“It's amazing the contortions protestants go through to try and prove that verses like 2 Th 2:15 don't mean what they actually say.”
i) And what does this verse actually say:
“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word of by our letter.”
This is a command…to whom? To me? Did he address 1 Thessalonians to me? No. Did he speak to me personally? No. Was I in the audience when he spoke? No.
Is Paul, in this verse, enjoining *me* (Steve Hays) to adhere to the written and oral traditions which *he* taught me by his spoken word or earlier letter? No. False on both counts.
Is Paul enjoining me to follow a 5C bishop of Thessalonica—or 8C bishop of Constantinople, or 18C bishop of Moscow—who claims to be handing down an oral Pauline tradition? No. Since the text never says that, it can’t very well mean what it never said.
So, if we’re serious about what this verse “actually says,” or “actually means,” then the command is not directed to me. It’s directed to mid-1C members of the church of Thessalonica. It is not referring to Christians in general. It isn’t referring to apostolic succession. It isn’t referring to subapostolic oral traditions allegedly of Pauline origin.
That’s what it says. That’s all it says. It can’t mean more than it says. No contortions. Couldn’t be more straightforward.
ii) Of course, there are commands in Scripture which do apply beyond their immediate audience. But there’s no automatic presumption that any or every divine command is binding on all Christians at all times and places. That, rather, depends on the nature of the command, the wording of the command, and/or the context in which it’s given.
So our Orthodox apparatchik has misstated the actual content of the verse in the very process of alleging that we don’t allow the verse to mean what it actually says.
“Even if the "scholarly" meanderings actually have merit, what does it say about the perspicuity of scripture that you've got to jump through this many hoops to prove your point?”
This is a straw man version of perspicuity. Here’s a classic statement of 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” (WCF 1.7).
Notice the careful qualifications: “not alike plain in themselves”; “nor alike clear unto all”; “in the due use of the ordinary means”; “for salvation.”
Our Orthodox apparatchik is too ignorant of the theological position he’s rejected to know what he’s rejected.
“First we're told that if Paul taught extra-scriptural things, ‘Let them produce the documentation’."
Yes, that’s a necessary first step. If you claim the existence of oral apostolic tradition, you need to document your claim. How else could you establish the existence of oral apostolic tradition?
After all, we are not immediate disciples of the apostles. So we didn’t get it by word of mouth from *them*. Hence, the only possible way of establishing the claim would be through documentation.
“Then if we do produce the documentation we are told ‘if they so produce the date, then they must admit that the tradition is not unwritten but written, proving the sufficiency of written things for faith and practice in the Church.’__Classic case of ‘have you stopped beating your wife’. The questions are phrased so that however you answer, you are supposedly condemned.”
No, not a wife-beating question, but a classic dilemma. Any *literary* reference to oral tradition involves a written source. Apart from this *textual* witness to oral tradition, we have no other source of information. So we ultimately depend on the primacy of textuality over orality—even to attest the existence of oral tradition.
“But does Gene's rule of faith submit to the same questioning? To whom were the holy scriptrues passed to, and where is the proof that every book of holy scripture is authentic?”
Two problems for our Orthodox apparatchik:
i) Trying to turn tables on the Protestant, even if successful, would only create epistemic *parity* between the opposing positions. But our Orthodox apparatchik is contending for the *superiority* of the Orthodox rule of faith.
ii) Our opponent is asking a question which various Tbloggers have already answered on multiple occasion. It’s not as if we never made a case for the Protestant canon.
“We can point to what Fathers taught such and such a holy tradition, and Gene can point to who quoted such and such a book of the bible. Stalemate all around, EXCEPT for the fact that we acknowledge that Fathers as part of our authority, whereas Gene cannot.”
i) One of the problems with high-church opponents is that they constantly superimpose their own position on the other side. Because *their* case for the canon of Scripture is entirely dependent on external attestation, they impute that to us. But as I’ve said on many occasions, and documented in various ways, there are internal as well as external lines of evidence for the canon.
ii) The fact that the Orthodox “acknowledge” the authority of the church fathers is not an argument for why anyone should share their assessment.
iii) Likewise, high-churchmen constantly confuse *authority* with *testimony*. One doesn’t have to treat a historical witness as an authority to treat him as a source of information. Modern historians make use of Tacitus and Josephus as historical sources without treating them as authority-figures. But high-churchmen cannot think outside their box even to address the opposing position on its own grounds.
“Again, can Gene's rule of faith stand to this scrutiny? Where is the infallible list of rules by which to adjudicate what scripture is, and to decide what scripture means? There is none for a protestant, outside of their own opinion.”
Same problem as before. Even if this tit-for-tat were successful, establishing parity between his rule of faith and ours falls short of establishing the superiority of his own rule of faith.
“Now despite the supposed ‘lack of rules’, we hold that the rule of faith is determined by the understanding of the whole people of God.”
Notice that this is a description of the Orthodox position rather than a reason to believe it.
“Supposedly this rule isn't clear enough for Gene, but its worked for millennia with no problem.”
So his defense of the Orthodox rule of faith is purely pragmatic? Well, many things “work.” Islam “works.” It’s been in continuous existence since the 7C AD. Hinduism “works.” It antedates the NT church by centuries.
“While everything a person does has a private element, the overall attitude is decidedly not private.”
No, an attitude is decidedly private. An attitude is a state of mind. Psychological. Subjective. It can be publicly manifested, but the attitude itself is inherently private.
“And it also, by its very nature promotes the unity of the church because the hermeneutic and unity go hand in hand.”
i) That’s a circular appeal. Orthodoxy doesn’t promote unity. Instead, you simply have like-minded believers who constitute a subset of Christendom—just as members of the NRA believe in the Second Amendment, while members of NARAL believe in abortion on demand. This is a self-selected unity.
ii) Remember, too, that in the past, this unity was coercive. Dissent was illegal.
iii) Unity is morally neutral. All depends on what you’re united behind.
“Unlike sola scriptura which by its very nature is divisive.”
So, according to our Orthodox apparatchik, unity is good, but division is bad. Let’s take a few examples of each:
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
25You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: " 'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.' 27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.
34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
1 Peter 2:6-9
6For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 7Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected _ has become the capstone," 8and, "A stone that causes men to stumble _ and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
“Except that we don't have any writings with Paul's signature on them in his own hand. So apparently we shouldn't trust the scriptures since they might be phony.”
i) Our Orthodox apparatchik is quoting Gene out of context. Gene made that point to help establish the correct *interpretation* of 2 Thes 2:15—not to verify the letter for himself.
ii) BTW, does the Orthodox church have signed or notarized copies of the church fathers or the conciliar canons?
“Think about this for a second. What might a protestant substitute for this truth-check of Paul's hand-writing? Maybe some internal witness? So why didn't Paul mention this better method?”
Actually, Paul does mention the witness of the Spirit as a form of attestation (1 Thes 1:5; cf. 1 Cor 2:4-5). So this is an especially stupid objection for our Orthodox apparatchik to level.
But because he elevates the tradition of men over the word of God, he doesn’t even know his way around the text of Scripture.
“Maybe the scholarly internal evidence that a particular document was Pauline? Paul didn't mention that one either.”
Actually, Paul does mention the criterion of internal consistency (Gal 1:8-9).
Anyway, Gene already answered the question that our Orthodox apparatchik is posing: “He [Paul] had already told them, for example, that the day of the Lord would be preceded by a falling away, and the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. ‘Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things’" (2:5). There was no excuse for them to be troubled by a phony letter, for they had heard the actual truth from his own mouth already.”
In this case, that was the test. What he already taught them in person as well as what he had committed to writing in 1 Thessalonians.
“Instead, his advice was to hold to the deposit of faith he had given them, both written and oral. That was to be the test of truth.”
Which is sound advice–if I were a member of the Thessalonian church where I heard him preach in person.
“If a protestant wants to argue something else is now the test of truth, firstly they need to document this new test. Secondly they need to explain why Paul didn't recommend this test. Then the protestant should tell us when this test went into effect. 10 minutes after Paul left Thessalonica? Hardly, since Paul held them to it after he left.”
What’s ironic about this challenge is that anyone who is conversant with the history of the canon will realize that both the Eastern church and Western church did apply literary criticism to the question of canonicity. So if this is method is invalid, then it invalidates the very church to which our Orthodox apparatchik has sworn his fealty.
“For me, I fail to see the exegetical argument that just because the brothers were "called through our gospel", we can therefore assume that Paul's teachings to be held to must be limited to the gospel. Frankly that is a completely unwarranted and illogical conclusion to come to.”
The illogic lies in the illogical reaction of our Orthodox apparatchik. Gene simple made the observation that "In context 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is epexegetical to 2:14 and refers directly to the gospel itself."
Is that an incorrect observation? Is that a mistaken analysis of the syntactical relation between v14 & v15? Why does our Orthodox apparatchik get so worked up over an innocent point of Greek syntax linking v14 to v15 via the ara oun (“so then”) construction?
“We are told that 2 Thessalonians was written after Matthew (How can Gene rely on an extra-scriptural tradition as an essential argument for his hermeneutic in how to interpret scripture? How Orthodox of him!)”
This is just another think-headed equivocation over the use of historical evidence. Is there some overriding reason why high-churchmen are incorrigibly obtuse about drawing this elementary distinction?
“We are told that the church of the apostles is not the ‘normative’ state of the church. However, scripture knows nothing about a non-apostolic church.”
Our Orthodox apparatchik is equivocating again. “Non-apostolic” in what sense? The Apostles were mortal. They knew they were mortal. That’s one reason you have a very primitive form of church office in the NT. They would not be around. But their writings would outlive them. And it was the duty of pastors to preach from the Scriptures.
“All scripture can inform us about is the apostolic church. If we need to start forming extra-scriptural suppositions about what is to happen in a non-apostolic church, then sola scriptura has immediately failed.”
This is another ignorant claim. The NT contains NT prophecies.
“Paul says to hold to his teachings whether written or oral. In other words, he is putting his oral and written instruction on the same level. If his writings are the word of God, so must his oral teaching have been. Since the Word of God stands forever, the perpetuity is obvious.”
Another fatal equivocation since our opponent’s allusion to Isa 40:8 is a *literary* allusion to a text of Scripture.
“No cut off date or condition is given. Therefore, we should not assume one. If you joined the church in Thessalonica 10 minutes after Paul left, you ought not doubt what the church conveyed to you as Paul's teachings. Neither should you doubt a year later, or 5 years or 10 or 20 or 50 or 500. To pick one of those cut offs is completely arbitrary.”
I see. And if I can’t precisely distinguish between stage 1 cancer, stage 2 cancer, stage 3 cancer, and stage 4 cancer, then any distinction between stage 1 cancer and stage 4 cancer is “completely arbitrary.”
If I can’t pinpoint the precise moment of death, then any distinction between vitality and putrescence, triage and murder is “completely arbitrary.”
If I can’t distinguish the precise point at which one color shades into another, then any distinction between black and white is “completely arbitrary.”
The fact is that space and time are inherently continua, so there are always borderline cases between one transition and another.