Saturday, January 30, 2010

The selective right of private judgment

Over at Called to Union with the Scarlet Woman, Michael Liccione has been conscientiously digging an ever deeper hole for the Catholic position:

“The chief difference between the old leadership of Israel and the Magisterium arises from the fact that divine revelation was definitively completed in Jesus, whereas it had only been unfolding gradually under the OC. Hence, the old leadership had the charism of authority, as Jesus said, but there is no suggestion that it had the charism of infallibility. The new leadership did and does, however, at least under certain conditions. If it didn’t, then the question whose interpretation of the sources conveying the definitive and complete revelation is binding as a matter of faith, rather than more or less persuasive as a matter of opinion, could not be answered with anything more than–well, opinions. We would be limited to the latter-day equivalents of warring parties like the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, etc. That would not compatible with the transmission of a complete deposit of faith from God in the flesh, or with the unity of his Body, the Church.”

i) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is the chief difference, Liccione is conceding that fallible private judgment was sufficient for OT Jews.

ii) He then says the church operates on a higher principle.

a) However, he doesn’t give an exegetical argument from the example of the NT church itself to substantiate this claim. Rather, we seem to have an a priori argument based on the allegedly unacceptable consequences of not having an infallible church.

b) And even on a priori grounds, it’s unclear why fallible “opinion” was sufficient to interpret OT revelation, but insufficient to interpret NT revelation.

Sure, the former is incomplete whereas the latter completes the former, but in both cases we’re dealing with divine revelation, and in both cases we’re dealing with the interpretation of verbal revelation.

Why is the possibility that OT/Second Temple Jewish leaders might misinterpret revelation tolerable, but intolerable in the case of church officers?

Was fidelity to God’s word any less important in OT times or Intertestamental times than it is during the church age?

Likewise, nothing could be more catastrophic than misinterpreting Messianic prophecy–which is what befell so many 1C Jews.

“Until the Pharisee/Sadducee/Essene split developed in the century or so before Christ, the two primary matters of dispute were how to apply the Law when in cases where it was not explicit, and how much weight to give the post-Mosaic ‘prophets’ and the ‘wisdom literature.’ Such disputes could not be resolved in the OC, which is why the Jews never developed a biblical ‘canon’ beyond the Pentateuch until the challenge of Christianity caused them to.”

I don’t know where he gets his information on the Jewish canon, but let’s waive that for now. Disputes over how to apply the law are pretty fundamental. Not to mention the “Pharisee/Sadducee/Essene” split.

Yet if those disputes were insoluble, because God didn’t see fit to introduce a mechanism for resolving such disputes, then why insist on the necessity of that mechanism during the church age?

“Revelation was not complete and definitive as yet, and the fullness of God’s people, i.e. the Church, had not yet developed. Hence, it was natural and inevitable that the Jews would get certain important matters wrong, which is one reason why Jesus and the Apostles had to set them right.”

Well, that’s also one reason God sent prophets to set them strait in OT times. Yet that was an extraordinary vocation, not a regular office.

“The situation became different once the Church was established as a covenant family open to all peoples, entrusted with the task of preserving, transmitting, and interpreting the complete and definitive divine revelation. At that point, it became crucially important for people to be able to identify, as a visible body not maintained by physical descent, God’s new covenant family as such before they could understand what the definitive divine revelation was.”

i) That’s an interesting theory, but it’s not an exegetical argument. The NT doesn’t give that rationale.

ii) Moreover, physical descent was never sufficient to faithfully preserve, transmit, and interpret divine revelation.

iii) In addition, the Jewish community of faith was always open to converts (e.g. proselytes and Godfearers). It was never confined to ethnic Jews (i.e. lineal descendents of Abraham).

iv) Furthermore, the Babylonian exile also blurs the argument from ethnic purity. Consider the status of the Samaritans.

v) You also had apostate kings and apostate high priests. So you couldn’t look to the institutional leaders for sure guidance in times of national apostasy.

Liccione is giving us a schematic description which has to steamroll far too much inconvenient counterevidence to be convincing or accurate.

“If the situation were reversed–that is, if people were in the position of having to identify and interpret the complete deposit of faith as individuals, so that they could then decide which visible body counted as the Church faithful to that deposit–then there could be no criteria other than personal opinion for determining which ecclesial community is the unitary, visible, historically continuous people whose leadership speaks with divine authority.”

i) Personal opinion is not a “criterion.” Personal opinion applies criteria.

ii) There is also a strangely blinkered quality to Liccione’s arguments. He acts as though there was all this intractable diversity in 1C Judaism, but God fixed all that with the advent of the Roman Magisterium.

Yet church history has been a history of theological diversity. It’s not as though everything changed once Peter became the first pope.

“Accordingly, infallibility in the NC is necessary if fidelity to the complete, definitive deposit of faith is to be anything more than fidelity to one’s own fallible interpretation of ‘the sources.’ One must first be able to identify some visible body as ‘the’ Church, the Body of Christ on earth speaking with his authority, before one can know by what authority disputed doctrinal matters can be resolved.”

i) Does this mean Liccione regards all the Lutherans and Anglicans and Baptists and Anabaptist and Presbyterians and Pentecostals as infidels?

ii) And what does he mean by “the” Church? How is “the” Church manifested in history? Why does Liccione treat the church like a franchise? The Church, Inc.?

Seems to me that Stephen, in Acts 7, as well as the author of Hebrews, in Heb 11, operate with a more nomadic view of God’s people. The remnant. The Diaspora.

“In the OC, God’s people were understood to be Abraham and his descendants. Given that physical bond, there was no dispute among God’s people about what the phrase ‘God’s people’ denoted. Accordingly, there was no dispute among about just which collectivity God had chosen as the special object of his love and the bearer of his self-revelation to man.”

That’s patently false. There are provisions in the Mosaic law to incorporate Gentile converts into the covenant community.

“If the Magisterium could always be wrong in its doctrinal determinations, then it would always and ultimately be up to the individual believer to decide which church leaders were orthodox and which were heretical, so that it would always and ultimately be up to individuals to decide who are the legitimate authorities of ‘the Church’ and who are apostates and usurpers.”

i) Don’t various books of the NT warn their readers to beware of false teachers? Is it not, then, incumbent on Christians to distinguish between true and false claimants?

ii) Isn’t Liccione deciding for himself which church leaders are orthodox and which are heretical when he opts for the Roman Catholic church over the LDS church or the Swedenborgian church?

iii) And what about times in Catholic church history when the true successor to Peter was in dispute? Is this man a pope or antipope? The real deal or a usurper?

So what about the times in church history when the Magisterium was a house divided? Who decides?

Or what about the Arian bishops? Was their succession in dispute–or their doctrine?

“In the final analysis, it would always be up to individuals to decide, on the basis of their own doctrinal opinions, which body of people is truly ‘the Church’ founded by Christ and which bodies were only pretenders.”

This assumes that you should view the church as a franchise. It’s then a question of “finding” and joining the one true franchise. There can only be one. Any other franchise must be a “pretender.”

McDonald’s versus Burger King–or Taco Bell, or Wendy’s, or IHOP, or KFC. In Liccione’s world, if you eat at one, then you can’t eat at the other. Instead, you must search and search until, by process of elimination, you discover the one true fast-food “chain.” But why should we accept that model in the first place?

Or, to switch metaphors, Liccione treats “the Church” as if he were rooting for his high school football team. You show your school Spirit by being loyal to the hometown team. You can’t be a fan of more than one team at a time. That would be treasonous.

It’s our team v. their team. Our school v. their school.

“On Catholic doctrine, it is not up to ‘the faithful,’ as individuals or in groups, to decide who are the legitimate authorities of the Church. The legitimate authorities of the Church are the bishops who stand in unbroken apostolic succession through the laying on of hands by other bishops.”

In which case the “legitimate authorities” are accountable to no one below them. Subordinates answer to superiors, but superiors never answer to subordinates. And in a fallen world, it isn’t hard to predict how that scenario plays out.

For someone who judges truth by consequences, Liccione is oddly myopic about the consequences of his own system. The priestly abuse scandal is just one case in point.

“The situation in OT times was different. The identity of the ecclesia, the ‘assembly’ of the people of God, was not in question, and what counted as fidelity to the covenant was not in question either. Fidelity to God was fidelity to the Law, which was mostly about doing certain things and avoiding others.”

But there was a crucial distinction between the tribes of Israel and the faithful remnant. There was a crucial distinction between physical circumcision and circumcision of the heart.

“A Jew knew when a leader was unfaithful to the covenant when that leader–be he priest, prophet, or king–violated the Law himself and/or caused others to do so. It was quite important for Jews not to follow that example, and it was not a difficult matter for the average Jew to decide; but it was only the ‘faithful remnant’ which persevered, because the siren song of ‘the world’ was too seductive, as it is for many today.”

Which takes for granted the legitimacy of private interpretation. Why does Liccione think it’s easier to interpret “the Law” than it is to interpret the NT?

“To be sure, there were always legitimate, duly recognized authorities in the OC, which is why Jesus preached (Matt 23): ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses…’”

And what made them “recognized authorities”? Was it their institutional standing? But they had no institutional standing. Scribes and Pharisees didn’t have an official position in the way the Levitical priesthood did.

“For the average Jew under the OC, the pertinent question was whether the leaders of God’s people at any given time were following the precepts of the Law or not. To what extent were the leaders doing the specific things the Law prescribed and avoiding the specific things the Law forbade? That was not a hard question for any faithful Jew to answer in principle–if and when said Jew had the written Torah available to him, and also had the relevant information about what his leaders were doing. Now in one respect, the same is true for average Christians in the NC. If and when they know what church leaders should be doing and avoiding, it’s not that hard for average Christians to find out what their leaders are actually doing and avoiding, and then to assess their performance accordingly.”

That’s a pretty deadly concession, although Liccione will try to resuscitate his argument.

“But the controversial question for our purposes is how to fill out that ‘if and when’ clause when the matter at hand is what doctrines the leaders should be teaching as belonging to the deposit of faith, and what doctrines they should be condemning as incompatible with the deposit of faith.”

How is that the key question? Isn’t the key question the interpretation of any text? Whether or not a text is dealing with doctrine is secondary. For principles of interpretation remain the same, whether the text is dealing with doctrine or practice.

“When that is the question, average Christians have nothing so clear and simple as a rather small body of texts containing explicit commandments to do such-and-such things and avoid others.”

i) Why does Liccione think the ethical teaching of Scripture is so “clear and simple” that Christians can figure that much out on their own, but it requires the services of the Magisterium to clarify the doctrinal teaching of Scripture? That’s a highly artificial disjunction.

ii) Moreover, magisterial teaching hardly limits itself to doctrine. Magisterial teaching is also concerned with Christian ethics, viz. divorce, contraception, &c.

“Christians have a larger body of data, written and otherwise, conveying not merely the preparatory stages of divine revelation that we find in the OT, but the complete and definitive revelation in the God-man Jesus Christ.”

Actually, there’s a sense in which it’s easier to interpret the Bible once you know how the story comes out. Easier for us to interpret the OT now that we now where God was going with that story. Having read the ending, we see more clearly how the preparatory stages were leading up to that denouement.

So, by Liccione’s logic, there would be more need for a Jewish Magisterium than a Christian Magisterium.

“Hence it is of critical importance that there be a way of resolving doctrinal disputes which doesn’t leave believers merely with a human opinion about how to interpret the sources, but with statements that bear the credentials of Christ’s authority itself.”

Why is that of critical importance? Just because Liccione regards the consequences of not having that mechanism unacceptable? But how can he presume to say what is antecedently unacceptable?

Why was it not unacceptable for God to allow the Three Chapters controversy? Why was it not unacceptable for God to allow the Photian Schism? Why was it not unacceptable for God to allow the Avignon papacy? Or the Borgia papacy? Why was it not unacceptable for God to allow the Reformation? Why was it not unacceptable for God to allow the priestly abuse scandal?

“Two pertinent things need to be said about that. The first is that one can see the apostolic hermeneutic developing throughout the New Testament, in such a way that there is no one point in the New Testament where one can safely say that no more questions need be asked, no more of the truth needs to become manifest over time.”

i) Sure, we can always ask more questions, but the real issue is whether the Bible answers all the questions that God intended to answer.

ii) For that matter, there are far more questions than the Magisterium has ever ventured to answer.

“But the Holy Spirit did not stop leading the Church, the ‘pillar and bulwark of truth,’ into all truth when the last Apostles died. The second point that must be stressed is that such a situation required that the duly ordained leadership of the Church inherit the authority of the Apostles to teach in Christ’s name and with his authority. If that were not the case, then the Church would have ceased being the pillar and bulwark of the truth, and that role would have been narrowed down, uselessly, to the writings that the Church leadership agreed were of apostolic origin.”

I own two Catholic commentaries on 1 Tim 3:15 (by Monsignor Quinn and Luke Timothy Johnson), neither of which interpret that verse in the way Liccione does. And these two are the major Catholic commentaries on that epistle.

“Rather, said writers all spoke as though they had inherited from the Apostles the same mantle of authority in and by the Holy Spirit.”

i) So did Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Swedenborg, and Sun Myung Moon (to name a few).

ii) But I also suspect that Liccione is equivocating. For example, do the Apostolic Fathers presume to write Scripture?

Orthodox objections to the Protestant canon of Scripture

Perry Robinson Says:

Patton’s article is confused and somewhat superficial. He confuses questions of knowledge with normativity. Everyone may begin from the same position with respect to knowledge but that is irrelevant to the question of whether everyone’s judgments are equally normative. A maigsterium is about normativity and not knowledge per se.

He also dismisses the problem without really engaging it, that of a continually revisionary belief system being seemingly inconsistent with a once for all revealed body of doctrine. Added to that is the implicit Pelagianism of seeing doctrine as a purely human reconstruction project. There are other mistakes like confusing certainty with knowledge, which has nothing to do with knowledge. If you know, you do not have to be certain and if you are certain you may not know, since certainty is a psychological disposition.

This summarizes the Orthodox objection to the Protestant canon. Sorting through the various objections, Perry’s argument seems to be as follows:

i) Protestants can know the true canon of Scripture.

ii) Although Protestants can know the true canon, their knowledge may still fall short of certainty.

iii) Although the Protestant canon could be the true canon, their canon still lacks normativity.

iv) Because their canon lacks normativity, their canon is revisable.

And what do we make of that argument?

1.If the true canon can be an object of Protestant knowledge, then it what sense is their canon still revisable? It could only be revisable in case they held a mistaken belief in the canon. But, in that event, their believe wouldn’t count as knowledge.

2.As long as Protestants can know the true canon of Scripture, why is it necessary to append additional conditions like certainty or normativity? Why isn’t knowledge of the true canon sufficient?

Friday, January 29, 2010

How Dave Armstrong Has Violated His Own Inconsistent Standards

Dave Armstrong continues to put up posts complaining that I haven't responded to enough of his material (here and here, for example). I and others have repeatedly pointed out the irrationality and inconsistency of Dave's standards and his failure to abide by those standards himself. See, for example, here.

Dave acknowledges that he's ignored some of my articles that have been written in response to him over the years. He wrote:

It's true that I chose not to respond to two of Jason's shorter replies. (one was merely a short introduction; big wow). That was my choice, and people make those choices all the time. But when I do respond, I do so properly and respectfully, by dealing with the complete argument of my opponent, and not ignoring 88% of it, including major points and often the very heart (or aspects closely related to the heart) of the argument of my opponent. If an argument is made, I reply to it, and show exactly why I reject it, and I also usually offer what I think is a superior alternative.

But he did reply to part of one of those "shorter replies", so his partial response to that article is an example of his failure to abide by his own standards. And I've given him other examples of partial replies he's posted in response to me. Here's his revised standard in a more recent thread:

One must understand the key distinction between how one participates in a discussion as it is in process and how one decides to stop participating in one (for what could be many good and perfectly legitimate reasons).

Apparently, what Dave was saying was that it's acceptable for him to post a partial reply to me, in which he only interacts with a portion of what I said, as long as he does so as he's concluding his end of the discussion. So, he believes that it's acceptable for him to:

- Ignore entire posts written in response to him.

- Ignore portions, including a large majority, of posts in an ongoing discussion, as long as his partial response is coming at the end of his participation in the discussion.

But does Dave even abide by those standards? No, he doesn't. He recently claimed that he "cited 100% of Jason's words in all six of my recent lengthy replies to him." Yet, if you go to one of those six articles, you see Dave commenting:

I will pass over comments where there is no particular disagreement, for space' sake.

And if you go to that thread to which he was responding, you can see that Dave did "pass over" many of my comments, neither quoting them nor responding to them. Much of what I wrote there was in response to an Eastern Orthodox poster, but not all of it was. Some of my comments were written in response to David Waltz, for example, when he was still a Catholic. And much of what I said in response to the Eastern Orthodox poster has some relevance to Catholicism and my own arguments on the subjects under consideration. If Dave is going to choose to ignore large portions of what I wrote, "for space' sake", including material in which I expand upon my arguments and address issues Dave would be addressing in his replies to me, then how can he claim to be consistent with his own professed standards? How can he claim to have "cited 100% of Jason's words"?

In my discussion with Dave on the doctrine of justification last year (see the comments section of the thread here), Dave didn't just ignore some of my material as he concluded his end of the discussion. He also ignored some of my material prior to that point, as the reader can see by comparing my posts to his.

For reasons I and others have explained to him, Dave's standards of judging what people should respond to and how they should respond to it are unreasonable. Considering how he's so often inconsistent with those standards, should we conclude that Dave agrees with us?

The church question

The argument is (roughly) the following :

(1) If we know God’s purposes in giving the canon, then we can have certainty regarding which books belong to the canon.

(2) We know God’s purposes in giving the canon.


(3) We know which books belong to the canon. [from (1) and (2)]

Then the conclusion is:

(4) The 66 books of the Protestant Bible, and only those books, belong to the canon.

There are at least three problems with this argument, for a Protestant.

First, you can’t get to (3), from (1) and (2), unless you fill in more precisely what you know about God’s purposes in giving the canon. If, for example, you know that one of God’s purposes in giving the canon was to give the 66 books, and only the 66 books, found in Protestant Bibles , then you could go from (1) and (2), to (3), and from (3), to (4). But, then there would be no point of the argument, because you would have loaded the conclusion into the second premise, and so the argument would be question-begging.

If, however, you don’t know that giving the 66 books (and only those books) found in Protestant Bibles was one of God’s purposes in giving the canon, but instead know that God gave the inspired books (whichever ones those are) for the purpose of instructing His people, that does not entail (3). Nor does (4) follow.

The argument is (roughly) the following :

(1) If we know God’s purposes in giving the church, then we can have certainty regarding which church God has given.

(2) We know God’s purposes in giving the church.


(3) We know which church God has given. [from (1) and (2)]

Then the conclusion is:

(4) The Roman church, and only the Roman church, is the one true church.

There are at least three problems with this argument, for a Catholic.

First, you can’t get to (3), from (1) and (2), unless you fill in more precisely what you know about God’s purposes in giving the church. If, for example, you know that one of God’s purposes in giving the church was to give the Roman church, and only the Roman church, then you could go from (1) and (2), to (3), and from (3), to (4). But, then there would be no point of the argument, because you would have loaded the conclusion into the second premise, and so the argument would be question-begging.

If, however, you don’t know that giving the Roman church (and only the Roman church) was one of God’s purposes in giving the church, but instead know that God gave the church (whichever one [or ones] that is) for the purpose of instructing His people, that does not entail (3). Nor does (4) follow.

Christological filters

I was initially startled to find a recent post over at Energetic Procession that actually engages the text of Scripture. An exegetical critique of Presbyterian ordination.

Now, it’s almost unheard of for Perry Robison to even make a token gesture towards Biblical exegesis. His standing excuse is that Protestant hermeneutics and Orthodox hermeneutics are incommensurable. According to him, you can’t properly interpret the Bible unless you filter the Bible through the prism of Eastern Orthodox Christology.

However, there’s a reason why this post marks such a radical break with Perry’s MO. And that’s because, on closer inspection, it wasn’t posted by Perry at all. Instead, it was posted by Michael Garten.

The thrust in the post seems to combine Garten’s summary of Felix Cirlot’s analysis with some of Garten’s own supporting arguments.

For now I’m not going to comment on the specifics. Instead, I’ll make a general observation.

The post generates an unintended paradox. And that’s because, in his exegesis of 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6, Garten doesn’t apply a Greek Orthodox Christological filter to the text. Rather, he simply applies his own logic to the text. It’s basically an exercise in logical analysis by comparing one text with another. There’s nothing distinctively Christological about his methodology.

And that, in turn, generates the paradox. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that his interpretation is sound. If so, then he arrived at that interpretation without recourse a Christological lens.

So if we judge Garten’s argument by Robinson’s yardstick, then, at best, Garten accidentally arrived at the right destination. He got there in despite using the wrong hermeneutical roadmap.

So either we need Christological hermeneutics or we don’t. If Christological hermeneutics is a prerequisite to sound exegesis, then we can summarily dismiss Garten’s interpretation. But if his interpretation is sound, then Christological hermeneutics is superfluous. As it stands, his means subvert his ends.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Church & canon

“Second, if given what we know about God’s purposes in giving the inspired books ‘it necessarily follows that He would guide His people (the Church),’ then Protestants will need to abandon ecclesial deism. It would be ad hoc to maintain that God will guide His Church to recognize the canon, but not guide His Church to recognize orthodoxy from heresy between 451 to 1517.”

Second, if given what we know about God’s purposes in giving the inspired books “it necessarily follows that He would guide His people (the Church),” then Catholics will need to abandon their selective ecclesial deism. It would be ad hoc to maintain that God will guide His Church to recognize the 66 books of canon, but not guide His Church to recognize orthodoxy from heresy at the Westminster Assembly.

The witness of the Spirit

I’ve been having a friendly discussion with Edward Reiss, an adroit and thoughtful Lutheran apologist. For a couple of reasons I’m going to transfer my part of the dialogue to a separate thread.

For one thing, it’s simply outgrown the confines of the combox. Of course, a new thread may well generate a new round of activity in this combox. But I’d like to initially block out my position without having to chop it up to fit the Blogger word-limit constraints.

Also, before I respond to Ed’s specific queries and objections, I’d like to situate the discussion in a larger framework.

I’ll begin with an overview (1-2), followed by what I already said in response to Ed (3), followed by my response to his newer comments.

1.The Witness of the Spirit

i) Let’s begin with a bit of exegetical theology. As I understand Rom 8:15-16 and Gal 4:6, a Christian should normally experience the assurance of salvation. The assurance of salvation ought to be the default setting.

It’s not that a Christian should ordinarily begin in a state of doubt, then perform spiritual exercises to gradually attain the goal of assurance.

Rather, regeneration and sanctification confer a distinctive religious experience. An experience of God’s gracious presence in the life of the newborn believer. The Holy Spirit makes us conscious of our adoptive status as sons of God. We normally enjoy that personal knowledge of God’s favor toward us.

For an exegetical defense of this interpretation, cf. G. Fee, Galatians (Deo 2007), 150-56; T. Schreiner, Romans (Baker 1998), 423-27.

We don’t have to run through a batter of tests to be aware of this. Ordinarily, this should be a spontaneous, irrepressible datum of our mental life.

We don’t have to get up every morning and run through a self-diagnostic to find out if our salvation snuck away while we slept.

ii) As such, the witness of the Spirit has evidentiary value. Indeed, Paul introduces this theme in a polemical context (Gal 4:6). He invokes the witness of the Spirit as an argument from religious experience–to rebut the Judaizers. That’s not the only argument he uses to rebut the Judaizers. He also gives some Scriptural arguments. But that’s one of the arguments which he deploys.

This doesn’t mean the witness of the Spirit is purely evidentiary. First and foremost, God adopts us to save us–while the witness of the Spirit is one effect of adoption. And it can functional evidentially.

iii) Likewise, this doesn’t mean we need to inspect the evidence on a regular basis–to see if it’s still there. Rather, that type of evidence is available to true believers in case the occasion arises.

It functions like tacit knowledge. Something you know, whether or not you give it any thought. A background condition which we can also bring into the foreground.

There are degrees of awareness. A continuum of experience which ranges from subliminal perception to acute self-consciousness. For example, there’s a sense in which we’re always aware of time (except when we sleep), but there are situations in which we’re more aware of time than others.

iv) Contrariwise, there can be impediments to the assurance of salvation. Various circumstances can intrude to cloud our ordinary perception of God’s providential presence and favor. Textbook cases include the Psalmist in Ps 88 and John the Baptist in Mt 11:2-6.

v) Moreover, even where the assurance of salvation is “automatic,” that is still dependent on the prior act of faith, including a bit of logical inference. Take Jn 3:16. That contains a promise. But it’s a conditional promise. A promise to believers.

To appropriate that promise, you have to draw an inference from the general promise to your doxastic state. Do you believe it or not? If you do, then it’s true for you.

2. Westminster on assurance

To my knowledge, there are three factors feeding into the Westminster doctrine of assurance: (i) polemical theology; (ii) pastoral theology and (iii) exegetical theology.

i) Polemical theology

The WCF is, in part, responding to the Tridentine doctrine of assurance. Except for extraordinary cases, involving private revelation, Trent denies the possibility of assurance in the life of the average believer.

The WCF counters this by affirming the possibility of such assurance. What Rome says is impossible, Westminster says is possible.

ii) Pastoral theology

However, the WCF also draws a distinction between the possibility of assurance and the necessity of assurance. Put another way, it distinguishes between saving faith and the assurance of salvation.

It probably does this because it is trying to make allowance for “cases of conscience.” Puritans like Richard Sibbes and Richard Baxter wrote extensively on “cases of conscience.”

What should a pastor tell a parishioner who is going through a dry spell? Who is suffering from acute self-doubt?

To tell him that the assurance of salvation is a necessary condition of saving faith would drive an already despairing parishioner over the edge. That would be counterproductive advice to a struggling believer.

So the WCF is attempting to be merciful in both directions. On the one hand, it would be merciless to rob Christians of the possibility of assurance. On the other hand, it would be equally merciless to insist on the necessity of assurance.

The WCF is striving to avoid two equal, but opposite errors.

iii) Exegetical theology

The WCF also tries to stay within the confines of Scripture, as it understands the relevant Scriptures. It doesn’t begin by postulating a desired result, then inventing a dogma that services that postulate.

Christians are entitled to whatever degree of assurance the Bible authorizes. No more and no less. We can’t begin with some a priori goal, and then make up our theology to achieve the goal. Rather, we must remain within the boundaries of whatever God has revealed on this subject.

I’d also add that there are, to my knowledge, some variations in Reformed theology on the presumption of assurance. For example, Herman Bavinck, the Dutch-Reformed theologian, once wrote a pamphlet on assurance in which he was critical of the Puritans’ morbid introspection (as he saw it).

3. Previous replies


“One cannot infallibly know one is elect, and one has to test to see if one is elect.”

i) I don’t see the point of adding the adjective “infallible” to the noun “knowledge.”

As long as you know something to be the case, why is it additionally necessary to infallible know something?

If you infallibly know something, then you can’t be wrong. But as long as you’re right, why does it matter if you might have been wrong?

I think you’re also conflating three distinct issues:

a) Can one of the elect know that he’s elect?

b) Can one of the elect not know that he’s elect?

c) Can a nominal Christian mistakenly believe that he’s one of the elect?

“The point in my question is not whether or not one may have an abstract system of doctrine that there are indeed elect, but how one knows for one's self one is elect.”

The elect have an experience of saving grace whereas the reprobate do not.

“This is because ‘election’, in the document you cited, is ‘proved’ by ‘tests’. By way of contrast, Lutherans look to historical acts and ask questions like ‘Did Christ die for me?’ ‘Am I baptized?’ ‘Do I receive communion’ etc. The tests are more in the empirical vein than in the theoretical.”

i) The problem with your empirical/historical tests is that both the heavenbound and the hellbound could past the test.

In Lutheran theology, the atonement is universal, but salvation is not. Therefore, an affirmative answer to the question, “Did Christ die for me?” doesn’t answer the question of whether you’re saved or elect (unless you believe that it’s possible to lose one’s election).

Likewise, in Lutheran theology (as I understand it), sacramental grace is resistible grace. Therefore, the fact that you were validly baptized, and the further fact you’re a regular communicant, receiving valid communion, doesn’t affirmatively answer the question of whether you’re saved or elect?

So I don’t see how you’ve succeeded in solving the problem you pose for yourself.

ii) I also don’t see why you would try to entirely eliminate subjective conditions as a grounds of assurance. Regeneration and sanctification are the work of the Spirit. Paul talks about the witness of the Spirit, who bears witness to our adoption as children of God. You don’t think the Spirit bears false witness, do you?

“The Standard Protestant Syllogism…”

That needs to be qualified. Bare belief isn’t synonymous with saving faith.

“Luther’s Syllogism…”

Since I’m basically Zwinglian in my sacramentology, I don’t accept the sacramental realism which underwrites this syllogism.

But even if I did subscribe to sacramental realism, the fact remains that sacramental grace is resistible grace. As such, the fact that you’re in a state of sacramental grace today doesn’t mean you’re heavenbound.

“Calvinists cannot say with confidence ‘God saved me’ without going through the tests outlined in the link you supplied, but since Christ never lies, we can infallibly know we are e.g. baptized.”

Actually, I think that formulation gets the onus backwards. A born-again Christian has an experience of God’s saving grace. So the presumption is not that he should doubt his salvation unless he can prove it to himself.

However, there can be times in the life of a born-again Christian when he goes through a crisis of faith. Suffers from acute self-doubt. At that point it’s useful for him to consider the marks of a true believer.

So it’s not as if the assurance of salvation must normally overcome a presumption to the contrary. Rather, in those cases where a child of God is questioning his salvation, that’s a good time for him to consider the marks of a true believer.

Doubt is not the default position. Faith is the default position. But Christians can go through dry spells.

I haven’t taken the time to read through all your subsequent responses to other commenters. For now I’m just going to answer the questions you directed at me.

Sorry if that means I’m inadvertently raising some issues which you address in response to other commenters.

4. New replies


“First there is the doctrine of ‘effectual calling’, which is a very important idea in the WC…So there is a call, and an effective call. An ‘ineffective’ call is not ineffective because the one called has rejected the message, but because God has not ordained his salvation from the beginning. Is it possible to be ineffectively called and believe you are effectively called, or believe you are not ineffectively called and be effectively called? Yes, it is, an dI think that is a problem.”

i) The reprobate can be (ineffectively) called by the Word. But the reprobate were never called by the Spirit.

The calling of the Word can either be effective (in the case of the elect), or ineffective–in the case of the reprobate. But there is no ineffective calling of the Spirit. Only effective calling.

ii) Keep in mind, to, that the Word can serve more than one purpose. It can harden as well as soften.

In that sense, the Word is always effective, but in different ways depending on the target. The Word is effective in helping to harden the reprobate, but as the Word is effective in helping to soften the elect.

“From the same Chapter X of the WC we see that the first is a possibility… Notice they never ‘truly’ come to Christ, though they have some operations of the Spirit, even though they believe they are effectively called.”

i) Keep in mind that the Confessional terminology is a combination of Scriptural usage and theological jargon.

“Calling” is basically a Pauline category. The WCF lifts that term from Pauline usage. However, the Confession is using the term as a rough synonym for genuine conversion, which includes regeneration (a Johannine category) as well as the reflexive effect of regeneration (e.g. acts of faith and repentance on the part of the regenerate).

This, in turn, is distinguished from “common” operations of the Spirit.

So the reprobate don’t have the same spiritual experience as the elect/regenerate.

ii) Yes, it’s possible for the reprobate to be self-deluded about their salvation. But most theological traditions allow for the possibility of spiritual self-deception. This isn’t distinctive to Calvinism.

And one could cite various examples from Scripture of false teachers who mistakenly assume that they are truly saved. Indeed, there’s a divine irony in this. False teachers view themselves as the true believers, while they view true believers as false believers.

iii) There are also examples in Scripture of non-soteric spiritual gifts. The Spirit of God might give an artisan (Bezaleel) the talent he needs to construct the tabernacle and its furnishings. He might give a Jewish king (e.g. Solomon, Saul) the wisdom and/or courage he needs to lead and defend his subjects. He might inspire an unbeliever (e.g. Balaam, Caiaphas) to utter a true prophecy.

So these are not makeshift distinctions. The Bible itself distinguishes between soteric and non-soteric spiritual endowments.

iv) The Westminster Divines reflect the philosophical/theological resources and historical circumstances of their time and place. If we were writing today, we might use somewhat different formulations.

“Which also means they are not justified.”

True. Justification is reserved for heaven-bound believers. Justification would be pretty worthless if it also applies to the damned.

“The ones effectually called are the only ones justified, indeed the only ones Christ actually died for.”


“But they may not even know they are ineffectively called, and live what appear to be godly lives but the whole time not really have the Holy Spirit and salvation.”

i) Who does the “they” refer to? Syntactically, I’d expect the “they” to refer back to the subjects of the previous sentence. But you’ve already defined that group as consisting of those, and only those, who were effectively called. So you can’t very well say that those who were effectively called may not even know they are ineffectively called.

ii) Syntax aside, I guess you meant to refer to a different group: the reprobate.

Assuming that’s what you mean, you say that they may live what appear to be godly lives.

But why do you find that suggestion objectionable? Surely there are nominal Christians who go through the motions. Perfunctory piety. They may even be quite devout in their way–yet the moment some of them suffer a bit of adversity, their faith evaporates on contact. Surely that’s a common phenomenon in church history. And Jesus refers to that phenomenon in the parable of the sower.

I’ll grant you that this may be disturbing, but we can’t wish it away just because it’s disturbing.

iii) Also, to say they were “ineffectively called” is equivocal. They may have been ineffectively called by the word, inasmuch as they were exposed to the Gospel, but it didn’t take root.

But this doesn’t mean they were ineffectively called by the Spirit, which they mistook for the effective call of the Spirit. For the Spirit never called to the reprobate.

“So, perhaps one can be *sure* that he is elect by applying some tests to his regenerated life?”

i) Why do you think a Christian should be sure of his election regardless of his situation? Was David entitled to the assurance of salvation when he was a backslider? When he committed adultery with the wife of soldier under his command, then engineered the death of her husband to cover his tracks?

The assurance of salvation is not unconditional, and I see no good reason why it ought to be.

ii) You’re also creating a false dichotomy. To say that not every elect believer is certain of his election doesn’t imply that no elect believer is certain of his election.

iii) Moreover, the fact that some true believers have to take stock of their condition to achieve the assurance of salvation doesn’t mean that every true believer must do so. Rather, this is dealing with the situation of true believers who, for whatever reason, lack the assurance of salvation.

“So, a Christian can fall into grievous sin and yet, because of his election, will be saved in the end. (I don't mean here that he continues during all his days to be in grievous sin, though logically we cannot exclude that possibility since all depends on God's decree).”

The decree decrees means as well as ends.

“How does one know he is one of the elect?”

I’m not clear on why you’re preoccupied with knowing if one is “elect.” Why not ask how one knows he’s “saved”?

A Calvinist can know that he’s elect in the same way he can know he’s saved.

“Only those who truly believe in the Lord, love him in sincerity and endeavor to walk in good conscience *MAY* in this life be *certainly* assured they are in a state of grace.”

But surely there are hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, who vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish.

We can cite various examples in church history. And they have their counterparts in Bible history as well. That may be disturbing, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

“Now, I hope you can see how this would cause one to reflect on the quality of one's faith so as to gain the assurance one is elect.”

Why do you think the quality of one’s faith should have absolutely no bearing on the assurance of salvation? Do you think Caiaphas was entitled to the assurance of salvation? Or the Borgia popes? Or charlatan faith-healers?

“The system outlined here causes us to reflect on the *quality* of our faith, since both the elect and the non-elect may do grievous sins, may to all appearances display operations of the Spirit, may have lives which to all intents and purposes look very godly. But in the case of the non-elect it doesn't mean anything because they have been decreed to be damned.”

The phenomenology can be very similar. But the psychology is dissimilar.

“Indeed, one could be one of the elect and at the last moment of one's life disbelieve and end up in hell.”

No. According to Calvinism the elect can never end up in hell. Not a single one.

“It is this reflection upon the quality of our faith which I believe is the problem. On a practical level it calls everything into question.”

There are two opposing errors we need to avoid. And you only have eyes for one of the errors. At one extreme is the error of denying that any Christian can enjoy the assurance of salvation.

But at the other extreme is the error of giving false assurance to hypocrites, closet apostates, and nominal believers.

“And how does one test the experience? Let us suppose there are two good Christians in front of us, one is elect and one is not. Both claim to have experience of saving grace. How can you tell the difference? How can the individuals tell the difference?”

Let us suppose there are two individuals in front of us. One is sober while the other is stoned. Both claim to be sober. How can you tell the difference? How can the individual tell the difference?

The fact is that one is lucid while the other is deluded. Both may claim to be in the same condition, but both are not.

There is nothing the sober individual to say or do to convince the stoned individual that he is stoned.

But should the sober individual doubt his own sobriety because he can entertain a hypothetical scenario in which, for one he knows, he might be stoned, but imagine that he’s sober?

We can iterate these sceptical, brain-in-vat scenarios into infinite regress, but those are paper doubts, not real doubts. They betray an overactive imagination.

“But since we all sin, and the WC confession says even the elect can sin grievously, how would the elect who sinned grievously experience saving grace?”

How does a drunk know when he’s sober? After he dries out.

“It is a subjective test and a subjective standard, which is why it causes believers to reflect on the quality of their faith to determine if they are elect.”

Keep in mind that our perception of objective reality is a subjective impression. There’s an irreducibly subjective element to the way in which we process reality. That’s part of our finitude. Of what it means to be a creature.

“They have nothing objective outside themselves to turn to. Perhaps they could be pointed to the Scriptures and the promises in the Scriptures, but if they are not elect the promises are not for them--indeed only the condemnations apply to them in an objective sense.”

And what’s the problem with that? It’s like complaining that antivenom is only effective for snakebite victims. True. And how is that a problem?

“The WC states we should look at "the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made" whereas Lutherans point us to the Gospel itself for assurance--Christ died for you! Christ rose for you! Christ forgives you!”

i) That’s a very truncated statement of what the WCF actually says.

ii) A problem with the Lutheran alternative is that the death of Christ is not commensurate with the forgiveness of Christ. Christ died for all, but all are not forgiven. For the damned suffer divine judgment rather than divine forgiveness.

Unless you go so far as to say that one can be both forgiven and still be damned–in which case I don’t see the differential value between status of an unforgiven hellion and the status of a forgiven hellion.

“SO, the Lutheran asks not ‘Do I believe in Christ and have inward evidence?’ but ‘Is what Christ says true?’”

True for whom? Believers or unbelievers? Does Christ promise eternal salvation to impenitent unbelievers?

“The difference is that the Lutheran can have confidence Christ actually died for him...”

And what benefit does that confer? Bultmann in hell can have confidence that Christ died for him.

“A Lutheran can determine if he is baptized by looking at empirical data…”

And what benefit does that confer? Bultmann in hell can determine if he is baptized by remembering his baptismal certificate.

Seems to me a Lutheran is in the equivalent position of a test subject in a double blind experiment. Is he receiving the cure, or is he receiving the placebo? You may say it’s “real,” but if “real” medicine is no more effective than the placebo, then what difference does it make?

“For Lutherans, ‘Am I elect?’ is a question of secondary importance, the real question is do I believe the Gospel…”

Up to a point, a Calvinist could say the same thing. But what benefit does the Gospel confer? If you can lose your salvation, then that scrapes the sheen clean off your statement.

“I am arguing for the objective reality of the Gospel proclamation for all. Let's put aside sacraments for a moment and concentrate on preaching. When the Gospel is preached, if I am not elect it doesn't matter if I believe then, because my faith is not real and does not have the gift of perseverance. There was indeed no effective grace offered--and effective grace is the only kind which matters ultimately in a Calvinist system.”

It’s a tradeoff between a lesser benefit for more, or a greater benefit for fewer.

Take two hypothetical cases. In both cases we have 100 terminal cancer patients. In one case a drug is administered to all patients, which will extend the lives of all patients by 10 years. In another case, drug is administered to 50 patients which will cure all 50 patients.

In one case, all die, but everyone lives longer than if no one received treatment. In the other case, half die, and half are healed.

Which is better? To cure only half of them, or to cure none of them, but extend the lives of all of them?

There is no simple answer to that question. Each is better than the other in one important respect, but worse than the other in another important respect.

Likewise, we can debate the hypothetical merits or demerits of respective soteriologies, but all that counts is which tradeoff God has actually chosen to put in place.

The moral education of doctors

Here is a classic article on medical education.

I agree that doctors should be educated in morals and ethics as well as medical science.

In fact, I'll go further: there's no such thing as moral neutrality in any sort of education including physician education so where possible we ought to teach right morals by which I mean Biblical morals and ethics.

For example, secular schools may profess to teach "just the facts" but that's not true. Secular schools believe in secular morals - tolerance, pluralism, methodological naturalism, etc. Each of these is or entails a moral position.

What's more, secular schools require students who attend their university to subscribe to secular morals. Or, short of that, they will try to educate and persuade students to subscribe to secular morals.

Not to mention many if not most med schools require some sort of medical ethics class anyway.

So I don't see why evangelical Christians can't also be active in educating students including med students in morals and ethics.

In fact, our taxes support public med schools.

As for the article's recommended books to use in such a moral curriculum, I'm not entirely sure which ones I'd suggest if I were ever asked to do so. Obviously I'd pick the Bible. I think even non-Christians should understand it. Also, I'd pick a Christian medical ethics book like the one by John Frame and/or his Doctrine of the Christian Life. Perhaps a book on suffering like D.A. Carson's How Long, O Lord? would be good too. But apart from these, I don't know which other books I'd pick to educate future doctors in morals or ethics. Maybe a work of literature like a novel or poem? Maybe a biography or autobiography? Maybe I'd just recommend a new iPad?

I don't know that I'd necessarily need to stick as closely to Western heritage in the choice of books as does the author of the article though (he picked Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Dostoevsky).

Oftentimes we can learn much from books with which we disagree or find distasteful. But my preference here would be positive, even explicit moral and ethical instruction and education, building a moral and ethical foundation and framework in which to think and function, first and foremost.

Perhaps as significant as which books are taught are which instructors are doing the teaching. I'll assume the books would be taught by an evangelical Christian, and ideally a Reformed Christian.

Of course, practically working all this out is easier said than done.

BTW, Al Mohler posted some thoughts on the aforementioned article some years back.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Uncle Davey's Roadkill Café

Dave Armstrong is trying his best to launch an urban legend about how Jason Engwer ignored “88%” of Armstrong’s “line-by-line” reply.

Now, it doesn’t surprise me that Armstrong has a hankering for legends. After all, he’s Roman Catholic. That alone makes him a certified legend-monger. For the church of Rome is a multistory legend.

It’s unwittingly revealing that Dave seizes on word counts as his benchmark of apologetic excellence.

Dave is the type of guy who judges the quality of a gift by the size of the box. To him, a 5x5 box full of Styrofoam stuffing and a peanut is far more valuable than a tiny box with a sapphire ring.

The problem with Armstrong’s response is that he didn’t offer a point-by-point reply. Rather, he offered a point-by-pointless reply.

One of Dave’s basic deficiencies is that although he fancies himself a “professional apologist,” he’s a cheapskate when it comes to research. He doesn’t invest in scholarly resources.

Instead, dear old Dave confines himself to whatever roadkill he can peel off the information superhighway. Welcome to Uncle Davey’s Roadkill Café. Today’s specials: Awesome Possum or Poodles n’ Noodles.

The intellectual quality of his rejoinder reminds me of that old Beatles song–“She Loves You.” Remember how the lyrics went?

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah Ye-ah!

Dave Armstrong's Inconsistent Standards

Dave Armstrong keeps posting complaints such as the following:

In my recent exception-to-the-rule six-part debate with anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Jason Engwer (Parts 1-4 / part 5 / part 6), I noted in Part 6 how, in his last two installments when I was still around to engage him, he ignored 88% and 87% of my words. He was citing my words to respond to, and giving a pseudo- appearance of socratic debate (i.e., what I did, when I responded to every word of his, six straight times).

But in fact, he was evading huge amounts of essential material. His excuses (and those of others made for him) thus far have been lack of time and necessity, and that my comprehensive replies nevertheless supposedly lacked substance to a great extent.

How would Dave know how much time I have? Does he think I was lying about having overtime at work, for example? Early on in our discussion, he commented that he was "working day and night on these replies". Dave is a full-time apologist. I'm not. And I know my time constraints better than he does. I said that I would respond to more of his material as I had time, and I've done that. (I'll be responding to more in the future as well.) I would suggest that people compare the quality of my material to the quality of his on those matters both of us have addressed so far. Dave keeps complaining that I haven't responded to more of his material, but consider the difference in quality in what has been addressed to this point. How difficult is it to write a lot when you're writing in the manner in which Dave does?

Here's what I wrote earlier about Dave's use of percentages:

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.

Yet, Dave keeps citing his percentages, and he said the following about my material that he had ignored:

It's true that I chose not to respond to two of Jason's shorter replies. (one was merely a short introduction; big wow). That was my choice, and people make those choices all the time. But when I do respond, I do so properly and respectfully, by dealing with the complete argument of my opponent, and not ignoring 88% of it, including major points and often the very heart (or aspects closely related to the heart) of the argument of my opponent. If an argument is made, I reply to it, and show exactly why I reject it, and I also usually offer what I think is a superior alternative.

He defends his ignoring of some of my posts by saying "people make those choices all the time", and he points to what he does "when he does respond". Yet, even his claim about what he does when he responds to people is false. When he said that he was no longer going to interact with me in 2003, he replied to part of my last response to him without responding to the rest. See the "ADDENDUM" section at the end of the post here. In the context of our current discussion, see the eighth comment in the thread here, in which Dave replies to some of my comments without quoting them, but doesn't reply to the remainder.

On his Anti-Catholicism page, Dave now refers to me as "Jason 'Ignore 88%' Engwer". But it's acceptable for him to ignore more than 88% of articles like the ones mentioned above or ignore 100% of others. And his 88% figure that he applies to me carries with it the sort of erroneous reasoning I addressed above, in my comments about percentages. A poster in a recent thread, Ryan, reminded Dave of the specious nature of his reasoning on this issue, and Dave's response was to dismiss him as a "clown" and accuse him of "double standards" without proving the accusation. But Dave would want us to keep in mind that he did post a response to Ryan, even though the response was of a low quality.

I didn't leave the recent discussion with Dave. He did. I'm going to continue responding to his material. Ask yourself how well his claims about Papias, the canon at Nicaea, development of doctrine, and other subjects have held up so far. And note how well his claims hold up as I continue to respond to them.

Literacy and Holy Writ

One of the popular objections to sola Scriptura by epologists alleges low rates of literacy and limited access to books in the first few centuries of the Christian era. However, Larry Hurtado, in the course of a book review, presents evidence to the contrary:


[Quote] Contending also that there is “little evidence of private lay ownership of biblical books at any early date” (21) and that there is “no reason to suppose that Christians were disproportionately more likely than other people to own books” (23), Bagnall urges that “the natural sense of palaeographical comparisons can be followed without an unreasonable zeal for finding origins” (24). Later in the book, as another reason why there should be very few copies of Christian writings in the earliest centuries, Bagnall notes that “Christian books had no role in the traditional Greek educational system” (50).

I find his claims a bit puzzling, however. For example, as to evidence of private copies of Christian texts, it is commonly thought that the copies of Christian writings (including some biblical writings) on reused rolls (“opisthographs,” e.g., the third-century copy of the Gospel of John known as P22) likely represent inexpensive copies made for personal usage. Also, given Bagnall’s recognition of “Christianity’s inheritance from Judaism of a writing-centered culture” (2), and given that certain texts were treated as scripture and came to have a special place in early Christian worship and devotional life, do we not have reason to think that Christians may in fact have been somewhat more inclined than the general population to value, own, and use their writings? Granted, Christian texts were not copied for use in schools; nevertheless, Christians may well have had their own reasons for being involved in, and committed to, copying texts. So they may have produced copies of their texts disproportionate to the number of Christians in the general population. In any case, it is curious that Bagnall makes no reference to Kim Haines- Eitzen, Guardians of Letters: Literacy, Power, and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature (Oxford University Press, 2000), who argued that there was frequent private copying of Christian texts in the early centuries.

Chapter 3, “The Economics of Book Production,” is a very demanding discussion of how much it may have cost to produce copies of texts in the second and third centuries. Personally, I found the flurry of various figures and various monetary measures a bit difficult to follow at some points. In any case, again, Bagnall takes no serious account of the private copying of texts and seems to base his analysis solely on costs involved in professional copying. He is likely correct, however, that there were more Christians in the third century, and more of them with sufficient means to afford paying for copies of texts, than in the second century and that this is probably reflected in the comparatively greater number of copies of Christian texts datable to the third century.

Is "anti-Catholicism" offensive?

Many modern-day Catholics take umbrage when Calvinists say the church of Rome is an apostate church. In the ecumenical spirit of our age, they act as if that's an outrageous thing to say about professing believers of another communion. After all, aren't we all one big family?

However, what's ironic about this indignant reaction is that it cuts both ways. Offended Catholics seem to be oblivious to what their own denomination thinks of Protestant believers. Here's a case in point:


Various heretics have founded sects, St. Thomas says, but these sects do not belong to the Church. They may very well have been founded by well-intentioned persons; perhaps none of these founders of sects thought they were heretics, or that they were making a schism. But, says St. Thomas, these sects do not belong to the Church. They were founded by mere men. The Church, by contrast, was founded by the incarnate God-man, Jesus Christ. Only by remaining in the Church Christ founded do we truly participate in the supernatural unity Christ imparted to His Church. The sects show that they are not united, by their many divisions. The Church, by contrast, cannot be divided; unity is one of the four essential marks of the Church, because the Church’s unity is Christ’s unity, and Christ cannot be divided. (1 Cor 1:13) Schismatics and dissenters can separate themselves from her in various ways, but they cannot divide her.

We can learn something about the unity of the Church by studying the sin against that unity. Strictly speaking, says St. Thomas, the sin of schism is one in which the person willfully and intentionally separates himself from the unity of the Church.3 The person who does so in ignorance or unintentionally, is less culpable (if culpable). But the person who discovers himself to be in schism, even if born into that schism, is culpable if he does not seek to cease to be in schism. To willfully remove oneself from the unity of the Church, or to willfully remain in schism from the Church, is to sin against charity. As heresy is a sin against faith, so schism is a sin against the charity which “unites the whole Church in unity of spirit.”

What does it mean to be in schism? Some Christians think that so long as they love other Christians, they are therefore not in schism. But St. Thomas explains that the unity of the Church consists in two things: the mutual connection of the members of the Church, and the subordination of all the members to the Church’s visible head, who represents Christ. So there are two ways to be a schismatic, according to St. Thomas. One way is to refuse to hold communion with other members of the Church. The other way is to refuse to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff. Both forms of schism are sins against charity, for they both act against the charity by which the whole Church is held together in love.

The deity of Christ in Hebrews

"The Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews" by Richard Bauckham is available via Google Books.

HT: John Bugay.

UNCG Outreach Report 1-26-2010

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of proclaiming the Name above all Names once again at UNCG. The overall foot traffic was much less this Tuesday due to cold temperatures and classes being back into full swing versus warm temperatures and registration taking place last Tuesday. Before I began preaching, two young men from a local Southern Baptist Church came up to me and personally thanked me for being there. They said that UNCG was not only plagued by the usual vile behavior grounded in secular thought but that heretical preachers had been on the campus for years, defiling the gospel of Christ and poisoning the well against doctrinally sound preachers like myself. After the first 1 1/2 hours, there were not enough people mingling around to preach open-air to, so we had a great opportunity to engage in one-on-one evangelism, something I personally prefer over open-air preaching.

I noticed that the initial reaction and body language of some of the folks I approached one-on-one was very negative and after I spoke with several professing Christian students I found out why. Sadly, they (and others) assumed that I was simply another perfectionist heretic telling people that they had to be completely sinless to go to heaven. Like many other campuses across the U.S., UNCG has been plagued by these types of heretics. This grieves me for several reasons: (1) not only are these so-called preachers still lost in their own sins (1 John 1:8), but they are simply preaching a hopeless message that requires them and their hearers to lift heavy burdens that they will not be able to bear and (2) they drag the name of Jesus through the mud by grossly misrepresenting His teachings by confusing justification with sanctification. Thus, we will have to make sure we do everything possible to distance ourselves from these heretics.

I had cordial one-on-one conversations with several unbelievers. The first was a young man with a Jewish background. He said that he couldn't accept that Jesus was Messiah because Jesus never claimed such and Messiah is supposed to bring in worldwide peace and Jesus didn't do that, therefore He can't be the promised Messiah. However, he did note that he thought that Jesus was a good moral teacher. I explained to him that it was impossible for Jesus to be a good moral teacher and make the claims that He did because if he was right about Jesus not being the Messiah then Jesus was a liar or lunatic because He claimed to be Messiah, accepted worship, forgave sins, etc. I then quoted John 4:25-26 to Him showing that Jesus claimed to be Messiah and that He also allowed Himself to be called Christ, which is the Greek for christos - Anointed One, Messiah. He then said, "Well, we believe that Messiah may not necessarily be a person, but may be a concept or some other idea that ushers in world peace. " At this point I began to quote his own prophets to Him by memory as best as I could demonstrating that Messiah was not only a person, but was to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2), that His hands and feet were to be pierced (Psalm 22:16 cf. Zech. 12:10; John 19:37), He would be called God (Isaiah 9:6-7), was to be humiliated before men and offered up as a substitutionary atonement for sinners (Isaiah 52:13-53), that He would do great miracles of healing (Isaiah 61:1-2) and that He would indeed return to inaugurate a Messianic era wherein He would bring in worldwide peace (Ezekiel 40-48; Revelation 19:11-19 & chapters 20-22). He said he would have to check all of that out. I encouraged him to read his Tanakh daily, especially the Messianic prophecies I mentioned and then to get a copy of the NT and read it several times. I then gave him a tract that explained the gospel using many OT references and he went on his way.

The second unbeliever I spoke with was a young Muslim woman who basically said she was a Muslim because she was raised that way and so that was part of her identity. I began to explain the gospel to her and she then stated something like this, "Well Christians and Muslims basically believe in the same god" to which I responded, "Actually that is not true. To believe in the God of Christianity is to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity whereas Islam teaches Unitarianism and that Allah can have "no partners". I then explained that her own religion teaches that to adhere to the doctrine of the Trinity is to commit the sin of shirk. She said in typical relativistic fashion, "Well, if you believe in Christianity that's great for you, but Islam is who I am." I then asked her, "So you are saying, 'what's true for you is true for you and what's true for me is true for me?'" and she said, "Yeah" to which I responded, "But it's impossible for both of those religions to be true at the same time in the same way because they have competing and contradictory truth claims. Logically, they can both be wrong, but they can't both be right." to which she had no response. I then briefly explained the gospel to her.

The last unbeliever I spoke with was a young agnostic man with Jewish background. I found this out after asking him, "If you could ask God one question, what would it be?" to which he eventually said, "That's a great question, I guess 'why am I here?'" (i.e., what's my purpose in life?). I then quoted Matthew 22:37-40 and 1 Corinthians 10:31. Later in the conversation he then said he was a pretty decent person and I took him through the Law of Christ to show him that everyone, including him, has fallen short of God's righteous standards and that is why he needed Christ (Romans 3:10-11; 6:23). We discussed specific examples (i.e., lying, thievery, adultery, disobedience to parents, blasphemy, etc.) and he admitted that if the God of the Bible existed, then he was in big trouble. I then explained the gospel to him. I then asked him apart from the Bible how he knew that it was wrong to lie, steal, kill, etc. and he said "because I go on my feelings" and I said, "Well, what if I feel like molesting little children for fun is a good thing to do because it makes me feel good?" he retorted with "naw man, that's wrong" to which I said "I totally agree with you that it is wrong, but if each man does what is right in his own eyes (which is the standard you gave me to work with) then why is it wrong for me to do molest little children for fun?" Then he appealed to the higher law of society and I said, "Well, what if another society says it's o.k. to molest little children for fun, how can you say it's wrong for that society if society is ultimately where you get your moral standards from?" and he retorted again with the same response as earlier. I said, "Again, I agree, but I have an objective, transcendent moral law given to me by God that applies to all people and all places by which I can condemn such things regardless of what any society says, but I want to know how you can do such without contradicting yourself?" to which he said, "It's just wrong man, everybody knows that." to which I responded, "Well, apparently that other hypothetical society doesn't know that since they feel that it's okay." I then said, "Look my friend, this is what happens when you don't begin with the God of Scripture; you are left to self-refuting moral relativism or society says relativism." Then his bus showed up, I thanked him for chatting, gave him a tract, and he was off.

We are going to pray for these dear lost souls. Their confusion is not only apparent, but it is also deliberate in many cases. Here's a few things I am seeing with this generation of young people and what I think needs to be done to effectively engage this generation with the gospel:

1. They don't care that they are inconsistent and irrational in their worldview. They don't mind holding to blatant contradictions. Several unbelievers have just outright admitted this to me! I then point out that they wouldn't feel the same way about their paycheck and they respond with something like, "Yeah, but that relates to the real world, I can't verify the stuff you're talking about." Fifteen years ago, when I first became a believer, this wasn't a problem. Back then, when I confronted people with their contradictory worldview, they would say something like, "Yeah, you've got a good point there, I need to rethink some things." Now, since postmodernism, relativism, and Eastern thought has sunk it's claws into the culture of media, video games, and pop music, people don't care that they are contradictory in their worldview as long as they can stay happy and comfortable. This is why we must proclaim the gospel to them.

2. Answer their questions with the Bible to defend the Bible (Hebrews 6:13). Don't spend time answering complex questions in the open air. With one-to-one evangelism, answering complex questions can also be a problem because I've found that most unbelieving students don't care to listen to a logical train of thought longer than 30 seconds. Memorize the URLs of good websites like if they have difficult scientific questions and give them your contact information for further discussion if they are interested.

3. Remind yourself that you can't know everything about every worldview that exists. Worse yet, new religions and philosophies are being created all the time. Thus, you have to know your Bible and know how to ask good questions to enable you to answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own conceit (Proverbs 26:5).

4. Be humble and kind. People hate an arrogant religionist know-it-all, but many people are willing to talk to a humble Christian even if they strongly disagree with them.

5. Pray. Pray that God would be pleased to use your well-presented witness and the open-air preaching as a means to regenerate souls. The regenerative power of the Holy Spirit knows no bounds. It has the power to pierce the most confused and crazy soul. Depend on Him to do His work in His time!

I'll add more to the above list as I learn more about the word, myself, and unbelievers.

In conclusion, the more I do this, the more I am aware of the Christian's need to simply pray more, know their Bibles better, know what the Bible says about the nature of man, and have a firm grasp of basic Christian doctrine and systematic theology. Please pray for us as we desire to love the students at UNCG by giving them the only message that can save them from their sins.

The self-witness of Scripture to the canon of Scripture

1. Introduction

Reflecting the herd mentality of Roman Catholics, it has become fashionable for Catholic epologists to allege that sola scriptura is self-refuting unless the canon of Scripture is self-referential. However, this allegation overlooks the self-witness of Scripture to the canon of Scripture.

In this post I’ll briefly classify and summarize the different kinds of internal evidence we find in Scripture for the canon of Scripture.

I’m not going to present all the documentation, because I’ve done that elsewhere. This is just a little roadmap of how to approach the issue. When one offers copious documentation, it’s possible for a reader to lose his way in the welter of detail. My post is just a guide to the documentation I’ve already provided for these different lines of evidence.

2. Intratextuality

By this I mean the self-witness of individual books to their own authorship. Certain types of authorship are a sufficient condition of canonicity. If a writer is a prophet (e.g. Moses, David, Daniel, Isaiah) or apostle, then he’s qualified to write a book of the Bible. That principle can also extend to, say, a member of the Petrine or Pauline circle (e.g. Mark, Luke, author of Hebrews).

Likewise, it’s not coincidental that two NT books were penned by Jesus’ siblings (James, Jude). For these are two “insiders.”

Authorial ascriptions can either be explicit or implicit. Conservative commentaries, Bible introductions, reference works, articles, and monographs expound and defend the intratextual evidence of Scripture.

3. Intertextuality

As one scholar defines it, “Intertextuality is the study of links between and among texts. Many written texts, especially biblical ones, were written with full awareness of other texts in mind. Their authors assumed the readers would be thoroughly knowledgeable of those other texts. The New Testament books, for example, assume a comprehensive understanding of the OT. Many OT texts also assume their readers are aware and knowledgeable of other OT texts,” Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Zondervan 1995), 212-13.

“It is in the nature of intertextuality itself to proceed diachronically. Some biblical texts presuppose, on the part of their readers, a rather thorough knowledge of other, previously written texts,” ibid. 237-38

This can take various forms, such as common authorship, quotations, foreshadowing, literary allusions, or a storyline thread (e.g. Gen-Kings; Ezra/Nehemiah–Chronicles).

Of course, we also need to make allowance for how a book is quoted, how it functions in the author’s argument, or its preexisting reputation.

In addition, historical narratives create a chronological framework in which to fit books belonging to other genres (e.g. Wisdom literature, Major/Minor prophets). For example, Ellis uses the Book of Acts as a bridge to other NT writers.

If intratextuality is self-referential, then intertextuality is cross-referential.

Helpful writers on the intertextuality of Scripture include Bruce Waltke, E. E. Ellis, John Sailhamer, Beale/Carson (eds.), and David Noel Freedman.

Due to the prophetic orientation of Scripture, the canon of Scripture is also interconnected by a promise/fulfillment schema. Informative writers on Messianic prophecy include T. D. Alexander, Derek Motyer, O. P. Robertson, and John Sailhamer.

4. Paratextuality

As one scholar defines it, “The Bible as a literary work is made up of text and paratext. Paratext may be defined as everything in a text other than the words, that is to say, those elements that are adjoined to the text but are not part of the text itself if the ‘text’ is limited strictly to the words. The paratext of Scripture embraces features such as the order of the biblical books, the names assigned to the different books, and the differing schemes of textual division within the books.”;col1

A Catholic might object on the grounds that this is really extrabiblical evidence inasmuch as it takes for granted a standard edition of the Bible.

However, Freedman has argued that Ezra was the editor of the Hebrew canon. And his argument has been refined by Sailhamer’s recent book on the Meaning of the Pentateuch.

Yet Ezra was, himself, a Bible writer. Therefore, his edition of the OT would figure in the self-witness of Scripture.

Likewise, Stanley Porter has argued that Paul was probably responsible for compiling his own letter collection. And, if not Paul, one of his hand-picked deputies, like Luke or Timothy.

Helpful writers on the paratextuality of Scripture include Greg Goswell, John Sailhamer, and David Noel Freedman.

5. Postscript

i) A Catholic epologist might object that appealing to the self-witness of Scripture sidesteps the question of why we should even believe the testimony of Scripture.

However, that objection changes the subject. That ceases to be challenge to the logical coherence of sola Scriptura. Instead, that objection attacks the veracity or credibility of the claim, rather than the coherence of the claim.

And there are various ways of defending the self-witness of Scripture.

ii) A Catholic epologist might also object on the grounds that appealing to the self-witness of Scripture cannot settle the question of the Apocrypha.

However, internal evidence cuts both ways. The internal evidence for a given book (intratextuality) may either be consistent or inconsistent with its ostensible authorship.

I’d add that I have no problem with also using external evidence to corroborate the canon. I’m simply responding to the Catholic objection on its own terms.

Cultivating oaks from acorns

Since there's been some dispute recently on the correct interpretation of Newman's theory of development, as well as the specific way in which the "seeds" of Catholic dogmas blossom into full bloom, I thought I'd quote Newman's technical definition of development–with special reference to the Immaculate Conception:


". . . Work has been proceeding in order to bring perfection to the crudely conceived idea of a machine that would not only supply inverse reactive current for use in unilateral phase detractors, but would also be capable of automatically synchronizing cardinal grammeters. Such a machine is the 'Turbo-Encabulator'. . . .

"The original machine had a base-plate of prefabulated amulite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan. . . . The main winding was of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-boloid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible trem'e pipe to the differential girdlespring on the 'up' end of the grammeters.

"Forty-one manestically spaced grouting brushes were arranged to feed into the rotor slipstream a mixture of high S-value phenylhydrobenzamine and 5% reminative tetryliodohexamine. Both of these liquids have specific pericosities given by P = 2.5C.n^6-7 where n is the diathetical evolute of retrograde temperature phase disposition and C is Cholmondeley's annular grillage coefficient. Initially, n was measured with the aid of a metapolar refractive pilfrometer . . . but up to the present date nothing has been found to equal the transcendental hopper dadoscope. . . .

"Undoubtedly, the turbo-encabulator has now reached a very high level of technical development. It has been successfully used for operating nofer trunnions. In addition, whenever a barescent skor motion is required, it may be employed in conjunction with a drawn reciprocating dingle arm to reduce sinusoidal depleneration.",9171,886972,00.html

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rube Goldberg prooftexting

“It's still A definition which is used by some Protestants.”

i) If Scott is attacking, say, the Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura, then, at a minimum, he should cite a formulation of the doctrine from some recognized source, like the Westminster Confession, Turretin, &c. That would at least supply a respectable starting point.

For example, the Westminster Confession doesn’t use the word “only.” Rather, it refers to the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture.

ii) Let’s also keep in mind that 16-17C theological formulations reflect the state of the debate at the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

They were not designed to address or anticipate unforeseen or unforeseeable objections which might crop up at a later date.

It’s possible that Catholic epologists like Francis Beckwith are raising a more specialized objection than traditional formularies take into account. In which case we’re at liberty to refine the formulation–if need be.

Francis Beckwith isn’t Robert Bellarmine. Polemical theology always adapts to the challenges of the moment.

“Scott responds: And? Here we sit waiting for the evidence to support this threefold allegation and...??? Silence.”

I’ve produced copious documentation concerning the intratextual, intertextual, and paratextual evidence for the canon of Scripture. This is in the public domain.

I’m not obligated to give Scott a private tutorial. If he presumes to oppose my position in studied ignorance of what I’ve already written on the subject, that’s his problem, not mine.

Remember, he initiated this debate, not me. He responded to something I wrote, not vice versa.

“Sure, some books are mentioned by other books, some passages can be identified as quotes from other passages - but there is no set list - nor is it even possible to establish one based on Scripture Alone.”

Long on assertion, short on argument.

“Well, I'm sure you could come up with some sort of list, but not one with precisely 66 or 73 books in it.”

Of course, I’ve addressed the Apocrypha on numerous occasions.

“That statement flatly denies the ‘sola’ in sola scriptura.”

i) Of course, that’s illogical. If Scripture itself has a doctrine of providence, then it hardly violates the primacy of Scripture to consider extrascriptural data which Scripture implicitly warrants.

ii) For example, Scripture takes for granted the use of logical inference and sensory perception to process and interpret Scripture.

It’s not as though 16-17 theologians who hammered out the formulation of sola Scriptura ever intended to exclude those “extrascriptural” factors.

Sola Scriptura involves a more restricted claim than what Catholic epologists are straining to contrive.

“Scott replies: I'm sorry, but the fact is you don't have to interpret every statement (beyond a linguistic level of interpretation). Certainly some level of interpretation CAN take place, even in very clear statements - like ‘thou shalt not kill’ - this can be taken many ways beyond the basic, ‘don't kill.’ Jesus tells us that if we are even just angry with our brother without cause, or if we call him a fool that we've already committed the sin against him and stand in danger of hellfire (Matthew 5:22). Now does this interpretation lessen that which is originally stated?”

Well, that’s an ill-chosen example to illustrate Scott’s contention since, as one leading commentator points out, Jesus’ comparison is hyperbolic. Cf. R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 200-202.

“That being said, let us not be diverted here! This discussion is about sola scriptura, a statement like ‘you're no better’ than we are is not a defense of sola scriptura (even if the statement were true).”

i) Scott is the one who’s diverting the discussion, not me. He does a bait-and-switch as he baits the trap with the allegation that sola scriptura is logically self-refuting, then switches to the claim that if sola Scriptura is implicitly taught in Scripture, then that’s subject to interpretation.

But whether or not it’s subject to interpretation is hardly equivalent to self-contradiction.

ii) Let’s also keep in mind that I’m not attempting to defend sola Scriptura, per se. Rather, I’m responding to the specific objections of Scott. And I’m also doing my best to keep the discussion on track. The specific point at issue is whether sola Scriptura is internally inconsistent.

“I beg to differ. Reliance upon implicit teaching (the point Mr. Hays is responding to now) also relies wholly upon interpretation, whereas if it were explicitly taught - that leaves less room for variations of implication.”

i) Keep in mind that I reject his assumption that sola Scriptura is self-refuting unless Scripture itself teaches sola Scriptura. That commits a level-confusion–by conflating a criterion with the objects of a criterion.

Sola Scriptura would still be valid even if the Scriptural criterion didn’t name itself as the operating criterion, for (a) our source of information regarding a norm, and (b) the norm as a source of information, are two distinct issues. Even if a given norm were the only norm, that doesn’t mean the norm must be self-referential–as if a norm is also a norm for itself.

ii) Assuming that implicit teaching is ambiguous, that cuts against Scott’s position, not mine.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that sola Scriptura is self-refuting unless Scripture teaches sola Scriptura.

If, however, the self-witness of Scripture is ambiguous on that point, then that would vitiate Scott’s argument. A self-contradiction is a logically stringent allegation. Any ambiguity would invalidate the allegation by introducing a fatal equivocation into the syllogism. If you allege a logical self-contradiction, then you have no wiggle room.

For Scott’s argument to go through, the onus is not on the Protestant to prove that Scripture unequivocally teaches sola Scriptura. Rather, the onus lies on Scott to prove that Scripture unequivocally fails to teach sola Scriptura.

That’s the only way for him to generate a self-contradiction (assuming that we even concede his premise for the sake of argument).

“But, to the point - interpretation of implicit teaching is extra scriptura, yes it is based upon the Scripture at hand, but should not be confused with the actual Scriptures themselves. In other words this alleged implicit self-witness cannot be considered part of Scripture thus it is definitely related to the matter of sola scriptura being self-refuting.”

Well, that’s just plain silly. The implicit self-witness of Scripture would be a part of Scriptural teaching–rather than something apart from Scriptural teaching. There is nothing extrascriptural about the implicit teaching of Scripture–as if the implicit teaching of Scripture is actually The Martian Chronicles.

“Is Steve saying he's never used 2 Timothy 3:16 in an attempt to support the sola scriptura invention of the 16th century?”

My position was never based on discrete prooftexting.

“If the BIPM did claim to be the sole standard and then WITHIN the BIPM it gave another standard - then yes, it would be self-refuting.”

Really? Why would a sole standard have to name itself as the sole standard in order to be the sole standard?

This confuses our knowledge of a standard with what we learn from the standard. The fact that a standard (even a sole standard) is a source of knowledge doesn’t logically entail that such a standard must also be a source (much less the only source) of our knowledge of said standard. That, once again, commits a level-confusion.

I might use a ruler to measure plywood. The ruler might be my only standard of measurement. Does that mean my knowledge of the ruler must derive from the ruler itself? Am I not allowed to use eyesight to find the ruler?

“Scripture itself tells us that Jesus empowered His first bishops with infallible authority and FURTHER states that He sent those bishops out in the same way He was sent out. Since part of the way Jesus was sent included the empowering of these bishops with this authority, then in order to be obedient to His Will and Command, they too would have to select bishops and empower them similarly.”

Only if we cater to his Rube Goldberg “exegesis” of the Catholic spooftexts.

“On this point I was not pointing out the contradiction…”

In which case that’s a red herring.

“…as much as I was pointing out what is lacking and what has to be added to the ‘slogan’ to make it viable.”

Which begs the question of whether something must be added to make it viable.

“Then I point out that if the ‘rule’ were valid - it would be found within itself - unless, of course we're accepting that sola scriptura is a fallible rule of faith.”

i) That fails to distinguish between a fallible or infallible rule of faith and fallible or infallible knowledge of the rule. To say that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith doesn’t entail that our belief in (or knowledge) of its status as the only infallible rule of faith must, itself, be infallible.

ii) And even if, ad arguendo, the Catholic rule of faith were infallible, this doesn’t mean that Catholics infallibly know their infallible rule of faith. So Scott’s objection can only undercut the Protestant rule of faith by undercutting his Catholic alternative.

“However, if Mr. Hays would like us to focus solely upon the matter of self-contradiction, I would be happy to do so.”

Ahem…that was the issue all along. Is sola Scriptura self-contradictory unless Scripture teaches sola Scriptura.

“However, if Mr. Hays wishes to remain so focused then I would ask he not further challenge me with follow-up questions.”

I reserve the right to challenge Scott with follow-up questions when he deviates from the issue at hand. For if he tries to open up another front in his attack on sola scriptura, then that in turn opens up another front in the counterattack on sola ecclesia. It cuts both ways. He exposes his own flank whenever he meanders off course.

“I do not and have not challenged the knowledge of OT Jews and/or NT Catholic evangelists who debated with first century Jews.”

i) So, by his own admission, one doesn’t need a Magisterium to identify the Scriptures–since the Jews had no Magisterium.

ii) There were no NT “Catholic” evangelists.

“I asked about how WE know what Scripture is.”

Which I’ve discussed on other occasions.

“Mr. Hays, if you do not wish to answer the logical progression of the argument, fine - stick to what you perceive to be the only logical discussion.”

There is no “logical” progression to Scott’s argument. To say that Scripture is the infallible source of knowledge (regarding faith and morals) doesn’t not entail that our knowledge of an infallible source must itself be infallible knowledge. That’s a non sequitur.

If Scott is going to argue that Scripture is self-contradictory, then he needs to be logically rigorous. Infallible knowledge of an infallible source of knowledge is not a precondition of an infallible source of knowledge. Scott may regard infallible knowledge of the infallible source as advantageous, but that’s hardly a strict implication. And, frankly, that’s a precondition which Catholics are unable to satisfy.

“When you go into asking follow-up questions to the logical progression and then criticize the progression is a bit of a double-standard.”

I respond to you on your own terms. When you go astray, as you often do, I can both point out your irrelevancies as well as answer your irrelevancies on your own terms.

“Pick your battle. If you wish to remain focused on a tunnel vision approach, fine.”

What I’m doing is to hold you to the terms of your own argument. You say that sola Scriptura is self-contradictory. So stick to your own argument.

The fact that you keep changing the subject to supplement the inadequacies of your central argument is a backdoor admission that your central argument is a bust.

“You lose because Scripture itself points to ANOTHER infallible source of teaching in the authority of the bishops to bind and loose whatsoever they choose to bind or loose.”

i) Even if, ex hypothesi, we granted your spooftexts, that only pushes the problem back a step. An infallible source of knowledge and infallible knowledge of the source are two different things.

You’re free to postulate that the extraordinary Magisterium is infallible, but even if the object of knowledge is infallible, the subject of knowledge is not. What you’ve given us is a fallible subject of an infallible object. Your fallible interpretation of Scripture. Your fallible interpretation of Magisterial pronouncements. Your fallible grasp of historical evidence for the one true church.

ii) Scott’s conflation of these two distinct issues nicely illustrates one of the standing equivocations in the claim that sola Scriptura is self-refuting.

“Back to the point - if sola scriptura weren't so easily defeated we wouldn't have "pat objections" and one such objection is the fact that it is self-contradictory especially when we consider, as has already been pointed out, Scripture itself reveals another infallible authority in Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18.”

Among other things, that would only follow if cases of church discipline were infallible. Take the Galileo affair. Was the Roman Church’s condemnation of Galileo infallible? Clearly not since the Roman Church has recently retracted its condemnation.

“That would be fine and good - but we're missing something here, oh yes, where that writer of the last book of the Bible actually closed the canon. It overlooks the fact that throughout the first nearly 400 years of the Church the New Testament canon was anything but closed. Mr. Hays position is historically untenable.”

Scott confounds the constitutive terminus of the canon with the epistemic question (i.e. the formalities of institutional recognition). His position is logically untenable.

“Except of course if it were true what Mr. Hays said earlier, that ‘the canon was closed by writer of the last book of the Bible,’ at that point in time all the ‘raw materials’ would have been available to generate this list - but he (that would be St. John) never put together such a list for us.”

Yet another non sequitur, which is Scott’s modus operandi. John doesn’t have to put together such a list for the raw materials to exist.

“So now Mr. Hays posits the canon was not closed when the writer wrote the last book, and does not even put forth evidence it was ‘closed’ but that it was ‘standardized’ in the second century A.D. I suppose we can accept that as concession of the earlier point.”

i) It’s a pity when one’s opponent is too dull to even follow his own argument. Scott keeps harping on the allegation that the NT canon was unsettled for “400” years. I’m merely responding to him on his own grounds by noting that, based on text-critical evidence, we can halve that figure.

ii) And he continues to confound the constitutive terminus with subsequent recognition.

For example, the fact that the Samaritans may not have acknowledge the complete OT canon doesn’t mean the OT canon remained open. Likewise, the fact that Bertrand Russell rejects the canon of Scripture is irrelevant to canonical closure.

I said: “Freedman has argued that (except for Daniel), the OT was standardized c. 5C BC. And Sailhamer has supplemented Freedman’s analysis by arguing for the pivotal role of Daniel in the canonization of the OT (in The Meaning of the Pentateuch).”

To which Scott responds: “So now we've extended the canon process out to the 5th century A.D., which is beyond what I have asserted (the councils of Rome, Carthage and Hippo toward the end of the 4th century ‘standardized’ the canon then).”

I see that Scott doesn’t know the difference between “BC” and “AD.” That’s pitifully and hopelessly illiterate.

“Mr. Hays does not seem to understand what a ‘canon’ is. A ‘canon’ is an ecclesiastical form of recognition of a standardized list. ”

i) Tfan has already corrected Scott on that issue.

ii) Moreover, the definition is clearly anachronistic since the Jews didn’t have any “ecclesiastical” form of recognition.

“Steve seems to think the Pentateuch (penta = 5) comprises the entire canon of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch refers to the first 5 books of Moses.”

Scott is such a slowcoach. Was he held back in school?

Why did I cite the Pentateuch? In the context of my response to Scott, the answer should be obvious.

He said: “And then when it was set that same authority which set the New Testament Canon set the Old Testament Canon with seven more books than the Protestant Bibles have.”

So I cite the Pentateuch as the terminus ad quo for the initial installment of the OT canon. I then point out, using that baseline, that according to Scott’s chronology, the Jews didn’t even have the Pentaeuch as part of their canon until the Council of Trent, in the 16C, “settled” the OT canon.

“For Jews the rest of the books, though inspired are not ‘as inspired’ as the Books of Moses.”

Really? Did the Jewish authors of the NT, who cite various books of the OT, regard non-Pentateuchal books as less inspired?

“That being said, the Jews had at least two canons at the time of Jesus and the Apostles - and didn't decide upon rejection of the Septuagint until sometime after Christendom had begun - in case you hadn't noticed, the Jews were no longer in a place to decide upon God's Word - that baton had been passed to Jesus' bishops.”

I’ve addressed the myth of the Alexandrian canon on various occasions.

“I have already stated that the canon was established in the late 4th century by at least three local councils.”

In Catholic ecclesiology, local councils are fallible. So notice how Scott has to downshift to a merely fallible rule of faith. But if, by his own admission, a fallible rule of faith is sufficient, then we can safely dispense with the Magisterium.

“The Council of Trent did not invent something new, it defined for the Church that which it had already accepted for the past 1100 years as canonical.”

If that’s then case, then why was there so much dissention among the Tridentine Fathers regarding the scope of the OT canon? Why did the Tridentine decree on the canon only pass by a plurality vote?

“Oh, Mr. Hays is saying it was Philo, Josephus and Ben Sira, et al who were the authorities which decided upon the Jewish canon.”

Did I say they “decided” the Jewish canon? No. I cited them as historical witnesses to the Jewish canon.

“If anyone doesn't know - these are Jews during the Christian era.”

Really? Ben Sira was a Jew during the Christian era? Even though he lived in 2-3C BC?

Scott is such an ignoramus. Where does he even get his information? From a comic book?

“Steve continues to advertise that he will continue to respond to what he considers side-topics and then criticize the continued discussion. Again, Mr. Hays should decide ahead of time if he's going to allow for logical progression of a position and discuss it, or if he's going to restrict the discussion to just the original premise.”

When Scott introduces side issues, I reserve the right to respond to his side issues. At the same time, I also reserve the right point out that he’s digressing from the issue at hand.

“If Mr. Hays engages the subjects then he is giving tacit approval to the appropriateness of the discussion and has no room for complaint.”

Because Scott can’t make good on his original claim, he tries to shore up his failure by dragging in other pop arguments that pop epologists for Rome resort to in debating the canon. I feel free to shoot these down for the benefit of the reader, but I’m under no obligation to do so.

“It is undeniable that Jesus was put to death by the Jews as an impostor and false prophet.”

Scott indulges in classic Jew-baiting smear tactics. Ben Sira lived and died long before Jesus was born. For his part, Philo lived in Alexandria, and died c. 50 AD. So there’s no reason to assume he was even conversant with Christianity, or that his views of the OT canon had any connection with the nascent Christian movement.

Scott is tarring all Jews as Christ-killers, regardless of their historical situation.

“Scott chuckles: ‘Last resort?!’ Mr. Hays, I've not yet begun to fight! That being said, I am not the one who introduced anti-Semite polemical adjectives here.”

Fine. Why don’t we consult a second opinion. Let’s see Scott post the contact information for his parish priest and Diocesan bishop. We will then run Scott’s statements about the Jewish canon by his religious superiors for their evaluation.

Are you up to the challenge, Scott? Do you believe in the Catholic accountability system?

“When push comes to (shove), we do turn to the authority Jesus Christ left to ‘Feed (His) Sheep,’ yes.”

In context, that would be a statement made to Peter, not to Benedict XVI.

“It's just a statement of fact, Mr. Hays.”

It’s a fact that the Vulgate as authorized by the papacy. Such authorization is a circular argument for the Catholic canon.

And Tfan has also corrected Scott on his equivocal appeal to the KJV.

“There is nothing circular about stating the fact that it would not be until the time of Protestantism in the 16th century that some translations would be published without the deuterocanonicals.”

Since Scott doesn’t seem to be very sharp, I guess we’ll have to explain the obvious to him. Scott is citing historical “facts” as if these are normative. But, at best, these simply describe what various people believed at various times. That, of itself, doesn’t confer any normative force on such “facts.” At best it tells you what certain men believed, and not what they should have believed–much less what we should believe just because they believed it.

“This also does not disregard the dissension, largely among Protestants, when Trent was convened and is precisely why Trent addressed the issue with a dogmatic definition to end the debate among faithful Catholics who may have been influenced by protesting heretics of the day.”

I see that Scott missed the point–perhaps out of ignorance. The dissention in view wasn’t dissension among Protestants. Rather, there was dissention among the Tridentine Fathers regarding the scope of the OT canon.

“If it is something Mr. Hays wishes not to discuss, he can choose to stick to only the subject he wishes to discuss! By engaging the discussion he nullifies his complaint.”

I’m sure that Scott would like to see all of his red herrings go unchallenged. The fact that I challenge them doesn’t change the further fact that these are pungent red herrings.

“He stated the Catholic ‘rule of faith’ was dependent upon the Protestant ‘rule of faith’ for validity.”

What does that summary statement allude to?

“Whether or not Newman or Liccione required the Catholic rule of faith to be self-referential is what is truly irrelevant to the overall point Mr. Hays is trying to make.”

The fact that I framed my discussion in explicit reference to the a priori arguments of Newman and Liccione makes it directly germane to my overall point. If Scott is too illiterate to register my explicit reference point, then that’s his problem, not mine.

“Whether or not Mr. Hays has responded to this before is irrelevant to this discussion/debate. If one chooses to engage, then engage - dismissing an argument on the grounds one has responded to it before is an invalid response. Mr. Hays and I have not directly engaged each other previously (that I am aware of) so he does not get a pass on previous responses - especially when he does not even directly cite a single one of them, which would be rather easy to do in this online environment.”

Let’s set the record straight:

i) I didn’t initiate the debate with Scott Windsor–he did.

ii) When he raises objections that I’ve frequently fielded, due to his studied ignorance of my many counterarguments, that’s his problem, not mine.

Since I didn’t initiate this exchange, it’s not incumbent on me to bring every pop epologist wannabe up to speed. Rather, it’s up to him to inform himself before initiating a debate with me.

I’m not responding for his benefit. Regular readers of Tblog already know what I’ve written on the subject. That’s the target audience.

“The Magisterium" is not the subject of this debate.”

Scott himself has made the Magisterium a subject of this debate by positing the Magisterium as the Catholic alterative to the alleged deficiencies of sola Scriptura. He’s a Catholic epologist. This is all a set-up for “prove” the Roman Magisterium.

“The point was that even by Mr. Hays' ‘rule of faith’ - his premise is exposed as self-contradicting in the fact that Scripture reveals ANOTHER infallible authority. Ignoring this fact does not make it go away.”

i) What Scott is pleased to call a “fact” is simply his tendentious prooftexting. Calling his tendentious interpretation a “fact” doesn’t make it a fact.

ii) And if his interpretation were a fact, then it would only be a fact because his prooftexts were perspicuous–in which case he proves Catholicism by disproving Catholicism.

Scott then spends some more time repeating his tendentious claim as if repetition makes a question-begging assertion true. Moving along:

“I am not overly concerned with Mr. Hays ‘referent’ of Newman and Liccione.”

In other words, he can’t defend the a priori argument of Newman and Liccione. I accept his terms of surrender on their behalf.

As such, he has, by his own admission, miserable failed to rebut my original post. He has to let that stand. Instead, he tries every which way to change the subject.

“Rather the FACT, which he has yet to dispute, that Scripture itself identifies ANOTHER infallible authority thus rendering the concept of SOLA scriptura (as the SOLE infallible rule of faith for the Church) self contradictory.”

I’ve disputed that elsewhere. But I’m not going to let Scott derail the point of my post. I understand why he’d like nothing more than to deflect attention away from the inadequacies of the a priori argument by his Catholic cohorts.

“So looking at the overall picture - Mr. Hays argument falls on its own terms.”

Since I never framed the argument in Scott’s terms, my argument stands.

“Mr. Hays totally ignores the fact that he's built up a straw man argument (one of the common fallacies of debate) and then proceeds to knock it down. The FACT is that 'sola scriptura' is the claim that Scripture ALONE is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church, if he does not agree with this definition - then I encourage him to let us know what is the particular variation of sola scriptura he adheres to.”

Scott seems to lack the gray matter to follow my argument, even though I’ve spelled that out. Here we go again:

i) Catholic apologists like Newman and Liccione mount an a priori argument for the Catholic rule of faith.

ii) In the nature of the case, this a priori argument doesn’t require the rule of faith to be self-referential. Rather, it enjoys an axiomatic status. A necessary presupposition. Even if it didn’t refer back to itself, you couldn’t do without it, so the appeal is self-confirmatory.

iii) By parity of argument, if the Protestant rule of faith is self-refuting unless it is self-referential, then the Catholic rule of faith is self-refuting unless it is self-referential.

iv) Catholics can only say the Protestant rule of faith is self-refuting on pain of admitting that the Protestant rule of faith is self-refuting.

v) The only way to avoid (iv) is to surrender the a priori argument for the Catholic rule of faith and hope that posteriori arguments can deliver the goods.

vi) And even if they took the (v) route, that would be insufficient to disprove sola Scriptura–for they would also need to demonstrate that our rule of faith is not self-referential.

I’ve bracketed that issue to focus on the a priori argument, and my corresponding argument from analogy.

vii) I’ve also pointed out that the charge of self-refutation commits a level-confusion. As such, it doesn’t even work on its own terms.

“This debate is NOT about whether or not the Catholic Church preaches a ‘sola’ - and the POINT here is that Catholics do not adhere to a SINGLE rule of faith unless one wishes to engage the term of ‘sola ecclesiam’ which is NOT a single rule - but a combination of rules to lead, guide and govern God's People (the Church).”

Scott now equivocates by treating “sola” as a synonym for one particular rather than one of a kind. But “sola” or “only” can also designate a singular class or category of things (e.g. a set of criteria) as well as a single particular.

“I am not engaging Newman or Liccione in how THEY framed the argument.”

Obviously not. And Scott doesn’t get to dictate the terms of the debate.

“Again, I am not arguing against suprema scriptura - but sola scriptura, that being that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church. If Mr. Hays does not adhere to THAT definition, then all this has been for naught - as we've then been arguing about two different variations of what is labeled sola scriptura.”

Scott oversimplifies the definition of sola Scriptura.

“No, I don't need to exegete the ‘Roman episcopate’ - my responsibility in THIS debate is to demonstrate sola scriptura is self-contradictory - and I have done this in showing Scripture itself points to ANOTHER infallible authority.”

All he’s done is to take his interpretation for granted. That doesn’t show what Scripture points to. That merely shows us Scott’s lame opinion.

“The binding and loosing language is that ‘whatsoever they bind (or loose)’ is bound or loosed in Heaven.”

Repeating or paraphrasing the language of the text goes no distance towards exegeting the language of the text.

“This authority was given to a group of men, the first bishops of the Church.”

i) His Matthean prooftexts make no reference to “bishops.”

ii) And even if they did, Scott would also need to show that the Matthean concept of episcopacy is synonymous with the Catholic concept of episcopacy.

All we’re getting from Scott are gaps instead of arguments.

iii) And assuming, for the sake of argument, that his prooftexts mean what he claims for them, then he’s treating his prootexts as perspicuous verses. In which case his appeal to Scripture assumes the perspicuity of Scripture.

He thereby proves the Catholic stem by punching a whole in the Catholic stern. Either way, his ship is taking on water.

“The objective reader can see that I have successfully proven my point…”

Having you ever noticed how losing debaters resort to the handy abstraction of “objective” or “fair-minded” readers who surely take their side–even though the debater don’t actually quote from any representative sample of “objective” readers who say they side with the debater?

“Well I am pleased to see that Mr. Hays has conceded that this authority was indeed given to the Apostles, the first bishops of the Church.”

Scott has now broadcast his monumental ignorance of the opposing position. He acts as though he’s wrung a fatal concession from me by my reference to the epoch of public revelation.

But, of course, sola Scriptura never denied the infallible authority of prophets, apostles, and other inspired writers during the era of public revelation.

And that is wholly irrelevant to whether or not Scripture is the rule of faith after the era of public revelation came to an end.

Indeed, the infallible writings of the NT are the way in which then-living infallible authorities chose to express and commemorate their infallible authority for the benefit of posterity.

Since, by his own admission, Scott desperately refuses to interact with the actual topic of my post, I graciously accept his terms of unconditional surrender.