“So what if we restrict our survey to only the literate christians?”
So what? This restriction means that an Orthodox (or Catholic) polemicist must radically scale back his original objection. His initial objection to Protestant theology or the Protestant rule of faith was that no pre-Reformation Christian ever read the Bible that way.
Of course, even on its own grounds, this is a tautology: no pre-Protestant Christian is a Protestant. Likewise, no pre-Darwinian biologist is a Darwinian; no ante-Nicene Father is an ante-Nicene Father.
But the force of the original objection lay in opposing a tiny Protestant minority to the vast majority of Orthodox (or Catholic) believers.
If, however, we offer the obvious and necessary qualification that to be a Bible-believer, you must either read the Bible or hear it in some intelligible translation, then that instantly changes the terms of the comparison.
We’re now comparing Protestant believers with another miniscule subset of historical Christendom: literate pre-Reformation Christians.
So the original objection, which was predicated on a huge numerical disproportion, suddenly loses its huge disproportionality. Instead, we’re merely comparing one subset of Christendom (Protestants) with another subset of Christendom (Orthodox literates).
“How come none of them were Protestants?”
Well, for one thing, it’s not as if they had a choice in the matter. Orthodoxy was the state religion. Dissent was persecuted. The emperor or monarch determined the faith of his royal subjects.
“Supposedly I guess, if only all those poor illiterate Christians could read they would have come to completely different conclusions to those who could read? Amazing.”
Is Orthodox trying to be obtuse? I have no opinion one way or the other. And I don’t have to have any opinion. The point is that we cannot poll the dead. We cannot retroactively ask what people would have believed had they been exposed to something they never knew.
This is not an argument for Evangelicalism. Rather, it undercuts an argument for Orthodoxy. Pity that Orthodox is unable to distinguish one form of argument from another—especially when I’m answering him on his own terms.
I never made consensus the rule of faith: he did. So the argument doesn’t cut both ways. It only undercuts his appeal.
“And what if we restrict our survey to only those who without any doubt were reading the scripture in the vernacular, how come none of them were Protestants?”
Another issues aside, that’s not an exegetical argument. That’s not a reason for believing that anything is true or false.
The question at issue is not the merely descriptive question of what people believe, but the normative question of why they believe. What reasons do they give? Are these good reasons for bad reasons?
Orthodox’s appeal is viciously regressive or circular. Why does Jimmy believe what he does? Because he believes what Jerry believed. Why did Jerry believe that? Because he believed what Johnny believed, and so on infinitum.
Even if you had a consensus to invoke, appeal to consensus only pushes the question back a step.
“And how come God set up a rule of faith (allegedly) that was bound to fail until everyone could become literate?”
This is a trick question because it begs the question of how a rule of faith is supposed to function.
“Apparently Christianity is a religion purely for the literate elites, the rest of you can just wallow in ignorance, never knowing where to find the truth?”
A straw man argument. Orthodox is trying to change the subject. The original argument was an appeal to historic Christian consensus on the meaning of Scripture.
All I’ve done is to make the common sense observation that the only men who are even potentially qualified to comment on the meaning of Scripture were men who actually knew the Bible.
Isn’t that crushingly self-evident? Why do I even need to point that out? Because Catholic and Orthodox critics of Evangelicalism have a remarkable capacity for ignoring the obvious.
Now, it’s quite possible for someone who is either illiterate or without a private copy of the Bible to acquire some intermediate knowledge of the Bible. He could learn about the Bible through good expository preaching. Or he could learn about the Bible through the public reading of the Scriptures in the vernacular.
That wouldn’t be as good as being able to study your own copies of the Scriptures, or reading the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew. But it’s not equivalent to sheer ignorance.
At the same time, the fact that some Christians at some times and places heard the Bible read aloud in the vernacular doesn’t tell us anything about what it meant to them.
“Oh yes, and not just a literate elite, but a wealthy elite, since apparently you need a ‘private copy’ in order to do sufficient study to discover the truth, at a cost astronomical in the first 1500 or more years of the church.”
As usual, Orthodox is retailing his false dichotomies. There are degrees of knowledge.
But to say that what F. F. Bruce believed is false because it doesn’t match up with what a Russian Orthodox serf living in 1300 believed is absurd.
To discredit Evangelical theology by numerically opposing what modern Protestants believe with whatever illiterate Orthodox peasants believed is a silly comparison on the face of it.
“Oh yes, and nowdays everyone is literate with their own private copy, and yet there is no signs of protestants, even the most well read and educated, of coming to any kind of agreement. Actually the areas of disagreement just increase year by year with new theories coming day by day.”
This is how he defines a successful rule of faith: everyone agrees. Two problems:
i) Is that how the Bible defines its own function? To the contrary, the word of God was meant to be divisive. For example, this is a running theme in the Gospel of John. The preaching of Jesus has a polarizing effect on the Jews. Some Jews side with Jesus, while other Jews turn away (e.g. Jn 3:19-21; 6:60-71).
ii) Another, related function of Scripture is to harden certain listeners (e.g. Jer 7:16; 11:14; 18:11-12; Ezk 2:3-7; Isa 6:9-10; 63:17).
The Bible is not designed to make everyone agree. To the contrary, it was, in some measure, intended to have the opposite effect—a winnowing effect.
Orthodox has his manmade theory of what a rule of faith is supposed to accomplish—a theory which runs counter to the self-witness of Scripture.
iii) Even on his own grounds, the Orthodox rule of faith “fails.” Consider, for example, the schism involving the Old Believers, who repudiated the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon.
“And then the complaint turns to the Russian church of a few hundred years ago??? What of the Russian church now, they are both literate and have access to the bible in vernacular, and yet the protestant churches there are floundering, a great many are leaving and returning to Orthodoxy.”
i) Once again, Orthodox is straining to change the subject. He needs another refresher course in the original argument. The argument went as follows: Evangelicalism is false because it offers a reading of Scripture which runs counter to how pre-Reformation Christians always understood the Bible.
Now, to make this comparison stick, it requires historically continuous access to intelligible editions of the Bible. The appeal to credal unity is predicated on historical continuity.
If, however, there are large gaps in time and place when the faithful did not have access to vernacular editions of Scripture, then historical discontinuity negates the appeal to historical continuity. A diachronic argument is only as good as the spatiotemporal links in the chain. Once you introduce a lot of missing links, the chain ceases to be a chain.
ii) In addition, Orthodox scholarship has been affected by Protestant scholarship. For example:
“A consensus exists among scholars that the 6C BC, and more especially the time and place of the Babylonian Exile, was the matrix from which the Hebrew Pentateuch and most of the prophetic books emerged in their final written form,” Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church, M. Prokurat et al. (Scarecrow Press 1996), 293.
Gee, where do you suppose that came from? 19C German higher criticism. So mainstream Orthodox scholarship has been influenced by liberal Lutheran scholarship.
“And then the claim is that bibles may not be accurate according to the Hebrew, and if the LXX isn't good enough it is a problem. What verse says that the Masoretic Hebrew is the canonical one?”
Once again, is he trying to be dense? Two issues:
i) The LXX is a translation. A translation of a Hebrew exemplar. A translation is only a good translation if it accurately renders the sense of the original exemplar.
ii) The fact that Protestants and Orthodox disagree is irrelevant unless they share a common referent.
Remember, the original argument was that if all the Christians in the past were reading the same Bible we are, yet they didn’t construe it the way we do, then that supposedly invalidates our (Protestant) interpretation of the Scriptures.
But what is the basis of comparison? Are we even reading the same Bible? If a church father is reading the LXX, while an Evangelical scholar is reading the MT, then they don’t share the same point of reference. So it’s not a case of divergent interpretations of the same text.
“We are told there is a big problem because of Lucianic versus Origen's version of the LXX.”
Yes, because the Orthodoxy traditionally appeal to the LXX as their canonical edition of the OT. But there were three different editions of the LXX in play in major centers of Orthodoxy. So which edition of the LXX is the canonical edition?
“What of differences between Masoretic and pre-Masoretic text types?”
i) Protestant Bible scholarship isn’t limited to the MT. A number of other witnesses feed into critical editions of the Hebrew canon (e.g. DDS, SP, Targumim, Peshitta, Vulgate, LXX, Saadia). But they are not coequal in their historical value.
ii) Orthodox constantly acts as though, if he has raised some problems for Protestantism, then Orthodoxy automatically wins by default. But:
a) Even if, for the sake of argument, Evangelicalism were a problematic position, it doesn’t follow that, by process of elimination, Orthodoxy is the only remaining logical alternative.
b) And it also doesn’t follow that Orthodoxy can deflect objections to its own position by simply drawing attention to alleged objections to Evangelicalism.
If Orthodoxy is a problematic position in its own right, then it’s no answer to its own problems to shift the issue to problems in the opposing position. The Orthodox apologist has his own burden of proof to discharge.
iii) As to differences between the Masoretic and pre-Masoretic text types, that’s why we have textual criticism.
“What of the clear and blatent errors in the Masoretic that do not exist in the LXX?”
What about giving us some examples?
“Which is canonical then?”
i) A false dichotomy. For a critical edition of the Hebrew text will involve an eclectic approach in sifting the various witnesses to the Hebrew text.
ii) Orthodox is also ducking the necessity of Septuagintal lower criticism to produce a critical edition of the LXX.
According to him, what is the canonical edition of the LXX in Orthodox tradition? What is the official text?
And what is the official canon? Is it the Greek Orthodox canon, which includes 4 Maccabees? Or is it the Russian Orthodox canon, which includes 4 Esdras?
“Why do we need protestant scholars to come in and tell us that the LXX is no good and we all can become protestants if only our bibles were more accurate?”
Several more problems:
i) This isn’t merely a question of Protestant scholarship. It’s also a question of Jewish scholarship. Of course, Orthodox is a certified Jew-hater.
Incidentally, how many people happen to know that Eastern Orthodoxy is an officially anti-Semitic denomination?
“Quinisext is held by Eastern Orthodox to have ecumenical status and authority…Canon 11 deposes clergy and excommunicates laity who eat matzot sent by Jews, receive medicine from Jews or consort with Jews in the baths,” K. Parry et al. eds. The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (Blackwell 2004), 396.
So Orthodox’s Neonazi conspiracy theories are entirely in keeping with his adopted tradition. He’s plays the good German from first to last.
ii) This is also a question of contemporary Eastern Orthodox scholarship:
“Today, the relationships between the various Hebrew and Greek textual traditions have to be taken very seriously. This was illustrated in the 19C by Patriarch Philaret of Moscow who oversaw the Russian Bible (q.v.) translation, now published and used in the Russian Church. Similarly, one of the greatest resources in illuminating the relationship between the Hebrew and Greek textual traditions has been given us within this century by the discoveries at Qumran…In many ways, certainly because of the discovery and availability of new information, we are currently in a position to do work with Scripture that was impossible even half a century ago,” Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church, 294-95.
Poor little Orthodox isn’t even conversant with the state of Eastern Orthodox Bible scholarship. Apparently the popular pabulum which is spoon-fed to the waiting beaks of chirpy little hatchlings like Orthodox doesn’t include any indigestible nuggets of in-house scholarship which the tender-bellied hatchlings would choke on.
“Then we are told that no two LXX copies contain the same canon. I assume he is referring to the very oldest existing copies. But what of Origen's and other ECF comments that say that the Jews were including books like the Epistle of Jeremiah in their 22 book canon? I guess no two accounts of what the Jewish canon is were identical either. So we all throw our hands up in the air, and we have no religion left, right?”
i)“He [Athanasius] includes, however, Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremias as part of Jeremias, though neither is in the Hebrew canon,” The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, 82.
So, according to this standard reference work on Orthodoxy, which carries a forward by Bishop Timothy Ware, the Hebrew canon did not contain that apocryphal epistle.
ii) There is also an obvious difference between Jewish accounts of the Jewish canon, and patristic accounts of the Jewish canon. Patristic imputations do not prove that the Jews themselves had more than one canon. Orthodox is confusing primary and secondary sources for the Jewish canon.