roman and Eastern church does. So in light of these consideration's it seems that the Protestant position is once again the most reasonable.


Friday, May 9, 2008

The NT and Apocryphal Works

The NT and Apocryphal Works
Another argument put forward for the canonical status of the Apocryphal books is their citation by the New Testament writers. This, however, is not sufficient to establish the canonical status of these books. If this line of reasoning is followed by Eastern Orthodox apologists, they open themselves up to the same critique leveled against the Protestant of not having all the inspired books in their canon.

It may be true that many apocryphal works are cited, especially by Paul, but this says nothing about their inspirational status. Simply using or quoting from a source does not necessarily lead to inspiration. After all, even pagan sources are sometimes used in the New Testament. Clearly, these pagan sources are not to be viewed as canonical and neither should the Apocryphal writings on the grounds of being used or quoted from.

The non-canonical work that comes the closest to being cited as Scripture, and termed by scholar Dr. Lee McDonald as "a troubling exception", is the book of Enoch. In Jude 1:14-15, Enoch is named as one who “prophesied.” The problem this poses will have to be saved for another time, but for now, it is important to note that this “problem” belongs to both Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians alike. If it is going to be argued that the Protestant is lacking in their canon because of the use of apocryphal texts, those arguing along these lines better be ready to explain why the best candidate for inspiration doesn’t show up in their own canon.

More Info:
1. One example of Paul’s use of hymns originally directed to Zeus can be found in Acts 17.
2. Enoch is present in the Ethiopian canon.
3. Interestingly, the place where Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally places it’s infallible authority (The Seven Ecumenical Councils) does not have a sufficient canon list. The closest is Athanasias’ list which is far from what is needed.

1. Translated by Richard Laurence: "The Book of Enoch the Prophet"
2. "The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority" Lee Martin McDonald

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Misuderstandings Surrounding Jamnia & the LXX

There are many in the Eastern Orthodox church who would have us believe that the Jews had a more diverse collection of canonical books as represented in the Septuagint before limiting their canon at the synod of Jamnia in response to the Christian threat. This new canon list was supposedly picked up later by Martian Luther and the question is posed at the Protestant: "Why are you only using the books in the Hebrew canon and not the Bible of the early Church?"

Briefly, there are several things wrong with this setup. First, to say that the LXX was the early Church's Bible oversteps for several reasons. We must keep in mind that the early Church did not have one "Bible" as we do today. That is, all of the writings were not kept neatly in one book. Rather, there were a collection of writings. Also, the presence of what we call Apocryphal books in the LXX is easily explained by the high value the Jews placed on these writings at the exclusion of inspiration. It would make sense for them to want these writings translated as well.

Second, calling the LXX the early Church‘s Bible oversimplifies the problem. What is now called the LXX was at first only the first five books of Moses (Pentateuch) which were translated into Greek under Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282-246) and at the latest, toward the end of the middle of the third century.

The name "LXX" was first applied by a Christian when he was referring to the 7(2) translators to indicate what was at first a Jewish collection of writings. The scope of the writings were not yet fully established. Later, the designation LXX was applied to the entire Greek Old Testament. The actual translation of the historical and prophetic books came about gradually over 300 years and into the end of the first century AD. Some of the writings are not even translations at all, but were written in Greek from the beginning.

So, the LXX was not the early Church's "Bible" as we might think of it today. The LXX was a collection of writings and not a representative of the Hebrew canon. At one point, only the five books of Moses were translated and only later were other books added, some of which the question of where the books were translated and by whom they were translated is unknown.

Lastly, the idea that the Jews limited their canon in response to the Christian movement lacks proof. Absolutely none of the Apocryphal books were discussed at Jamnia, probably because there was no conflict over inspiration, and any previous dispute one would expect to see over the attempted removal of inspired books is just not present. One only needs to look at the fuss made at Jamnia over the question of five canonical books to see how rabbinic tradition was not quick to forget or overlook such disputes.

Further, there is still the question of why other books were not thrown out as well. After all, if there is going to be a canon conspiracy against the Christian movement, why not take out the more significant books such as Isaiah or Jeremiah? And why exclude books or appendages that were not used widely by Christians? The most reasonable explanation in light of what was mentioned earlier, is that it was all a matter of date. The Apocryphal writings were written during the centuries of silence and therefore excluded.

Without Jamnia being all our Catholic and Orthodox brothers wish it were, we are left with a lack of evidence leading us to believe the Jews limited their canon in response to the Christian movement. Rather, we find that the canonicity of the Apocryphal books was never in question because they were never thought to be inspired by the majority of Jews.

If the evidence for Jamnia being the deciding point for the Hebrew canon and the clear existence of the Apocryphal books in the early Church's "Bible" is not existent, then why are so many Orthodox and Catholics speaking of these as fact? In his book Orthodox Christian Beliefs About the Bible, Stanley Samuel Harakas, the Archbishop of Iakovos and professor of Orthodox theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology says,

"These ten books are found together in the first translation ever made of the Hebrew Bible in the version known as the Septuagint Old Testament. It represents what Jews believed their Scriptures to be about a century before the time of Christ. It was not until after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, toward the end of the first Christian century, that these books were excluded by Jews because they were written in Greek" (46-7).

Here the Archbishop is defending the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament. Notice how he appeals to "the first translation." His statement is misleading to those who do not know of the differences in translation and content. “We possess maybe two, three, or more versions of several of the books that are starkly divergent”(Hengel). At that, there are significant problems with the translation. For instance, the Jeremiah text is drastically abbreviated to an eighth and Job by about twenty percent with an added appendix placing Job as the Edomite king Jobab. In other words, while it is true that the LXX can be referred to as the first "translation," this does little to tell us about which books the Jews thought were canonical and, as will be explained, whether the New Testament writers treated the Apocryphal works as inspired.

Random Personal Note:
I've tried very hard to find some good scholarly Eastern Orthodox sources that use this story. After asking an Eastern Orthodox professor (who simply gave me a handout repeating the story without backup), Orthodox friends of mine who are "into" this sort of thing, searching Link Plus, ATLA and EEBO databases, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, St. Vladimir's Quarterly and exhausting my Westminster friend's library and databases, I have decided that maybe, just maybe there aren't any. I say "maybe" because I am still paranoid that I might find a source somewhere. However, although frustrated, I am not perfect and probably missed something... still, in all likelihood, I am not addressing a scholarly argument, merely a common story circulating around.

Sad Day. :(


1. Martin Hengel "The Septuagint as Christian Scripture"
2. Roger Beckwith "The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church"
3. Stanley Samuel Harkas "Orthodox Christian Beliefs About the Bible"

More Info:

1. The collection of writings in the LXX are diverse and not all of the Apocryphal books are in some of the copies. See Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silvia’s "Invitation to the Septuagint" as well as Martin Hengel’s "The Septuagint As Christian Scripture".

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Two Categories of Books

Beyond the positive evidence for the content of the current Hebrew and Protestant canon’s inspirational status, there is also indication that the Jews had two categories of books: those inspired and those merely considered historically valuable. While many of those in the Eastern Orthodox Church view these writings as Holy Scripture, the Jews didn’t and this is supported by other sources as well.

Representing popular Jewish understanding, Josephus explains to his uninformed Gentile readers, “It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers…” These uninspired books stand quite apart from those books Josephus believes “to contain divine doctrines,” and believes the Jews should persist in, “and if occasion be, willing to die for...” Josephus is clear that there are books considered inspired and those that are just highly regarded, but not as Scripture. Since he has already given us a time frame for when God stopped speaking through the prophets, none of the Apocryphal books accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church fit into the inspired list.

More Info:
1. See 2Esdras 14:44-45 and Origen’s distinction after his list of canonical books previously mentioned.

2 Esdras

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Hebrew Canon

While those in the Eastern Orthodox Church claim the Jews once had a wider canon than they do now, such a statement far exceeds the actual evidence. Rather, when looking at the evidence, we find that the early Church, "with regard to the Old Testament", "appears to have remained in conscious and intentional accord with the Jewish community”(Ellis). Along with other reasons for thinking this is the case (which will be covered later), there are multiple sources that point us in the direction of a canonical list much like the Protestant and Hebrew Old Testament.

Josephus proves helpful again as he gives his gentile audience some information on the Hebrew Scriptures. "For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine.” Josephus goes on to explain somewhat the content of these books, their threefold division, along with the time frame in which they were written. From this record as well as what can be gathered from other lists, the content is almost if not exactly what we have in our Protestant Bibles.

Jubillees, a book widely known in the earlier Christian Church and reflected in Christian literature in the mid second century, supports Josephus’ claims. While a significant piece to this discussion is missing in the Ethiopic text, there are several sixth century Greek writers and others from the third century who quote or show that they had access (some independent) to Jubilees. The quotation itself reads something like, "God, as it says, created (22) works in the six days, wherefore also there are 22 letters among the Hebrews and 22 books, and 22 founding fathers from Adam to Jacob." The number twenty-two has shown up again and, is continually mentioned as to assume the contents were well known.

This is a prologue attached to a Greek translation of Jesus, son of Sirach whose Hebrew work originated in Palestine in the early 2nd cent BC. "My grandfather Jesus [devoted himself] to the law and the prophets and the other ancestral books. [In Greek translation] not only this work but even the law itself and the prophecies and the rest of the books differ not a little [from the original]." It would appear that certain books had canonical status, even in the second century (probably even earlier). This passage is significant because it is already translated into Greek and is also divided into three parts just like the canonical books of Josephus and another Jewish historian, Philo.

The passage itself reveals that certain books had canonical status early on. The fact that it was translated into Greek and follows the same three part division as Josephus and Philo makes it likely to have the same content. The absence of any explicit mention of the book titles is nothing unusual. There was no need to list out what was already obvious and common knowledge. Later, we find more specific listings once the content was needed to be clarified to the Gentile Christians.

Even though there are not many early Christian writers who “give a precise list of Old testament books used in their own circles,” there are some that do. For instance, from the East, Melito, bishop of Sardis gives a list around 170AD. He presents a list of Old Testament books, as preserved by Eusebius, in the form of a letter to his friend, Onesimus. He clears up the confusion in his region over the number of books when reports both the name and number of books. His list likely has all of the books in the Protestant canon except for Esther.

Melito says,
"...When I came to the East and reached the place where these things were preached and done, and learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, I set down the facts... These are their names: Of Moses five, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua Son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four of kingdoms, two of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon's Proverbs of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve [Minor Prophets] in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras."

In this list, Samuel is put in with Kings, Lamentations in Jeremiah, Ezra-Nehemiah are put as Esdras and “Solomon's Proverbs of Wisdom” are most likely another name for Proverbs if we follow the labels of Eusebius, Hegesippus and Irenaeus. The book count will still differ (from the 22) because Samuel and Kings are counted as four, Judges and Ruth as two and the same for Chronicles. This way of numbering gives us a count of 25 books. These differences are explained by the ways in which the books were kept. In the beginning, books were kept on scrolls and sometimes certain books were kept together on one scroll or just divided or ordered differently (differences in order can be seen even later); also, sometimes smaller books were placed in with others.

The list has all of the Old Testament except for Esther. This could be due to a scribal slip or the similar appearance of the words in Greek. There is also the possibility that it was purposely left out since Esther is not found at Qumran either.

Another list of Old Testament books is drawn up by Origin (AD 185-254), “the greatest biblical scholar among the Greek fathers”(Bruce). One of the many works he is known for is his compilation of the Old Testament which is represented in six columns called the Hexapla. One of the columns, the Septuagint, was given particular attention by Origen. Here, he distinguishes between where the Septuagint omits parts of the Hebrew text or adds something not found in the Hebrew text. Such meticulous care shows up in his list of Old Testament books.

Origen says, “We should not be ignorant that there are twenty-two books of the [Old] Testament, according to the tradition of the Hebrews, corresponding to the number of letters in their alphabet…. These are the twenty-two books according to the Hebrew:” Origen follows the “twenty-two” book formula found in the earlier source Jubillees. This lends support to his list going back much earlier. If this is the case, then we have a list (also supported by other lists) possibly predating Josephus.

He then goes on to list these books with the Hebrew names set alongside the Greek ones. The list contains all of the books within the Hebrew and Protestant Old Testament, including Esther. The book of the Twelve Prophets is accidentally dropped out in the process of transmission, but this is clearly an error since Origen needs it to complete his list of twenty-two books.

It is also important to draw attention to the Letter of Jeremiah that is attached, along with Lamentations, to Jeremiah. Scholar Earle Ellis points out that this can either be an appendix to Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible or a scribal gloss on Origen’s list. His reasons for it being a scribal gloss are compelling. First, the Jews don’t have or read Baruch. Second, when other fourth century lists combine the Letter of Jeremiah and Baruch with Jeremiah, they reflect the content of the Latin and Greek Bibles being used at the time. Lastly, scribal “mending” is known elsewhere and was used to conform texts to the current use.

While it may be the case that we in our modern era do not have an ancient manuscript predating Josephus that explicitly lists the Old Testament books, that should not be a concern. The Palestinian Jews were not confused over the content of their canon and felt comfortable loosely referencing them or assuming the books of Moses upon occasion. Later, when there was confusion over the Hebrew canon in Christian circles, they would go back to Palestine and receive the needed content. In the case of Origen, he received that content along with the “twenty-two” book label present in early referencing.

More Info:
1.For the other greek writers contributing to this view of Jubillee see: John Constantinople, Symeon Logothetes, Georgius Syncellus and Georgius Cedrenus, Origen, Julius Africanus and in the beginning of Credrenus's history.
2. Why else think the Jews didn't use Baruch? Epiphanius and rabbinic tradition excludes Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah from the Hebrew canon.
3.Philo also follows a three fold division. See Philo, De Vita Contemplativa 1f., 25, 28f.
4. Jesus also seems to assume common knowledge of the canonical books when He mentions the Law, Prophets and Psalms in Luke 24:44. Dr. Lee McDonald on p93-100 in The Biblical Canon gives probably one of the best critiques along with two other widely used passages: Luke 11:48-51 and Matthew 23:34-35.
5. 1 and 2 Esdras are Ezra-Nehemiah according to Jerome’s Vulgate. See Bruce
6. Some good support for the Hebrew Old Testament not listed can be found from: Philo, De Vita Contemplativa 1f., 25, 28f, Qumran and Baba Batra.
7. Readers whose LXX copies had I Esdras (alongside of Ezra-Nehemiah), Origen's statement may have been misunderstood and interp to mean that I Esdras was part of the Hebrew canon.

Earle Ellis "The Old Testament in Early Christianity"
Josephus "Against Apion"
Roger Beckwith "The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church"
F.F. Bruce "The Canon of Scripture"

Earle Ellis:
Hebrew/Protestant OT Canon
Scholar E. Earle Ellis says that when looking at the evidence, we find that the early Church, "with regard to the Old Testament", "appears to have remained in conscious and intentional accord with the Jewish community"(Ellis P6). He also lists five reasons why he believes this is the case:

1. The early Christian writings reveal no trace of the friction that supposedly existed with the other Jewish groups over which carried divine authority. This is still the case by the second century. If such a large amount of friction existed between the Jews and Christians over canonical authority, we would expect the disagreement to show up in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. It doesn't. Instead, the only differences cited are passages in books from the LXX that Justin thought were deleted from the Hebrew texts by the rabbis.

2. After the Diaspora, when the church was mainly gentile, and the precise extent of the Old Testament books were needed, they sought the "Jewish or Jewish- Christian communities in Palestine" (see Melito in 2nd cent, Origen in 3rd and Jerome in the 4th).

3. "In what has been termed 'the crisis of the Old Testament canon,' the second century church raised questions, in fact, not about the authority of the Old Testament but about its interpretation and

4. the heretic Marcion, who rejected the Old Testament, represented an abbreviation in Christian practice that was uncharacteristic even of heretical movements."

5. Parts of the church gave canonical status to certain Jewish apocryphal books only later. Ellis sees this as an outgrowth "of a popular and unreflective use of these writings, a case of custom triumphing over judgment."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Centuries of Silence"

The "centuries of silence" are a key stone to the debate over canon lists. If the centuries of silence can be reasonably established, then any books falling into that time can be safely dismissed as non-canonical. Fortunately for Protestants and Jews, a good case for the centuries of silence can be made.

Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, has been key to our modern understanding of the political, social, and intellectual context of the Bible. In this case, Josephus tells us how many books were in the Jewish canon, somewhat the content, the nature of other historical books, and the existence of the silent period.

In regards to the centuries of silence, Josephus says, "It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time (emphasis mine).” Here Josephus gives us the time frame of the centuries of silence and mentions the resulting lack of inspired books during these centuries.

Josephus is writing to inform gentiles about Judaism and defend his antiquities and, in this section, is representing the common Jewish thought on the centuries of silence as well as the nature of the Jewish canonical books. This view is not unique to Josephus. He is a Jewish historian who has done his homework and is himself steeped in Jewish thought and practice which probably have an earlier tradition.

Josephus' claims are further backed up by 1 Macc 9:27 which reads, "So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them (emphasis mine)." Those in the Maccabean period acknowledged prophecy had ceased and were distressed by it (Also see Macc4:46 and 14:41). This agrees with Josephus' account as does several others. For instance, in 2 Baruch 85:1-3 it is said,

"Know ye, moreover, that in former times and in the generations of old those our fathers had helpers, righteous men and holy prophets; nay, more, we were in our own land, and they helped us when we sinned and they interceded for us to Him Who made us, because they trusted in their works, and the Mighty One heard their prayer and forgave us. But now the righteous have been gathered, and the prophets have fallen asleep, and we also have gone forth from the land, and Zion hath been taken from us; and we have nothing now save the Mighty One and His Law (emphasis mine)."

Yet another source reads, "When the latter prophets died, that is, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, then the Holy Spirit came to an end in Israel" (Tosefta Sota 13:3). The above sources along with those found in later tradition seem to indicate that the centuries of silence are a historical reality that can even be seen within the Eastern Orthodox canon. But this is not all that the Protestant or Jew has in his favor. Apart from the centuries of silence, there is also positive evidence for the books within the current Protestant and Hebrew canon.

More information:
1.Does the Bible give any hint to the coming silence of the prophets? Some point to Zech 13:2-6 and Mal 4:4-6, but these seem unlikely and in my opinion do not have a wider ref. Take a look for yourself.
2. For information on the concept of an echo or "daughter of a voice" see Beckwith P375.
3. Does 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) 14:19-48 imply that none of the inspired books of the canon has a later date than Ezra? Concentrate on v44-47 and see Beckwith p370-371.
4.There are also numerous other less important sources acknowledging the centuries of silence. These are: (a)Seder Olam Rabbah 30, quoting Prov. 22:17, (b) Jer. Taanith 2:1; Jer. Makkoth 2:4-8, (c) Bab. Baba Bathra 12a, and (d) Bab. Baba Bathra 12b (see Beckwith).

Books/sources used:
*Beckwith, Roger "The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church"
*Flavious Josephus "The Completed Works" (Against Apion)
*Rev. Canon R. H. Charles "The Apocalypse of Baruch and the Assumption of Moses"
*Stein, Robert "Jesus the Messiah"
*"The Apocrypha NRSV"