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?

101 comments:

David Cox said...

David
I am assuming that we are working off of the same basic definition of sola scriptura: scripture alone is the sufficient and final authority of faith and morals.

We need to qualify something here: scripture is not the problem...the accepted means by which we interpret is. The constitution is not the problem when we look at the recent California supreme court decision to allow same sex marriage. However, the accepted practice of the courts legislating from the bench is the problem. These judges will read their own biases into the document to come to their conclusions; sort of a legal eisegeses if you will.

The same is true for sola scriptura. These churches that you claim don't adhere to SS can say that they do. However, they just arrive at their doctrine by using eisegeses. People will see what they want to see. With no real binding authority to keep them accountable, there is no real way to formally declare their doctrine unorthodox.

David N said...

Dave (may I call you Dave?), thanks for the comment.

I agree that Scripture itself is not the problem, but the purpose of this post was to point out that neither is SS.

Lord willing, we will be doing a comprehensive series on SS in the very near future, addressing subjects like this one, as well as other bad or incorrect understandings of SS, the relationship between SS and Scripture, a defense of SS from Scripture, etc.

For now I think it will suffice to point out that your own comment seems to betray what you're trying to argue. Namely, I think you are correct when you argue that the groups I mentioned are guilty of eisegesis, but that presupposes some way of distinguishing between eisegesis and good exegesis. And unless you want to try to define "eisegesis" as "whatever disagrees with the Catholic interpretation" right from the start (which seems horribly question-begging), then we have no reason to assume that SS is the real problem, or that SS will always lead to eisegesis.

David Cox said...

David
Not every group of Christians who get doctrine wrong are liberals who don't adhere to SS. Many are seeking truth just as you and I are. Of the 20,000 (I'll round down for the sake of the argument) denominations, I would guess that the vast majority are sincere.

I don't think that my comments betray my point at all. Without an arbitrator, how can one keep from eisegesis? None of us live in a vacuum; our opinions are all shaped by our environments. It isn't too difficult to see how, in just a few centuries, different belief systems can emerge. If the interpretation of the Constitution can get out of control, how much easier can the Bible be taken out of context.

Let's be honest, are we (collective we) really having a dialogue on this blog or are we having debates? Do we really seek to understand the others' opinion, or are we just looking for philosophical flaws in the comments so we can pounce on them and conclude that the opposing view must be false?

I am not trying to say that everyone who adheres to SS is using eisegesis. I am saying that SS allows for it to occur without any real checks and balances.

How do you know for sure that you aren't using eisegesis for your interpretation?

I am not using eisegesis in order to come to the conclusion that the Church has interpretive authority because I don't base that on scripture alone; although scripture can work with tradition to confirm the belief.

David Cox said...

Oh, Dave is fine as it clears up any confusion...

David N said...

Dave C,

You said: "Not every group of Christians who get doctrine wrong are liberals who don't adhere to SS."

Obviously not. I disagree with my Baptist brothers, though I believe they are sincerely holding to SS. My point is that it is unfair to look at ultra-liberal denominations who call themselves "churches" and say, "look where SS leads!"

You said: "I would guess that the vast majority are sincere."

I'm inclined to disagree, but even if I wasn't, sincerity doesn't necessarily mean much. Just because someone sincerely believes in SS, that doesn't mean they will have good arguments for their theology. Those who proclaim the health and wealth "gospel" may be sincere in their belief in SS, but that doesn't mean they have any good scriptural evidence for what they preach, and thus they aren't actually following SS in practice.

You said: "Without an arbitrator, how can one keep from eisegesis?"

The arbitrator need not necessarily be an infallible church (though that's one possibility). Traditional Protestants have worked out good principles of hermeneutics (i.e. clear texts should interpret unclear ones, NT should interpret OT, etc.) that ought to be applied to the interpretation of Scripture. Are these hermeneutical principles infallible? No. But they are reasonable and it would take a very powerful argument to refute them. Sadly, most modern evangelicals simple ignore these principles, which is where they get into trouble.

You said: "how much easier can the Bible be taken out of context."

Again you seem to be presupposing that there is some method of distinguishing between interpreting the Bible in context and doing so out of context. I was quite sincere in my last comment, I'm not simply looking for flaws in your arguments that I can attack. Unless you wish to assume right from the start that "out of context" means "whatever disagrees with the Catholic church", then you ought to be able to explain to me WHY a given Protestant doctrine is actually "eisegesis" or "taking the Bible out of context" without recourse to the church's infallibility. Or to put it another way, if you can argue for Catholic theology because it is more reasonable than Protestant theology, or because it takes the Bible in context (as opposed to proof-texting), or because it makes better sense of human experience, etc., then a Protestant ought to be able to do the same.

You said: "I am saying that SS allows for it to occur without any real checks and balances."

Again, I would say that there are indeed checks and balances, I simply don't think they are infallible.

You said: "How do you know for sure that you aren't using eisegesis for your interpretation?"

I suppose the same way that you can be sure that the Catholic church is infallible. Seriously, I'm not being cute or evasive here. I honestly don't think you're understanding this point, which Nate and I have attempted to bring up several times. How do you know with absolute certainty that the church is infallible? By your own arguments against SS it would seem that you would need another infallible authority to tell you, otherwise how can you know for certain that the Eastern Orthodox church isn't actually the infallible one. Do you see the severity of this problem for your position if you continue to argue against SS in this manner?

You said: "I am not using eisegesis in order to come to the conclusion that the Church has interpretive authority because I don't base that on scripture alone"

But I would argue that you are using eisegesis for the few Scriptural references that you have mentioned (keys of the kingdom, leading into all truth, etc.). Lord willing, I will be able to address those passages in detail in the upcoming series in defense of SS.

Again, let me emphasize that my only intention here is to learn. I appreciate your continued willingness to participate in our discussions.

Searching for the Church said...

I don't blame Sola Scriptura for anything. It is a doctrine, not a person. Doctrines are not efficient causes of human behavior, the human will is. Doctrines are formal causes, or better yet, one's actual beliefs are the formal causes of action. For visible division amongst people, I blame people.

I'd like to give a brief history of the Reformation without a single reference to the doctrine of SS, or any doctrine for that matter.

How's this for an alternative read of history?

Proposition 1: People tend to split up.

a. Though people love each other, they fight, get hurt, and separate.

b. The attractions of relational benefit do not always outweigh the repulsions of relational detriments. Nor are we always very forward-looking, so we split even if it might be bad for us.


Proposition 2: This splitting up action continues unabated until there is an authority figure to hold us together. Unless there is a daddy there to make us say we're sorry and make up, we split.

Proposition 3: In absolutely every unified social body, there is a daddy figure.

a. In governments, there is someone there to hold us together. His name is Daddy Sovereign. He creates and enforces laws, collects taxes, provides police protection, deports people, and adjudicates civil court cases between bickering humans.

b. In families, there is someone there to hold us together. His name is Daddy. He creates and enforces laws, gives allowance, disowns you if you dishonour the family name, stops you from hitting your brother, and makes us apologize when we've been bad.

c. In businesses, his name is Daddy Boss. He creates and enforces laws, provides protection, fires people if they're bad, helps adjudicate conflict between employees.

d. In schools, his name is Daddy Teacher. In social circles, he is the Leader. Etc. etc.

e. In religions, there is someone there to hold us together. In Buddhism, his name is Daddy Guru; In Judaism, Abba, Rabbi, Teacher, or Father; In Christianity, Father, Priest,Rabbi, Leader, Elder, Bishop, Overseer, or Pastor. He creates and enforces law, collects tithes, excommunicates unrepentent people, hears complaints and injuries from his children.

Proposition 4: The functionality of a social body is directly proportional to the health of its daddy.

a. Weak daddy, weak family. Weak sovereign, weak country. Weak pastor, weak church. And the reverse.

b. In fact, whatever is true of the head of a social body is true of the rest of the social body.

Proposition 5: Whatever is true of the father figure is true of his flock (Proposition 4). This is especially true of unity. The stronger the father the more he is able to help people not split up (Proposition 2). He helps them love each other, say they're sorry, and stay together.

Proposition 6: Orthodox, Catholic, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Lutherans all have daddy figures, and admit it. (Proposition 3)

Proposition 7: Anabaptists, Quakers, Revivalists, most Evangelicals, Vineyards, Calvary Chapels, Emerging Churches, and Non-Denominationals don't like to admit it, but they have daddy figures too. (Proposition 3)

Proposition 8: The EO/RC/Anglican etc. social bodies that are still together have strong, confident fathers who tell people when they are being bad, help them apologize and make up. (Proposition 5)

Proposition 9: The Anabaptist, Evangelical, Non-Denominational etc. social bodies that are still together have strong, confident fathers. (Proposition 4). To the degree these fathers tell people when they are being bad, help them apologize and make up, to that degree they remain unified. (Proposition 5)

Proposition 10: In EO/RC etc., daddy's authority rests by definition in himself. He has a distinct job and though he may fail to do it, everyone is necessarily obligated to follow his rules (Proposition 3)

a. If children screw up, it is his job to tell them to stop being bad. (Proposition 5).

b. If children don't like what he says, they get disciplined. If they don't stop, they eventually get kicked out. (Proposition 3e)

c. Those who get kicked out for being bad are not as good or strong, and so cannot gather many around them. (Proposition 5)

d. What was one social body, remains one social body with one head. One family, one daddy.

e. Daddy receives his training and headship from grandpa, the previous daddy.

Proposition 11: In Evangelical/Non-Denom etc., daddy's authority is tenuous and rests by definition in a book. His job is to enforce only what he thinks is in the book, or else he is suspect, even if what he is doing is wildly successful according to some measures of success.

a. If people screw up, it is his job to tell them to stop being bad, since this is what the book says. (Proposition 5)

b. If the children don't like what he says, they start their own church (Proposition 1)

c. Those who split are not better or worse, since it is hard to say what daddy's job is.

d. What was one social body becomes two social bodies, with two heads. Two families, two daddies.

e. They receive their training and headship from the book, or from the previous daddy, or from themselves. This results in weaker fathers
(Proposition 4) and so when conflicts arise within his family, he has a hard time keeping people from splitting (Proposition 5)

Proposition 12: Most strong fathers are not replaced by a father equally strong. (Cf Robert Schuller Jr. and Chuck Smith Jr. Frankie Schaffer Jr. etc.)

a. So without some other outside assitance from grandpa, when daddy dies, moves, or gets kicked out for being bad, the social body will probably split (Proposition 4)

Proposition 13: If you add up Propositions 1-12, and multiply them by 500 years, you arrive statistically at the exact landscape of Christendom today.

a. Those with strong daddy's are still one body, or a only a few. Fragments are isolated and die from lack of replenishment.

b. Those with weak daddy's are 25,000 bodies, and growing exponentially. Fragments are uncontained and thrive from a whirlwind combination of love, fighting, and splitting (Proposition 1)

Brandon said...

Dave, if the solution to fallible biblical interpretation is infallible interpretation by Mother Church, the problem then becomes: Who interprets the interpreter? How do you prevent fallible interpretation of the Church? You would need another layer of infallible interpretation, ad infinitum. If an infallible Bible is not enough, neither is an infallible Church.

Divisions within Roman Catholicism (Sedevacantists for example) present the same problem as SS.

David Cox said...

David
I am not assuming that "out of context means whatever disagrees with the Catholic Church." However, I am proposing that the context of the Scriptures has always been the liturgy. I don't believe that the Scriptures were written for "personal study", although, now that the resources are so readily available, personal study has become very important.

I completely agree with your model of exegesis and the interpreter needs to keep the content and unity of the scriptures in mind when reaching a conclusion on interpretation. I also believe that there are 4 senses of scripture: literal, anagogical, allegorical and moral. There are many ways to read scripture.

But with Sola Scriptura, how does one who is illiterate make an educated decision as to what proper doctrine is? The majority of people over the last millenia have not been able to read.

David Cox said...

Brandon
Why the need for an interpreter of the interpreter? This argument has been brought up before and I don't follow it.

David Cox said...

Sorry for so many posts...my train of thought has been derailed many times. I think that this one sums it up for me.

You bring up so many good points, and I believe that you are truly being sincere…thank you. Before we go any further, we need to be clear on something. Catholics do believe that scripture is materially sufficient in matters of faith and morals (or faith and practice as you have said), we just don’t believe that it is formally sufficient. What is the difference? The difference between formal and material sufficiency is the difference between having a brick house and having a big enough pile of bricks to build a house. Drawing on this analogy, Christ is the builder and he uses the mortar of Tradition and the trowel of the Magisterium to build His brick house of revelation from a mere pile of bricks (Mt. 16:18, Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Tim. 3:15). It is these three elements together -- written Tradition (that is, Scripture), unwritten Tradition, and the Magisterium -- that hand down the fullness of revelation, who is Jesus Christ.

I agree with you in regards to having good hermeneutical principles by which one must base his understanding of scripture. However, how do we determine the difference between a “clear text” and an “unclear text?” Is a text clear because I understand it, or because I think I understand it? If we take the sentence: “I never said you stole money”, we can emphasize different words in the sentence and arrive at vastly different meanings. The sentence is pretty simple, yet we can misinterpret it very easily. We have both said before that this conversation would go much easier if it was face to face. Why? Because we could hear inflection and read body language. As it is, we are merely reading the written word.

We also must recognize that biblical interpretation is more than just good exegesis. Biblical scholarship can very easily be reduced to merely dissecting a corpse. We must look at the genre of the book as well as the four senses of scripture: literal, anagogical, allegorical and moral. We should then put ourselves in the historical context of the audience for which it was written. In the case of the NT, that would be first century Jews. First century Jews had a covenantal world view that we don’t really understand. Now if SS is to be adhered to, how does the average person do this? You have the advantage of being very intelligent and well educated. You also have endless resources at your disposal. How does an illiterate accomplish this? How can one interpret the bible if they have no Bible and even if they did, they couldn’t read it? Again I say, you are used to being around people who can actually read. The only access to scripture that may people had was what they heard in church. If you look at the patristic sources, they were trying to determine the canon so that they would have a list of books that were suitable for being read in church. The context of scripture is the liturgy. In the account of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, the Scriptures came alive for the disciples after Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave bread with them. Is that a coincidence that these are the same words used at the last supper? These are the same words we hear every time we attend Mass. We read the Word of God, then we commune (literally) with the Word of God.
*rhetoric alert: I have heard it said that a protestant studies the menu while the Catholic or Orthodox enjoys the meal.

Cat raised a good question in a previous post: “Why is there a need for scripture and the Church…why not one or the other?” Well, why do we have textbooks and teachers? Why do we have the constitution as well as the Court? Why do companies have business plans and boards? Why does baseball have umpires? Why do we have the phrase, “that isn’t what I meant?” There will always be a need to clear up confusion.

I have given many arguments from scripture in an attempt to show church authority and infallibility : keys to the kingdom, authority to bind and loose, authority to forgive sins, the seat of moses, Jesus telling Peter, “feed my sheep”. I hope at some point you do get an opportunity to address these scriptures as they are very important. If SS was taught by the apostles, why didn’t they use these principles when deciding about the Judaizers? There is much scriptural evidence for circumcision:

a) everybody from the time of Abraham, including our Lord and His apostles, had received circumcision, as God Himself had commanded (Gen. 17);
b) this requirement had always included Gentile converts to the Covenant People, as God Himself had also commanded (Ex. 12:48); and
c) Our Lord had never clearly abolished this requirement but had rather insisted that "till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished" (Mt. 5:18).

You ask how I know for sure that the church is infallible and it seems that you and Nate feel you have found the Achilles heel of my argument. I ask you to explain to me why you accept the authority of the apostles but not their successors? Why would the apostles set up a church with bishops, deacons and presbyteroi and not expect them to hold the same authority as their predecessors? Is George Washington the only valid president? Were the framers of the constitution the only ones who could interpret it? If the president of your university resigns, does the new one have any less authority? Why would we accept succession and the authority of successors in virtually every institution known to mankind, but not accept it in the church? Why is it infallible? Because it was ordained by God.

Catz206 said...

“Cat raised a good question in a previous post: ‘Why is there a need for scripture and the Church…why not one or the other?’ Well, why do we have textbooks and teachers? Why do we have the constitution as well as the Court? Why do companies have business plans and boards? Why does baseball have umpires? Why do we have the phrase, ‘that isn’t what I meant?’ There will always be a need to clear up confusion.”

Dave,

You are certainly right in showing that Solo Scriptura is not adequate. The Church is definitely needed to interpret the Scriptures (among other things). However, I do not hold that both Scripture and the Church have the same revelatory function or infallible authority. The fallible Church is subject to the infallible authority given through Scripture.

These are good issues you are raising and we hope to deal with them in more detail when we start our series of Sola Scriptura posts (have to do a little more research first and coordinate our plans).

David Cox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cox said...

" The fallible Church is subject to the infallible authority given through Scripture."


Cat
I mean this with the utmost respect for you and what you are doing with this blog, but does that statement really make sense to you? Members of said Church wrote the scriptures, so, by necessity, it is the Holy Spirit workin through the Church that gives scripture its authority, not vice versa.

If I need to be patient and wait for your next posts, then so be it. I have a post on my blog relating to our discussions...let me know what you think.

I deleted the previous comment as I needed to qualify one of my statements.

Catz206 said...

“I mean this with the utmost respect for you and what you are doing with this blog, but does that statement really make sense to you?”

Absolutely.

“Members of said Church wrote the scriptures, so, by necessity, it is the Holy Spirit workin through the Church that gives scripture its authority, not vice versa.”

If you would like to take the apostles (and those connected) as the representative of the Church then that is fine. From that perspective maybe this might communicate my view: There are different functions within the Church. The apostles and those connected to them coming out of the 1st (maybe late 2nd?) century had a unique revelatory function within the Church and spoke and wrote the infallible words of God. The rest of the Church (including those coming later) do not have the same revelatory function and their words and rulings are not infallible. They must rely on the words of God (which are infallible) in order to know what is necessary for faith and practice.

As far as the Holy Spirit goes, we would both definitely agree that it is the Holy Spirit that gives Scripture its authority.

“If I need to be patient and wait for your next posts, then so be it. I have a post on my blog relating to our discussions...let me know what you think.”

Thank you, I’ll take a look. Also, if you ever want to dialogue about things coming up I am usually up for it. I usually wait to say things on my blog though because I want to fully make up my mind and think about what I am going to say before I present anything as the best option. But informal chats I am always up for. Let me know and we can chat over e-mail or something.

David Cox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cox said...

"The apostles and those connected to them coming out of the 1st (maybe late 2nd?) century had a unique revelatory function within the Church and spoke and wrote the infallible words of God. The rest of the Church (including those coming later) do not have the same revelatory function and their words and rulings are not infallible. They must rely on the words of God (which are infallible) in order to know what is necessary for faith and practice. "

The irony here is that you accept this point a priori. You also make the arbitrary distinction that "word of God" means "written word of God." God's Word comes to us primarily in the person of Jesus Christ. And as I have already argued (using scripture), not all of His teachings, or the Apostles teachings for that matter, have been recorded in scripture. Scripture has never been used as a "handbook" for converts. Nearly all the epistles were written to established churches as a means of dealing with moral or doctrinal error.

It is difficult for me to understand how so many well educated people, steeped in philosophy, can allow these points to pass unchallenged. A priori acceptance of the scriptures as the "word of God" doesn't make it so...

As for the offer, to informally chat...thanks. But, I'll go ahead and keep checking back here on the blog. My time for these discussions will be cut drastically as I start back to work next week...ah,the life of a teacher.

Brandon said...

I just wanted to throw in a couple of comments, sorry I don't have time to interact with everything here.

Scripture has never been used as a "handbook" for converts.

I have no idea what you mean by that in contrast to 2 Tim 3:16-17. This was one of Paul's last letters to his beloved child before he died. This would have been the perfect time to tell Timothy to look to Rome, to look to Peter for everything. Instead, Paul tells him to look to Scripture as his "handbook" to equip him for "every good work." Sounds like a handbook to me.

Nearly all the epistles were written to established churches as a means of dealing with moral or doctrinal error.

Many were written to individual Christians directly.

2 John 1: "The elder to the elect lady and her children... 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deciever and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

Here you have inspired Scripture written to not only someone outside of the Magisterium, but a woman, and it encourages her to exercise her own private judgement in determining who is faithfully teaching Christ's Word!

And as I have already argued (using scripture), not all of His teachings, or the Apostles teachings for that matter, have been recorded in scripture.

From skimming I found referrences to the following verses. Please let me know if I missed some.

Matthew 16:18 does not teach Apostolic Succession. I would submit that to argue it does is eisegesis. You may argue that it supports some kind of Petrine preeminance, which I would disagree with or at least ask for qualification, but it certainly does not teach Apostolic Succession. In order to believe what you do, you have to add to the Word of God, so to be clear, your belief is not founded upon Scripture.

We must be careful with creating our own analogies. Your analogy of the brick house of revelation is, in my opinion, not what the Bible is talking about in Eph. 2:19-22. The household of God is not a house of revelation. The household is the body of Christ, the church made up of all believers of all times. Thus, the proper analogy is not the use of Tradition and the Magisterium to build up a house of revelation, but rather, Christ's use of revelation (the tool, the foundation, not the structure itself) to build up the church (believers). The revelation that was given to prophets of the OT and the Apostles of the NT is a sufficient foundation. A foundation is not continually laid as a house is being built. It is laid first.

1 Tim. 3:15 - again, you are reading your views into the text. You do not get the infallible office of the Magisterium from reading this verse, you have to come with that "a priori" presupposition. Calvin comments: "The reason why the Church is called the “pillar of truth” is, that she defends and spreads it by her agency. God does not himself come down from heaven to us, nor does he daily send angels to make known his truth; but he employs pastors, whom he has appointed for that purpose... Paul simply means what he states elsewhere in other words, that since our “faith is by hearing,” there will be no faith, unless there be preaching. (Romans 10:17.) "

This is also an odd text to use in support of Rome, because Paul is referring the the qualifications he just listed for leaders of the church, which commend being a faithful husband to one's wife - which contradicts the Roman vows of celebacy.

There is nothing in these verses to suggest that revelation is continuing and that there is a Word of God that has not been written down. Did I miss some passages you referred to?

Catz206 said...

Dave: “The irony here is that you accept this point a priori. You also make the arbitrary distrinction that "word of God" means "written word of God."

Cat: “had a unique revelatory function within the Church and spoke and wrote the infallible words of God.”

I include oral tradition into this as well. The question for our present day is one of preservation.

“God's Word comes to us primarily in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Yes. And the prophets before Him and after Him the apostles.

“And as I have already argued (using scripture), not all of His teachings, or the Apostles teachings for that matter, have been recorded in scripture.”

I will agree that not everything said by Jesus or the apostles is recorded in Scripture, but this does not necessarily lead me to believe the RC or EO has satisfactorily preserved those teachings.

“It is difficult for me to understand how so many well educated people, steeped in philosophy, can allow these points to pass unchallenged. A priori acceptance of the scriptures as the "word of God" doesn't make it so…”

Sure, mere acceptance does not make a thing actual.

“As for the offer, to informally chat...thanks. But, I'll go ahead and keep checking back here on the blog. My time for these discussions will be cut drastically as I start back to work next week...ah,the life of a teacher.”

Alright, I will look forward to your future comments on Sola Scriptura.

David Cox said...

"I have no idea what you mean by that in contrast to 2 Tim 3:16-17. This was one of Paul's last letters to his beloved child before he died. This would have been the perfect time to tell Timothy to look to Rome, to look to Peter for everything. Instead, Paul tells him to look to Scripture as his "handbook" to equip him for "every good work." Sounds like a handbook to me."

All scripture is profitable...however, there is nothing to suggest in the text that Paul is saying that scripture alone is sufficient. What percentage of the people in the 1st century do you think could read? And if they could, they didn't have copies of Paul's letters lying around. Scripture was written to Christians who already were already presented with the teaching of the Apostles. How can it "sound like a handbook to [you]", when at the time Paul wrote the letter, there was no 'book' to speak of.

How do you take "watch yourselves" out of 2John and turn that into "private judgement?" The reader is also told to turn away anyone who doesn't come with "this teaching." What does this presuppose? She was already a Christian and learned the faith from the Church.

"Calvin comments: "The reason why the Church is called the “pillar of truth” is, that she defends and spreads it by her agency. God does not himself come down from heaven to us, nor does he daily send angels to make known his truth; but he employs pastors, whom he has appointed for that purpose... Paul simply means what he states elsewhere in other words, that since our “faith is by hearing,” there will be no faith, unless there be preaching. (Romans 10:17.) "

This quote actually hurts sola scriptura. So you will accept the authority of the pastors and teachers, but not the authority of a bishop who can trace his lineage back to the apostles?

"This is also an odd text to use in support of Rome, because Paul is referring the the qualifications he just listed for leaders of the church, which commend being a faithful husband to one's wife - which contradicts the Roman vows of celebacy."

A first generation Christian was probably married. You have to keep the scripture in historical context. Celebacy is a discipline, not a dogma. However, celebacy can be defended quite easily: 1) Paul says it is better to stay celebate than to marry and 2)some were made eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom (Matt 19:12).


I have wrestled with the comments that many of you make regarding the "extra step" of church infallibility. It seems that you see the doctrine of infallibility like this: God(infallible)>Scripture(infallible)>Church(fallible)>Individual Believer (fallible).

The problem is that you seem to believe that the Catholic doctrine of infallibility keeps the flow the same, but adds infallibility to the church. This is an incorrect understanding.

A fellow Catholic convert, Taylor Marshall (http://cantuar.blogspot.com) sent an email that explained the Catholic doctrine quite nicely. He says: "The Father (infallible) sent His only Son (infallible) to earth. Christ instituted prophets and Apostles (fallible) to proclaim the Gospel (infallible). A special charism of the Holy Spirit was given to these fallible men for composing the Sacred Scriptures (infallible) and teaching the Sacred Traditions (infallible).

Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the episcopate in union with the successor of Peter infallibly interprets the infallible Scriptures and Tradition enjoys the charism of infallible interpretation.

This is different from the Reformed order because the "state of infallibility" does not have historical terminus. Through the Holy Spririt it endures until the end of the time - that the gates of Hell should not prevail against the Church. As a result, "the Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Tim 3:15).

This view is consonant with Scripture. Scripture never presents "Scripture alone". However, it does demonstrate that there is authoritative oral tradition (2 Thess 2:15, etc.) and that there are men with infallible interpretation and authority (Matt 16:18; 18:18-18).

Infallible authority isn't static or resting under layers of history. It is present today and therefore accessible."

David N said...

David C,

"If we take the sentence: “I never said you stole money”, we can emphasize different words in the sentence and arrive at vastly different meanings. The sentence is pretty simple, yet we can misinterpret it very easily."

Yes, but an author can clear up possible misunderstandings with context. If you think about it, this actually isn't as big of a problem as you'd like it to be. Consider the same sentence in context, "I never said you stole money, but I did say you stole food." Or this, "I never said you stole money, but Bob did." In each case it is quite easy to avoid putting the wrong emphasis on the wrong word by providing context. I simply believe that Scripture does this quite well.

"We also must recognize that biblical interpretation is more than just good exegesis..."

I would simply include all of the things you go on to mention (genre, historical context, etc.) under "good exegesis." How can you do exegesis without considering those things?

"You ask how I know for sure that the church is infallible and it seems that you and Nate feel you have found the Achilles heel of my argument. I ask you to explain to me why you accept the authority of the apostles but not their successors?"

I'd like to point out here that you made no attempt to respond to the specific challenge that Nate and I have made, and merely went on to ask a separate question. Does this mean you do not yet have any response?

To answer your question, Scripture makes it clear that the writings of the Apostles are directly "God-breathed." This claim is made only of the written Scriptures, and no one is writing Scripture anymore. Furthermore, Paul makes authoritative claims for himself that no non-Apostle does, nor does Paul ever give Timothy an equal authority. Paul doesn't echo Christ's words to the Apostles, telling him that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead him into all truth after Paul is gone. Rather, Paul tells Timothy to teach exactly and only what Paul taught him. And lastly, the Apostles are the foundation of the church. The metaphor directly implies that the Apostles had a unique and once-for-all function.

David Cox said...

David

"How can you do exegesis without considering those things?"

Exegesis, as I understand it, is determining the meaning of a text in light of the text itself. For many biblical scholars, this leaves out the possibility that God is actually speaking to us today, if even at all. After all, there are good exegetes who are not even believers.

"I'd like to point out here that you made no attempt to respond to the specific challenge that Nate and I have made, and merely went on to ask a separate question. Does this mean you do not yet have any response?"

I just answered this in my most recent comment. There is not any indication in scripture or tradition that tells us that the charism of infallibility ended with the last apostle. Formal revelation may have ended because those who actually were with Jesus had died, but not the teaching authority of the apostles' successors.

"To answer your question, Scripture makes it clear that the writings of the Apostles are directly "God-breathed." This claim is made only of the written Scriptures, and no one is writing Scripture anymore."

First of all, just because scripture says scripture is "God breathed" doesn't make it so. I have already pointed this out. Is all scripture written by an apostle? How do you know that no scripture is being written anymore?

You simply cannot make those claims using scripture alone.

"Furthermore, Paul makes authoritative claims for himself that no non-Apostle does, nor does Paul ever give Timothy an equal authority. Paul doesn't echo Christ's words to the Apostles, telling him that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead him into all truth after Paul is gone."

This is an attempt at a proof from silence. You know that you can't do that. How do you know what Paul orally spoke to Timothy? Remember oral tradition at the time (2Thess 2:15)


"Rather, Paul tells Timothy to teach exactly and only what Paul taught him."

Exactly. How do you know what Paul taught him? The letters to Timothy were not the lesson, they were the exhortation to hold fast to what he had been taught.

"And lastly, the Apostles are the foundation of the church. The metaphor directly implies that the Apostles had a unique and once-for-all function."

The apostles did have a unique once for all function, but where does scripture tell you that function was infallible teaching authority?

David N said...

David C,

"Exegesis, as I understand it, is determining the meaning of a text in light of the text itself."

This seems to imply that it is possible to derive a meaning from the text alone that is opposed to the meaning that includes considerations of genre, historical context, etc. I thought that was just eisegesis.

"I just answered this in my most recent comment. There is not any indication in scripture or tradition that tells us that the charism of infallibility ended with the last apostle."

Apparently I've been very unclear as to the nature of my critique. You have argued that a problem arises for the advocate of Sola Scriptura in that we have no completely full-proof way to know that we have the right books in the canon, or to know that they are truly inspired, etc. There must always be some shred of doubt for the Protestant. Your answer has been that the church is infallible, and thus you can be sure that the canon was infallibly chosen. But the question that you have continually posed to us can still be posed to you, simply pushed back one step. How do you know that the church is infallible? How can you be sure? So far you have only briefly mentioned something about looking at history. But the point to be seen here is that unless you wish to posit yet another infallible authority that declares the church to be infallible (and so on, ad infinitum), then you must arrive at your conclusion by fallible means. Thus whatever sting your argument has for SS, it has it equally for church infallibility. Does that make sense?

"You simply cannot make those claims using scripture alone. "

And I don't. This is a bit off-topic and distracting. You asked me what reason I had to think that infallible revelation ended with the Apostles. Since we both accept the Bible as an infallible authority (and if I don't stick to SS in my responses you'll pounce on it), I simply used the authority that we both accept.

"How do you know what Paul orally spoke to Timothy?"

This is also an argument from silence.

"The apostles did have a unique once for all function, but where does scripture tell you that function was infallible teaching authority?"

What was their unique, once-for-all function?

David Cox said...

David
Let me comment on some of the secondary issues first:

Here is what I have been using as working definitions for the words we have been using:

exegesis: literally interpreting the text using the text itself

eisegesis: reading one's own meaning into the text

hermeneutic: application or interpretation that may go beyond the literal interpretation

"Apparently I've been very unclear as to the nature of my critique. You have argued that a problem arises for the advocate of Sola Scriptura in that we have no completely full-proof way to know that we have the right books in the canon, or to know that they are truly inspired, etc. There must always be some shred of doubt for the Protestant."

I have only said that you have no way of proving ss using scripture. It makes no sense to me to claim scripture alone and then use something outside of scripture to prove the point.

"Your answer has been that the church is infallible, and thus you can be sure that the canon was infallibly chosen. But the question that you have continually posed to us can still be posed to you, simply pushed back one step. How do you know that the church is infallible? How can you be sure?"

Jesus is this infallible authority.

"So far you have only briefly mentioned something about looking at history. But the point to be seen here is that unless you wish to posit yet another infallible authority that declares the church to be infallible (and so on, ad infinitum), then you must arrive at your conclusion by fallible means. Thus whatever sting your argument has for SS, it has it equally for church infallibility. Does that make sense?"

I think your question makes sense, but I don't necessarily agree with your conclusion. I claim that SS cannot be proven with scripture alone. I will say that infallible church authority can be seen in scripture as well as how the early church interpreted that scripture. But we also see it in the writings of the church fathers...this is what the early church believed. I will post a separate comment in attempt to nail down my stance.

David Cox said...

David
My argument in favor of infallibility would go something like this:

Jesus established a church founded on Peter and the Apostles with the guarantee that the "gates of Hell would not prevail" and the "Holy Spirit would lead into all truth." I think we all agree on this point. Our point of departure is whether or not this authority and guarantee of the Holy Spirit was to continue.

So, how do I know for sure that the intention was for this established church to continue?

“On this rock I will build my church.”
There is nothing in scripture or tradition that states explicitly or implicitly that this teaching authority would end. The first century church was a visible institution and there is no reason to believe that the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 21st century church would be any different. In fact, scripture demonstrates that the Church is a teaching church and that teaching authority is passed by the laying on of hands:

1 Tim 4:14-16
"Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching.
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you.
Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.
Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

Scripture also indicates apostolic succession:
2 Tim 2:2
"what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Here we have four generations of apostolic succession:
Paul > Timothy > those Timothy will teach > the generation they will in turn teach.

Keep in mind that infallibility doesn’t mean that the person is infallible, but the teaching is infallible. Jesus says, “he who hears you, hears me.” If the apostles taught believers like Timothy and told them to teach others, it can then follow that this teaching authority was to continue. If this teaching was fallible, then, at some point there would be error which would then be a contradiction of Jesus’ words that the gates of Hell would not prevail and the hearers would no longer be hearing Jesus through the teaching of the apostles.

Simply by using scripture, I would be convinced that the Church has infallible teaching authority. If we combine that with patristic sources the argument for a teaching Church becomes that much more convincing:

St. Irenaeus
"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same" (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).

"That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them [heretics], while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . . . What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?" (ibid., 3:4:1).

St. John Chrysostom
"[Paul commands,] ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further" (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).

There are many more sources that lead us to believe that the early church believed in the teaching authority of ‘the Church.’

I am not sure I can do much more to demonstrate my position on this matter. However, I am sure that you look at the Catholic Church and Her teachings and find error which would directly contradict my entire argument. If the Catholic Church has taught error, then I would agree with you. But let me be clear, there is not a single teaching of the Church that contradicts scripture. There may not be a proof text for some dogmas, which we both agree is a bogus way to determine doctrine, but with a careful use of the hermeneutical principles that you have mentioned as well as looking to how the Church Fathers interpreted scripture, it is very easy to see how all of these doctrines have developed over the centuries.

Cajun Huguenot said...

The Infallible Church of the Medieval and late Medieval period put men Like Boniface VIII, who borrowed from the Muslim playbook and granted salvation to all who died fighting in his crusade.

That same church gave us Julius II and Alexander VI (to mention just a few of the really bad ones). That infallible church had thousands of innocent people put to death and tried to usurp political authority from kings and princes through out Europe.

I do believe that the MUST be ecclesiastical authority, but biblical ecclesiastical authority does not equal infallibliity.

I know the RCC now limits its infalibility to a very narrow vain of truth (matters of faith), but even here her claims are suspect.

I for one would like to see a renewed unity and I believe there are sound arguments for episcopacy, but that does not lead to what Rome claims for itself.

Coram Deo,
Kenith

Brandon said...

David,

You are better off not using Scripture. Every time you do it shows that you don't actually care to do exegesis.

"what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Does not teach apostolic succession. The only possible way anyone would get apostolic succession from that verse is if they already believed it beforehand.

A simple reading of the text would lead one to believe that Timothy should teach other men just as Paul taught him. And then those men should teach other men until the whole world is taught the commandments of God.

You have interpreted the gates of hell will not prevail reference to mean that there will never be error in the church. Again, that is eisegesis. It simply means that believers will continue to be saved through faith and continue to exist in every age until the end of the earth. The teaching authority has remained infallible because God has providentially preserved the Scriptures. You continue to interpret "church" to mean the ecclesiastical order of the Roman Church-State. The church simply means those who believe.

Your quotes from church fathers mean very little to me. There was heresy from the very beginning of the church, so there is no reason to believe that the 2nd century church is any more correct than the 21st century church. All tradition, theirs and ours, must be compared with the word of God (see the Bereans). However, I know those guys mean a lot to you, so I recommend reading William Webster's work on the early church fathers Rome's New and Novel Concept of Tradition and others here Webster's page

it is very easy to see how all of these doctrines have developed over the centuries.

If you are referring to the spoken tradition that the Apostles gave in the first century, then you have a problem. If it was given to the churches of the 1st century, then there is no need for development and progressive revelation. If you say that this progressive revelation or "development" is not what the Apostles taught, that it is more than they taught, then you can no longer rest your case on the oral tradition passed down by the Apostles.

---

All scripture is profitable...however, there is nothing to suggest in the text that Paul is saying that scripture alone is sufficient.

Do you think the word "every" means "every" or do you think it means "not every"?

How do you take "watch yourselves" out of 2John and turn that into "private judgement?"

My apologies for any confusion. I was referring to the whole passage. I prefer to understand verses in their entire context. I do not turn "watch yourselves" into "private judgment". I turn the entire passage into an exhortation and command to private judgment, because that's precisely what it is.

"The reader is also told to turn away anyone who doesn't come with "this teaching." What does this presuppose? She was already a Christian and learned the faith from the Church."

You are missing the point. She was to exercise her own private judgment, her own discernment, to decide who was accurately teaching and who was not. He does not tell her to submit to the local bishop. He tells her to judge the teachings for herself.

This quote actually hurts sola scriptura.

No it doesn't. ;-)

So you will accept the authority of the pastors and teachers, but not the authority of a bishop who can trace his lineage back to the apostles?

The authority of the pastors and teachers comes from the Word of God that they proclaim from the Scriptures. If they are not proclaiming His name from His Word, they have no authority, regardless of any imaginary lineage.

A first generation Christian was probably married. You have to keep the scripture in historical context. Celebacy is a discipline, not a dogma.

"A first generation Christian was probably..." Wow, what a great way to exegete the text. Again, you are really showing your colors here.

Yes, celibacy is a dogma of the Roman Church-State, unless you want to redefine dogma so that it doesn't have any meaning:

Can. 277 - § 1. Cleric are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a special gift of God, by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and can more freely dedicate themselves to the service of God and mankind.

Can 1037 - An unmarried candidate for the permanent diaconate and a candidate for the presbyterate is not to be admitted to the order of diaconate unless in a prescribed rite he has assumed publicly before God and the Church the obligation of celibacy or professed perpetual vows in a religious institute.

quoted from the Code of Canon Law

However, celebacy can be defended quite easily: 1) Paul says it is better to stay celebate than to marry and 2)some were made eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom (Matt 19:12).

Certainly celibacy is beneficial for those whom God has called to celibacy, but to force all leaders of the church to abstain from marriage is directly contrary to Scripture.

David Cox said...

God Bless you Brandon. Your mind is already made up...Peace be with you.

Brandon said...

God Bless you Brandon. Your mind is already made up...

Yes it is. Are you not fully convinced in your own mind? (Rom 14:5b) You certainly speak as if you are.

But with Sola Scriptura, how does one who is illiterate make an educated decision as to what proper doctrine is? The majority of people over the last millenia have not been able to read.

That is why you saw such an importance on education during the Reformation. The Roman Church-State was happy to keep the masses uneducated and unable to read the Latin Bible. They were free to teach whatever they wanted, regardless of what Scripture said, because people could not read it. The effort to translate the Bible into languages that everyone could read, and to educate everyone to read them, was viciously opposed by Rome.

David Cox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cox said...

Brandon
I am completely convined. I used to be Protestant, but, believe it or not, I actually studied my way into the Catholic Church. However, your sarcastic rhetoric makes it difficult to have a fruitful discussion. You assume authority to interpret scripture and call it exegesis, yet fail to make any argument for your interpretations. You simply say,"this is what the passage really means." You mock my stance and say that if I would 'carefully read the text' I would see things differently. You think you know Catholic doctrine, but quote the code of cannon law and call it dogma. Do you understand the difference between dogma and discipline? Do you know that there are married priests in the Catholic Church?

The truth is that you have an deep bias against anything that smells of Rome. After all, if Rome is correct, you have nothing to protest. To say that the Church has tried to keep people illiterate and that the Reformation is what sparked education is laughable. Who do you think set up the university system? Before the Reformation, there were 81 established universities, 53 of which had papal charters.

Can you honestly say that all of your doctrinal positions are the product of your careful study of scripture? And can you honestly say that you reject
Catholic teaching because you have studied what the church teaches?

At the end of the day, the Church existed before a word of the NT was recorded. The canon comes to you because of the Church.

You say that there were heresies in the early church...all condemned by the Catholic church. If the Catholic Church fell into some "great Apostasy" then where is the record of it?

David N said...

David C,

Think of it this way. Exegesis is like doing science, Hermeneutics is like philosophy of science. Exegesis and Hermeneutics are not two different ways of interpreting the Bible. Hermeneutics is the study of how to interpret the Bible. And Exegesis is not restricted to the text alone, if by that you mean that we cannot consider genre, historical context, etc.

"I have only said that you have no way of proving ss using scripture."

You have asked questions such as "how can you know that your interpretation is the right one?" on numerous occasions. In this instance you asked me how I could know that I was not doing eisegesis. The implication has always been that I cannot know for sure without an infallible interpreter. Do you still think this is a serious problem for Protestants, or no?

I also disagree that a case cannot be made for SS from Scripture, as I hinted at before in our previous discussions.

David N said...

David C,

"At the end of the day, the Church existed before a word of the NT was recorded. The canon comes to you because of the Church."

Be careful about making such sweeping statements. It sounds like you're saying "at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what arguments you give me, I have this trump card and you won't ever be able to change my mind." Not to mention that the "church came before Bible" argument has been responded to several times on this blog.

David Cox said...

David
I think that we agree on exegesis and hermeneutics. I am not a bible scholar...I am a math teacher.

I definitely think that interpretation is still a serious problem for the Protestant. That isn't to say that you can't have the correct one. The problem is how you decide upon it. No matter which way we cut it, the Protestant ends up having to make private judgements using good reason. I find that problematic given the state of our intellect after the fall.

I believe that the sweeping statements such as "the church is prior" and "the canon came to us via the church" are valid. They are simple statements that are easily proven. The scriptures were always used in the context of the liturgy...that isn't my opinion, it is fact. So as soon one takes scripture out of this context, it opens Pandora's Box. If is difficult to overlook the anti catholic biases on the blog. The presupposition seems to be that anything Catholic must be dismissed a priori as the church is the "whore of Babylon." And the Church has fallen into heresy and the reformation served to restore christianity to what the apostles intended. This is neither logical or historical.

Brandon said...

The scriptures were always used in the context of the liturgy...that isn't my opinion, it is fact.

And you are defining liturgy in eating the Eucharist? So the Bible should not be used outside of Mass? That's just silly.

Deut 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

If your reasoning is valid, that we cannot understand Scripture without an infallible interpreter, then why did God leave believers without such an interpreter throughout the Old Testament period? When Christ was on earth, there existed an ecclesiastical order of men who claimed to have the only valid teachings and interpretations (Pharisees). Christ's solution to their errors was not to point them to an infallible succession of interpreters (was that because God accidentally forgot that we can't learn anything without such an interpreter?), rather, His solution was to point them to Scripture. The same is true of the Apostles. What is amazing is that these people had the authority to speak the truth without having to prove it from Scripture, yet they did. They rooted their teaching in the Word of God.

OM 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."

ROM 10:11 For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed."

GAL 4:30 But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman."

MAT 22:29 But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.

LUK 24:27 And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

JOH 5:39 "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;

ACT 17:2 And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

JOH 20:30 Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

ROM 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."

1JO 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.

This is neither logical or historical.

Yes it is. (Isn't asserting fun?)

Brandon said...

BTW, David N, if I'm just repeating arguments that you've used before, or if you're planning on addressing anything in a later post, or if my comments are not helpful, feel free to let me know. I don't want to ruin your blog.

David Cox said...

I am not saying that scripture cannot be used outside of the liturgy, but that is what scripture was originally intended for. You keep looking at scripture from a 21st century American mentality. People didn't have copies of bibles around the house that they could use for personal study. Jesus didn't deliver the sermon on the mount and then sign copies of Matthew as if he were on a book tour. ;-) The printing press made it possible to mass produce books, but even then, books were very expensive. Most people couldn't afford them, not to mention, many couldn't read them even if they could afford them. Interestingly enough, the printing press came about right around the same time as sola scriptura.

I believe that God did intend for the masses to follow the leadership of interpretive authority, ie. Moses, Joshua, Judges, David, etc. Jesus even referrs to following the authority of the scribes and Pharisees even though they aren't personally holy. The doctrine of infalliblity only guarantees the church won't teach error.

You said:
"When Christ was on earth, there existed an ecclesiastical order of men who claimed to have the only valid teachings and interpretations (Pharisees). Christ's solution to their errors was not to point them to an infallible succession of interpreters (was that because God accidentally forgot that we can't learn anything without such an interpreter?), rather, His solution was to point them to Scripture."

Matt 23:1-4
"Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice."

As for all of your scripture references, I am not sure what you were trying to accomplish. A first century Jew knew scripture, so when a NT passage refers back to an OT passage, the author is trying to provide a context for them. In no way, does this show any proof that SS was intended.

How could the Apostles have taught sola scriptura if there wasn't any NT scripture to follow?


I am a bit confused by your approach. You have taken bits and pieces from things that I have written (most of the comments I didn't even address to you) and are trying to use them against me. There are things that I have addressed to David N. that have a context, as we have had this discussion for the better part of three months. You jump into an existing conversation and rip a quote out of context and say I am "asserting." Help me understand what you point is. You haven't even responded to my last comments to you.

You have said that I am asserting, showing my true colors and have shown weak exegetical skills. However, everything you have said has been an assertion without any exegetical or historical argument. All you have shown me is that you seem to be very anti catholic without really defending anything. You say the church fathers don't mean anything to you, but you quote Calvin who came some 1600 years later. It makes no sense to me.

Brandon said...

Jesus even referrs to following the authority of the scribes and Pharisees even though they aren't personally holy.

Or infallible I might add. Why would Jesus ever do such a thing? Why would Jesus tell men to follow the teachings of men who are fallible? What were men to do in between Moses, Joshua, the Judges, and David? I fully agree that God has designed for men to lead the church by preaching and teaching His Word. But I deny that they are or need to be infallible.

How could the Apostles have taught sola scriptura if there wasn't any NT scripture to follow?

The same way Moses taught it in his day (Deut 4:2). God's revelation has always been sufficient for the time in which it was revealed.

I apologize for jumping into this conversation. I thought that is what blogs are for. I did not know you have been discussing this for 3 months, so if you would like, I will leave you two alone. I had just been following along and I was getting annoyed by your reasoning, so I chimed in.

And I quoted Calvin because he succinctly summarized my understanding of the passage, not because he had any inherent authority.

David Cox said...

Brandon
You need not apologize for entering into a discussion...I think that is what blogs are for also. However, I have spent a lot of time explaining to David where I am coming from. So, for you to take some of my comments out of their proper context doesn't do either of us any good.

The bottom line is this:

A protestant accepts scripture to be the infallible inspired word of God. But why is this? How do we really know that scripture is the Word of God? And for that matter, how do we know which books are supposed to be included in the bible?

Does Calvin truly "succinctly summarize your understanding of the passage" or does he help shape it? I look to the patristic sources because they give us a good understanding of what the early christians believed. I am not necessarily throwing a tag of infallibility on them.

As for Church infallibility:

Why can we accept that the authors of scripture were protected from error, but not the church established by Christ? This is especially troubling to me when it is this same Church that formally defined the canon of scripture. If the church formally defined the canon, why would she include books that contradict her teaching?

If you choose not to rely on the church, you will have a difficult time convincing me that scripture is, in fact, scripture.

David N said...

David C,

"The bottom line is this:

A protestant accepts scripture to be the infallible inspired word of God. But why is this? How do we really know that scripture is the Word of God? And for that matter, how do we know which books are supposed to be included in the bible?"

This is exactly what I have been trying to address in my previous comments. I'll take it slow now, to avoid talking past each other.

Are you suggesting that there can't be any way of knowing these things for sure without some infallible authority to tell us? Is there no way to know that the Bible is God's Word, and no way to know which books are in the canon and which are not, without said infallible authority?

OR, are you saying that, even though reasons can be given for recognizing that the Bible is the Word of God (such as the historical arguments I mentioned in previous discussions), they still cannot yield the kind of certainty necessary to give something infallible authority. In other words, if we can only use our finite, fallible reasoning faculties to arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is the Word of God, that simply isn't good enough to establish the Bible as an infallible authority. We would need an infallible authority (one that we could trust is 100% correct) in order to establish the Bible's infallible authority.

Do either of these two options sound like what you are trying to argue?

David N said...

David C,

"Why can we accept that the authors of scripture were protected from error, but not the church established by Christ?"

It's not a matter of being unable or unwilling to accept church infallibility. It is a matter of thinking that there are good reasons, both Scriptural and historical, to reject church infallibility. See the difference?

"If the church formally defined the canon, why would she include books that contradict her teaching?"

From what I have read, many of the teachings of Rome that Protestants disagree with actually come from the Apocryphal books (one example would be prayers for the dead).

This is also slightly question-begging. Protestants would actually view this as an argument in their favor, as it lends support to the idea that the church didn't look like Rome does today (at least in certain doctrinal respects) until well after the 4th century. Thus the early church that decided on the canon probably didn't believe many of the things that Protestants today view as obviously unscriptural. (Just to be clear, I'm not making this argument now, I'm simply pointing out how a Protestant could easily respond to your question).

"If you choose not to rely on the church, you will have a difficult time convincing me that scripture is, in fact, scripture."

Luckily Protestants are not forced to abandon the early church when it comes to arguing for the Bible, and in fact we rely on them heavily. We simply don't think them infallible.

Brandon said...

David C,

I apologize for not fully appreciating the history of your argument.

How do we really know that scripture is the Word of God?

Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. I affirm the Westminster Confession on this point:

IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

-1 TH 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

-1JO 2:20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. 27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

-1CO 2:10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

-and I would add John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.


The council did not decide what was the Word of God, they simply affirmed and recorded what the church (all believers, not the Roman Church-State ecclesiastical order) already believed (see 1 Thes 2:13 above).

If an infallible council is required in order to determine the canon of Scripture, then how did the Jews know what the OT canon was?

If the council believed they were acting infallibly, do you have any quotes proving that they saw their own actions and decisions as infallible?

--

Yes, Calvin helps shape my view, as do many people. But Calvin can be wrong, and so can every other man. I apologize if I misunderstood your reference to the early church fathers. If you are simply pointing to them to see what the early church believed, then I see no problem with that. The problem that presents for you is that the early church was *very fallible. I believe Athanasius contra mundum has already been mentioned on this blog.

but not the church established by Christ?

To be clear, we disagree as to what that means, so if you want to have meaningful conversation, please keep that in mind. I do not believe Christ established the Roman Church-State. Jesus established his church, which is built on faith in Him alone. Every ecclesiastical order may collapse, and yet the church will prevail because it is a spiritual kingdom (John 18:38).

If you choose not to rely on the church, you will have a difficult time convincing me that scripture is, in fact, scripture.

It is not my purpose to convince you of the inspiration of the Word of God. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. I am simply here to show you what is wrong with your arguments.

--

Furthermore, if you are unwilling to accept the authority of Scripture unless the Roman Church-State says you should, then I believe you have a conundrum. From what I have seen, you rest your argument for the authority of Rome on Papal Succession as you believe it is described in Matthew 16. Yet, you will not believe that Matthew 16 is the Word of God unless the Church says so. How do you know Rome is infallible? Matthew 16 says so. How do you know Matthew 16 is infallible? Rome says so.

David Cox said...

"Are you suggesting that there can't be any way of knowing these things for sure without some infallible authority to tell us? Is there no way to know that the Bible is God's Word, and no way to know which books are in the canon and which are not, without said infallible authority?"

I think that is pretty accurate. Someone told us what was in the bible and someone told us it was the infallible word of God. Who was that someone? We can't say that it is scripture itself, because that would be question begging. If we say that the best argument won the day, then who decided which was the best argument. If we say that it is the holy spirit speaking to us, then that is subjective. At some point, we have to trust the authority of those that came before us. You may accept a different authority than I do, but it is an authority nonetheless. A pastor or group of elders actually has more authority than the pope and magisterium claim.

"It's not a matter of being unable or unwilling to accept church infallibility. It is a matter of thinking that there are good reasons, both Scriptural and historical, to reject church infallibility. See the difference?"

I do see the difference. But what are these good arguments? Maybe you have addressed these, but I seem to have missed them.

"From what I have read, many of the teachings of Rome that Protestants disagree with actually come from the Apocryphal books (one example would be prayers for the dead)."

I know that the prayers for the dead come from Macabees (praying for the dead is found in many ancient Jewish writings. That is what the Jews believed), but I am not sure of any others that come from the Deuterocanonicals. Didn't all Christendom accept the Deuterocanonicals until the Reformation? Why were the Deuterocanonicals dropped but James and Revelation were kept? Luther wanted to get rid of those too.

"This is also slightly question-begging. Protestants would actually view this as an argument in their favor, as it lends support to the idea that the church didn't look like Rome does today (at least in certain doctrinal respects) until well after the 4th century. Thus the early church that decided on the canon probably didn't believe many of the things that Protestants today view as obviously unscriptural. (Just to be clear, I'm not making this argument now, I'm simply pointing out how a Protestant could easily respond to your question)."

I have said before that there doesn't exist a Catholic dogma that contradicts scripture. If we are being honest, how many of these dogmas (that would be viewed as contra scripture) have you actually studied? How many of the Church documents have you read? Many protestants form their opinions on Catholicism based on what their pastors or families teach them. They read Boettner or Woodrow but they usually don't read what the church teaches directly from the mouth of the church. Therefore, the Catholic position gets written off as non optional because we are the 'whore of Babylon.' This blog is a perfect example, as the purpose was orignially to dialogue with EO...Catholics weren't even invited to the table. Why is that? (maybe because your college friends are EO, which is understandable) You have been so charitable to entertain my arguments, but it doesn't seem that the Catholic position was originally looked at as an option.

How do you know that the early church didn't believe the things that Rome does today? Is it that they didn't believe them, or that they didn't have the need to define them? Did the laws of physics exist before they were defined? Is our world really different today than it was 1000 years ago, or do we just understand it better? The potential for modern technology has always been here, we have just developed it recently. Doctrine develops just like our understanding of the world around us. The foundation of the Apostles was intended to be built upon.

"Luckily Protestants are not forced to abandon the early church when it comes to arguing for the Bible, and in fact we rely on them heavily. We simply don't think them infallible."

I don't think that all the fathers are infallible either. I do believe that the church documents and formal papal pronouncements are, for example. Most of these councils and dogmatic proclamations were the result of some sort of heresy or need to clarify something. It isn't as if the church arbitrarily makes things up.

David Cox said...

"The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God."

It still doesn't answer why it is the word of God. This statement is merely a proposition that the Bible is the Bible but, it isn't because the Catholics told us that we believe it.

"V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts."

What keeps a Mormon from claiming this for the Book of Mormon or a Muslim from claiming this for the Koran?

This same statement can be made regarding many of the writings of the early church that weren't accepted as scripture. What is it about the book of Ruth that makes it obviously scripture?

"If an infallible council is required in order to determine the canon of Scripture, then how did the Jews know what the OT canon was?"

The Jews didn't agree on a canon. The Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, Zealots, etc. all disagreed on what was to be considered scripture.

"Furthermore, if you are unwilling to accept the authority of Scripture unless the Roman Church-State says you should, then I believe you have a conundrum. From what I have seen, you rest your argument for the authority of Rome on Papal Succession as you believe it is described in Matthew 16. Yet, you will not believe that Matthew 16 is the Word of God unless the Church says so. How do you know Rome is infallible? Matthew 16 says so. How do you know Matthew 16 is infallible? Rome says so."

I agree that if I am not careful that I will be making a circular argument. But we go back to "on this rock, I build my church." What does that mean to you? What does it mean to you when Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom (matt 16, Isaiah 22)? What does it mean when Jesus gives the apostles the authority to bind and loose or to forgive sins? These are very powerful statements.

Brandon said...

David C,

I think you would really benefit from reading William Webster's books on Roman Catholicism, especially Roman Catholicism at the Bar of History.

Didn't all Christendom accept the Deuterocanonicals until the Reformation?

No. For more, read here The OT Canon and the Apocrypha

Contrary to what you suggest, I disagree with Rome because I have read her official teachings. I have not read all of them, but I have read those concerning justification and the issues surrounding it. If you want to discuss those issues, I would love to, but we should start a different post on another blog (mine is find if you like) http://contrast2.wordpress.com

I reject Rome because Rome rejects the Gospel. (that is not meant to be an inflammatory statement, merely a statement as to why I reject RC)

What keeps a Mormon from claiming this for the Book of Mormon or a Muslim from claiming this for the Koran?

Both claim to be fuller revelation that rests upon Holy Scripture. Both contradict the Scriptures. Therefore they are not inspired of God.

I agree that if I am not careful that I will be making a circular argument.

In what way do you think your argument is not circular?

In regards to Matthew 16, I recommend Richard Bennett's lectures. He was a Roman Catholic priest in the Dominican Order for 22 years and was educated in Rome. Peter and the Rock

The Papal claim to the keys and the Apostle Peter

I will give my own explanation later tonight after I get off work.

Brandon said...

Oh, and if the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit is subjective and not to be trusted, then on what authority does Rome claim their testimony? Is it not by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, but simply an exclusive understanding of it that only revealed this testimony to certain men?

David N said...

David C,

"I think that is pretty accurate. Someone told us what was in the bible and someone told us it was the infallible word of God."

But now you face the problem that Nate and I have been talking about. Who told you that the church was infallible? It can't be the Bible. It can't be the church. Nor can it be Christ, as His teachings exist today only in Scripture or the church. Nor can it be the Holy Spirit, as you have already ruled that out as being merely subjective, etc, etc.

So I have to ask again, how do you know that the church is infallible?

"Didn't all Christendom accept the Deuterocanonicals until the Reformation?"

No. And I don't believe Rome had an official, dogmatic position until the 16th century.

"Luther wanted to get rid of those too."

When criticizing others for not dealing with Rome on its own terms and merely dealing with what their pastors told them, it would be wise to give Protestants the same courtesy. Luther had a knack for overstatement and said a lot of things that he probably shouldn't have. But more importantly, Luther later recanted of this when he realized that he was wrong.

"I have said before that there doesn't exist a Catholic dogma that contradicts scripture."

According to you. I disagree. Merely asserting this over and over again does not constitute an argument. In any case, I had hoped that I was clear enough when I said that I was not actually attempting to argue for any of this. I was merely stating the (obvious) Protestant response to your question. I obviously didn't expect you to agree with it.

"If we are being honest, how many of these dogmas (that would be viewed as contra scripture) have you actually studied?"

I'm sorry, but this is also getting a bit old. Assuming that your opponents must not understanding your position without any actual evidence to back that assumption is going to kill any possible dialog. I have read Catholic theologians, and most Protestants I have read who attempt to articulate the Catholic position do so by quoting the catechism, or other official sources. And you should really give those diabolical pastors and families more credit. I have heard R. C. Sproul attack Protestant straw men of Catholicism on numerous occasions. We aren't out to deceive people away from the church, since we don't think we need to.

"How do you know that the early church didn't believe the things that Rome does today? Is it that they didn't believe them, or that they didn't have the need to define them?"

I've heard this argument before and it simply begs the question. No one was writing about purgatory in the 2nd century. You say it's because everyone believed it so they didn't need to, I say it's because it wasn't invented yet. Both assertions are plausible given the evidence, so which is correct? I think the problem with your argument is that it seems to suggest that all theological writing from the first few centuries existed only (or primarily) to combat controversy. That simply isn't true. There are plenty of early statements of faith, commentaries on Scripture, etc. Thus, if we find certain teachings missing, the most likely explanation is that no (or very few) Christians believed it.

Incidentally, I think this is why Rome must rely on apostolic succession. She can plausibly claim an unbroken chain of MEN from Peter to the current Pope (I assume, I have yet to see this done), but she cannot produce an unbroken chain of DOCTRINE. She must rely on assumptions which are based on the belief in her own infallibility.

David N said...

David C,

I wanted to comment on this separately, because I believe that it is VERY important.

"It isn't as if the church arbitrarily makes things up."

Exactly! But if you admit this, then you must also admit that the church has reasons for its decisions (otherwise they would be arbitrary). And if it has reasons, then arguments can be made based upon those reasons. And thus, there is nothing in principle about the Protestant method that you can object to.

David Cox said...

David
I agree with you that this is getting a bit old. I am sure that you are dissatisfied with my arguments as I am with yours. I mean no disrespect by this, it is beginning to feel like a dog chasing its tail. At this point, we probably aren't doing each other any good. I apologize if my arguments have seemed to weaken...I have been trying to fit my blogging in between spending time with my four boys and preparing to go back to work--the train of thought has been derailed many times.

I hope that I haven't offended you in any way and I didn't mean to infer that families and/or pastors are diabolical.

My point about Catholic dogma not contradicting scripture wasn't meant to be a simple assertion. My point is that every dogma can be explained using scripture...it isn't arbitrary. I realize that the protestant position can claim the same thing. But at the end of the day, the protestant position is always defined on how it isn't Roman. The very term 'protestant' attests to this.

I am sure that my arguments haven't been as airtight as you believe yours to be. I have simply tried to demonstrate that the Catholic belief is tenable.

I have tried to answer all of your objections (maybe not as well as I would have liked) but there are many questions that I have raised, that seem to have been glossed over. But maybe those questions were a bit off topic, so I understand.

God bless you in your continued education. Maybe next time we have a discussion, it can be on an area of doctrine where our different points of view can actually complement each other.

Thanks for your charity and patience.

David N said...

David C,

I didn't mean to suggest that this entire dialog was getting old. I was only referring to your comment about Protestants not really understanding what Catholicism teaches. I simply see no reason to assume that I believe what I believe only because of the straw men my Protestant friends have told me. If I have said something about Catholicism that seems untrue to you, please point it out.

I also disagree that Protestant theology is defined merely by how it differs from Rome. No offense, but I trust you can see how biased that sounds. Calvinism, for one, is not merely a list of doctrines that differ from Rome, but rather a coherent system that starts with Bible. As to the name "Protestant", that was largely employed by Catholics, and doesn't really have any bearing on our theology anyway.

I apologize if I sounded as though I was finished with this discussion. I'm truly not. If you wish to leave everything else alone, that's fine with me, but I really wish you would respond to the two important points I tried to make.

The first was: " But now you face the problem that Nate and I have been talking about. Who told you that the church was infallible? It can't be the Bible. It can't be the church. Nor can it be Christ, as His teachings exist today only in Scripture or the church. Nor can it be the Holy Spirit, as you have already ruled that out as being merely subjective, etc, etc. So I have to ask again, how do you know that the church is infallible?"

Keep in mind I am not asking for specific arguments, I merely wish to know HOW (or by what means) you come to the conclusion that the church is infallible.

The second point was the one I made in a separate comment (in response to your claim that the church doesn't do anything arbitrarily).

I believe those both to be hugely important for the more general question of "is SS a tenable, plausible, workable doctrine?" I feel like I've been trying to nail down a response to that question, but we continue to get bogged down in details, not just about whether SS is tenable, but whether it is actually true. That's obviously quite important, but not the question I've been trying to answer.

Also, if you can think of any questions that I have glossed over, please bring them to my attention and I will try to answer them. I know I have responded directly to many of your questions so far, but I admit I may have skipped some that you thought were important. Perhaps it would help me if you numbered them. :P

By the way, we are currently working on a post specifically aimed at defending SS from Scripture itself, so stay tuned for that!

David Cox said...

"Who told you that the church was infallible? It can't be the Bible. It can't be the church. Nor can it be Christ, as His teachings exist today only in Scripture or the church. Nor can it be the Holy Spirit, as you have already ruled that out as being merely subjective, etc, etc. So I have to ask again, how do you know that the church is infallible?""

I am going to try to help you nail the answer down. But I need you to answer a question: Are all Godly things true, or is all truth Godly?

Brandon said...

I know you're not asking me, but can you define your terms? What do you mean by Godly?

David Cox said...

By Godly, I mean of God. Does all truth come from God?

David N said...

David C,

"Are all Godly things true, or is all truth Godly?"

As this is currently phrased, I'm not really sure how to answer, or even what you're asking. "Are all Godly things true?" Yes.

"Is all truth Godly?" Maybe. It depends on what you mean by this. It is certainly true that Satan exists, but Satan is not "of God" in the sense that God created Satan fallen. On the other hand, nothing happens contrary to the will of God, including the fall of Satan. So if "being of God" means broadly "being according to God's will", then the answer to this would be "yes" as well.

David Cox said...

There is a big difference to me in the two statements.

Obviously, all things that are from God are true. However, if we say that all truth comes from God, then we are making a more general statement.


Would you agree that Jesus established a church? And this church is the body of Christ. The body of Christ is only the body of Christ in as much as it holds to the teachings of Christ, ie. truth. Would you agree that if this church ceased teaching the truth that it would cease being the church that Jesus established?

Brandon said...

Will you please define "church"?

David N said...

David C,

Obviously you and I do not completely agree on what "the church" is. I do not define the church as any visible body, nor as a specific group of teachers.

The church is the body of Christ, i.e. all those who are "saved" (or the elect). However, it is possible for a person who is elect to have incorrect beliefs. I do not agree with my Baptist brothers about the issue of infant baptism, but I do not believe that a truly regenerate Baptist is outside of the church.

You said: "Obviously, all things that are from God are true. However, if we say that all truth comes from God, then we are making a more general statement."

Actually these two seem to be equally general. And they are also both true. So I'm still not sure where you're going with this.

David Cox said...

David
Was the 1st century church a visible body or specific group of teachers?

David N said...

David C,

"Was the 1st century church a visible body or specific group of teachers?"

No.

David Cox said...

David
Then what do you make of the apostles and the 'organization' that they set up?

David N said...

David C,

Paul's letter to the Corinthians makes it clear that not all within the visible body of the "church" were truly members of the body of Christ.

The Apostles were certainly a specific group of teachers, but the Apostles alone did not comprise the church.

Brandon said...

A couple of links may be helpful:

The Church Boettner

Authoritarian Presbyterianism

David Cox said...

"Paul's letter to the Corinthians makes it clear that not all within the visible body of the "church" were truly members of the body of Christ."

Does Paul actually distinguish between the 'church' and the 'body of Christ?'

"The Apostles were certainly a specific group of teachers, but the Apostles alone did not comprise the church."

Nor am I suggesting that. But isn't it clear (especially when one reade 1 Cor 1) that the intention of the apostles was for the Church to be united?

David N said...

David C,

"Does Paul actually distinguish between the 'church' and the 'body of Christ?'"

That wasn't my point. You asked me if I thought the 1st century church was a single, visible body. I said no, for the reason that many within the visible body were not truly of the church.

"But isn't it clear (especially when one reade 1 Cor 1) that the intention of the apostles was for the Church to be united?"

Yes I think it was.

David Cox said...

"I said no, for the reason that many within the visible body were not truly of the church."

Can we say that those who aren't truly of the church, then really aren't part of the visible body? Are you defining "being part of the visible body" in terms of physical proximity?

Maybe our problem is symantic. When you say that the church wasn't a single visible body, then say that the church was to be united, I see a contradiction. I see the 'single visible body' and the 'church' as being one and the same.

My point all along is for us to at least agree with what the first generation church looked like.

Will you agree that the first generation church (visible body), which was established by Christ through the apostles (specific teachers), had infallibe authority in faith and morals?

David N said...

David C,

"Will you agree that the first generation church (visible body), which was established by Christ through the apostles (specific teachers), had infallibe authority in faith and morals?"

Given your last comment, I'm really not sure what you want "visible body" to mean. Physical proximity is certainly part of it. A visible body is one that we can see, one that identifies itself as a body. But surely you agree (and indeed the Bible teaches) that within every body of people that we can see with our eyes who all call themselves "Christians", there are those who are not truly Christian? There has always been one body of Christ, just not a visible one.

"...had infallibe authority in faith and morals?"

The Apostles had this authority, yes.

David Cox said...

Of course there are those who "call themselves Christian" when they really aren't. But, I would argue that they aren't part of the body.

I would define "visible body" as the body of believers in communion with Christ via the established church of the apostles. Where you find the teaching of the apostles, there you will find the body of Christ.

In the first century, there were many who claimed to have the teaching of Christ. The way a believer was to know the difference was to ask the question, "was this man with Jesus?" Or, "was this man taught by a man who was with Jesus?" Would you agree?

David N said...

David C,


"I would define "visible body" as the body of believers in communion with Christ via the established church of the apostles."

In what meaningful sense is this body "visible" when you have already admitted that there are those who associate with this body who are not truly members? Or are you arguing that every person who calls themselves "Catholic" and communes with the Pope is a true Christian?


"The way a believer was to know the difference was to ask the question, "was this man with Jesus?" Or, "was this man taught by a man who was with Jesus?" Would you agree?"

This was not the only way to know, nor the most important. What was important was not that a person knew a person who knew an Apostle, but that that person taught Apostolic doctrine. I don't think it's coincidental that the farther removed you get from Apostolic times, the less people relied on such succession arguments (which would have been impossible to make anyway) and the more people relied on Scripture.

I have to be honest, I still don't see where you're going with this.

David Cox said...

David
"In what meaningful sense is this body "visible" when you have already admitted that there are those who associate with this body who are not truly members? Or are you arguing that every person who calls themselves "Catholic" and communes with the Pope is a true Christian?"

You are getting way ahead of me here. I am only in the first century. Are you saying that because non christians associated with christians that the visible body is not meaningful? Can you please explain that?

My entire point is that the true church is that which is founded on apostolic teaching...which you have agreed with. The question is how was this apostolic teaching preserved?

You said that the most important thing was that the "person taught apostolic doctrine." It may be splitting hairs, but I would say that the most important thing was that the person was taught by the apostles.

How can one who came after the apostles determine apostolic doctrine without the teaching of one who was actually taught by an apostle? You may answer, "scripture." But how was one to know what to count as "scripture" without depending on the authority of the bishop who was taught by the apostles?

"I don't think it's coincidental that the farther removed you get from Apostolic times, the less people relied on such succession arguments (which would have been impossible to make anyway) and the more people relied on Scripture."

It is no more impossible to make a succession argument than it is to make an argument for who your great great grandfather was.

You seem to be making an either/or argument. Either the church was a visible or it was based on correct teaching only. If the choice has to be either/or, then I would agree with you. But,why can't it be both/and?

David N said...

David C,

"Are you saying that because non christians associated with christians that the visible body is not meaningful? Can you please explain that?"

It doesn't make the visible body meaningless. I take the visible body very seriously. But it means that we can't define all the people within a particular visible group as "the church."

"You said that the most important thing was that the "person taught apostolic doctrine." It may be splitting hairs, but I would say that the most important thing was that the person was taught by the apostles."

I don't think that's splitting hairs, those are (or can be) two different things. But here's my question, who founded the church in Carthage? Alexandria? I know of no credible historical sources that can tell us this. At a certain point, the majority of the Christian world simply cannot trace its heritage back to a set of people, which means it must rely on Apostolic doctrine. That would seem to make the doctrine more important for most of Christendom.

"But how was one to know what to count as "scripture" without depending on the authority of the bishop who was taught by the apostles?"

Depending on someone to be reliable when saying, "I knew Paul, and he wrote this letter" is very different from ascribing inherent authority to said person.

"It is no more impossible to make a succession argument than it is to make an argument for who your great great grandfather was."

See my response above.

"Either the church was a visible or it was based on correct teaching only."

I don't think I made this either/or distinction. Can you show me where I said this?

David Cox said...

David
You haven't explicitly made an either/or argument, but it seems to me that you don't see the validity of the "visible" church. Can you help me understand what your take on the visible church is?

I think the question we need to nail down is this: does correct doctrine define the church or does the church define correct doctrine? Or is this a false dichotomy?

David N said...

David C,

As a Reformed Christian, I think that the visible body is extremely important, because it is through the visible church that the people can partake of the means of grace (baptism, preaching, the Lord's supper). However, I do not believe that one must be in communion with any single visible body (whether it be Rome, Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc.) in order to be a true member of the body of Christ. Thus I cannot say that the "church" (defined as all those who are members of Christ's body) is "visible." Make sense?

"does correct doctrine define the church or does the church define correct doctrine? Or is this a false dichotomy?"

In one way, this may be the question we've been arguing about the whole time. I would say that the church is defined by correct doctrine. But you would (I believe) ask how I can know correct doctrine without the church to tell me what it is, and so you would say that the church must define correct doctrine. Does that sound right?

David Cox said...

Your explanation of the 'visible body' makes perfect sense. However, I think we need to track back to the time before there were any 'denominations.' Correct doctrine did define the church. How do you suppose one was able to determine correct doctrine? Was it because it came from the apostles?

So here is our dilemma:

The apostles (and Peter in particular) were entrusted with the responsibility of "feeding Christ's sheep", forgiving sins, baptizing, preaching and teaching, and binding and loosing. They were also given the guarantee from Christ that they would be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. They enjoyed the charism of infallible authority in all matters of faith and practice. So now what? After the death of the last apostle, who is left to lead the church?

We seem to agree on just about everything right up until the last apostle dies. Am I correct here?

David N said...

David C,

I think you are correct, except for a few slight differences of interpretation (which may not even affect the point you are trying to make, but I figure I should mention them anyway).

A Protestant would take a slightly different understanding of what it means for the Apostles to "bind" and "loose" and forgive sins. I think we would say that the Apostle's authority to forgive sins is the same as the church's authority today. But, that authority is not based upon inherent infallibility, rather it is based upon the assurance of pardon given by Christ through the gospel. Also, (some) Protestants would argue that the metaphor of the keys (which open and shut the gates into Heaven) is meant to apply to the gospel itself, which is the power by which the Christian is able to offer salvation (and open the gates of Heaven) to the unbeliever.

This may get us side-traked, so I won't go into any more detail. Suffice it to say that we agree that the Apostles had infallible teaching authority, because as you said, the Holy Spirit lead them into all truth. Although even on this point it is worth noting that (1) the context of that verse suggests that it might apply only to the Apostle's writing of the NT, and not just to anything and everything they ever said. (2) Paul seems to make a distinction between what Christ specifically taught him and what is merely his own opinion in 1 Cor., which may further support point (1). But again I may be getting side-tracked.

David Cox said...

You raise some good points regarding binding and loosing, etc. which I am sure will be addressed in future posts, so I will comment later. I don't want to get sidetracked either.

"Suffice it to say that we agree that the Apostles had infallible teaching authority, because as you said, the Holy Spirit lead them into all truth. Although even on this point it is worth noting that (1) the context of that verse suggests that it might apply only to the Apostle's writing of the NT, and not just to anything and everything they ever said. (2) Paul seems to make a distinction between what Christ specifically taught him and what is merely his own opinion in 1 Cor., which may further support point (1). But again I may be getting side-tracked."

I don't think this point will get us sidetracked at all. I think it calls for a very important clarification. We cannot confuse infallibility with impeccability. For example, Pope Benedict recently wrote a book entitled "Jesus of Nazareth." In no way is this an infallible work. It is merely his personal search for the face of Jesus. Not everything a Pope or Bishop says is infallible teaching. Only when the Pope of Magisterium are clarifying dogma do they enjoy the protection of infallibility. I have stated it before, but infallibility is a "negative protection." Does that make sense?

So my question boils down to this: If the apostles held an infallible teaching authority in the area of faith and morals, and they instituted the church with authority figures (ie. bishops, presbyteroi, deacons) to whom they entrusted this teaching, then why do you assume that this teaching authority ended? Why would they set up the instituion if they didn't expect it to carry on?

David N said...

I don't see any evidence from the NT that the Apostles were concerned with establishing a structure of leaders that would continue to possess the same infallible authority as they did. Rather, they seemed to be concerned with establishing their own authority, and then ensuring that their disciples would teach only what they taught. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating, that nowhere do the Apostles repeat Jesus' words about the Spirit guiding them into all truth to their own disciples. Instead they simply point to their own authority and say "now teach what I taught."

This is why the written Scriptures are so important. Oral transmission is inefficient and prone to error. You ask why the Apostles would have set up the authority structures without giving them a divine guarantee. I don't know. But I see no evidence that any such guarantee was ever given, so I have no reason to believe in one.

David Cox said...

"I don't see any evidence from the NT that the Apostles were concerned with establishing a structure of leaders that would continue to possess the same infallible authority as they did. Rather, they seemed to be concerned with establishing their own authority, and then ensuring that their disciples would teach only what they taught. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating, that nowhere do the Apostles repeat Jesus' words about the Spirit guiding them into all truth to their own disciples. Instead they simply point to their own authority and say "now teach what I taught." "


Wouldn't holding to the apostles' teaching mean that the teaching of their successors was infallible? If it were fallible, then it would cease to be apostolic teaching.

"This is why the written Scriptures are so important. Oral transmission is inefficient and prone to error."

Written transmission is just as prone to error. Paul explicitly places the oral on par with the written.

" You ask why the Apostles would have set up the authority structures without giving them a divine guarantee. I don't know. But I see no evidence that any such guarantee was ever given, so I have no reason to believe in one."

At the end of the day, either I am right or you are right. If you are right, then no problem. I still see scripture as authoritative. My interpretation may be different than yours, but it can be defended. However, what if I am right? If that is the case then you are missing out on the fullness of the faith.

David N said...

David C,

"Wouldn't holding to the apostles' teaching mean that the teaching of their successors was infallible?"

Only insofar as they taught exactly what the Apostles taught.

"If it were fallible, then it would cease to be apostolic teaching."

The teaching itself would be infallible, but there would be nothing inherently infallible about the teacher. If I quote directly from Paul, what I am saying is infallible, but I myself am not infallible while I'm quoting him. Do you agree?

And further, if I go on to say, "What Paul means in this verse is..." then my teaching is no longer infallible, but as far as I can see it is still true. Make sense?

"Written transmission is just as prone to error. Paul explicitly places the oral on par with the written."

I would strongly disagree that written transmission is JUST AS prone to error. And where does Paul explicitly place them on the same level?

"If you are right, then no problem. I still see scripture as authoritative."

Once again, Protestantism does not mean subjectivist. I do not think that there is "no problem" for Catholics, because I think you are teaching some false doctrines, and though Catholics can certainly be true Christians, it's not a safe position to be in. And because I think you preach an altered gospel, If I am right than you would also be cutting yourself off from true preaching, which is an important means of grace.

"However, what if I am right? If that is the case then you are missing out on the fullness of the faith."

Quite right. But this isn't so easy a matter as to be decided by something akin to Pascal's Wager. I think I have good reason to think that you are not right, so I do not need to play the odds, as it were.

David Cox said...

"The teaching itself would be infallible, but there would be nothing inherently infallible about the teacher. If I quote directly from Paul, what I am saying is infallible, but I myself am not infallible while I'm quoting him. Do you agree?"

I have always agreed with that. I think you are still confusing infallibility with impeccability. I found a quote from St. Irenaeus that demonstrates that the early church believed in the importance of apostolic succession and anyone who was outside of the succession was suspect (Against Heresies Book 3, Chapter 3, Paragraph 3).

http://home.newadvent.org/fathers/0103303.htm


"I would strongly disagree that written transmission is JUST AS prone to error."

How can you say that when most divisions in the church have been caused by misinterpretation of scripture? There wasn't all this confusion prior to sola scriptura. That is not a coincidence.

"And where does Paul explicitly place them on the same level?"


2 Thess 2:15
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
RSV

It seems that you have created a conundrum for yourself. On one hand you say that the true church is that which teaches apostolic doctrine, but on the other hand, you state that a protestant really has no way of knowing for sure if he is right. So which church today is teaching apostolic doctrine? Did the apostles teach regenerative baptism or not? Did they teach in the presence (body, blood, soul and divinity) of Christ in the Eucharist? Did they teach that grace is imparted or imputed? Did they teach faith alone or faith working in love? (I don't expect you to answer all these...different post, different day :)

You say that a Protestant isn't a subjectivist, but that just isn't true. Sola Scriptura forces you to be subjectivist...you form your opinion based on your perception of what scripture says, not on the reality of what scripture says, independent of mind. I can be objectively sure because all of the above questions are already answered. If I would like to understand how the church arrives at her answers, that is easy to do...and the answers always make sense.

Of course you think that the Catholic Church teaches false doctrines and an altered gospel because it doesn't line up with what you believe. I used to say the same thing.

David N said...

David C,

"2 Thess 2:15
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter."

Paul can say this because he delivered the oral teaching infallibly. Besides which, this is still an argument from silence, since you have no way to prove that the oral tradition Paul is referencing here is not actually contained elsewhere in Scripture.

"It seems that you have created a conundrum for yourself."

You continue to preface your comments with definitive-sounding statements like this, but I'm still not seeing the force of any of your arguments. I have already responded to the subjectivity argument, but I will try to do so again.

"On one hand you say that the true church is that which teaches apostolic doctrine, but on the other hand, you state that a protestant really has no way of knowing for sure if he is right."

I fail to see the aforementioned conundrum. I have never said that a Protestant has "no way of knowing" what right doctrine is. He simply cannot claim to know with infallible certainty.

"Did the apostles teach regenerative baptism or not?"

No.

"Did they teach in the presence (body, blood, soul and divinity) of Christ in the Eucharist?"

No.

"Did they teach that grace is imparted or imputed?"

Imputed.

"Did they teach faith alone or faith working in love?"

Faith alone.

"Sola Scriptura forces you to be subjectivist...you form your opinion based on your perception of what scripture says, not on the reality of what scripture says, independent of mind."

You are confusing the issue. When I say "I believe Reformed doctrine to be true" I mean that I believe Reformed doctrine to be the closest thing to mind-independent, objective truth that we as humans can currently know/understand. My belief may be subjective to my own ability to understand and reason, but that does not make me a subjectivist. If it does, then everyone, including yourself, is equally a subjectivist, because we all use the same process to come to ANY conclusion about what is true. Moreover, your decision to put your faith in Catholic doctrine was a fallible one (unless you are claiming infallibility for yourself). Thus any certainty or hope of objectivity that you might have is equally fallible, and you are in the same boat that I am.

"I can be objectively sure because all of the above questions are already answered."

Yes, but according to you, your decision to accept the Catholic answers to those questions was a subjective one. Do you see the problem?

"If I would like to understand how the church arrives at her answers, that is easy to do..."

I find this particularly interesting. I assume you mean that the church has reasons and arguments to support their answers? And as you say, they "make sense" to you. But all this means is that you have heard arguments, and regardless of whether or not the church claims to be infallible, you have judged (by your fallible reason) these arguments to be true. Now, this is exactly what a Protestant does, we simply remove the pretense of infallible certainty. You must be able to see now that your "conundrum" cuts both ways?

At this point I feel I should point out that we have once again fallen off track, and I still have not heard anything close to an answer to my original question, "How do you know that the church is infallible?" But perhaps there is no need now. I have already showed that you must come to that conclusion by your own fallible reasoning abilities, and thus your belief in Catholic doctrine is just as subjective and uncertain as my beliefs are.

David Cox said...

David
How do I know that the church is infallible?
The church of the apostles was infallible (we agree on this). They entrusted teaching to others and there is no reason to believe that this infallibility ended. Where true teaching is, there you will find the church. The early fathers believed in the Church. MG's quote from Ignatius shows this, my quote from Irenaeus shows this. This is looking like willful ignorance on your part. You keep turning this into a dog chasing its tail. You seem to have this 'chain is only as strong as its weakest link' argument against infallibility: since I am fallible, my decision to trust the church is no stronger than your decision not to.

How do you say that baptsim isn't regenerative when Paul says:

Titus 3:4-6
5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,
RSV

Peter later goes on to tell us that it is baptism that 'saves us.'


How can you say faith alone when Gal 5:5-6 states:
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.
RSV

How can righteousness be merely imputed when as soon as God "declares" something, it becomes true:

Rom 5:19-20
19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.

How can you say that Christ isn't truly present in the Eucharist. I take "this is my body" to mean just that..."this is my body." That is about as objective as it gets.

I realize that neither of us are fans of proof texting, but I am just trying to show that these "Catholic" doctrines haven't just fallen out of the sky. It seems as though a protestant has two unspoken criteria when they look to define doctrine: 1. It can't be Catholic and 2. It can't be Catholic.

" When I say "I believe Reformed doctrine to be true" I mean that I believe Reformed doctrine to be the closest thing to mind-independent, objective truth that we as humans can currently know/understand."

So then everyone else must be a subjectivist. Or, according to your arguments, you being subjective means that everyone is subjective. That makes absolutely no sense to me. Maybe it is because I don't have the philosophy background that you do. But, at this point, it seems to me that your intelligence is working against you. You have all the tools in the world to talk yourself out of simple truths.

"I have never said that a Protestant has "no way of knowing" what right doctrine is. He simply cannot claim to know with infallible certainty."

What is the difference?

I sincerely apologize in advance if any of my comments come off as offensive. That is truly not my intention.

David N said...

David C,

I feel I should preface my comments with a note of astonishment. You made no attempt to address the specific arguments that I made regarding the "subjectivity" and/or uncertainty of your own beliefs. Instead you merely made a vague and general comment about my being too intelligent for my own good and not seeing the "simple truths." Well, from where I am sitting, my points were pretty simple, and I can only assume that your silence means you are merely unable or unwilling to honestly respond to them.

"So then everyone else must be a subjectivist. Or, according to your arguments, you being subjective means that everyone is subjective. That makes absolutely no sense to me."

Let me try once more. In order to come to my theological positions, I must hear the arguments, weigh the evidence, and then decide what seems right to me. This is partially subjective, in that my beliefs are necessarily subject to my own powers of reasoning. But this is how everyone comes to form beliefs about everything. So if I must be a theological subjectivist because I form my theological beliefs this way, then everyone must be a subjectivist about all of their beliefs, because everyone forms all of their beliefs in the same way!. Everyone considers the evidence and makes what they believe to be the right choice. It's that simple.

I then went on to show you that you use this very same process of reasoning to come to the conclusion that the Catholic church is infallible. You were once a Protestant, but you heard the Catholic arguments and were convinced by them. By your own fallible reasoning powers you chose to accept the Catholic church's doctrines as true and infallible. But this was a fallible decision (again, unless you are claiming to be personally infallible). And your personal, fallible decision cannot possibly give you infallible certainty that your theological beliefs are correct. And according to you, if you do not have absolute certainty that your beliefs are correct, then you must be a subjectivist as well.

Do you understand the argument I am making now, and you will attempt to respond to it directly?

David Cox said...

David
If your point all along was to say, "we all use our best fallible reasoning to form our beliefs thereby making our beliefs fallible," then I get it. However, I don't really see that as an argument. It seems pretty axiomatic. I don't really see that as an argument against church infallibility or an argument for SS.

If I am still misunderstanding you, I apologize.

David N said...

David C,

Great! Yes, that was pretty much all I was trying to say, so I'm glad we agree.

You're right, that's not an argument for SS. However, one thing you have repeated several times is that Protestantism is doomed to subjectivism, and the Protestant lacks 100% certainty in his doctrinal beliefs. You seem to think that a Catholic is not equally doomed to this fate. But what I was trying to show you was that if a Catholic arrives at his doctrinal beliefs in exactly the same way as the Protestant (which you have agreed to) then, even if he comes to believe that the church is infallible, he still cannot have 100% certainty in the church's doctrines, because he arrived at that conclusion by his own fallible reason.

The other point I was trying to make was that if a Protestant must be a subjectivist (which either means that there is no absolute truth, or that we can never know what it is), then so must a Catholic, for again, a Catholic must arrive at his own beliefs in exactly the same way as the Protestant, and he cannot have any more certainty than the Protestant can.

The conclusion is, I think, that neither a Protestant nor a Catholic need be a subjectivist, and though both can have very high certainty in their beliefs (as I'm sure we both do), neither can possess infallible, 100% certainty.

David Cox said...

David
Now that we have established that we are all fallible (which I believe is akin to saying that the sky is blue), we must look at the doctrine of SS compared to that of the teaching authority of the Church. Once I arrive at the conclusion that the Church is infallible, I now have the possibility of knowing truth objectively. One who holds to sola scriptura still must have a subjective view of doctrine. One who decides on doctrinal views cannot do so independent of mind. In fact, all doctrinal stances are decided upon completely dependent of mind.

You mentioned something about authority in your conversation with MG that I thought was interesting. You stated that you "place yourself under the authority of your church." Isn't that a contradiction?

David N said...

David C,

So, as a Protestant, let's say I approach Scripture, read it, do in-depth studies of hermenuetics, genre, historical background, etc. After all of this, I come to a decision about what doctrine I think is objectively true, based on Scripture, which I believe to be objectively authoritative. I cannot claim to know with absolute certainty that I am absolutely right, but I have no reason to doubt my conclusion. According to you, this makes me a subjectivist. I still fail to see how this conclusion follows, and you have yet to give me an argument, but let's assume for a moment that you are right.

Tell me what is different about your own beliefs. What is it that distinguishes your beliefs from mine in a way that saves you from the charge of subjectivism? Yes, you believe that the church is infallible, and that its decisions about doctrine must also be infallible. But that cannot give you absolute certainty, because it all rests upon your own fallible decision to accept the church's infallibility.

In short, explain to me how your original fallible belief can produce infallible certainty for your subsequent beliefs, and I will readily concede the point.

"You stated that you "place yourself under the authority of your church." Isn't that a contradiction?"

How is that statement contradictory? I place myself under many authorities (government, school, job, etc.) that I do not believe to be infallible. It may be the case that I know someone to be very wise in matters which I know nothing about, and so I choose to follow their council because I trust their judgment. Or take the case of your local bishop. Do you not in some sense place yourself under his authority, even though he is not personally infallible? You might take comfort in the fact that you know the magesterium in general to be infallible, but unless you call an ecumenical council to check every single decision or piece of advice that your bishop gives you, that doesn't really help.

In short, why must an authority be infallible for me to place myself under it?

David Cox said...

David
This entire argument boils down to authority. Do you have the authority or does the Church?

"So, as a Protestant, let's say I approach Scripture, read it, do in-depth studies of hermenuetics, genre, historical background, etc. After all of this, I come to a decision about what doctrine I think is objectively true, based on Scripture, which I believe to be objectively authoritative. I cannot claim to know with absolute certainty that I am absolutely right, but I have no reason to doubt my conclusion. According to you, this makes me a subjectivist."

I don't understand how you can't see this. This entire process you describe is based on you. Determining right belief is based solely on your abilities to read, reason, find the necessary resources and navigate those resources. You are looking at this as if everyone is as educated as you are. Was this possible for someone 200 years ago?

"Tell me what is different about your own beliefs. What is it that distinguishes your beliefs from mine in a way that saves you from the charge of subjectivism?"

Because I submit to an authority that isn't my own. I don't give the church authority, I simply recognize her authority.

"Yes, you believe that the church is infallible, and that its decisions about doctrine must also be infallible."

I don't think you realize it, but you just said the same thing twice. Again I believe you are mistaking infallibility with impeccability which, by the way, you have never addressed.

"But that cannot give you absolute certainty, because it all rests upon your own fallible decision to accept the church's infallibility."

Change the last word to "authority" and it does give me absolute certainty. David, I as a fallible man can make infallible decisions, no? Every time I agree to submit to the law of gravity, that is an infallible decision, ie. it will never be wrong. Anytime someone decides to defy the law of gravity by jumping off a bridge, they simply prove the law of gravity. You can't break these laws, you can only break yourself by going against them. When the church defines dogma, it simply means that she doesn't go against previous truths.

I am a geometry teacher and I am currently teaching my students about axioms (postulates), rules and theorems. We can take a set of axioms or postulates and build an entire curriculum. Is this fallible or infallible? This is how doctrine develops.

"In short, explain to me how your original fallible belief can produce infallible certainty for your subsequent beliefs, and I will readily concede the point."

I think I have addressed this above.


"How is that statement contradictory? I place myself under many authorities (government, school, job, etc.) that I do not believe to be infallible."

But what happens when there is a disagreement? If you completely disagree with a law in our government, you are still bound to follow it. If you strongly disagree with your local church, you are under no obligation to follow it. You can leave the church and there is nothing binding about your church's authority. If you want to remain a US citizen or a student at your school, you must submit to the authority. If Jesus truly set up a church with authority, then it is binding (ie. the power to bind and loose). You may decide that binding and loosing doesn't mean what I believe it means, which is very convenient for you. These are the same arguments that Kant and Scheler made. How do you not see that you are deciding what truth is? How is this different than Kant saying that God exists because I believe he does?

There is no thing as submission until there is a disagreement. You show your true beliefs on authority when you disagree with a doctrine, yet follow it because you trust the authority. The protestant doesn't do that. Everything is based on you.

David N said...

David C,

"I don't understand how you can't see this. This entire process you describe is based on you."

Yes, and so it was when you decided to become Catholic. You went through the same process and arrived at the conclusion that the church is infallible. But the base of it all is still your fallible decision.

*By the way, it might be a good idea for me to make a distinction here that might be confusing us. I am not denying that this process is relative to my own powers of reason. But I accept what I believe to be an objective norm (i.e. the Bible and all that it affirms). Thus, by definition I cannot possibly be a relativist or subjectivist.

"Because I submit to an authority that isn't my own. I don't give the church authority, I simply recognize her authority."

Just as I submit to an authority that is not my own, the Bible. I do not give the Bible authority simply because I have to interpret it, I merely recognize the authority that it already has and do my best (with the help of the wisdom of Christians throughout the ages) to do what it says. If I "give" the Bible its authority, it is only in the same way that you "give" the church its authority when by your own fallible choice you decide, "I think that the church is infallible."

"David, I as a fallible man can make infallible decisions, no?"

No. You make the right decision, but it is still a fallible one. Infallible doesn't just mean "correct." It is a description of an inherent quality of something. Unless you are infallible, then you cannot ever make an infallible decision.

So, no, your choice to accept the church's authority was not an infallible one, even if you are right.

Perhaps you could restate what you mean by the difference between infallibility and impeccability, why you think it is important, and what I have not addressed about it yet.

David Cox said...

"Yes, and so it was when you decided to become Catholic. You went through the same process and arrived at the conclusion that the church is infallible. But the base of it all is still your fallible decision."

I have agreed with this. The difference is that I now fallibly put my trust in the infallible teaching authority. You put your trust in the bible alone (which is inerrant), but you still have fallible interpretation.

"*By the way, it might be a good idea for me to make a distinction here that might be confusing us. I am not denying that this process is relative to my own powers of reason. But I accept what I believe to be an objective norm (i.e. the Bible and all that it affirms). Thus, by definition I cannot possibly be a relativist or subjectivist."

The bible can be the objective norm in as much as you can interpret it correctly. You can't demonstrate that ability as you are fallible. Therefore, you are back to deciding for yourself what truth really is. Isn't that the definition of subjective? There are millions of christians who would agree with you on the bible being the objective norm, but wouldn't be able to agree with you on much beyond that.

"Just as I submit to an authority that is not my own, the Bible. I do not give the Bible authority simply because I have to interpret it, I merely recognize the authority that it already has and do my best (with the help of the wisdom of Christians throughout the ages) to do what it says. If I "give" the Bible its authority, it is only in the same way that you "give" the church its authority when by your own fallible choice you decide, "I think that the church is infallible.""

You submit to the Bible, but you are the one who interprets what it says. I know you have said that you do extensive study and I believe you...however, there is no way that you can objectively come to some conclusions without being swayed by previously held biases. This isn't really submission, is it? What happens when you find a passage that could be contradictory to your position (eg. John 6 and the bread of life discourse)? You can simply say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. But the verb Jesus uses for eat changes from phago to trogo which demonstrates a literal eating. It is all too easy for you to just "spiritualize" something or say that Jesus was just speaking metaphorically in order to continue to hold your current view.


Here are the definitions I am working with:

Infalliblity: the ability to know the truth with certainty

Impeccability: sinlessness...no error

Jesus told the Jews to follow what the Pharisees said (infalliblity) but not what they did (impeccability). This is the same with the church.

David N said...

David C,

"The difference is that I now fallibly put my trust in the infallible teaching authority. You put your trust in the bible alone (which is inerrant), but you still have fallible interpretation."

I'm sorry, but I still do not see any difference. If you admit that putting your trust in the church's authority is a fallible decision, how can you possibly get infallible certainty out of that?

Or let me put it another way. I think we both agree that you cannot have 100% certainty in a fallible decision. Now, if I asked how you can have 100% certainty in the Catholic church's doctrine of the Eucharist, you would say that you have put your trust in the church's infallible authority. This means that your decision to put your trust in the church is the basis for your certainty in the church's doctrine. But this means that your fallible decision is the basis for all of your subsequent certainty. And if your certainty is based on something fallible, it can never be 100%. Please tell me you can see this.

"You can't demonstrate that ability as you are fallible."

Really? So now I cannot show something to be the right interpretation simply because I am fallible? Are you saying that no one can ever argue about how to correctly interpret the Constitution of the US unless they are infallible? Can we know absolutely nothing that the Catholic magesterium has not told us?

It seems to me, David, that you are slowly backing yourself into a corner. In order to make the Protestant position look much worse than the Catholic one, you are slowly adopting a more and more skeptical position towards knowledge and certainty (or perhaps you were already this skeptical, and it just hasn't come out until recently). But again, the further down that path you go the worse it will be for you. Let me ask you, can you demonstrate that you have the right interpretation of the facts when you claim to know that the Catholic church is infallible?

"Infalliblity: the ability to know the truth with certainty

Impeccability: sinlessness...no error"

Infallibility doesn't just mean knowing the truth with any amount of certainty, but with 100% absolute certainty. And more importantly, it means never being wrong. So I don't know exactly what you mean by "no error", but that falls better under infallibility.

I should also point out that if infallibility means nothing more than what you have defined it as here, it seems that you must think yourself to be infallible about doctrine. Have you not claimed several times now to "know the truth with certainty"?

David Cox said...

David
Please explain to me how I am the one who is skeptical about knowledge. It seems that you are the one who continues to ask how I can be 100% certain. I am simply trying to explain my point of view using the rules you have set.

I remember a judge saying that he wasn't final because he was right, he was right because he was final. That is so with the church ie. binding and loosing.

The church is chronologicaly prior to any NT scripture (fact).
The church finalized the canon (fact).
The church has always interpreted scripture in light of her living tradition (fact).

Of course I am fallible (fact).
But you are the one who keeps pointing out that since I am fallible, then I must not be able to be sure that my decisions are correct. So again I ask, who is the skeptical one?

David N said...

David C,

I apologize if my skepticism comment seemed to come out of left field. Let me explain.

You are attempting to argue that because I do not accept the church's infallible authority to interpret the Bible and determine right doctrine, I am a subjectivist with no way to know if my own interpretations of the Bible are correct.

But this means that, according to you, if I do not have an infallible authority to tell me what is true, then I can never know what is true. You see, the arguments that you have been using must apply equally to all areas of knowledge, not just theology. And since the church makes no infallible proclamations (or at least very few) when it comes to science, secular history, literature, politics, economics, etc., you have effectively doomed yourself to skepticism about all these areas of knowledge.

"But you are the one who keeps pointing out that since I am fallible, then I must not be able to be sure that my decisions are correct."

I have only said that because you are fallible you cannot ever have 100% certainty. But you don't need 100% certainty to know something to be true (95% certainty, for example, would be enough to be justified in believing something to be true). That is why I believe that I do not need an infallible authority in order to know that my theological beliefs are correct. I am much more optimistic about the ability of human reason to understand the truth (albeit imperfect).

David Cox said...

David
Thanks, now I think I understand what you are saying. Is if fair to say that our positions could be described the following way:

You believe that Scripture is the inspired inerrant written Word of God. You base this on good reason, fallible as it may be.

I beleive that the Church is the steward and interpreter of the inspired inerrant written Word of God. And my belief is based on good reason, fallible as it may be.

David N said...

David C,

Yes, I think that's one good way of saying it.

David Cox said...

David
Ok, now here is where I see the glaring difference. We both come the the decision of what we are going to base our beleifs on, using fallible reason. So for now, all things are equal. The problem is that now you must also become the interpreter of this scripture that you find to be authoritative. The Catholic can rest in his decision to trust the Church. The Protestant now must decide what the Bible actually says. Wouldn't this violate Ockham's Razor? Mine is a one step process: 1) Rationally decide to trust the Church's interpretation. Yours is a two step process: 1) Rationally decide to trust the bible and 2) interpret for yourself.

We also have to look at my context argument. Scripture was written in the context of the Church's liturgy and is meant to be read in this context. If the scripture is taken out of the context, the meaning dramatically changes. Imagine if you found an owner's manual for a product you didn't own. If you read the manual, it would make no sense and any sense that you did make of it, you would have to have created for yourself. Now, if you owned the product, much of the language would make sense to you. Some things wouldn't have to be spelled out for you because you would already understand because you have the product sitting right in front of you. Maybe I could have come up with a different analogy, but I hope you get my point.

Of course you would disagree with Catholic teaching if you aren't reading scripture from this context.

Now the question you must address is whether or not my claim regarding liturgical context is accurate.

David N said...

David C,

"The problem is that now you must also become the interpreter of this scripture that you find to be authoritative. The Catholic can rest in his decision to trust the Church. The Protestant now must decide what the Bible actually says."

I'm not sure how this works in your favor. Essentially all you've said is that the Catholic has got it easier because he can just believe what someone else told him to believe. Either way, the discussion has been about who is able (or not able) to have absolute certainty in their beliefs, and whether or not I must be a subjectivist.

So, if you admit that your original decision to put your trust in the church was a fallible one, and yet you still think you can have certainty that it was the right decision, AND you think that you can base your subsequent theological beliefs on it, then you must also admit that the same is equally true for the Protestant when he makes decisions about what the Bible says.

"Wouldn't this violate Ockham's Razor?"

Not really. For one thing, yours must be at least a two-step process as well. For you must also rationally decide to trust the Bible first, or else why would you be accepting the church's interpretation of it. Also, refer back to Nate's post on Ockham's Razor.

"Now the question you must address is whether or not my claim regarding liturgical context is accurate."

This would be a different discussion. I would be happy to get into specific arguments for/against Catholicism, but we need to agree on the starting point first. The point I have been trying to show you all along is that as soon as you start making arguments like this one, you are resting all your certainty in the church's authority upon your fallible ability to understand arguments and make rational decisions. If I am persuaded by your argument for liturgical context, and decide to become Catholic, I will be no more certain and no less of a subjectivist than I was when I was a Protestant, I will simply have good reasons for thinking the Protestant position to be wrong.

So, if we are able to agree on all this, then I would say we've made wonderful progress, and it's time to finally begin addressing the arguments for both sides.

David Cox said...

"I'm not sure how this works in your favor. Essentially all you've said is that the Catholic has got it easier because he can just believe what someone else told him to believe. Either way, the discussion has been about who is able (or not able) to have absolute certainty in their beliefs, and whether or not I must be a subjectivist."

I think I have said more than that. It is more than just having "someone else" tell me what to believe. That would be like someone saying that you do what a "book tells you to do." My point is that our first step is equal: we both use our reason to determine which authority to submit to. You choose the bible, I choose the church. If you want to say that we are both subjective at this point, then fine. All things are still equal. However, your second step is that you still need to interpret using your fallible reason.

"So, if you admit that your original decision to put your trust in the church was a fallible one, and yet you still think you can have certainty that it was the right decision, AND you think that you can base your subsequent theological beliefs on it, then you must also admit that the same is equally true for the Protestant when he makes decisions about what the Bible says."

I would agree with this except for the fact that my subsequent theological beliefs don't depend on me while yours do. This is why I would invoke Ockham's Razor. Technically, my job is simply to obey at this point. Your job is to sift through all the arguments and make another decision. Is this not a valid point?

"For you must also rationally decide to trust the Bible first, or else why would you be accepting the church's interpretation of it."

I have to disagree here. I don't accept the bible first. I accept the church's authority and as a result recognize the bible as the written Word of God.

"This would be a different discussion. I would be happy to get into specific arguments for/against Catholicism, but we need to agree on the starting point first. The point I have been trying to show you all along is that as soon as you start making arguments like this one, you are resting all your certainty in the church's authority upon your fallible ability to understand arguments and make rational decisions. If I am persuaded by your argument for liturgical context, and decide to become Catholic, I will be no more certain and no less of a subjectivist than I was when I was a Protestant, I will simply have good reasons for thinking the Protestant position to be wrong."

I think that most of our disagreement has been symantic. You call it a different discussion and I have a difficult time separating the two. I agree that good reason must go into making our decisions. If that is part that is hanging us up, then I will concede.

"So, if we are able to agree on all this, then I would say we've made wonderful progress, and it's time to finally begin addressing the arguments for both sides."

I apologize, because that is what I thought we were doing all along. I would be glad to take a look at some of these topics with you. I wonder if we could use our two perspectives as a means to come to a consensus. Wouldn't that be great?

David N said...

David C,

"I would agree with this except for the fact that my subsequent theological beliefs don't depend on me while yours do."

Your subsequent theological beliefs still depend on your original decision to accept the church's authority. If you were wrong about that decision, then so you are about your subsequent beliefs. So my point still stands.

"Technically, my job is simply to obey at this point. Your job is to sift through all the arguments and make another decision. Is this not a valid point?"

I don't see how this point responds to anything I've said. This isn't really a correct use of Ockham's Razor. You and I have approximately the same number of theological beliefs, we simply arrive at them through different means. What you are saying is akin to applying Ockham's Razor to the doctrine of dual procession of Holy Spirit (after all, wouldn't it be "simpler" if the Spirit proceeded only from the Father?). This simply doesn't work because you and I both believe that there are good reasons to think that the Spirit does proceed from the Son as well, meaning that all things are not equal.

"I have to disagree here. I don't accept the bible first."

That's right, sorry. You accept the church fist. But it's still a multi-step process. That was my only point.

I think you're right, most of our disagreements are over minute points of philosophy. I'm definitely ready to start debating some more substantial issues. Nate is preparing a series of posts that will attempt to defend SS from Scripture alone, so that should be fun. And yes, a consensus would be wonderful! Have you read Tom Oden's book, "The Justification Reader"?

David Cox said...

David
It may be splitting hairs, but couldn't I then say that Ockham's razor doesn't apply to Nathanael's argument since I have good reason to believe that scripture was written and meant to be read in the liturgical context of the Church thereby making the Church the appropriate authoritative interpreter? Again, I am sorry for my philosophical ignorance.

I am looking forward to reading the upcoming posts.

No, I haven't read "The Justification Reader."

David N said...

David C,

I'm not really familiar with Nate's Ockham's Razor argument, and I've never used it personally, which is why I've never really commented on it. You should definitely ask him.

Oden is a Patristics scholar and church historian. He argues that a majority of the early fathers actually held to sola fide. Once I'm finished reading the book I may do a post.

David Cox said...

"I'm not really familiar with Nate's Ockham's Razor argument, and I've never used it personally, which is why I've never really commented on it."

You have told me a few times that I am incorrectly applying it...so I figured that you must be very familiar with it. My mistake.

David N said...

"You have told me a few times that I am incorrectly applying it...so I figured that you must be very familiar with it. My mistake."

I understand Ockham's Razor just fine. I was referring to Nate's argument, which is an application of Ockham's Razor. I was simply saying that I'm not familiar enough with his argument to say whether or not he's applied the Razor correctly, so you should ask him. Sorry I was unclear.