IF NOT SOLA SCRIPTURA THEN WHAT?
The Biblical Basis for Holy Tradition
Note: This posting is based upon a paper I wrote in 2001. It was written to a broad audience: conservative Protestants and Evangelicals. All Scripture citations are from the NIV, unless noted otherwise.
Sola scriptura “the Bible alone” — one of the foundational tenets of Protestantism — is undergoing serious challenge in recent times as growing numbers of Evangelicals abandon this doctrine. Scott Hahn, a Presbyterian seminary professor, was dumbfounded when one of his students asked him, “Professor, where does the Bible teach that ‘Scripture alone’ is our sole authority?” (Hahn 1993:51). Unable to adequately answer his student’s question, Hahn went to some of Evangelicalism’s leading theologians who greeted his question with shock and disbelief that he would question one of the unspoken assumptions of Protestantism: that sola scriptura is biblical. This question precipitated a major theological crisis for Hahn that eventually led him to join the Roman Catholic Church.
This raises the question: if the Bible does not teach sola scriptura, then what does the Bible teach? In this posting I argue that the Bible teaches Holy Tradition, or the traditioning process, constitutes the basis for the Christian Faith. The Orthodox understanding of Holy Tradition is based upon three premises: (1) that Jesus entrusted to his apostles a body of teaching and practices, Holy Tradition; (2) that the apostles spread Holy Tradition through a variety of means: oral, written, and personal conduct, and (3) that the integrity of Holy Tradition is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in unity and in truth.
The argument of this paper rests upon the assertion that the Bible teaches transmission, reception, and protection of a body of doctrines and practices originating in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The exegetical argument focuses on the recurrence of the words: παραλαμβανω (to receive) and παρεδωκα (to pass on). The Latin equivalent for παραδοσις is traditio from which we get tradition. Also, the Latin equivalents for παραλαμβανω are accipio and recipio from which the English words accept and receive are derived. Italics and bold emphases will be inserted in biblical quotations to support the arguments made in this paper.
Part I: The Biblical Evidence for Holy Tradition
Evangelism and the Traditioning Process
The traditioning process played a key role in the way Paul carried out his missionary mandate. In I Corinthians 15:1-3 Paul defines the Gospel within the framework of this process. In verse 1 he reminds the Corinthians that he had preached the gospel, that they had received it and had taken their stand on it. Then in verse 3 is a clear reference to the traditioning process when Paul says that what he had received, they had received:
Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve (I Corinthians 15:1-6).
In verse 3-4 Paul uses the same phrase “according to the Scriptures” two times. The word κατα “according” points to congruence and harmony between oral tradition and written tradition. Thus, for Paul there exists an organic interrelationship between written tradition (Scripture) and oral tradition (the gospel message). Paul did not put oral tradition over Scripture, neither did he put Scripture over oral tradition. Thus, what we see is neither the Protestantism’s placing Scripture over tradition nor Roman Catholicism’s placing Scripture under the Papacy but Orthodoxy’s approach of accepting Scripture in Tradition. Note: the phrase “according to the Scriptures” is used in the Nicene Creed.
The traditioning process likewise was foundational to Paul’s apostolic calling. In Galatians 1:8-9 the two phrases “we preached” and “you accepted” point to this process at work in Paul’s missionary strategy. He writes:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8-9)
Paul’s apostolic authority derived from the fact that his gospel came directly from Jesus Christ and was “not something that man made up.” Paul does not base his anathemas on the principle of sola scriptura but on the basis of Tradition. Twice in verse 11 Paul asserts that he received his gospel directly from Christ:
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached to you is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11).
Paul’s thundering anathemas against anyone preaching an alternative gospel stems from his conviction that there can only be one gospel. The warning here is that any attempt to evangelize independent of the apostolic traditioning process is to risk preaching a false gospel or at best a partial gospel. While Paul’s extensive biblical exegesis in Galatians 3 and 4 affirms the authority and divine inspiration of the Old Testament, they cannot be taken to imply that Scripture is normative over all other sources of knowledge which is what sola scriptura calls for.
Holy Tradition can also be found in the preamble to Luke’s gospel. In his introduction to his gospel Luke describes the method by which he wrote his gospel:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been surely believed among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
The phrase “handed down” points to the traditioning process as the foundational basis for Luke’s gospel. The process began with those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry. What Luke did was to compile these accounts, sift through them, and commit them to writing. In the oral tradition there is a certain amount of fluidity in the content and format of the central message, with the transition to the written form the fluidity becomes fixed and acquires a permanence. There is no indication that Luke opposed the written form of the gospel against the earlier oral form.
The traditioning process can also be found at the end of Matthew’s gospel in the famous Great Commission passage:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Many Evangelicals have memorized the Great Commission, but they overlook the integral part that the traditioning process plays in Christian missions. Christ’s command to the apostles that they teach the new believers all that he taught them can be understood as a reference to the traditioning process. Similar references can be found that link the traditioning process to Christian missions. In Matthew 10:40 Jesus said to his apostles: “He who receives you receives me….” and in Luke 10:16 is an emphasis on the oral component of the traditioning process: “He who listens to you listens to me….” There is no hint of the principle “bible alone” being foundational to Christian missions.
Tradition in the New Testament Church
The traditioning process was a part of the New Testament Church. This can be seen in Acts 2:42, a familiar passage to many Evangelicals:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
The phrase “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” is a reference to the traditioning process. During those early days the new believers listened carefully to the apostles’ recalling the life and teaching of Christ. This verse contains other references to Holy Tradition: Eucharist indicated in “the breaking of bread”, formal liturgical prayers indicated by the definite article in “the prayers”; both of these components of Tradition can be found in the Orthodox Church but is largely absent among Evangelicals.
Many Evangelicals see the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true” as an example of bible-based Christianity (Acts 17:11). What they overlook is the fact that the phrase “what Paul said” is a reference to oral tradition. In other words, everyday the Bereans were comparing Paul’s oral tradition against the Old Testament scriptures. Thus, one of Evangelicalism’s favorite proof-texts is actually a good illustration of the Orthodox approach to Scripture and Tradition!
In II Thessalonians 2:15 is found one of the clearest supports for Paul’s understanding that the apostolic witness could be valid under both written and oral forms. In no way does Paul indicate that the one was superior to the other:
So, then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
Orthodox Christians often appeal to this passage in the face of Protestantism’s sola scriptura. For Protestant Evangelicals the challenge is proving that the apostolic tradition is available exclusively in the written form. Another significant support for the Orthodox position can be found in I Thessalonians 2:13. In this passage Paul commends the Thessalonian Christians for their acceptance of the Christian message which came by word of mouth:
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
What is surprising about this passage is that Paul attributes to oral tradition the same standing as the word of God. Thus for Orthodox Christians the other components of Holy Tradition are just as inspired and authoritative as the Bible, the written word of God.
Another aspect of the traditioning process is imitation which Paul made frequent references to. In I Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” In Philippians 3:17 Paul writes, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” In Philippians 4:9 Paul writes, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Using Philippians 4:9 we can liken the traditioning process is like a strong rope made up of five strands: (1) learning, (2) receiving, (3) hearing, (4) seeing, and (5) putting into practice. Imitation as a means of passing on Holy Tradition is consistent with the Incarnation — the Word made flesh, not the word written down on paper.
Worship in the early church was likewise based upon the traditioning process. In I Corinthians 11 Paul commends the Corinthians for being faithful to the traditions he gave them:
I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions, just as I passed them on to you (I Corinthians 11:2).
Paul makes a clear reference to the traditioning process when he talks about the Eucharistic celebration:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-34)
Paul ends his section on the Eucharist with: “And when I come I will give further directions.” (I Corinthians 11:34) This tells us that what Paul gave the Corinthians was not a complete set of instructions on how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, he would be coming later to give them further oral instructions. Thus, any Evangelical who seeks to base their theology of the sacraments upon I Corinthians 11 need to recognize that the written instructions that Paul gives in this section is incomplete.
Guarding the Apostolic Tradition
Protecting the Church against heresy and immorality is integral to the traditioning process. Without this vigilance, Tradition would undergo significant modification and cease to be the Tradition received from Christ. In Paul’s letters to Timothy we find a strong emphasis on the protection of the Gospel. By the time we get to Paul’s letters to Timothy we find Paul in the last days of his ministry. It is interesting to note that in light of his impending execution, Paul remained committed to the traditioning process with no indication that he had made the shift to the principle of sola scriptura. This is significant because it would be at this time, if any, that Paul would have given thought to committing his teachings to writing for posterity:
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care (I Timothy 6:20).
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us (II Timothy 1:13-14).
A supporter of sola scriptura may point to the fact that in his letters to Timothy, Paul clearly holds to a high view of Scripture. In I Timothy 4:13 Paul admonishes Timothy to the public (liturgical) reading of the Scripture and in II Timothy 3:15-17 Paul affirms the divine inspiration of Scripture. However, it would be a non sequitir to argue that this means that Paul was teaching sola scriptura. This argument can only be made if it can be shown that Paul was teaching that the Scripture was authoritative over against other components of Tradition. However, Paul nowhere makes such a claim.
Another means of maintaining the integrity of the traditioning process was church discipline. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the tradition you received from us (II Thessalonians 3:6).
A similar approach can be seen in II John. The apostle John wrote his epistle at a time when the gnostic heresy was threatening to infiltrate the early Christian community. John instructed that only those who continued in the “teaching of Christ”, i.e., Tradition, were to be admitted into Christian fellowship. He writes:
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him (II John 9-10).
Although a drastic action, excommunication was often necessary to preserve both the Christian community and Holy Tradition. The emphasis on “continuing in the teaching of Christ” lays the foundation for the historic practice of closed communion.
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
One fact that ought to puzzle Evangelicals is the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ never attempted to commit to writing his teachings. Even when Jesus knew of his impending death, he did not sit down to write up a summary of his teachings, neither did he instruct his disciples to write down his teachings for posterity. Instead, up to his last night on earth Jesus continued to use the oral method of teaching. In the Upper Room discourse Jesus did not promise an infallible all sufficient Bible, but the Holy Spirit who would guide the Church into all truth (John 16:12-15). Thus, it is the promise of the Holy Spirit that makes Holy Tradition work. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the apostles in their writing the New Testament documents also indwelt the Church, the Body of Christ.
Patristic theology forms one part of Tradition. The teachings of the Church Fathers are a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he would give the Holy Spirit who would guide us into all truth (John 14:23, 16:13). The teaching ministry of the Church Fathers is based upon the charismatic gifts that the Holy Spirit would bestow upon the Church, e.g., the gift of teaching and pastor- teachers (Ephesians 4:11, I Corinthians 12:28).
Another important part of Tradition are the Ecumenical Councils. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council was convened to met to deal with a theological crisis that threatened to split the Church and undermine the gospel. The Jerusalem Council announced its decision with, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 15:28). The Jerusalem Council set the precedent for future Ecumenical Councils that would be convened whenever the Church was confronted with heresy or other critical questions about the meaning of Scripture. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the apostles in their writing of the New Testament also guided the bishops at the Ecumenical Councils. Therefore, the Ecumenical Councils are not something added to the Bible but are the result of the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Holy Scriptures.
Part II. The Early Church and the Traditioning Process
Critical to the argument of this paper is the transitional period when the apostles were succeeded by the post-apostolic generation. Continuity between the apostles and the post-apostolic leadership can be seen as support for Holy Tradition. In II Timothy 2:2, Paul describes the process by which the Christian Faith was to be passed on to future generations:
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
What is notable about this verse is Paul’s emphasis on the careful selection and training of the post-apostolic generations of Christians who were to be entrusted with Holy Tradition. In this verse we find four links in the chain of tradition: (1) Paul, (2) Timothy, (3) “reliable men”, and (4) the “others.” What is striking about these passages is the aural component: what Timothy heard from Paul he was to pass on to others. Although many Evangelicals confine II Timothy 2:2 to the ordination ceremony of pastors, it makes more sense to understand the passage as referring to the passing on of apostolic tradition to future generations.
In Irenaeus we see how the early Church applied II Timothy 2:2. For Irenaeus the ability of a church to trace its roots back to the apostles was an important means to verifying its claim to correct doctrine and practice:
The tradition of the apostles, made clear in all the world, can be clearly seen in every church by those who wish to behold the truth. We can enumerate those who were established by the apostles as bishops in the churches, and their successors down to our time, none of whom taught or thought of anything like their (the heretics) mad ideas (Richardson 1970:371).
For Irenaeus “apostolic succession” was essential to the truth claims of the Christian faith. Apostolic succession is based, not just on formal ritual succession, but also in the holding to the same faith and practice as the Apostles. The Orthodox Church has faithfully adhered to both forms over the past twenty centuries. Each and every bishop and patriarch in the Orthodox Church can trace their link back to the Twelve Apostle. This is a claim that Protestants cannot make. (One such attempt known as Landmarkism make the outlandish claim that there existed an unbroken Baptist tradition from the time of Christ through the Dark Ages of the papacy until it reemerged during the Protestant Reformation. This popular movement generated enormous controversy among the pre-Civil War Baptist churches (see Ahlstrom’s A Religious History of the American People Vol. II pp. 178-181).)
After the apostles died, the traditioning process continued without interruption. Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (c. 60 – c. 130), lived during the crucial transitional period of the Apostles and their successors. The passage below shows Papias’ strong and active commitment to the traditioning process:
Unlike the great multitude, I did not take pleasure in those who talk much but those who teach the truth; not in those who stamp alien commandments on the memory but in those who keep the traditions given to the believers by the Lord and derived from truth itself. If by chance, though, someone came my way who had been a pupil and follower of the first elders, I inquired into the teachings of these elders: what Andrew or Peter said or what Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other disciples of the Lord said…. (in Arnold 1970:168-169).
Papias approached Tradition primarily through person-to-person and oral contact. There is no evidence of the traditioning process becoming confined to the apostles’ writings.
Irenaeus of Lyons, regarded as the second century Church’s most important theologian, is a good example of the traditioning process. He was intimately acquainted with Polycarp, the spiritual son of the apostle John. Irenaeus’ letter To Florinus in Eusebius’ Church History (5.20) illustrates how the traditioning process was still going strong one century after the last of the apostles died:
…so that I can describe the place where blessed Polycarp sat and talked, his goings out and comings in, the character of his life, his personal appearance, his addresses to crowded congregations. I remember how he spoke of his intercourse with John and with others who had seen the Lord; how he repeated their words from memory; and how the things that he had heard them say about the Lord, His miracles and His teaching, things that he had heard direct from the eye-witnesses of the Word of Life, were proclaimed by Polycarp in complete harmony with Scripture (Eusebius 1965:227-228).
Irenaeus’ personal testimony shows how seriously and diligently the early Christian community committed itself to remembering the teachings of the apostles. Thus, the Church in the second century did not fall away as many Protestants assumed happened after the death of the apostles but continued to hold on to the teachings of the apostles. Another striking fact is how Irenaeus’ high view of Scripture complemented his commitment to oral tradition.
The Bible in the Early Church
Among the early Church Fathers there is clear evidence of their high regard for the Bible, but there is no evidence of the New Testament superseding the earlier oral traditions. Rather the emergence of the written New Testament was seen as a natural outcome of the overall traditioning process. In his Against the Heretics Irenaeus of Lyons describes the emergence of the four Gospels:
For we learned the plan of our salvation from no others than from those through whom the gospel came to us. They first preached it abroad, and then later by the will of God handed it down to us in Writings, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith …. They went out to the ends of the earth, preaching the good things that come to us from God, and proclaiming peace from heaven to men, all and each of them equally being in possession of the gospel of God. So Matthew among the Hebrews issued a Writing of the gospel in their own tongue, while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel at Rome and founding the Church. After their decease Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what Peter had preached. Then Luke, the follower of Paul, recorded in a book of the gospel as it was preached by him. Finally John, the disciple of the Lord, who had also lain on his breast, himself published the Gospel, while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia. All of them handed down to us that there is one God, maker of heaven and earth, proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets, and one Christ the Son of God (Richardson 1970:370).
A thoughtful Evangelical cannot but notice that the names of the authors that roll so easily off his/her tongue (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are not derived from Scripture but are extra-scriptural in source, i.e., they are part of the tradition of the early Church. While their names are mentioned in the New Testament, the New Testament does not name them as authors of particular books in the New Testament. Thus, for Irenaeus the New Testament did not stand apart from Tradition but was an integral part of Tradition. He saw the apostolic witness whether oral or written as valid.
For Irenaeus it conceivable to have a Christianity without the Bible, but not Christianity without Tradition:
Even if the apostles had not left their Writings to us, ought we not to follow the rule of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they committed the churches? Many barbarian peoples who believe in Christ follow this rule, having [the message of their] salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit without paper and ink (Richardson 1970:374-375).
In a missionary situation where the bible has yet to be translated or the new believers belong to an oral culture, the newly planted church was expected to follow oral tradition.
One of the strongest arguments against sola scriptura can be found in Basil the Great (c. 329-379), a fourth century Church Father. In his On the Holy Spirit we find a clear discussion of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition:
Concerning the teachings of the Church, whether publicly proclaimed (kerygma) or reserved to members of the household of faith (dogmata), we have received some from written sources, while others have been given to us secretly, through apostolic tradition (1980:98).
For Basil the two sources are integrally related and cannot be separated without doing harm to one or the other. In the passage below Basil constructs a hypothetical scenario of what would happen if the Bible was separated from Holy Tradition:
Both sources have equal force in true religion. No one would deny either source–no one, at any rate, who is even slightly familiar with the ordinances of the Church. If we attacked the unwritten customs, claiming them to be of little importance, we would fatally mutilate the Gospel, not matter what our intentions–or rather, we would reduce the Gospel teachings to bare words (1980:98-99).
With uncanny prescience, Basil anticipates the seventeenth century English Puritans who sought to purge the church of non-biblical customs on the basis of sola scriptura. Many of the customs in the early Church such as making of the sign of the cross, the practice of facing eastwards when praying, the wording to be used for eucharistic prayers, the proper format for baptizing new converts, would be eliminated. Basil’s clear rejection of this principle shows conclusively that sola scriptura cannot be considered part of the historic Christian faith.
Thus, early church history does not support the Protestant understanding of Scripture standing separate from Tradition. The early Christians saw the emergence of a written New Testament as a natural step in the development of the Christian faith. The early church saw oral and written tradition as complementary and together forming a harmonious whole. Therefore, early church history refutes the Protestant claim of sola scriptura. It was only among the heterodox or heretics that we can find early precedents for sola scriptura (See D.H. Williams “The Search for Sola Scriptura in the Early Church”). None of the early Church Fathers ever held or taught sola scriptura. Basil the Great’s explicit rejection of sola scriptura together with the implicit understanding of other Church Fathers decisively prove that this principle was never part of the early Church and for that reason cannot be considered part of the historic Christian Faith.
Part III. The Protestant Rejection of Tradition
The Protestant rejection of Holy Tradition can be traced in large part to the Reformers’ struggle against medieval Catholicism in the 1500s. In their struggle to reform the Catholic Church the Reformers asserted the authority of sola scriptura against the tyranny of the Roman papacy. From the Orthodox perspective, many of the doctrines and practices rejected by Protestantism (purgatory, indulgences, the supremacy of the Pope, transubstantiation) are not part of Holy Tradition but innovations that emerged in post-Schism medieval Western Europe. Thus, it is important to keep in mind that when Protestants speak against “tradition,” they are thinking of something quite different from what Orthodox refer to as “Holy Tradition.” It is also important to keep in mind that the Protestant rejection of Tradition (with capital “T”) did not entail the exclusion of the historic creeds but the historic paradigm that embedded Scripture within the context of Tradition. What the Reformers did was to treat Scripture as autonomous from Tradition and regard as acceptable tradition (with small “t”) that which could be derived from Scripture.
Evangelicals’ aversion to tradition is also rooted in their being children of modernity. Modernity encourages the attitude that the old and traditional are inferior to the new and modern and that the new will supersede the old. This leads to Evangelicals distrusting the past or viewing the past as irrelevant or having no practical relevance. Much of this attitude can be traced to the American Revolution, the American frontier in the early 1800s, and the Civil War (see Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, pp. 59 ff.).
The Traditions of Men
Evangelicals often point to Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-20 (see also Mark 7:17) as providing a biblical basis for their opposition to tradition. It is important that we note that Jesus did not issue a whole scale condemnation of tradition but the tradition of the Pharisees. The “tradition of the elders” is a reference to elaborate system of rules constructed by the rabbis during the Babylonian exile. This system of rules and regulations existed primarily in oral form until it was put down into writing around AD 200 in what is now called the Mishnah.
It should also be noted that the New Testament writers seemed to have no hesitation drawing on the oral tradition that paralleled the Old Testament scriptures: (1) the prophecy “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23), (2) the injunction that respect be given to those who sit on “Moses seat” (Matthew 23:2), (3) the reference Paul made to the rock that followed the Israelites during their 40 year sojourn in the desert (I Corinthians 10:4), (4) the confrontation between the archangel Michael and Satan over Moses’ body (Jude 9), and Paul’s knowledge of the names of the Egyptian magicians (Jannes and Jambres) who opposed Moses (II Timothy 3:6-8). The above references show that the New Testament writers did not apply the principle sola scriptura to the Old Testament. The New Testament writers willingness to draw upon the Jewish oral tradition that paralleled the Jewish Scripture can be seen as evidence against sola scriptura.
The closest we can find to a blanket condemnation of tradition is in Colossians 2:8 where Paul writes:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Here Paul criticizes the false teachings not because they are based on tradition per se, but because these traditions were not based upon Jesus Christ. Furthermore, anyone who wishes to use this verse to argue that Paul condemned all traditions must reconcile this verse with other verses by Paul that spoke favorably of tradition (e.g., II Thessalonians 2:15).
The Traditions of Modern Evangelicalism
Ironically, however, modern Evangelicalism does in fact have many traditions. Many Evangelicals equate “tradition” with the Christmas tree, but “tradition” is more than that: it is the way we do worship; the way we define church government; the way we understand Scripture; and the way we do theology. These traditions are not peripheral to Evangelicalism, they play an important function in the maintenance of the distinctive Evangelical sub-culture.
What is really ironic is the fact that many of these Evangelical traditions are very recent developments. The altar call where people are invited to come forward and give their life to Christ has its source in the sinners bench which first began in the early 1800s on the American frontier. The popular evangelistic crusade by Billy Graham has its roots in earlier crusades led by Billy Sunday and D.L. Moody in the 1800s. Phrases such as “deciding for Christ,” “personal relationship with Christ,” “making a personal commitment to Christ,” are novel extra-biblical ways of describing how to become a Christian. From the standpoint of historic Christianity what is so striking about modern Evangelicalism is the way it has divorced evangelism from the sacrament of baptism and membership in the Church.
Another tradition is the Sunday School. The Sunday School is just over a hundred years old. What began in Victorian England as an outreach to the lower classes ended up as one of the pillars of the Evangelical subculture. Today Evangelicals cannot imagine a church without a Sunday School. What is so striking about the Sunday School is how it reinforces the didactic qualities of the Protestant church. Historically the center of Christian worship was the Eucharist, not the sermon. When one considers the strong emphasis on the sermon and the infrequent practice of Holy Communion in many Protestant churches, it becomes apparent how Protestantism has developed a new tradition of worship with no historical precedent.
Holy Communion is another area where Evangelicals have incorporated recent customs and practices that deviate from the historic Christian faith. Widespread among Evangelicals is the belief in the bread and the wine being purely symbolic. This is a significant break from the early Church, the medieval catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the major Protestant Reformers; all of them in one way or another affirmed the real presence in the Eucharist. Another change has been the widespread use of grape juice instead of wine. Along with this was the change in the way the communion elements were distributed. Where the historic pattern has been for people to come forward to receive Communion, the elements are brought forward by the servers on trays and passed along the pews. Thus, the Evangelical practice of Holy Communion is an example of a striking departure from the historic pattern of worship.
Evangelicalism’s Debt to Holy Tradition
Despite their rejection of Holy Tradition, Evangelicalism is heavily indebted to Holy Tradition. When Evangelicals accept the twenty seven books of the New Testament as canonical, they are in effect accepting the decision of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. When Evangelicals affirm that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human they are in effect accepting the decisions of the Council of Nicea and the Council of Chalcedon. When they affirm their belief in the Trinity, one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they are accepting the way the early Church prayed to God in its liturgy. By their very use of the word “Trinity” the Evangelicals show themselves to be inheritors of the theological traditions of the early Church. Evangelicalism’s indebtedness to Holy Tradition can be seen in their insistence on worshiping on Sundays and not on Saturdays as do the Seventh Day Adventists and their strong pro-life stance against abortion.
Part IV. Paradigmatic Differences
Orthodoxy and Protestantism operate from different paradigms which results in radical differences in the way they do theology and construct church order. Scientists rely on paradigms to organize and interpret their data (see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). For example, before Copernicus made his famous discovery, many thought that the sun revolved around the earth and not the other way around. The paradigm shift from a geocentric model to a heliocentric model marked a major advance in astronomy. Paradigms are like lenses through which we see and interpret the world around us. A critical awareness of paradigms can help us appreciate the way we understand our data and why our conclusions differ from others even if we both share the same data base.
One of the major differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is their source for faith and practice. The Orthodox Church believes that Christ committed a body of teaching and practices to his apostles and authorized them to pass this tradition on to the nations. The Orthodox Church sees the New Testament as the written record of the teachings of Christ and his apostles, the Liturgy as continuing the pattern worship that Jesus taught his disciples, and the office of the bishop as a continuation of Jesus’ formal teaching office. For the Orthodox Christian it is possible to access the life and teaching of Christ through the Church, the recipient and guardian of Holy Tradition. While Protestantism would agree with Orthodoxy that Christ committed a body of teaching and practices to his apostles, it believes that the life and teachings of Christ can only be accessed through the New Testament. All other means are suspect or of limited value. On the basis of sola scriptura many Protestants seek to ground their theology, worship, ethics, and church government upon the Bible and nothing else. This exclusion of extra-biblical sources is a more extreme stance among Fundamentalists and popular Evangelicals. Protestants belonging to the mainstream Reformation, while open to extra-biblical sources, affirm the supremacy of Scripture over other sources of doctrine and practice.
Diagram: Source of Faith and Practice
These differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy arise from their different ways of understanding church history. The Protestants see church history as discontinuous: there took place a break or a “Fall” in which the early church strayed into heresy, corruption, and formalism soon after the Apostles died. Christianity then entered into the Dark Ages until the Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers rediscovered the pure Gospel and restored the New Testament Church as described in the Scripture. This kind of outlook renders church history suspect on two grounds: (1) learning from church history would undermine the principle “the Bible alone” and (2) relying on church history is to rely on a church that had fallen from the pristine purity of the New Testament Christianity into corruption and decay.
The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, has a continuous view of church history. It believes that the Holy Spirit continued to work actively in the Church even after the apostles passed. It does not differentiate between the first century, in which the apostles lived, from the following centuries. This continuous view of church history is based upon Christ’s promise that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide the Church (John 14:26) and upon Christ’s promise that the Church would be preserved against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). For Orthodoxy there was no break or disjuncture in church history. This is because the Orthodox Church has kept Holy Tradition without change. Thus, because there was no “Fall,” there is no need to rediscover the Gospel, neither is there a need to restore the New Testament Church for the Orthodox Church is the same church as the New Testament Church.
Diagram: Single Point vs. the Matrix
One way to describe the differences is to liken Protestantism to a single point and Orthodoxy to a matrix. For Protestants the Bible is the sole source for faith and practice. For the Orthodox Church the source of faith and practice is Tradition with a capital “T” which consists of the Bible, the Liturgy, the Sacraments, the Ecumenical Councils, and the Church Fathers all of which taken together form an interlocking and internally consistent matrix.
In the Orthodox matrix paradigm the various components of Holy Tradition form a singular coherent entity. Scripture is not subordinated to Tradition but is integrally linked to the other parts of Tradition. This means that the Bible cannot but agree with the other components of the tradition. (For example, Protestants would not put the Gospels over the Pauline epistles but see both as integral to the New Testament canon.) The Orthodox Church has several safeguards in place to prevent any hermeneutical chaos from distorting or mutating the Christian Faith: the bishops, the Church Fathers, the Liturgy, the Ecumenical Councils, and the Nicene Creed. Thus, the Orthodox matrix paradigm provides a stable framework because the various components of Tradition reinforce and regulate each other.
One of the troubling aspects of the Protestant single point paradigm is the fact that Scripture cannot be separated from the interpretation of Scripture. If one’s understanding of Scripture changes, then one’s faith and practice will likewise change. This makes for a rather tenuous and unstable basis for faith and practice. This can be seen in the bewildering variety of Protestant denominations that have come about as a result of people interpreting the Bible in different ways and being unable to reconcile their differences. This raises the conundrum of how so many different readings can emerge while the text remains unchanged. The first major division took place as early as in 1529 at the Marburg Colloquy where the Protestant Reformers were split over how to interpret the words of Christ: “This is my body.” It is quite unsettling that Protestantism’s first division took place within its first decade of existence.
The principle “Scripture interprets Scripture” is nonsense if taken literally. It would be like saying: Scripture reads Scripture. The Bible is read by people who at the same time interpret what they are reading. What the Protestant Reformers meant here was that Scripture is internally consistent in meaning. However, the Marburg Colloquy brought out the fact that there are some passages that can be understood in quite different ways and which do not provide any further means for ascertaining the precise meaning of the contested text.
V. Contending for the Faith
Jude 3 contains one of the strongest refutation of Protestantism. Ironically, this is one of Evangelicalism’s favorite which they use to defend the fundamentals of the Christian faith:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write to you and urge you to contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints.
There are three aspects of this verse that is pertinent to our discussion: (1) the use of the definite article in the phrase “the Faith”, (2) the clear reference to the traditioning process “entrusted”, and (3) the phrase “once and for all” (απαξ or hapax). The use of the definite article in “the Faith” is significant for it refers to an already existent specific body of doctrines and practices. This indicates that the Christian Faith was the result of divine revelation, not something to be discovered by theological research or mystic gnosis or the result of doctrinal evolution.
Also significant is the fact the Greek word hapax “once for all” which was used to condition the traditioning process paradotheisee “entrusted” or “handed over.” The word hapax is the same Greek word used in Hebrews 9:28 in reference to Christ’s unique once for all time redeeming death on the Cross. The word hapax rules out new doctrines and practices. In other words, it rules out the possibility of later revelations like the Book of Mormons or “new light yet to break forth” touted by the Liberals. It points to a fixity and permanence in the content of the Christian faith, i.e., Tradition cannot change. This implies that a historical continuity in the Christian faith must exist from the first century to the present. Doctrinal innovation is to be viewed with grave suspicion.
When one reflects on the fact that so much of Evangelical theology and practice have their roots in the nineteenth century this verse has disturbing implications regarding the viability of Evangelicalism. This verse is devastating because if the Christian Faith cannot change, then either Evangelicalism must prove doctrinal continuity with the early church or else admit that their faith is a modern innovation. Protestants attempting to trace their historical roots can go only as far back as the Protestant Reformation before they hit a blank wall. This means that Evangelicals must give serious consideration to Orthodoxy’s claim that it has kept the Faith unchanged. Orthodoxy’s claim that it has kept the Faith unchanged should not be construed to mean a static understanding of Tradition. Holy Tradition is both fixed and dynamic, much like the dynamic similarities between an acorn and a fully grown oak tree. It is not so much a fixed formula as it is the mind of Christ at work in the Church by the Holy Spirit.
For Evangelicals considering Orthodoxy, there is comfort in the fact that many of Evangelicalism’s core beliefs are compatible with Orthodoxy: the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, the divine nature of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for the salvation of the world, the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, and the Second Coming of Christ. However, certain distinctive Protestant beliefs e.g., sola fide and sola scriptura, must be regarded as recent innovations, and not part of the historic Christian faith. In other words, one can continue to be an Evangelical in the Orthodox Church even if they cease to be Protestant.
But What if Scripture and Tradition Contradict Each Other?
An Evangelical friend once asked, “But what if Tradition contradicts the Bible?” To answer this question, one must ask two questions for the sake of clarity: (1) “What do you mean by ‘Scripture’?” and (2) “What do you mean by ‘Tradition’?”
First, what needs to be recognized here is the fact that when we speak of Scripture we are at the same time speaking of our particular understanding of Scripture. The Bible can be interpreted in a number of different ways, some of which are correct and others which are erroneous. In short, the so-called contradictions in reality reflect the contradiction between Holy Tradition and particular interpretations of Scripture. This then leads to the question: who has the right interpretation?
Second, what needs to be kept in mind is that when we refer to Tradition we are referring to apostolic tradition, the oral teachings the original apostles passed on to their disciples and successors (II Thessalonians 2:15, II Timothy 2:2). The agreement between written and oral tradition is based upon the assumption that what Paul wrote in his epistles would be in agreement with what e his first century listeners heard from his mouth. Critical to the Orthodox understanding of the coinherence of written and oral tradition is the assumption that the early Christians and later generations of Christians faithfully committed to memory the apostles teachings. The “fall of the church” theory so widely assumed in Protestant circles rest on two assumptions: (1) that II Timothy 2:2 was never put into practice and (2) there took place a massive memory loss in the early Christian community.
The Orthodox Church rejects the fall of the church theory. This is because the Church has several safeguards in place that ensures the right interpretation of Scripture: the Liturgy, the historical linkages to the apostles through the bishops, the theological consensus in the Ecumenical Councils, and the Church Fathers. Because Scripture as well as the other components of Tradition share a common apostolic source, they can be expected to be in agreement with each other. Thus, Orthodox interpretations will agree with Tradition, whereas erroneous and heretical interpretations will contradict Tradition.
The question I would pose to Protestants is this: On what basis can Protestants claim to have a superior interpretation of the Bible? What advantage do modern Protestant Evangelicals have over the early Church Fathers? And I would add, Can you claim that your interpretation is the Protestant interpretation? Furthermore, how can Evangelicals be so concerned about the alleged contradictions between the Bible and Tradition when there are so many rival interpretations among Evangelicals that contradict each other. Protestantism is theologically incoherent being split as it is into so many different denominations unable to come together in agreement over issues of faith, sacrament, worship, and church governance.
When one studies the early Church one is struck by the remarkable theological unity among the early Church Fathers — Irenaeus of Lyons, Ambrose of Milan, Pope Leo of Rome, Pope Gregory of Rome, Athanasius of Alexandria, John of Damascus. The fact there was a common faith that spanned across the vast Roman Empire as well as over several centuries stands in stark contrast to Protestantism’s short history.
One early witness to the doctrinal unity of the early Church was Irenaeus of Lyons. In Against the Heretics he wrote:
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth (Richardson 1970:360).
Evangelicals troubled by Protestantism’s disarray might find Irenaeus’ description of the unity of the faith attractive, but at the same time they may find his emphasis on there being only one Church disturbing. The unity that Irenaeus refers to is not an invisible spiritual unity (like the unity many Evangelicals prattle about) but a tangible and visible unity. He wrote:
But as I said before, the real Church has one and the same faith everywhere in the world (Richardson 1970:362).
Evangelicals who are accepting of denominational differences will find Irenaeus’ statement very disturbing because it raises the question: Do I belong to the true Church? Irenaeus’ writings challenges modern day Evangelicals to choose between their own local church or denomination, and the Eastern Orthodox Church which claimed to be the “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”
To return to my friend’s question: “But what if Tradition contradicts the Bible?,” my answer is: Tradition will never contradict the Bible. This is based on oral and written tradition having the same apostolic source (II Thessalonians 2:2) and the faithful transmission of the apostles’ teachings to subsequent generations (II Timothy 2:2). Apostolic tradition is guaranteed by Christ’s promises that he would give the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 14:23, 16:13) and that the Church would be preserved in the face of satanic opposition (Matthew 16:18). It is also based upon Paul’s description of the Church as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (I Timothy 3:15). The opposite corollary is likewise true: whatever contradicts Scripture cannot be Tradition. The key here is what we mean when we say “Tradition.” Here we are referring to apostolic tradition. If Holy Tradition is indeed biblical (as has been shown in this paper), then Evangelicals should have very little problem accepting the Orthodox Church’s teaching on Tradition and Scripture.
The Irony of Sola Scriptura
One great irony of the Protestant Reformation is that its anti-traditionalism would become a tradition of Protestantism (Pelikan 1984:11). The inescapable fact is that every church group belongs to a particular tradition. When a Baptist church claims to hold to the baptist distinctives, they are really speaking of faithfully adhering to the Baptist tradition. The choice that lies before every Evangelical is whether they will hold to a tradition that is for the most part only two hundred years old or receive Holy Tradition, which has been kept intact by the Orthodox Church for two thousand years.
Shortly before I joined the Orthodox Church, my friend Steve, a Baptist minister, warned me: “Now you shouldn’t add to the Bible.” In light of the above discussion, Steve’s warning is quite ironic, for if sola scriptura cannot be found in the Bible then Protestants are guilty of adding sola scriptura to the Bible. Furthermore, if the Bible is the bottomline for Evangelicals and if Holy Tradition is biblical then the real Evangelical is one who belongs to the Orthodox Church.
Ahlstrom, Sydney E. 1975. A Religious History of the American People. Volume 2. Garden City, New York: Image Books.
Arnold, Eberhard. 1970. The Early Christians in their Own Words. Translated from Die Ersten Christen nach dem Tode der Apostel, 1926. Printed 1997. Farmington, Pennsylvania: Plough Publishing House, 1970.
Basil the Great. 1980. On the Holy Spirit. Introduction by David Anderson. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Eusebius. 1965. The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine. G.A. Williamson, translator. New York: Penguin Books.
Hahn, Scott and Kimberly. 1993. Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Kuhn, Thomas S. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Second Edition, Enlarged. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science: Volume 2 Number 2. First published 1962. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Noll, Mark A. 1994. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Pelikan, Jarsolav. 1984. The Vindication of Tradition. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Richardson, Cyril C., ed. 1970. Early Christian Fathers. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
Williams, D.H. 1998. The Search for Sola Scriptura in the Early Church. Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology Vol. 52 No. 4 (October): 354-366.
Wycliffe Bible Translators. 2000. Amsterdam 2000. In Other Words. Vol. 26, No. 3 (Winter): 18-21.
Coming Soon: Contra Sola Scriptura (3 of 4).
Again, Robert A. has given us something meaty for a meal. And I commend his efforts along this line. I appreciate where he is coming from. And against what he is reacting. Having said that, I note that for at least the first 300 years, there are two parallel but distinct strands that he is conflating as one: (a) my “Jerusalem-Central”, and (b) the Pauline.
If we take what he has given us heretofore, in both articles and blog-responses, and arrange these distinct strands in these two parallel columns, we notice (a) Jerusalem-Central only has a de-novo “Traditioning” process lightly present, and (b) an increasingly heavy dependence on post-Damascus “Traditioning” in the Pauline column.
In the immortal words of Professor Julius Sumner Miller: “Why is this so?”
“Jerusalem-Central” had a continuous Conservative continuum from Abraham, through Moses, David, Zerubbabel, the Maccabees, and the Arimathean “orbit” – which included the non-Pauline authors of the NT. For the preceding thousand years, they were Nazarites, and in the preceding two hundred years, they had significant links to the Essenes.
For Scripture-purposes, within this continuum, they had a developing, and ultimately closed Tanak. They also shared a common hermeneutic: the “garden” of PaRDeS. I have already referred to this in the earlier blog.
Therefore, almost all the important “Traditioning” for Jerusalem Central was already in place, and only required minor tweaking in the fields of Kergyma, Didache and Praxis for New Covenant purposes.
The NT Eucharist – (Liturgy of the Faithful portion)
– this was a complex amalgam of a number of Jewish practices: (a) the Friday Evening Shabbat Shlom, (b) the Saturday Evening Shabbat Havdalah, (c) the offering of Shewbread in the Tabernacle/Temple, (d & e) the Annual Passover, and as adapted by Jesus Himself in the Upper Room, (f) the “Creed” – until at least 381, this was the Shema (Deut 6:4), (g) the Lord’s Prayer.
The only NT “Traditioning” present here is the “mix” and Liturgical “sequence”. This was drawn up by the Priests and Evangelists James and John – the sons of thunder, and one version was issued in James’ name. Beyond this, nearly no de-novo NT “Traditioning” was required here.
The Marriage Service
– to use Calvinist language, this was supra-lapsarian in origin, and its late Second Temple form was assumed as normative for the NT Church. No de-novo NT “Traditioning” was required here.
The NT Baptism
– this was the Jewish Mikveh infallibly defined and declared by Jesus Himself within non-Pauline writers, and Canonically set-forth as such by non-Pauline writers. No de-novo NT “Traditioning” was required here.
The use of the Oil of Chrism
– was already present from the time of Moses, and only needed appending to Baptism, and extending for Healing purposes. Virtually no de-novo NT “Traditioning” wsa required here.
The “Soul-Friend” (the Celtic Anamchara)
– this was well-established at the time of Moses, with the following relationships illustrative: Moses and Joshua, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Elijah, etc. No de-novo NT “Traditioning” was required here.
– this hardly needed any attention, insofar as per Jesus’ original intent, pace Malachi Martin and the ‘desposnyi’, it was assumed that the Church leadership would be hereditary. Also, it would not “copy” in any way the Roman system of Administration. No NT “Traditioning” was required here.
– this was already well-established for over 1500 years with the Nazarenes, and more recently in the previous 200 years, in the formation of the Perushim and Essenes. No de-novo “Traditioning” was required here.
The Church’s Liturgy (the Liturgy of the Word portion)
– this was almost a verbatim copy of the Shabbat Morning Service. With the only NT addition being the Gospel readings when they became available – which was before 70CE.
The Morning and Evening Prayers (non-Eucharistic),
– as per the Synagogue Morning and Evening Prayers, with only minor NT insertions.
The usual Weekend Worship-Pattern for “Jerusalem Central” and most of its gentile affiliates almost certainly looked like this:
Friday Evening – Shabbat Shalom + evening meal.
Shabbat Morning – at Shul, showing their fellow-Jews that believing in Yeshua as Messiah did not make them any less a Jew.
Saturday Evening – Shabbat Havdalah + Home Eucharist + evening meal.
Lord’s Day Morning – Congregational Worship + Congregational Eucharist.
Sunday Evening – Lord’s Day Havdalah.
Notes: (1) the original “Great Entrance” was not as per current practice – from Altar, to Royal Doors thence back to the Altar – monopolised by Clergy; it was from outside the narthex into the Altar by the people (the “laity”) – this was the deliberately-arranged “leftovers” from the previous evening’s Family Eucharist at home. Thus (2) whilesoever there was adequate supply of Home Eucharist Holy Gifts, there was no need for an epiclesis prayer in the Congregational Eucharist – it came to the Congregational Eucharist already fully pre-sanctified.
Jerusalem-Central operated to a Jewish form of the Doctrine of the “Communion of the Saints”. This doctrine hardly required any de-novo NT “Traditioning” at all!
This doctrine required ALL generations – both past and present to be at the table when doctrinal decisions are made. And while all nations are eventually expected to be represented at that table, it was nevertheless a clear understanding amongst the first-generation pre-70CE Jerusalem Church that it would be they at all times who were “Presiding” at any Council (pace the desposnyi visit to Sylvester in 318), and that they alone would have the final and unchallengeable veto-right on any result of that Council’s deliberations. Even if the individuals in that first-generation Jewish Church were long dead. And further, that it was an unstated and unwritten presumption that any gentile Church leader with whatever title, including that of Bishop who wished to legitimately claim “Apostolic Succession” in any degree from them would automatically respect those “Presiding”, and “veto” rights inherent in them.
Further, given the Prophet Daniel’s revelation from Yahweh that, inter-alia, both Hellenism and Romanism, in their entirety, were hated by Yahweh – who intended their complete extermination to benefit His People; any Church Leader (including a Bishop), who brought either or both Hellenism or Romanism to the table as a tool in order to shape both the direction and “decision” of any Council would have to be restricted to “observer-status” only at that Council, and be denied a vote at that Council if it could be demonstrated that their vote would (or even did) corrupt the decision of that Council away from a Jewish phromena and towards an either Roman or Hellenistic phronema (or both).
To further the observations on Tradition, St Basil of Caesarea (finisher of the Liturgy of the same name) on examples of the contents of the Apostolic Oral Tradition – received from “Jerusalem Central”:
a. Making the Sign of the Cross (originally the “Tau” of the Torah).
b. Turning to the East in Prayer. (Heb xi. 14)
c. Prayer (all of the Divine Liturgy) said standing on the Lord’s Day.
(Analogue of anastasis / anastasiV (standing again) – resurrection.)
d. Certain parts of the Text of the Eucharistic Liturgy – at the point of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing.
e. Blessings of the water of Baptism and the Oils of Chrism.
f. Blessing of the catechumen who is to be Baptised.
g. Baptism by Trine (triple) Immersion
h. At Baptism, the renunciation of Satan and his angels.
i. The Confession of Faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
[De Spiritu Sanctu – On the Holy Spirit 66& 67. (8NPNFII pp41-43.)]
Other Apostolic Oral Traditions not specifically mentioned by Basil but alluded to and accepted by him:
j. The Principle of organised Liturgy as the sole acceptable form of Public Worship.
k. The legitimacy of the Principle of a Church Sacred Calendar.
l. The manner of Making the Sign of the Cross with one’s arms – certain fingers together to form a point, then inscribing: forehead, chest (lower sternum), right shoulder, left shoulder, towards the floor (as one bows one’s head).
m. Making the sign of the Cross with Holy Oil upon the body in both Chrismation and Unction.
n. At Baptism – receiving a “Slava” (Slavic term) – the name of one’s “Patron Saint” – a Saint of the Church as a symbol of their entry into the unity of the Church and into its Communion of Saints. This becomes more important than ones birthday.
o. The Principle of “Closed Communion” – only Baptised and Chrismated Christians in good standing may receive Communion.*
p. Going forward to receive Communion with arms crossed over one’s chest – right arm over left arm.Prayers for the faithful departed.
q. The use of Icons as both aids to Worship and Doctrinal Statements.
(The First Icon was by St Luke (the Evangelist) of Mary, the Mother of God.)
r. The use of Candles and Incense in Liturgical Worship.
He repeatedly challenges the reader to produce written evidence of the command to do or say so! He openly declares that there is no such written authority, but they are universally accepted as part of the Faith. Yet having said this, he cannot demonstrate that any of these were purely “Pauline” in provenance.
* Not just “if you love the Lord” (as in most Protestantism).
In the Pauline Orbit, there was a need for a far larger “Traditioning” process. Let it be said at the outset: Paul “borrowed” an enormous amount from Jerusalem-Central. Otherwise he would not have survived the Acts 15 Council (Bet Din). Yet he remained his own man, with all that that implies. Astute readers may have seen much of this elsewhere.
The Pauline orbit quite properly “borrowed” the Charism of Bishop from the Jerusalem-Central. After all, they had to do so in order to claim any shred of “Apostolicity”. However, what the Pauline orbit did with that Charism is another matter altogether:
They first allowed it to swallow almost all other Charisms laid out by none other that Paul himself, converted it to an “Office”, adapted it to the Roman Prefecture structure, and finally, under Constantine, granted it a top-down Autokrator authority (auctoritas / potestias) – backed by the Imperial police, that no one “under” the status of Bishop could physically challenge. Ultimately it became a Sacrament, second only unto Communion. They then backed that police-power by inserting numerous administrative Canons into Church Council legislation. Finally, the Constantinian Imperial Church completed the substitution of the “Soul-Friend” with the post-Apostolic Pauline practice of “Confession”.
Thus, no Biblical Prophet could then challenge or dethrone a Bishop.
The original CV of a Bishop was:
(i) be an honorific link with and representative of the Jewish Apostles,
(ii) be an exemplar of liturgical and sacramental excellence, and
(iii) be a leader in quality contemplative excellence. And thus Spirituality.
On the principle of “check and balance”, the Charisms of both Teaching and Administration were never meant to be held by a Bishop.
The CV of the Biblical Prophet in both OT and NT contexts remained the same:
# be a “check and balance” on both Priests and Kings.
# be a conduit of God’s Word to all – including most especially Priests and Kings.
The Biblical Prophet also had to have sufficient “separation” from both Priest and King in order to dethrone either if the necessity arose. As well as having the recognised power to do so. The Prophet was also entitled to offer sacrifices to God if the King or Priest (even High Priest) were not spiritually fit to do so.
This type of Prophet was anathema to Constantine, as well as to any corrupt clergy – as many of Constantine’s appointments to the episcopate were. The same applied to Constantine’s successors. It meant that the Office of Emperor itself was not safe. Neither were secure any corrupt and “unworthy” appointments to the episcopate.
In the Official Imperial Church, the Charism of Prophet was severely degraded – in inverse proportion to the elevation of the Episcopate – especially as enforced by civil legislation:
# In the East, it became the “fool-for-Christ”, – who could be safely ignored without any civil penalty.
# In the West, especially the medieval West, it reached its nadir in the role of “Court-Jester”!
This is all capital “T” Tradition of the Imperial Roman Church (both East and West).
In the Constantinian Era, Closed Communion was expanded to
# enforce the Cyprianic principle of Confession as a pre-requisite to Communion. (“On the Books” but sometimes not enforced – especially when one attends the Divine Liturgy weekly or more.)
# to be “valid”, this “Confession” had to be to a person “in Communion with” the Emperor (and in autocephalous Churches – to a person whose Bishop was “in Communion” with Imperial appointees and their successors.
# limit “regular” Communion to one’s own Parish and from one’s own Priests except by special arrangement. (“On the Books” but sometimes not enforced.)
After the Canonical Excommunication of Heretics, and the Great Schism of 1054, this was further expanded to:
# limit the receiving of Communion within Orthodoxy to Canonically-Orthodox and Chrismated believers only. And conversely . . .
forbidding Baptised and Chrismated Orthodox from receiving Communion (“inter-Communion”) in non-Orthodox Churches. (“On the Books” but sometimes not enforced.)
What many in the Gentile church refuse to acknowledge is that Paul had a number of defects, some of them serious.
A) He did not get the story of his conversion 100% correct – in his two versions of it in his last visit to Jerusalem, there were minor differences to Luke’s initial and correct Record. Had these been his only lapse, this would not have overly mattered in the scheme of things. Many of us do not always have a 100% perfect recollection of things in the past. And we could have forgiven Paul for this. However, there were more serious lapses elsewhere . . .
B) His divergent narrative over the Jerusalem Council outcome – Luke’s record in Acts is the Official Record, Paul’s record in Galatians is his (Paul’s) “spin” on it. See below.
C) His complete lack of any evidence in his writings of a sound knowledge as to how the 613 commandments were assembled – from the seven categories of Noachide Laws (71 mitzvot of the 613) – issued in Noah’s time, through the additional few before the Exodus to finally Sinai itself. Even the holy martyr St Stephen (ora pro nobis), right under Paul’s nose, had a better grasp.
D) His refusal to apply Torah standards at Corinth and elsewhere (through a “Thus saith the L-rd” and then quoting “chapter and verse from the Torah) led him to a “make-it-up-as-you-go-along” approach to Christian morality, with only a faint genuflection towards Torah.
On Marriage, the Family and Divorce, there were 23 mitzvot, on Forbidden Sexual relations, there were another 24, on Love and Brotherhood there were 13, and so on. Paul could have so easily quoted them. Read them and then are you going to say that the Church is exempt from these mitzvot?
E) He displayed a complete lack of knowledge of what it means to be a “God-Fearer” in practice – pace the Acts 15 Council and his ripostes to it in his later literature.
F) His unacceptably uncritical acceptance of all things Greek and Roman was totally contrary to the stance at “Jerusalem-Central”:
i) his acceptance at the macro-level of the structure of the Roman Empire led his followers after his death to assume the legitimacy of the Roman Prefecture system as a model for Church administration – which led to the birth of the Diocese. With Prefect = Bishop and Prefecture = Diocese. And the top-down unchallengeable autokrator authority of the Prefect = the top-down unchallengeable autokrator authority of the Bishop.
ii) his acceptance at the micro-level of the structure of the Roman Family led his followers after his death to assume the legitimacy of the Roman Paterfamilias model in Church ministry, which, if applied retrospectively, would have invalidated Mary Magdalene’s function as the “Apostle to the Apostles” at the Resurrection. As well as that of Phoebe in another setting.
G) His increasingly testy relations with “Jerusalem-Central” after his ecclesial near-death experience in Jerusalem. His contempt for genealogies (1Tim 1:3 – i.e. of the Arimathean Orbit) and “super-apostles” (2Cor 11:5 & 12:11 – i.e. those from Jerusalem Central) reveals a disregard for the ab initio Canonical Authority for non-Pauline NT Writings. What terminology would we ascribe to this trajectory?
It was only the mounting anti-Judaism, and then the mounting anti-Semitism in the Roman Empire first after 66CE, and ultimately 135CE that made these Pauline “defects” attractive to the Hellenised and Romanised prospective convert.
The Acts 15 Halakah
The Halakah on Church membership that came out of that Messianic Bet Din – the Halakah (and Midrash) that was to accompany, qualify and “interpret” all of R. Shaul’s efforts (and thus to be read together with all of his Letters as an “authority” superior to any of his Letters) clearly spelt out the Messianic version of the Traditional Jewish case for membership of the Nazarenes (“the Way”):
(i) against the more radical of R. Shaul’s Gentile followers – including the Herodians, who asserted the right to ignore the boundaries of “God-Fearer” to whatever extent they pleased – including that of most of Torah-compliance, and create their own eclectic criteria for Church membership:
-#the Messianic Bet Din reminded them that the already-established boundaries and expectations of “God-Fearer” as operating within “The Way” were non-negotiable. And remained intact and unchanged in Yeshua’s New Covenant Community. And remained the unavoidable minimum criteria for Gentiles who wished to join this Community, and thus to enter into any relationship with Yahweh – the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov. Something that R. Shaul (at their prodding) was to later explicitly spell out in Rom 11 and the “ingrafting” with olive trees.
(ii) against the non-Messianic “Judaisers” – the Scribes (principally), and Pharisees – who insisted that Gentile “God-Fearers” could not remain “God-Fearers” indefinitely but sooner or later had to go all the way in conversion to Judaism and (if male) become circumcised and follow all the outward finicky nuts and bolts of Jewish observance (including liability to temple-tax):
# the Messianic Bet Din reaffirmed their right to remain “God-Fearers” – but no less (!) for as long as, and for as many generations as they wished, without further “Judaic” challenge to their membership in the Church (and hence without liability to temple-tax).
No one other than the Messianic Bet Din, headed by Yakov, and clearly under the Authority of the Johannine / Arimathean extended family would possess the Authority to influence and direct (as per (i)) these Gentile radicals on such an important matter, especially when it was a matter involving an interpretation of the version of the gospel from the lips of none other than R. Shaul himself – who had converted them in the first place.
None other than this Johannine / Arimathean Messianic Bet Din had the Authority to take on R. Shaul on a breach of Halakah. To question and to challenge him and to enforce change and submission upon him – and win! And to insist that certain non-Pauline Halakah and Midrash accompany all his travels and qualify all his sermons and evangelization – if he (and his erstwhile”radical” followers) wished to remain within the Church!
As all this is most certainly the case, then all Pauline literature written since 49CE (the date of this Messianic Bet Din), other than Romans 9:1 to 11:36, has to be considered the least of all NT Literature! And to be seen as “Canonical Literature” at all, has to be seen as also being in submission to the non-Pauline NT Canon as interpreted by a Johannine / Arimathean Messianic Bet Din, and their successors. If this is not a superior Jerusalem-Central capital “T” Tradition in action, I don’t know what is!
There are two main suggested dates for the issue of Galatians: 52 and 67CE. Both of them, in their own way are credible. Both deeply affect Pauline Tradition.
Galatians was Paul’s “heat-of-the-moment” riposte to the outcome of the Jerusalem Council. And he would have dearly liked to have openly issued it under his own name in 52. However, at that time, he didn’t have enough of an ecclesial “power-base” to do so and to get away with it – the work of Galatians would most certainly have been sufficient evidence for Jerusalem-Central to excommunicate him if he had been clearly identified as its author then. Thus it is most likely that instead, at this time, he issued it pseudipigraphically – to both get it out into the public arena, and at the same time ostensibly be able to disown authorship of it if challenged – thus to spin out his “operability” in the Church for as long as was possible.
The 67 date is also credible – as the date when he finally “came out” to his power-base as its author. This was just after Luke had left him for the last time, and within 6 months of his death. Too late for a formal interaction with Jerusalem-Central on its contents while he was still alive.
What do we make of Marcion’s use of Pauline literature in general and Galatians in particular? This use by Marcion should have been a major “wake-up” call to the “mainstream” Gentile Church (passim, not just Pauline): For God’s sake, have a detached and impartial look at the thing, check out its background and history, and then, in the light of Marcion’s use of it, and its trajectory of didache away from the Jewish Apostolic Jerusalem-Central, re-ask yourself: “Is it really worthy of Canonical Status?” Only a substantially Marcionite position taken by its readers (sadly and subsequently taken up by the vast majority of the Official gentile Church as “moderate” Marcionism) would have unambiguously answered “Yes”. Here was another example of divergent “Pauline” Tradition in action.
Finally, it was Galatians, that actively spurred the ideological production (Tradition) of a totally deracinated and thoroughly gentile and even Hellenised “Jesus” to rise upon the Constantinian ashes of the historically Jewish Yeshua. Practically all Imperial-Church Art (capital “T” Tradition) regarding the crucifixion refused to be historically truthful – see below.
Since Galatians displays the vast majority of these problems above in one way or another, concern over this Book is therefore legitimate.
As an epilogue aside, had the gentile Church been Torah-compliant in the matter of diet, sanitation and health, as it would have been in the absence of Paul, it would have never suffered the ravages of the Black Plague in the Middle Ages. And thus would never have been responsible for falsely accusing the Jews of “witchcraft” (thus the Malleus Maleficarum) for their better health as a result of Torah-compliance on this front.
We thus have initially parallel, but eventually diverging strands of capital “T” Tradition, to deal with, not just the one as the Constantinian Imperial Church (in both its Greek and Latin forms) would have us to believe. I would humbly suggest that it is the Constantinian Imperial version of “Tradition” we are discussing on this site, not the original “Jerusalem-Central” version. And that the arguments one way or another have been framed in this light.
The greatest cover-up, even heresy of all time….
It has gone on for centuries, claiming first thousands, then millions of lives. Though highly visible, few, if any seem to have noticed it. Often without being aware of it in later times, many artists, great and small have contributed to it. And the camouflage is nothing more alarming or subversive than a harmless little piece of cloth – the cloth that covers the loins of Yeshua (Jesus) on the cross.
It was not perpetrated by some deviant sect or heresy condemned by either some Church council, or Jewish “assembly”; but by “main-line” Gentile Christianity – of the jus romanus variety claiming both Catholicity and Apostolicity – the official organizers of every Church Council within the ancient Roman Empire. And as an essential part of their capital “T” Tradition. But first some history.
In the beginning – in the first Century Messianic Jewish (“Apostolic”) Community, the “cross” was never represented, especially in art or sculpture – it was a symbol of the pagan “healing” god Asclepius. While the Church adored Yeshua for His self-emptying, in the crucifixion (and His subsequent resurrection) and made Him in His Resurrection the centre of the new faith; no one dared depict Him in His utter humiliation on that cross. Besides, the manner of His death was still frequently a readily-realisable reality for the believer in Yahweh, both Jew and believing Gentile. And the cross was still too Pagan a symbol to even “borrow”.
Only when the memory of the thousands who had died on crosses all over the Roman Empire dimmed would the Gentiles, then nominally believers in Yeshua (but in practice, believers in a sanitised and Hellenised version of Him as “Jesus”), feel free to depict the cross as a symbol of Yahweh’s suffering love in the Person of Jesus. But at first it was an empty cross. Who would dare re-crucify Him?
As the years rolled by, and especially after Constantine and Theodosius; for the now deeply Hellenised and Romanised Gentile Church feeling increasingly secure in the re-badged Pagan Roman Empire, this stand-alone bare symbol of His conquest of the dark forces seemed too austere. Fifth century artists began to paint a cross with a lamb next to it, for after all, was not Jesus “Yahweh’s lamb slain for the sin of the world”? (Jn 1:29).
Then with mounting courage, artists depicted a lamb-white Jesus Himself next to the coss. With only two known “fringe” exceptions, not till the end of the sixth century was He shown on the cross. Still, the artist dared not paint in the pain and humiliation. The Jesus of this period was in a long tunic, with only hands and feet bare to show in stylized fashion the nails that pinned Him to the wood.
So far, so good. This was an image of victory and triumph; He was not depicted as suffering and dying in the past, but reigning in the present; open-eyed and sometimes crowned, on the “throne” of the cross. The first tenth-century Greek representation of Jesus suffering on the cross was condemned by Rome as blasphemy.
Again well-done. But not for long! Soon the Imperial Roman Church yielded to the fascination of Jesus’ suffering. At first, little-by-little, then accelerating over time to supersonic speed, this Latin capitulation, ultimately, was to first overtake, and then far surpass that of the Greeks.
With their “Jesus” ever more remote, with the now totally Hellenized and Romanized theology becoming drier and more scholastic, with the level of “conversion” of the pagan masses being ever more nominal, and with de-facto Mariolatry (as opposed to her legitimate veneration) in full swing; “popular” piety demanded that Mary’s Son be shown as more human: a man they could see and almost feel; a man with the trials and tribulations they themselves encountered every day of their short and suffering lives experienced at the hands of a punishing, persecuting and judgmental Romanised and Hellenised State Church.
Artists now freely depicted Christ in agony on His “cross”; deep wounds and blood, agony in every limb, dereliction in His eyes. Just like Asclepius. His garments shrank to impress on the faithful the extent of the Lord’s abasement. Again, for this facet of His atoning ministry, all to the good.
This was the brutal truth. Every Gospel testified to this ghastly reality of Jesus’ suffering. Roman crucifixion was not a pretty sight! Nor one for the tender, the squeamish or the fainthearted. So long as the earlier image of Jesus as victor was kept in strategic juxtaposition, all was well. . . .
And there it stopped: at the loincloth. With monasticism in full swing, any clear reference to sex had to be suppressed. And it was here that heresy in art manifested. Had the artist gone further, who would have been brave enough to look on Him the way he was: naked like a male slave? This monastic suppression on the basis of sex was bad enough. What it hid was totally inexcusable. And was blatant anti-Semitism!
What stayed the artist’s hand was not just a monasticised moral “propriety” in reference to sex – bad as that was in its own right; but theology. Or more precisely, a form of covenant theology (“replacement theology”) reeking with hatred. Yet the artists themselves were not to be blamed. Most of them were not theologians – they were merely following what their theology-teachers (and/or patrons) were saying. After all, with their ever so elementary level of theological sophistication, how could they see that the pain of the recrucified Christ, without the ultimate truth that only His complete nakedness brings, would lead to a catastrophe.
In the later western/Latin depictions of the crucifixion by Raphael and Rubens, even Bosch and Grünewald, the loin-cloth becomes ornamental; its folds hang decorously. The same applied to the eastern/Orthodox icon. No matter how realistic the degree of suffering depicted, that loin-cloth remained ubiquitous – even to this day.
Without that cover-up, without that piece of cloth, it would have stared everyone in the face that what took place on Golgotha on that day was also Jewicide. It was not just sinful man killing an innocent “Jesus”, bad as that was; it was also sinful man killing a Jew. Under the “noble” pretext of covering His male pride, and thus avoiding all obvious reference to sex in deference to the supposedly “holy” and celibate monks, they turned Him into an honorary Gentile.
In giving their “Jesus” (and for that matter many other male Jewish victims of Pagan Roman hatred) the final shred of de-sexualised “decency”, that loin-cloth took from Him (and these other male victims of His race) what artists would be required to depict in the fine detail: His (and their) Jewishness.
For what that loin-cloth hid was not just His sex – as repugnant as that was to the monastic sex-hating deviants – but what its fine detail would be required to show: that knife-mark in His male flesh, the bris, the Circumcision, that showed that He was a Jew. THAT is what the now thoroughly corrupted and Hellenised and Romanised Gentile Church – or more correctly and precisely, its theologically-perverted Monastics and Clergy feared to see.
Would the Gentile Christian Church leaders and/or its Monks over the centuries have preached hatred, and instituted pogroms against the Jews in the name of the cross if on it their “Jesus” bore the marks of Jewish circumcision? Would a loyal Jew – suffering and dying on that cross – have ever authorized, let alone approved of persecutions and massacres of His blood-relatives? Or appropriation of their Land by foreigners by whatever means, and under whatever pretext?
Would it not therefore be plain that the true Jewish Yeshua of the Bible (and not some sanitised Gentile look-alike under the name of “Jesus”) was present in every pogrom against the Jews saying: “why are you still persecuting Me; for what you do to unto the least of these My blood-brethren (and sisters), you do to Me”? (Matt 25:31-46). Including those who were members of Jerusalem-Central? And ITS capital “T” Tradition?
By some bizarre twist, and using the most morally dubious semantic verbal legerdemain available, the Jews, from whom the Messiah-Redeemer came, were left being the only ones blamed for killing Him. The Roman Pilate was all but exculpated from complicity in His death.
No doctrine was taught more universally, with less qualification, over such a long time and in Papal-Roman terms: more “infallibly” – especially within the Liturgical Texts of the Church, than the notion that “the Jews are cursed for killing God”, a charge still not fully officially withdrawn, recent statements by John Paul II (Nostra Aetate) notwithstanding on behalf of the Roman Pontiff. As for the Orthodox East, their Liturgical Texts remain unchanged in spite of the Nazi Shoah – in defiance of Jerusalem-Central! . All this is Pauline – “moderate Marcionism” – Imperial Constantinian Church capital “T” Tradition!
And those parts of the Sanhedrin that bayed for His blood (these individuals were Hellenised and Romanised to the core) were depicted falsely as being loyal Jews! Thus, in both art and theology, it was not a gentile “Jesus” – a single person who was re-crucified, but the race from whom He as Yeshua in all His Jewish-ness sprang.
Does any argument for the alleged superiority of capital “T” Tradition – especially the capital “T” “Tradition” within the Imperial Constantinian Church, want to face this as an essential and unavoidable part of their Tradition?!? Especially as it so contemptuously disregards and disparages “Jerusalem Central” and the Jewish Yeshua?
I have to wonder where the evidence of a split between St. Paul and the other Apostles comes from historically? The Fathers of the Early Church don’t hoist St. Paul above that of his Apostolic counterparts as it seems they would have needed to do if any of the above is actually true. Nor, it seems from my reading that they speak of any sort of defection of any of the Apostles from one another. St. Paul himself was Jewish (a Pharisee at that if I remember rightly) so lacing him up as a “Gentile sympathizer” seems odd.
Though I do appreciate your desire for substance…when your comments are almost twice the length of the blog posting…that’s simply too much to ask. Perhaps you can be more succinct…posting shorter but several posts over a weeks time? I’m not sure what the answer is…but many readers quit reading after the 3rd, 4th or 50th paragraph. Nevertheless, there is some good stuff in your comments…so don’t read me being mad or dismissive brother! 🙂
One also has to assume that the Jews themselves were not Hellenized or Romanized in any fashion even though they had lived under Greek/Roman rule for extended periods of time.
John the Second,
Thanks for this.
The Jews were not a homogenous group in the time of Christ – they were already organised into a number of “factions”. To keep it simple here, I will not explore all the fine detail of all these divisions. The readers of this site have enough education not to need this spelled put to them. Yet having said
this, there WAS a fundamental organising divide which fell into two camps:
The Hebraic Faithful:
The Essenes, the Qumran Community, the Nazarenes, parts of the Pharisees, and many of the lesser Levitical priests. Jesus and his 11 disciples (Judas excepting) and the “Jerusalem Central” Church fell into this category.
*This group were resolute in their fidelity to the Hebraic/Aramaic tradition – they had a saying: “Better feed one’s son pork than teach hin Greek!”
Pork would merely foul the stomach and be eliminated within the week. Greek would so foul the mind that it would not be able to study Torah as it was wont to be studied, and would so foul the Human Spirit that it could not worship Yahweh as He was wont to be worshipped – in Spirit and Truth!”
The Scribes, the Sadducees, The Herodians, and parts of the Pharisees. Amongst this group was the usurper High Priests who were appointed by forst the Greeks and then the Romans. These usurpers continued in office to 70CE.
Judas and Paul fell into this category.
*This group knew both Greek and Latin – many had these “classical languages” as almost their first language.
I trust this simple explanation suffices
It doesn’t. From what we have in Acts, Luke was not translating their “Hebrew” dialog into Greek. They all spoke Greek at the Jerusalem Council. I don’t doubt that some may have had an aversion to learning Greek but it was far more prominent than Hebrew. The fact that the Jews needed an OT text in Greek (the LXX) seems to be sufficient evidence that their language was on the decline and Greek was on the rise. If Jesus and his disciples were Aramaic/Hebrew only, it’s any wonder why those who wrote the NT that were Jewish (Matthew, Peter, Jude, John and Paul (though apparently he was “compromised”)) wrote in Greek. Matthew is the possible exception, but we don’t have a manuscript of Matthew in Hebrew/Aramaic that I am aware of. I could be wrong on that.
John the Second,
Thanks for this.
Could you please answer me a simple question:
“Was this “Jerusalem Council” WITHIN or OUTSIDE Jewish Tradition?”
If it was OUTSIDE Jewish Tradition, St Luke would most certainly have told us so. And so would have Josephus.
As it was WITHIN Jewish Tradition, it was more properly-named the Messianic Bet Din – overseen by the de-jure (but not de-facto) head of the Sanhedrin : St Joseph of Arimathea, and led by St James.
A. This Sanhedrin Tradition goes back to Moses and the appointment of the 70.
B. St Luke’s genealogy is effectively that of the Mother of God and of St Joseph of Arimathea.
In the “gospel” of Thomas, we find confirmation that is was Jesus’ wish that St James the Just lead the Church in Jerusalem after His Ascension. Given St Joseph’s genealogical status, he was the “executor” of Jesus’ “will” on this matter.
St Joseph of Arimathea merely continued the unbroken Tradition of the Sanhedrin in ensuring that the language of discourse in the Acts 15 Bet Din was Hebrew – translated into Aramaic for the local Church. It was from this Aramaic translation that a record of its procedings was made available in Greek for Galatia.
If you cannot accept this narrative, then you cannot also accept the “Jewish-ness” of the first-generation, first century Church!
I can accept the Jewishness of the 1st century Church without necessarily accepting what you posted above. To say otherwise is ridiculous. What I don’t accept is your version of historical interpretation on Acts or early Christianity. There is a big difference.
This also posits a division among the Apostles, which isn’t there in Scripture or history. No early Christian writes that St. Paul was preaching a different Gospel from the other Apostles. Acts shows that they were of one accord, though your understanding of Acts from what I’ve read above, is out of the ordinary by Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox understanding.
The quote from Basil the Great on the “secret” oral tradition is interesting. Sounds like what Irenaeus condemned as the basis of Gnosticism. Any thoughts on that?
Whatever your answer, here’s an honest inquiry from one who doesn’t claim to understand Orthodoxy nearly as well as he understands Catholicism:
Does the “Holy Tradition” of the Orthodox contain matters materially different from what is in Scripture? If so, are these matters ESSENTIAL to the Faith once for all delivered, or matters of legitimate debate? If the former, how do you reckon with 2 Tim. 3:16, which plainly says Scripture [by itself] is sufficient for godliness?
The difference is that in Gnosticism, secrets were kept by an inner circle from the rest of the Church. St. Basil is distinquishing between the kerygma of the Church, proclaimed to the world, and the dogma of the Church which is it’s own internal instruction.
In the early Church, unless you were baptized, you were not permitted to remain in the Church for the Eucharist, and if you were not at least a catechumen, you were not allowed into the Church at all.
You also see this in St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s catechism, in which he begins by admonishing his hearers not to write down what he said. Obviously, someone didn’t obey him, but that was the practice of the early Church.
Let me ask you this: do you believe that the belief that the Holy Spirit is a person is an essential of the faith? St. Basil defended that on the basis of unwritten tradition.
Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit is a Person, and I acknowledge that I have received a complex matrix of theological tradition that predisposes me to believe this. But at the same time, I also think the proper exegesis of Scripture can demonstrate the proposition. So it is not the case that without Basil’s secret oral tradition, we couldn’t know the Spirit is a Person.
I don’t have a problem with the mere concept of unwritten tradition – and Mathison’s book shows that neither does sola Scriptura properly construed. The problem only arises when the oral tradition is said to contain material fundamentally different than that which is in Scripture.
It depends on what you mean by “fundamentally different”. The Orthodox certainly do not see Tradition as being at odds with Scripture… however, the Traditions that tell us which books are legitimate and which ones are not, and thus guided the Church to establish the New Testament Canon are “fundamentally different” in the sense that they have a content that is fundamentally absent from the text of Scriptures.
And the presence of a number of sects that base their beliefs on their reading of Scripture, but which have historically denied the doctrine of the Trinity show that the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is a person, and a co-equal member of the Trinity is not a necessary conclusion that one must reach if they divorce Scripture from the Tradition of the Church. St. Irenaeus did not think so, which is why he appealed to Tradition as the proof that settled disputes about the Scriptures with heretics.
Also, can you tell me where in Scripture we find the guidance to engage in proper exegesis of Scripture?
“Also, can you tell me where in Scripture we find the guidance to engage in proper exegesis of Scripture?”
You are perfectly correct here Nowhere in Scripture do we find “rules” for exegesis.
Yet whilst Scripture is its own Interpreter, the “proper exegesis” hermeneutic is assumed ab initio namely the Jewish “garden” of PaRDeS. This hermeneutic was applied to the Hebrew/Aramaic Tanak (as closed by Judas Maccabeus), and the non-Pauline NT.
It was only in the second century when the non-Pauline Canon was translated into Greek that the Hellenistic methodology of Allegory (from Alexandria) and Symbol (from Antioch) – already in use for the LXX amongst the ultra-Hellenised was extended to NT material.
I trust that this assists.
Oops, my first sentence should have read Yes I believe the Spirit’s Personhood is an essential of the Faith.
On the quote from 2nd Timothy:
If Scripture is torn from its context (as in the case of, for example, the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Arians or Nestorians) can it be said to be, by itself, the vehicle of godliness?
What I’m trying to get at here is that within the Scripture’s proper context, that of the Church, it can be as it states: a vehicle for the attaining of godliness. Outside of that context all manner of chaos (here referring to heresies such as Arianism, Nestorianism, Apollanarianism, etc.) can reign and the Scriptures is skewed.
Can it be said then that St. Paul makes this claim assuming that within the context of the Body of Christ this passage holds true and as St. Peter says in his epistles that those who are of unstable minds twist and confuse the Scriptures (one has to wonder how that can make them sufficient for godliness)?
Of course, I understand that the burden of proof is on me to prove such claims that I am making above such as what Church constitutes the Body of Christ, that the early Church’s context is indeed the Orthodox context, etc.
Lacking contextual issues that I noted above, one could argue that the Scriptures are sufficient for godliness. It is easy to say so but there are many things that St. Paul and other NT writers did not say but assumed, and they knew that their audience assumed them as well because they did not speak of them explicitly.
Forgive my ramblings; perhaps others might say better what I have tried to say here. I do not agree with the idea that the Scriptures somehow exist in an isolated vacuum of sorts where anyone can just come and read and have those Scriptures be a vehicle for godliness outside of the Body of Christ. Historically, I think that idea has little fruit. If I have misunderstood your position, forgive me. I’m not trying to necessarily say “You must believe this”, but only what I have heard from others generally. This idea might not sit well with some people because of their understanding of what the Church is, early Christian history, etc. but it is a concern that I have.
John (the second),
I also would not say the Scriptures function “in an isolated vacuum.” That’s a big part of the problem with many critiques of sola Scriptura: they assume that the “sola” part means there is nothing but this Book sitting on the table, static ink on mere paper, a sort of textual wax nose waiting for any individual person, how ever stable or not, to shape it into anything they want. That isn’t what the “sola” part means, at least, not in classical Reformation Protestantism.
I’m glad you accept the burden of proof as to the identity of “the Church.” I see your point about the Apostles not having to say everything because they and their audience assumed a lot in common. That’s a good point, and one that many “Bible Alone” people don’t give proper credence. Nevertheless, I would say that the Word of God, whatever form it takes, oral or written, is independent of God’s creatures and performs its functions irrespective of their actions. If you have to have all this special community trapping stuff (“Holy Tradition”) always around the Word in order for it to convert, how, pray tell, does anyone who is not already enmeshed in said trappings ever get converted? At best, all you could justifiably say is that to get a “fullness” of the Faith, you need “Holy Tradition” along with the Scriptures. But you can’t, I don’t believe, justifiably say that Scripture all by itself – being a product of the same breath that created the world from nothing – can’t perform its function without St. Basil the Great’s sermons and Chrysostom’s liturgies accompanying it.
Speaking of concerns, I’m concerned that some of you Orthodox here, perhaps even you, believe that there are no Christians outside this institution you call “the Church.” Is that the case? Are you so wrapped up in your special claims of historical identity and teaching authority that you can’t leave room for God to work outside His normal channels? That’s the error of Rome, and I believe the Apostle addressed it quite well in Romans 11:11-21. Don’t be prideful. If God didn’t spare the Jews, why should He spare the Orthodox?
Re: Christians outside of the Orthodox Church
For myself as for many Orthodox Christians (priests, bishops, deacons and laity) we do not declare that those visibly outside the Orthodox Church are on the sure road to damnation. God can, and I’m sure that He does, save outside of the norm. It is not our prerogative to say what God can and cannot do, but only to do what God has commanded us to do. Likewise, merely being baptized and taking communion in an Orthodox Church is not assurance of one’s salvation either.
I understand that there are a few Orthodox Christians who demand that only those who are visibly united to Christ’s Church are saved and all others are damned. But this view is in the minority.
The only thing I will say is that the path of salvation in the Orthodox Church is the only sure way to be saved.
Given my wonderful decades of grace and Christian fellowship in the Reformed Church, this sort of exclusivity (especially in my Roman Catholic friends) concerned me too about Orthodoxy. One thing that stuck out to me as refreshingly odd (if not incongruous)about Orthodox Christians in my early reading & listening, was their gratitude toward their Christian heritage. There was no trashing of their Christian past –but rather more often gratitude. (Of course, this is not always true & and I’ve seen the ugly.)
But now I’m reminded of Bishop Ware’s gracious contention that though Orthodoxy makes the bold declaration to indeed have “The Fullness of Grace”…there is no mean-spirited contention that “lessor-grace, of some measure” does not and cannot exist in other Christian communions — communions that were often instrumental in leading to Orthodoxy.
Likewise, while a I feel myself being swept along by God’s grace, I cannot regret or begrudge my Southern Baptist childhood, my Navigator military/college time, on my treck to 30+ years thru. reconstruction & banner of truth, Eccleisocentrism, and Federal Vision…all wonderful stepping stones of God’s rich grace to and for me. There is no great need for triumphfulism either in putting my Refomed Tradition at the center while considering all others “lesser measures of grace” or putting Orthodoxy at the center and considering all other Christian Trinitarian communions “lesser measures of grace.” In all our difference (which are real and important) perhaps we should remember we are all heirs to the grace of life. How God ultimately sifts us out to His glory is His doing, and we should be grateful for it all.
David, how nice of them (just like Rome) to give a (very begrudging) nod in our general direction. “Oh, it’s you red-headed stepchildren. You poor dears. You can come home any time you like. We’ll leave the light on.”
Seriously, though, no doubt you’re right about some of the more notable Orthodox sources’ attitudes towards others. It’s probably just the converts and the priests who act like Presbyterian warmongers that are the problem. I like Yorgo on the first Sola Scriptura thread. One can build a bridge with a guy like that, because he has what the convert-makers and the converts lack: real Christian charity and humility.
Well Tim we as Orthodox Christians refuse to compromise my ecclesiology to make you feel better. You balk at Orthodox exclusivity but when it comes to Christian exclusivity I wonder if you deal with it in the same way. Somehow I doubt it.
You asked for our opinion, we gave it. If you don’t like the answer (I’m sure you knew what was coming, at least to some degree) then why did you ask to begin with?
I dunno, John. Maybe I bizarrely thought it might be possible for you to construe the claims of your church in a different manner than a “Take a flying leap, you foolish heretics,” fashion, all under the name of “no compromise.” Compromise doesn’t always have to mean actually giving up the substance. Sometimes all it has to mean is figuring out a more creative way to say things, a better way to nuance them in the light of new developments, than just repeating static, stale formulas just because they’re hoary with age.
The problem with defenses of Sola Scriptura, that deny that Sola Scriptura divorces Scripture from Tradition is that while you claim to allow some room for Tradition, it is only a selective and arbitrary role that you allow it to fill, and essentially, you accept Tradition when it agrees with you, but reject it in a fashion no different from a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness when it suits you. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses will cite Tradition… when it suits their purposes.
One of the clearest examples of the arbitrary use of Tradition by Protestants is the question of prayers for the dead. There is probably not any tradition of the Church that is more universally attested to. You find it in the earliest writings of the Church. You find it at any other time you may look in the history of the Church. You find it clearly attested to in the Deutero-canonical books. You find that Jews to this day still pray for the dead. Prior to the Reformation, no group that could be called Christian did not pray for the dead, and in fact as best as I can tell, every monotheistic religion prior to the reformation did so.
No if Tradition carried any real weight, you would be forced to accept this Tradition as valid. Do you?
Fr. Whiteford, I don’t know how it is in the East, but in the West, thanks to centuries of long, intensive discussion (even well before the Reformation) about “authority” and its limitations, it’s emerged that “Tradition” is not necessarily all of a piece. Accepting the Christological dogmas of the Councils does not necessarily lead to accepting prayers for the dead or icon veneration or whathaveyou. We like to be more critical in the West, but I am given to understand from various Orthodox I’ve talked to over the years that that’s a major beef Orthodoxy has with us – we’re too “rational,” too “critical,” too willing to reexamine things in the light of new developments or from angles that haven’t been explored yet.
But since Tradition is not all of a piece, I as a Protestant don’t have to fear examining it piece by piece. The Christological dogmas of the Councils are, as Calvin said, nothing but the plain teaching of Scripture, so there’s no problem with accepting them. I could even go so far as a Reformed guy, to disagree with many others, perhaps even with Calvin himself, by accepting the legitimacy of artistic representations of various saints and so forth in the church building. But that would be a different matter than venerating them – again, it’s not all of a piece.
Likewise with prayers for the dead. I have never looked at that issue at all, so in principle, I’m open to discussing it. But in no case can I accept it MERELY because someone says “It’s a tradition, look no farther.” We (excepting Rome) can’t do that in the West. Our history has taught us in some apparently unique ways how to follow the Apostle’s injunction, “Examine all things carefully, and hold fast to that which is good.” You seem to be recommending a willful suspension of examination in favor of simple trust in a thing just because some old dead guys said so.
Tim Enloe wrote:
“Fr. Whiteford, I don’t know how it is in the East, but in the West, thanks to centuries of long, intensive discussion (even well before the Reformation) about “authority” and its limitations, it’s emerged that “Tradition” is not necessarily all of a piece. Accepting the Christological dogmas of the Councils does not necessarily lead to accepting prayers for the dead or icon veneration or whathaveyou.”
Me: But on what basis do you make the distinction? This is a Tradition that you find everywhere you look in the early Church, and you find it in the Deutero-canonical Scriptures.
TE: “But since Tradition is not all of a piece, I as a Protestant don’t have to fear examining it piece by piece. The Christological dogmas of the Councils are, as Calvin said, nothing but the plain teaching of Scripture, so there’s no problem with accepting them.”
Me: Gay marriage does not involve christological dogmas of the Councils… and as a matter of fact it is falling apart piece of by in Protestantism.
TE: “I could even go so far as a Reformed guy, to disagree with many others, perhaps even with Calvin himself, by accepting the legitimacy of artistic representations of various saints and so forth in the church building. But that would be a different matter than venerating them – again, it’s not all of a piece.”
Me: The 7th Ecumenical Council did see iconography as being related to Christological Dogma.
TE: “Likewise with prayers for the dead. I have never looked at that issue at all, so in principle, I’m open to discussing it. But in no case can I accept it MERELY because someone says “It’s a tradition, look no farther.” We (excepting Rome) can’t do that in the West. Our history has taught us in some apparently unique ways how to follow the Apostle’s injunction, “Examine all things carefully, and hold fast to that which is good.” You seem to be recommending a willful suspension of examination in favor of simple trust in a thing just because some old dead guys said so.”
Me: Look into it all you want. What you will find is that the entire Christian world embraced this practice, without exception, prior to the Protestant Reformation. Do you believe that it is possible for the entire Church to embrace heresy over a period of a thousand and a half years?
See. Here is your dilemma. It is one thing to claim this, but the whole of Western Christianity has functioned for a thousand years quite without the help of the East and with the use of the Scriptures outside this body which you claim is the Church. Furthermore, Western Christianity has had much more in the way of success in terms of implementing the norm of Scripture within the context of culture especially if we consider the witness of the Reformation and its relevance to the founding of the American Republic. The East, meanwhile, has mired itself in compromises with Islam, Communism, and continues to struggle to be any sort of real cultural witness to the Gospel.
“…the whole of Western Christianity has functioned for a thousand years quite without the help of the East…”
Indeed it has, sort of. But I also see where it has taken a wrong turn in doing so. In addition, Western Christianity has the aid of the first thousand years of Orthodoxy and so like a watch that is wound up and let go, Western Christianity still has some life left in it, but very slowly it is dying. It is slowly shedding more and more of its inheritance from the Christian East and more and more it is losing its life.
You would disagree, I know that. But from my perspective, this is what I see.
So: Western Christianity is dying, losing what little it has left from the Glorious East.
Please tell me, just what is Orthodoxy doing that is so much better?
The Orthodox Church has millions of martyrs to Islam and communism. How many Reformed martyrs to either group do you suppose you can number?
The largest Presbyterian Church in the United States just decided to accept the ordination of Homosexuals. Who is culturally compromised here Kevin?
Orthodox Priest speaks at PCUSA convention on Christian Morality
Presbyterians-In-Name-Only are not to be considered here unless we are also willing to look at the Orthodox-In-Name-Only that supplanted and supported both communism and Islam as a matter of course. The fact is that both communions have their issues – but to say that Christianity is only in the East is just flat ludicrous. The fact is that the Scriptures had a decided influence in the West quite without the help of the Orthodox. And, the very freedom which you have to type on and on in response has been guaranteed largely by the work of Western Christians rather than a civilization where the vast majority of the Orthodox population largely succumbed to tyranny.
In saying that, I have nothing but great respect and admiration for the martyrs of the faith be they Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant (and yes, there are Protestant martyrs–largely killed in missionary efforts that the Orthodox know almost *nothing* about).
Besides, Fr. Whiteford, we don’t have to accept that all those millions of martyrs to communism and Islam belong to Orthodoxy. As they were Christians, they belong to us as well. I also certainly honor their outstanding witnesses to the Faith, and it causes me no cognitive or spiritual anxiety at all to number them amongst my fathers and brothers. Once more, as I said to you several times on the first Sola Scriptura thread, you seem to just be assuming that all Protestants have to think a certain way about all things wherein we and other traditions diverge. It’s really convenient, I know, getting to polemicize about the incredible diversity within Protestantism at one minute, and then the next minute getting to pretend that we’re all of a piece and must all think alike so that we’re vulnerable to lowest common denominator attacks like “Yah, but you got *Liberals*.”
But I don’t really care what’s convenient for you. If you can’t get past your caricatures, which I imagine are largely drawn from spending so much time arguing with the likes of James White (not really a good representative of the Reformation, sorry to tell you), then why should anyone bother talking to you? Bridges have to go both ways. If I’m willing to examine my caricatures of Orthodoxy, you better be willing to examine yours about Protestantism. Otherwise, you’re best ignored because you’re offering nothing constructive to the discussion.
It’s odd, Tim, that you think that way because those Orthodox Christians who died under Islam and communism would be making the same arguments against your ecclesiology that we are making. You might want to buddy up to them but their own theology, the Faith which they died for, would not reciprocate. Orthodoxy does not consider those Protestants who died under Roman persecution, for example, as fellow martyrs who died for the Faith because their faith was fundamentally different then our own.
You may find it acceptable to consider them your “fathers and brothers” but that is your own opinion on the matter and nothing more. The fact is, Orthodox ecclesiology is not compatible with your wishes and dreams. It never has been and it never will be.
So, John, *Christianity* is *ecclesiology*? Is that what you are saying?
Ecclesiology is one aspect of Christianity, of course. One that doesn’t mesh with your particular beliefs about your supposed Orthodox fathers and brothers.
Ok, so we’re back to “No Christians except in Orthodoxy.” After all, Orthodox ecclesiology “doesn’t mesh” with what I’m saying about my fathers and brothers; hence, they must not really be my fathers and brothers; hence, if they are Christians, I am not.
Have I got it right yet?
You are not visibly Orthodox. At best, you can hope that they are. But anything more than that is presumption. I stand by what I said about salvation in the Orthodox Church. I can hope that Protestants and Catholics will be saved, but I will not say that they are assured of it.
Ok, so you’re something of a rigorist, perhaps akin to Presbyterians who believe that people who don’t verbally confess that “the Gospel” *is* the doctrine of justification by faith alone therefore show that they believe in a “false Gospel” and therefore can’t press a legitimate claim to be “Christian.”
Now that I know you’re not willing to talk like a fellow traveler, only to preach and demand repentance, I can avoid your remarks in the future just like I avoid my Reformed brethren who try to restrict the operations of grace to people Who Get Theology Right. But you’re still my brother in Christ, so there. 🙂
Kevin Johnson wrote: “Presbyterians-In-Name-Only are not to be considered here unless we are also willing to look at the Orthodox-In-Name-Only that supplanted and supported both communism and Islam as a matter of course.”
Me: But Kevin, that’s exactly what you did, but with far less justice. You don’t know the history of the Church under communism and Islam, or you wouldn’t be making the sweeping assertions that you are making in the first place. Secondly, the Orthodox under the Muslims or Communists who did do things that one might criticize not only had a gun to their own heads, but they generally had guns to their heads of their families and their congregations. No one has put a gun to the head of the numerous Protestant Denominations that embraced gay marriage, abortion, and denied many basic doctrines of the Christian Faith.
And I note you make no estimate on the number of Reformed martyrs of the past century, because they are a relatively insignificant number.
Tim Enloe wrote:
“Besides, Fr. Whiteford, we don’t have to accept that all those millions of martyrs to communism and Islam belong to Orthodoxy. As they were Christians, they belong to us as well. I also certainly honor their outstanding witnesses to the Faith, and it causes me no cognitive or spiritual anxiety at all to number them amongst my fathers and brothers.”
Me: Tim, if you read what I was responding to you, you would see why I brought it up. Please, go back and do so, and then direct your correction at Kevin.
TE: “Once more, as I said to you several times on the first Sola Scriptura thread, you seem to just be assuming that all Protestants have to think a certain way about all things wherein we and other traditions diverge. It’s really convenient, I know, getting to polemicize about the incredible diversity within Protestantism at one minute, and then the next minute getting to pretend that we’re all of a piece and must all think alike so that we’re vulnerable to lowest common denominator attacks like “Yah, but you got *Liberals*.””
Me: But it is not just a bad string of luck that is the cause of the “diversity” in Protestantism — it is the direct result of Sola Scriptura… the issue currently under discussion.
No, it’s not a direct result of sola Scriptura. At least, not in the manner that is being argued. As I said on the first thread, there were many causes of diversity leading up to the Reformation; at best the Reformation just intensified what was already there.
And again, diversity per se is not a bad thing. There has always been diversity amongst God’s people, and even the Apostles couldn’t get rid of it. Just appealing to “authority” in a chain of tactile ordinations doesn’t solve the problem, either; otherwise there would be no schism between Rome and Orthodoxy.
Tim, the fact that “diversity” existed at the time of the Apostles is more than overcome by the fact that they clearly opposed it:
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” (2nd Thessalonians 3:6).
“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Romans 6:17).
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17).
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” (2nd Thessalonians 3:6).
“As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3).
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1).
“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3).
“If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 1:10).
Of course, look them all up in context, and read what the Fathers say about them… but clearly doctrinal diversity was not seen as acceptable by the Apostles.
Well, sure. I have no problem with any of those verses. You seem to think I ought to have a problem with them because you seem to believe that the entirety of Orthodox dogma is what the Apostle was talking about in those passages. If that’s what he was talking about, well then yes, I stand condemned of these errors and probably John the second’s rigorist approach toward Protestants is correct: maybe we’re saved, but we have no right to think so, and so you guys in “the in crowd” ought to treat us exactly like you’d treat Arians or Mormons or Buddhists.
But I would dispute that the entirety of Orthodox dogma is what he’s talking about in those passages on the same grounds as I dispute the same type of claim made by Catholicism. So really what this is not a disagreement about the Scriptures per se, or even about the Fathers per se, but about differing first principles. Disagreements like that are notoriously difficult to resolve, and certainly can’t be resolved by merely preaching at others or polemicizing against them. You’re probably used to that kind of treatment from other Reformed people, and so used to responding in kind to them, but that’s not what I’m interested in.
We do not consider Reformed Christians to be on the same level as Buddhists or Arians, and in fact we put them on a higher level then we do Baptists. But the point of these verses is that doctrinal pluralism is contrary to the teaching of the Apostles, and so if you embrace doctrinal pluralism, you are clearly going contrary to the Scriptures.
The question of who may or may not go to hell is another question entirely.
I accept doctrinal pluralism as something that is GOING to happen, and to which there is no “magic bullet” solution – such as “just believe what the Pope teaches” or “just go with the consensus of the Fathers.”
But also we need to distinguish, as I believe even the Orthodox do, between matters of dogma without which there is no Christian Faith period, and secondary matters that do not harm the Faith as a whole. I would agree that there should not be doctrinal pluralism in the former, but certainly there can be doctrinal pluralism in the latter – and that is not at problem.
Tim Enloe wrote:
“I accept doctrinal pluralism as something that is GOING to happen, and to which there is no “magic bullet” solution – such as “just believe what the Pope teaches” or “just go with the consensus of the Fathers.””
Me: But you also accept it as OK, and the Apostles clearly did not.
TE: “But also we need to distinguish, as I believe even the Orthodox do, between matters of dogma without which there is no Christian Faith period, and secondary matters that do not harm the Faith as a whole. I would agree that there should not be doctrinal pluralism in the former, but certainly there can be doctrinal pluralism in the latter – and that is not at problem.”
Me: And where do you find this distinction in Scripture? In the passages that I cited, in many cases St. Paul is clearly speaking of doctrine or tradition in reference to matters that are not abstract theology, but to orthopraxis.
Your question to me regarding Paul’s statements on orthopraxis turns on the differing first principles we have about the nature of tradition. You apparently think that just because men standing in a line of tactile ordination from the Apostles say that X came from the Apostles, it did. It seems unthinkable to you that the successors could have made mistakes as time went on (even mistakes made innocently). That’s a first principle that I don’t accept, and a lot of this discussion depends upon whether there is any way to adjudicate conflicting first principles or whether we are all just stuck with them, inhabiting our own private, self-justifying theological worlds.
Further, your only answer to my question as to why this MUST be so is to try to engage me in a skeptical regress about the very possibility of knowledge – a game I refuse to play, and which, as I’ve already noted, is a game that equally disqualifies your position.
You then further think that all of that stuff passed down orally has precisely the same authority as the Scriptures, and you claim the Fathers believed this as well. Yet all you’ve given me so far is some very small snippets of quotes like “It’s a tradition, seek no further” – which, because of your many dealings with White and his friends you surely know can be challenged with a great deal of context and many more citations from many more Fathers that say quite different things. Basically all you’ve done is try to prooftext me to death with Scripture and patristics rather than to actually discuss any texts in detail.
Back to the Pauline orthopraxis point. I’m unaware of any explicit instructions in Scripture that I do not follow as far as orthopraxis goes. I assume your argument here is not that I outright don’t follow Scripture’s stated traditions, but that I don’t follow the other traditions about orthopraxis allegedly handed down orally from the Apostles through the tactile ordination of bishops over the last 2,000 years. But that’s just a begged question in this discussion, since we affirm that the Apostles could have handed down other things than what are in Scripture yet we deny that these things possess equal God-breathed authority with the Scriptures.
So the problem for you is to demonstrate that these matters of orthopraxis which are not spelled out in Scripture but which you claim were orally passed down are (a) God-breathed like the Scriptures, (b) matters essential to the Faith, and (c) materially different in content from what is found in the Scriptures. It’s interesting, what I read from Yorgo way down below, about the NT-era Orthodox church in Greece that had no icons and none of the later trappings that you guys are claiming are so essential. Do you actually expect me to believe that the Apostles venerated icons? Where’s the evidence, other than the “say so” of a bunch of old dead guys worthy of high respect, but not worthy of being thought of as equal to the Apostles in authority? Do you actually expect me to believe, as Robert has told Wesley, that the Apostles command fasts on Wednesday and Friday as being essential to the Faith? Sorry, but I’ve read Galatians on legalism and not judging brothers over fasts and feast days and the like. Once again, none of this is as simple as you make it out to be. And I fear, as we continue this, that much as my experiences with Roman Catholic converts have negatively colored how I deal with all converts, your experiences with the likes of James White are negatively coloring how you approach the Protestants here. I’m not James White, and a great deal of what he argues I reject as being legitimate interpretations of sola Scriptura and of the history of the Church.
Tim Enloe wrote:
“You apparently think that just because men standing in a line of tactile ordination from the Apostles say that X came from the Apostles, it did.”
Me: First off, is there any other kind of ordination found in the new testament than “tactile” ordination? No. So let’s leave off with redundancies.
Secondly, what I said was that the Apostle Paul clearly did not limit those teachings that he held to be absolutely obligatory to the kind of doctrinal issues you suggested. That is simply a fact.
TE: “It seems unthinkable to you that the successors could have made mistakes as time went on (even mistakes made innocently).
Me: I did not say that. I said it is impossible that the whole Church would embrace such “mistakes”.
TE: “Further, your only answer to my question as to why this MUST be so is to try to engage me in a skeptical regress about the very possibility of knowledge – a game I refuse to play, and which, as I’ve already noted, is a game that equally disqualifies your position.”
Me: I did no such thing.
TE: “You then further think that all of that stuff passed down orally has precisely the same authority as the Scriptures, and you claim the Fathers believed this as well. Yet all you’ve given me so far is some very small snippets of quotes like “It’s a tradition, seek no further” – which, because of your many dealings with White and his friends you surely know can be challenged with a great deal of context and many more citations from many more Fathers that say quite different things. Basically all you’ve done is try to prooftext me to death with Scripture and patristics rather than to actually discuss any texts in detail.”
Me: You are of course free to look up those quotes and read them in their context. I have posted several lengths to extended Patristic Treatises on the subject, such as St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Ireneaus, and St. Vincent of Lerins.
TE: “Back to the Pauline orthopraxis point. I’m unaware of any explicit instructions in Scripture that I do not follow as far as orthopraxis goes.”
Me: Does you wife (assuming you are married) cover her head in Church? 1st Corinthians 11.
TE: “I assume your argument here is not that I outright don’t follow Scripture’s stated traditions, but that I don’t follow the other traditions about orthopraxis allegedly handed down orally from the Apostles through the tactile ordination of bishops over the last 2,000 years. But that’s just a begged question in this discussion, since we affirm that the Apostles could have handed down other things than what are in Scripture yet we deny that these things possess equal God-breathed authority with the Scriptures.”
Me: My argument is that the Apostles did not believe in Doctrinal Pluralism, and what they included in obligatory Doctrine was not limited to the kinds of Theological Questions you suggested.
What the Apostolic Tradition is is a separate question. The point here is that your approach to doctrine and tradition is clearly contrary to that found in the New Testament, because they did not have an “I’m OK. You’re OK” attitude about such things.
TE: “So the problem for you is to demonstrate that these matters of orthopraxis which are not spelled out in Scripture but which you claim were orally passed down are (a) God-breathed like the Scriptures, (b) matters essential to the Faith, and (c) materially different in content from what is found in the Scriptures.”
Me: I have already cited the example of prayers for the dead: there are hints of it in the New Testament (2 Timothy 1:16-18); clear statements in the Deutero-canonical books; and overwhelming evidence through out the recorded Tradition of the Church from the earliest times.
TE: “It’s interesting, what I read from Yorgo way down below, about the NT-era Orthodox church in Greece that had no icons and none of the later trappings that you guys are claiming are so essential.”
Me: When you are talking about a ruined Church, the fact that walls may be bare today do not prove that they were bare when they were in use. There are a lot of things that would depend in such a case. We of course do have intact catacombs… and they do have icons.
We also have the Synagogue and Church in Dura Europos, which are covered in icons.
TE: “Do you actually expect me to believe that the Apostles venerated icons? Where’s the evidence, other than the “say so” of a bunch of old dead guys worthy of high respect, but not worthy of being thought of as equal to the Apostles in authority?”
Me: When you come to a correct understanding of the nature of the Church, at a certain point you learn to trust Her. But why would you assume that they did not venerate icons? Jews have always bowed to things and people as a sign of respect, and they kiss holy things all the time
TE: “Do you actually expect me to believe, as Robert has told Wesley, that the Apostles command fasts on Wednesday and Friday as being essential to the Faith?”
Me: Are you unaware that this is exactly what you find in the first century “Didache”?
TE: “Sorry, but I’ve read Galatians on legalism and not judging brothers over fasts and feast days and the like.”
Me: And on that basis, the likes of Bultman argued against the accuracy of the Book of Acts, because we find St. Paul going to the Temple to fulfill a vow, and engaging willingly in Jewish ritual practices that a Protestant typically has a hard time explaining. I don’t see the St. Paul in Acts as being at odds with the St. Paul we find in Galatians.
For the record, while I honor the Fathers highly and desire to give them the benefit of the doubt as much as is possible, unlike you guys (and your Roman cousins), I don’t imagine that just because they said something makes it true. And from what I’ve read of their writings, I don’t think they would wish to be treated that way. So I would say that the basic problem with Orthodoxy (as with Catholicism) is precisely that it places too high a value on the words of a select group of old dead men, and too little value on seeing that group as part of much larger whole, which includes not only we living today but all the generations that are yet to come until the Lord’s return.
I don’t imagine that just because a father said something, that makes it true either, but when you have a consensus of the Fathers, then it is not just the opinion of an individual father, but clearly the Tradition of the Church received from the Apostles.
So it isn’t possible that the Fathers arrived at a consensus that was NOT a tradition received from the Apostles? Why isn’t that possible?
Tim Enloe wrote:
“So it isn’t possible that the Fathers arrived at a consensus that was NOT a tradition received from the Apostles? Why isn’t that possible?”
Me: If it was, then how do you know the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not right on the Trinity… or that Marcion was not right on the Canon of the New Testament?
I would also refer you to:
Christian Research Journal: A Biblical Guide to Orthodosy and Heresy, Part Two: Guidelines for Doctrinal Discernment, by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
which gives as one of the Biblical principles for doctrinal discernment as follows:
“(3) The orthodox principle. I call this principle the “orthodox” principle because it will be especially agreeable to Christians in the Orthodox (Eastern) tradition. According to this principle, the creeds of the undivided church should be regarded as reliable expressions of the essential truths on which they speak. This principle follows from the biblical teaching that the Christian faith was delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3) and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the church (Matt. 16:18). These texts (see also Matt. 28:20; John 14:16; Eph. 4:11-16) make it inconceivable that the whole church could establish as normative what is in fact aberrant or heretical. ”
Do you disagree the the last statement here?
It’s interesting to me that you question how I can know the JWs aren’t right on the Trinity if what you call “Holy Tradition” isn’t right. This is a self-defeating question, for it can be simply turned around you: How do you know the Cappadocians are to be trusted, and not their opponents? How do you know Athanasius was right and not Arius? How do you know…? How do you know….? How do you know?…. Roman Catholics do this all the time, too: How can I know the interpretation of Scripture without consulting the Roman Magisterium? They deploy numerous sophisms to answer the return question, “How do you know you can trust the Magisterium? How do you know the Orthodox aren’t really the Magisterium?” This game based on asking endless skeptical questions trying to undermine the very basis of knowledge is tiring, and I am utterly uninterested in playing it.
As for the criterion of the whole Church being unable to establish as normative something which is in error, sure, I agree with that with the proviso from the article you linked to that you left out of your quote: “Note that I am not saying that Christians cannot choose to disagree with some of the precise wording of these creeds. After all, they are not infallible, inspired documents. Nor am I saying that those churches which choose not to use the creeds, or which have little or no regard for creeds as such, are heretical. Rather, I am simply saying that a doctrine or belief should be regarded as heretical if it departs from the essential, substantial teachings of these creeds. I am therefore adopting a more flexible form of this principle than is actually held by Eastern Orthodox Christians themselves…”
Also, just like “Tradition,” the category “heresy” is not all of a piece. Some heresies are worse than others, and many heresies are held by people unthinkingly. Just because you are “Orthodox” doesn’t mean you have all your own doctrinal i’s dotted and t’s crossed. You haven’t arrived either, and may be a heretic in all kinds of ways that you have never even thought of. I rather imagine that when you stand before the Lord, the claim “But Lord, I believed it because the Fathers did,” will really hold any water. I really wish you guys would demonstrate more nuance in your criteria and arguments. These matters aren’t as easy as you make them out to be.
Tim Enloe wrote:
“It’s interesting to me that you question how I can know the JWs aren’t right on the Trinity if what you call “Holy Tradition” isn’t right. This is a self-defeating question, for it can be simply turned around you: How do you know the Cappadocians are to be trusted, and not their opponents? How do you know Athanasius was right and not Arius? How do you know…? How do you know….? How do you know?….”
Me: Because Holy Tradition is the Tradition of the Church, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Read St. Cyprian’s Treatise On the Unity of the Church.
TE: “As for the criterion of the whole Church being unable to establish as normative something which is in error, sure, I agree with that with the proviso from the article you linked to that you left out of your quote: “Note that I am not saying that Christians cannot choose to disagree with some of the precise wording of these creeds. After all, they are not infallible, inspired documents. Nor am I saying that those churches which choose not to use the creeds, or which have little or no regard for creeds as such, are heretical. Rather, I am simply saying that a doctrine or belief should be regarded as heretical if it departs from the essential, substantial teachings of these creeds. I am therefore adopting a more flexible form of this principle than is actually held by Eastern Orthodox Christians themselves…””
Me: Then you should start praying for the dead, since the whole Church (even broadly defined) held it to be normative, without exception prior to the Reformation.
This is also an interesting passage in this regard:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [schisms / σχισματα] among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
I thought this blog post was about Sola Scriptura? Why are we arguing about Eastern Christianity vs the many different varieties of western christianities and how some of the variety in the west brought us modern secularism and de facto atheism?
It would be nice if we could refocus back to the issue of Sola Scriptura. I know it’s easy to get side tracked.
I appreciate much of what you said here in this post, and there were places where I found myself in agreement with what you were presenting. Your post was charitable and respectful, and I fully intend to return that sentiment here in this comment. Thank you for sharing this presentation. I have read nearly all the comments that have been posted, and I hope I can add something constructive and beneficial to the discussion. (And I apologize up front for the length!).
I would like to address an issue that I saw recurring throughout the presentation. I think you understand in part what sola Scriptura teaches, but partially misunderstand or confuse it as well. Protestants do not help matters by having differing formulations, but I think we can mark some clear differences that must be kept squarely in mind in a discussion of this topic.
I want to outline three related but quite different positions that have been identified as sola Scriptura both by you and by some Protestants. On the one hand is the actual doctrine of sola Scriptura, on another hand is what I will call Bible Onlyism, and on yet another hand is what I will call Private Interpretation. I am aware of the Latin translation of the first of these and that the second is essentially the same in name, but I choose these designations for the sake of clarity in our vocabulary so that we can keep each of the terms quite distinct in our thinking.
First, I’m going to define Bible Onlyism as the thesis that the Bible is the church’s one and only source of doctrine. By ‘doctrine’ I mean faith and practice, belief and behavior, theology and piety. From this perspective, the Bible stands alone and is to be taken alone in isolation from the church and church tradition. The church’s doctrine must be derived from Scripture alone and nothing else, according to this view. Whatever is not explicitly taught in Scripture, or may be proved by inference through the due use of ordinary interpretive means, is not to be believed or received in the church. Faith, practice, tradition, and custom ought to be derived in some way ultimately from Scripture alone and nothing else or it is not to be received. And individual Christians should only believe what the Bible teaches and nothing else (theologically speaking, of course).
Now there are at least two ways of construing this position. The first is the stricter proposition that “If it’s not in the Bible, then it’s not true.” According to this first way, any theological proposition that is not to be found legitimately in Scripture is ipso facto not true. That is a very strong claim. The second way of construing Bible Onlyism is the more moderate proposition that “If it’s not in the Bible, it’s not to be believed.” This second understanding, unlike the first, allows in principle that a given theological proposition that is not contained in Scripture may still be true, even though the church is not to receive it and no Christian is to believe it. Bible Onlyism, in both formulations, is a much used theological methodology today masquerading as true sola Scriptura.
Second, I’m going to define Private Interpretation as the thesis that individual believers have the right and the ability to read and interpret the Bible autonomously. According to this perspective, being born again and possessing the Holy Spirit is sufficient for the individual believer to rightly understand the true meaning and teachings of Scripture; therefore, the individual believer has the right and authority to read and interpret the Bible for himself and reach his own conclusions, and his conscience is not bound to any other theological authority.
Those of this persuasion want to maintain that Christ alone is Lord of their conscience; Jesus is their only teacher, so they might say. This perspective says that me and my Bible and the Holy Spirit in isolation from the church, the tradition, and every other source, norm, and authority is all I need to arrive at the true knowledge of God and the things of God. People who hold this view may read the Bible any way they jolly well please, and no one can really tell them any different, at least not with any recognized authority. Now neither Bible Onlyism nor Private Interpretation is properly the doctrine of sola Scriptura.
Third and finally then, sola Scriptura may be defined as the thesis that Scripture alone is the absolute authority and supreme rule of faith for the church since it alone is the infallible word of God. ‘Absolute’ here means completely binding authority over the church and the individual Christian, and ‘supreme’ means full and final authority to establish and correct doctrine. Nothing may be taught as necessary for conscience, necessary for the true Christian faith, or necessary for salvation that is not contained in Scripture.
According to this view, Scripture alone governs the church with absolute and final authority precisely because it alone is God-breathed and, therefore, it alone is the infallible word of God. When the Bible speaks, God himself speaks, and thus the Bible bears God’s own authority; therefore, Scripture must have full, final, and binding authority over the church and all doctrine, for there is no authority higher than God himself.
Notice the difference between Bible Onlyism and sola Scriptura. Both Bible Onlyism and sola Scriptura affirm that Scripture is the highest authority and the supreme rule of faith, but the difference between them is this: Bible Onlyism says Scripture is the only source of doctrine period, whereas sola Scriptura merely says Scripture is the only source of doctrine that is infallible.
Sola Scriptura is perfectly willing to accept other sources, norms, and authorities outside the Bible, but no source, norm, or authority may be greater than or equal with the Bible, regardless of whether it be a man, an office, a council, a creed, a confession, a catechism, or a tradition. Scripture sits in judgment as the final arbiter of truth over the church and all church traditions. Yet tradition is not, therefore, ruled out as a good and even necessary part of faith and practice and the life of the church. Tradition is not ipso facto bad and wrong, as in Bible Onlyism. Rather, tradition is often very good and useful. It’s just that no tradition is God-breathed or infallible, and so no tradition can overrule the Bible. So if a given tradition, for example, is not found in Scripture but does not violate Scripture, it is called adiaphora (indifferent). It is free, obliged neither to be taught nor forbidden; the church may receive it or not at its own discretion.
To conclude this comment, please notice that on the spectrum of these three Protestant positions, sola Scriptura is actually the least conservative position. Private Interpretation is the most staunch position, with Bible Onlyism a bit more moderate and centrist, and sola Scriptura being the more liberal view. I think you tended to blend aspects of these positions into one and the same thing under the name of sola Scriptura, when actually they need to be kept quite distinct. There is no doubt some significant overlap between these three positions. That doesn’t, however, take away from the fact that though these views are related, they are actually quite different. Confusing and entangling the different views worked against some of your argumentation and conclusions.
Grace to you and peace
Thank you for your detailed analysis of the different positions that one could take with respect to the authority of the Bible. You might want to check out Keith Mathison’s Shape of Sola Scriptura in which he draws the distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. This paper — “The Biblical Basis for Tradition” — was written several years ago in response to the broad Evangelical movement in which Bible Onlyism is more widely known than sola scriptura. Your sharp eyes caught wind of the fact that I tended to blend sola scriptura with solo scriptura. But I would also note that my schematic diagram accurately depicts the fundamental difference between the Protestant and Orthodox view of Scripture and tradition. My schematic diagram illustrates the common assumption underlying sola scriptura and the Bible alone positions. In my review of Mathison’s book I complained that if one took sola scriptura to mean the Bible with tradition then there would be no effective means of distinguishing the classic Reformation position from Eastern Orthodoxy. The key difference I suggested is that Protestants locate authority in an inscripturated apostolic teaching and Orthodoxy locates authority in apostolic witness conveyed through Scripture and oral tradition through the ministry of the Church.
One last point, from the standpoint of historical theology sola scriptura is the more conservative position and Bible Onlyism is quite radical; Private Interpretation, far from a staunch position, is really an extreme position that tends to doctrinal anarchy. This leaves me wondering as to what you consider to be the conservative mainstream.
What category would you put the Reformed Regulative principle of worship and the Lutheran Regulative principle of worship?
If what you said is true then wouldn’t that make the Reformed method “Bible Onlyism”? While the Lutheran method Sola Scriptura?
If this is the case then you would have to call the Reformed method a false interpretation of Sola Scriptura while the Lutheran the only true interpretation.
What category would you put the Reformed Regulative principle of worship and the Lutheran Regulative principle of worship?
If what you said is true then wouldn’t that make the Reformed method “Bible Onlyism”? While the Lutheran method Sola Scriptura?
If this is the case then you would have to call the Reformed method a false interpretation of Sola Scriptura while the Lutheran the only true interpretation.
Why not say that Sola Scriptura is not a monolith and that there are multiple valid interpretations of the view? Why can’t the Anabaptist interpretation be just as valid as the Reformed? And why can’t the Reformed interpretation be just as valid as the Lutheran? To say that there is only one correct view of Sola Scriptura is to suggest that the other protestant interpretations are false. But how can a protestant say that? If they are all protestant(lowercase “p”) views then shouldn’t they all be valid? What makes one protestant interpretation better than another one? By what authority is it better?
Also from looking at Luther and Zwingli I have come to the conclusion that both guys were inconsistent in how they used Sola Scriptura. For in fighting against Rome, well, sometimes it seemed as if they used a Solo Scriptura method. When Zwingli argued with the Roman Catholic priests in his city, did he want to go outside Scripture? Or did he only want to argue by using the Bible only? What did he do when he was challenged by some of his followers on the issue of infant Baptism? What method did he use then? One can see this with Martin Luther too! Sometimes when he argued with Rome he used a Solo Scriptura method, but what did he do when others followed his footsteps in the peasant revolt? What was his method with the Anabaptists? Did he switch to a Sola Scriptura position?
Sola Scriptura has multiple interpretations for a reason. And they all should be valid protestant interpretations for how can a protestant say that the other protestant views are wrong. By what authority can a protestant say that?
Thank you for your response. It is always a pleasure to interact with you. I am yet to leave an exchange with you without being benefited in some way. So thank you again for that. Your interaction is most welcomed and appreciated. So then, to your comment.
The Regulative Principle that developed later in the Reformed tradition (I’m thinking most notably of the Puritans, for example) would fit into the category of Bible Onlyism as I defined it above. The Lutheran principle, then, as you indicated, would be what I have styled the proper or true position of sola Scriptura.
Does this make the Reformed version of sola Scriptura false? Are there not multiple valid versions of sola Scriptura? What makes one version better, and by what authority could a Protestant ever establish which protestant version is the correct one?
Those are great questions. I do think other Protestant versions are valid understandings or formulations or models of sola Scriptura, and, therefore, I do not think those versions are false. I think Bible Onlyism and Private Interpretation respectively are valid as models or formulations of the doctrine that Protestants could accept (although I myself do not embrace them). But the reason I pushed for such a hard line of distinction between the three positions I outlined and, accordingly, assigned them different names was primarily for the sake of clarification.
I admit that Bible Onlyism may be called and understood as a version (the most prominent and popular version today, in fact) of sola Scriptura, but that is not the view that emerged at the origins of the Reformation, best I can tell (I could be wrong, of course, and am gladly open for correction). So for the sake of clarity and distinction, I used different designations for the three positions and drew hard and fast lines between them. But you are right that sola Scriptura broadly construed is not a monolith with only one valid and true definition.
My problem, then, is what would you have me call the different versions? If I chose to call one version of the doctrine ‘Bible Onlyism,’ and another ‘Private Interpretation,’ what should I call the third view, the one I hold? I chose here to call it ‘true sola Scriptura.’ I didn’t know what else to call it, really lol. I find it to be very important to distinguish the sola Scriptura I hold (as I have defined it here) from the other sola Scripturas out there, since they are quite different.
I want to distance myself from Bible Onlyism and Private Interpretation, so I chose the appellations I did. In doing so I made it look like there is one, and only one, true and valid way to define sola Scriptura in Protestantism, and that was a mistake on my part.
Hope this has helped clarify things!
Let me address your last paragraph first and attempt to clarify what I was saying. I wasn’t saying that sola Scriptura is the more liberal view in terms of how widely it is affirmed or how mainline the position might be or anything like that. Sorry for the confusion. I meant that in terms of the kind of claims each of the three positions make, sola Scriptura is the least radical of the three. Private Interpretation is the most radical position by a clear mile, as you indicated. Bible Onlyism is more moderate but still austere. sola Scriptura is really the least radical of the three by a significant margin. That’s all I was trying to say. Sola Scriptura actually isn’t that radical of claim after all in my judgment. I did a poor job of making myself clear earlier. Hope this helps.
Moving along then, I just want to make a couple more points. First, you said the post was about the biblical basis for tradition. Part One addressed this topic head on, but the rest of the post seemed, for the most part, to go well beyond the issue of your original thesis. You talked about the early church, some Protestant rejections of tradition, and the paradigmatic differences. None of those issues have a very significant bearing on the biblical basis for tradition. You went beyond demonstrating the thesis into trying to (in part) deconstruct and disprove sola Scriptura on other grounds than the biblical witness. That certainly isn’t a criticism, just an observation. But as I said in the previous comment, because you entangled the three positions I outlined, a lot of your argumentation missed the mark in my judgment.
One other thing I want to mention at this time is your assertion that if we take the Bible along with tradition, then we wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the Reformation and Eastern Orthodoxy. I think we would be able to distinguish them quite clearly, because Orthodoxy is willing to accept certain beliefs and practices as binding and necessary to be believed and observed that are not derived from Scripture. Tradition is good and valid, but Scripture alone necessitates what the church and the individual conscience must believe and practice.
All traditions that the Bible makes necessary or that the Bible in no way forbids or contradicts are fully acceptable, but they can never be necessary and binding. Tradition that is necessary and binding (such as the Creed) derives its authority from Scripture alone, not from the church. Right there is where the difference lies. We who embrace sola Scriptura also embrace tradition, and gladly so, but we always subject tradition to the test of Scripture. Whatever Scripture mandates is binding, and we humbly receive it; whatever Scripture leaves open is free, and we leave it to the churches.
I would like to address specifically some of the things you said in your post, but I would also like to see your response to this comment. So I will break off here for now, and I await your reply. I would also welcome any interaction from others as well =]
You correctly pointed out the key difference between the Reformation and Orthodoxy in your statement: “Tradition is good and valid, but Scripture alone necessitates what the church and the individual conscience must believe and practice.” One key point I was trying to make in my paper is that nowhere do we find in the Bible a verse that supports the latter part of your sentence. You are more than welcome to provide me the Bible verse or passage that supports your position. Given the fact that many more people hold to what you call Bible Onlyism than the classic Reformed understanding of sola scriptura, I think the paper does the job quite well.
I would have to disagree with your sentence: “Tradition that is necessary and binding (such as the Creed) derives its authority from Scripture alone, not from the church.” The Orthodox Church’s understanding is that both Scripture and tradition derive their authority from the apostles, that is, they share a common source and because they share a common source they are equal in authority. Keep in mind also that the bishops who met at the Ecumenical Councils are the successors to the apostles who were charged with keeping the apostolic teachings intact. Their authority as bishops remained so long as they remained faithful to the teachings of the apostles. The idea of a Church whose authority is independent of Scripture or parallel to Scripture is alien to Orthodoxy.
But I have a question for you, in your opinion was the early Church Protestant or Orthodox in faith and practice?
Thank you for the reply. I agree with you that Bible Onlyism is probably the most widely espoused and practiced model of authority and methodology (in either of its two formulations) in non-liberal Protestantism (which covers quite a large spectrum of denominations and traditions), and it is probably the model that a majority of Protestants today would recognize and identify as sola Scriptura. So your paper did a much better job of addressing what I have called Bible Onlyism than what I hold to be the only position properly designated as sola Scriptura.
Now you asked me for a passage anywhere in the Bible that supports my statement that Scripture alone necessitates what the church and the individual conscience must believe and practice. Just here is where I think we have to keep Bible Onlyism and sola Scriptura clearly distinguished and differentiated. Only the adherent of Bible Onlyism needs to answer that question in order to sustain his position. The adherent of sola Scriptura doesn’t need a passage from the Bible to hold to his position. The principle of Sola Scriptura is derived primarily from the nature of Scripture itself as God-breathed, not necessarily from any one specific passage.
You made the statement, “The Orthodox Church’s understanding is that both Scripture and tradition derive their authority from the apostles, that is, they share a common source and because they share a common source they are equal in authority.”
My response is that tradition in and of itself can’t be of equal authority with Scripture precisely because no tradition is God-breathed, whereas Scripture explicitly is. If the apostles are the chief authority, as you seem to indicate, then Scripture ought to be primary simply because in the Scriptures (especially the New Testament) we have the direct voice of the apostles. In tradition as related by this or that early church writer, we do not have the direct voice of the apostles. We certainly have no indication, or at least no guarantee, that what we are receiving from this or that early churchman (or group of early churchmen) is God-breathed independent of the corroborating witness of Scripture. In Scripture we have no doubt of the perfect verity and absolute authority of its contents since it is God-breathed. In tradition we may have doubt.
You also made the statement, “The idea of a Church whose authority is independent of Scripture or parallel to Scripture is alien to Orthodoxy.”
I appreciate this ideal, but it isn’t really workable. Either the Bible or the church will be primary over the other in the end. One will eventually rise above the other. Ultimately you will have to decide whether the Scriptures have the final plenary power to correct, modify, abrogate, or change any and all church traditions, or whether the church has the final plenary power to define what the Scriptures must be teaching such that the church can never be questioned or corrected by Scripture. In the end, it will either be “the Scriptures have spoken, let the church give heed,” or “the church has spoken, let the Scriptures be closed”: sola Scriptura or sola ecclesia.
Finally, to answer your question: it depends on how early in the early church you have in mind. The church definitely changed a lot from AD 30 to 150, and even more so from 150-313, and then even more so from 313-500, and still further from 500-800. It also depends on what you have in mind when you say ‘Protestant’ and ‘Orthodox.’ So I don’t really know how to answer your question. I will say this for now though, I don’t think the earliest church was recognizably either Protestant or Orthodox. I think both classic Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, in their mature, recognizable forms respectively, are later developments and even (to some extent) evolutions of original messianic, apostolic Christianity.
If I may ask you a couple questions in closing: When you talk about church tradition, what do you have specifically in mind? Can you give me an example of a tradition that is necessary and binding but not found in or derived from Scripture in any way (i.e., it’s purely an oral apostolic tradition that’s been passed down that we must receive in the church)?
That’s an excellent point, Wesley, that only Scripture is said to be God-breathed. It is certainly the case that the Apostles said much more than has been recorded in Scripture, and even, as Fr. Whiteford pointed out to me via 1 Cor. 11:34, that sometimes in writing they say they will give other instructions orally. But the problem for what the Orthodox are saying is precisely that we have no notice anywhere other than in the Fathers that oral materials were passed down by the Apostles – and (as least as far as I know) the Fathers do not claim that these oral traditions are God-breathed like Scripture.
Thanks Tim. Your contributions to the discussion are most welcomed. The point about 1 Corinthians 11:34, where Paul says he hasn’t said everything he wants to say in the letter, but will explain further in person, is a very interesting one indeed. Remember also that Paul says in another place in first Corinthians that he had written a previous letter to the Corinthian congregation. So we have apostolic instructions and apostolic writings that are clearly not in Scripture.
The key point to remember here is another doctrine of Scripture that classic Protestants hold dear, and that is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Of course the Bible isn’t a complete, exhaustive record and account of every single thing the apostles said, taught, preached, and believed. But it isn’t necessary that the Bible be such. We don’t need a book that is complete in that exhaustive sense, only one that is complete on the essentials and fundamentals. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture says that everything necessary to the essence of the true Faith and everything necessary for salvation and a godly life is contained completely and sufficiently in Scripture.
So the Bible is not complete, but it is sufficient. It isn’t essential to the Faith or salvation or godliness that we know the contents of Paul’s lost letters and his further instructions to the Corinthians. What we have, what God has provided and preserved for us in the Bible, is sufficient to faith, hope, and love. We need look no further than sacred Scriptures for the essential and fundamental truths of the Christian Faith.
Yes, I had meant earlier in this discussion to ask the Orthodox here about 2 Tim. 3:16. It seems pretty clear from that verse – even if we grant that it somehow doesn’t prove sola Scriptura per se – that it says Scripture is sufficient for a life of godliness. No traditions are in view in that passage, so the best one could say about traditions, even if they were proven to have come from Apostles and were passed down faithfully for 2,000 years, is that they might be helpful in some auxiliary role. In no case could one say, as the Orthodox here are saying, that they are ESSENTIAL.
So I am unclear, how would the passage saying that the scriptures aresufficient for such things imply that tradition isn’t also sufficient for such things? There seems to be some missing premise somewhere.
Except for the fact that the Scriptures teach that unwritten Tradition is likewise to be held fast too, and not optional.
Well, what does “sufficient” mean, Perry?
Fr. Whiteford, then what is your take on 2 Tim. 3:16?
Please remember that I’m not railing against the very concept of “tradition” or its usefulness. I happily acknowledge that the Apostles might have passed some things down in unwritten form, and that some Churches may have faithfully maintained those things for millennia. My concern is that when unwritten things are presented to me as items not only worthy of belief because they are of Apostolic pedigree, but also REQUIRED for me to observe, that these things be able to match up with the one source that I know for sure is G0d-breathed, Scripture. Tradition (in terms of doctrine) is not, to my knowledge, ever called “God-breathed” in either the Scriptures or the Fathers. It isn’t in the same class of authority as the Scriptures.
Tim Enloe wrote:
“Fr. Whiteford, then what is your take on 2 Tim. 3:16?”
Me: I note the absence of the word “only” and “alone” from this text.
TE: “Please remember that I’m not railing against the very concept of “tradition” or its usefulness. I happily acknowledge that the Apostles might have passed some things down in unwritten form, and that some Churches may have faithfully maintained those things for millennia. My concern is that when unwritten things are presented to me as items not only worthy of belief because they are of Apostolic pedigree, but also REQUIRED for me to observe, that these things be able to match up with the one source that I know for sure is G0d-breathed, Scripture.”
Me: You only have that source thanks to the Tradition of the Church.
TE: “Tradition (in terms of doctrine) is not, to my knowledge, ever called “God-breathed” in either the Scriptures or the Fathers. It isn’t in the same class of authority as the Scriptures.”
Me: I would not be so sure that your assertion is true. I know I have heard such statements in the services of the Church, and the very first one I checked (The Sunday of the Fathers of the First 6 Ecumenical Councils, July 13th – 19th) has this statement:
“Having received all the noetic radiance of the Holy Spirit, as preachers of Christ, the divine defenders of the teachings of the Gospel and the traditions of the pious, *inspired by God*, proclaimed their most supernatural decision; and having manifestly received from on high the revelation thereof, being illumined, they expounded the Faith taught by God.”
Here is the text in Greek: “Ὅλην εἰσδεξάμενοι, τὴν νοητὴν λαμπηδόνα, τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος, τὸ ὑπερφυέστατον χρησμολόγημα, τὸ βραχὺ ῥήματι, καὶ πολὺ συνέσει, θεοπνεύστως ἀπεφθέγξαντο, ὡς χριστοκήρυκες, εὐαγγελικῶν προϊστάμενοι, δογμάτων οἱ Μακάριοι, καὶ τῶν εὐσεβῶν παραδόσεων, ἄνωθεν λαβόντες, τὴν τούτων ἀποκάλυψιν σαφῶς, καὶ φωτισθέντες ἐξέθεντο, ὅρον θεοδίδακτον.”
And you will note that the word there is “Theopneustos”.
Now if I could find that with just a minutes worth of digging, I suspect a lot more could be found if one seriously researched the question.
By the way, that same hymn is found in all the services of the Holy Fathers, including the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, which is the 6th Sunday after Easter. That service, found in the Pentecostarion, is undoubtedly the earliest of them.
Tim, I understand what sufficient means, but you seem to be assuming exclusively sufficient. Even if scripture is sufficient, that doesn’t make it necessary. Other sources might be sufficient too. Just because one thing is sufficient for something to be the case it doesn’t logically follow that something else can’t also be sufficient for it as well. Otherwise cases of overdetermination for example would be impossible.
That’s certainly an interesting quotation, Fr. Whiteford. My Greek is too rusty for me to analyze it, but I’ll take the translation you provided as being correct for the sake of argument.
My question, then, is what is meant by “traditions of the pious” in the context of the passage? What is the content of the word “traditions” in this passage? (I actually don’t know, not having read this passage before, so I’m asking you in good faith.)
I feel it necessary to say also, Fr. Whiteford, that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that I only have the Scriptures because of the mediation of the Church. I’m quite comfortable with the fact that the canon of Scripture is a tradition I’ve received from those who have gone before me. I don’t hold that “sola” Scriptura means that Scripture is literally the ONLY authority. And neither did the Magisterial Reformation, from which I take my peculiarly Protestant beliefs. It’s only radicals, 16th century and now, who hold that Scripture is literally the ONLY authority, and who are then discomfited by finding out that Councils listed the canonical books and did all sorts of other authoritative things, too.
Tim Enloe wrote:
“My question, then, is what is meant by “traditions of the pious” in the context of the passage? What is the content of the word “traditions” in this passage? (I actually don’t know, not having read this passage before, so I’m asking you in good faith.)”
Me: I think it simply means the Tradition preserved by the faithful of the Church.
TE: “I feel it necessary to say also, Fr. Whiteford, that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that I only have the Scriptures because of the mediation of the Church. I’m quite comfortable with the fact that the canon of Scripture is a tradition I’ve received from those who have gone before me.”
Me: But if you believe that the Church had gone off the rails doctrinally by the 2nd century, how can you trust such a Church to have accurately made the determinations about which books to trust, or which manuscripts of those books to trust?
TE: “I don’t hold that “sola” Scriptura means that Scripture is literally the ONLY authority. ”
Me: Do you believe any other authority has the authority to bind the conscience of a believe?
So “tradition” in that passage means “the Traditions preserved by the faithful”? Well, that’s not really all that helpful. It’s just a tautology, since “tradition” means “passed down,” all you’ve said is “What was passed down is what was passed down.” That says nothing about the relative importance of things passed down, and it certainly doesn’t begin to establish that the whole shebang was “God-breathed.” Look, I’ve said a number of times I hate patristic quote wars because they never seem to go anywhere. But you’ve dealt with Webster before, so you tell me why there are oodles and oodles of patristic quotes that say the Scriptures are the final authority and not even the words of bishops can be held to be ultimately normative. Such quotes don’t even have to be taken as proof of the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, because they are at the very least a ringing disproof of the opposite assertions being made by you Orthodox and Rome.
At any rate, the phrase “the church went off the rails in the 2nd century” is quite unhelpful. I have never said I believe this, but if I was to say something like that, it would be enormously qualified and not a mere generalization as it is in your remark.
Lastly, no, no other authority but Scripture can bind my conscience. HOWEVER, I am not an island, and my personal conscience is not infallible. The Church *can* bind my **public** behavior and **public** professions of doctrine, including and up to formal excommunication from the visible assembly. That’s good enough for the establishment of peace and order in the Church, and it’s all the Church is called to do. The Church can’t see consciences, let alone bind them.
I have been trying to keep my responses in the right thread, but somehow, my response here is down a bit further.
While sola scriptura doesn’t exclude all authorities other than scripture, the question of the canon being tradition can’t be dealt with adequately from your position. Here is why. Scripture cannot speak to that secondary authority of the canon if it be such and second, Scripture then is formally made subjet to a lesser authority. That seems inconsistent with sola scriptura.
Not in scripture or sripture that is not in our present canon?
What does that mean?
That means some epistle Paul wrote that we don’t have could still be inspired even though we lack it. It doesn’t follow that simply because it isn’t in the formal canon we have that it isn’t scripture.
Well, sure. But if we don’t have it, then we can’t appeal to it as Scripture. “Scripture” means writing, and if we don’t have the writing, we don’t have the “Scripture” – even if it was inspired. So my point remains untouched: 2 Tim. 3:16 says the Scripture is “sufficient” for godliness. True, that doesn’t mean we can’t also have a lot of good traditions in our Faith, even ones we claim (rightly or wrongly) came from the Apostles. But the simple fact is that we don’t NEED these traditions for godliness. Scripture is “sufficient.” What is your reply to that?
Tim Enloe wrote:
“So “tradition” in that passage means “the Traditions preserved by the faithful”? Well, that’s not really all that helpful. It’s just a tautology, since “tradition” means “passed down,” all you’ve said is “What was passed down is what was passed down.””
Me: What I said was “the Tradition preserved by the faithful of the Church.” That is obviously not a tautology, because there are traditions that are not preserved by the faithful of the Church.
TE: “That says nothing about the relative importance of things passed down, and it certainly doesn’t begin to establish that the whole shebang was “God-breathed.” ”
Me: It is hard to squeeze a systematic theology into a hymn. The Church teaches us about the importance of the Traditions of the pious preserved within the Church. The 7th Ecumenical Council for example anathematized those who reject the veneration of icons.
TE: “Look, I’ve said a number of times I hate patristic quote wars because they never seem to go anywhere. But you’ve dealt with Webster before, so you tell me why there are oodles and oodles of patristic quotes that say the Scriptures are the final authority and not even the words of bishops can be held to be ultimately normative. Such quotes don’t even have to be taken as proof of the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, because they are at the very least a ringing disproof of the opposite assertions being made by you Orthodox and Rome.”
Me: When those same Fathers teach that Tradition is on the same level as Scripture, one has to take those quotes in their wider context. For example, Webster quotes both St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil as supposedly making such assertions, when they clearly did not exclude Tradition.
TE: “At any rate, the phrase “the church went off the rails in the 2nd century” is quite unhelpful. I have never said I believe this, but if I was to say something like that, it would be enormously qualified and not a mere generalization as it is in your remark.”
Me: If you do not believe that the Church went off the rails by the second century, then I don’t know how you can remain a Protestant and be familiar with the writings from that period. Do you believe the Church went off the rails by the 4th century?
TE: “Lastly, no, no other authority but Scripture can bind my conscience.”
Me: Thus the problem.
TE: “HOWEVER, I am not an island, and my personal conscience is not infallible. The Church *can* bind my **public** behavior and **public** professions of doctrine, including and up to formal excommunication from the visible assembly. That’s good enough for the establishment of peace and order in the Church, and it’s all the Church is called to do. The Church can’t see consciences, let alone bind them.”
Me: So the Church’s teaching on the Trinity is only externally binding, but you can secretly be an Arian if you keep it to yourself? Why is only this externally binding, but not the 7th Ecumenical Council?
Re: the patristic quotes, this is why I’m asking you what the CONTENT of the “Traditions” mentioned in various passages is. It’s not enough to say a “tradition” has been preserved by the faithful, and it is “on the same level” as Scripture. If you’re talking about indispensable doctrines, like the deity of Christ Trinity, it’s not a problem to say that “tradition” is “on the same level” as the Scriptures, because, as Calvin himself put it, at least the first four Councils taught nothing but what Scripture teaches. This is, in fact, also how the Fathers as I’ve read them talk. “OK, so we have this tradition about Christ handed down. Well, gee, look, this tradition is exactly what the Apostolic Books, properly interpreted, say.” I think here we’re beginning to see that, like Roman Catholics, some of you Orthodox simply have no faith in the intelligibility of the Scriptures APART from an allegedly more clear “Sacred Tradition” that only your own special group has. Again, isn’t that how Irenaeus represented the Gnostics’ arguments?
So again, what is the CONTENT of the word “tradition” when it appears in various patristic statements? If you’re claiming that, say, full blown icon veneration is an Apostolic oral tradition on the same level as the Scriptures, please – where is even a hint of that CONTENT in Scripture? (I don’t see how OT images in the Temple can underwrite the full blown Orthodox theory of icons, especially with the attached anathemas.) The CONTENT of that tradition is materially different from what is found in the Scriptures. It is at best a logical deduction from certain fully biblically-based premises set down by the Councils. As a logical deduction it simply is NOT on the same level as the original source material. Just because something is logical does not mean it is true. Nor is it true just because some men who had hands laid on them so that they stand in a line of succession from the Apostles make it true. In the West, see, we’ve had so many corrupt and wicked bishops that we simply can’t believe just whatever men say while mumbling incantations about the authority vested in them by the laying on of hands in an Approved Hierarchical Manner. That’s no guarantee of truth, for as some Father (I can’t recall who) aptly said, “Custom without truth is merely ancient error.”
As for the point about public binding vs. private conscience, I’m not sure why this is difficult to understand. Priests are not demigods. Their job is not to peer into hearts and sanctify them by the exercise of their magical sacerdotal powers, so they don’t HAVE to know whether I am secretly an Arian in order to do the job God called them to do. If I’m secretly an Arian (I’m not), that’s between me and God. The only job of the ministers relative to this is to fence the borders of the Church so that Arian doctrine doesn’t get promulgated by me within the company of the faithful.
Finally, how can I be familiar with the writings of the early Fathers and still remain Protestant? Simple. Unlike you, I don’t treat the writings of any man or group of men as absolutely normative for all ages. It doesn’t bother me that Cyprian or Chrysostom believed some things I don’t, and I believe some things they didn’t. Why, indeed, <i?should it bother me? In fact, I find the Orthodox tactic of setting the boundary for the Faith in the patristic age more than a little bit presumptuous. That’s probably a Western thing though, as it was a common theme in the West long before the Reformation that each generation is “like dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants so they can see farther.”
Tim Enloe wrote:
“Re: the patristic quotes, this is why I’m asking you what the CONTENT of the “Traditions” mentioned in various passages is.”
Me: You might as well demand to know the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica every time it is mentioned. St. Basil the Great mentions several examples in the famous quote from his treatise on the Holy Spirit (which you will find quoted in section VI of Miles from the Truth): the making of the sign of the Cross, facing east while praying, the words of the Liturgy, and the words and actions of the Baptismal service — and it is interesting to note that while the heretics disputed whether or not the Holy Spirit was a person, no one disputed these traditions, which is why he appealed to them to prove his point.
TE: “It’s not enough to say a “tradition” has been preserved by the faithful, and it is “on the same level” as Scripture. If you’re talking about indispensable doctrines, like the deity of Christ Trinity, it’s not a problem to say that “tradition” is “on the same level” as the Scriptures, because, as Calvin himself put it, at least the first four Councils taught nothing but what Scripture teaches. This is, in fact, also how the Fathers as I’ve read them talk. “OK, so we have this tradition about Christ handed down. Well, gee, look, this tradition is exactly what the Apostolic Books, properly interpreted, say.” I think here we’re beginning to see that, like Roman Catholics, some of you Orthodox simply have no faith in the intelligibility of the Scriptures APART from an allegedly more clear “Sacred Tradition” that only your own special group has. Again, isn’t that how Irenaeus represented the Gnostics’ arguments?”
Me: You actually have it backwards. St. Irenaeus appealed to the universal Tradition of the Church to refute the interpretation of the Gnostics.
TE: “So again, what is the CONTENT of the word “tradition” when it appears in various patristic statements? If you’re claiming that, say, full blown icon veneration is an Apostolic oral tradition on the same level as the Scriptures, please – where is even a hint of that CONTENT in Scripture? (I don’t see how OT images in the Temple can underwrite the full blown Orthodox theory of icons, especially with the attached anathemas.) The CONTENT of that tradition is materially different from what is found in the Scriptures.”
Me: The Ark of the Covenant had two very significant images on it. Did the Israelites venerate it, in your opinion? According to the Bible they did:
“And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the Ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of
Israel, and put dust upon their heads.” (Joshua 7:6)
“Then King David rose to his feet and said, “Hear me, my brethren and my people: I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God, and had made preparations to build it” (1 Chronicles 28:2).
“Exalt ye the LORD our God, And bow yourselves before His footstool, for He is holy” (Psalm 99:5).
“Let us go into His tabernacle; Let us bow before His footstool. Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.” (Psalm 132:7-8).
I could go on… but this gives the general idea.
TE: “It is at best a logical deduction from certain fully biblically-based premises set down by the Councils. As a logical deduction it simply is NOT on the same level as the original source material. Just because something is logical does not mean it is true. Nor is it true just because some men who had hands laid on them so that they stand in a line of succession from the Apostles make it true.”
Me: If it was only a logical deduction you would have a point, but since it is the Tradition of the Church, and the 7th Ecumenical Council confirmed it, it is not just a logical deduction.
TE: “In the West, see, we’ve had so many corrupt and wicked bishops that we simply can’t believe just whatever men say while mumbling incantations about the authority vested in them by the laying on of hands in an Approved Hierarchical Manner. That’s no guarantee of truth, for as some Father (I can’t recall who) aptly said, “Custom without truth is merely ancient error.””
Me: I believe that was St. Cyprian of Carthage, the guy who wrote the Treatise on the Unity of the Church, which states that the Church cannot err.
TE: “As for the point about public binding vs. private conscience, I’m not sure why this is difficult to understand. Priests are not demigods. Their job is not to peer into hearts and sanctify them by the exercise of their magical sacerdotal powers, so they don’t HAVE to know whether I am secretly an Arian in order to do the job God called them to do. If I’m secretly an Arian (I’m not), that’s between me and God. The only job of the ministers relative to this is to fence the borders of the Church so that Arian doctrine doesn’t get promulgated by me within the company of the faithful.”
Me: This makes no sense. If the Church has the power to say you cannot profess Arianism, it is only because to do so is heresy, and imperils your soul, whether you keep it to yourself or not.
TE: “Finally, how can I be familiar with the writings of the early Fathers and still remain Protestant? Simple. Unlike you, I don’t treat the writings of any man or group of men as absolutely normative for all ages. It doesn’t bother me that Cyprian or Chrysostom believed some things I don’t, and I believe some things they didn’t. Why, indeed, <i?should it bother me? In fact, I find the Orthodox tactic of setting the boundary for the Faith in the patristic age more than a little bit presumptuous. That’s probably a Western thing though, as it was a common theme in the West long before the Reformation that each generation is “like dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants so they can see farther.”"
Me: The reason why it should bother you, is it is quite clear when you read their writings that you are not in the same Church that they were in. That should concern you.
We have no non-question begging notice other than in the Fathers that the NT scriptures come from the Aposltes either.
I’m surprised that you would advance this argument, Perry. You know there are some commitments that have to be held as the starting point for all further ones. I can’t prove the reliability of sense experience by any independent criterion, can I? The real existence of other minds? No one other than some stupid Egghead Philosophers somewhere even try to make people prove these things in a “non question begging” way.
All Christians have to start at the least with the received Scriptures. Some Christians have historically disputed which books go in the canon of “the Scriptures,” but over a long period of time there has come to be general agreement on *at least* 66 books. Other Christians add 7 or so books to the 66 – usually because they’re trying to justify doctrines that can’t be found anywhere else in the other 66. Still other Christians add to the starting point of the Scriptures something they call “Holy Tradition,” so their starting point is broader. (Though, interestingly, as we see on this blog, these Christians always end up trying to justify the contents of their “Holy Tradition,” supposedly a separate but equal source of authority, by referring to the Scriptures. They then hasten to add that this does not mean the Scriptures have “priority,” for that would be a despicable schismatic belief. Yeah, whatever.)
In other words, there are “begged questions” and then there are “begged questions.” Not all begged questions are of equal weight.
While it may be true that some starting point is necessary, I can’t see how that legitimates starting just anywhere. If so, it would be enough to make the GReat pumpkin all excited. Second, even if the reliability of sense experience could not be established in a non-circular way, we would need to know that the canon of scripture is comparable to it for your implicit argument to work. But I can’t see any reason for taking an empirical question like this to enjoy some kind of proper basicality and you’ve not provided or gestured at any.
Furthermore, denigrating professionals doesn’t help your case either. Perhaps I should start referring to stupid egg head historians who waste time on stupid questions ont he cause of the Reformation when it is all obvious to anyone who can read Luther? You seem to not get the point of producing skeptical hypotheses. They are not produced because skeptics or those who employ them really disbelieve such things, but bnecause they work as heuristic devices to show that our models of what constitutes knowledge are inadequate in important ways and so help us to advance human knowledge. And if Protestants do not need to meet the basic conditions for truth preservation relative to informal fallacies I don’t see why non-Protestants do either. That sword cuts both ways. So I am not suprised and I’d invite you to think and engage rather than dismiss.
The fact that all Christians acept at least 66 books doesn’t imply that they are the least common denominator or that that historical contingency carries any normative weight. And such a “starting” doesn’t confer any epistemic justification for the belief or any given tradition either, including Protestants. So Protestants need to bear their own burden here, especially when they claim that all the other christian traditions have gotten it seriously wrong.
To say that other Christians “add” other books is not only historically false, but not a little question begging. Other Christians work with the canon that they received and then work to those doctrines that said works contain. Historically in the initial disputes with Eck, it was Luther and Co. who rejected certain books because of the doctrines they contained. So I think the shoe is on the other foot here.
Non-Protestants didn’t add tradition unless we wish to include figures such as Ireneaus, Justin, Athanasius and such. This is not some later development, but was present long before there was any significantly fixed formal canon of Scripture. If you think I am begging the question at some point and some are more problematic than others then you will need to bear your oiwn burden for your claims and point them out and provide argument for those claims. I don’t see a reson to simply grant such things merely because you assert them.
In any case, my point seems to still be in place, that your argument against tradition can only go through if we reject the patristic witness to the apostolicity of NT works.
Taking your points in order:
I don’t see how the Orthodox alternative is any better. If I can’t choose the canon of Scripture as my starting point, why do you get to choose the Apostolic Succession – and not just any Succession, but just the Orthodox one? What makes that starting point any more superior than the canon of Scripture? Why should I believe St. Ignatius or the Ecumenical Councils are any better than the Great Pumpkin as a starting point? This is why I hate these epistemology games – they are nearly always fruitless, because they do nothing but trap us all inside our own private heads.
I didn’t say the historical causes of the Reformation are obvious to anyone who can read Luther. In fact, given how radically many modern Protestants misunderstand the Reformation, it’s obvious that it’s NOT obvious. My remark about the dumb eggheads questioning the basic reliability of sense experience was not a bald slur on professionals. It was a slur on professionals who waste everyone’s time on questions that can’t be answered.
Of course the analogy from assuming the reliability of sense experience to assuming the reliability of a particular traditionary standpoint (such as the one that gave us the 66 book canon of Scripture) is not perfect. No analogy is, and the danger of using analogies is precisely in the fact that if someone wants to be really ornery about it, discussions can spin off into endless wrangling about the utility of the analogy rather than the original substance. If you don’t like the analogy I posited, so be it. Discard it and tell me how it is that you’re in a superior epistemological position to me because you start with a certain Apostolic Succession instead of with a certain canon of Scripture. I don’t see any way you can ultimately escape the same charge of “picking and choosing” that you want to press upon me.
Next: I quite understand the point of producing skeptical hypotheses. Though I am not worthy to fill his shoes, I take my method on this point from Socrates. The reason I ask questions of you as I did is precisely because just like Catholics, you Orthodox seem to believe you just get to dictate and assert, and everyone else always has to meet YOUR criteria of legitimacy. I don’t see why any of you get a free pass. You’re just men, just like us. And so were the Fathers.
Next: I don’t claim that historical contingency by itself carries any weight. But as Christians, we don’t believe that history is mere contingency, now do we? We believe that God is superintending history providentially guiding it toward an end. Can we prove that doctrine by some non-question begging epistemological process? No, but why should that demand EVER be made by one Christian to another Christian? As for bearing “own” burdens of proof, precisely. When are you Orthodox going to bear your own burden of proof, especially since, as you just said, you claim that all other Christian traditions have gotten it seriously wrong? You guys ultimately aren’t any different than Catholics on this point, as I learned a couple of years ago when Prejean was pressing this exact argument against Protestants, but all he could ever say in favor of his own view was that, well, dadgummit, this Approved Group of Men said so, so it must be so. Nothing else “made sense” to him, so therefore this thing MUST be true. Not really all that convincing, I’m afraid.
Regarding the notion of “adding” books, my understanding (which of course could be wrong) is that the Deuterocanonical books were never universally accepted as God-breathed in the West. It wasn’t until the Council of Trent that they were dogmatically added to the canon, and that was in reaction to Luther – who had questioned their inspiration as part of a long line of people in the West doing just that. It is not the case, as I understand it, that Luther just arbitrarily threw out those books because they contained doctrines he didn’t like.
Nor do I see a reason to simply grant such things as icon veneration and supposed mandatory fasts just because Church Fathers assert they came from the Apostles. Ad nauseam, why do you Orthodox (like your Roman cousins) just get to say stuff and pretend you’re above questioning? You keep accusing me of doing that, but I’m a Protestant. **WE** don’t say stuff and pretend that it’s unrevisable, remember?
I agree with you that Scripture is God-breathed, but II Timothy 3:16 doesn’t say that this elevates Scripture over other apostolic tradition. And I think Tim is reading too much into II Timothy 3:16 when he says that “ONLY Scripture is said to be God-breahed.” My reading is that ALL Scripture is God-breathed. You and Tim will have to provide more solid evidence to persuade me.
I think the real difference between you and me is in your assertion that NO tradition is God-breathed. But the Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit was active in a multiplicity of ways in the early church. One, we find in John 16:13 the promise that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth. Two, in Acts 15:28 we read James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, writing: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” which implies that the early church leaders were acting under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Three, in Ephesians 4:7-13 Paul teaches that Christ bestowed charismatic gifts on the church in the form of apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers and pastors which means that the early bishops and church fathers empowered by the Holy Spirit were exercising a charismatic ministry. Unless one is a cessationist, then one must believe that the Holy Spirit was at work among the early Christians beyond just the divinely inspired Scriptures. It seems to me that you are implying that the Holy Spirit’s ministry was confined to the Bible after the last of the apostles died. My reading of the Bible leads me to believe that the traditions of the Church were inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible.
I’m not comfortable with your insistence that either the Bible or the Church must be primary over the other. From the standpoint of the covenant it doesn’t make sense. In a suzerainty covenant the Sovereign establishes the terms of the covenant. This is because he is the sole source of authority. He gives his subjects a document describing the terms and conditions of their relationship with the Sovereign. It is not the giving of the document that inaugurates the covenant relationship but the act of sacrifice (think the Cross and the Eucharist). He appoints administrators (bishops and priests) to act on his behalf to guide the covenant community (the Church). It seems to me that you are thinking of Scriptures’ relation to Church as something akin to the US Constitution’s relation to the USA. That is inappropriate because the notion of a constitutional polity is a modern idea.
In regards to my question about the early Church, I left it wide open so you wouldn’t feel boxed in. I’ll give you my take on the question. When I think of the early church fathers I think of Irenaeus of Lyons who lived in the second century. Do you think he was Orthodox or Protestant in his attitude about Scripture and tradition? My take on Irenaeus can be found in my review of Keith Mathison’ book. Some examples of church tradition include the weekly Wednesday and Friday fasts which are mentioned in the first century book, The Didache, chapter VIII. Also, there is Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrneans chapter VIII in which he teaches that an Eucharistic celebration independent of the bishop is invalid. Later traditions include the Lenten fasts and the decision at the Second Ecumenical Council that the Nicene Creed must be recited at the Sunday Liturgy. We do all this in the Orthodox Church. So for us there is a profound continuity with the early Church. I think your comment that much has changed since AD 30 shows a historical perspective of one who is a Protestant. When I was a Protestant reading early church history was like visiting a foreign country, but after I became Orthodox I experienced a congruence between the early Church and Orthodox Church of today. I believe this continuity is due to the Holy Spirit’s guiding the Orthodox Church through Scripture and tradition. I would encourage you to visit a local Orthodox church to see early Christianity in action.
“I would encourage you to visit a local Orthodox church to see early Christianity in action.”
Robert have you ever been to Greece? There is a church there in Corinth that dates back to the days of Paul. Its been mostly dug up and visitors can go in and take a look. I did this over 10 years ago.
Its a simple rounded stone structure of a building. When Paul wrote the letters to ‘the church at Corinth’ he meant all these churches scattered in the Corinthian region not one building of course. Now in this stone church they have all the eppiskopthoes bishops that served there chisled on the wall going all the way back to the first one . The first name is PAUVLOS. There are no icons painted on the walls but a simple cross engraved in the stone wall in the back. This church dated back to NT times according to our priest/tour guide. It had no great ornaments no lofty gold trimmings or other trappings of the modern orthodox church and yet is one of the early orthodox churches The point is that simple church looked a lot like a simple full gospel chapel I visited once for a wedding, yet it was fully orthodox. But that’s okay because early christianity “in action” is not about the trappings or even the detailed theology of orthodoxy today or what the inside of any church building looks like
a contrite spirit and a love for Christ. T
THAT is early christianity in action.
taking care of orphans and visiting widows in their pain
THAT is early christianity in action.
preaching the gospel to your countrymen who are steeped in Zeus and Artemis worship (as my ancestors were)
THAT is early christianity in action.
suffering for Christ, dying for him, being thrown into lions dens and kiled by pagan soldiers, being reported by the jewish authorities (because they could by Roman Law keep 5% of your estate if you were found to be an ‘atheist’ (christian) by Roman authorities).
THAT is early christianity in action.
And make no mistake about it– I love Orthodoxy and I’m proudly Greek Orthodox but I refuse to reject the obvious Spirit I see in God-blessed Protestants because its the same Spirit that is IN me and like John the Baptist in his mother’s womb when she neared Mary (the blessed Theotokos) when she was with Child I feel my heart leap for joy when I see my Protestant brothers in Christ doing good in the power of this SAME SPIRIT, fighting the good fight and standing their ground against a wicked and evil world system, against baby killers and slimy corrupt men greedy for their own gain.
Yes LITERALLY my spirit within me LEAPS for joy. I know they love Jesus like I do. They ‘get it’.
“Early” and “authentic” christianity “in action” is about POWER not mere words and outwardly beautiful churches just like a real woman is not about only outward beauty without but the Beauty Within.
And on THAT beauty within God will judge us all not what the inside of our church looked like or how well we kept Tradition (yes even God-Breathed Tradition). What did Jesus say: “Was man made for the Sabbath or the Sabbath for man?” This is a rule that applies to us today you know? The Sabbath is a God breathed tradition as are our Orthodox traditions but were we made for them or were they made for man? If they were made for man that means man is more important than even them. Jesus said this when the disciples were ignoring God Breathed Tradition just like David did when his men picked and ate wheat on the Sabbath.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath (and no man is to work on the sabbath!) and these Protestants carry out the gospel of Christ to a wicked generation but without the full Orthodox traditions (and no man “should do that!”) in their churches.
With respect and love I say this to you my fellow Orthodox: God will judge what comes out of a man for that blesses or defiles. What comes from the heart not from our church architecture and rituals as righteous as they may be (and I do believe are).
I see Protestants with simple churches picketing abortion clinics, digging wells for the poor in Africa, visiting prisoners, standing up for the lives of babies UNBORN, fighting against humanist and atheist lies and wickedness and doing it in the name of Christ. Remember man looks outward but God looks at the heart.
Yes its a beautiful thing to see the inside of an Orthodox church. Yes our tradition is God breathed. Yes we have the liturgy of angels. Yes ,yes, yes, yes, yes. …. But how you treat these the ‘lest’ of our brothers
(for I say ‘lest’ since they are obviously that in your eyes–poor and needy not having the fullness that you do , not being up here in our lofty Orthodox heights, not having our splendid and perfect holiness, or our spiritual blessedness or grand holiness!) ……..
………..so you treat Christ.
And you know Jesus what said was true religion right?
“to help orphans and visit widows in their grief.”
Thats Jesus’ tradition.
That tradition is doing the will of the father in the fields of the Lord. THAT’S the tradition that matters in the end. Not whether you understood Theosis. Or whether you had the perfect divine liturgy or you practiced the perfect heyscha or you climbed the ladder of Divine Ascent or had a baptism performed on you by full immersion by an Orthodox priest and or spent 14 months at Mount Athos studying with the monks, or 3 mohths with the monks at Patmos studying the early writings in Greek of manuscripts that haven’t been trasnlated into any other languages yet in their library, or fasted for 40 days for Orthodox Easter every year for the last 30 years or so forth.
or kissed every icon or chanted every scripture or lit candles or experienced beautiful Orthodox byzantine liturgies, or stood for hours in church until you could not stand anymore or were enraptured, amazed, blown over, surprised, overjoyed, struck dumb with sheer wonder as the two Russians who visited the court of Constantinople, or seen visions or talked with angels or dreamed dreams or drank the Holy Wine and Bread.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”
Thank you for those comments. I love that heart, and I love your spirit. May our God and Father bless you and keep you always in the love of God and in perfect charity towards your neighbors and the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Amen Wesley. God richly bless you!
Thats’ exactly right our God indeed.
The JEWISH God who came for the House of Israel. And we gentiles were outcasts, strangers, hated foreigners to God of the Hebrews with our pagan idols (Hercules and Thor!) and here we are saying this gentile branch is not as full as that gentile branch. My my how we grand we are! My fellow gentiles: Greeks and Americans, Hawaiians and Canadians we are the wild branch GRAFTED into to the natural tree. Let us not boast about which twig in the wild branch is more full for God is looking for FRUIT not fine looking traditional leafiness!
PS I’ve been busy over here and could not respond on “the contra sola scripture part 1 of 4” thread to a person who wrote about my post over on that thread but I will respond by monday.
Take your time! I’m not going anywhere
Which specific archeological site do you have in mind here? The Parthenon does not have any statues of Athena, and so I suppose that proves that the pagan Greeks didn’t have any. If you had a Church suddenly covered up due to some catastrophe, like at Pompeii, then you would have something a bit more powerful. In Dura Europos you had something close… building near a city wall filled in with dirt, and then the city destroyed by the Persians, and there you have both a Church and a Synagogue with intact iconography.
Dura Europos Synagogue
Dura Europos Church
Father it’s a pleasure. I enjoyed your entry on the depensational-rapture doctrine. If I could cross the digital divide through my screen to kiss your hand, I would.
“The Parthenon does not have any statues of Athena, and so I suppose that proves that the pagan Greeks didn’t have any”
Actually it might imply it (if we didn’t know anything else about Greece) though not prove it! However because we know the huge statue of athena existed from it being mentioned in various sources we know it was there.
The site is in corinth as I’ve already stated. The digging in Corinth has continued for so long now its not several sites anymore but one big site. It takes 2-3 days to see the entire site (of the city unearthed so far from the 1960s till now). This is not some little rock collection by the road but a whole city with roads and buildings.
There is a market area with stone buidlings with domed entryways that some say Paul turned his tentmaking store into a church (at first the small congregation met in homes and then at Gauis’s place before it became bigger). The stores have arches there and one of them is the one with the engravings I believe (further down from the Civil Judgment seat where he was beaten by the Jews when the civil authorities found no wrong against Rome). The synagogue he preached in also is said to have later become a church (because of the growing number of jews that did become christians eventually).
Now I talked with a friend today and he maintains that when we visited years ago it was the site at Geraki (Laconia) not corinth and that I have my sites mixed up. I don’t think so however at Geraki the Dutch team is still excavating now upwards of 15 years. Their focus is on ancient greece circa 2500.
Retired Professor Thomas Langan (Roman Catholic) of the Catholic Civil Rights League has also mentioned this church years ago and you could to get in touch with him. I dont have his number but he is still associated with the League. http://www.ccrl.ca/index.php?id=344
Anyway if you ever get a chance to go to Corinth you will not regret it.
Fr. just a side note. About five more Jewish synagogues have been discovered from the same period or earlier than Duros and they all have frescoes, mosaics and such as well.
Wow. That’s interesting! I would like to know more about these Jewish synagogues.
Perry, I would be interested in hearing more about those synagogues.
Yorgo, do you know of any articles on the Churches you are referring to?
Father, I was a tourist there and am not of a student of archeology so I’m not familiar with the journals involved with these digs. But I do know the U of Chicago is the big player there, besides the other universities involved.
Also the synagogue there had no frescos etc only engravings on the front door (menorahs).
I highly doubt that the protestant churches you visited were like 1st century christianity for most low church protestant groups are anti-liturgical.
Also, you praise protestant groups for traveling thousands of miles to 3rd world countries to dig wells, but these same groups that you praise will also refuse to travel a few miles to their backyard in order to help those in America’s inner cities. For every good story you have I have 10 bad ones. I don’t think you want to go toe to toe with me on these issues for I have alot of stories and examples to tell.
Yes am sure our protestant friends could list a hundred churches against your ten! You are arguing in circles my friend.
Such argumentation leads
nowhere brother. Now my time is short and I have to finish my packing. please read below (and thanks in advance to Robert for letting me post these and the previous posts).
ANNOUNCEMENT: Leaving for my retreat.
Brother JNORM I have responded to you in Contra Scripture 1 of 4 AGAIN– go ahead and go there. You may
have the last word on our discussion/post for I know you are eager for that because you feel it would
make you “the winner” but I do not mind. You can have your “victory” I will have my humility. Let’s see
which Christ will honor on the last day little Orthodox brother!
The rest of you: I AM LEAVING FOR MY RETREAT TODAY with the blessings of my spiritual father. So I
cannot respond to you on here since no internet/or gadgets are allowed (basic cel phone usage only; no
internet on the premises as I’ve given my word).
Also afterwards, in the fall thanks to my spiritual father’s influence (a preist for a very long time!)
I have been accepted into yet another Orthodox religious study and will continue that in the fall. Listen
I love Canada but to be in Greece again and in a holy place is something wonderful. I have enough credits
at U of Toronto that I can do this finally!
God bless you all in Christ! We are all in this together. I do not know you brothers but Jesus loves you
all. And by God’s merciful Grace– so do I.
@Robert thanks for letting me talk on here freely God bless you I will pray that you are strengthened
and remain the sweet softspoken person I believe you in real life as on here. where I am going is a very
holy place so I will make sure to light candles for you and pray for you in Christ.
@Wesley, David, Keith, Tim, Rev. Johnson: I stand with you as I stand with Orthodox and KNOW you are
brother’s in Christ by our side. Tell your fellow protestants to know it too. Family members are often
the most hateful to each other but Christ our Father watches it all and is not impressed. He will bring
us together in the future but in His way not ours. May more of us understand this! Of course I will pray
for you too.
@Fr. John Whiteford Of course I will light a candle for you. God bless you I know the Devil has
particular hatred for priests. I will add my small prayers so that you may destroy him in your own part
of the fight. Where I am going I will ask the righteous men to pray for your continued stregthening.
@Vincent, Canadian and the rest of you. God bless and I leave you with this: St Dismas(Thizmas) as
some call him, the thief on the cross what did he have? Two things only: he knew Christ was the One
who He claimed to be (so he had BASIC christology) “when you enter into your kingdom…” and second
faith in Christ “remember me…”. and nothing else!
Yet Jesus said “today you will be with me in paradise” I am not saying that we should remain in the
**basic** level but at LEAST honor it! For if we have that in common WE ARE BROTHERS IN CHRIST whether
individuals on both sides like it or not!
For who are we to judge the servant of another? To His master he will stand or fall. But Christ is able to make him stand…
God bless you all!
Grace and peace!
I am off. and my ride is here and waiting patiently
My ride is here early he is waiting . bye bye
Robert said: “I would encourage you to visit a local Orthodox church to see early Christianity in action.”
This may sound trite or foolish to Protestants, it did to me. But I went anyway. I discovered that when Orthodox say “come and see” it is not just some consumeristic attempt to seduce the weak with aesthetics.
Orthodox worship was so foreign, yet so laden with ancient dogma, truth and beauty. You come and actually see the Tradition in action. The body is fully engaged not just the mind. The chanting of the Liturgy, as music does, puts those ancient words into the mind and heart like nothing I have experienced. More scripture is chanted and read than anywhere I have been. Your legs know you are at worship after standing for 1 to 3 hours, yet you need not stand in one place but can move around freely. The heavenly liturgy that is portrayed in Revelation comes to life. You learn to live liturgically as the Apostles and saints of all ages have. This is to say nothing of the beautiful Christological and theological content of all services. Yes, something special is being protected here, something is being treasured, passed on for the wise and the simple alike. Something or rather someone that is greater than myself. Someone I do not just learn about or pray to, but someone I participate in. The scriptures come to life within the church.
I would love to visit an Orthodox church sometime!
It doesn’t sound foolish to me. I’ve been to one Orthodox service, and even though I’m an outsider, I agree with how you present its effect on the worshiper. It is quite an embodied experience that is, sadly, lacking in many Reformed churches that are overly-cerebral.
But that isn’t a sufficient reason to convert to Orthodoxy. At best, it’s a goad to Protestants to become more embodied in their worship.
This would assume that Classical Protestantism is capable of producing such a thing. Perhaps to some extent with the Lutherand and Anglicans, but not for the Reformed. John Knox comes to mind.
I know plenty of Protestants working on a more embodied form of worship. That’s the nice thing about being Protestant. We can (1) recognize that we’ve made a mistake, and (2) work to fix it when we do. It’s a much more humane view than pretending to have unrevisable normativity in the words of mere men.
I hear what you are trying to say but how is trending to a more ancient worship, or incarnational worship, or physical worship–whatever you want to call it–how does this replace repentance from schism?
Really? So what Reformed bodies reject the regulative principle now?
I didn’t say anything, Canadian, about not repenting of schism. But I suppose you’re going to first have to convince me that I *am* in schism from the One True Church before your argument will work.
Canadian’s question is still valid whether you believe to be in schism or not. The questions stands. How does one go about repenting of schism? Perhaps you need not answer this question for yourself because you believe yourself to not be in schism, but the fact that schism (divisions) is sin means that one would need to repent of it. Again, how does one (whether you or me or the guy down the street) go about it?
How can the Reformed tradition do this? How could it be possible with their version of the Regulative principle of worship? Such a thing might be possible among the Lutherans, but I can’t see it with the Reformed.
Perry and Jnorm,
I may be mistaken, but I don’t think all the ecclesiastical bodies within the Reformed faith tradition hold to the Puritans Regulative Principle, or that of the Radical Reformation. I think it is pretty clear that John Calvin himself didn’t hold to the Regulative Principle. So right there in Calvin would be a good place for the Reformed tradition to start with producing a more embodied worship.
How could this be possible for NAPARC(North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) churches? Aren’t they thee official and most respected reformed group in North America? The Calvinists I know tend to make it seem as if those outside NAPARC aren’t “really” Reformed.
So how could such a thing happen in NAPARC churches? And if you are not a part of NAPARC then what’s the point? Why stay Reformed?
Also, you mentioned John Calvin and how he never was an advocate of puritan worship. Well, couldn’t an argument be made with the Genevan Book of Church order that on some issues he approved of puritan worship? Or is that too far fetch an argument to make?
Either way, it would seem extremely difficult for the Reformed tradition to do, since that tradition of the Reformation seems to pride itself on the Reforming of Roman Catholic church worship.
To go back and undo what they did would cause problems. So why go through all the trouble?
I don’t know a single thing about the NAPARC. I am with you, however, that it would be difficult at this point to change such engrained habits and customs among Reformed churches. Calvin was probably pretty close to the Puritans on worship, but there is a section in his Institutes that seems (to me at least) to suggest that he wasn’t dogmatic on the Regulative Principle. That might be a good place to start.
Well said Wesley & Tim’s point of Protestants “working on a more embodied form of worship” is a fact and should be granted. ‘Some’ Anglicans (Reformed), Lutherans and Presbyterian denominations have outright rejected “The Regulative Principal of Worship” as most Puritans understood it.
I cannot speak to other ‘traditions’ but in the CREC (Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals) Pastor Jeffery J. Myers’ _The Lords’s Servce_
is a good place to start. Myers (w/James B. Jordan & Pastor Peter Liethart and many others) have been making new attempts to at least ‘reformulate’ a Regulative Principle by attempting more rigerously draw out a Liturgy from the Old Covenant, Revelations, Calvin… Wesley’s right that starting with Calvin, they’ve also read Mercerburg Theology
(by Pastor Peter J. Liethart) and have essentially embraced a ‘covenant renewal’ form of worship that is both Liturgical and Sacramental in tone…as least in theory (in practice, the long lecture/sermon still dominates the Sacraments). There is a strong sense that disembodied Gnosticism is not only to repudated (see Phillip Lee’s _Against The Protestant Gnostics_ a popular book in CREC circles 30 yrs ago).
Most interestingly, these men have read Orthodox’s Alexander Schmamann’s _For The Life of The World_
with joy and much approval. And most CREC Pastors/Churches wear vestments (robes), have kneelers, recite or sing the Nicean Creed…but looking and sounding as more like Roman Catholics than Orthodox.
Obviously, this reading and embrace of Liturgical & Sacramental worship in the spirit of anti-Gnosticism has NOT lead these men to embrace Orthodoxy. Perhaps they fall close to what Tim calls “Classical Catholicism”? These various groups have their own take (dare I say ‘Tradition”) as to what is right and wrong — and this rediscovery & development of Liturgical & Sacramental worship within Protestantism is (as might be expected)…evolving.
I’d guess that most of the Orthodox viewing all this from the outside…look on in wonder at our attempts to “Re-Create the Wheel” as if it has not only already been done centuries before…but is “There” waiting to be embraced in Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy!
Thus our discussion, dialogue and arguments here. Let us continue it…as we reason together over it all. Perhaps if we are no too proud to listen to each other, and be attentive to the Spirit…we will ALL learn something useful…as I trust the Love of Christ compells us to “persuade men.”
You are right that 2 Timothy 3:16 doesn’t say Scripture’s nature as God-breathed elevates it over tradition, but it doesn’t have to say that in order for my position to hold up. Sola Scriptura does not teach that everything we believe must necessarily come from the Bible and nowhere else. It is the Bible Onlyism position I outlined which maintains that view. The claims of sola Scriptura are less radical than that. We don’t need for the Bible to teach sola Scriptura in order for sola Scriptura to be believed. We do, however, believe the Bible leads us inevitably to the conclusion of sola Scriptura, again, as I said, because of the very nature of Scripture.
You make an interesting argument for the God-breathed nature of church traditions that are not contained or passed down in Scripture. The Holy Spirit was certainly active in multiple ways in the church beyond the composition of the documents that constitute the New Testament and beyond the death of the apostles. I want to affirm that I agree with you on that point. I believe strongly that the Holy Spirit is active in the church today. If you believe he is as well, tell me, is he inspiring any traditions today? Anything God-breathed coming from the Spirit in the church in this generation or any time near it? If not, why not? You suspect I limit the Spirit’s ministry to the Bible after the death of the apostles, but I suspect you limit the ministry of the Spirit (in the way you say I do) to the early church. Am I wrong?
The fact is that the activity of the Spirit is not restricted to inspiration. The Holy Spirit can be active without inspiring something. Just because the Holy Spirit is at work in a given person or a given church function or activity, it doesn’t mean that the result is God-breathed. You gave three biblical evidences for why tradition should be viewed as God-breathed. I don’t think any of them individually, nor the three taken together, make your case or lead to your conclusion.
John 16:13 is a promise given to the apostles, not the whole church in all ages. The promise was fulfilled, for I believe the apostles were indeed led into all truth by the Spirit. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 presents several flaws for your use of it and your position. I’ll mention just three. First, it wasn’t the bishops alone gathered in council, but the whole Jerusalem church, the laity included, along with those disputant parities in the debate. The conclusion was reached on congregational grounds, not episcopal grounds. Second, the final voice that wins everyone over is that of James, and James rests his case on the confirmation of the Old Testament. It is only after the Scriptures are consulted to corroborate and confirm James’ position that it seemed good to the church and the Spirit. Third, the decision of the council was significantly ignored by Paul himself in a number of his post-conciliar letters. Paul wholeheartedly agreed with the substance of the council’s decision (that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians), but some of the particulars (e.g., the Jewish dietary restrictions) he felt free to ignore. Paul felt no such freedom to ignore what he himself proclaimed to be the God-breathed Scriptures, which means he probably didn’t consider the decision of the council to be of the same nature and authority as conciliar tradition.
The final text you mentioned, Ephesians 4:7-13, tells us about the different spiritually gifted offices given to the church. But in no way does the establishment of a church office or function entail or prove or guarantee that the things that result from those offices will be inspired and equal with Scripture in nature and authority. Do you believe that the pastor in your local church is giving you that which is God-breathed and equal with Scripture when he opens his mouth to preach and teach? Being spiritually gifted to fill and/or fulfill a divinely established office or function in the church does not mean one is delivering anything God-breathed when he operates in his gifts in his appointed office. It certainly can mean that the Spirit is powerfully using him and mightily working through him, but that isn’t the same thing as delivering divinely inspired special revelation to him or through him, which is what Scripture is. So I think the biblical line of reasoning you provided is extremely unsuccessful and unconvincing.
I have no doubt that you are uncomfortable with my insistence that either the Bible or the church must ultimately be primary over the other. Your position looks good on paper, but it just doesn’t work that way in reality. In the end, either Scripture or the church and her tradition is going to have the final word. Ultimately, either Scripture will dictate what the church’s tradition must be, or the church will dictate what the Scriptures must say and teach. You will find yourself saying, “Scripture mandates that the church believe and practice this,” or you will say, “Tradition mandates that Scripture teaches this.” This will be the key. Is the ultimate authority that is appealed to in any matter of controversy, dispute, confusion, or question Scripture or church tradition? And if the church has decided and established that a given tradition says or mandates x, are the Scriptures ever give the place to reform or change or annul the church’s decision? If not, my point is proven, uncomfortable as it may be.
To conclude, I am very glad you provided me with some purely oral, extra-biblical traditions that you take to be God-breathed and of equal and binding authority with Scripture. Notice what they are: weekly Wednesday and Friday fasts; communion without a bishop is invalid; special fasts during Lent; weekly recitation of the Nicene Creed at Sunday worship. Two things here: First, I find absolutely no reason to believe those things are God-breathed and equal with the Bible. Second, those things are completely unnecessary. By ‘unnecessary,’ I do not mean they are worthless or wrong or anything of that sort. I find absolutely nothing wrong with observing and practicing those things.
What I mean by ‘unnecessary’ is that none of those things are essential, fundamental, or foundational to the core of the true Christian Faith (we obviously don’t lose any of Christianity if we lose any of those traditions), to our salvation (no one’s salvation rests on the observance of special fasts, for example), or to living a godly life. They are adiaphora, indifferent, neither to be taught nor forbidden. The church may receive them or not at her own discretion, but the church may not bind them upon conscience since they are unnecessary.
These sorts of customs and observances are usually what some Orthodox have in mind when they speak of tradition, and I don’t see the necessity or the tremendous importance of holding on to them at all cost. If they aren’t essential to the Faith, they may come and go as time and circumstance dictate. It isn’t ultimately important. Have we lost the Faith without them? I don’t think we have.
I like your questions and responses. I think you and I are going to have to agree to disagree for the time being on the basis for sola scriptura. This raises the question: Where does sola scriptura come from? From what I can tell your reasoning seems to be that if you read Scripture you will sooner or later come to the principle of sola scriptura. I have a historical answer which I hope to provide in the next blog posting. I look forward your reaction to the posting: Where Does Sola Scriptura Come From?
As regards the Holy Spirit’s inspiring the Church today. One of the greatest miracles is the Holy Spirt’s coming down upon the bread and wine in the Eucharist turning them into Christ’s body and blood. You might want to read Kyriacos Markides’ “Mountain of Silence” which describes monasticism as it is lived out today. I read it and found it inspiring. I don’t want to discount all the positive examples that Yorgo gave in comments but I take the Orthodox position that the fullness of grace is to be found in the Orthodox Church because she has kept intact the teachings of the apostles.
With respect to the Bible vs. the Church question, you dismissed my response as not workable in reality. Okay, give me a workable answer: Where should I go next Sunday to find a working example of a church living by the principle of sola scriptura? PCUSA? PCA? OPC? CREC?
One last point, all the examples I gave you of extra-biblical tradition which you considered unnecessary adiaphora, these are non-negotiable items for the Orthodox Church. If you want to be Orthodox, you are obligated to accept them as a normative part being an Orthodox Christian. Keep in mind that Orthodoxy sees them as integral to our salvation in Christ, not in terms of being forgiven of our sins and going to heaven, but in terms of spiritual growth in Christ. It’s a lot like being on a football team and being required to show up for practice and listening to the coach. In Orthodox Christianity there are no free agents, we all belong to a team. Faith in Christ is not so much intellectual assent to a set of doctrines but being united to Christ and his Bride, the Church. I understand where you’re coming from, I’ve been there and I derived a lot of blessings from my Evangelical past. If you do have the opportunity to visit an Orthodox church, my advice to you as a convert is that you go to one where the service is mostly or all in English. Peace and Grace to you,
You said, “From what I can tell your reasoning seems to be that if you read Scripture you will sooner or later come to the principle of sola scriptura.”
It’s not so much that I think one will come to the conclusion that the Bible in some way teaches sola Scriptura if one persists in reading it. It’s my view that when one has read and learned from the Bible exactly what the Scriptures are, their nature and power and efficacy, they will see that the Bible is like nothing else God has given to his church. The Bible is above and beyond any other gift and treasure given to the people of God. It is of a nature and power and authority that transcends any tradition. Sola Scriptura is centrally about the absolute uniqueness of Scripture, the holiness of Scripture. Hence, when we say the “Holy Bible,” we really mean it in a strong sense.
You mentioned your view of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Lord’s Supper. I do not share that view, so I do not see the Spirit doing that act in the church either today or anytime in the past. (I appreciate the book recommendation!).
From what I have heard about the PCUSA, I would not hold them up as any kind of example of sola Scriptura in action. I know almost nothing about the PCA, OPC, or the CREC. So I can’t comment on them. I suppose a good example today of a model that effectively functions under sola Scriptura in action and in practice is the Reformed Baptists, those who adhere to and confess the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
Thanks for a great discussion! I am indeed looking forward to your next post in the series. I expect to learn something and to continue being challenged in my thinking. I appreciate the efforts of this blog that you have provided for us. I hope you get many more readers.
Grace to you and peace,
Thanks. I hope to get my next posting up soon.
You do know that the Reformed Baptists reject infant Baptism, just like the Anabaptists that use to follow Zwingli before them. So how can you look to them as a prime example of Sola Scriptura? Wouldn’t they be a prime example of Solo Scriptura?
You’ll have to tell me what solo Scriptura is. Of course I know that Baptists reject infant baptism. They do so because the Bible doesn’t teach it. So yes, I think the Reformed Baptists would be a pretty good example. They wouldn’t be the only example, but they are good one, I think.
It may be true that you believe and judge that the scriptures inevitably lead (deductively?) to the doctrine of sola scriptura, but this is exactly to beg the question with respect to Sola Scriptura’s essential constituents, namely that anyone’s judgment as to what scripture teaches is supremely normative for the person making the judgment. Even if Scripture were the only infallible source of teaching, this would not be sufficient for sola scriptura to be true. So you need to show that Sripture teaches this other essential constituent of sola scriptura, namely the right of private judgment.
I also think its possible for ecclesial judgments to be ultimately normative without being inspired.This historically has been a possible possition. That said you, say that the Spirit was active in the history of the post-apostolic church without inspiring action, but as far as I can see, this will leave the formal canon of scripture itself as something revisable. This leaves scripture itself in flux. Why think that the canon establiushe dby Protestants in the 16th century is beyond revision? If providence allowed errors in the canon for 1500 years, why not for 500?
On the other hand, certainly plenty of the councils that Protestants claim to accept explicitly teach about themselves that they are “Spirit Inspired.” It seems not a little ad hoc for Protestants to accept the doctrinal judgments of those councils in this area but reject them in other areas. More directly it seems good reason for thinking that the Church when it excersized its most singular and authoritative voice seems to directly contradict your view. So when you ask if the Spirit is inspiring things today, I’d ask you if he inspired those councils as they claimed they did?
Further the limitation of the Spirit’s ministry to the Bible after the death of the apostles seems problematic, since the church simply didn’t have a Protestant canon of scripture at any point. While the canon was fluid for some time, none of the various lists end up producing a Protestant canon.
If the Spirit is active without inspiration, do you mean to advance the thesis that the Spirit can will things that can fail to come to pass, a kind of shatterable or defeasible motion of creatures? Calvinists will have a rather large problem swallowing that. Second, while it may be true that the giving of the Spirit for a use doesn’t entail inspiration, this seems to miss the relevant question, which would be whether the giving of the Spirit can be for the exercise of an ultimately normative judgment without inspiration? Your position seems to simply assume that it cannot be so. If the church had and could pass on such authority that didn’t entail inspiration that would falsify sola scriptura all by itself. The best Protestants could do at that point would be something like the Prima Scriptura position of the Laudians. But that would still put the church in the position of making infallible judgments which would be inconsistent with Protestant committments.
Your reading of John 16 seems odd since Protestants usually apply it to all believers in all ages as supporting the priesthood of all believers. But since you restrict it, that is one less reason for believing that Protestant distinctive. Do you also wish to limit the teaching that is given by the Spirit to the Apostles there to the Apostles too? The fall out from such a reading would be that Protestants have none of that teaching that came forth from the Apostles speaking via their own ministers. That seems problematic. That said, the question is not whether it is primarily spoken of the Apostles but whether it is transferrable in part or in whole, that is whether it is absolutely spoken of the Apostles or not. The NT certaintly at points talks as if the Apostles were passing on at lest in part what they received. (2 Tim 1:6) More directly, Jesus speaks of sending out teachers (matt 23:34), do you mean to suggest that this too is limited to the apostles and their immediate disciples such that no protestant teachers are sent by Jesus? From whom then do Protestant teachers obtain their commission? And did such teachers teach with Jesus’ authority or some lesser one?
As far as I can see in Acts 15, only first and second order Apostles and presbyters were at and participated in the decisions of the Acts 15 synod. Your reading of Paul’s relation to its judgments seems problematic. Supposing it was true it would imply quite directly, that Paul taught against the explicit teaching of the Holy Spirit or that the synod Scripture says is inspired by the Spirit in fact wasn’t, which would at the least cast the inspiration of Acts (not to mention Luke) in doubt or it would imply that something inspired isn’t infallible, from which one is free to dissent. None of those options seem particularly welcome to the Protestant position. ISTM that Paul takes the decisions as normative but treating matters that are ultimately indifferent in the case of food sacrificed to idols. There doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast division then between Paul’s teaching and the synod’s on that score. In any case, I can’t see any qualitative or quantitative difference between the Spirit speaking in the synod confirming its actions and him inspiring the Scriptures. In which case, this seems to be at least one example of a Spirit inspired council. We’d need a principled reason to think some form of ecclesial deism (or ecclesial Pelagianism where God relates to the church guiding it extrinsically only thru legal relationships and examples) was then true after the NT period. Do you have one on offer?
The conclusion of the synod seems to be reached on ministerial grounds in synergy with the Spirit. It is true that James speaks last, but this is in keeping since James was made a second order Apostle (Gal 1:19) and hence the overseer of Jerusalem. And James use of the OT doesn’t imply that the OT is decisive in the way Protestants think. If it were, there would be no need to cite what everyone already knew. What is normative is the apostolic interpretation of those passages.(Acts 15:19, 22) What is relevant here is not the use of the Scriptures, since all sides admit their usage, but the normative judgment rendered by the church, which is binding even on people who choose to dissent from it. Such a thing is not possible on Sola Sriptura since no judgment of the church can absolutely bind the conscience of the individual apart from that individual’s prior assent to it.
The question isn’t whether ultimately the church or scripture must be ultimately primary. The question is whether the jdugment of the individual about the Scriptures or the judgment of the Church about the Scriptures is ultimately normative or not. Without the former, Sola Scriptura collapses into Prima Scriptura at best.You write of the Scriptures dictating things relative to the church, but this is like saying that the Constitution decides cases apart from the judgment of someone reading it, namely the Supreme Court. This equivacates then on the term “dictate” confusing the material sense and the formal sense of that term. Furthermore, your position seems to leave the formal canon of scripture and what constitutes scripture functionally speaking as something for which there is no final word. Everyone is in principle then free to compose their own canon since everyone is free to dispense with tradition as ultimately normative since the canon is nothing more than a human tradition.
You ask if the scriptures can reform or annul the church’s decision, but this assumes a caricature, as if the church’s decision were made apart from use, correct and normative use of the scriptures. This assumes that the church is fundamentally a human entity which can at best only relate to divine guidence in an extrinsic way. But that is just to beg the quesiton at issue, what is the nature of the church? Can the church share in the divine energy or activity of infallibility that God possesses or no? Consequently framing the matter in this way begs the question by assuming a Protestant ecclesiology from the get-go, not to mention assuming a particularly defective Christology.
We can also turn the matter around. Is there any final appeal over against the conscience of the individual regarding what it judges scripture means? Is there any judgment of the church that can annul it? I can’t see how Sola Scriptura can make that a possibility.
You judge that the extra-biblical traditions regarding fasting and such are unnecessary to core Christian committments, but how about if we change the examples? What about the eternal generation of the Son or that the Father alone is autotheos, as both taught in the Nicene Creed and upheld by successive councils as “Spirit inspired?” The same goes for baptismal regeneration, Christological Dyothelitism and a host of other doctrines in Christology and Triadology. Claiming that Scripture teaches such things is not relevant since the question is one of ultimate normative judgment and because others who reject those doctrines among the Classical Reformers rejected them on the grounds that they so judged them to be extra-biblical. It seems to me you are assuming some “core” of Christianity which is part of what is in dispute between us. Again, that seems like question begging.
What a great response! Very intelligent, stimulating, and challenging. Thank you very much for the interaction. It is most welcomed and appreciated. You said quite a bit in your comment. So get ready for quite a bit in return lol.
First of all, it is false that an essential element of sola Scriptura is the proposition that “anyone’s judgment as to what scripture teaches is supremely normative for the person making the judgment.” That is the definition of Private Interpretation, a position I outlined in my original comment on this thread. My reading of Scripture is not my ultimate authority. The Bible itself is the ultimate authority, but the church’s tradition and the teaching/instructing authority of the local church ought to have a very significant and important place in the way we read, study, interpret, and apply Scriptural teaching. Scripture, however, is final, not the pastor and not the church’s tradition. Private judgment isn’t what’s central.
You made the statement, “Even if Scripture were the only infallible source of teaching, this would not be sufficient for sola scriptura to be true.”
That would actually make sola Scriptura analytically true. Private judgment and sola Scriptura are not identical, or at least private judgment is not the exclusive meaning or version of sola Scriptura.
Then you said, “So you need to show that Scripture teaches this other essential constituent of sola scriptura, namely the right of private judgment.”
No, I don’t. The doctrine of the right to private judgment is not and essential element of sola Scriptura, nor does sola Scriptura maintain (in contrast to Bible Onlyism) that every single thing we believe must come from the Bible.
I don’t see how the Spirit’s being active in the church but not inspiring anything leads to a revisable and fluctuating canon. Protestants didn’t establish their canon ex nihilo, of course. They merely recognized the original Old Testament canon of the Jews and the universally received canon of the New Testament that was already in force. And just for clarification, isn’t the establishment of the Old and New Testament canon that had previously been in flux for a couple centuries a brand new tradition that did not originate with the apostles? Can the church do that? Can the church create brand new traditions that do not go back to the apostles?
You note that those who were gathered together in the ecumenical councils considered the council to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. But what does that prove? Nothing at all. It establishes that they had that belief, but it says nothing about the truth value of the claim. Protestants are selective about what they accept from church councils precisely because they don’t accept them as infallible. We accept those things that are provable or demonstrable from Scripture, and the rest we feel free to discard.
You asked if I accept that the ecumenical councils that claimed inspiration are actually inspired. I do not accept it. And I think the fact that there was rampant, widespread disagreement with, and large scale rejection of, Nicea I, and that better-attended councils affirmed Arianism and dismissed Nicea I, is a sufficient proof that the early church clearly did not believe that ecumenical councils were Spirit-inspired and infallible in their pronouncements.
Briefly, you noted that there simply is no list or record of the Protestant canon in the early church. There must have been some significant group or segment of the church that affirmed it since that was the canon of John of Damascus. Others much earlier had a very close approximation of the Protestant canon (e.g., Melito of Sardis).
You said, “Second, while it may be true that the giving of the Spirit for a use doesn’t entail inspiration, this seems to miss the relevant question, which would be whether the giving of the Spirit can be for the exercise of an ultimately normative judgment without inspiration? Your position seems to simply assume that it cannot be so. If the church had and could pass on such authority that didn’t entail inspiration that would falsify sola scriptura all by itself.”
The non-inspired judgment would need to have something that makes it ultimately normative. Scripture is ultimately normative because of what it is. By its very nature Scripture is God-breathed special revelation; therefore, it is infallible and the very words and voice of God. There is no greater authority, no greater verity, no greater certainty. How does the Spirit produce something like that without it being God-breathed? Also, I would like to ask what prima Scriptura is. I have heard of it before and have seen the term tossed around, but could you tell me what it means?
Moving ahead quickly, let me say a few word in response about John 16. I don’t think the promise of the Spirit leading into all truth being directly applicable to all believers is necessary to establish the priesthood of all believers. Now the truth into which the apostles are led is passed on to us sufficiently in the Bible. I believe this because we have the core doctrines of the Christian Faith found in Scripture, we have the full gospel of our salvation found in Scripture, and we have all we need to live holy, righteous, and godly lives in obedience to Jesus in order to enter eternal life found in Scripture. Is that not enough? I think so. Everything else is adiaphora.
You mentioned two other verses in that section on John 16. Second Timothy 1:6 is speaking of Timothy being gifted to pastor the local church. That has nothing to do with passing on the Holy Spirit or the promise of John 16 or anything like that. And of course Jesus still calls and sends and commissions people as evangelists, pastors, preachers, teachers, elders, etc. Matthew 23:34, however, has specific reference to the first disciples. When we teach and preach, we do so with the authority of Jesus only when we faithfully proclaim and reiterate his word.
On Acts 15. First, you are right that only the apostles and elders participated in the decisions of the council. I was basing my statements in the previous comment from my memory of the passage without having it in font of me. I remembered the whole Jerusalem church being mentioned a couple times in the chapter, but I was confused about the involvement of the whole church in the council’s proceedings. My mistake. Thanks for the correction. Second, Scripture in no way says the council was inspired. You are reading that into the text. Just because the Spirit leads and guides us does not entail or prove that the result is necessarily God-breathed and infallible, or of equality with Scripture.
Third, about Paul’s treatment of the council’s decision. I’m expressly asserting that Paul did not find the decisions of this council infallible, inspired, or ultimately normative. He felt free to ignore some of what the council decided upon. The council said the disciples should abstain from food sacrificed to idols. Paul clearly didn’t find that necessary to be observed (Corinthians; Romans). So I do not think Paul held the council to be divinely inspired or infallible (cf. Paul’s sentiment about those in authority in Jerusalem in Galatians 1 and 2). But the council’s not being inspired has nothing to do with the inspiration of Luke and Acts.
Fourth, the final appeal that is made in the council before we are given the council’s decision is made to the Hebrew Scriptures by James. The decision is final only after the Scriptures are consulted and found to confirm Peter’s testimony. Notice that it was James’ private judgment that carried the day after everyone agreed with his reading. And James drew the conclusion he did because of the corroboration and confirmation of Scripture.
After James quotes the Hebrew Scriptures, Acts 15:19 says, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” After James says the Scriptures confirm what Peter has said and quotes the OT, he says “therefore,” i.e., because the Scriptures confirm what Peter has said, “it is my judgment.” James gives his private judgment based on Scripture’s corroboration of the position Peter contends for. There is no escaping private judgment either on your view or mine. Private judgment will always play a role both in interpreting tradition and in interpreting Scripture. It’s just the nature of the case.
Now you used the term ‘ecclesial deism. I like the term. It gave me some good food for thought. Thanks! I can confidently say I do not believe in any form of ecclesial deism. I do not separate the Spirit from the church by denying that the Spirit inspires any tradition or ecclesial decision. Perhaps one issue at play here is this: Can something be special revelation and not be inspired? Conversely, can something be inspired that is not special revelation? Do you have any thoughts on that question?
Continued in Part Two
The Acts 15 Council did not use Sola Scriptura to authoritatively determine the will of the Spirit:
v8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
v12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.
The Council examined personal experiences of Gentile missionary activity, the testimony of miracles and
wonders, and also the Apostolic interpretation of the prophetic scriptures.
James’ private judgement did not carry the day. James proclaimed what seemed good to the Holy Spirit and
the Apostles ought to be done. By the way, the reason there was great dispute was that the clear testimony
of the OT scriptures was to circumcise and keep the law.
Thanks for the comment. My argument was not that the Acts 15 council used sola Scriptura. And it’s clear to me that James’ private judgment did carry the day. His wasn’t the only private judgment, of course, but it was his final word, and that from the Scriptures, that convinced the council to side with Barnabas and Paul.
Thanks for the reply. First a housekeeping matter. There is no need to post my comments as it takes up more space and I already know what I wrote.
I deny that it is false that the right of private judgment is an essential conceptual constituent of sola scriptura. It is maintained both implicity and explicitly by standard Reformed sources. Try Charles Hodge for example, systematic theology,
vol. 1, chapt 6, sec. 5. So yes, the Protestant doctrine of the right of private judgment is an essentialc constiuent of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. If it wern’t Luther’ cconscience could be made captive by judges of what Scripture means other than hiself.
If you’re judgments regarding what scripture means aren’t supremly normative for you, then can you name me another judge of what scripture means that can obligate you to assent even if you disagree with it? I can’t think of any if SS is true.
To say that the bible is the ultimate authority is like answering the question of who the ultimate judge of what the Constitution means by replying, “The Constitution of course!” This confuses material and formal authority. I am asking whose judgment (formal) is supremely normative and not what text (material) is supremly normative.
As for analytic truths, they have fallen on hard times philosophically speaking. So it is controversial that there are such things in the first place. This has been so for about 30 years or more. But even if scripture being the only infallible source of teaching were an analytic truth that would be harmful to the Protestant case for the simple reasons that analytic truths concern the relations of ideas and not matters of fact. If it were analytically true, this wouldn’t inform us about any matter of fact. Yet SS is supposed to be a factual matter.
Furthermore, if scripture were the only infallible source of teaching, this wouldn’t make it analytically true. It is only by assuming certain conceptual content of terms like “scripture” that motivates your thinking here, not to mention a specific view of God. In anyc ase it isn’t analytically true since the statement that scripture is the only infallible source of teaching is a factual claim, and it wasn’t so while scripture was being written in the case of the NT by some of the apostles and their associates. The apostles could speak as inspired prophets prior to it being written down, which would imply that there was some other infallible source of teaching at that time.
I never claimed that the right of private judgment (TROPJ) is a “version” of sola scriptura. Nor did I claim that is was the exclusive semantic content of the idea. I claimed it was an essential part of the idea. Consequently, in order to defend SS, one has to defend all of its essential parts. Lose one of the parts and the idea is an idea of something else.
You claim that TROP is not an essential part of SS.But a simple denial of my claim and supporting argumentation isn’t sufficient here. You need to bring forth some counter argument and evidence to support that denial, otherwise it is standing in mid air.
Here is why in part it is an essential part of SS. If the individual judges that Scripture teaches X and the ecclesial authorities teach ~X, the ecclesial authorities cannot obligate the individual to believe ~X. The judgment of the individual trumps that of the ecclesial authorities. That is, all ecclesial authority is pen-ultimately related or subordinate to the authority of the individual’s judgment. Those authorities can obligate the individual only if that individual assents to them. If this weren’t so, then the individual could never appeal to his own conscience over and above the authority of the church.
As for your remarks concerning the Spirit being active in the church but not inspiring anythuing leads to a revisable canon, there are a couple of things to notice here. First, I didn’t say that the Spirit’s activity in the church entailed that said activity was that of inspiration. I’ve distinguished between inspiring activity and infallible activity. The latter is entailed by the former, but they are not co-extensive. That is all inspired things are infallible things, but not all infallible things are inspired things.
Second, if you grant that it is possible for the Spirit to lead the church without fail, then it is possible even on your own grounds for there to be infallible but not inspiring activity of God. That seems inconsistent with your denial that such a thing can’t take place. On the other hand, if you say that the Spirit leads the church with the possibility of failure and hence fallibly, that seems to imply that the Spirit is either not fully divine or that God can fail in what he sets out to do. Neither of those seem particularly attractive options.
Third, my claim was not how you presented it. Rather my claim was if the church is fallible in any and all of its acts and the formal canon is an act of the church, then the formal canon is revisable. If the church could be wrong, (and Protestants think it has been on the canon and other matters) then Protestants could be just as easily be wrong about the canon they have now or at any other time.
While I grant that Protestants didn’t invent their canon out of whole cloth this is really irrelevant. Neither did the Mormons or lots of other groups. That doesn’t imply that their justification for their canon is adequate.
Saying that Protestants merely recognized the OT canon of the Jews isn’t helpful for a number of reasons. First, I do not grant that the Hebrews and Jews had a single fixed canon of the OT. Second, the question isn’t whether Protestants recognized said groupings, but whether they did so with authority to render the recognition supremly normative and hence beyond revisability. If they didn’t, then their recognition is fallible, and so the canon of the OT is still revisable, which in turn implies that all Protestant doctrine is in principle revisable. That seems to clash with intutions that divine teaching isn’t revisable. Then no Protestant doctrine could ever amount to divine teaching.
Third, even if we grant this with the OT, the Jews rejected the NT in large measure, along with the Messiah. That seems to show that their judgment concerning the OT canon is fallible and hence revisable as well. So you’ve only moved the problem and not answered it.
Fourth, if church tradition is not an acceptable basis to form a fixed canon, why subtitute it with Jewish tradition, which is just as human? What do you think the latter posseses that the former does not? If the Jews had the requisite authority to fix a formal canon, why think the church, which is an inheritor of greater blessings and power lacks it?
Fifth, Protestants may have received the NT canon that was already accepted, but this won’t render the NT formal canon fixed.
Simlpy because, on Protestant grounds, the church judges something to be fixed doesn’t imply that it is so. Is that not correct? So how do we get from Protestants accepted what the church previously had done, to the conclusion that the formal canon is fixed and/or that this is a sufficient reason for Protestants to accept it as well? I can’t see how one implies the other. Can you show how the one implies the other?
You ask if establishing a formal canon centuries after the apostles amounts to a new tradition that did not go back to the apostles. The tradition does materially originate with the apostles, even if it formally does not. Formally, this isn’t a problem since on my view the church functions at times and under conditions with divine authority. I am hence not clear on what the problem would be with God infallibly working through his church to authoritatively fix a formal canon that the aposltes did not articulate. But of course, your position seems far weaker on this point, for your position seems to be that the formal canon is an even later creation, since the early church had no Protestant canon, and it is merley a human tradition and authority that functionally stands over and above a superior authority of scripture. If you’re position were consistent about not placing scripture beaneath man made fallible authorities you’d leave the canon formally open rather than claim it was fixed, or so it seems to me.
As for ecumenical councils which Protestants claim to accept teaching that they are Spirit inspired and infallible and this supposedly proiving nothing, I do not think you’ve engaged the implicit problem in your remarks. We’d need a non-ad hoc and non-quesiton begging criteria to know why we should accept such and so teachings of the councils at this point, but not at others. Second, we need this even more so since their statements run contrary to sola scriptura. Third, if the councils could adjudicate more complicated matters as in Christology and Triadology we need an explanation of why they didn’t endorse SS but something else instead? That is, they taught something else other than Sola Scriptura. It is important to keep in mind that their teachings aren’t the views of one or two fathers, but of the major sees established and taught by the apostles themselves and this is signficant since that is one of the earliest expressed tests (per Ireneaus and Tertullian) for apostolicity in the early church. At the least, it shows that the Protestant claim of continuity with the early church is far less and so their claim to be its inheritors is far weaker. The early church wasn’t Protestant. That all by itself is
problematic. So simply sticking to Protestant principles on to select and reject conciliar content leaves the Protestant in a weaker position.
Protestants accept those things in the council that they judge to be demonstratable from Scripture, but of course who is to function as a judge when one judges otherwise? Citing scripture won’t help since that is the thing upon which the judgment is made, and not the thing making the judgment, and Scripture is not an agent anymore than the Constitution is.
I can’t see why an imperial endorsement of Arianism or semi-Arianism or even an endorsement of either of them by various individual ecclesial authorities would imply that the early church did not think such councils were “spirit inspired” and infallible. You’d need to show how we get from the facts you mention to that conclusion. As yet, there is no argument to connect the premises to the conclusion you draw. That said, it is possible that the belief was present but that the Arians rejected Nicea because they thought it failed to meet the necessary and sufficient conditions for a council to be infallible. Their rejection of it doesn’t of itself prove that the said belief wasn’t present. At best here you’d be stuck forming an inductive argument. But even if true with respect to Nicea, this isn’t so with other councils in the early church that Protestants claim to accept, namely Ephesus through 3rd Constantinople where the belief is demonstratabley implicit or explicit. Your line of reasoning also ignores the fact that at times various Arians tried to work around Nicea rather than formulate a direct frontal assualt because they recognized its standing.
As far as better attended Arian synods, this of course depends on what “better” amounts to. If greater numbers of bishops that would only present a problem if the position I advocated was that the sheer number of bishops could render a council infallible. But I’ve presented no such position and the Orthodox have historically denied such a view. So I can’t see how presenting Arian synods with larger numbers touches my position. Furthermore, these synods lacked the necessary conditions for an ecumenical council, even though they at times had imperial support. For example, they lacked the requisite reprsentation by the apostolic and patriarchial sees. That all by itself places them below Nicea in authority and the Arians were quite senistive to this fact as the pro-Nicenes hit them hard on this score. The Arians were never able to have a council that could equal the authority of Nicea. All they could do was claim Nicea failed to meet certain requisite conditions.
That said, even Arian synods were synods of bishops and not the lower orders and certainly not laymen. This is an incidental fact from a hostile witness that shows that Protestantism wasn’t the faith of the early church.
As for the canon of John of Damascus, not only is your line of reasoning speculative but it is factually false. First it is speculative becuse assuming for the sake of argument that John held to the Protestant canon, it is quite possible for John, on Protestant principles, to hold a view that no one else does. We’d need some further evidence to warrant the inference that some other part of the church at his time held to it. Second, John in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith cites Wisdom (bk. ch. 15) and Baruch (bk 4. ch. 6) as scripture and neither of these works are in the Protestant canon. It is important in looking at canonical lists to know how an author or group of people groups various works. John accepts Jeremiah, but as sometimes was the case includes Baruch as part of Jeremiah’s prophetic writings. So looking at the number of books or even the names is not sufficient to ascertain what an author thought was canonical.
As for Melito of Sardis approximating the Protestant canon, close is only relevant in the cases of horseshoes and handgrenades. Melito doesn’t advocate a Protestant canon. So again, the early church did not have a protestant canon.
As for non-inspired ultimately normative judgment making power, it goes without saying that it would need something to make it so. I’ve already gestured at what would make it so, namely the reception of apostolic ministerial power under certain conditions which is passed on through the laying on of hands. If apostolic succession is true, Protestantism is false. I agree that Scripture is ultimately normative if by that we mean materially so, but I do not think so with respect to being formally so. So simply saying that Scripture is ultimately normative because of what it is not only ignores the point at issue but begs the question by assuming that apostolic authority and ministry passed on isn’t ultimately normative becuse of what it is? If such a thing is true, then how could it not be authoritative because of what it is if it is divine authority?
You ask how something can be ultimately normative and infallible without being inspired. Logically, I already sketched how it could be so-infallibility entails inspiration, but not vice versa.
Prima Scriptura in its most recent and probably narrow form was advocated by the High Church Anglicans over against the Puritans during the English Civil War (1640’s-1662). That position is that scripure is the highest and only inspired material authority and the church has the highest formal authority to judge what scripture means. Consequently the Laudians accepted that only Scripture as inspired but denied the right of private judgment and so denied sola scriptura.
John 16 may not be necessary to establish the protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, but if you concede that it doesn’t, then that is one less passage to appeal to for that doctrine and my point stands. The claim that what the Spirit led the apostles into is sufficiently passed on to us in the bible is insufficient to prove sola scriptura and here is why.
Because it could also at the same time be sufficiently passed on to us in the liturgical tradition of the church, patristic teaching and such. The only way to get sola scriptura out of your statement is to take sufficicy in an exclusivistic sense, but there is no argument on the table to that effect and no reason I can see for doing so. Do you have a reason for thinking so?
Second, it assumes that we already know what the bible is in terms of the formal canon, but I don’t see how you can know that. To speak of “core” Christian doctrines also assumes a formal canon. And secondly, we do not agree on what those core Christian doctrines are and I don’t think the Reformed adhere to the ones they claim to in specific cases (i.e. Cahalcedon).
Further, you adduce your belief that the bible passes on to us truth that the apostles were led into on the basis of these core beliefs, but isn’t that a bit circular, for how do you know what those core beliefs are supposed to be in the first place?
You claim that 2 Tim 1:6 is speaking of Timothy being gifted to pastor the local church. But this misses the point, unless you mean by “gifted” Timothy not receiving a spiritual power by the laying on of hands. It would still be the case that Timothy received a spiritual gift for ministry gotten by the laying on of hands. If this is not related to the passing on of the Holy Spirit or the promise of John 16, then a few problems present themselves. Are there spiritual gifts apart from the Spirit that Paul had and could convey by the layong on of hands? Which Spirit gave these to Paul other than the Holy Spirit?
Second, if your reading were correct, it would imply that Timothy is not one of the teachers sent out by Jesus (Matt 23:34) since his being a local pastor wouldn’t be relevant to John 16.
Furthermore, your reading assumes a specific ecclesiaological polity without argument. You are assuming that Timothy is a local “pastor” (presbyter?) with a specific meaning of what that amounts to. Most importantly, Timothy is classed as an apostle (1 Thess 1:1,cf. w/ 2:6) which makes him far greater than any local pastor, even on Protestant principles. This is a good reason for thinking that the promises of John 16 are applicable to him. And so, are also applicable to the successors of the Twelve and Paul.
Added to this is the fact that Protestants have historically denied that spiritual power is conveyed in ordination by the laying on of hands.
You assert that Jesus calls and sends ministers, but how are we to know whom Jesus calls? Simply becuse they say so? In Scripture there are only, in both the OT and NT, two forms of calling and sending. Either direclty by God with attending miracles and/or prophecy (extraordinari commissiioning) or by sending by someone who has been directly so called (ordinary commissioning). I can’t see that Protestants have either of these. Even if they did, they would be teaching with Jesus’ authority as the apostles and their sucessors did which seems to run afoul not only of sola scriptura but Reformed ecclesiology.
To say that you teach and preach with the authority of JEsus when you teach and preash accurately is to conflate authority with accuracy. I can teach and preach accurately without being so authorized. Secondly, it is rather tautological-an authority is an authority except when he’s not. Authority and normativity are wider categories than accuracy, even if in cases of supreme supernatural authority the former entails the latter. If that entailment relation is true, then it is not possible to teach and preach with the authority of Jesus without always and unfailingly doing so without error. That seems to direclty imply a kind of infallibility for the church.
Acts 15. If the Aposltes and presbyters rendered judgment for the whole church, this too seems incompatible with sola scriptura since it removes that judgment from the hands of laymen and deacons (at the least).
You assert that Scripture in no way says that the synod was inspired. But Acts 15:28 seems to imply differently. The Synod claims for itself divine activity in what it has decided. In order for your denial to have merit, you’d need to give a reason for thinking that the activity of the Spirit in so deciding wasn’t an infallible decision. Can you provide such a reason? Can you point to any other place where God fallibly decides something? And do you think God is always fallibly deciding or just sometimes and what criteria do you have on hand for discriminatig between these two cases? This is why I think there are sufficient grounds for thinking that the synod was inspired, and if not, at least infallibly guided. That again all by itself is sufficient to exclude Protestantism. So no, I am not reading that into the text and if you claim that I am, you need to provide a demonstration that I am doing so. In any case I can’t see how your reading doesn’t create massive theological problems in the doctrine of God all the way down.
I think I’ve already addressed your claim that Paul felt free to disregard the synod’s decision. First, Paul no where absolutely dispenses with it. Rather, Paul gives a qualified position, namely that in reality the pagan practice doesn’t change the food per se, but for the sake of peace and the benefit of others, one should abstain. That’s a gloss on what the synod decided, not a wholesalve dissent from it as you claim.
Second, your reading pits Paul against the decision of the Spirit and the synod. How you will sort that out in a consistent manner with a Protestant doctrine of God is beyond me.
Paul’s remarks about those in authority in Jerusalem and Galatians do not touch my position. They would if I thought that every single apostle was infallible under any and all conditions, but that is not my position, nor that of the Orthodox Church. So I can’t see how they are relevant.
And yes the council not being inspired does directly bear on the inspiration of Luke-Acts, as if the decision of the Spirit and the synod is wrong, then either the Spirit isn’t God, Acts isn’t inspired or Paul is wrong or your reading is wrong.
Since none of the other preceeding options is theologically tenable, I go with your reading is wrong and Scripture is consistent and the Spirit if fully divine.
I’d need to know why you think the final appeal is made to Scripture by James in a way that supports Sola Scriptura. First a non-SS position doesn’t preclude authorities appealing to scripture for their judgments. Second, James, even on Protestant principles doesn’t decide for the whole synod, so his appeal to scripture is just an expression of his judgment prior to the final judgment of the synod. This is why James says it is his judgment. Furthermore, Peter cites Scripture before James and that is hardly the final appeal of the council. The fact that participants in the synod cite scripture and the judgment is given after this takes place merely reflects the course of events. (And besides, “after this, therefore beause of this” was just as much a fallacy back then as it is today.) It doesn’t of itself imply SS. If you think it does, you’ll need to present an argument showing how it does so. Likewise, the mere appeal to the matter of scripture doesn’t imply James’ advocated SS anymore than say the council of Trent did since it appealed to Scripture to support its positions.
As for James expressing private judgment in the synod, your claim here rests on an equivocation. Private judgment is not a judgment made by an individual. Rather, the doctrine of the right of private judgment is the thesis that no ecclesial authority can absolutely bind and obligate the conscience or judgment of an individual without that individual’s prior assent
to that authority. If you think James is doing that, then the entire account in Acts is incoherent, since the synod would be in no position to lay an obligation ” (v. 28) on others. Please also note that those who caused the trouble in the first place were not duly authorized. (v. 24) In any case, an individual can render a judgment which is binding, obligatory or normativr on others even if they fail to agree with it. Simply because James gives his view doesn’t imply that he is endorsing the Protestant thesis of the right of private judgment.
And saying that scripture confirmed and corroberated James view seems to run afoul of SS. James view isn’t necessarily from scripture if all that is involved is confirmation and corroberation. You’d need to show his view was derived primarily from Scripture. Confirmation and corroberation is perfectly possible without Scripture being the sole infallible source of teaching.
Some more on private judgment here. Asserting that private judgment will always play a rol ein interpretig tradition committs the equivocation I noted above, and is an unsupported assertion to boot. But I think I can clarify the matter further. If for example I make the same judgment about a legal case as the Supreme Court, we agree, but my judgment does not have the force of law nor could it. Judgments concerning truth and hence knowledge are lesser in normative degree than ultimately normative judgments, even if the latter always and without fail were to entail the former. Consequently, when I make a judgment about whether X is the true church or not, I am not exercising any kind of ultimatly normative judgment. I am making a judgment concerning truth and knowledge. Even, then, if I have to make a judgment concerning knowing X, that is fulfilling the conditions on knowledge, this doesn’t mean I am engaging in private judgment in terms of binding the conscience of anyone else. I can only do the former and not the latter. Consequently, the Protestant doctrine of the right of private judgment is escapable.
I didn’t coin the term ecclesial deism. That was done by Bryan Cross, a Catholic philosopher. I did coin the term ecclesial Pelagianism, which I think is just as apt regarding formal theological statements made by Protestants. All such things are fallible human recontructions exteriorially aided by God via a template. The faith is something humans construct from given matter, namely the bible, which is why the Protestant faith is provisional and well suited to the Enlightenment and Modernity.
I do think you are committed to ecclesial deism, since you think God winds up the church and lets it go since the church after the apostolic period is strictly fallible. At best, it is a form of ecclesial pelagianism if you appeal to providential guidence. That won’t help much though since it is too vague, since God providentially guided the church to have the wrong canon of scripture for centuries, among other things. Providence guides all things, not just some.
Okay, let me try and bring this already-too-long-comment to a close lol. You said, “The question is whether the judgment of the individual about the Scriptures or the judgment of the Church about the Scriptures is ultimately normative or not. Without the former, Sola Scriptura collapses into Prima Scriptura at best.”
Ecclesial judgments have to come down to private judgments at some point. No one is able to escape private judgment entirely. Someone has to read and interpret Scripture, and someone has to read and interpret tradition, and somehow or another, the church has to decided who’s right, which further requires private judgments. A consensus has to be reached to settle the matter, but even that consensus is open to interpretation, and the consensus is merely a collection of private judgment, which is always fallible. There is no such thing as the judgment of the church apart from private judgment. You have one guy or a group of guys who teach one thing according to their private judgment, and then you convene a council to discuss and debate the matter. Those gathered in the council have to use their own private judgment to decide which side is right. No one escapes private judgment.
Again, I want to stress that Scripture has to be read and interpreted; tradition has to be read and interpreted; private judgments have to be made and interpreted; collections of private judgment have to be made and interpreted. Private judgment is never the ultimate norm, no matter how many people share that private judgment in terms of consensus. Scripture is the only sure thing. You have to have a doctrine of the Spirit inspiring the traditions and the collections of private judgments in order to maintain your position. But that is a point under dispute that you have to prove. You can’t just assume it and then use it against me like you have.
You give Protestantism the credit for allowing, in principle, the canon to be open to free revision by anyone. Protestantism doesn’t actually deserve the credit for this since lots of people in the early church felt free to compose their own canon, and not just Marcion either. Why else was there so much time before wholesale agreement on the canon unless churches were fixing their own?
You said, “You ask if the scriptures can reform or annul the church’s decision, but this assumes a caricature, as if the church’s decision were made apart from use, correct and normative use of the scriptures.”
No, it doesn’t. Of course many traditions are made with the Scripture in the picture, but proving the church always makes the normative and correct use of the Scriptures is your burden to bear. It should come as no surprise that I assume a Protestant ecclesiology as opposed to an Orthodox one since I’m not Eastern Orthodox. You can’t expect me not to assume my starting point. Of course I don’t start with your conclusion lol.
Finally, you said, “We can also turn the matter around. Is there any final appeal over against the conscience of the individual regarding what it judges scripture means? Is there any judgment of the church that can annul it? I can’t see how Sola Scriptura can make that a possibility.”
Yes, the final appeal is the Scriptures! That’s the point! Only if the judgment of the church can prove something from Scripture! All Martin Luther was asking for at the Diet of Worms was an argument from Scripture, or from plain reason, that he should recant and go against conscience. Protestants are bound and held captive in their consciences to the word of God supremely. The church must have a good reason from Scripture for why it ought to be read one way and not another. Authoritarian pronouncements from the powers that be was all Luther was given. Just because someone reads Scripture differently doesn’t mean you throw away the Bible and use the church and the tradition to lord it over those who do not instantly and mindlessly obey.
I get the feeling that there seems to be this assumption that the laity couldn’t possibly read the Bible rightly, accurately, and with profit, and come to a true understanding of any of it’s teachings. I wholeheartedly disagree with that. When it comes to accepting or rejecting certain church traditions and teachings, such as those of Triadology and Christology from the ecumenical councils, the decisions of those councils are binding for Protestants insofar as they are reproducing the teaching of Scripture. Where they are running contrary to the Bible, we reject them. If other Protestants misinterpret the Bible, so what? Does that necessarily entail that Scripture loses it authority simply because it can be misread and abused? It doesn’t work that way for the Orthodox when tradition gets misread and abused, does it? I highly doubt it.
Thanks again for that great response. I had to put a lot of thought into this comment. I look forward to your response. I promise to be more selective and brief in future comments! =]
“When it comes to accepting or rejecting certain church traditions and teachings, such as those of Triadology and Christology from the ecumenical councils, the decisions of those councils are binding for Protestants insofar as they are reproducing the teaching of Scripture. Where they are running contrary to the Bible, we reject them.”
But this always comes down to the interpretation of the individual for Protestants. Binding when I accept
something is not binding at all. My acceptance precedes the binding. And in Christological and Triadological
matters, it does not become any clearer for Protestants as evidenced by the numerous differences in these areas.
This is why MacArthur and others long rejected Eternal generaton of the Son–they can’t find it in scripture.
But this always comes down to the interpretation of the individual for Protestants.
No matter how many times converts assert this as a universal rule, it never will be.
Confessional denominations, especially, operate on the principle of conciliarism, or the judgment of the whole people. Not – I repeat, NOT – the judgment of the individual.
What you are talking about, Canadian, is the radical kind of Bible Onlyism that is mistaken for sola Scriptura in wide swaths of professing Protestantism. Your generalization applies only to those who (foolishly) pretend there is no authority PERIOD but the Bible, and who chant thoughtless mantras like “no creed but Christ” while, as Robert has ably shown in the post above, they have numerous unrecognized traditions. But in no case does your generalization apply to ALL Protestants, nor is it in any way a feature of the original Magisterial Reformation.
You said, “But this always comes down to the interpretation of the individual for Protestants. Binding when I accept something is not binding at all. My acceptance precedes the binding..”
The exact same thing could be said of the convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. The truth of Orthodoxy always comes down to the interpretation of the individual for the convert to Orthodoxy. Binding when I accept Orthodox tradition is not binding at all. Your acceptance of tradition precedes the binding.
For the convert, does he immediately and unquestioningly receive, believe, and submit to the authority and truth of Orthodox tradition, or does he have to be convinced of Orthodoxy’s truth and authority first, through his own study and research and private judgment, and then make his decision? It comes down to private judgment either way.
Everyone has to interpret tradition, just the same as they do Scripture. Even the church fathers had to interpret Scripture, and that required private judgment for them, too. No one escapes private judgment when he leaves Protestantism for Orthodoxy. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. Only you do.
Good response to Canadian. I agree with you completely.
Tim and Wesley,
No, it is different. Of course the convert uses reason and judgement and investigation. God has made us for such. However, the Protestant is using his interpretive faculties to determine for himself who he agrees with and then joins or starts a church. That church will never become the normative and binding authority for him, he only consents if he agrees and if his agreement wanes he will find another church more in line with his view. He retains at all times AUTHORITATIVE interpretive powers. Sola always reduces to this whether it is a confessional church or not. He chooses his authority based on his agreement, not based on any actual inherent authority of that body.
When someone becomes Orthodox, they use all the applicable God-given faculties but discover that he has been wrong about the nature of the church and relinquishes his own personal understanding of scripture as the final arbiter the truth. As scripture says, he submits to those that have the rule over him whether he understands or personally agrees with every detail or not, because he accepts the church’s normative and binding authority on him.
You see over and over in history and scripture where individuals may disagree on something strongly, but they ultimately submit their interpretation to the church as to a mother. Now, he can become schismatic or submit his will to the pillar and ground of the truth.
I appreciate you interaction. Thank you for contributing to this great discussion.
To be candid, I think you are twisting and spinning things in your favor. You are vying for this conceptual difference between the Protestant and the Orthodox convert, but it’s merely conceptual; the difference is not actual. You are making a distinction without a real difference as far as I can tell.
(1) My own private judgment is not my ultimate authority. It just isn’t. Period. I’m a Protestant, I fully affirm and adhere to sola Scriptura, and I can tell you honestly that my private interpretation is not my final authority. My “own personal understanding of Scripture” is not “the final arbiter of truth,” as you implicitly asserted. Maybe your private judgment was your ultimate authority and final arbiter of truth at some time in the past, but that was your own problem. It isn’t every Protestant’s problem, and it isn’t mine. I just want to make that clear.
(2) If anything, the Orthodox convert is just as guilty of private judgment as anyone else. The difference is, I don’t think private judgment is ipso facto bad, wrong, or suspect. Every church father used private judgment to help forge some of the tradition you hold to be infallible and of equal nature and authority as Scripture. That seems to be an inconsistency in the Orthodox position.
(3) You said, “However, the Protestant is using his interpretive faculties to determine for himself who he agrees with and then joins or starts a church. That church will never become the normative and binding authority for him, he only consents if he agrees and if his agreement wanes he will find another church more in line with his view. He retains at all times AUTHORITATIVE interpretive powers.”
If anything, that is precisely what the Orthodox convert is doing. He uses his interpretive faculties to determine for himself who he agrees with and then joins that church, in this case the Orthodox Church. The convert only consents to Orthodox tradition if he agrees with the Orthodox position and judges it to be true. And as you said, if this agreement wanes, he will find another church more in line with his view. Orthodox tradition will only be as binding for him as much as he yields his consent. That seems patently and manifestly obvious to me. When your argument falls right back on top of you like this, it’s a good indication of special pleading.
(4) You said, “As scripture says, he submits to those that have the rule over him whether he understands or personally agrees with every detail or not, because he accepts the church’s normative and binding authority on him.”
Do you think no Protestants ever do this? Some of them admittedly don’t, but some of them surely do, as any fair onlooker would have to admit. It is not as though once one becomes Protestant, he no longer has a church, or traditions, or teachers, or authority structures over him, etc.
Of course we submit to those who have the rule over us, the local church and denominational leadership and administration. Of course the church has a normative and binding authority. But the church is not the ultimate norm or absolutely binding authority over the mind and conscience. Scripture alone is our ultimate authority and supreme rule of faith; sola Scriptura consistently allows for all of this. In terms of authority, private judgment is way on down the list.
Everyone “chooses” to worship somewhere, I am not denying that. But your own interpretation determines who you will submit to. If you don’t interpret scripture to mean Baptismal Regeneration, or body and blood in eucharist or apostolic succession then you will not submit to that kind of authority. The convert, though studying these things, will submit to the ancient dogma of the church not trusting his own interpretation above the church.
You said: “The convert only consents to Orthodox tradition if he agrees with the Orthodox position and judges it to be true.”
This is patently false. He submits to Orthodox tradition whether he agrees or not and trusts in Christ’s promises to leading her into all truth. The father’s contribute to the Tradition but are in submission to it as the Holy Spirit is the life of the church which is connected to Christ her head. For Sola, the buck will always stop at you or who you choose to submit to. No Protestant body claims normative and binding authority! Whether I agree with the seventh Council or not, it has authority over me and the only way out is schism. This is the difference, and that is why the sin of schism cannot be repented of while remaining Protestant.
When I became Orthodox I chose what the Church had to say over what I personally believed for years in the area of chillism, Pacifism, and the ever-virginity of our blessed Mother. And so I would have to disagree. It’s not about me picking and choosing what I personally like about Orthodoxy. I heard better singing and preaching in the black Baptist church I was raised in. Instead, it’s about Orthodoxy and simply accepting what She teaches as true. And this regardless if I am able to understand it or not. Let alone agree with it.
Tim, Conciliarism is not the thesis that judgment is rendered by the whole people, but by representative and divinely authorized office holders, namely bishops.
Second, is there any judgment that can absolutely trump the judgment of an individual on your conciliar schema?
None that I can see. So all of the secondary authorities are normative for the individual because he grants them that status and can revoke it as well.
So it seems to me that Canadian is right on the money and that you have failed to understand your own position adequately.
Righhhhhht, Perry. I’ve made conciliarism a special topic of study for about 7 years, but I don’t understand it or its relations to my own tradition.
Let’s try again. I’m talking about Western conciliarism, and I’m expressly talking about a paradigm that is OUTSIDE your gratuitous assumptions that recognition of truth has to be “unrevisable” and can only be transmitted through a proper chain of tactilely-ordained episcopal officeholders.
In fact, in Western conciliarism, one of the guiding principles is that Christ has given His Church the power always to prevent her own destruction – even if that means going OUTSIDE the formal, de facto legalisms of the law or tradition. This is because, as we recognize over here in the West, “custom without truth is just ancient error” – meaning that truth is not always one-to-one identical with “tradition.” You can’t think this way because of your notions about “unrevisability” – but I don’t operate in the mental box you do, so this is no problem for me.
Also, as Western conciliarism developed, it did indeed make lots of room for other voices besides those of the bishops, including, yes, horror of horrors, the voices of the hoi polloi laymen. Beginning about 250 years before the Reformation, the theoretical groundwork for the mode of conciliarism of which I am speaking was put together out of numerous strands of patristic and Medieval tradition, until the point where, on the eve of the Reformation, wide sectors of the Western Church realized that the papacy was utterly broken and the only way to fix Christendom was to do an end-run around the rigid, de facto laws about the authority of Councils (laws laid down almost solely by the papalists, and solely for their benefit). One of the tactics adopted to combat the papacy was precisely the idea that the Church, in a time of emergency, could circumvent the de facto laws in order to preserve her own existence. This principle was laid down not by heretics or by the Reformers, but by good Medieval churchmen. By the time the Reformed confessions were being drafted, that “emergency situation” had, thanks to Rome’s recalcitrance, become the normal mode of living.
You can complain all you want from the comfort of your arm chair about IDEAS, and spin out these pretty theories where only one logical result can obtain from each IDEA, and TERMS (like “bishop”) can only mean one thing forever, and anything else is just dumb heresy, but, if I may be blunt, that’s rather unphilosophical of you, a professional philosopher. You know things aren’t that simple. Or at least you should.
I can’t see how claiming to be in a position to know amounts to a demonstration that you do in fact know. Please provide a reason for thinking my claims are wrong, rather than speaking to your position. Your remarks are demissive at best.
If I am wrong, please point me to clear cases in pre-Reformation concliarism that entailed per se lay, diakonal and presbyterial representation. That would be a simple way to refute my claim. So far, I’ve seen dismissive fluff.
Since I haven’t stated my assumptions, gratuitous or otherwise, I am not sure how you know what is beyond them or within them. As someone trained primarily in the western history of ideas, with special emphasis on late antiquity and the medieval period, I find it ironic that you seemto think that my “assumptions” are particularly “eastern” or that I am limited to understanding things based on geography or tradition. I can understand how Calvinists understand things-I was one after all and my memory isn’t that poor. Remember, the Roman empire in the geographical East was “western.”
Apostolic succession, just to bring you up to speed is far more than tactual succession, so that if you are going to assualt the position, please not to attack a straw man.
Second, I don’t take presbyter and bishop to have undeveloped and unaltered semantic content. If you knew my position on this, you’d know this to be true. I’ve had a few contributors to my blog write on this very subject.
And plenty of Romans in the East clearly recognized that custom without truth was to be rejected. Where do you think all those Lombards, Franks and other uncultured western barbarians learned it from, the Muslims? Then again…While succession may entail truth that doesn’t imply that an utterance of truth constitutes a true church apart from succession, which you seem to be assuming. Such a view has more in common with those at Korah.
I do not think the way I do because I think truth is unrevisable. Thinking that truth is unrevisable comes with being a non-relativist about truth and being a metaphysical realist. I think this way because about what I think about Christ and his relation to his body. More to the point, I am able to understand that you think that our access to the truth is provisional and so we should be more conservative and irenic. I get that, but the picture that this requires as far Christ and the church strike me as sub-biblical as well as implying all kinds of epistemological mistakes. Whether you operate in the same “mental box” as I do doesn’t imply you don’t suffer from specific philosophical problems, just that you are pyschologically disposed to not acknowledge them.
Conciliarism in the west did permit laymen, as a kind of representative, not as laity per se, or at least as far as I know. As far as fixing Christendom the protestant end run doesn’t seem to have done its job, not by a long shot-the path to hell and all that. Running around the rules wasn’t and isn’t so glamorous as you try to make it sound. They were just as corrupt and power driven as the popes. In any case, lay participation per se in the west would make no difference to me either way anymore than the abuse or actions of popes would.
Your rhetorically dismissive remarks about armchairs and petty remarks are not only unwelcome but unhelpful. They advance nothing, including your position. I’d recommend that you learn to engage the actual argument rather than throw up dust and emotionally charged language.
You assert that ecclesiastical judgments have to come down to private judgments at some point. First this turns on an equivocation on private judgment as I alreay noted. Second, it assumes that such judgments cannot be guided and co-decided by the Trinity in synergy. But why assume that, especially when Scripture gives us counter examples? (Acts 15:28)
So while it may be true that individuals are involved in making judgments about texts, that doesn’t prove that the judgment they render is incapable of absolutely binding the consciences of others. How exactly does one connect those two ideas? I can’t see how unless we supply the ideas that the church is strictly speaking a human entity and lacks divine power and authority to make such judgments. So here the question that divides us, is what is the nature of the church? And that is a function of a larger question, Who is Christ? We don’t agree on the nature of the church because we disagree about fundamental Christological matters. The Reformed simply teach a different Christ than taught by the councils of the early church.
You write that a consensus has to be reached to settle the matter, but Protestants in principle can never settle a matter since the judgments of any and all protestant bodies is fallible and revisable. You argue from the fact that all judgments have to be interpreted by their readers and so this implies that said judgments are fallible. But this is akin to saying that since every citizen’s views lack the force of law and they have to interpret the Constitution or Supreme court decisions then it follows that the Constitution and the Supreme court decisions do not have the force of law. This is confusing epistemological conditions with metaphysical conditions. There are conditons a reader has to meet to know what X text means, but those are entirely different from the conditions for X text to *be* ultimately normative. The text can be ultimately normative even if some of its readers fail to meet the conditions for knowing what X text means.
Secondly, your argument leaves out the Spirit, whom Scripture indicates in the only council we know of in the NT makes the decision with the church leadership. If that continues today, then it is false that all ecclesiastical judgments entail only the judgments of fallible individuals, unless you want to say the Spirit works fallibly and defeasibly, which seems to endanger not only a Calvinist theory of providence-a failing deity since he doesn’t always gets what he wills, but the full divinity of the Spirit and the Trinity to boot.
If private judgment is not the ultimate norm or authority, what person’s judgment can trump that of the individual?
You may be right that I may need a doctrine of the Spirit intimately and infallibly guiding the church, but the fact that my position entails such a doctrine hardly seems problematic since it is something I expressly advocate, particulrly in denying ecclesial deism and pelagianism. Our doctrine if heavenly, not a man made re-construction.
Secondly, I didn’t merley assume it, but I argued for it by scripture, among other things, in arguing for apostolic succession.
And if scripture is the only “sure thing” then the human tradition that judged what was the only sure thing is either another sure thing or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then what you take to be scripture and what it teaches isn’t a sure thing at all, but merely provisional. If it is, then scripture isn’t the only sure thing. In either case, the claim is false.
I wasn’t giving Protestantism credit for allowing in principle the canon to be open to revision. I was rather making an implicit argument that not only their stated claims that the canon is permanently closed, but their Christiani intuitions that it isn’t revisable are contrary to their own position and so they are inconsistent. I was operating with an internal critique.
As for the claim that lots of people felt free to compose their own canon, this is a gross over simplification. Generally laity did not compose any canons of scripture. This was done by bishops, as a rule of faith. Generally over time, these coallesced into one list.
If you think Marcion and others are of help to you, you’d need to show a few things. First that they represented Christian teaching on that and other relevant points. Surely Marcion is a bad candidate for thinking so. Second, you’d need to show that we should follow his and/or their example. Do you seriously mean to propose that laymen are free to add or subtract anything they wish based on their own judgment to the canon of scripture?
You ask why there was so much time between the inspiration and the final canon, but this doesn’t help you. First because their final agreement wasn’t the Protestant canon. Second, because it shows that they weren’t operating by sola scriptura, but included other sources of normative knowlege and judgment. This is why the church got along just fine without a formal canon for centuries. If SS were true, why wasn’t there a canon in the first or second century?
And yes, your question about whether the scriptures can reform or annul the church’s decision assumes a caricature or at least begs the question, since it assumes a Protestant view of the church. Your question only makes sense on a view of the church as fallible, just as it only makes sense to ask if reason can show that God made a mistake if God is less than perfect. I grant that it is my burden to bear to show that the church has divine authority. I’ve never denied it, but by the same token you bear the same burden with respect to your own views and not to advance them in a question begging way. (and I don’t assume an Orthodox view, but rather it is something that is reached.)
How can the final appeal be to the scriptures if the appeal is concerning what an individual thinks the scriptures mean? Any appeal to the scriptures will simply move the question back to what some other individual thinks the scriptures mean, since there is no infallible interpreter of scripture. And since there isn’t, there is no judgment capable of annuling or overturning the judgment of any individual as to what scripture means. And putting the judgments of many fallible agents together gets us no greater degree of normativity anymore than putting a hundred leaky buckets together produces a vessal capable of securely holding water.
You write that the judgment of the individual can be overturned only if the church can prove something from scripture. But this not only leaves ambiguous what the church is, but simply fails to address the point. For what if the church does produce such a proof and the individual in question rejects that judgment? Can their judgment be overturned? Can they be obligated to assent even if they disagree and reject that judgment? It matters not if they never accept it with respect to it being ultimately normative since people in hell never accept divine judgments concernig themselves and yet they are still obligated by said divine authority.
To say that Protestants are held captive to the Scriptures in their consciences “supremely” is just to assert the doctrine of the right of private judgment implicitly. For if their conscience is supremly related to scripture, then their conscience is the highest authority to which all other sources are subordinate.
Factually, it is false to say that all Luther was given were authoritarian statements. Eck certainly gave Luther a good run for his money. If you bother to read Eck’s extended writings, he was no dummy. And there were plenty of Catholic theologians that argued against Luther. While he is later, have you ever read Francis De Sales who converted 70,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism by writing simple tracts? I am not arguing for Catholicism here, but I think you have a skewed picture of the facts.
Secondly, no one is asking for mindless obedience anymore than one is asking a person to obey God even if they do not understand or agree with what he says. Is obedience to God “mindless” in those cases too? Nor does the non-SS position advocate ‘throwing away the bible.” That is a straw man.
There isn’t an assumption that the laity can’t possibly read the bible rightly and such. Many can, but many more not only can’t but don’t. Turn on TBN my friend and look at the masses of people who do not and cannot do so. Heck, you don’t even need TBN, just go romp thru your average Lutheran or Reformed church. I can hear ringing in my ears Rosenbladt’s constant castigation that the majority of Lutherans were functional Pelagians. Shall we go thru the PCA or the “Frozen Chosen” Dutch? So, let’s be honest, most people can never or will never attain to the level of education and intelligence required to make the appropriate judgments concerning Christology and the Trinity for example. Do you suggest we just make those theologically accute matters indifferent? Shall we let everyone decide for themselves say if Jesus was one or two wills? Do you seriously think the average person can figure that out on their own with the bible and secondary literature? Let’s be honest, Plato was right when he said that the majority can never be philosophical. And that is ok within the context of the church, since they are called to be saints, not academics. But in terms of what the church teaches and what is to be believed we simply can’t make it a free for all. When you do, you end up with the American religious and ecclesial landscape. If you believe that most people are adequately intelligent to judge these matters, then you need to spend some time in the educational establishment, because most people can’t think their way out of a wet paper bag.The majority of American adults have never read a full length book of any kind.
To say that Protestants accept the decisions concerning Triadology and Christology and they are normative for them becuse they agree with scripture is just to say that they are normative for them because they agree with their interpretation of scripture. Secondly, the Reformed do not agree with the councils on these points, as is the case on the folllowing matters-that the Father alone is autotheos, the Filioque, Chalcedonian Christology, etc.
if Scripture doesn’t lose its authority because people misread it, then it follows that the church’s judgment doesn’t reduce to the fallible private judgment of individuals simply because people reject it. So here you help make my point. The church’s judgment doesn’t reduce to private judgment simlpy because people need to interpret their judgments or do so mistakenly.
Thank you all very much for the excellent interaction. I counted at least three responses directed to me. Unfortunately, I will not have the opportunity to respond adequately to them all tonight or tomorrow. However, I do fully intend on responding. Unless providentially hindered, I expect to post my responses sometime on Monday.
Have a blessed Lord’s Day! Grace to you and peace.
In case anyone is still reading along, my responses are posted as promised.
Wow! I’m an evangelical and this blog post was really impressive.
Thank you! I’m glad you liked it.
Call me “Johnny-come-lately” ‘ but, having now read for the first time this old article by Dr. Arakaki, I am convinced that what he has written is indeed the truth.