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.

Clarification

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.

16 comments:

David Cox said...

The problem with your premise is that the "church" is chronologically prior to scripture. Oral tradition, heirarchy, teaching authority, etc. were all in place before a word of scripture was written. Without a teaching authority, it is impossible to correctly interpret scripturre.

Nathanael Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cox said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathanael Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catz206 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathanael Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cox said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Cox said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathanael Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cox said...

Nathanael

I truly appreciate the time you have taken to address my comments. I completely agree with you regarding natural theology. However, where do we draw the line on what God has inherently placed in us? There are things that we can know about God and there are things in theology that simply "make sense." We can all agree on that. However, we cannot appeal to "right reason" in all matters of revelation. After all, Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus told his apostles to go and teach. Paul tells Timothy to guard what has been entrusted to him. Paul also tells Timothy to teach others what he has been taught.

I think all of our discussion boils down to authority. You invoke Ockham's razor as a means to say that scripture alone is the simplest way for one to interpret doctrine. I think that actually hurts your argument more than it helps. Looking for the simplest theory is a bit of a mis representation of Ockham's Razor. We must qualify that by saying, "all things being equal, the simplest is best." If the simplest theory always won out, then we would still believe that the planets orbit in a circle rather than an ellipse; as a circle is much more simple than an ellipse.

Suppose we cut out the Church as an authority. What do we have? We now have millions of individuals left to interpret scripture as the "spirit leads them." We have over 25,000 protestant, fundamentalist and evangelical denominations. How is that more simple?

How does one know if he has correct doctrine?

You may say, "he is functioning properly, seeking truth, etc. as well as being led by the Spirit."

Now I then say how do you know if he meets all the criteria?

You may say, "you can tell by his fruits."

I can only interpret that to mean "he has correct doctrine."

This is a terribly circular argument.

Your logic boils down to this: all things being equal either one of us isn't functioning properly, seeking truth, etc. or not being led by the spirit.

This leads us to the Protestant dilemma:

There really is no church; just volunteer assemblies. If you find enough people who agree with your interpretation, you start up a congregation. If we cease to agree, we go elsewhere. How does that honor Jesus' prayer that "they may all be one as you and I are one?"

Or, it simply means that we must only be dogmatic about the things that we can all agree on:
1. there is a God
2. Jesus died for our sins

(I know that this list isn't all inclusive, but I am sure you get my point.)

I think you are taking exegetical liberty with Eph. 2:20 and 1Cor4:6.
Ephesians 2:20 merely talks about the foundation of the apostles. But a foundation implies that the something will be built upon it. 1Cor 4:6 probably says something like "...go beyond what is written..." in the translation you are using. The greek is : "to think of men above what is written that you may not be puffed up one against another." This in no way proves sola scriptura. To be honest, I am not seeing your connection with 1Cor 13, so I have no comment on that.

I think you are very good at looking at opposing arguments critically, but fail to do so with your own arguments.

If I am misunderstanding your position here, please straighten me out.

David N said...

David,

I don't have too much to say here, I'll let Nate respond for himself. But there are a few things you said that I felt I should comment on.

"If the simplest theory always won out, then we would still believe that the planets orbit in a circle rather than an ellipse; as a circle is much more simple than an ellipse. "

Actually, this is incorrect. We currently believe that the orbits of the planets are elliptical because the math is simpler than it would be if they were circular. All astronomy is just math anyway (no one has observed the orbits from "above" the solar system). So Ockham's Razor works in favor of our current belief (and nearly all scientific theories), not against it.

"We have over 25,000 protestant, fundamentalist and evangelical denominations. How is that more simple?"

This is a red herring. Nate was only applying Ockham's Razor to the source of Christian authority. What different groups choose to do with that authority is a separate issue.

David Cox said...

David,
By circles being simpler I meant that a circle is only defined by a radius and a center, while an ellipse needs a minor axis, major axis and focii.

It seems like you are all working from the premise that scripture is the inspired Word of God, simply because it makes sense to you. I find that premise to be very difficult to accept.

At what point in your life did you decide that scripture was the "Word of God?"

David N said...

"By circles being simpler I meant that a circle is only defined by a radius and a center, while an ellipse needs a minor axis, major axis and focii. "

Yes I know. What I'm saying is that Ockham's Razor was rightfully applied to our understanding of the planets' orbits because the MATH behind an elliptical model is simpler than the math behind a circular model.

So, yes, a circle is simpler as a shape. But that has nothing to do with the reasoning behind why the circular model was abandoned. The equation for an elliptical orbit is simpler than the equation for a circular one.

David Cox said...

So you are saying that a circle was once believed to be the orbital path, but based on later testing, it was found that an ellipse actually mathematically works. Are you suggesting that a circular equation exists? It sounds as if you are saying that both can be proven, but we accept the simpler (elliptical path) because the math is easier...are you sure that we don't accept the elliptical because it is the only one where the math actually works?

I would agree that the math on an ellipse is easier, but that is because it is the only one that is workable.

You make the assumption that SS is the simplest way to look at authority. But once you put its simplicity to the test, you end up multiplying the "entities beyond necessity." ie. the number of interpreters necessary for right doctrine.

You admit that there is a correct interpretation out there, but in your model, there is absolutely no way of knowing which one it is. It can't simply be the majority position, as you can't take a vote on truth. There has to be something more.

David Cox said...

Let me qualify my statement regarding the number of interpreters necessary for right doctrine.

In the Protestant model, each individual is responsible for his own interpretation. That either means that we have millions of individuals needed to agree on "one truth" or we have millions of independent "churches." This actually contradicts the concept of church to begin with as a church is one body, not many independently functioning bodies. Jesus founded a singular church.

The protestant relies on the necessity of a "personal relationship"...but the reason I can call God "my Father" is because he is "Our Father who art in Heaven..."

A fundamental flaw here is the fact that SS simply doesn't work. If you look at the fruits of the reformation, you see constant change. Once scripture was taken out of its liturgical context, you see a free for all. The mainline protestant denominations are slowly dying. The anglican church is struggling. There are non denominational churches popping up all the time. One closes another opens up. Now we are seeing the rise of the mega church. It has alomst become a business with pastors jockeying for position by finding ways to attract new members.

All along you have the Catholics and the Orthodox who are chugging along basing their beliefs on the authority of the church as well as apostolic succession. Is it a coincidence that the churchs (RC and EO) claiming succession and authority have stood the test of time, while those who don't are constantly having to reinvent themselves in order to survive?

Nathanael Taylor said...

Nathanael

I truly appreciate the time you have taken to address my comments. I completely agree with you regarding natural theology.

Response: Awesome, thank you too!

However, where do we draw the line on what God has inherently placed in us? There are things that we can know about God and there are things in theology that simply "make sense." We can all agree on that. However, we cannot appeal to "right reason" in all matters of revelation.

Response: Yes we can, that is the Protestant position since the scriptures are epistemically basic, but if you mean by reason by demonstrative argument then I would agree with you on that.

After all, Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus told his apostles to go and teach. Paul tells Timothy to guard what has been entrusted to him. Paul also tells Timothy to teach others what he has been taught.

Response: Yes, of course.

I think all of our discussion boils down to authority. You invoke Ockham's razor as a means to say that scripture alone is the simplest way for one to interpret doctrine. I think that actually hurts your argument more than it helps. Looking for the simplest theory is a bit of a mis representation of Ockham's Razor. We must qualify that by saying, "all things being equal, the simplest is best." If the simplest theory always won out, then we would still believe that the planets orbit in a circle rather than an ellipse; as a circle is much more simple than an ellipse.

Response: I agree with you on your view of Ockham’s razor that is what I meant by necessity (all things being epistemically equal). However, I think there is no reason to believe in Catholic Church so as far as I can see it’s a good and proper use of the razor.

Suppose we cut out the Church as an authority. What do we have? We now have millions of individuals left to interpret scripture as the "spirit leads them." We have over 25,000 protestant, fundamentalist and evangelical denominations. How is that more simple?

Response: Catholics are no different, not everybody interprets the church the same way and not everyone is consistent. I would say I meet Protestants with more unity *theologically* than Roman Catholics. However, you guys do have us beat on organized ecclesiastical unity, but since your church pronouncement on their face value interpretation seems to contradict the word of God and since I think the ecclesiastical unity at the cost of truth is pretty invalidating then I would say all things are equal and your church still feels the edge of my sharp razor.

How does one know if he has correct doctrine?

Response: “Scripture and right reason” -Luther

You may say, "he is functioning properly, seeking truth, etc. as well as being led by the Spirit."

Now I then say how do you know if he meets all the criteria?

Response: Because a belief forms in me that meets those necessary conditions that inform me that I am meeting those conditions.

You may say, "you can tell by his fruits."

I can only interpret that to mean "he has correct doctrine."

This is a terribly circular argument.

Response: I am not even really sure what you mean by this. I have never claimed this and this is rather presumptuous. I have no idea how anything that *I* have said is circular.

Your logic boils down to this: all things being equal either one of us isn't functioning properly, seeking truth, etc. or not being led by the spirit.

Response: Not really….it could be that one of us is irrational or suppressing the truth in unrighteousness or just plain mistaken. Either way this is not really a problem with my position so it seems like your grabbing at straws. Now if someone isn’t functioning properly then…well….If you meet a crazy person who says that he is lady madman who is able to talk to his tree fruit and they tell him the future course of the universe all you can do is conclude he is not functioning properly….argument run out pretty quick.

This leads us to the Protestant dilemma:

There really is no church; just volunteer assemblies.

Response: The church is the community of believers that administers the sacraments and preaches the word, ruled by elders and deacons. This is the Biblical definition of a church.

If you find enough people who agree with your interpretation, you start up a congregation. If we cease to agree, we go elsewhere. How does that honor Jesus' prayer that "they may all be one as you and I are one?"

Response: You can be one and Christ and be at a different geographic location so long as they don’t hold to anything that would send them to hell like rejecting the deity of Christ and so on (john 8:24). The Bible defines what is heretical.

Or, it simply means that we must only be dogmatic about the things that we can all agree on:
1. there is a God
2. Jesus died for our sins

Response: There should be a lot more affirmations like that otherwise they are outside the invisible church but perhaps in the visible.

(I know that this list isn't all inclusive, but I am sure you get my point.)

Response: Not really.

I think you are taking exegetical liberty with Eph. 2:20 and 1Cor4:6.
Ephesians 2:20 merely talks about the foundation of the apostles.

Response: Yes, and there is one foundation and you can’t build a foundation on a foundation and there is no other indication that there is two so there goes the continuity of the prophets and apostles and therefore if you are just reading the Bible you have no reason to believe in apostolic succession just like you have no reason to believe in the fourth member of the trinity named the cousin.

But a foundation implies that the something will be built upon it.

Response: Yes, and that is the church, which was the purpose of the apostles and the prophets to build to foundation for the rest of believers.

1Cor 4:6 probably says something like "...go beyond what is written..." in the translation you are using. The greek is : "to think of men above what is written that you may not be puffed up one against another."

Response: I can read Greek and that is not how you translate that verse. You don’t just use the first word you see in a lexicon you see which one makes the most sense in light of the context (which follows by an old testament citation) and with what makes sense in the English. Your translation is so rough and imprecise that it is practically false.

This in no way proves sola scriptura. To be honest, I am not seeing your connection with 1Cor 13, so I have no comment on that.

Response: This verse proves that prophecy which is God’s word communicating through man (Duet 16-18 is the first definition of this term) will be complete. Your translation will probably perfect, but the problem with this translation of the greek is that the context is moving from the previous antithetical word part and the most reasonable translation of teleion is completion (with part/completion motif in the text). This part/completion motif refers to the completion of prophecy and I think a systematic synthesis between ephs 2:20 and 1 Cor. 13 shows that this completion went along with the canon via the apostles and prophets which laid the foundation of the church. This seems wholly incompatible with Roman teaching.

I think you are very good at looking at opposing arguments critically, but fail to do so with your own arguments.

Response: Thank you, it’s been great talking with you.

If I am misunderstanding your position here, please straighten me out.

Response: Likewise

God Bless,

NPT