Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The "Anomalies" Of Papias

Dave Armstrong has written another response to me concerning Papias.

I had asked Dave whether Papias' attaining of information from the daughters of Philip (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39) was equivalent to receiving information by means of apostolic succession. He wrote:

"I would think that was a manifestation of it, yes: transmission of firsthand apostolic information through another party (in this case, daughters of an apostle)."

Eusebius tells us what Papias said:

"But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead." (Church History, 3:39)

Eusebius doesn't say that the information was given to the daughters by an apostle, and the information in question is about a resurrection. Does Dave want us to believe that all "apostolic information", as he puts it, such as a resurrection report, is communicated through apostolic succession because it originated with an apostle? He ought to explain his reasoning. Who are the successors here? The daughters of Philip? If some daughters of Philip who weren't part of a church hierarchy are going to be said to have been passing on apostolic tradition through apostolic succession, because they reported that a miracle occurred, then Dave is defining his terms far more vaguely than they're usually defined in disputes on these matters. By Dave's reasoning, the Jewish leaders and Roman government officials who passed on information about the apostles, such as legal information related to a trial, can be said to have been passing on information through apostolic succession. Does Dave believe that the resurrection Papias refers to is part of the Catholic rule of faith?

Dave wrote:

"The two are not mutually exclusive at all. Now, routine historiographical investigation (because of historical proximity to the apostles), is pit against tradition, as if one rules out the other. The NT is good history; it is also good tradition."

The two wouldn't have to be "mutually exclusive" in order to be different. And the historiographical concept Papias appeals to doesn't involve church infallibility, doesn't have the cross-generational nature of Roman Catholic tradition, etc. I've already cited some differences between the two, and citing some similarities doesn't eliminate those differences. The Catholic concept of tradition isn't equivalent to the historiographic standard that we find in Papias and in the non-Christian sources of antiquity who appeal to it.

Dave wrote:

"He demonstrated the rule of faith in how he approached all these matters. This is how he lived his Christianity: his standard of authority."

We live our lives in accordance with many sources of information. We attain philosophical information from a philosopher, news from a web site, a report about answered prayer from a Christian friend, etc. The fact that Papias attained information from the daughters of Philip and other sources, and lived in accordance with that information, doesn't prove that the information in question was part of his rule of faith or that it was attained by means of apostolic succession.

Dave wrote:

"Why should any Christian believe anything that he hears (from the Bible or whatever)? Why should Papias believe Philip's daughters or other close associates of the apostles? Why should Jason question everything to death? Why can't he simply accept these things in faith?"

Apparently, Dave doesn't understand the issue under dispute. It's not a matter of whether Papias should have believed what people like the daughters of Philip told him. Rather, it's a matter of whether what they told him was part of the rule of faith.

If a friend of Paul had told Papias that Paul had a particular illness during the last several years of his life, would we normally consider that information about Paul part of the Christian rule of faith and consider that friend an apostolic successor? No. Even if we believed what the friend said, we wouldn't apply terms like "oral tradition" and "apostolic succession" as they're commonly defined by Catholics.

Dave wrote:

"I'm not saying Jason is skeptical of Jesus. It is an analogical point. He applies the same method that the skeptics Newman describes, use: only applied to patristic questions."

No, the Newman quote is irrelevant. I can believe a friend who tells me about an answer to a prayer, yet not consider that answer to prayer a part of my rule of faith.

Dave wrote:

"Probably so (but this is self-evident). I didn't see anyone (let alone myself) making a literal list of what is and what isn't."

If Papias was referring to a historiographical category that includes material outside of the rule of faith, then it was misleading for Dave to cite Papias' comments without qualification in a discussion of what the Christian rule of faith ought to be.

Dave wrote:

"All we're saying is that his methodology does not fit into the Protestant rule of faith."

No, that's not all that Dave said. He referred to Papias as a Catholic, said that we find "an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition" in Papias, etc.

Dave wrote:

"At this early stage, there will be anomalies and vague things."

Dave allows for "anomalies" in Papias, but accuses me of "relativism", "playing games", etc. if I allow for a transitional phase between the apostolic revelation and my view of scripture today.

Dave wrote:

"How about the existence of the Old Testament? Or is that no longer considered Scripture by Protestants these days, or adherents of sola Scriptura. We'll have to start calling it sola NT, huh? How about the Gospels and most of Paul's letters, which were accepted as canonical very early: well within Papias' lifetime?"

The fact that people have access to some scripture doesn't tell us whether they also have access to other revelation. The prophet Isaiah had access to the writings of Moses, but no knowledgeable Evangelical argues that he therefore should have ignored the revelations he was receiving from God and should have adhered to sola scriptura.

Dave wrote:

"That's not what Eusebius stated [that Papias was a disciple of the apostles]."

Yes, Eusebius does refer to Papias as a disciple of the apostles, but inconsistently, as I documented in my last article in this exchange. And other sources, like Irenaeus, also reported that Papias was a disciple of the apostle John.

Dave wrote:

"But of course, that is a part of my paper that Jason conveniently overlooked, per his standard modus operandi of high (and very careful) selectivity in response."

Dave hasn't been interacting with all of the articles I've linked.

Dave wrote:

"As far as I am concerned, this data alone refutes Jason's position. But he ignored it. He never mentioned Paul once in his current reply."

Because Paul's acceptance of a tradition is independently verified by his apostolic authority. He isn't a normal historical witness. He had the authority of an apostle.

And the issue under discussion here is what standard Papias was appealing to. Papias didn't take his historiographic language from Paul. He took it from sources like the ones Richard Bauckham discusses. As I said earlier, even if you disagree with that historical standard Papias appeals to, the fact remains that he appealed to that standard. And we are, after all, discussing what Papias believed.

Dave wrote:

"But who needs apostles or Scripture, anyway, when you're able to talk directly to God?"

Dave is saying that Adam could follow a different rule of faith, since his circumstances were different. The same principle is applicable to Mary, Papias, and other figures of the Christian era. Dave hasn't demonstrated that sola scriptura must have been applicable to Papias in order for it to be acceptable as a rule of faith today. He just asserts his conclusion over and over again, accompanied by references to "relativism", "playing games", etc.

Dave wrote:

"No, because Protestants tend to collapse 'word of God' to Scripture alone, when in fact, in Scripture, it refers, many more times, to oral proclamation."

I would agree with Dave in criticizing Protestants who have that tendency. But he's having a discussion with me, not them.

Dave wrote:

"It's simply a primitive Catholic rule of faith: exhibiting exactly what we would expect to see under the assumption of Newmanian, Vincentian development."

Dave will have to explain how a period of access to reliable oral information can't develop into a period in which such reliable oral transmission is no longer ongoing. To repeat an example I cited earlier, we don't look for ongoing oral traditions about Tertullian's beliefs when addressing what he believed. Transitioning from the oral to the written is a form of development that's commonly accepted in many contexts in human life.

Dave wrote:

"Until we see anything that suggests otherwise, which we haven't, that is a perfectly solid position to take."

It would be reasonable for Dave to assume that Papias was a Catholic given his (Dave's) other beliefs. But I and other people Dave interacts with don't share those beliefs. Therefore, "we" don't begin with the assumption that Papias would likely be a Catholic.

Dave wrote:

"How is what he did contrary to apostolic succession? It isn't at all. Papias was a bishop, who received Christian tradition from friends or relatives of the apostles. This ain't rocket science. There is nothing complicated about it: much as Jason wants to obfuscate."

I'm not obfuscating when I ask Dave to support some claims he made. He said that we find "an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition" in Papias. Shifting the topic to whether Papias contradicts Dave's Catholic concept of apostolic succession doesn't demonstrate Dave's previous claim. He still hasn't documented it. He can't. Eusebius refers to "friends" of the apostles. Papias refers to "followers" of the apostles. Neither category is equivalent to apostolic succession. To equate all friends or followers of the apostles with apostolic successors is misleading, since that's not the concept of apostolic succession that's commonly assumed in disputes between Catholics and Evangelicals. If everybody from a beggar healed by Peter to a daughter of Philip is to be considered an apostolic successor, then the term is being redefined.

Dave wrote:

"What St. Ignatius taught (real presence, episcopacy, etc.) was universal in the early Church, unlike the two things above."

I was responding to a comment Dave made about the earliness of a source. Since I cited early sources disagreeing with Dave's theology, he changed the subject by adding the "universal" qualifier.

I don't know what Dave means by "real presence", but see the variety of eucharistic views documented by two of the sources he cited earlier, Philip Schaff and J.N.D. Kelly. I discuss Ignatius and Schaff's material on the subject in a thread here.

I don't know what Dave means by "episcopacy" either, but there's widespread scholarly agreement that the monarchical episcopate wasn't universal early on. That agreement includes many Catholic scholars. See my article here on early forms of church government.

If Dave is going to assume that popular early beliefs were "universal", then should we assume the same about popular early beliefs Dave rejects, such as the popular belief that Jesus was the only sinless human, the popular opposition to the veneration of images early on, the popular young earth interpretation of Genesis and other portions of scripture, etc.? See here for some examples of popular early Christian beliefs that Dave rejects.

Dave wrote:

"No one is saying that any given father is infallible, so if he is wrong on that one item, this causes no problem to our view."

The issue isn't "our view", but rather what Dave in particular said. He made some claims about Papias. If Dave believes that Papias' oral tradition includes doctrinal error, then that oral tradition isn't equivalent to Dave's infallible rule of faith.


  1. Dave seems to be confusing Apostolic Succession and Oral/oral Tradition. My (Protestant) understanding is that there probably is (certainly!) some genuine traditions that have come down to us from the first century. Even from the lips of (some of) the Apostles. The problem with oral tradition (and alleged Oral Tradition with a capital "O") is that unlike Scripture, it contains truth AND error. While Scripture alone contains *only* truth. That's why Sola Scriptura (or the term I prefer, Summa Scriptura) teaches that Scripture is the only *infallible* rule of faith and practice. There might be (and are) other rules of faith, but they aren't infallible like Scripture is. That's why it takes priority over all other supposed and/or alleged authorities. Not all God ordained (and hence legitimate) authorities are infallible. For example, gvernments or parents ordained by God to have a sphere of authority usually aren't infallible (heh).

    In which case, contrary to Beckwith's claim that Protestants are the ones looking for apodictic authority, it's the Catholics who are looking for it in their alleged infallible Church (with ex cathedra speaking Pope, teaching magesterium, etc).

    In reality, it's out of our (attempts at) humility, and acknowledged fallibility, as well as acknowledged sinfulness that we place our full confidence in God's unerring Word above those of erring (yet even godly spirit-filled) men.

  2. If anybody wants to see Dave's reply to my article above, go to his last response linked above and scroll down to the "UPDATE" section.

    Since Dave keeps bringing up the issue of how much I respond to, even including percentages of words that I quote from his articles, I'll point out some things that ought to have been obvious to Dave.

    The number of words quoted doesn't tell you how much of the conceptual content of another person's posts somebody has responded to. If a person's point can be conveyed in three sentences, then the other twelve sentences that introduce the point, reiterate it, etc. wouldn't need to be quoted. Or a few sentences could be quoted, followed by a response to the remainder without quoting that remainder. That's why I'll often say, for example, that I'm replying to what somebody "goes on to say" after what I've quoted. In this present reply to Dave, so far I've only quoted the word "UPDATE" from his post. Does it therefore follow that I haven't interacted with anything else? Does it follow that I've interacted with the word "UPDATE", simply because I quoted it? Dave does often quote what his opponents have said. It doesn't follow that he's interacting with all of the conceptual content of those quotes or that his opponents should quote as much as he does. It's not as though people are dependent on what I quote in order to know what Dave said. I link to his articles. And people could find those articles by other means.

    And while Dave keeps referring to how much of my material he responds to, keep in mind that he left a discussion with me in 2003, dismissing me as another "anti-Catholic" he didn't want to interact with. He also left a discussion with me on justification late last year (see the comments section of the thread here). In the current discussion, Dave hasn't been interacting with all of my material in the manner he describes with his citation of percentages. For example, see the first comment in the comments section of the thread here. And the eighth comment here.

    I have a lot more to say in response to Dave's claims, but I'll be responding on my terms, not according to the standards he (inconsistently) demands.