Sunday, November 04, 2007

Roman foot-in-mouth disease

Recently, a sinful saint and saintly sinner asked me to comment on some of Scott Carson’s posts on Scripture. Carson (not to be confused with D. A. Carson) is a Catholic epologist.

I’ve gleaned some quotes from his blog:

These strike me as his major arguments against the Protestant rule of faith. If I overlooked an important argument, you’re welcome to draw that to my attention.

“There are some who claim that the canonical texts are the only ‘inspired’ texts, and we accept them not because they are the product of a particular community but because they are inspired. But of course the texts themselves do not make any claims to being inspired that cannot be found in the Gnostic texts as well, so to believe the one claim of inspiration rather than the other is rationally unwarranted without the added witness of a particular community that one endorses as having the special charism of handing on the orthodox faith to future generations.”

i) Why assume that the criterion consists of a revelatory claim to inspiration along with a charismatic community to spiritually discern the validity of the claim? As far as Gnostic apocrypha are concerned, one doesn’t need a “special charism” to give them the boot. If they claim to be written by contemporaries of the events they relay, even though they are demonstrably written long after the death of the (pseudonymous) author, then their anachronistic character is sufficient to brand them as pious frauds or forgeries.

ii) Why couldn’t the evangelical “community” lay claim to a “special charism?”

iii) In Catholicism, is it the “community” or the Magisterium that makes this determination?

“What is the nature of that witness, exactly? After all, the Gnostic communities had preaches and teachers, and they were attempting to hand on a version of the faith as well. Is it, as our author would have us believe, nothing more than a matter of individual judgment, made separately and uniquely each and every generation, to decide which set of texts to accept, which teachings to adopt, which beliefs to hold de fide? Am I to believe that our author has himself examined each and every one of the surviving Gnostic texts, and has decided literally on his own authority, and for no other reason, that it is the canonical texts of the New Testament that are authoritative? If so, how on earth did he come to know that?”

The Protestant rule of faith (sola Scriptura) does not preclude the use of expert testimony or secondary sources.

“Frankly, I'm not at all sure that he has in fact conducted such an investigation, but even if he has I see no compelling reason for him to choose orthodoxy rather than heresy on the basis of these texts alone.”

I agree. Orthodoxy doesn’t have to be the criterion. Anachronism can be a criterion. Was it written by the putative author? Does he claim to be contemporary of the people and events he is writing about?

“Some folks may say things like ‘Oh, the canonical texts present a much more plausible picture of Jesus than the Gnostic texts,’ but that really is a desperate little argument, grasping at the frailest of straws. There's nothing in the canonical gospels that is intrinsically more plausible than anything in the Gospel of Thomas, for example. People accept the canonical texts, whether they like to admit it or not, for no other reason than that these are the texts that the Church has preserved for us. In short, the texts are accepted on the basis of the Church's authority to determine the content of our faith.”

Did “the Church” preserve these texts? Did the Vatican sometime in the 2C set up a scriptorium to preserve and reproduce the canonical texts? Is that a primitive office of the Curia?

“In fact, plenty of Popes have taught things that were not authentic Magisterial teachings, and nobody ever had any duty to submit themselves to such teachings. When a Pope teaches heresy, he ceases to be Pope, and there is certainly no virtue involved in submitting oneself to the teachings of a heretic who is not the Pope but who claims to be.”

Well, that’s very interesting. Suppose a heretical Pope issues a heretical encyclical in which he claims to be speaking ex cathedra? Is it up to the laity to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy? And if the laity has that level of spiritual discernment, who needs the Magisterium?

“An interesting facet of this form of infallibility is rather easier to see if one imagines the situation of the neophyte in the second and third quarters of the first century, before any of the New Testament texts had been committed to writing.”

The third quarter of the 1C would take us to AD 75 (as the terminus ad quem). Not one NT text had been committed to writing by AD 75?

Does he have the slightest idea what he’s talking about? Even Catholic NT scholars like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Murphy-O'Connor, and Luke Timothy Johnson wouldn’t date the totality of the NT that late.

“During the period immediately following the death of Our Lord there was a variety of groups claiming to be followers of the Christ, but they certainly did not all agree on the nature of what it meant to be such a follower. Some versions of the story were decidedly heretical.”

What is his evidence that “immediately” after the death of Christ, there were a variety of heretical groups presenting heretical biographies of Christ?

“These versions came later to be committed to writing as well as the more familiar (to us) orthodox texts, but for the neophyte of the years A.D. 33-80 there were no Gospel accounts other than those that were preached orally in the local house-churches in which the Christians met.”

This assumes that all four canonical Gospels were all written after AD 80. Where’s the argument?

“The neophyte had to trust that the word he was hearing was authentic and authoritative. The only way to have such trust was to accept, by virtue of divine grace, the truth of what was preached. Certainly the Holy Spirit would not provide divine grace to believe a false account: it is an article of our faith that orthodoxy became what it is by virtue of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit himself.”

How does that follow? We have cult members in our own day and age. There’s no guarantee that a neophyte will not be exposed to a false gospel, and believe whatever he is told. Indeed, there were certainly adherents of heretical sects from the 2C onward, and even prior to the 2C.

From a Reformed standpoint, the only guarantee is that God will bring his elect to a saving knowledge of the truth. But reprobates may well be dupes for every wind of doctrine.

“The consensus refers to that which unites Christians, namely, their belief in what is true and that they are inspired to believe by the Holy Spirit.”

And why can’t a Protestant lay claim to the same charismatic validation for himself or his own faith-community?

“It is sometimes said, mostly by Protestants but sometimes by Catholics and Anglicans, that there exists such a thing as ‘the plain meaning of Scripture’ (PMS) and this thing ought to serve as the normative criterion for the acceptance or rejection of any proposed assertion about Christianity in particular but sometimes of any assertion at all.’

Who says that, exactly? There are some popular, old-time dispensationalists like John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Charles Lee Feinberg, and Paul Lee Tan who talk that way. But I don’t think the current generation at, say, Dallas Theological Seminary is that naïve.

Certainly older Reformed writers like Oswald Allis didn’t take that position. Modern Protestant hermeneuticists like Thiselton, Poythress, Ricoeur, and Vanhoozer don’t take that position. Modern Reformed exegetes like Beale, Longman, McComiskey, Poythress, Ridderbos, O. P. Robertson, D. A. Carson, and Waltke (to name a few) don’t take that position—not to mention other Protestant commentators.

You can find anyone to say anything, but since Carson is attacking the Protestant rule of faith, it is irresponsible to ignore the leading scholars in the field.

“First of all it must be admitted by all sides that, whatever else one must mean by the expression ‘the plain meaning of scripture’, it means, first and foremost, a certain kind of interpretation of scripture.”

i) Of course, this is predicated on the false premise of Scripture’s “plain meaning.” Carson has cited no major Protestant exegete or hermeneuticist who takes that position.

ii) Meaning and interpretation are hardly synonymous. Meaning is the object and objective of interpretation. But they are not interchangeable—otherwise it would be impossible to distinguish between the true meaning and a misinterpretation.

“The first factor that must be taken into consideration is the origin of the Scriptures themselves, and this factor has two aspects. On the one hand, there is the question of the individual texts themselves and their historical origins. By’"individual texts’ what I mean is, for example, the text of the Gospel of Matthew, or the text of St Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. This aspect can be further divided into two distinct problems: the text of these works as we have them today and the text of these works as they may have existed in the first century. There is not only no reason to suppose that these two things are the same in any particular instance, there is actually every reason to suppose that they are, in fact, quite different.”

There are two basic issues here:

i) Does any particular MS differ from the Urtext? Probably. Of course, even then, it doesn’t follow that the divergence is significant. Most scribal errors are trivial.

ii) Does a critical edition of the NT differ from the Urtext? To a lesser extent than any particular MS since the point of textual criticism is to reconstruct the Urtext.

“The second factor that must be taken into consideration is the nature of the community that received these texts and made use of them for determining the content of the faith. This community is itself a historical phenomenon and it is vitally important to assess whether this community suddenly ceased to exist in the 16th, or indeed, any other, century. There are two essential elements to this factor that must be taken into consideration: its communal nature and its accepted standards of discourse, including its use of literary genres such as myth, history, biography, and epistolography. Let us call this second factor the ‘cultural context’.”

I happen to agree with Carson on this point. Unfortunately for him, it torpedoes his own position. He likes to use communal language, but, for him, the relevant “community” boils down to the Magisterium. Yet the Roman Catholic Magisterium is completely different from the target community for the books of the Bible.

“The final factor I will call the ‘semantic context’. By this what I have in mind is the simple fact that meaning and reference are culturally bound concepts, and the plain fact of the matter is that, as similar as we may be in some ways to the peoples of 2000 years ago, we are mostly very different. Cultures, like every other biological category, evolve over time, and when the timespan is great enough cultures may evolve in such a way as to become incommensurate with what they once were. Although I do not think that the Christian community as such has evolved to that degree in 2000 years, nevertheless our capacity to understand the earliest Christian community is a function of our capacity to cognitively grasp the overall cultural milieu of 2000 years ago, and our capacity to do that is severely limited by the vast distance of time and space that separates the contemporary Western intellectual scene from the intellectual scene of the first century in the Mediterranean basin.”

i) This is an argument for the grammatico-historical method.

ii) I wouldn’t say that our capacity to grasp the cultural milieu is “severely” limited by time and space. There’s such a thing as cultural universals. One can also have a general knowledge of the period.

iii) Assuming, however, that the situation is that dire, historical distance also limits our cognitive grasp of the church fathers and church councils. So Carson’s scepticism will boomerang on his own alternative.

iv) Notice the implicitly Marcionite slant of his statement. For him, the Bible is the NT.

“I will begin by saying a few things about the historical context that affect the viability of PMS. It is a historical fact that the earliest New Testament document is St Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, which has been dated by most scholars to the year 50 or 51, though some scholars argue for a date as much as a decade earlier.”

Yet he just told us that no NT text was written before the fourth quarter of the 1C. But his date for 1 Thessalonians would take us to the borderline between the second and third quarter of the 1C. Carson is so addlebrained.

“If we accept a date of around AD 27-30 for the death of Our Lord and the beginning of the Apostolic Age, there is a gap of at least 10 and as many as 20 years before any document was even available to be counted as ‘Scripture’. During this period, the ‘Scriptures’ as such for the new Christian community would have consisted solely of the Septuagint, the translation into Greek of the various holy books circulating at that time among the various Jewish communities in and around Palestine and as far south and west as Alexandria (where the translation was made). It is important to note, as well, that the Septuagint contains more books than what we now think of as the Hebrew Scriptures: not all of the books contained the Septuagint had Hebrew originals, but they were all used in one way or another by one or another local Jewish community.”

i) This is a methodological error. He is inferring the state of an allegedly 1C Alexandrian/LXX canon from MSS of the LXX that date far into the Christian era.

ii) He’s also assuming, for some odd reason, that the only OT which the 1C had at its disposal was the LXX. But while that might be the case for Gentile Christians and Hellenistic Messianic Jews, it’s hardly applicable to Palestinian Messianic Jews. The 1C church was ethnically and linguistically diverse.

iii) The fact that NT writers prove the gospel from the OT already evinces their Scriptural orientation. And they appeal to Scripture even when they are addressing a Gentile audience.

“The earliest surviving Gospel account is that of St Mark, which most scholars date to between 60 and 75, with a majority favoring the period between 68-73.”

Once again, this dating scheme contradicts is previous dating scheme:

“…the second and third quarters of the first century, before any of the New Testament texts had been committed to writing.”

“These versions came later to be committed to writing as well as the more familiar (to us) orthodox texts, but for the neophyte of the years A.D. 33-80 there were no Gospel accounts other than those that were preached orally in the local house-churches in which the Christians met.”

So he’s dating Mark to the third quarter of the 1C, whereas he previous told us that nothing was committed to writing until the fourth quarter of the 1C, sometime after AD 80. Carson is so addlebrained.

“Hence there was no written Gospel for a minimum of 30 years after the death of Our Lord and thus no Scriptural account of his life and teachings.”

A minimum of 30 years, on his dating scheme for the death of Christ (AD 27-30) would bring us up to AD 57-60 for the first written Gospel. So where did he come up with the post-80 figure? Carson is so addlebrained.

“It is possible, of course, that the Gospel of Mark is based upon some other, now lost, written account, but there is no empirical evidence to support such a claim.”

Actually, Maurice Casey has argued that there is empirical evidence to support such a claim.

“There is some textual evidence that Mark, Matthew, and Luke relied on some common sources, but there is no way of telling whether those common sources were written texts or oral traditions.”

The argument for reliance on a written exemplar is based on the degree of verbal correspondence as Matthew and Luke reproduce big chunks of Mark—with minor variations.

“There is, then, a rather difficult problem to be overcome by anyone who wants to claim that the only source of authoritative teaching within the Christian community is the "plain meaning of Scripture", since there were no distinctively Christian scriptures for the duration of the first Christian generation.”

This, of course, is the point he’s been building up to all along, although he arrived at this point by very maladroit means. His grand trump card against sola Scriptura was that sola Scriptura is inapplicable to 1C Christians. Of course, that’s a straw man argument:

i) Far from being incompatible with sola Scriptura, the Protestant rule of faith presupposes the difference between the epistemic situation of a Christian or Jew living in the time of public revelation, and a Christian living after the cessation of public revelation.

ii) Sola scriptura does not mean that Scripture must be our only source of religious knowledge, but rather, that Scripture is “the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined” (WCF 1.10).

“Quite the contrary, what distinctively Christian Scriptures we do possess owe their very existence to the oral traditions of that first generation that were committed to writing only as the Apostolic Age drew to a close and the growing Christian community began to realize that the message would have to be handed on to future generations, given that the Lord was not returning during their lifetime in the way that many of them had originally believed he would.”

That’s a stock, form-critical argument. But even if 1C Christians in general were dependent on oral tradition for their knowledge of the gospel, it hardly follows that the NT writers were also dependent on oral tradition for their knowledge of the gospel. That requires a separate argument.

“In the end, it was the Christian community itself, operating independently of the writings themselves, that decided which writings were, and which were not, authoritative. The Canon evolved not only very slowly, but it evolved in different ways in different regions. As Bruce Metzger has shown in his book The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origins, Development, and Significance (Oxford: 1987), the Canon evolved independently in the East and in the West, and there was not always full agreement on which writings were to be regarded as authoritative.”

i) If an evolutionary canon is a problem for Protestants (and I’m not conceding the premise), then an evolutionary Magisterium is a problem for Catholics. The Catholic Magisterium has evolved far more slowly than the NT canon. Indeed, the Catholic Magisterium is still in process of development.

ii) Carson exaggerates how long it took. The Gospels and Pauline epistles enjoyed early and widespread recognition.

iii) David Trobisch has argued on text-critical grounds for a mid-2C NT canon.

iv) Carson also commits the elementary blunder of confounding a historical process of recognition with the way in which various NT documents are inherently interrelated. For example, suppose the three installments of Dante’s trilogy were issued consecutively and circulated separately before they were reissued in a collected edition. But it’s obvious that the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso go together, even if it took a lot longer for them to be bound together.

“Works that appeared to conflict with the Christian community's sense of the Gospel message, works such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Peter, were rejected, in spite of the fact that they did not contain any outright contradictions of anything contained in what we now think of as the Canonical Gospels (beyond the sorts of minor contradictions that the Canonical Gospels show among themselves).”

Once again, he’s talking about evident forgeries. These were written long after the demise of Peter or Thomas.

“In light of this historical context, then, it is implausible to suggest that the ‘Scriptures’, as such, constituted anything like an authoritative source of doctrine for the first generation of Christians, or to suggest that as the Canon was forming there would have been an intuitively obvious reading of the authoritative texts that would have been obvious to any reasonable person.”

This disregards the role of the OT in the apostolic kerygma.

“Indeed, heresy was as common then as it is now, if not more so, in spite of the fact that the Christian community was much smaller then than it is now.”

And that nicely undercuts the Catholic appeal to the antiquity of tradition as a mark of apostolicity.

“At this point the importance of the cultural context should be coming into higher relief. The earliest Christian community made decisions about the content of the Christian faith not by means of appealing to specific texts, but by gathering together as a community to determine the consensus fidelium. Indeed, the very texts that we now look to for authoritative teaching teach us this very fact, as we see the Apostles gathering together in Jerusalem to determine what is to be done about certain beliefs and practices that impact the growing Christian community.”

i) The speakers in Acts 15 are Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James. All four were in a historical position to know about the gospel apart from specific texts. That is hardly analogous to the epistemic situation of a Christian living centuries after the fact.

ii) Even so, what cinched the argument at the Council of Jerusalem was an appeal to a specific text of Scripture (Amos 9:11-12; cf. Acts 15: 15-17. So Acts 15 actually undercuts Carson’s contention.

“As that community evolved over time, it grew distant from its Jewish origins. We see this, too, in the way that the earliest Christian community interpreted the Scriptural texts that it did have, the Septuagint. On their reading, the book of the Prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, a term that is arguably ambiguous in both Hebrew and Greek but that was taken to mean not merely a ‘young girl’ (the meaning of the Greek term used in the Septuagint translation) but a ‘virgin’ in the sense of a young girl who had never had sexual relations with a man.”

i) “Virgin” is one of the meanings assigned to parthenos in A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, 2:359.

And as Celas Spicq, a Catholic scholar, explains:
“The LXX uses parthenos (Hebrew betulah) for an adolescent girl who has not been engaged (Exod 22:15-16), ‘who has not belonged to a man’ (Lev 21:3), sometimes emphasizing youthfulness, sometimes physiological virginity: ‘young virgins who had not had relations with a male’ (Judg 21:12). This point is as novel as it is constant (‘Here is my daughter, who is a virgin’)…she is a virgin, since she is not married and everyone thinks she is one. This is what confirms the meaning of partheneia (Hebrew betulim): physical integrity, the distinctive index of virginity,” Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, 3:47.

Since the LXX was a Jewish translation, this reflects a Jewish understanding of the Isaiah oracle. It is not an ex post factor Christian understanding.

iii) Matthew was also a Jew.

iv) The virginal interpretation is reinforced by the category of a divine sign in Isaiah usage—indicating some sort of portent or prodigy, of which a natural conception would scarcely suffice.

v) Carson also fails to distinguish between sense and reference. The verse can refer to a virgin, even if the Hebrew word itself had a somewhat wider semantic range. And if Isaiah wanted to denote an individual who was a virgin, he chose the Hebrew word whose semantic range most closely approximates virginity—especially in that cultural context, where virginity was the default assumption for Jewish girls.

“As the young community began to experience persecution at the hands of the Jews, they continued to sing the Psalms at their gatherings, but the words took on new meaning for them, as the enemies being referred to were no longer Babylonians or Philistines, but the Jews, or just sin in general. These sorts of cases are particularly troublesome for the defender of PMS, since the ‘plain meaning of Scripture’ in these cases is really quite different from what the earliest Christian community imputed to the texts.”

No, this just means that they rightly view their own situation as analogous.

“This is an important feature of language, and it illustrates that in actual human languages terms must be capable of reference if they are to have any meaning, and reference is also public. It connects our terms and concepts to ontological correlates out there in the world, and makes it possible for one person to communicate to another about objective reality. The defender of PMS does not deny this, indeed, he actively relies on it, since he is assuming that the meaning of Scripture, if it is read in a simple and straightforward way, will refer in a perfectly simple and straightforward way that any man can discern for himself.”

Whether or not this is what the hypothetical defender of PMS believes, no sophisticated Protestant exegete operates with such a naïve outlook.

Moreover, the Westminster Confession has a far more nuanced statement of Scriptural perspicuity:
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (1.7).

Carson is a theological arsonist. He keeps burning straw men. At the very least, someone needs to impose a burn ban.

“And yet, the very person who endorses this PMS view, denies to the language of Scripture the very element of linguistic usage that underpins his view: i.e., the prerogative of the linguistic community to correct the individual. According to the defender of PMS, there is not only no need to be ‘corrected’ by the community, since every man can ‘correct’ himself, there is some sense in which to be "corrected" by the community is to abandon one's right and duty to determine the ‘plain meaning of Scripture’ for himself. There is, in short, a very serious contradiction in conception at work here. Without a community to determine what any meaning is, let alone a ‘plain’ meaning, there can be no such thing as meaning at all. Hence, the defender of PMS puts himself in the awkward position of saying that the ‘plain meaning of Scripture’ can be determined by every individual for himself, in spite of the fact that all meanings are determined by the community that uses tha language. In the case of the Christian community, it is difficult to see how that community is not a diachronic institution that has existed for nearly 2000 years now and, hence, to determine the meaning of any utterance made within that community, including within that community's writings, one must consult the linguistic practices and rules of that entire community, that is, of the Tradition.”

i) Carson is indulging a bait-and-switch tactic; indeed, more than one. He talks about the “entire community”, as if he were a populist, but for him, this boils down to the Magisterium, which is a tiny subset of the Christian community.

ii) The linguistic community to whom the Bible was written, and within which (linguistic practice) it was written, was not in any sense the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. That’s a completely anachronistic identification of the target community.

iii) Protestants don’t deny the value of an interpretive community. But there’s a transparency to Protestant theology. A theologian or commentator must walk the layman through the process by which he arrived at his conclusion. And his conclusion is only as good as his supporting argument.

In Catholicism, by contrast, it’s an argument from authority. You must believe in the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary because the Pope says so. And this has nothing to do with linguistic practice, per se.

“It is tempting to say that the text means what the author of the text intended it to mean, but such a temptation, like the temptation to pick at a scab, ought to be resisted if one wants to avoid further trouble. Granted, the author meant something by his text, but it is unclear why, in this context, we should care very greatly what he meant. What matters far more is why the Church thought that the text ought to be read by other Christians. It is possible that the author of the Gospel of Thomas intended his text to be orthodox, and to be so-regarded by orthodox Christians. But whether he intended that or not, what matters is that the Church thinks that the text fails to be orthodox, and does not recommend it as Christian reading. So the Church's reasons for accepting a text into the Canon of Scriptures are essentially more normative in settling the meaning and significance of a text than either mere surface grammar or authorial intent.”

Carson is now confusing meaning with truth. The fact that a text means whatever the author intended it to mean does not imply that what it means is true.

“There is no empirical evidence to support the view that there is any distinction of this kind. Certainly the Scriptures themselves do not bear it out, since they nowhere refer to the Church as being one kind of ontological structure when producing texts, another when reading them, or one kind of ontological structure while the Apostles live, another after they have died.”

This assumes that the Church “produces” the Bible.

“Instead, we read everywhere that there is One Holy, Catholic, and Apostlic Church, and what matters is that the Church is Apostolic, not that it is composed of Apostles. AC, in producing the Scriptures, is an ontological structure that has certain properties, including the property of being inspired by the Holy Spirit to produce the Scriptures. That property has never disappeared; what has happened is that the Church, by virtue of her power to make such decisions, declared the Canon to be closed and herself to be the reader (that is, the authoritative one) of that Canon.”

This is not an argument for the Catholic position. Rather, it takes the Catholic position for granted. So it begs the question.

“(It is worth adding here, merely as an aside, that the view that the Scriptures can be assumed to accurately reflect anything like the autograph view of AC is hopelessly naive in the first place, since the text of the New Testament is a notorious mess. Not only do we have no reason to believe that we are genuinely reading the authorial intent of the original writers, we do not even have any reason to believe that we are reading the same texts, since there are thousands of manuscripts exhibiting untold numbers of textual variants, all of which have to be adjudicated to produce the text that we read as a Church or as an individual. It is the Church, by and large, that makes such adjudication possible.)”

i) Notice that he doesn’t cite any textual critics to substantiate his indiscriminate scepticism. I’d add that one also needs to produce critical editions of the church fathers.

ii) Does the Catholic church adjudicate textual variants? Does the Curia include an office of textual criticism?

“Since the Scriptures themselves do not warrant the distinction, any empirical evidence for it will have to come from outside of the Scriptures. In this context it pays to remember what I have already pointed out, that the Canon was formed only very slowly over several generations, and even the individual works contained in what we now accept as the Canon were written over a period that extends from roughly 50 to roughly 110, and it is arguably the case that none of the Apostles still lived in the year 110.”

i) He doesn’t bother to explain how he comes up with this liberal dating scheme, and it’s hardly a cogent objection to the Protestant position since conservative Evangelical scholars would reject his liberal dating scheme.

ii) At the same time, if every apostle died before AD 110, then that automatically disqualifies the NT apocrypha. So he’s just given us a chronological criterion for rejecting the NT apocrypha. And that criterion would be just as valid on a more conservative dating scheme.

“Add to this the fact that the authors of the Scriptural texts were themselves mistaken about the meaning of what they were writing (they clearly thought that Jesus would return for a second time in bodily form during their lifetime, and they said as much in their Holy Writ).”

It is suicidal for a Catholic apologist to attack the infallibility of Scripture. For it’s incredible to affirm that Popes and councils can be infallible if you deny that Bible writers can be infallible.

“Another way to put this point would be to note that infallibility is not inspiration, that is, it is not, in fact, the voice of God speaking in the Pope's heart. It is, rather, a providential aid that the Pope enjoys by divine grace. Hence it is the Pope himself, and not God, who is the author of the teachings that are made by virtue of the charism of infallibility.”

So an uninspired Pope can be infallible, but an inspired Bible writer cannot be infallible? Once again, it’s quite ad hoc to suppose that Biblical documents are errant while magisterial documents are inerrant.

One can logically affirm the inerrancy of Scripture without affirming the inerrancy of the (extraordinary) Magisterium, but why would anyone affirm the reverse?


  1. You da' bomb, Steve.

    Translation: Thanks, Steve.

    I have noticed the increasing willingness for RC and EO apologists to make arguments that would scuttle their own arguments from Tradition. They want to create enough skepticism so that one would leave it up to the "infallible" church alone to decide the matter.

    It's just another example of sola ecclesia.

  2. Steve said:

    "Why couldn’t the evangelical 'community' lay claim to a 'special charism?'"

    Not only that, but if a Catholic is going to argue that we need a community that's existed continually since the time of the apostles, and that Evangelicalism doesn't qualify, then we could look to a broader definition of Christianity rather than Roman Catholicism. It's not as if Roman Catholicism is our only option or Catholicism and Orthodoxy are the only two to choose from. A Christianity defined broadly, by doctrines such as the virgin birth and the resurrection, is widely acknowledged to have existed since the time of the apostles. Such a broad definition of Christianity wouldn't lead us to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Steve writes:

    "The Protestant rule of faith (sola Scriptura) does not preclude the use of expert testimony or secondary sources."

    And those seeking to make an objective case for Roman Catholicism would also have to rely on expert testimony and secondary sources in order to arrive at their system of authority. Scott Carson does so repeatedly (his citation of Bruce Metzger, his claims about widespread heresy in early church history, etc.).

    Regarding Carson's assertion that the New Testament authors claimed that Jesus' return would occur in their lifetime, that assertion has been refuted at length in previous threads. I address the issue from the perspective of futurist eschatology at:

    Paul Manata has addressed the issue from the perspective of preterist eschatology:

    Steve Hays has addressed the subject as well: