Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Hagar is Mt. Sinai"

Does St. Paul embrace the allegorical method in Gal 4? Here’s some of what Moisés Silva has to say:

“Some scholars argue that the passage uses a typological approach to the Genesis narrative, but many others are convinced that the apostle is treating us here to a full-blown allegorical interpretation. After all, he begins 4:24 with the words ‘which things are spoken [or ‘interpreted’] allegorically.” We must not simply assume, however, that his use of the verb allegoreo (from allos [‘other’] and agoreuo [’speak’]) corresponds to what modern scholars mean when they speak of ‘allegorical interpretation’ (see Davis 2004),” G. Beale & D. A. Carson, Eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker 2007), 808.

“Paul nowhere in his writings gives any hint that he rejects the historical character of biblical narrative or even minimizes its significance. Moreover, it could be argued that the apostle himself provides a clue to his meaning by using the verb systoicheo in the very next verse: ‘Now Hagar…corresponds to [systoichei] the present Jerusalem’ (4:25). In contrast to Philo, Paul casts no doubts on either the factual nature or the historical value of the Genesis narrative…Indeed, some of his comments here (e.g., ‘For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman’ [4:22]; “But just as at that time the one born according to the flesh persecuted the one [born] according to the Spirit, so also now’ [4:29]) are clear affirmations of factual events upon which the apostle builds his argument,” ibid. 808.

“Thus, if it turns out that Paul is pointing out a correspondence between two historical realities, we may with good reason regard his reading of Genesis as ‘typological’ rather than ‘allegorical.’ The central theological truth with which he is concerned is the contrast between Spirit and flesh: God works according to the former, while sinners depend on the latter. This contrast has manifested itself in a notable way at various points throughout (redemptive) history. It did during the patriarchal period, and it does now at the fullness of time (4:4), ibid. 808.

“In addition to these considerations, one should keep in mind the place of 4:21-31 within the argument as a whole. It can be argued that Paul had completed his scriptural demonstration at the end of chapter 3 and that the present paragraph is intended not as some kind of logical, exegetical proof, but rather as a climactic, forceful finale directed at those who claim to subject themselves to the law (4:21),” ibid. 808.

“In any case, the very fact that Paul nowhere else uses this approach (1 Cor 10:4 provides only a partial analogy, while 9:9 does not deal with an OT narrative) should be a warning against drawing major conclusions on the basis of Paul’s use of the Sarah/Hagar analogy,” ibid. 808.

Typology & allegory

Since the topic of allegory and typology has arisen, it’s necessary to define our terms. Allegory is a hermeneutical method which asserts that a text denotes something other than, or above and beyond, its literal referents.

It may regard the allegorical meaning as addition to the literal meaning. Or the allegorical meaning may be the “true” meaning.

For example, the allegorical interpretation of Canticles takes this book to be, not a set of love poems about a man and a woman, but an extended metaphor for Yahweh’s relation to Israel, or Christ’s relation to the Church.

By contrast, typology is not, properly speaking, a hermeneutical method. We make speak of typological interpretation, as a shorthand expression, yet typology is not fundamentally about the significance of a text, but about the significance of person, place, institution, or event. (I’ll say “event” for short.)

It presupposes a Biblical philosophy of history, according to which God has orchestrated history such that certain earlier events foreshadow certain later events. So typology is rooted in things rather than words. It's a way of interpreting history.

Typology may take a text as a reference point because the text supplies a record of the event. So typology will refer to the event via the textual witness to that event.

But it’s not fundamentally about the meaning of the text. And it doesn’t set aside the historical context of the passage. Indeed, it presupposes the historical context of the passage as a necessary relatum. For typology asserts a parallel between one historical event and another. Both relata must be historical for the analogue to obtain.

The Bible Isn't Spiritual Enough

In another thread, LVKA offers the following argument for applying non-grammatical-historical interpretations to scripture, but not to other documents:

“The First Ecumenical Council does not need a typological or Christological interpretation: because it *IS* a Christological statement. And it doesn't need a spiritual or allegorical interpretation either: the Dogamtical statement that Jesus is God is intrinsically tied up with our Chr. spirituality: ‘If Christ is not God, then He cannot engod us either, since He does not then possess divinity by His proper nature, and we're pointlessly [not to mention heretically] baptised in the Name of a creature’ --> that's what St. Athanasius said in his defence of the faith against the Arians. ‘God became man so that man might become God’ -- there's no spiritually-superior statement to that. If not even the fact that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us isn't enough to boost us spiritually and make us more spiritual people, then nothing else will.”

Apparently, Nicaea and Athanasius are spiritual enough to be interpreted as we would interpret other historical sources. But the Bible isn’t spiritual enough. Does LVKA interpret grocery lists and newspaper articles allegorically? Or are they, too, more spiritual than the Bible? Or, if he’s going to claim that only religious documents have this standard applied to them, does he apply non-grammatical-historical interpretations to posts, articles, or books written by people whose theology he disagrees with? For example, does he interpret the posts of Roman Catholics and Calvinists allegorically? Or are even such theologically errant writings more spiritual than the Bible? Apparently, the Bible needs more spirituality added to it by means of non-grammatical-historical interpretations.

I wonder where people get the idea that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have too low a view of scripture. How could anybody get that impression?

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Works of Cornelius Van Til

According to one leading Reformed theologian, Cornelius Van Til is "the most important Christian thinker of the twentieth century." If that's an overstatement, it's a forgivable one. Van Til's thought was profound, innovative, and provocative. He wrote voluminously, and his most prominent publications have been variously engaged, praised, and condemned by Christian scholars from practically every point on the theological spectrum. His 'presuppositionalist' Christian philosophy with its sharp distinction between analogical thought ("man thinking God's thoughts after Him") and autonomous thought ("man is the measure of all things") has wide-ranging implications for many other disciplines: apologetics, education, systematic theology, biblical hermeneutics, scientific inquiry, counselling -- indeed, for any area of human study and endeavour one cares to mention.

In 1997 Logos published The Works of Cornelius Van Til on CD-ROM in their Logos Library System format. For those of us with a more than passing interest in Van Til's thought, this was a gift from the heavenlies. A labour of love by Eric Sigward (who must have spent hundreds of hours assembling, editing, and formatting its content) the CD-ROM contained 29 of Van Til's books (including both editions of The Defense of the Faith) and over 200 other articles, pamphlets, reviews, and unpublished manuscripts. It also boasted over 50 hours of audio recordings. In addition to this wealth of content, the Logos Library System provided a fully indexed search facility that enabled complex searches for words and phrases (e.g., display every paragraph in which Van Til used the phrase 'natural theology' near the word 'Arminian').

At this point, I have to make a shameful confession. The Works of Cornelius Van Til has been utterly indispensable in helping me to sustain a wholly undeserved reputation. By serving as the moderator for the Van Til email discussion list for 8 years, and the maintainer of for 6 years, it seems I've inadvertently given people the impression that I'm an 'expert' on all things Van Tilian. (Sadly, this is far from true, but I've been reluctant to come clean on the matter until now.) As a consequence, with some regularity I get emails asking me what Van Til thought or wrote on such-and-such a matter. Without the Van Til CD-ROM, my ignorance would be manifest; but with its help, I'm invariably only minutes away from an answer that makes me look like the world's greatest living authority on the Dutch Calvinist philosopher.

"Can you tell me what Van Til had to say about the New Testament canon?"

"What's Van Til's take on the Sermon on the Mount?"

"Did Van Til ever interact with Dietrich Bonhoeffer?"

No problem! (Click, click, tappety-tap, click.) You want citations with that?

Imagine then my delight on learning that Logos have issued an 'enhanced edition' of The Works of Cornelius Van Til. All the original content has been preserved, but also updated to take full advantage of the Libronix Digital Library System (the successor to the Logos Library System). The material has been arranged into 40 volumes to facilitate navigation and searching. Furthermore, the new edition includes thousands of indexed hyperlinks to other Libronix resources, such as Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion and Barth's Church Dogmatics. By means of the same technology, it is now possible to find out -- in a matter of minutes -- in which of his writings Van Til interacts with, for example, Calvin's discussion of the sensus divinitatis or Barth's treatment of the doctrine of Scripture. Provided that no one reads this review, I'm confident that my ill-deserved reputation as a Van Til scholar will be secure for many years to come.

Whatever one thinks of Van Til's work, there's no denying that The Works of Cornelius Van Til is a fantastic resource. At the time of writing, Logos are offering it on sale at a substantial discount, but I've been told that if readers of this review use the magic coupon code 'VANTIL' they’ll receive a further 25% discount when they order the product before 31st July 2008. And those who own the original Logos version of the CD-ROM are entitled to a free upgrade.* What more could one ask for? (Did someone say, "The Collected Works of John M. Frame"? Volume 1 is already available; 2 and 3 are the pipeline.)

*As Phil Gons of Logos explained to me: "It is true that owners of the old Logos version of the Works of Van Til get the new version for free. We've actually already activated the new version in the Libronix accounts of everyone who owned the old version; however, if someone never made the switch to Libronix, this automatic upgrade wouldn’t have worked for them. They will have to call our customer service (800-875-6467) and have it manually unlocked. There is a qualification, though. The individual must have owned the old version prior to the release of the new version or at least not purchased the old version as a way to get the new version at a significantly reduced rate."

The Eucharist In Ignatius And Other Fathers

In another thread, Anne posted a passage from Ignatius of Antioch that Roman Catholics often cite in support of their view of the eucharist. I thought I'd repeat and expand upon my response to Anne here, since some people might find it helpful. In my experience, this passage from Ignatius is one of the most commonly cited patristic passages among Roman Catholics.

Here's the passage:

"They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again." (Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 7)

Yet, earlier in the same letter Ignatius writes:

"Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to a true belief in Christ's passion, which is our resurrection." (5)

Are we to conclude that Ignatius believed that Jesus' passion (or faith in His passion) is transubstantiated into our resurrection under the appearance of remaining Jesus' passion (or faith in His passion)?

Ignatius often wrote in a manner similar to what we see in the two passages quoted above. That should be a signal to the careful interpreter to proceed with caution.

There's nothing in Ignatius that tells us much about his view of the eucharist. Catholics can't claim to know that Ignatius agreed with them on this issue.

This passage in Ignatius was written in response to heretics who deny the physicality of Christ. Any of the popular views of the eucharist, including the symbolic view, would contradict the denial of Christ's physicality that Ignatius was arguing against. The symbolic view maintains that the eucharist has reference to Christ's physical body, so both a Baptist who holds the symbolic view and a Roman Catholic who adheres to transubstantation could agree with what Ignatius wrote. While it's possible that Ignatius believed in some sort of physical presence in the eucharist, nothing in the passage in question tells us that he did. When Jesus says that the cup is the new covenant (Luke 22:20), He obviously doesn't mean that the cup is transubstantiated into the new covenant. A covenant isn't something physical, and surely all of us understand how Jesus could use "is" in some sense other than transubstantiation. The same is true of Ignatius. Whether the eucharist represents Christ's physicality or is transubstantiated into it, either view contradicts a denial of Christ's physicality.

Roman Catholics often assume transubstantiation or something similar to it whenever they see an opportunity to read such a concept into a text. I would suggest that people closely examine Catholic claims on this subject, because a lot of what's commonly asserted is incorrect. A "real presence" isn't equivalent to transubstantiation. A person can believe in some type of eucharistic presence without believing in the Roman Catholic view of the eucharist. Many church fathers held a view of the eucharist that contradicts the Catholic view or could plausibly be interpreted in more than one way, not just in a Roman Catholic sense.

A good online source on this subject is Philip Schaff's church history. See section 69 here and section 95 here. I also recommend consulting Schaff's notes, since the notes cite additional passages from the fathers and cite other scholars confirming Schaff's conclusions. I don't agree with Schaff on every issue, and he doesn't include some arguments I would include, but his church history is good for a general introduction to the subject.

Contrast what Schaff and other scholars have documented with claims like these made by the Council of Trent:

"our Redeemer instituted this so admirable a sacrament at the last supper, when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, He testified, in express and clear words, that He gave them His own very Body, and His own Blood; words which, - recorded by the holy Evangelists, and afterwards repeated by Saint Paul, whereas they carry with them that proper and most manifest meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers, - it is indeed a crime the most unworthy that they should be wrested, by certain contentions and wicked men, to fictitious and imaginary tropes, whereby the verity of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, as the pillar and ground of truth, has detested, as satanical, these inventions devised by impious men" (session 13, chapter 1, "On the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist.")

"Since Christ our Redeemer said that that which he offered under the appearance of bread was truly his body, it has therefore always been held in the Church of God, and this holy Synod now declares anew, that through consecration of the bread and wine there comes about a conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. And this conversion is by the Holy Catholic church conveniently and properly called transubstantiation." (session 13, chapter 4, "Decrees Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist")

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The 'Other Side' of the Tracks

For my fellow "Prots" . . .

We are repeatedly lambasted about how twisted to and fro in the wind we must be if we hold to sola Scripture and the right of private judgment. "Come on across the tracks," they tell us, " and hold on to Tradition and achieve cognitive rest about which doctrines are true."

But is this the case? Let's look at one concrete example. A journey of a man who rejected sola Scriptura. He is familiar to many of you since he debated Steve and some others here. His name is Jay Dyer. He recently debated Josh Brisby, and points out that largely due to brisby's efforts in that debate, Jay is no longer eastern Orthodox (he has a "technicality" which lets him off the hook because, "Though I confessed it for the past two and a half years and was a catechumen, I chose not to be chrismated, and thus not technically becoming Orthodox."). Here is his retraction.

Here is his "about" page:

Jay Dyer is a former Protestant Seminary Student who obtained his B.A. in philosophy & history. He is an avidly amateur (or "sophomoric" as some prefer) theologian, philosopher and writer. Jay currently resides in Paris, TN and is a convert to Eastern Catholicism, yet feverishly loves both rites.

Jay used to be a Protestant. The above is somewhat vague as to the rest of the details, though. Jay came to reject sola Scriptura. He also came to reject total depravity, which, in his words, presents "Prots" with a defeater for their beliefs because it "skews the facts for us." Okay, so all should be good for Dyer now. No more fact-skewing. But our story does not end there, though.

Jay became a Roman Catholic, and then a Sedevacantist Catholic (held to everything pre-Vat. II), then Jay became Eastern Orthodox (well, affirmed that it was the true way for roughly two years), and now Jay is an "Eastern Catholic" (basically they affirm much EO practice but are in communion with Rome). No doubt now he has the truth. No doubt now he's finally arrived at the "true" church.

Boy, it sure looks like there's a whole lot of fact-skewing going on for Mr. Dyer. And he even rejected sola Scriptura and total depravity. If it isn't belief in total depravity that is skewing the facts for Jay, pray tell, what is it? Is there a Catholic or Orthodox name for this fact-skewer? Having searched sacred Tradition, I could not find it and so must give it a name. Call it a "blip."

So, here's a prime example for all my brow-beaten Protestant brothers and sisters of the massive stability you will achieve by rejecting sola Scriptura and total depravity:

Protestant==>Roman Catholic==>Sedevacantist Catholic==>Eastern Orthodoxy==>Eastern Catholicism.

What's even better, the "Fathers" sent him everywhere. Jay constantly rebuts what he thought Tradition said with what he now thinks Tradition says. Jay believes Tradition says X, Perry Robinson that is says Y, and Scott Hahn that it says Z.

So my fellow Protestants, when the Socs ask us Greasers to come on over to the other side of the tracks because we'll achieve all sorts of "certainty" and cognitive rest, just tell 'em, "Nah, Ponyboy and me are fine where we're at, thank you. But we're ready to rumble any time you are."

Whose Tradition, And Why?

LVKA said:

"And the problem with interpretation is not whether it's literal or figurative, but whether it's condoned by Tradition or not."

Like the Tradition of the ante-Nicene fathers who interpreted scripture in opposition to the veneration of images? Or the Tradition of the early Christians who prayed only to God, not to the deceased or angels? Do you agree with the Marian beliefs of the earliest Christians, such as their Tradition that Mary committed sin?

I agree with the principle that we can accept an interpretation of scripture that isn't derived from a grammatical-historical method of interpretation, if a verifiably authoritative entity is giving us that interpretation. For example, since Jesus is God, He would be in a position to know that an Old Testament passage has a secondary meaning that can't be attained through a grammatical-historical method of interpretation. We would be justified in accepting such a secondary meaning for an Old Testament passage, since that secondary meaning had been taught by Jesus.

The problem is that you and other Eastern Orthodox don't give us any reason to believe that your concept of Tradition has the authority you claim it has. You would first have to make an objective case for that system of authority by means of interpreting the relevant historical documents through the grammatical-historical method. That's the normative means by which we approach historical documents in general, such as the writings of the church fathers and ecumenical councils.

All that Evangelicals are doing is interpreting scripture as we would interpret other historical documents, until we have justification to do otherwise. The archives of this blog contain many examples of our asking Eastern Orthodox participants to make an objective case for their system of authority and their failure to do so. You haven't given us any reason to look to your Tradition to interpret scripture for us in the manner in which we look to Jesus or the apostle Paul to do so. Even if we assume that an interpretation of scripture given to us by Jesus or Paul wasn't derived from a grammatical-historical method, we still have reason to accept that interpretation on other grounds. The same can't be said for the interpretations derived from your Tradition.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Wafer Wars

Opening hostilities in the Wafer Wars commenced when a renegade monk by the name of Sensibilius published a commentary on the Gospel of John in which he suggested that the words, “I am the true bread,” should be interpreted figuratively rather than literally.

His book was immediately placed on the index, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest, and he was promptly burnt at the stake.

That seemed to put an end to the matter, but his contraband commentary became the subject of learned disputations, and this—in turn—merely raised more meddlesome questions.

If the Son was a loaf of bread, then who was the Baker, and when did he come out of the oven?

After much agitation, the Council of Holy Dough solemnly decreed the dogma of the eternal fermentation of the Son.

However, the Western Church took it upon herself to amend the decree. The amended text of the Council now decreed the double fermentation of the Son.

This led to a schism between the One True Church of the West and the other One True Church of the East.

In the East, the Patriarch of Constantinople soon has his own crisis to deal with. For centuries, Eastern liturgy specified that the sacred baker add the salt after the flour, but before the water.

This was in accordance with The Booke of Julia Chylde, in the Slavonic version. Unless the ingredients were added in the prescribed order, the sacrament was invalid.

However, the Slavonic version was a translation of the long lost Nubian version. A monk at St. Catherine’s recently discovered the misfiled copy of the Nubian version.

Upon inspection, church authorities found, to their chagrin, that in the Nubian version the baker was to add the salt before the flour, but after the water.

Church authorities tried to suppress the discrepancy, but word got out. Soon the One True Church of the East was rent between the pre-Saltine faction and the post-Saltine faction, depending on which recipe was deemed to be the canonical recipe.

One pre-Saltine baker was charged with sacrilege for surreptitiously adding the ingredients in the wrong order. As punishment, he, his wife, and their eleven children were stuffed into a giant puff pastry and heated in his own oven.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Nubian version also contained a variant reading of Ps 103:12. For centuries, the Church had used this verse as a prooftext for unleavened communion bread. In the Slavonic version, it read, “as far as the yeast is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Now, however, they found out that the original reading was “east” instead of “yeast.”

This was a matter of extreme delicacy, for it meant that generations of devout communicants had been receiving mere bread. When word leaked out of this revelation, lay believers began to practice proxy communion on behalf of the dead—in hopes of redeeming their loved ones from the lake of fire.

Meanwhile, the other One True Church of the West was fighting the Wafer Wars on another front.

Charles the Short, lord of the Holy Roman Empire, needed to form a military alliance with the king of Saxony to defend his border along the Palatinate. And to do that, he needed to arrange a marriage between his only daughter, Princess Crumbcake, and Duke das Brot, nephew to the king of Saxony.

But the nephew to the king of Saxony was already married, so he needed to annul his marriage.

However, Pope Obnoxius III needed to form a military alliance with the Palatine king to defend the eastern flank of the papal estates. And he couldn’t grant an annulment to the king of Saxony without offending the Palatine monarch.

On the other hand, he couldn’t afford to offend the king of Saxony since he needed his troops to defend the western flank of the papal estates.

To further complicate matters, Princess Crumbcake was a secret disciple of the Cinnamonians. This was a sect that ardently believed the wafer should be made of cinnamon bread.

After all, if the Savior was literally bread, then what sort of bread was he? Princess Crumbcake’s theological judgment was admittedly swayed by the fact that she had a sweet tooth.

By contrast, the Duke was of the firm conviction that banana bread was the only true communion bread. After all, the true bread came “from above,” which is true of banana trees, but hardly true of wheat fields.

Pope Obnoxius III convoked the Second Council of Holy Dough to hammer out a compromise. By handing out a preferment here and a preferment there, Pope Obnoxius was able to secure the votes necessary to pass an infallible decree.

But his compromise provoked a peasant revolt. For generations the peasantry had been led to believe their liturgy was the true liturgy. To go to Mass one day and suddenly hear new words and see new rites left them deeply shaken. They boycotted the new Mass. They threatened to do violence to the village priest unless he recited the old Mass. Civil war was close at hand.

Pope Obnoxius laid the countryside under edict. For a while, there was a thriving black market in old communion wafers, consecrated under the old rites. At its peak, a wafer might go for as much as a milk cow and two guinea hens.

Families huddled behind barricaded doors during the witching hour, for fear the bowels of perdition would open wide and swallow them whole now that they had no digested wafer to ward off evil spirits.

But as time went on, people began to notice...well...they began to notice that time went on. Things that go bump in the night were no bumpier than normal. Death by ritual Satanic murder remained well within the actuarial mean.

It slowly dawned on people that maybe Sensibilius was right all along.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Oo, Those Awful Orcs!

I recently got drawn into hand-to-hand combat with a couple of orcs who invaded the shire of a Presbyterian hobbit:

Here is my side of the exchange:

steve hays said,
June 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Ken Hendrickson said,

“In the first place, Sola Scriptura is directly contradicted by 2 Thess 2:15, which commands that we hold fast to the TRADITIONS which were taught by the Apostles, even those which were only taught orally and never written down.”

It says nothing of the kind. You’ve taken a verse of Scripture, stripped it of its historical context, and then reapplied it willy-nilly to your denomination of choice.

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 Christians in general? Did Paul address 1 Thessalonians to Ken Hendrickson? No. Did he speak to Ken personally? No. Was Ken in the audience when he spoke? No.

Is Paul, in this verse, enjoining *Ken* to adhere to the written and oral traditions which *he* (Paul) taught Ken by his spoken word or earlier letter? No. False on both counts.

Is Paul enjoining Ken 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.

Rather, the verse is 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.

I wonder if Ken tries to universalize Hos 1:2 in the same way he tries to universalize 2 Thes 2:15.

steve hays said,
June 17, 2008 at 7:37 am

Ken Hendrickson said,

“Next, Sola Scriptura is self-contradictory. Sola Scriptura is a doctrine. It posits that all doctrine be formed only from scripture. But Sola Scriptura cannot be found in the Bible. It is a *presupposition* of those who suspect Rome or Constantinople (or Moscow or Antioch, etc.) are teaching error. Sola Scriptura is therefore self-contradictory.”

Next, oral tradition is self-contradictory. Either you can document oral tradition or you can’t. If you can document oral tradition, then it ceases to be oral tradition. If you can’t document it, then you can’t identify oral tradition.

steve hays said,
June 17, 2008 at 7:39 am

Ken Hendrickson said,

“It was the Bible that drove me into Catholicism. John chapter 6, when interpreted with the grammatical-historical method, teaches what the Catholic Church has always taught.”

The primary concern of the grammatico-historical method is to avoid anachronistic interpretations. How could Jesus fault his Jewish audience for failing to recognize a Eucharistic allusion before the Lord’s Supper was even instituted?

steve hays said,
June 17, 2008 at 7:40 am

Ken Hendrickson said,

“Even more importantly, I find Matt 16:19 to be a very clear and emphatic transfer of authority from Jesus to Peter, the first pope. This passage of scripture hearkens back to Isaiah 22:22, and the authority of the Eliakim the steward of the King.”

The stewardship of Eliakim was not a perpetual office.

steve hays said,
June 17, 2008 at 7:56 am

Ken Hendrickson said,
“We sinners are not the final arbiter of Truth. It is the Church who is the pillar and foundation of the Truth. (1 Tim 3:15).”

1 Tim 3:15 is a reference to the local church, not the universal church. Even Catholic commentators admit this (e.g. Quinn, L. T. Johnson).

It would also behoove Ken to read L.T. Johnson on the actual meaning of the metaphor. He doesn’t even keep up with Catholic scholarship.

“Even more importantly, I find Matt 16:19 to be a very clear and emphatic transfer of authority from Jesus to Peter, the first pope. This passage of scripture hearkens back to Isaiah 22:22, and the authority of the Eliakim the steward of the King.”

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the claim that Mt 16:19 teaches apostolic succession, that would hardly make the bishop of Rome Peter’s sole successor. According to both Scripture and tradition, Peter ministered in areas outside Rome. So he would have ordained successors to other Apostolic Sees besides Rome. Hence, Ken’s argument either proves too much or too little.

“That is my point, and Robert Sungenis’ point, that Sola Scriptura is a false doctrine, because it is not found in scripture itself.”

Christianity is a revealed religion. God holds his people accountable to himself via his word. His Word is found in Scripture. That is why his Word was committed to writing in the first place. That is why the Mosaic Covenant is a written contract. Note the commands which God issues to OT prophets to write down his revelations. That is why the gospels were *written*. The age of public revelation ended with the Apostles.

steve hays said,
June 17, 2008 at 7:54 pm

Ken Hendrickson said,

“PS Most others here are also chasing rabbits. There are answers for all of those questions, but none of you are asking them because you are honestly seeking answers. You are asking them as an attack.”

To the contrary, we were merely answering you on your own grounds. You chose to level a number of objections to the Protestant faith. When we respond to your objections, you suddenly shift tactics in midstream.

Obviously you have no counterargument. You shot your wad the first time round with your rote, Catholic Answers talking points. As soon as those were shot down, you had no fallback position. So now you’re changing the subject.

But let the record show that we were responding to you in the way you yourself chose to initially frame the issues. It’s only after you lost when we responded to you on your own turf that you decided to try out this new tactic. Very transparent, Ken, and very disingenuous.

If we’re going down rabbit trails, that’s because we’re chasing down the rabbit trails you led us down in the first place.

“To deny Jesus’ words ‘This is My Body’, and ‘This is My Blood’, is to make Jesus out to be a liar.”

In that case, you, as a Catholic, make Jesus out to be a liar. In that case, you, as a Catholic, have a Gnostic Christology. For if you’re really going to take Jesus at his word, if you’re really going to take his words at face value, then he didn’t say that his is merely “present” in the communion elements. He didn’t say that is true body and bloody is present under the “species” of bread and wine. The communion elements *are* his body and blood. It’s the language of *identity*.

Moreover, Jesus never said that this only happens when the priest pronounces the words of consecration. So where are you getting that from Jn 6 or 1 Cor 11?
Furthermore, if you interpret Jn 6 sacramentally, that every communicant is heavenbound (Jn 6:51,54). Everyone Catholic who ever went to Mass and partook of communion is saved, once and for all.

But, according to Catholic theology, it’s possible for a Catholic to die in mortal sin and go to hell, right? So where does that leave your interpretation of Jn 6, Ken?

“Only the Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and a few high-church Anglo-Catholic Anglicans get the Eucharist right. All other Protestants get it wrong. And thus, all other Protestants have a religion which is fundamentally different than the Christian Religion.”

Of course, Ken, your reasoning is reversible. If high churchmen and low churchmen disagree, then that disagreement doesn’t, of itself, indicate the direction in which the truth lies. It could just as well be the case that all the high churchmen got it wrong.

And, to judge by your performance thus far, it surely looks like the high churchmen took a wrong turn.

steve hays said,
June 18, 2008 at 7:51 am

Ken Hendrickson said,

“Correct. That is what the shorthand phrase ‘Real Presence’ means.”

No, strict identity doesn’t allow for the true body and bloody under the species of the bread and wine. Identity doesn’t allow for any distinctions between appearance and reality. You’re equivocating.

And, of course, Jn 6 doesn’t speak of wine. If Jn 6 were Eucharistic, we would expect the following parallel:

Bread is to body
Wine is to blood

What we instead get is bread/flesh.

You’re also dodging other problems internal to your interpretation which I already pointed out.

“I believe John 6 literally.”

Do you also believe Jn 15 literally? Is Jesus a literal grape vine? What type of grape juice is Jesus composed of? Concord grapes? Is Jesus composed of fermented or unfermented grape juice?

In Jn 6, Jesus says he’s bread. Do you think Jesus is made of bread? What kind of bread to you think Jesus is made of? Sour dough? Gingerbread? Pumpernickel Rye? Remember, you take this literally, right?

steve hays said,
June 18, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Ken Hendrickson said,
“First, let’s deal with the context. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In Hebrew, this means ‘House of Bread’. This is not a coincidence, or an accident. It is significant.”

It’s not significant to the context of Jn 6 since the Fourth Gospel doesn’t have a nativity account.

“Next, what happened just prior to this teaching from Christ was the feeding of the 5000 (+ women and children) from 2 fishes and 5 loaves (:1-:14). This is not a coincidence or an accident either. It is significant.”

No one denies that Jesus’ action is significant. That’s a straw man argument.

“Jesus was showing us that He could feed the entire world with His flesh and blood, despite the large size of the world, and the relatively small size of His body.”

That’s an assertion, not an argument. You need to exegete that claim from the text.

“The Manna is a clear “type” — a pre-figurement — a fore-shadowing — of the Eucharist.”

No, it’s a type of the Cross.

“Does Jesus explain that he is only figuratively the Bread of Life? Does Jesus explain that He is only speaking symbolically? No!!”

So if Jesus is literal bread, then what kind of bread is Jesus? Cornbread? Cinnamon bread? What kind of bread dough does the heavenly bakery use?

Remember, it’s a no-no to treat this imagery as figurative or symbolic. So this is literal bread—hot out of the celestial oven.

After all, God wouldn’t give his children stale bread or day-old bread. Only fresh-baked bread will do.

“Jesus, even more emphatically, claims again that He is the Bread of Life, and if anybody eats this bread, he will live forever.”

So, according to Ken, anyone who ever went to Mass has a nonrefundable ticket to heaven.

Does Catholic theology teach that a communicant can’t fall into mortal sin and go to hell? No.

“Get yourself into the True Church, where you may eat Jesus’ Flesh, and drink His Blood, because otherwise you will have no life in you.”

Really? So, according to Ken, only Catholics are heavenbound. Everyone else is damned.

Is that what Vatican II theology actually teaches? No.

Ken is misrepresenting the theology of his own church. A typical convert. More Catholic than the Pope.

steve hays said,
June 19, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Ken Hendrickson said,

“Consider the implications. Jesus said, ‘Unless you eat My Flesh, and drink My Blood, you have no life in you.’ Protestants, according to this, have no life in them, because they are not eating Jesus’ Flesh, nor are they drinking Jesus’ Blood, by their own admission and their own teaching.”

How does that conclusion follow—even on Ken’s assumptions? It would only follow if the subjective intentions of the communicant determine whether the words of Jesus are true or false. Is that Ken’s position?

If a communicant happens to believe in the Real Presence, then Jesus’ words are true—but if a communicant doesn’t believe in the Real presence, then Jesus’ words are falsified by his disbelief.

So, according to Ken’s “literal” interpretation of Jn 6, the “literal” meaning of Jn 6 is personal-variable. It has no objective meaning. If you believe in the Real Presence, then you receive the true body and blood of Christ—but if you don’t believe in the Real Presence, then you just receive bread and wine.

Transubstantiation is subject to the veto power of the communicant. The “Host” is present or absent depending on the subjective state of the communicant, and not upon the word of Christ.

Of course, as far as their “own admissions” or “teaching” is concerned, many Protestants regard Jn 6 as foreshadowing, not the Eucharist, but the Cross. And they do believe that they receive the benefits of what is signified in the Jn 6 (i.e. Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross on behalf of, and in place of, his people).

steve hays said,
June 19, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Ken Hendrickson said,

“Protestants do not believe in transubstantiation. They all readily admit this. Except for the Lutherans, Protestants do not believe in consubstantiation either. They all readily admit this. Protestants do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and they will tell you so…But Jesus said that if you don’t eat His Flesh, and drink His Blood, that you have no life in you. I conclude, using simple logic and Jesus’ words, that Protestants have no life in them. That is what the words of our Lord mean. (I am not judging; I am only turning the crank and applying the rules of logic.)”

Yet the question at issue is not—from your perspective—what Protestants think is true, but what you think is true. If I order beef, and I’m accidentally served horsemeat instead, am I not eating horsemeat even though I believe that I’m eating beef?

If you, Ken, believe the communion elements are the true body and blood of Christ, then that is what a communicant receives whether or not *he* believes it.

“Protestants never deal with 1 Cor 11:23-34.”

Is that a fact? Gordon Fee, for one, deals with it in some detail. He argues, on contextual grounds, that the “body” in v29 has reference to the church, not the Eucharist.

“What you need in order to have a valid Eucharist is a validly ordained priest, who was ordained by a bishop, who was consecrated by a bishop, …, who was consecrated a bishop by one of the Apostles. (You need Apostolic succession, and a valid priest.) Furthermore, you need to have valid matter: there must be wheat bread and fermented grape wine. Lastly, you must have the correct prayers of consecration.”

Look at what Ken has suddenly done to his prooftexts. He accused Protestants of making Jesus out to be a liar because we allegedly fail to take him at his word. But Ken treats the Bread of Life Discourse like a devious insurance contract. Ken has appended an escape clause after he got back to the office. Needless to say, you won’t find a single one of these conditions in Jn 6. Indeed, you won’t find any of these conditions in the entirety of the fourth Gospel.

And not only won’t you find these conditions in his Johannine prooftext, but you also won’t find them in his Pauline prooftext (1 Cor 11).

So he’s nullified the force of Jn 6 by a set of extraneous riders. Look how far he’s moved away from the bold position he staked out at the beginning of this thread.

Incidentally, Ken, how do you verify apostolic succession? And how do you verify the valid administration of the sacraments?

steve hays said,
June 20, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Ken Hendrickson said,

“The writings of those whom the Church has declared to be saints and doctors, interpreting the scriptures, is surely a more reliable guide than I am. They are also surely a more reliable guide than you are.”

Ken, how do you verify the true church?

BTW, do you exercise private judgment when you verify the true church?

It is the Church who is the pillar and foundation of the Truth. (1 Tim 3:15)… On a risk-benefit analysis, I decline to interpret scripture myself.”

So you just forfeited the right to apply 1 Tim 3:15 to the Catholic church. Since you can’t exercise private judgment to interpret 1 Tim 3:15, you can’t tell us that 1 Tim 3:15 applies to the Catholic church.

steve hays said,
June 22, 2008 at 8:22 am

Ken Hendrickson said,

“You have expressed the Protestant religion well. For you, there are only symbols. There is no deeper reality. There is no *sacramental* *incarnational* reality. Bread is bread and nothing more. God worked through physical stuff in the Incarnation, by becoming human, but He is done with that physical stuff now. Now God works gnostically, if at all.”

You’re so caught up in your Catholic propaganda machine that you don’t even try to be accurate. God is present with his people through his grace and providence. In election, regeneration, justification, adoption, and sanctification. And his grace applies of work of the Incarnate, crucified, and Risen Lord.

God answers their prayers, preserves them in the faith, and providentially guides them by a multitude of circumstances which he himself arranged for the good of his people.

“In the True Christian religion, which is Incarnational to the core, the Eucharist ‘represents’ the sacrifice to us. The Eucharist ‘re-Presents’ that One Sacrifice, Once Offered. Christ crucified, then resurrected, is made Real and Present for us, where (in space) and when (in time) we are. God offers us Himself, just as He offered us Himself in the Incarnation. God still works with physical stuff. Incarnation continues through sacraments. We participate in the Last Supper, in the Crucifixion, and in the Resurrection, via the Eucharist. We partake of the divine nature.”

You keep repeating your thumbnail exposition of the Mass, as if we hadn’t heard that before, as if by saying the same thing enough times that will make it true.

“Protestantism and Catholicism/Orthodoxy are two different religions. They are not the same. They are not equivalent. They cannot both be True. They are not both Incarnational; one is, but the other isn’t.”

There are, indeed, Catholics who’ve taken your sacramentalism to heart. They always show up at Mass late, and leave early. They skip all the extraneous parts. The prayers. The hymns. The homily, &c.

They time it just for the Eucharist. Then they leave. They come for their weekly God-pill. Their weekly dose of encapsulated grace.

You’re pinning your hope of salvation on the ability of the priest to contain Jesus in a wafer. That is, indeed, a different religion.

Why not skip the Mass altogether and just install a vending machine in the narthex to dispense consecrated communion wafers? The Host at 50¢ a pop?

It’s also a different religion when Mary becomes a substitute Jesus.

steve hays said,
June 23, 2008 at 7:55 am

Ken Hendrickson said,

“The passages in Matt 16 (and also Matt 1 seem quite decisive to me. It was *only* Peter who was given the Keys. And this passage directly hearkens to the passage in Isaiah 22, concerning the steward of the King’s palace, Eliakim. The parallels between opening and shutting, and binding and loosing, are remarkable.”

A direct appeal to Mt 16:18 greatly obscures the number of steps that have to be interpolated in order to get us from Peter to the papacy. Let’s jot down just a few of these intervening steps:
a) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to “Peter.”
b) The promise of Mt 16:18 has “exclusive” reference to Peter.
c) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to a Petrine “office.”
d) This office is “perpetual”
e) Peter resided in “Rome”
f) Peter was the “bishop” of Rome
g) Peter was the “first” bishop of Rome
h) There was only “one” bishop at a time
i) Peter was not a bishop “anywhere else.”
j) Peter “ordained” a successor
k) This ceremony “transferred” his official prerogatives to a successor.
l) The succession has remained “unbroken” up to the present day.

Lets go back and review each of these twelve separate steps:

(a) V18 may not even refer to Peter. “We can see that ‘Petros’ is not the “petra’ on which Jesus will build his church…In accord with 7:24, which Matthew quotes here, the ‘petra’ consists of Jesus’ teaching, i.e., the law of Christ. ‘This rock’ no longer poses the problem that ‘this’ is ill suits an address to Peter in which he is the rock. For that meaning the text would have read more naturally ‘on you.’ Instead, the demonstrative echoes 7:24; i.e., ‘this rock’ echoes ‘these my words.’ Only Matthew put the demonstrative with Jesus words, which the rock stood for in the following parable (7:24-27). His reusing it in 16:18 points away from Peter to those same words as the foundation of the church…Matthew’s Jesus will build only on the firm bedrock of his law (cf. 5:19-20; 28:19), not on the loose stone Peter. Also, we no longer need to explain away the association of the church’s foundation with Christ rather than Peter in Mt 21:42,” R. Gundry, Matthew (Eerdmans 1994), 334.
(b) Is falsified by the power-sharing arrangement in Mt 18:17-18 & Jn 20:23.
(c) The conception of a Petrine office is borrowed from Roman bureaucratic categories (officium) and read back into this verse. The original promise is indexed to the person of Peter. There is no textual assertion or implication whatsoever to the effect that the promise is separable from the person of Peter.
(d) In 16:18, perpetuity is attributed to the Church, and not to a church office.
(e) There is some evidence that Peter paid a visit to Rome (cf. 1 Pet 5:13). There is some evidence that Peter also paid a visit to Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 9:5).
(f) This commits a category mistake. An Apostle is not a bishop. Apostleship is a vocation, not an office, analogous to the prophetic calling. Or, if you prefer, it’s an extraordinary rather than ordinary office.
(g) The original Church of Rome was probably organized by Messianic Jews like Priscilla and Aquilla (cf. Acts 18:2; Rom 16:3). It wasn’t founded by Peter. Rather, it consisted of a number of house-churches (e.g. Rom 16; Hebrews) of Jewish or Gentile membership—or mixed company.
(h) NT polity was plural rather than monarchal. The Catholic claim is predicated on a strategic shift from a plurality of bishops (pastors/elders) presiding over a single (local) church—which was the NT model—to a single bishop presiding over a plurality of churches. And even after you go from (i) oligarchic to (ii) monarchal prelacy, you must then continue from monarchal prelacy to (iii) Roman primacy, from Roman primacy to (iv) papal primacy, and from papal primacy to (v) papal infallibility. So step (h) really breaks down into separate steps—none of which enjoys the slightest exegetical support.
(j) Peter also presided over the Diocese of Pontus-Bithynia (1 Pet 1:1). And according to tradition, Antioch was also a Petrine See (Apostolic Constitutions 7:46.).
(j)-(k) This suffers from at least three objections:
i) These assumptions are devoid of exegetical support. There is no internal warrant for the proposition that Peter ordained any successors.
ii) Even if he had, there is no exegetical evidence that the imposition of hands is identical with Holy Orders.
iii) Even if we went along with that identification, Popes are elected to papal office, they are not ordained to papal office. There is no separate or special sacrament of papal orders as over against priestly orders. If Peter ordained a candidate, that would just make him a pastor (or priest, if you prefer), not a Pope.
(l) This cannot be verified. What is more, events like the Great Schism falsify it in practice, if not in principle.

These are not petty objections. In order to get from Peter to the modern papacy you have to establish every exegetical and historical link in the chain. To my knowledge, I haven’t said anything here that a contemporary Catholic scholar or theologian would necessarily deny. They would simply fallback on a Newmanesque principle of dogmatic development to justify their position. But other issues aside, this admits that there is no straight-line deduction from Mt 16:18 to the papacy. What we have is, at best, a chain of possible inferences. It only takes one broken link anywhere up or down the line to destroy the argument. Moreover, only the very first link has any apparent hook in Mt 16:18. Except for (v), all the rest depend on tradition and dogma. Their traditional support is thin and equivocal while the dogmatic appeal is self-serving.
The prerogatives ascribed to Peter in 16:19 (”binding and loosing” are likewise conferred on the Apostles generally in 18:18. The image of the “keys” (v19a) is used for Peter only, but this is a figure of speech—while the power signified by the keys was already unpacked by the “binding and loosing” language, so that no distinctively Petrine prerogative remains in the original promise. In other words, the “keys” do not refer to a separate prerogative that is distinctive to Peter. That confuses the metaphor with its literal referent.

Regarding Isa 22:22—as E.J. Young has noted,
“This office is not made hereditary. God promises the key to Eliakim but not to his descendants. The office continues, but soon loses its exalted character. It was Eliakim the son of Hilkiah who was exalted, and not the office itself. Eliakim had all the power of a “Rabshakeh,” [the chief of drinking], and in him the Assyrian might recognize a man who could act for the theocracy…Whether Eliakim actually was guilty of nepotism or not, we are expressly told that at the time (”in that day” when they hang all the glory of his father’s house upon him he will be removed. Apparently the usefulness of the office itself will have been exhausted…The usefulness of Eliakim’s exalted position was at an end: were it to continue as it was under Eliakim it would not be for the welfare of the kingdom; its end therefore must come,” the Book of Isaiah (Eerdmans 1982), 116-18.

More generally, every argument for Petrine primacy is an argument against papal primacy since the more that Catholicism plays up the unique authority of Peter, as over against the Apostolic college, the less his prerogatives are transferable to a line of successors. There’s a basic tension between the exclusivity of his office vis-à-vis the Apostolate and the inclusivity of his office vis-à-vis the Episcopate.

steve hays said,
June 19, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Canadian said,

“Jesus rarely explained much to his Jewish audience. In fact, the parables are said to be for the closing of the Jewish ear not the opening of it. Linear history and Christ’s revealing of himself rarely coincide. Mary pondered in her heart many things about her Son because she didn’t understand, but she believed. The disciples and Apostles remembered and understood much of what Christ said to them after Pentecost, but they believed. The true understanding of the Kingdom (David’s throne) was preached by Peter first in Acts, even though Christ went about “preaching the kingdom of God”. The cross was a mystery until long after it happened. The New Testament says all that the prophets wrote (and didn’t understand) were written for us upon whom the ends of the world had come.”

You’re equivocating. There’s a difference between not understanding something when you ought to know better and not understanding something because you were in no position to know any better.

“Christ is not expecting Eucharistic understanding, he is proclaiming himself to be the bread of Life but that does not necessarily negate Eucharistic meaning just because of a perceived linear time issue.”

Keep in mind that I’m responding to Ken. He argues for the Eucharistic interpretation of Jn 6. He thinks that’s obvious from the text itself. Do you disagree with him? Are you arguing for a Eucharistic interpretation on a different basis?

“Besides, John 6 was not written until 40-60 years AFTER the Eucharist was instituted and in use.”

You’re changing the subject. I’m responding to Ken. Answering Ken on his own grounds. He said he came to his Catholic understanding of Jn 6 via the grammatico-historical method. The fact that this speech wasn’t transcribed until after the institution of the Lord’s Supper is irrelevant to the historical horizon of the audience to which it was originally addressed, which was a Jewish audience living before the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, according to the grammatico-historical exegesis, what they were in a historical position to understand is directly germane to what Jesus meant them to understand when he spoke to them.

Canadian said,

“They were not in any position to understand the cross either.”

They were in a position to understand types and prophecies regarding a Messiah who would die to redeem his people.

“What people do or do not understand at the time is up to God. What and when he reveals by the Spirit to his people as explanation of what was not earlier understood is also his right.”

You’re obfuscating. The question is whether, in Jn 6, the Jewish audience was supposed to understand. Were they blameworthy for their failure to understand what he said?

“Grammatico-historical exegesis cannot always lock down scientifically what scripture must mean.”

i) To begin with, I was responding to Ken. He said, “John chapter 6, when interpreted with the grammatical-historical method, teaches what the Catholic Church has always taught.”

So you’re now admitting that his position is indefensible. Fine. That makes two of us.

ii) Of course, I disagree with you on grammatico-historical exegesis, but the combox of Green Baggins is not the place to debate that.

“God, being outside of time, may not be as concerned with it as we are, even though he relates to us within the boundaries he has placed us.”

That’s irrelevant to the fact that when God chooses to communicate with timebound human beings, he must accommodate our historical horizon. If he doesn’t speak to be understood, then communication is pointless.

“My point in #209 was that just because Jesus does not say that this discourse is (partially?) about the future eucharist does not necessarily mean that when John writes about it 40-60 years later, the church does not have genuine reason to understand the eucharistic connection without John explaning this in the text itself.”

Actually, the reason that Jn 6 reminds a Christian reader of the Eucharist is that Jn 6 foreshadows the Cross, while the Eucharist signifies the Cross, so they share a common referent, with some cross-referential imagery. Jn 6 triggers secondary associations with the Eucharist via the primary referent (i.e. the Cross).

“You yourself make similar assumptions when declaring it is only about the cross. Jesus isn’t concerned with exegeting his own words at the time which is often the case as in the examples I gave.”

Once again, I’m merely responding to Ken on his own grounds. Grammatico-historical exegesis doesn’t mean that we must treat Jn 6 as a self-contained literary unit. Intertextuality is a basic element of grammatico-historical exegesis. An earlier text foreshadows a later text, just as a later text alludes to an earlier text.

And the OT also lies in the background of Jn 6. Indeed, that’s not even in the subtext of Jn 6. That’s explicit.

But Ken is the one who treats the Eucharistic interpretation of Jn 6 as self-evident.

steve hays said,
June 21, 2008 at 8:44 am

Canadian said,

“Were they not in a position to understand types and prophecies regarding a Messiah who would be the (eucharistic) life and sustenance of his people (manna/bread of life)?”

That the OT contains types and prophecies regarding a Messiah who would die to redeem his people has been extensively documented by various scholars.

But if you think the OT prefigures or predicts the eucharist, then you need to make your own case. It’s not my job to make your argument for you—especially since I disagree with your interpretation.

“Why would a Calvinist like yourself require understanding as a prerequisite for their blame anyway?”

You continue to equivocate. If a listener fails to understand something he was supposed to understand, then he’s blameworthy.

“And just because Ken said your method would work in his favour does not prove his final position is indefensible.”

And how does it not? You and he are defending the eucharistic interpretation on opposing grounds. He’s appealing to the grammatico-historical method, which you reject. He regards the eucharistic interpretation as obvious. You, by contrast, have no problem with the idea that Christ’s words would have been quite opaque to the original audience.

“A strange statement for a Calvinistic view, especially considering Jesus’ own stated purpose for the parables to the Jews, and Paul’s statements about spritually discerned words and his preaching to be the savor of life for belivers and death for unbelievers. His self revelation is never pointless, but again, God’s self revelation in history is not negated by the ignorance or incompitence or sinfulness of initial hearers.”

You’re confounding very different issues:

i) Is something misunderstood because it’s inherently incomprehensible?

ii) Or is it misunderstood because the audience is resistant to the meaning of the statement?

It’s not that divine communication is inherently obscure or unintelligible. If that were the case, then even the regenerate couldn’t make sense of what is nonsensical. Rather, the reprobate are too hardened to give divine communication a fair hearing.

The breakdown in communication occurs, not at the level of objective meaning, but at the level of subjective receptivity.

“You have decided the cross is the primary referent, the context itself does not necessary lend itself to this.”

Yes it does, since it uses sacrificial language.

“He is revealing himself as having come down from heaven (Incarnation)”

Coming down for what purpose? Becoming Incarnate for what purpose?

“And that they are to believe in him.”

No, in the context of Jn 6, it’s insufficient to merely affirm the Incarnation. That’s not an end in itself. That’s not saving faith. That’s a necessary, but insufficient, condition.

“Christ himself is the prime referent.”

Not simply Christ qua Christ, but Christ in his redemptive role. Hence, the sacrificial language.

“His sacrifice and later eucharist are all directly connected to him.”

But they’re hardly connected in the same way. His sacrifice is the reality—of which the eucharist is the symbol.

“If you believe in him you will have life–this is what he was saying directly to his hearers that day.”

If you believe in him, not merely as the Incarnate Son, but the Redeemer.

“Of course the cross will be part of this economy.”

No, not just a “part.” That’s central to the sacrificial thrust of Jn 6.

“But I think the eucharist is just as much a part because Christ is pleased to offer himself by specific means.”

If you beg the question in favor of transubstantiatio—or the Orthodox equivalent.

“Hence the vivid ‘eating’ language both in Jn 6 and in 1 Cor.”

No, the vivid “eating” language goes back to OT sacrificial imagery, viz. consuming the Passover lamb.

You’re so busy superimposing your Orthodox grid on the text that you can’t see the actual, intertextual connections.

Private judgment

1. The right of private judgment involves two distinct issues which are often bundled into one:

i) The subjective source of private judgment

ii) The objective standard of private judgment.

Regarding (i), every professing believer, whether he’s a low churchman or high churchman, has to exercise his individual judgment. That’s inescapable. The high churchman is no exception to this necessity. It’s not as if the low churchman is an autonomous individual while the high churchman has no mind of his own. No, the high churchman thinks that his denomination, his tradition, is right. And that represents a personal value-judgment.

Regarding (ii), the rule of faith is external to us. Even though you apply it (the subjective dimension), what you apply is something over and above yourself (the objective dimension).

It’s like using a ruler. You use the ruler to measure an object. Indeed, you may use it to measure yourself.

But the ruler is a standardized measuring device, with standardized units, such as inches and feet. You didn’t create the standard.

2. At this point the high churchman says, “A perfect ruler is useless without a perfect measurer!”

Hence, it’s pointless for a carpenter to use a ruler unless he has an infallible apprentice to apply the ruler and take inerrant measurements.

Of course, in real life, carpenters manage to get along without infallible measurers.

For that matter, rulers and tape-measures are not mathematically precise to the nth degree.

3. But someone might object that I’ve oversimplified the relation between (i)-(ii).

Yes, the standard is external to us, but if there’s more than one claimant (to be the true standard), then by what criterion do we decide which standard is the true standard? Don’t we need a standard to identify the standard?

Whether this generates a genuine conundrum depends on how abstractly we put it. If a putative standard is internally inconsistent, then I can judge it on its own grounds. It will fall of its own dead weight.

For example, critics of sola scriptura typically attack it on the pragmatic grounds that sola Scriptura leads to certain consequences, which they deem to be unacceptable. So they regard the rule of faith as a problem-solving device.

But, in that event, what if the Catholic or Orthodox rule of faith generates its own set of problems? What if it fails to solve the problems it posed for itself?

Then that would falsify the Catholic or Orthodox rule of faith on its own grounds. It was supposed to be a solution, a practical alternative, to what was wrong with the Protestant rule of faith. But if it identifies a problem, puts itself forward as a solution, then fails to resolve the problem, we can discount it on its own terms.

And that wouldn’t falsify the Protestant rule of faith, since the Protestant didn’t buy into the assumption that a rule of faith must be a problem-solving device.

Of course, when I talk about internal consistency, or the lack thereof, that’s a logical standard. And it’s a standard which all parties share in common—except the fideist, who can never argue for fideism.

There’s also the issue of factual consistency. Is the rule of faith predicated on erroneous or dubious historical claims? For example, what’s the historical evidence for apostolic succession? How would you verify every link in the chain?

A Protestant believes in sola Scriptura, not because of some a priori, utilitarian condition it must meet, but on factual grounds. Is this the rule of faith that God imposes on his church? Is this what God requires of us? Is this the measure of our responsibility?

What has God revealed regarding the rule of faith—both in word and deed? What does he hold us to? How has he guided his people in the past? Do his prophecies or promises reveal a fundamental shift in divine policy?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nuda Scriptura

Perry Robinson has weighed in on sola Scriptura:

“If Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith, who is the judge that is to apply the rule?”

Must there be a uniform answer to that question?

“And what authority does such a judge possess?”

This assumes the “judge” in question must possess some sort of “authority” to apply the rule of faith. Why should we assume that?

“It seems to me that Sola Scriptura includes the thesis of the right of private judgment, namely that every believer can make normatively binding judgments and that only a believer can make judgments that are binding upon his or her conscience.”

i) As a semantic matter, I’ve never cared for the phrase, “the right of private judgment.” However, theology has a standardized terminology, so I usually acquiesce to linguistic conventions. But this is how I myself would formulate the principle:

a) God has the right to govern his church according to his appointed rule of faith (i.e. sola Scriptura).

b) No church officer (or church body) can invoke ecclesiastical authority as a shortcut for responsible exegesis.

“Further, if as Michael writes that advocates of Sola Scriptura hold that there were two sources of authority for the first say 400 years of the church, the one being tradition which was a summary, albeit a fallible one, of what was written by Scripture and accepted by the universal church, where is such a summary to be found? What document is a token of this summary? And what constitutes the ‘universal church?’ Where is there an example of the ‘universal church’ in the first four hundred years?”

That’s not how I’d frame the issue. For one thing, the validity of sola Scriptura doesn’t depend on the universal acceptance of the early church.

It’s either objectively true or false that Scripture alone is the rule of faith which God has imposed on his church. How many early Christians may or may not have seen it that way is irrelevant to where the truth lies.

“If Scripture during this period was in the process of being ‘recognized’ doesn’t this imply that Scripture itself wasn’t part of the faith universally recognized? If so, this would imply that the church for the first four hundred years, not to mention afterwards, didn’t believe in Sola Scriptura.”

i) This way of framing the issue partakes of the same fallacy noted above.

ii) But beyond that, it’s also equivocal. It could either mean:

a) The early church was in process of recognizing sola Scriptura as the rule of faith.


b) The early church was in process of recognizing the various books of the NT canon. Producing a uniform edition. Getting it distributed throughout the empire.

In case of (b), the principle of sola Scriptura was not the object of recognition. Rather, what books constituted sola Scripture was the object of recognition.

“I am not clear why ‘word of mouth’ is reliable in the first hundred years of the church, but not afterwards. Sure verbal communication can be corrupted, but so can texts.”

Yes, texts can be corrupted, but there are various criteria to identify textual corruption. See Tov on the OT and Metzger on the NT. What are Perry’s criteria for the corruption of oral tradition?

“Further, it too often seems to be the case that these models always appeal to some kind of apostasy and yet the church seemed to do an adequate job with issues much more sophisticated as with Christology and the Trinity.”

That’s doesn’t mean the early church did an equally good job on, say, anthropology, hamartiology or soteriology.

“Therefore isn’t this an a forteriori reason for thinking that the church was reliable in ‘word of mouth’ teaching during the same period?”

That assumes the early church did an adequate job on Christology and the Trinity because oral tradition was reliable, and it relied on oral tradition to get the job done. Is that Perry’s contention? If so, where’s the supporting argument?

“And if tradition is becoming obscure in this period, doesn’t this undermine the reliability of Gospel authorship since no Greek manuscript prior to 200 of the Gospels has a traditional designation?”

This is equivocal. It could either mean:

i) There are pre-200 AD MSS of the Gospels without the traditional designations.


ii) There are no pre-200 AD MSS of the Gospels.

Which does Perry mean? Martin Hengel has argued that all our extant Gospel MSS include the traditional designations. So that would be evidence for the originality of the titles.

“And isn’t the question, with what authority did the church “recognize” inspired works?”

Why is this a question of ecclesiastical authority? Doesn’t that beg the question?

“Appealing to ‘recognition’ only moves the question, it doesn’t answer it.”

True. Of course, Perry’s alternative only moves the question, too. Recognition of the canon shifts to recognition of the true church, or recognition of a true ecumenical council.

“And Patton seems to give away the farm when he seemingly admits that the apostolic teaching was passed on both in scripture and via tradition for the first 400 years. If this is so, why jettison what had been apostolically instituted practice and belief? It seems far too convenient.”

This is historically artificial. How does oral tradition actually operate? Are we talking about word-of-mouth for 400 years, where Jesus tells Peter something, who repeats it to Linus, who repeats it to Anacletus, who repeats it to Clement, who repeat it to Evaristus, and so and so forth, like Alex Haley in Roots?

Let’s take a comparison. Why, in the Gospels, do Jewish layman consult the scribes? Because the scribes had direct access to copies of the Bible. They transcribed the Bible. As a result, they memorized a lot of Scripture.

So, if you, as a layman, wanted to know the Mosaic law governing a particular situation, and you didn’t have direct access to a copy of the Pentateuch, you might ask one of the scribes. You would be getting your information by word-of-mouth.

But that doesn’t mean the scribes were getting their own information by word-of-mouth. To the contrary, oral transmission presupposed a written exemplar.

Same thing with the early church. Yes, you have a certain amount of oral transmission, but that’s dependent on written sources. The reason you could have oral transmission in the early church is because some Christians had copies of the Scriptures.

Let’ take another comparison. When Paul was traveling, he didn’t lug around a copy of the OT. That would have been too cumbersome.

Paul had memorized large portions of the OT. So he could quote from memory. This isn’t oral tradition in the sense that Moses said something to Joshua, who said something to Othniel…who said something to Ezra…who said something to Gamaliel, who said something to Paul—as if the OT was handed down by word-of-mouth.

Oral transmission is not a separate chain-of-custody. Rather, it depends on written sources to inform and refresh the memory of the tradent. The tradent is generally transmitting something he read. Something he committed to memory from a written source.

“If the rule of faith was transmitted via tradition, this seems to falsify Sola Scriptura, namely that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith.”

i) At worst, this would only mean that the early church didn’t follow the proper rule of faith, not that sola Scriptura wasn’t the proper rule of faith.

ii) Perry is also playing a semantic bait-and-switch game. Oral transmission is not the same thing as Holy Tradition. And we don’t ordinarily use the word “tradition” for just any old word-of-mouth communication. A mother tells her daughter that if she sees her brother at school, she should tell him to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home. I suppose we could call that oral tradition if we wanted to, but it trivializes the concept.

iii) Perry also confuses access to Scripture with the primatial authority of Scripture. Suppose I’m shipwrecked on a desert island. My only access to Scripture are the Bible verses I memorized in Sunday School. Does the fact that a castaway lacks direct access to the Bible nullify sola Scriptura? No.

“Of course, Patton will argue that tradition wasn’t infallible but I don’t think this helps. First, if the latter wasn’t infallible, why think that the former is, if infallibility isn’t a necessary condition for reliably transmitting the apostolic teaching? If the rule of faith can be fallible, why think that Scripture must be?”

We don’t believe that Scripture is infallible because of some a priori argument that it must be infallible. It’s a de facto question. The spoken word can also be infallible. The oracles of Isaiah were infallible. That’s not the issue. This is not a question of what’s necessary, but what God has chosen to do or refrain from doing.

“On the other hand, if tradition is unreliable, this undermines the belief that Scripture is infallible since it is by those very means that Scripture was transmitted, identified and the basis upon which textual corrections we made against various heretical readings.”

Evangelicals don’t regard copies of the Bible as infallible.

“Added to this is the fact that various councils claim for themselves divine inspiration.”

That’s a very revealing admission. If Perry thinks that inspiration is a necessary condition for ecumenical councils, then Perry himself regards uninspired oral tradition as unreliable.

“But even if these things can be gotten around, it would still be the case admittedly that the rule of faith for the first four hundred years wasn’t only Scripture and wasn’t only infallible and that would be sufficient to falsify Sola Scriptura.”

That doesn’t follow for the above-stated reasons.

“Citing what this or that Bishop says in Orthodoxy seems to rest on a mistaken idea of authority in the Orthodox tradition. Just because a bishop says something doesn’t by itself settle the matter. There have been infallible laymen in the Orthodox Church as well. Patton seems to foist upon the Orthodox a more Catholic understanding of a magisterium.”

So we’re now on a quest to pin down the locus of Orthodox authority.

“On the former, no tradition, no magisterial body can settle matters with anything more than fallible authority.”

And suppose that’s how God wants it to be?

“Therefore, the judgments reached in this way are provisional and revisable and therefore represent a practical stability, which can always be re-opened. There isn’t any formal theological statement found in any Reformed confession that isn’t itself open to possible revision, and this includes the canon itself.”

That’s the case if that’s how God wants it to be. But is that God’s will for his people?

We can only judge matters of the basis of the best evidence that God has put at our disposal. That’s really out of my hands. But if God’s providence is unreliable, then there’s no more reason to put any stock in Orthodox church history. Perry’s scepticism cuts both ways.

Why not take the position that church history is written by the winners? That Perry’s Orthodox sources are partisan? That the good guys lost because they didn’t have the political connections?

Therefore, judgments reached by ecumenical councils are provisional and revisable. Every dogma can be reexamined.

“At the end of the chain of authority is the individual. No magisterial authority can trump private judgment in a normatively binding way.”

It’s not a question of ecclesiastical authority over against individual authority. It’s a question of where the truth lies, and forming beliefs on the basis of evidence and argument, according to our natural aptitudes and opportunities—which vary from person-to-person and place-to-place. We’re individually responsible to God, but our level of responsibility is person-variable. To whom much is given, much is required.

“If this wasn’t so, then the Reformers would have had no basis on which to judge that the church’s judgment was wrong and non-binding.”

You don’t need authority as long as you’re right.

“Positing Scripture as the ultimate source does nothing to touch this point. And to be clear, I am not arguing that everyone doesn’t judge for himself what he takes to be true. Rather, private judgment is the idea that the supremely normatively binding judgments on the conscience can only come from the individual himself (barring direct divine private revelation).”

Once again, that’s not how I’d formulate the principle. Scripture is the norm. Individual judgment is fallible, and it can also be sinful. (Same thing with collective judgments, e.g. ecumenical councils).

If I’m a married man who has an affair, and my pastor tells me I’m living in sin, he’s right and I’m wrong. In this case, what makes his judgment “normative” or “binding” is that it’s true, and what makes it true is that it’s true the norm of Scripture.

Scripture is binding on the conscience, and a true interpretation (“judgment”) thereof is binding on the conscience.

By the same token, there are cases where the layman is right and the pastor is wrong. A pastor or priest or bishop or council or pope can’t stand on his authority as the trump card.

“This is what it means to say that everyman is their own Pope.Consequently, to argue that I am not infallible either does no work here since to know I do not have to be infallible, but to form judgments which can bind the consciences of others, I would need to be.”

Even if this were the case, church discipline doesn’t depend on that level of certainty.

“Why think that I need to be infallible to understand infallible teaching? I don’t. But I would need to be infallible to judge in a way that was normatively binding on the consciences of other men and that seems fairly easy to establish in terms of what was in the mind of the church at councils.”

This makes two key assumptions—neither of which he defends:

i) The “mind of the church” represents the unit of normative judgment.

ii) Ecumenical councils successfully capture the mind of the church.

Why should we believe either proposition?

“It also seems to me that there are clear examples of doctrines held by Protestants that cannot be justified on the grounds of Sola Scriptura.”

Even if that were the case, it doesn’t invalidate sola Scriptura. If Israel was in breach of covenant, does that mean the Mosaic covenant was not a rule of faith which God imposed on his people?

“Jugulum’s bald claim that God never established an on-going body of judges and authoritative interpreters is not just a bald claim but is arguably false. Certainly in the OT there was such a body, which could only be trumped by a prophet extraordinarily commissioned (directly by God) or ordinarily commissioned, with the attestation of miracles such as the case with Elijah.”

Is Perry alluding to OT judges? But that undercuts his thesis.

i) OT judges had to apply the Mosaic law to various situations. They had the authority to do so. But their judicial rulings were fallible, and, in that respect, “provisional” and “revisable.” In principle, you could “reopen” the case.

ii) And a judicial ruling wasn’t necessarily binding on the conscience of the accused. An innocent man might be convicted.

“Jesus in Matt 23 seems to recognize that the Jewish leadership had such an interpretative role.”

I prefer Nolland’s interpretation. Cf. The Gospel of Matthew, pp922-23.

“In fact Jesus establishes his own Sanhedrin in the 70 disciples.”

Where was the ecclesiastical “Sanhedrin” in the early church?

“Further Paul gives ample evidence of a divine gift being had through ordination (2 tim 1:6).”

And what gift would that be? We need to exegete the text. For a good analysis, cf. P. Towner, The Letters to Timothy & Titus, 458f.

“And not to mention the fact that the earliest council was believed to have divine guidance and to be the mechanism for resolving disputes in a normatively divine manner.”

If this is an allusion to Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem was composed of Apostles, elders, and a sibling of Jesus—not a bunch of bishops, under the heavy hand of the Emperor. So the analogy falls apart at the critical point of comparison.

“The cessation of the apostolic office wouldn’t imply a lack of divine inspiration in the church, which is exactly and explicitly what the ecumenical councils that Protestants profess fealty to claim for themselves.”

i) Many things are hypothetically possible. That’s not the point. It’s a factual question.

Perry, himself, would insist on discontinuities between the Apostolic and subapostolic age. He’s not a Montanist. He doesn’t believe in a continuous succession of Apostles. He doesn’t believe in continuous inscripturation. Just because something is theoretically repeatable doesn’t mean that God repeats the same thing ad infinitum. Let’s have another round of Ten Egyptian Plagues—just because I can!

ii) I don’t profess “fealty” to the ecumenical councils. I agree with them when they agree with Scripture.

“I have to wonder what is the nature of the authority that Protestant think that ministers today operate by-human or divine? And if divine, to what degree, if any? And where does this divine authority come from and how is it transmitted? What is the biblical justification for this view? In short, if Protestants were right it is hard to see todays ministers as continuing the apostolic ministry.”

A minister is authoritative to the degree that he rightly teaches and applies the word of God. His authority is strictly derivative.

A minister is supposed to have a certain aptitude to teach. He should generally cultivate that aptitude through training. In principle, he has the authority of an expert witness.

Now, there are some bright, well-read laymen whose theological know-how compares favorably with their pastor. And there are some layman in cognate fields, like Classics, Egyptology, Assyriology, &c. who may enjoy a far more expert knowledge of the Bible than the average pastor.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

High church unity

Moscow walks out on Constantinople.

The Almost Man

Jack Glenfinnan was a bigwig. He wasn’t a bigwig in his own right. No, he was a bigwig because he was a courtier to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Jack was well-known for being well-known to the well-known.

A somewhat parasitic identity, to be sure, but as long as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s fortunes were on the rise, Jack’s own stock rose accordingly. But when the career of the Young Pretender took a downward turn, Jack’s standard of living suffered a corresponding blow.

A pious man he was not, but he took comfort in the fact that he would live on in the hearts of his loved ones. So the afterlife came as something of a rude shock to jack. When they pulled the bed sheet over his head, he wanted to protest. He wasn’t dead! He wasn’t!

Couldn’t they tell? He could see them—clear as day! He tried to speak. To scream. To shout. He tried to push the bedcovers back. But his body was inert.

Then he noticed that he wasn’t looking up at his grieving loved ones from the bed. Rather, he was looking at himself from behind. Over their shoulders. Like a spectator.

Wait! How could he be seeing himself? How could that be “him” on the bed if he was looking at it?

He glanced in the mirror, but saw no reflection. He could see, but he couldn’t be seen.

Was this the afterlife? He wasn’t in heaven. On the other hand, he wasn’t in hell. At least, it wasn’t the lake of fire—or outer darkness. No wailing or gnashing of teeth in the distance. Maybe the Bible was wrong.

One second thought, maybe this is what theologians called the intermediate state—in this case, the intermediate state of the damned. Like a holding cell before the final judgment. Bonnie Prince Charlie had a chaplain who once held forth with a long boring sermon on the topic. There was an intermediate state for the redeemed as well, but—of course—their accommodations were much nicer.

So he was an earthbound spirit or ghost. At first it was fun to be a ghost. You could move so freely from place to place.

But it was also a rather frustrating existence. You could see, hear, and smell. But you couldn’t be seen. You couldn’t touch anything. You were just a bystander. An outsider, with your ghostly nose pressed up against the windowpane. You could only observe what other people did.

As the years passed, Jack began to suffer blackouts. He lost track of time. There were gaps, as if he nodded off and woke up a few weeks later.

Then it suddenly occurred to him that he was cursed to quite literally live on in the hearts of his loved ones. As long as they remembered him, he was self-aware. For the first few weeks and months after his death, his loved ones thought of him daily. And if one wasn’t thinking of him, another one was.

But when his wife died, and his death lay ever further in the past, whole days would pass when his children never gave him a second thought. His existence took on a very intermittent and haphazard quality. He was conscious as long as someone was conscious of him. If his son or daughter remembered him for a few fleeting moments, he would awaken for a few fleeting moments—too disoriented to get his bearings before he lost consciousness.

At other times, if they wrote about him in a letter or a diary, or read his own diary, he might be self-aware for a few minutes or a few hours. There was no telling how much time he’d have before they ceased thinking about him, at which point he’d cease thinking. So he had to make the most of these lucid moments. He’d visit his favorite spots when he was a boy, and a young man, and a family man.

After his children died, decades would pass before anyone had occasion to remember him. No one laid flowers at his grave. Sometimes a person strolling through the cemetery would read the epitaph on his tombstone. He would become momentarily self-aware, then revert to unconsciousness.

Every now and then a historian would write a book or article about the Jacobites, in which he received a footnote. Every now and then a professor would lecture on the Jacobites, or a student would read a book or write a term paper—where Jack’s name made a cameo appearance.

The first thing Jack would do, if he had the time to compose himself, was to go to a newspaper stand and find out what year it was. Jack suffered from future shock as he saw his old world change. And saw it change, not year-by-year, but in this utterly sporadic fashion.

He would then try to find the way back to his old stomping grounds—hoping to spend a few wistful minutes or hours recalling his boyhood, his youth, and his manhood. He hoarded these hasty, fitful moments—clinging to every last dying instant.

But the landmarks had changed. And even if he could find his way home, there came a time when there was no home to be found. His old stomping grounds were bulldozed, paved over, long gone. Forgotten haunts, remembered by forgotten men.

Jack had become the almost man. A parasite feeding on a vanishing, evanescent host.

Inherit the Earth

Mona Brown was a God-fearin’ woman. A good student in school. She married a minister. Raised five kids on a pittance. Everyone who knew her loved her.

But Mona always envied Tiffany. Tiffany was the Homecoming Queen. Mona used to tutor Tiffany in algebra, geometry, and biology while Tiffany was glossing her toenails.

Mona knew it was a sin to envy Tiffany, but Mona was tired of feeling invisible when all the boys passed her by for Tiffany.

And after Mona married, had kids, and hit middle age, it became a challenge to fit into that size 8 dress.

At her deathbed, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, the bedroom began to fade as she felt her soul pass through a tunnel. When she came out on the other side, everything was misty and white.

Nothing was there, and no one was there except James Mason in a white suit.

She looked down at herself. She still had her nightgown on. She still had the shriveled body of a 90-year-old woman.

Mona: Is this heaven or hell?
Mason: It’s the antechamber to heaven.
Mona: I can’t go to heaven like this. Aren’t I supposed to be glorified or something?
Mason: That’s why you’re in the antechamber of heaven. It’s time for you go to body-shopping.
Mona: Body-shopping? Don’t I just get a newer version of my old body back?
Mason: If you like. But some of the saints were never all that happy with the body they had back on earth. So they swap bodies with the damned. That’s why I offered to take you on a body-hopping, body-shopping, body-swapping tour.
Mona: How does it work?
Mason: If you like, you can browse through our photo gallery, where all the best bodies are numbered, barcoded, and catalogued.

[Mason reaches into his pocket and pulls out a remote]

Or, if you already have someone particular in mind, we can skip ahead.
One decision you need to make is whether you want a full-body swap or just a mini-swap.
Mona: And how does that work?
Mason: Some saints are satisfied with some of their old body parts, but not others. Take legs. You might not want to do a total body swap with Betty Grable. Just below the belt.
Same thing with heads. Right now, Garbo is batting around hell with the head of a church widow from Texarkana.
You can customize your glorified body. Joan Crawford eyebrows. Maureen O’Hara mane. Dolly Parton...well, you get the picture. Why have a tummy tuck when you can have Barbara Eden’s tummy?
Mona: What if two saints want the same body?
Mason: That’s where the Cloning Dept. comes in handy. We have duplicate bodies for popular models. Spare parts.
Mona: Isn’t it unethical for heaven to be running an organ farm?
Mason: The clones are just zombies. They have no soul. Only the damned, who supply the template, have a soul.
Mona: What about the guys?
Mason: We offer the same makeover service for men. For example, ever since Bruce Metzger saw Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, he always wanted to be a movie star. Yet he never had the he-man physique to pull it off, so he became a textual critic instead. But when you bump into a dashing fellow in paradise who looks like Errol Flynn, that’s Bruce Metzger in his glorified body.
Mona: And what does Metzger’s wife look like these days?
Mason: Norma Shearer.
And it’s not all about appearances. Recently we had a shy, soft-spoken curate who always wanted to sing like Franco Corelli. Now he does. Truly the meek shall inherit the earth!
Mona: Where should I start?
Mason: Wherever you like.
Mona: You said something about legs.
Mason: Did you have anyone particular in mind?
Mona: Could I try on some samples?
Mason: [pulling out his cellphone]: Send me up a pair of Cher, Marlene Dietrich, and Betty Grable gams.
Dolores will show you to your fitting room.