Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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

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

Michael writes:

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

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

Michael Writes:

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

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

Michael writes:

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

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

Michael writes:

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

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

Michael writes:

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

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

Michael writes:

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

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


NPT

26 comments:

Flourence N. said...

I stumbled across this blog in hopes of finding theological discourse. I read the post at Well of Questions (that you linked in your article) and read the comments. I hope it's ok if proceed with an observation from the comments.

Sola Scriptura is advocated by St. Athanasius himself. It's interesting to see how the Protestant view of Sola Scriptura lines up directly with St. Athanasius himself (after he defines canon, it's interesting to note point 6).) Do not protestants hold to this original canon?:

Athanasius — Festal Letter 39

Quote:

“Historical Preference: From Letter XXXIX.—(For 367.) Of the particular books and their number, which are accepted by the Church. From the thirty-ninth Letter of Holy Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, on the Paschal festival; wherein he defines canonically what are the divine books which are accepted by the Church.”

From the letter:
“1. They have fabricated books which they call books of tables , in which they shew stars, to which they give the names of Saints. And therein of a truth they have inflicted on themselves a double reproach: those who have written such books, because they have perfected themselves in a lying and contemptible science; and as to the ignorant and simple, they have led them astray by evil thoughts concerning the right faith established in all truth and upright in the presence of God.
2. But since we have made mention of heretics as dead, but of ourselves as possessing the Divine Scriptures for salvation; and since I fear lest, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians some few of the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity, by the subtilty of certain men, and should henceforth read other books—those called apocryphal—led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books; I beseech you to bear patiently, if I also write, by way of remembrance, of matters with which you are acquainted, influenced by the need and advantage of the Church.

3. In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the Evangelist, saying on my own account: ‘Forasmuch as some have taken in hand,’ to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the fathers; it seemed 552good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued stedfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance.

4. There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.

6. These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me 7. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.”
o



I would, therefore, strongly question the historicity of Perry Robinson's claim (Comment 33) based on the aforementioned accepted letter of St. Athanasius: "Protestants changed the formal canon. It wasn’t an opinion. Again this confuses form and matter."



Any opinion Nathanael?

Catz206 said...

excellent

The number 22 goes back even farther than Athanasius too.

Thank you for commenting flourence.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Any opinion Nathanael?

Response: Thank you for commenting on this blog. I had no idea that Athanasius wrote that. Although the Orthodox do ascribe more authority to their recognized particular councils, so this defeater wouldn't be decisive. I do think it does call into question what the orthodox church says and of course it is a definite defeater to what Perry has said.

Thanks again,

NPT

flourence n. said...

I was wondering, Nathanael, do you think problems rise for the Eastern Chruch when the Russian and Ethiopian Orthodox Church has more books in the Canon than the Eastern Church?

Also, what are your thoughts on the Orthodox Church viewing the canon (it is also interesting to note that the (neo)-Orthodox view--with respect to the first 4 centuries of the church -- of the Canon was never fully accepted)as the controversial Septuagint (which contain extra books besides the normative Torah)? It is also interesting to note that the Septuagint is extremely debated even among Jews to this day and is the less popular choice.

That is, which sect within Orthodoxy has the "right" canon?

This, also, may change the conversation concerning infallibility of the Church; or, for that matter, it's indecisiveness.

Perhaps I am ignorant of the matter. What are your thoughts?

Nathanael Taylor said...

I was wondering, Nathanael, do you think problems rise for the Eastern Chruch when the Russian and Ethiopian Orthodox Church has more books in the Canon than the Eastern Church?

Response: From my perspective it seems that this is another additional problem for church infallibility, however, they could say that the Russian church is mistaken and that their church is the true church is just properly basic through the intertestimony of the Holy Spirit working through the church. Of course, if they accept authority of the Russian church then this would be a unavoidable defeater for their belief in church infallibility (unless there is some principle about the ecumenical councils that allow them to escape this argument).

Also, what are your thoughts on the Orthodox Church viewing the canon (it is also interesting to note that the (neo)-Orthodox view--with respect to the first 4 centuries of the church -- of the Canon was never fully accepted)as the controversial Septuagint (which contain extra books besides the normative Torah)? It is also interesting to note that the Septuagint is extremely debated even among Jews to this day and is the less popular choice.

Response: well what the church fathers and what the earlies second century Christian's thought (depending on what document you are reading; Clement or whatever) is of some authoritative use in the eastern church's, but they would over ride this claim by saying that whatever is in their selected ecumenical councils on canon counts as a use of church infallibility. Although this is a interesting point that you have made and I think it might demonstrate how anti-empirical the eastern church would have to be in order to maintain church authority. But this is not surprising since the eastern church seems to be heavily influenced in Platonic and eastern mystical thought (at least in their soteriology and in doctrine of God).

That is, which sect within Orthodoxy has the "right" canon?

Response: It is interesting how divisions exist within RC and EO and they act like Protestantism is the only view point which exclusively has these problem.

This, also, may change the conversation concerning infallibility of the Church; or, for that matter, it's indecisiveness.

Perhaps I am ignorant of the matter. What are your thoughts?

Response: I think you have a lot of good historical information here that's worth incorporating into these blogs, feel free to comment whenever you wish. Allison deals with most of the historical issues, and I deal with issues relating to philosophy and systematic theology.

Thanks for your insight,

NPT

Dionysios said...

Hey Nate -

I don't mean to "make waves" here, but I thought I'd point out something kind of interesting.

In the comment directly above mine, you wrote:

"this is not surprising since the eastern church seems to be heavily influenced in Platonic . . . thought"

This seems to be negative in your eyes, since you use this as an explanation for why the Eastern Orthodox Church could be called "anti-empirical".

It is odd that you would use Platonism as an accusation, however, since in at least two prior posts you have also relied heavily on Plato. On one such occasion, you wrote that the procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father is one of Platonic emanation. On another such occasion, you explicitly relied on Anselmian-Platonic notions of the Divine Essence.

Does that make you anti-empirical? I don't think so, but I do think it makes you just as - and more explicitly - guilty of Platonism.

Just saying.
- Dionysios

Nathanael Taylor said...

Hey Nate -

I don't mean to "make waves" here, but I thought I'd point out something kind of interesting.

Response: No worries. I didn't take anything you said offensively. I hope that I didn't offend you I was just trying to be honest.

In the comment directly above mine, you wrote:

"this is not surprising since the eastern church seems to be heavily influenced in Platonic . . . thought"

This seems to be negative in your eyes, since you use this as an explanation for why the Eastern Orthodox Church could be called "anti-empirical".

Response: I believe it is only negative when it contradicts the Biblical authority. But if it were compatible with biblical teaching then of course it wouldn't be very negative.

It is odd that you would use Platonism as an accusation, however, since in at least two prior posts you have also relied heavily on Plato. On one such occasion, you wrote that the procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father is one of Platonic emanation. On another such occasion, you explicitly relied on Anselmian-Platonic notions of the Divine Essence.

Response: Yes, I think those Platonic notions are reasonable and biblical so I proud to announce that I follow it in the way I mentioned (the ways which are compatible with reason and biblical teaching).

Does that make you anti-empirical? I don't think so, but I do think it makes you just as - and more explicitly - guilty of Platonism.

Response: No, I follow some Platonic views in metaphysics not in epistemology. I think that *some* of former is compatible with the Bible whereas most of latter seems not compatible with early apostolic revelation.

Just saying.

Response: ???

- Dionysios

Response: God Bless you

NPT

MG said...

flourence n.--

You wrote:

"Sola Scriptura is advocated by St. Athanasius himself."

Where, in all of the Festal Letter 39, does Athanasius state or imply that that there are no divine authorities about Christian teaching distinct from the content of the Old and New Testaments? In other words, where does he state the Sola Scriptura principle?

MG said...

Catz--

You wrote:

"The number 22 goes back even farther than Athanasius too."

What are the 22 books that Athanasius says are in the OT in his festal letter?

Catz206 said...

“Catz--

You wrote:

‘The number 22 goes back even farther than Athanasius too.’

What are the 22 books that Athanasius says are in the OT in his festal letter?”


Since we are asking questions,

MG--

What are the 22 books that Origen says are in the Hebrew OT?

Dionysios said...

Nate -

Unfortunately, because the ability to know is rooted in the ontological makeup of humanity, epistemology will always be a subset of metaphysics. What I'm saying is that I think your epistemology is influenced by your metaphysics, and, as such, your Platonism reaches further than you may realize.

Also, keep in mind how divergent many streams of thought called "Platonic" are. Many Platonic philosophers wouldn't recognize each other, but we still call them Platonists today. The fact that you hold to a certain interpretation of Plato which is different to the interpretation of which you accuse Orthodox does not make you less of a Platonist.

I'd be interested in hearing a biblical defense of your Platonic notion of the Divine Essence, though. Would you consider doing that sometime?

Thanks!
- Dionysios

Dionysios said...

Allison -

Eastern Orthodox don't really care what Origen thought, so I'm not sure how your question accomplishes anything. He was unreliable in many very important doctrinal matters, so it is ridiculous to think that he would be a reliable source with regard to the canon of Scripture. To see what I'm talking about, have a look at the comments on MG's latest post.

Anyways, I know Michael was asking questions to allow you all to experience some "self-discovery", but I'd like to make sure the point is presented as clearly as possible. Look at the list of books St. Athanasios presents. Without even appealing to the differences between the Greek and Hebrew versions of, say, Daniel, I can immediately point out "apocryphal" books in his list. I quote:

"Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book"
(Emphasis is my own.)

There are at least two writings in the above list that do not match the Protestant canon. As such, it is doubtful upon even a superficial reading that St. Athanasios provides any "defeaters" to the Orthodox view.

Thoughts?

- Dionysios

David N said...

Dionysios,

Either way, Athanasius clearly does not support what the EO would consider to be the canon either. I could be way off, so let me know if I am, but isn't that still problematic for you? Athanasius may not be infallible by himself, by is authoritative to a degree. And if he represents the consensus of his day, that's even worse.

Thanks for commenting!

Nathanael Taylor said...

Nate -

Unfortunately, because the ability to know is rooted in the ontological makeup of humanity, epistemology will always be a subset of metaphysics. What I'm saying is that I think your epistemology is influenced by your metaphysics, and, as such, your Platonism reaches further than you may realize.

Response: I never denied that epistemology has influence on how we do metaphysics. I am saying that it is a legitimate distinction between knowing and being as such. However, they don't influence each other in all cases. A Platonic theory of knowledge is a priori and is anti-empirical. However, one can hold to a foundationalist theory of knowledge that allows justification or warrant for rational (truths of reasons) and empirical beliefs and still hold to certain Plantonic metaphysical positions.

Also, keep in mind how divergent many streams of thought called "Platonic" are. Many Platonic philosophers wouldn't recognize each other, but we still call them Platonists today. The fact that you hold to a certain interpretation of Plato which is different to the interpretation of which you accuse Orthodox does not make you less of a Platonist.

Response: Well as far as you know I only hold to Platonic tenants in that it is better to exists than not (Anselm perfect being theology) and that I think that procession and begetting of the spirit and the son is eternal causation that is necessary like Platonic emanation. So if that makes me a Platonist then so be it...I think those previous points are compatible with the Bible and they are truths of obvious reason.

I'd be interested in hearing a biblical defense of your Platonic notion of the Divine Essence, though. Would you consider doing that sometime?

Response: Sure I can do it for you right here. What about my doctrine of God do you think is Platonic? Are you simply referring to a defense of Perfect being theology?

Thanks!
- Dionysios

Response: No problem

NPT

Catz206 said...

“Eastern Orthodox don't really care what Origen thought, so I'm not sure how your question accomplishes anything. He was unreliable in many very important doctrinal matters, so it is ridiculous to think that he would be a reliable source with regard to the canon of Scripture.”

Origen’s doctrine is another matter. Just to be clear, I would not dream of using the doctrine that was condemned as a representative of Eastern Orthodox doctrine. However, it would seem imprudent to disregard his other work (Hexapla) on that basis.

It is actually not so ridiculous to take what Origen has to say on the OT canon as reliable on another important basis. That is, the number 22 (that I was pointing out) and the list Origen accompanies with it is not his own creation. He is using the Hebrew text he received and his numbering of 22 goes back even earlier. The earliest uses of 22 have no book names attached because knowledge of the Hebrew canon was assumed. Later (more recent than Origen), the lists are actually recorded when the content would not have been known and these curiously resemble the Protestant canon.

“Anyways, I know Michael was asking questions to allow you all to experience some ‘self-discovery‘, but I'd like to make sure the point is presented as clearly as possible. Look at the list of books St. Athanasios presents.”

I understand. Since the book list was already quoted by flourence and there for all to see, I thought I’d give Michael a chance to join the tour of ‘self-discovery.’ What Flourence brought up already raises some problems for the Eastern Orthodox canon. I was hoping someone would elaborate on the significance of 22 and the line of change in the book content over time. In support of a Protestant position, Athanasius would be an important one to have in this chain.

I was concerned with the number but If we want to go into specific book citations of early material and look at the change over time (Athanasius being one early example) then I am definitely up for that. In that case, we should look back at Origin, Milito and Josephus for the changes as well.

“There are at least two writings in the above list that do not match the Protestant canon. As such, it is doubtful upon even a superficial reading that St. Athanasios provides any "defeaters" to the Orthodox view.”

“There are at least two writings in the above list that do not match the Protestant canon.”

If we want to go that route, there is a whole lot more that does not match the Eastern Orthodox canon and a lot more explicitly spoken against.

“As such, it is doubtful upon even a superficial reading that St. Athanasios provides any ‘defeaters’ to the Orthodox view.’”

I would definitely bring in Athanasius in support of the Protestant canon. He more closely resembles the Protestant rather than the Eastern Orthodox canon and is a good one to cite closer to the beginning of the line of digression for the Hebrew OT canon. Would I use him in isolation? No. Still, Flourence brings up an excellent piece against Perry’s claim.

“Thoughts?”

Plenty. If I made another blog on the early evidence for or against the Protestant canon, would you be up for looking for some early support for the additional books in the Eastern Orthodox canon?

MG said...

Catz--

You wrote:

"In support of a Protestant position, Athanasius would be an important one to have in this chain."

If Athanasius' judgment is no more normative or reliable than anyone else's about the canon, what part does he play in establishing the Protestant view of which books belong in?

Catz206 said...

MG-

I wrote: “In support of a Protestant position, Athanasius would be an important one to have in this chain."

You asked: “If Athanasius' judgment is no more normative or reliable than anyone else's about the canon, what part does he play in establishing the Protestant view of which books belong in?”

“If Athanasius' judgment is no more normative or reliable than anyone else's about the canon,”

I find Athanasius to be a reliable source for his time. He is early and in a position to give us an idea of what was thought at his time or what ideas were circulating around. If you mean to indicate that I do not hold him as “the” standard for what ought and ought not be in our canon then you have read me correctly.

“…what part does he play in establishing the Protestant view of which books belong in?”

Talking about this over the phone was much easier but I will give some points in case anyone else is interested:

1) He is an early Christian source after the OT era.
2) He falls in line with the chain of digression. He is one of many along the chain (time/people) that will give us an idea of the devolving OT canon.
3) Being earlier in the chain, his list resembles the Protestant/Hebrew OT canon more closely (though earlier sources resemble it even more).
4) He explicitly speaks against most of the Apocryphal books. They are not considered canonical and this is the point of contention btw the Eastern and Protestant churches.

“And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me 7. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd…But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.”

So in other words, Athanasius is an important early source on what was considered canonical (although earlier sources get even closer to the Protestant canon) for his time but should not be taken in isolation to the others in the chain (those before and after him).

MG said...

Catz--

you wrote:

"1) He is an early Christian source after the OT era."

Given that other early Christian sources believed in things that are obviously contrary to the New Testament on an Evangelical read, why should someone who is even further away from the source be considered reliable?

"2) He falls in line with the chain of digression. He is one of many along the chain (time/people) that will give us an idea of the devolving OT canon."

Does this assume the conclusion that the OT canon devolved? If we believe in the infallible normativity of the Church's judgment, then wouldn't this entail that the canon did not devolve?

"3) Being earlier in the chain, his list resembles the Protestant/Hebrew OT canon more closely (though earlier sources resemble it even more)."

If the tradition of the Church can't be assessed for reliability apart from its agreement with Scripture, then why should we think that this tradition can provide evidence for what belongs in Scripture?

"4) He explicitly speaks against most of the Apocryphal books. They are not considered canonical and this is the point of contention btw the Eastern and Protestant churches."

How is this evidence for the Protestant canon? Explain why Athanasius' judgment would help in establishing the canon.

You wrote:

"So in other words, Athanasius is an important early source on what was considered canonical (although earlier sources get even closer to the Protestant canon) for his time but should not be taken in isolation to the others in the chain (those before and after him)."

When you say canonical, what do you mean?

Catz206 said...

MG-

So as to not dump too much of a response at once, I will only respond to number one. Once that discussion is exhausted, I will respond to number two and so on.

I said:"1) He is an early Christian source after the OT era."

You addressed point #1: “Given that other early Christian sources believed in things that are obviously contrary to the New Testament on an Evangelical read, why should someone who is even further away from the source be considered reliable?”

A)“Given that other early Christian sources believed in things that are obviously contrary to the New Testament on an Evangelical read…”

Not a problem. The New Testament is the earliest collection of sources. The New Testament is also not merely a collection of historical doctrines but the infallible word of God (we have laid out our reasons for thinking this elsewhere). Later sources are not earlier and not the Word of God.

If you are reasoning that since there are supposed errors in early Christian writings we ought to be prepared to admit there are probably canonical errors too then this does not conflict with my reasoning. I do not take any early historical sources (except the Bible) to be without error. The possibility is always open (and I would say Athanasius certainly has errors) but it would not be wise to dismiss all historical documents on this basis- especially when even earlier sources seem to support it (multiple attestation).

B)“…why should someone who is even further away from the source be considered reliable?”

That is an interesting way to pose the question.

When speaking of distance, the comparison is between the canons of our two systems. Athanasius is closer (not so far away) to the source and his canon resembles the Protestant more closely. He is a reliable source for knowing the ideas of his time- which is relatively closer (than later sources claiming different content in the OT canon).

Still, your question seems to be framed in a way that (maybe I’m just tired) makes it seem as though Athanasius is “the” authority for our canon- which is not so.

…If Athanasius is too late for your taste, I would be happy to go even earlier. Look at some of my earlier canon posts (I don’t know if I even mentioned him). Athanasius is just one source of many. If you don’t find him reliable enough (I wouldn’t in isolation) then lets talk about the other ones where my other posts are.

thankx for the response, and I am almost always up for a discussion on the canon. :)

Catz206 said...

Wher'd ya go MG?

MG said...

Catz--

You wrote:

"Not a problem. The New Testament is the earliest collection of sources. The New Testament is also not merely a collection of historical doctrines but the infallible word of God (we have laid out our reasons for thinking this elsewhere). Later sources are not earlier and not the Word of God."

(I don't fully understand this response, but I will respond as best as I can)

But if we are trying to determine what to believe about the canon, and are examining post-apostolic documents for this, then what matters in our canon-discovering process is whether or not these people can be trusted as representatives of Christian teaching. If they believe things that are contrary to your interpretation of the New Testament, and they say they received their teachings from the apostles, then this indicates they are unreliable witnesses and reporters.

You wrote:

"If you are reasoning that since there are supposed errors in early Christian writings we ought to be prepared to admit there are probably canonical errors too then this does not conflict with my reasoning. I do not take any early historical sources (except the Bible) to be without error. The possibility is always open (and I would say Athanasius certainly has errors) but it would not be wise to dismiss all historical documents on this basis- especially when even earlier sources seem to support it (multiple attestation)."

Do you think that someone who tends to misrepresent his teachings and say that theyare the teachings of the apostles delivered to him through succession, when they really are not those teachings, should be trusted? What would you trust them for and why?

You wrote:

"When speaking of distance, the comparison is between the canons of our two systems. Athanasius is closer (not so far away) to the source and his canon resembles the Protestant more closely. He is a reliable source for knowing the ideas of his time- which is relatively closer (than later sources claiming different content in the OT canon).

Still, your question seems to be framed in a way that (maybe I’m just tired) makes it seem as though Athanasius is “the” authority for our canon- which is not so.

…If Athanasius is too late for your taste, I would be happy to go even earlier. Look at some of my earlier canon posts (I don’t know if I even mentioned him). Athanasius is just one source of many. If you don’t find him reliable enough (I wouldn’t in isolation) then lets talk about the other ones where my other posts are."

What I'm concerned about is whether Athanasius can actually be used to support your view. He may agree with it, but not offer much support, or maybe even no support at all.

If even early Christians aren't reliable in preserving apostolic teachings, then why think later ones would be more so? And it seems that many very early Christians who wrote soon after the last biblical book was finished would believe all kinds of things (and say they were the delivered teachings of the apostles) which on your view are pretty serious doctrinal errors. (some of these are catalogued on my blog post in the comments when discussing this issue with David N). If antiquity is not a sign of reliability, then pulling canon lists of ancient Christians won't contribute to the case for the reliability of early Christian witnesses to acceptance of biblical books reflected by the apostles.

Catz206 said...

It looks like you are mixing the issue of interpretation and canonical content. Choose one or the other. Or, are you are arguing that if one can not have X amount of certainty about earlier interpretations, then one can not have X amount of certainty for canonical content?

Also, it seems like you are treating historical reliability as either reliable or unreliable when there are different degrees both ways. Clarify this.

Lastly, “What I'm concerned about is whether Athanasius can actually be used to support your view. He may agree with it, but not offer much support, or maybe even no support at all.”

He does. Look at the collective case and interact with the data.

MG said...

Catz--

You wrote:

"It looks like you are mixing the issue of interpretation and canonical content. Choose one or the other. Or, are you are arguing that if one can not have X amount of certainty about earlier interpretations, then one can not have X amount of certainty for canonical content?"

Sometimes issues are interrelated, it seems to me. We can't consider the issue of Trinity in a way wholly apart from the issue of Incarnation.

Im not talking about certainty in interpretation. Im talking about whether or not a person's testimony is trustworthy. If we find a person's testimony about the teachings delivered to him or her are highly unreliable, then it seems they are not trustworthy.

If early and later Christian theologians held unapostolic teachings as authoritative and claimed they were apostolic, that would call into question their testimony in my opinion. They were claiming to have received these doctrines. If they were lying or confused on an issue as obvious as this, I don't think it would be particularly reasonable to trust them on the whole.

You wrote:

"Also, it seems like you are treating historical reliability as either reliable or unreliable when there are different degrees both ways. Clarify this."

I think reliability is a degreed notion, sure. But the question is, if we find a person's testimony unreliable with respect to many very important issues, to what degree should we hold them to be reliable on other, closely-related important issues?

Do you think St. Ignatius and St. Clement were unreliable when they claimed that the Apostles taught "the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again"? Or when they say "Obey the bishop as the Lord himself"? Or when they teach apostolic succession?

If I were an evangelical, I would take them to be pretty unreliable about preserving the doctrine handed down to them by the apostles.

If corruption was creeping in *that* early, why think that it wasn't infecting Athanasius' canon?

You wrote:

"He does. Look at the collective case and interact with the data."

The data needs to not just be stated. There need to be inferences drawn from it using premises. None of the data by itself is sufficient to yield the conclusion you believe in, nor the conclusion I believe in. We need additional principles to yield Protestant conclusions, as I pointed out in comment #5 on the post "Restricted Canon in the East".

I see the data, and in asking these questions, I feel like I am interacting with it. It seems like it. But maybe I am mistaken. I have been many times before. Could you help me out a bit and perhaps clarify what kind of interaction you want?

MG said...

Also, do you think Athanasius provides support for the conclusion that Baruch and the Epistle to Jeremiah should be in the canon?

Catz206 said...

Yes, issues are often interrelated. I am trying to clearly understand how you are or aren’t relating the issue of interpretation and content. Is it this sort of setup? “if one can not have X amount of certainty about earlier interpretations, then one can not have X amount of certainty for canonical content”?

Now if you are going that route then the question arises: why should we trust them for one thing and not another. In this specific case, it connects back to a tradition before his time. When looking at fallible historians (or others) they will often make mistakes even if reliable with other things. The sources used and the times they are writing in make all the difference (time ties in with accessibility of sources). In the case of Athanasius, his use of 22 is significant. This has already been explained over the phone and in part over the blog.

“I think reliability is a degreed notion, sure. But the question is, if we find a person's testimony unreliable with respect to many very important issues, to what degree should we hold them to be reliable on other, closely-related important issues?”

“If corruption was creeping in *that* early, why think that it wasn't infecting Athanasius' canon?”

Less corruption because of how he matches up with sources before him and indications in his writing that point towards his use of earlier sources.

“The data needs to not just be stated. There need to be inferences drawn from it using premises. None of the data by itself is sufficient to yield the conclusion you believe in, nor the conclusion I believe in.”

Read what was said about 22, and the earlier canon posts that argue for the historicity of the Hebrew canon as opposed to the canons of the Eastern Orthodox churches. If further clarification is needed, you can call me AND I will make another post or two tying together what has been argued for in the early posts of this blog, the number 22 and the implications this might have for the EO canon.


“We need additional principles to yield Protestant conclusions, as I pointed out in comment #5 on the post "Restricted Canon in the East".”

The discussion starter quote over the content of the early Eastern churches is isolated to just that. Your additional principles are on this blog and only a click away.

Catz206 said...

“Could you help me out a bit and perhaps clarify what kind of interaction you want?”

Our discussion has evolved quite a bit. Maybe I or both of us are getting lost in everything.

In the beginning of our discussion, you tried to draw my attention to the content of Athanasius’ list after I brought the number 22 to everyone’s attention. It seemed like you thought that Athanasius could not be used in support of the Protestant position (canon is only part of the whole issue) because he included two add ons to Jeremiah-Lamentations.

I tried to show that his importance is in his place in the chain and could be used as part of a collective case and also that he gives indication in his writing of having roots in an even earlier source (I named some of the early sources). The misunderstanding might come in where you then asked, “If Athanasius' judgment is no more normative or reliable than anyone else's about the canon, what part does he play in establishing the Protestant view of which books belong in?” This seemed to miss what was described earlier and place our whole case on Athanasius which was not claimed.

After our phone conversation, I gave a list as to why I accept Athanasius as one of the sources in our favor. You then addressed the points. Your response to 1) did not seem to catch what had been said about 22 and also seemed to indicate that Athanasius was too far away (which is not a problem since earlier eastern sources are even more in my favor). In my response to your critique of the first point, I made the mistake in going ahead and answering the first part of your objection and allowing an unintended tangent. However, I did address the incorrect setup that I felt was being put forward in the second part of the critique.

Your response to my response showed that there was indeed a misunderstanding and it looks like you made the same mistake I did and tried to answer it anyway saying that your issue was whether in my view I could trust what was Athanasius said. I tried to cut it all down and clarify and this is what we are still doing. I propose we go back to the place where I think the misunderstanding started and make sure we understand each other there before going on.

(?)Lets start here: “If Athanasius' judgment is no more normative or reliable than anyone else's about the canon, what part does he play in establishing the Protestant view of which books belong in?”

Lastly, I will answer your other question over the two other books once this first part is clarified and it is clear how I might use Athanasius.