Saturday, February 06, 2010

Was George Tiller saved?

Lutherans don’t like the Reformed doctrine of assurance. In its place, they stress sacramental assurance. According to them, a sacrament is a divine promise, and God keeps his word. They also seem to define a promise in purely unconditional terms.

That raises an interesting question. Was George Tiller saved? And did he enjoy the assurance of salvation?

As some of you may remember, George Tiller was the prolific, late-term abortionist. He was also a Lutheran. When George Tiller took communion on Sunday, and his Lutheran pastor pronounced the words of absolution, was Tiller forgiven? Was Tiller entitled to the assurance of salvation?

Likewise, what about all the Lutheran Nazis in WWII? To be sure, some Lutherans resisted the Third Reich as best they could, but many of them simply followed orders.

Suppose a Lutheran S.S. officer murders a dozen Jews that week, goes to church on Sunday, murders another dozen Jews next week, goes back to church on Sunday, and so on and so forth. Is he in a state of grace?

What makes a promise promissory?

The Lutherans I’ve dealt with stress the promissory character of the gospel. I wouldn’t’ have a problem with this were it not for the fact that they define a “promise” in very eccentric terms. They act as though something can only be a promise if it’s unconditional.

Now, suppose farmer tells his 10-year-old son that if his son completes his chores, dad will take him to the zoo on Saturday.

Is that not a promise?

Suppose his son refuses to complete his chores–as a result of which his dad won’t take him to the zoo on Saturday.

Did the father break his promise? No.


Paul McCain said:

“That little word ‘if’ brings a world of doubt and grief.”

Edward Reiss said:

"The point is that there is no ‘if’ embedded in the Lutheran syllogism, where the Protestant syllogism has an ‘if’ embedded into it--do I really have faith?”

God said:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mt 6:14).

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (Jn 6:51).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn 8:51).

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9).

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:6,10,14).

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).

“For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb 3:14).

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

Fort Zion

Catholicism views the church as a franchise. But let’s consider a different model of the church. We’ve all seen Westerns in with forts and outposts in the wilderness.

These were little beacons of civilization scattered across the vast frontier. Emigrants to the Old West would chart a trail which was punctuated by remote forts and outposts along the way. There they would rest for a few days or weeks. Restock exhausted supplies. Make repairs. Or even dig in for the winter–as they waited for spring before resuming their arduous journey.

And that’s the function of the church. A spiritual stockade in the midst of a fallen world–where weary pilgrims can take temporary refuge in the wilderness of sin. Individual forts and outpost may be abandoned or overrun with the passage of time. Lie in ruins.

Yesterday’s outlying settlement may become tomorrow’s metropolis. Or be deserted. Forgotten by time.

Yet their survival is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. For we are transients in a transient world. Sojourners on a journey to the land beyond the sun.

Retroengineering Romanism

In the excerpts below, notice how Liccione retroengineers Catholicism is the same way that Darwinians retroengineer evolution.

Evolution is a "fact." Hence, there must be an evolutionary pathway from here to there. Therefore, we can postulate any just-so story to arrive at our desired destination.

And the theory is unfalsifiable because we can always introduce enough ex post facto adjustments to harmonize the evidence with the theory. Whatever zigzag direction it takes, be it backwards, forwards, or sideways, is consistent with the deposit of faith.

Far from representing the “faith once delivered,” what Liccione has given us is just a piecemeal, philosophical construct.


“It is not important to fix the precise times when one could say, from a scholarly standpoint, that the conditions had been met for such doctrines to have been infallibly taught by the OUM alone. If the doctrines in question are de fide, which they are, then something logically equivalent to them was always taught infallibly by the OUM; if that were not the case, then substantive addition to the deposit of faith would be occurring over time, which nobody is willing to allow. The ‘development’ consists in coming to see this over time, when it was not fully explicit at first to those who were in fact exercising the charism of infallibility.”

“As I've already implied, the entire deposit of faith has been infallibly taught by the OUM from the beginning. If the dogmatic pronouncements of the infallible ‘extraordinary’ magisterium were always necessary for the exercise of infallibility, then nothing was taught infallibly before the first ecumenical council--a consequence unacceptable for all sorts of reasons, one of which is that it is ultimately incompatible with the very idea of a ‘faith once delivered’ in its entirety. And so, e.g., the assertoric content of the confessions of faith contained in ‘the Apostles' Creed’ were infallibly taught by the OUM all along. Nobody disputes that; the question always is what the relevant affirmations mean, exactly; and such questions are settled over time by the Magisterium.”

The Roman diaries

“The notion that the teaching authority of the Church is infallible under some conditions is certainly a development arising from the Church's early sense of her own indefectibility.”

Notice how Liccione’s theory of development personifies “the Church.” He treats the church like a 2000-year-old teenager who is trying to find himself. And he treats the progress of dogma like the diaries of a moody, confused adolescent.

However, the church is not a person. It has no personal continuity–analogous to the human lifecycle. It cannot reflect on itself.

At most, later theologians can reflect on earlier theologians. But there’s no personal entity undergoing a process of self-discovery. Instead, you simply have a bunch of explorers trying to cut a path through the jungle.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Mother Church's amnesia

Reading through Liccione's circuitous description of his denomination's confusing process of self-discovery, he makes Mother Church sound like a patient suffering from amnesia. The poor dear is trying ever so hard to remember who she is:


The notion that the teaching authority of the Church is infallible under some conditions is certainly a development arising from the Church's early sense of her own indefectibility. Explicit use of the term 'infallible' predates Vatican I by centuries. It appears explicitly in Thomas Aquinas: "Whoever does not adhere to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible and divine rule can affirm what is "of faith," but he does not do so "by faith" (ST IIa IIae Q5 A3 resp). Around that time, both conciliar and papal infallibility were generally affirmed by theologians, though the relationship between the two forms of infallibility, as well as both to that of the Church in general, was temporarily obscured by the scandalous papal schism of 1378-1417 and some of the claims made by the Council of Constance in the course of resolving it. By the time of the Counter-Reformation, however, conciliar and papal infallibility were being taught together by the college of bishops as a whole. That's because conciliar dogmas could not be said to be binding unless ratified by the pope, and the papacy could not function as the locus of final appeal if a pope's ex cathedra ratifications were themselves subject to reversal as false. Thus, infallibility in all three forms--that of the Church as a whole, that of general councils, and that of the pope--were infallibly taught by the OUM over time.

It is not important to fix the precise times when one could say, from a scholarly standpoint, that the conditions had been met for such doctrines to have been infallibly taught by the OUM alone. If the doctrines in question are de fide, which they are, then something logically equivalent to them was always taught infallibly by the OUM; if that were not the case, then substantive addition to the deposit of faith would be occurring over time, which nobody is willing to allow. The "development" consists in coming to see this over time, when it was not fully explicit at first to those who were in fact exercising the charism of infallibility.

Limbo is often cited as a counterexample to LG's doctrine of the IOUM. But the problem has a standard resolution favored by the Pope himself. Limbo was a theory introduced in the Middle Ages to mitigate Augustine's view that unbaptized infants went permanently to hell--albeit with the "mildest of punishments"--and St. Thomas' version of it did not take long to gain general acceptance, which persisted until Vatican II. But limbo cannot be said to be de fide, precisely because it was introduced to mitigate the consequences of an Augustinian theory that was itself not de fide: the theory that original sin is personal culpa not just reatum, which latter term is weaker, and was used by Trent. That underlying Augustinian theory has been rejected by the Church (cf. CCC 405).

To summarize the essential points made by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, a given doctrine D counts as having been infallibly set forth by the OUM just in case its subject matter belongs to the deposit of faith, and it has been taught by the diachronic consensus of the college from the beginning. In his Doctrinal Commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem, Ratzinger noted that such doctrines require "definitive assent" from Catholics. But of course, if we just left it up to scholars to decide when D satisfies those criteria, then requiring "definitive assent" would be meaningless; for scholars rarely agree for long if at all, and they are not the Magisterium anyhow. So the question whether D satisfies the relevant criteria, when that is a matter of dispute, ultimately must be answered by the Magisterium itself. Scholarly considerations are of course quite relevant too, but they are not in themselves decisive.

As I've already implied, the entire deposit of faith has been infallibly taught by the OUM from the beginning. If the dogmatic pronouncements of the infallible "extraordinary" magisterium were always necessary for the exercise of infallibility, then nothing was taught infallibly before the first ecumenical council--a consequence unacceptable for all sorts of reasons, one of which is that it is ultimately incompatible with the very idea of a "faith once delivered" in its entirety. And so, e.g., the assertoric content of the confessions of faith contained in "the Apostles' Creed" were infallibly taught by the OUM all along. Nobody disputes that; the question always is what the relevant affirmations mean, exactly; and such questions are settled over time by the Magisterium.

Baptismal heresies

One of the stock arguments for baptismal regeneration is the claim that all the church fathers who spoke to this issue taught baptismal regeneration, and there’s a standing presumption that if a church father teaches something, then he’s transmitting apostolic teaching.

Let’s take the case of Hymenaeus (1 Tim 1:19-20; 2 Tim 2:17-18). Now, he has at least as good a claim to have known the apostles as any of the apostolic fathers. Indeed, to have firsthand knowledge of their teaching. Yet he’s a NT heretic.

What is more, while his heresy has an eschatological character, a baptismal heresy was apparently the catalyst:

“Some scholars suggest that the unorthodox view of the resurrection was the result of a reconfiguration (or misunderstanding) of Pauline teaching, and this seems the more promising way to go, particularly in the context of a Pauline community. In this there are two important points of contact with the earlier Paul. First, there may be a connection of some sort between the misunderstanding of the resurrection alluded to in 1 Cor 15:12-58 and 2 Tim 2:18. The argument is that the Spirit-enthusiasm in Corinth led to the belief that the End had arrived in a much fuller sense than Paul ever meant to teach. Evidence of this ‘overrealized’ eschatology is spread throughout the letter (1 Cor 4:8) and includes the resurrection misunderstanding alluded to in 1 Cor 15–which is not a Greek denial of bodily resurrection but rather something more like the radicalization of Pauline baptismal teaching through which it could be said that in one sense the community had been ‘raised with Christ’…The second broad Pauline touchstone is the stream of teaching in which he linked baptism with a present (preliminary or anticipatory) participation in Christ’s resurrection (Rom 6:3-8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:12)…In the present passage [2 Tim 2:17-18], the likelihood that Paul’s own baptismal/resurrection teaching had been misunderstood or misused is strengthened by the focus on Jesus’ resurrection in Paul’s recitation of his gospel (2:8) and his strong affirmation of the futurity of the believer’s resurrection promise in the slightly adjusted language of Rom 6 (2:11),” P. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Eerdmans 2006), 528-29.

So this would be a case of a baptismal heresy cropping up in the NT church. And it’s easy to see how that could arise. If you have an exaggerated view of the sacraments, and if resurrection language is attributed to baptism, then it’s logical, given the (faulty) premise, to infer that baptism actually glorifies the baptismal candidate.

It’s the same hermeneutical framework which is used to justify baptism regeneration and baptismal justification. Taking these ascriptions literally. The sign does what it signifies. If baptism signifies regeneration, then it regenerates. If baptism signifies glorification, then it glorifies. In which case, the resurrection of the body occurs at the time of baptism.

But, of course, Paul has to combat that fallacious inference.

Grounds of assurance

The following is from John Frame's Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (pp 218-221).

* * *

But how can we be assured that we are saved? We generally hold that only the Bible teaches absolutely certain truths. However, your name is not in the Bible, nor is mine. So on what basis can we have what the Westminster Confession calls the "infallible" assurance that our faith is true and that we belong to God?

The Confession lists three realities that our infallible assurance is founded on. These correspond to justification, sanctification, and adoption, respectively - putting these in a little different order from the order in which we studied them.

First, the Westminster Confession speaks of "the divine truth of the promises of salvation." Clearly, God promises eternal life to all who receive Christ (John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; etc.). His promises are absolutely infallible. How can we doubt them? To be sure, the promises don't explicitly contain your name or mine. But they contain our names implicitly; that is, they apply to us.

Let me give you a similar example. When the eight commandment says, "Thou shalt not steal," it doesn't mention my name. It doesn't say that John Frame should not steal. Does that mean that I am free to take your wallet? Well, of course not. Because "Thou shalt not steal" means "Everybody should not steal" or "Nobody should steal." That includes John Frame. So, although my name is not in the test explicitly, the text applies to me, which is to say that my name is there implicitly. The same is true with the promises of salvation. God promises salvation to everybody who believes. If you believe, then that promise is yours. God promises to save you. And that promise is infallible, certain. You dare not doubt it.

Justification comes from faith, from trusting God's promises, just as Abraham did when he believed what God said, even when God's promise seemed impossible. If you believe God's promise, you are justified, and you also have a right to assurance. Believing God's promise is the instrument of justification, as I put it in chapter 15, the essence of justifying faith (Rom. 4:3, 20-21; Gal. 3:7-9). And continuing in faith brings assurance (Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:14; 6:12). This does not mean, of course, that anyone who raises his hand at an evangelistic meeting is saved. People sometimes do that hypocritically. Faith is an inward reality. But if it is there, you have a right to be assured. If you can honestly say, "I am trusting Jesus for my salvation, not my own works, not my family, not my church, but Jesus," then you can say without doubt that you are saved. And as we shall indicate in the next chapter, you cannot lose that salvation.

The second basis of assurance the Westminster Confession mentions is "the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made." This ground corresponds to the doctrine of sanctification. When we introspect in this way, we are asking if indeed the Lord is sanctifying us.

Under the first basis of assurance I mentioned God's promises. God's promises include a promise of new life, of regeneration and sanctification. God has promised to make his people holy (1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Peter 1:4). So, as we observe what God is doing within us, as we observe our own progress in sanctification, we "make [our] calling and election sure," as Peter says (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Now, I know that self-examination can be a discouraging business. When we look at ourselves, we see continuing sin, as well as the effects of grace. So, we wonder how we can ever gain assurance by self-examination. Many say that we should not look at ourselves but that we should look beyond ourselves, outward, at the work of Christ, at his word of promise. That was what we advised under the first ground of assurance, and certainly we should not look inward without looking outward at the same time. But it is important not only to look at God's promises but also to see how God is fulfilling those promises within us. The continuing presence of sin should not discourage us, because God does not promise to make us sinlessly perfect in this life. But he does promise growth in grace, growth in holiness. When we see that, it increases our confidence that God's promises apply to us. And if we don't see that, it is a danger signal. In that case we should seriously ask ourselves if we have understood the promises of God. If we see ourselves dominated by sinful patterns, we should ask whether we have really trusted Christ as Lord and Savior.

The third ground of assurance, corresponding to the doctrine of adoption, is "the testimony of the Spirit to our adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are children of God." This confessional statement comes right out of Romans 8:16-17. This is to say that, in the end, our assurance is supernatural. Note in Romans 8 that it is not only the witness of our own Spirit but something over and above that, a witness of God's Spirit with our spirit that we are the children of God. Our scrutiny of God's promises and our own sanctification, in the end, is fallible. We make mistakes in our judgments. But the Spirit never makes a mistake. So, he persuades us that what we observe in God's Word and in our own lives is really true, really evidence of grace.

In chapters 4 and 12, I spoke of the Spirit's work in illuminating God's Word to us. I called that work existential revelation. His work in giving us assurance is no different from that. He is not whispering in our ears some new truths that are not found in the Bible. Rather, he is helping us to understand the promises of God in the Bible, to believe those promises, and to see that they apply to us.

Note the triadic structure of these three aspects of assurance, corresponding to justification, sanctification, and adoption, and therefore to God's authority, presence, and control. This suggests that these three grounds of assurance are not independent of one another but that they work together, that each requires the others. And that is indeed the way we should look at it. The Spirit's witness enables us to be sure of the promises of God and the fruits of our sanctification. The promises of the Word are the promises of the Spirit, who inspired the Word, and he continues to speak through the Word. Our sanctification helps us better to appreciate and apply the promises of God to ourselves.

Given these powerful resources, how can a Christian ever lack assurance? Yet we sometimes do seem to fluctuate between assurance and doubt. The Reformed confessions look at this problem from two perspectives. The Heidelberg Catechism (21) says that assurance is of the essence of faith: you can't really have faith without having assurance. And that is true in a way. If you believe Jesus, as I said earlier, you cannot doubt that his promises are true. And if you believe in him, you cannot doubt that those promises apply to you, because they apply to everyone who believes.

The Westminster Confession differs somewhat from the Heidelberg Catechism. It says, "This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it" (18:3). The Confession adds:
True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. (18.4)
Note the difference from the Heidelberg: the Westminster statement says that assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith as to preclude periods of doubt. The bigger picture is that if we believe in Christ, we have assurance in our heart; but that assurance can be weakened by sin of various kinds, so that our psychological feeling of assurance has its ups and downs. Assurance is logically implied in faith, but sin sometimes weakens our confidence that our faith is genuine. But God has given us adequate resources to return to a state of full assurance. He has given us his promises, his sanctifying work, and the Spirit's testimony. We have a right to assurance if we believe God's promises. When we are in doubt, we should keep coming back to those resources and to the means of grace, which we shall discuss in chapter 20: the Word, worship, prayer, and Christian fellowship.

Lying lips

Lutheran epologist Edward Reiss continues his campaign of disinformation. What’s so odd about this is that all my replies are in the public domain, so nothing could be simpler than to compare his misrepresentations with what I actually said.

“Steve claimed the elect will have subjective assurance--as he stated there is a promise--and the WCF does not say that there is such a promise by the cunning use of the word ‘may’, as is shown in my citation above.”

Was that my claim? No. I never made a blanket claim that the elect “will” have subjective assurance. My claim was always more qualified than that. That’s in the public record.

This is one of Reiss’s standard tactics. I present a carefully qualified statement. Reiss replies by crudely paraphrasing my statement, minus the qualifications. He then proceeds to burn the straw man that he’s erected.

He does the same thing with the Westminster Confession. The WCF presents a painstakingly nuanced statement of Christian assurance. Reiss strips away key distinctions, then proceeds to burn the straw man he erected.

As I explained in my last reply to Reiss, the use of the word “may” is perfectly compatible with a promise in case the promise is conditional. Such a promise must be personally appropriated. As such, some individuals may enjoy the promised assurance while others may not inasmuch as not every interested party complies with the terms of the promise. Notice that Reiss offers no counterargument.

Moreover, the Confession cites the “promises of salvation” as one basis for the assurance of salvation. Therefore, that connection is explicit in the Confession. And Reiss is the one who is making the Confessional his frame of reference in this discussion.

If Reiss imagines that “may” is incompatible with “promises of salvation,” then the onus lies on him to explain why the Westminster Divines would endorse.

“Apparently for Steve, an elect person who has no light still has assurance, which is frankly bizarre.”

Is that what I said? No. Can he quote me on that? No.

And notice the bait-and-switch. Whether it’s possible for one of the elect to lack the assurance of salvation is a separate issue from whether it’s possible for one of the elect to have the assurance of salvation.

These are not the same questions. Moreover, Reiss is setting up a false dichotomy, as if we must either say that all the elect always enjoy the assurance of salvation or else none of the elect ever enjoy the assurance of salvation. But the Westminster Confession, from which he’s quoting, clearly rejects that antithesis.

“He also claims the document does not say the elect should look to themselves for their assurance--despite the fact the confession states just that as I cited above.”

Is that what I actually said? No. Let’s compare his attribution with what a really said:

“Moreover, the chapter doesn’t say they receive assurance by ‘looking within themselves,’ simpliciter. Rather, it gives three grounds for assurance: ‘founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit’…Does the Confession reduce the grounds of assurance to ‘looking within yourself?’ No. It also mentions the ‘promises of salvation.’ That’s external to the believer, not internal to the believer.”

So notice that I made a carefully qualified statement. The Confession doesn’t “reduce” the grounds of assurance to ‘looking within yourself.’ The Confession doesn’t say they receive assurance by looking within themselves, “simpliciter.” Rather, it gives three grounds, including the “external” basis of divine promise.

I also pointed out that the ordinary means of grace, which the Confession refers the believer to, are external to the believer.

So how does Reiss respond? With his simplistic, utterly dishonest representation of what I actually said.

“The confession I cited plainly says the elect may experience a loss of assurance, which directly contradicts Steve's claims.”

“Directly contradicts” my claims? Here is what I said in response to Reiss in my previous reply:

I quoted his statement: “Calvinist assurance: You are assured of eternal salvation and under no circumstances will you lose it.” To which I replied:

That confuses two distinct issues:

i) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their salvation.

ii) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their assurance of salvation.

But (i) is true whereas (ii) is false.

Notice in my reply to him that I said it was possible for the elect to lose the assurance of salvation.

And that, in turn, referred back to my earlier reply. So I specifically statement, two posts ago, that it’s possible for one of the elect to lose his assurance. And I reiterated that same position verbatim in my previous reply to Reiss.

Yet Reiss continues to attribute to me the polar opposite of what I said. It would take a very sharp scalpel to peel away all the layers of falsehood that Reiss is piling on.

On councils and scriptures

One of the stock objections to sola Scriptura is that Biblical teaching is subject to interpretation. Therefore, over and above Scripture itself, we requires an authoritative interpretation of Scripture actually teaches. Hence, the necessity of infallible teaching organs like ecumenical councils. Ironically, Catholic epologist Jonathan Prejean sabotages that argument by citing a truly embarrassing counterexample:

"It seems to me that if you really wanted to go after the infallibility of Nicaea, then you could point out that many of the 318 (or so) bishops who voted FOR the Council later ended up espousing an Arian interpretation, which is exactly what they thought they were supporting when they agreed to the words (or at least, they supported them only with mental reservations to placate the Emperor). Rather than simply pointing out the change in creeds, you could point out that bishops freely present at the ecumenical council had their own position later treated as an authority to contradict that same position!"

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Rightly using the ordinary means of grace

Edward Reiss: “What did I lie about? Apparently I set up a ‘dichotomy’ because subjective assurance is a guarantee.”

i) This is so confused. Assurance is a psychological state. So, by definition, the sense of assurance is subjective.

ii) That’s not the issue. The issue is whether the basis of assurance is subjective. In addition, whether the basis of assurance are purely subjective, purely objective, or a combination of both subjective and objective factors.

“From the WCF. Notice the bolded parts. The word ‘may’ appears in section I, while Steve says there is such a promise in Calvinism. This means that not all will, but some may receive assurance by looking within themselves. As I have said a few times, I don;t know why this is even controversial, this self examination to prove to one's self one is elect is baked right into Calvinism. But the writers of the WCF disagree with Steve, so I suppose the writers of the WCF lie about Calvinism, too.”

Does Reiss suffer from a mental block? How did he possibly get that from the passage he quoted?

i) To begin with, the fact that not everyone appropriates a promise doesn’t negate the promise. Doesn’t Reiss know the difference between a conditional promise and an unconditional promise?

ii) Moreover, the chapter doesn’t say they receive assurance by “looking within themselves,” simpliciter. Rather, it gives three grounds for assurance: “founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit.”

Why does Reiss feel the need to dissemble about what the Confession explicitly states? Does the Confession reduce the grounds of assurance to “looking within yourself?” No. It also mentions the “promises of salvation.” That’s external to the believer, not internal to the believer.

iii) Furthermore, there’s an obvious difference between what grounds a state of mind and conscious awareness of such grounds. It’s quite possible to have a certain mental state without having any consciousness of what grounds that mental state. Doesn’t Reiss know the difference?

iv) Apropos (iii), the Confession doesn’t say that every Christian must be aware of what grounds the assurance of salvation to have the assurance of salvation. Rather, it’s dealing with cases in which, for whatever reason, a Christian lacks the assurance of salvation.

“Also see the bolded part of section II. Notice there is ‘inward evidence’. Now, inward evidence is by definition not ‘extra nos’, outside of us. So once again the Calvinist is pointed to himself for assurance he is one of the elect.”

So, once again Reiss misrepresents the Confession by isolating the internal grounds from the external grounds. He can’t bring himself to honestly state or summarize what the Confession actually states. Instead, we’re always treated to his deceptive half-quotes and deceptive summaries. Why does he feel it necessary to indulge in blatant falsehoods about Calvinism?

“Notice the bolded part of section III. The Christian is called to make his election sure to himself by dilligence. And how does one know one is diligent? By looking for the ‘inward evidence’ plus the outward works of a true believer.”

i) Did you catch that? “Plus outward works.” So it’s not reducible to subjective grounds.

ii) Moreover, the ordinary means of grace are external to the practioner. When the Confession, in the very passage he quotes, refers the reader to “right use of the ordinary means,” that’s not the same thing as “inward evidence.” Why can’t Reiss even register these elementary distinctions?

“What about his contention that there is a difference between th eelect and the non-elect? Please see the bolded part of section IV. Since the subjective assurance may be revived, by definition the subjective assurance was lost. I didn't make any of this up, I just read the Calvinist confessional documents. Steve Hays seems to argue by vigorous assertion, along with taking what his opponent says and extrapolating it to a point his opponent never meant”

i) To begin with, Reiss says that “subjective assurance” may be “lost,” as if that somehow disproves what I said. Really? What did I say in my previous reply to him, to which he is allegedly responding?

I quoted his statement: “Calvinist assurance: You are assured of eternal salvation and under no circumstances will you lose it.” To which I replied:

That confuses two distinct issues:

i) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their salvation.

ii) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their assurance of salvation.

But (i) is true whereas (ii) is false.

Notice in my reply to him that I said it was possible for the elect to lose the assurance of salvation.

So why does Reiss act as if he’s disproven my contention when he says that assurance can be lost? What was he thinking?

ii) In addition, how does the fact that, in some cases, the elect can lose the assurance of salvation, become equivalent to “self-deception”? By what fallacious logic does Reiss draw that inference?

The lack or loss of a given belief is not equivalent to misbelief. To say I don’t entertain a certain belief doesn’t mean I thereby entertain a false belief.

Doesn’t Reiss know the difference? Is he even trying?

iii) Moreover, in one of the very passages he quoted, the Confession specifically limits delusive assurance to “hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions.” So it’s only the reprobate, not the elect, who are liable to delusive assurance.

Reiss seems to be too blinded by his reflexive hostility towards Reformed theology to even make sense of the passages he cites to prove his point.

28 Weeks Later

“Perhaps if Steve wiped the foam off his monitor before posting…”

To begin with, I always wear a breath mask when I’m blogging to prevent the build-up of bloody spittle on the computer screen.

Second, I should warn Mr. Reiss that scurrilous comments about the lifestyle of zombies is actionable hate-speech. Unless he retracts his offensive remarks and issues a public apology, I’ll have no choice but to report his transgression to the Zombie Anti-Defamation League.

Finally, I’d also warn Mr. Reiss that it’s always highly imprudent to get on the wrong side of a zombie. We take derogatory remarks about our diet, dental hygiene, or other alternative lifestyle choices quite personally.

If he imagines that he can makes such offensive statements with impunity, I’d suggest that he rent a copy of 28 Weeks Later. Albany will never be the same.

Out of our census

Over at the CADRE, Layman recently blogged on an essay by Stanley Porter concerning the census of Quirinius. So that inspired me to read the same essay.

Porter’s essay is too long and close-packed to manually transcribe. In this post I’ll confine myself quoting Porter’s conclusion along with a prefatory observation of my own.

Reading through Porter’s essay makes one aware of how foolhardy it is to attack the accuracy of Luke. For one thing, as we might antecedently surmise, and as the essay confirms, bureaucratic policies are often convoluted, and Roman bureaucracy was no exception. So we should expect a lot of local variation, given the overlapping jurisdictions. And we should also expect variations over time.

In addition, we’re dependent on whatever trace evidence happens to survive. And that barely scratches the surface. As more evidence comes in, the picture changes. The picture becomes more complicated. The Lucan account acquires a wide range of hitherto unsuspected, partial parallels.

We’re confronted with the bewildering intricacy of our sources. And we’d expect bureaucratic policies in the Roman empire to be bewildering in their variety, complexity, and arbitrary requirements. The more we knew about the period, the more we’d find ourselves wandering in a maze of minutiae.

Nothing could be more shortsighted than for an outsider from the 21C to make sweeping, self-confident pronouncements about a situation from the distant past of which he has absolutely no firsthand acquaintance.

Imagine the same thing in reverse: if a man from the 1C were suddenly transported to the 21C, and handed an IRS form to fill out. Just consider how much background knowledge he would need to make heads or tails of the document. It would be utterly unintelligible to him.

“The growing amount of evidence indicates that there were many common features between censuses and property returns throughout the Roman empire, including Egypt and Arabia, both close by Palestine. The Egyptian census documents, because of their relative plenty, have been determinative in most discussions. However, there is small but significant evidence concerning how censuses and property returns were conducted outside of Egypt as well, besides the fact that they did not follow the same time-frame. The result is that the account in Luke seems to have many, if not most, of the features one would expect in a census return, as Palme and even Rosen have shown. However, as Rosen has also shown, there may be some other features of the Lukan account, such as the trip to Bethlehem, that are better explained in terms of some of the peculiarities of the property returns…Both Palme and Rosen have shown that the parallels between the Lukan account and the censuses of Egypt and the property returns of Arabia are too many to ignore, and indicate that a plausible historical account is being given by Luke…The grammatical arguments are likewise not decisive, but there is still plausibility for Lk 2:2 referring to the census being before Quirinius became governor,” S. Porter, “The Reasons for the Lukan Census,” A. Christophersen et al. eds. Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World (Sheffield 2002), 187-88.

Upstart Lutheran

Edward Reiss said...

“There is no promise we will know we have eternal life.”

Is he speaking for Lutheranism or Calvinism? In Calvinism, there are such promises.

“We are told that we may deceive ourselves that we are elect when we are not”

Of course, that’s equivocal. Who may be deceived? May the elect be deceived about their election–or the reprobate?

Those are hardly equivalent claims. A man on acid may well be self-deluded. Does this mean a sober man is in the same condition?

Since Reiss is fairly intelligent, it’s striking that he continues to raise such unintelligent objections to Calvinism. There’s a willful refusal on his part to acknowledge and address basic distinctions.

“This means looking for fruit runs the serious risk of us deceiving ourselves into thinking we are elect when we are not.”

Runs the risk for whom–the elect or the reprobate? Since the elect are the elect, how can they be deceived about their elect status?

And if the reprobate can be mistaken, so what? Lots of folks can be self-deluded for various reason. Does this mean we should all doubt our sanity?

If the Lubavitcher Rebbe thought he was God’s messiah, should the rest of us check into a mental institution? If one man suffers from a Messiah-complex, does that make everyone delusional?

Why does Reiss extrapolate from cases of self-delusion to disanalogous cases?

“The spiritual danger of this should be readily apparent.”

Danger to whom–the elect or the reprobate? How is it dangerous to the elect to consider the fruits election?

“Examining ourselves for our fidelity and obedience is different from examining ourselves to ‘prove’ we are elect, which we cannot know anyway.”

I don’t know why Reiss is so obsessed with the issue of knowing if we’re elect. That’s indirect. We know if we’re elect if we know that we’re saved. That’s the primary question.

“We can know that when we hear the Gospel in e.g. baptism or communion that we are truly receiving what God promises because God does not lie--as opposed to our looking into our own lives for proof.”

i) At this point it’s very hard to credit Reiss with even a modicum of honesty. He habitually misrepresents the Reformed position by setting up a dichotomy between God’s promises and self-examination–even though Calvinism explicitly treats these in tandem.

Why do Lutherans like Reiss think it’s permissible to chronically lie about a position they disagree with? Is mendacity a moral imperative in Lutheran ethics?

ii) And what promises does he think we’re receiving in the sacraments? Not the assurance of salvation, since he denies that baptism and communion are nonrefundable tickets to heaven.

“No one has second party knowledge of my eternal state.”

And why is that a problem?

“And I don't think I even have first party knowledge (see 1 above). Given this, and the theological commitments of TULIP Calvinists, a TULIP Calvinist cannot say Christ died for him, or anyone else. I do however have first hand knowledge of receiving communion, being absolved and I have proof I am baptized.”

So, according to Reiss, a professing believer could be self-deluded by vesting his assurance of salvation in the sacraments. He could delusively believe that he was saved simply because he was baptized and received the Eucharist.

That being so, Lutheranism can’t eliminate the possibility of spiritual self-deception even on its own grounds. Therefore, why does Reiss freak out over that alleged deficiency in Calvinism?

“You have ‘demonstrated’ something we have not claimed: that Sacraments guarantee everyone who receives the sacrament eternal salvation.”

In which case, a professing believer could be self-deluded about his eternal fate if he imagines that partaking of the sacraments automatically induces a state of grace.

“What we have claimed is that the grace offered in Sacraments is real grace…”

Yes, real resistible grace. In Lutheran theology, the grace offered in the sacraments is resistible grace.

“…and not actually a withholding of grace, as is the case in the Calvinist system where grace is only offered to the elect, because offered grace must be 100% ‘effective’ for it to be real.”

The estate goes to the heirs. God’s children are heirs to the promises.

The promises are not promises made to a con man to reads the obituary column every morning, then shows up at the funeral of some unrelated decedent to cash in. He’s not a party to the will.

“Finally, it is not the Lutherans who look at their navel, but the TULIP Calvinists looking within themselves to prove they are really elect.”

I’ve never tried to prove to myself that I’m really elect. Reiss is projecting his fixation onto Calvinists like me.

“If we can be deceived into believing we are elect even if we are not, where is the assurance in that?”

The reprobate have no assurance that they are elect. Likewise, men with blue eyes have no assurance that they have brown eyes. We are what we are, and not what we’re not. Why is that a problem?

“But baptism and communion go one better--they promise the forgiveness of sins.”

I disagree. But even if I agreed with him, that misses the point. A promise of temporary forgiveness, and a promise of eternal life, are two very different things.

The standard "Protestant" syllogism works like this:

All those who have faith in Christ are saved

I have faith in Christ

Therefore I am saved

It’s very revealing that he labels that a “Protestant” syllogism. But doesn’t Scripture itself use that type of language?

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31).

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’" (Rom 10:9-13).

Why can’t Lutheran theology make room for these central promises of Scripture?

The "Lutheran" Syllogism works like this:

Christ said "I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit"

Christ never lies and always tells the truth

Therefore I am baptized

Which is beside the point. The question at issue is not if/how I can know I’m baptized, but if/how I can know I’m saved? Why is Reiss unable to focus on the real issue?

“If you object to a sacramental view of baptism feel free to insert "Christ said I died for you..." in lieu of baptism.”

In Lutheran theology, knowing that Christ died for you is irrelevant to whether or not you’re saved–and, by the same token, equally irrelevant to the assurance of salvation.

“The point is that there is no ‘if’ embedded in the Lutheran syllogism, where the Protestant syllogism has an ‘if’ embedded into it--do I really have faith?”

And why is that conditional unimportant? Is it unimportant whether or not Bertrand Russell really had faith in Christ? In Lutheran theology, is there no difference between the belief of an atheist, a Muslim, and a Christian?

“Do we ever keep his commandments? St. John himself allows for the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake which presupposes disobedience. I certainly don't see how we can get some sort of assurance of perseverance from our obedience as there is always the possibility we will not be obedient. In other words, it does not cut against the Lutheran position.”

That’s a very selective appeal to 1 John. Does Reiss feel no obligation to integrate 1 Jn 1:7-10 with 1 Jn 3:3-24?

“Getting back to the larger issue, no one has really said I got the Reformed position wrong.”

To the contrary, I’ve said that numerous times–such as the way he tries to drive a wedge between promises and introspection in Reformed theology.

“Calvinist assurance: You are assured of eternal salvation and under no circumstances will you lose it.”

That confuses two distinct issues:

i) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their salvation.

ii) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their assurance of salvation.

But (i) is true whereas (ii) is false.

Scripture versus myth

“The first objection to the position I have taken is that the Bible does not in fact radically reject the thought world of myth because it employs some of the actual ancient Near Eastern myths to express itself. The most common of these is the story that god defeated the chaos monster in primeval time and so brought order into the world. This monster was called Leviathan in Canaanite literature. In Mesopotamia, chaos was known as Tiamat. In Egypt it was called Nun, although from certain biblical references, it appears that the name Rahab might also have been used,” J. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Zondervan 2009), 93.

“The basic assertion is correct; references to one or another form of these stories do appear in several places in the Bible. The most explicit examples are found in Job 41:1-11; Ps 74:12-17; Isa 51:9-10; see also Hab 3:8-11. But the issue is not that they occur; rather, how are they used? That you might call someone a Hercules does not prove that your view of the world is the same as that of the ancient Greeks from whose myths that personage comes. And in fact, the Bible’s usages are directly analogous to that example. What we have is a self-conscious appropriation of the language of myth for historical and literary purposes, not mythical ones (93).

“For instance, Leviathan in Job is not depicted as some primeval monster who threatens God and all ordered existence. Instead, he is depicted in very this-worldly terms–so much so that commentators have debated whether anything more than a crocodile is intended. I suspect that the use of the Canaanite names does indicate that the writer wants to convey something more. But he is using the material in a quite different way than the Canaanites did. God is simply asking Job in another way the question which he has put to him several times, ‘Can you control nature?’ In this case he uses a common literary figure from Job’s world to convey the might of nature, but nothing more. In no way is the worldview of continuity presupposed here” (93-94).

“Leviathan and Rahab are used in a different way in the other three places [Ps 74:12-17; Isa 51:9-10; Hab 3:8-15]…In each of these passages it is the exodus that is in view. Here the imagery is utilized to express God’s victory over evil when he triumphed over the waters in the exodus and brought his people through…This kind of appropriation of the figures is diametrically opposite to their original usage among pagans. Here we have no primeval struggle between the forces of light and darkness” (94-96).

“Beyond these and three or four briefer allusions of the same sort, there are no other references to specific myths in the Bible. This is remarkable given the fact that Israel was completely surrounded by myths and mythical thinking…If we take the point of view that these are holdovers from an earlier stage of Israelite religion, then it seems to me that we are hard-pressed to explain what they are doing in these few places. Why were they not expunged with all the rest of the supposed original uses? Why leave these few, and only these? It seems much more likely to me that a conscious appropriation of literary imagery is the better explanation” (96).

“However, some would say that the specific use of the language of myth in certain places in the Bible is not the issue. Rather, they would argue, much stronger evidence is to be found in the first chapters of Genesis, where they maintain there is evidence of dependence on mythical thought patterns…I have earlier argued that such an idea does not make sense. If Israel and her neighbors all started with the worldview of continuity, then others besides Israel should have broken away from it. Yet she alone did. And if Israel broke away, when did that take place” (97).

“But leaving aside all those issues, what of the data itself in Genesis? Do the early chapters of Genesis give evidence of having once been myth in the phenomenological sense? It must be said that that evidence is very thin. As the chapters now stand, the key elements of myth are all conspicuously absent. There are no gods; there is no continual creation on the primeval plane that this world only reflects; there is no conflict between good and evil (or between order and chaos) on the metaphysical level as the precursor to creation; sexuality plays no part at all in creation” (99).

“A second argument says that the order of creation is the same as that of the Babylonian creation myth. E. A. Speiser puts it in this form [see diagram]…On the surface, the listing seems conclusive: the two understandings are identical. However, when one reads the two passages side by side, one will reach very different conclusions. For one thing there are the proportions. In the Enuma Elish the first 160 lines are given over to an account of the emergence of the gods from chaos, their multiplication, the plan of the chaos monster Tiamat, and her consort Apsu, to kill the gods, and the war that results. Where is this in Genesis? The second 130 lines have to do with the selection of Marduk as the champion of the gods. Where is this in Genesis? The next 134 lines tell of the destruction of Tiamat. That is a total of 582 lines. Only then come five lines mentioning that Marduk hung up half of Tiamat’s body to be the sky separating upper waters and lower waters. There follow 27 lines about the placement of the gods in the heavens” (99-100).

“The remaining 120 lines of this fifth tablet are broken. Speiser hypothesizes that the making of plants and animals on the earth was found here, but there is no evidence to support this position. What is clear is that the tablet ended with some request from the gods to Marduk, because tablet six begins with the statement that in response to that request Marduk made humans from mud and the blood of one of Tiamat’s monsters in order to serve the gods and allow them to be at ease. There then follow 86 lines about building a heavenly sanctuary for Marduk, and finally 214 lines proclaiming the 50 names of Marduk” (101).

“To say, as Speiser does on the basis of this comparison, that ‘one the subject of creation biblical tradition aligned itself with the traditional tenets of Babylonian science’ is not supportable from this evidence…In fact, it is important to point out that the Enuma Elish is not about ‘creation’ at all” (101).

“As to the supposed order of events, if Speiser’s abstracted order is even to be considered a possibility, which a review of the total account renders unlikely, it is similar to that in Genesis only because both follow a broadly logical progression from general to specific, or lesser to greater. That hardly demonstrates a dependence of Genesis on the Mesopotamian account. If someone was starting with the kind of material and outlook found there, it strains credulity to imagine how he or she could possibly end up with Gen 1:1-2:4. In particular is the function and place of humanity. What in the Enuma Elish’s account of humans being made as an afterthought to allow the gods to be at ease could give rise to Genesis’ having humans ‘created’ in the ‘image of God’ to be given charge over all that God had created?” (101-102).

“There is the word for ‘deep’ (Heb. tehom) in Gen 1:2, which is etymologically related to the name of the Babylonian chaos monster, Tiamat. But what does that show? Only that Hebrew is a Semitic language like Akkadian…Another similarity is the idea of something separating the upper waters (in the heavens) from the lower waters (on the earth and under the earth). But if the Hebrews may have shared the common ancient idea of the blue expanse above us being a hard surface that sometimes opens to let water fall on the earth, that is far from sharing the idea that the expanse is the body of a dead chaos monster and that the lights in it are gods” (102-103).

“There is a serious attempt to root the events in a specific place on earth. Whatever we make of the probable location of Eden, the writers…are saying that it was a distinct particular place that could be located in this world” (103).

“The land of ‘Dilmun’ mentioned in the Myth of Enki and Ninhursag (see n3 in cha 3) is clearly not intended to be understood as a definable place in our world of time and space” (103n18).

“On another front, we may look at such a psalm as Ps 29, which has sometimes been called the Bible’s ‘Canaanite psalm’ because it can be paralleled form Ugaritic literature…What is being said here? Obviously, Yahweh is being described in terms of the thunderstorm, and since Baal was the Canaanite storm god, it is often suggested that this psalm betrays the same understanding of Yahweh as the Canaanites had of Baal…But is that correct? Once again, we are dealing with superficial similarities and essential differences. We can notice that nowhere in the psalm is Yahweh identified with the thunderstorm. In fact, one can argue that the psalmist is at pains to avoid that implication. Just as Isaiah 40, in its antiidolatrous polemic, says that Yahweh sits above the circle of the earth, so here we are told that Yahweh sits above the flood. He is not the rain, nor is he the storm giving the rain” (104-106).

“This point is seen ever more clearly in Ps 68, where in the context of his salvation of his people in history, God is said to be the rain giver (68:8-9); moreover, the One who rides in the clouds is the One who rules all the kingdoms of the earth (32-35). In other words, the psalmist is saying that whatever might have been said of the gods could only truly be said of Yahweh. Ps 104 makes much the same point” (106).

Rome And Early Christian Unity

Catholics often make misleading comments about the degree of unity that existed in ancient church history. And they often make misleading claims about the role of the Roman church and its bishop in maintaining that unity. Dave Armstrong wrote the following about the times of Papias and Irenaeus:

Yes: no Protestants to disagree with everything under the sun and to think in heretofore unknown (and often anti-biblical) categories, and viciously self-contradicting ways! But there were a lot of heretics running around. One had to cling to Rome in order to know for sure what was orthodox and what wasn't. That was the gold standard. Rome faithfully kept the faith of the Bible and the apostles.

Elsewhere, referring to the time of Irenaeus, Dave wrote:

East and West were united at that time, not separated, so it is anachronistic to apply those categories of some 800 years later, after the schism, to him.

And he later writes, in the same article:

The Orthodox decided to split off. That was simply yet another instance of the constant schismatic (as well as caesaro-papist) tendency of the East. After all, they had done so at least five times before in the previous 700 years, and were on the wrong side of the debate in every case (231 out of 500 years, or 46% of the time!), according to their own judgment now (and our Catholic standard)

He goes on to cite examples such as "the Arian schisms" and "the controversy over St. John Chrysostom". So, Dave acknowledges the existence of such disunity prior to the Reformation and even prior to what he refers to as occurring "800 years later" than Irenaeus. Catholics will often acknowledge some disunity at some points, but make less qualified comments, like Dave's first comments quoted above, at other points. When they make their highest claims about early church unity, we should keep in mind qualifiers like the ones they mention elsewhere, as well as others they don't mention.

The early Roman churches were largely faithful to apostolic teaching. I would argue, as I do in an article here, that the early Roman Christians sometimes contradicted Roman Catholic teaching. Even Catholics would agree with me that Hermas, a Roman Christian who wrote around the close of the apostolic era or shortly after, disagreed with Catholic soteriology, for example (The Shepherd, 1:2:2). The sort of faithfulness to apostolic teaching for which Irenaeus commends the Roman church of his day involves correctness on foundational issues like monotheism, the virgin birth, and the resurrection (Against Heresies, 1:10:1, 3:4:2). Evangelical churches could also be commended for that sort of faithfulness.

But was Rome guiding Christians in the manner in which Catholics look to Rome for guidance today? I'll be addressing Dave's misleading claims about issues like apostolic succession and Irenaeus' view of the Roman church in future posts. For now, though, I note that we have no record of any allegedly infallible pronouncements from any Roman bishop or ecumenical council during the generations of men like Papias and Irenaeus. If people were "clinging to Rome" in order to "know for sure", then did they cling to fallible traditions? Did people "know for sure" what to believe without any exercise of papal or conciliar infallibility, for example? Were Popes, councils, or some other source issuing infallible rulings, but those rulings weren't preserved and weren't mentioned by the sources of that era that are extant today? How did individuals "know for sure" by Catholic standards? Remember, Catholics often tell us that the opinion of a bishop or other church leader, even a Roman bishop, might be mistaken, and even councils attended by many bishops can be wrong. Surely, then, we wouldn't "know for sure" that anything believed by a Roman bishop, for example, is correct just because he held that view in some fallible capacity.

There was a lot of unity in ancient church history, including on many significant issues, as there is today. And ancient Christians would often speak of that unity and make references to the universality of some beliefs among the orthodox. They would often refer to what Christians had in common and would use Christian unity as an argument against heretics or in support of Christianity, for example. But the same occurs today. Just as we today emphasize unity in some contexts while acknowledging disunity in other contexts, so did the Christians of antiquity.

Celsus, a critic of Christianity who wrote around the same time as Irenaeus, commented (hyperbolically):

"Christians at first were few in number, and held the same opinions; but when they grew to be a great multitude, they were divided and separated, each wishing to have his own individual party: for this was their object from the beginning....being thus separated through their numbers, they confute one another, still having, so to speak, one name in common, if indeed they still retain it. And this is the only thing which they are yet ashamed to abandon, while other matters are determined in different ways by the various sects." (cited in Origen's Against Celsus, 3:10, 3:12)

Was Celsus only reacting to heretics, whereas the Christian mainstream was "clinging to Rome" in unity? Most likely not. Though Irenaeus seems to have been correct in noting widespread unity around fundamental issues like monotheism and the resurrection, there was a lot of disunity on other matters, even within mainstream Christianity.

Some of that disunity was directed against Rome. Writing of a dispute in Irenaeus' day and another that became prominent shortly afterward, the Catholic scholar Klaus Schatz commented:

"Rome did not succeed in maintaining its position against the contrary opinion and praxis of a significant portion of the Church. The two most important controversies of this type were the disputes over the feast of Easter and heretical baptism. Each marks a stage in Rome's sense of authority and at the same time reveals the initial resistance of other churches to the Roman claim." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 11)

The second dispute Schatz refers to is one that I addressed earlier, involving the bishop Firmilian. Here, again, are some examples of how Firmilian was "clinging to Rome":

"they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles...But with respect to the refutation of custom which they [the Roman church] seem to oppose to the truth, who is so foolish as to prefer custom to truth, or when he sees the light, not to forsake the darkness?...And this indeed you Africans are able to say against Stephen [bishop of Rome], that when you knew the truth you forsook the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the Romans' custom we oppose custom, but the custom of truth; holding from the beginning that which was delivered by Christ and the apostles....But indeed you [Stephen] are worse than all heretics....Moreover, how great sin have you heaped up for yourself, when you cut yourself off from so many flocks! For it is yourself that you have cut off. Do not deceive yourself, since he is really the schismatic who has made himself an apostate from the communion of ecclesiastical unity. For while you think that all may be excommunicated by you, you have excommunicated yourself alone from all...But as far as he [Stephen] is concerned, let us leave him...And yet Stephen is not ashamed to afford patronage to such in opposition to the Church, and for the sake of maintaining heretics to divide the brotherhood and in addition, to call Cyprian 'a false Christ and a false apostle, and a deceitful worker.' And he, conscious that all these characters are in himself, has been in advance of you, by falsely objecting to another those things which he himself ought deservedly to hear." (Cyprian's Letter 74:6, 74:19, 74:23-24, 74:26)

In the late second century, Polycrates applies the principle of Acts 5:29 to his dispute with the Roman bishop Victor (Eusebius, Church History, 5:24:7). Tertullian criticizes the bishop of Rome for an inconsistent response to Montanism (Against Praxeas, 1). The author of a work commonly attributed to Hippolytus refers to the Roman bishop Zephyrinus as "an uninformed and shamefully corrupt man" and continues to describe him and his successor, Callistus:

"But Zephyrinus himself, being in process of time enticed away, hurried headlong into the same opinions; and he had Callistus as his adviser, and a fellow-champion of these wicked tenets. But the life of this Callistus, and the heresy invented by him, I shall after a little explain. The school of these heretics during the succession of such bishops, continued to acquire strength and augmentation, from the fact that Zephyrinus and Callistus helped them to prevail. Never at any time, however, have we been guilty of collusion with them; but we have frequently offered them opposition, and have refuted them, and have forced them reluctantly to acknowledge the truth. And they, abashed and constrained by the truth, have confessed their errors for a short period, but after a little, wallow once again in the same mire." (The Refutation Of All Heresies, 9:2)

He even refers to the Roman bishop Callistus as somebody outside of "the church":

"The impostor Callistus, having ventured on such opinions, established a school of theology in antagonism to the Church, adopting the foregoing system of instruction. And he first invented the device of conniving with men in regard of their indulgence in sensual pleasures, saying that all had their sins forgiven by himself. For he who is in the habit of attending the congregation of any one else, and is called a Christian, should he commit any transgression; the sin, they say, is not reckoned unto him, provided only he hurries off and attaches himself to the school of Callistus. And many persons were gratified with his regulation, as being stricken in conscience, and at the same time having been rejected by numerous sects; while also some of them, in accordance with our condemnatory sentence, had been by us forcibly ejected from the Church....And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!" (9:7)

In later centuries, Roman bishops would sometimes support Arianism, Monothelitism, and other errors. Many of the fathers who commended the Roman church as a source of unity and faithfulness to apostolic teaching in one context would criticize that church as a source of disunity and unfaithfulness elsewhere.

Concerning the state of Christian unity in general, one often comes across comments like John Chrysostom's when reading the fathers:

"What is one to say to the disorders in the other Churches? For the evil did not stop even here [Constantinople], but made its way to the east. For as when some evil humor is discharged from the head, all the other parts are corrupted, so now also these evils, having originated in this great city as from a fountain, confusion has spread in every direction, and clergy have everywhere made insurrection against bishops, there has been schism between bishop and bishop, people and people, and will be yet more; every place is suffering from the throes of calamity, and the subversion of the whole civilized world." (Correspondence Of St. Chrysostom With The Bishop Of Rome, Letter 1:4)

Bishops wrote against bishops, councils ruled against councils, and churches were often out of fellowship with one another for years at a time, even generations. For example:

"The 'three chapters' affair had to do with the emperor Justinian's attempt to achieve union with the Monophysites by arranging for the condemnation after the fact of three theologians (Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa), or rather their writings. All of them had belonged to the Antiochene wing. Justinian thought he would not be able to cleanse the Council of Chalcedon from the Monophysites' charge that it had been a 'Nestorian' synod as long as these three theologians, each of them a thorn in the side of the Monophysites, were recognized as orthodox. Of course, he had to win over the pope to this way of thinking. Pope Vigilius (537-555), who had very little backbone in conflict situations, first gave way and condemned the three chapters in his Iudicatum of 548. Faced with a storm of protest in the West, where the pope was accused of betraying Chalcedon, he made an about-face and retracted his condemnation (Constitutum, 553). The emperor in turn called a council at Constantinople (the Second Council of Constantinople, 553) made up only of opponents of the three chapters. It not only condemned those three chapters but even excommunicated the pope. This was a unique case of an ecumenical council setting itself clearly against the pope and yet not suffering the fate of Ephesus II. Instead, over time it was accepted and even recognized as valid by the pope. The council got around the papal opposition by referring to Matthew 18:20 ('Where two or three are gathered in my name. . .'): no individual [including the Pope] could therefore forestall the decision of the universal Church. This kind of argument was invalid, of course, because the pope was not alone; the entire West was behind him, and yet it was not represented at the council. Broken in spirit, Vigilius capitulated after the end of the council and assented to its condemnation of the three chapters. The result was a schism in the West, where the pope was accused of having surrendered Chalcedon. A North African synod of bishops excommunicated the pope, and the ecclesial provinces of Milan and Aquileia broke communion with Rome. (Milan returned to communion only after fifty years; for Aquileia the breach lasted one hundred and fifty years, until 700). The bishops of Gaul also raised objections. The Spanish Church did not separate from Rome, but throughout the early Middle Ages it refused to recognize this council." (Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], pp. 52-53)

In her book Christian Friendship In The Fourth Century (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), Carolinne White often refers to the hostility that existed between individual fathers (Jerome's disputes with Rufinus, etc.), and she cites some of the fathers' comments on unity in general during their day. She refers to how the church was "riddled with schism and heresy" at the time of Basil of Caesarea (p. 75). She refers to "frequent allusions to Matt. 24:12" in Basil's writings and "his repeated lament that the essential harmony of the Church, based on love, is being destroyed by the theological quarrels of those who ought to be of one soul" (p. 75).

As I said above, however, such references to disunity were accompanied by references to unity in other contexts. And there's more disunity today than there was during the patristic age. There will be more disunity five hundred years from now than there is today. That's the nature of human life and of religions in general, not just Christianity. There tends to be a larger variety of Buddhists and Muslims with the passing of time. As time goes by, atheists and Hindus tend to refine their beliefs and divide up into a larger number of groups. There's a wider range of beliefs among Roman Catholics today than there was a generation or ten generations ago. These human tendencies predate the Reformation, and they were widely and deeply exhibited among the mainstream Christians of antiquity, not just heretics. "Clinging to Rome" wasn't a solution, since Rome was often part of the problem.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Sacred time & sacred space

I’m going to quote some passages on the creation account and the flood account from The Sceptic’s Annotated Bible. I’ll then respond:

(1:1-2:3) "In the beginning"

The first of two contradictory creation accounts. Compare with Genesis 2:4-25 in which the order of events is entirely different.

(1:1-2:3) The Genesis 1 account conflicts with the order of events that are known to science.

In Genesis 1:1, the earth and "heaven" are created together "in the beginning," whereas according to current estimates, the earth and universe are about 4.6 and 13.7 billion years old, respectively.

In Genesis, the earth is created (1:1) before light (1:3), sun and stars (1:16); birds and whales (1:21) before reptiles and insects (1:24); and flowering plants (1:11) before any animals (1:20). The order of events known from science is in each case just the opposite.

(1:3-5, 14-19) "Let there be light"

God creates light and separates light from darkness, and day from night, on the first day. Yet he didn't make the light producing objects (the sun and the stars) until the fourth day (1:14-19). And how could there be "the evening and the morning" on the first day if there was no sun to mark them?

(1:6-8) The Firmament (Heaven)

God spends one-sixth of his entire creative effort (the second day) working on a solid firmament. This strange structure, which God calls heaven, is intended to separate the higher waters from the lower waters.

(1:11-13) "Let the earth bring forth grass"

Plants are made on the third day before there was a sun to drive their photosynthetic processes (1:14-19).

(1:16) "He made the stars also."

God spends a day making light (before making the sun and stars) and separating light from darkness; then, at the end of a hard day's work, and almost as an afterthought, he makes the trillions of stars.

(1:17) "And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth."

Then why is only a tiny fraction of stars visible from earth? Under the best conditions, no more than a few thousand stars are visible with the unaided eye, yet there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy and a hundred billion or so galaxies. Were they all created "to give light upon the earth"?

(1:25) "And God made the beast of the earth"

Were humans created before the other animals?

(1:31) "God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good."

In Genesis 1 the entire creation takes 6 days, but the universe is about 13.7 billion years old, with new stars constantly being formed.

(6:14-15) "The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits."

Noah's ark is 450 feet long. The largest wooden ships ever built were just over 300 feet, and they required diagonal iron strapping for support. Even so, they leaked so badly that they had to be pumped constantly. Are we to believe that Noah, with no shipbuilding knowledge, was able to construct a wooden ship longer than any that has been built since?

But not only was the ark too big to be seaworthy, it was far too small to be able to contain the earth's millions of plant and animal species.

(6:16) "A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it."

God tells Noah to make one small window (18 inches square) for ventilation.

(6:19-20) "Of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark."

(7:2-3) "Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens."

How did Noah know which animals were "clean" and "unclean" to God? (It wasn't defined until Leviticus was written.)

How many of each kind did Noah take into the ark?

(7:7-10, 11-13) "In the selfsame day entered Noah."

When did Noah enter the ark?

(7:8-10) "Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls ... There went in two and two."

Whether by twos or by sevens, Noah takes representatives from each species of "every thing that creepeth upon the earth." [more] How many of each kind did Noah take into the ark?

(7:13-14) "In the selfsame day"

All of the animals boarded the ark "in the selfsame day."
Since there were a million species or so at the time, the animals must have boarded at a rate of at least 20 animals/second.

(7:17)"And the flood was forty days upon the earth."

How long did the flood last?

(7:19-20) "The mountains were covered."

The flood covered the highest mountain tops (Mount Everest?) with fifteen cubits to spare. Where did all the water come from? Where did it all go? Why is there no evidence of such a massive flood in the geological record?

(7:24) "And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days."

How long did the flood last?

This attack on Scripture is painfully inept. But for a couple of reasons I won’t offer a point-by-point rebuttal. For one thing, I’ve responded to this sort of thing in the past, and I don’t care to repeat myself here. I’d add that simply reading a good commentary or two would clear up these pseudoproblems.

Instead, I want to make a more general observation. This whole approach to creation account and the flood account is simply tone deaf to the literary strategy of the narrator (whom I take to be Moses).

1. There’s a fairly explicit element of sacred time to Gen 1. For the timetable is meant to foreshadow the Sabbath.

Of course, that alone doesn’t select for a non-YEC interpretation.

2. A number of scholars (e.g. Beale, Walton) have pointed out that Gen 1 also depicts sacred space. It foreshadows the tabernacle. It that respect Gen 1 a stylized account, using implicit architectural metaphors to depict sacred space. It’s native to press every detail as if it were intended to be a literal description.

Likewise, the proportions of Noah’s ark (300x50x30) reflect simple ratios. And these, in turn, foreshadow the tabernacle. As Wenham says in his commentary, “The surface area of the ark was thus three times as much as that of the tabernacle courtyard, 100x50 cubits (Exod 27:9-13)” (1:173).

In addition, the triple-decker design plays on the cosmic temple motif.

3. Therefore, sacred space and sacred time are axial coordinates in Gen 1. They create a unified word-picture–with time representing the horizontal axis and space the vertical axis.

(There’s a sense in which we also have sacred sound in Gen 1: the spoken word of God.)

4. Sacred time is a key concept in OT religion. And sacred time is conventional rather than natural. That is to say, the day, date, duration, or frequency of occurrence aren’t something given in nature.

So even though sacred time may often be real time, it doesn’t represent a natural division of time. It’s not a periodic process like the solar day or lunar cycle.

5. Apropos (4), there's a numerological motif in many OT rites, objects, and events. Let’s take a few examples:

"Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel" (Exod 12:15).

"You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt" (Exod 23:15).

"And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times" (Lev 16:14).

"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation" (Lev 23:3).

"Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement" (Lev 23:27).

"Speak to the people of Israel, saying, 'On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the Lord'" (Lev 23:34).

"You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land" (Lev 25:8-9).

"You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain" (Deut 16:9).

"Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets" (Josh 6:4).

"And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Gen 2:2-3).

"Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground...On the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened..." (Gen 7:2-4,11).

"And in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat...He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark...Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore...In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out" (Gen 8:4,10,12,14).

"And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house [of the Lord] was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it" (1 Kgs 6:38).

"So Solomon held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great assembly, from Lebo-hamath to the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days" (1 Kgs 8:65).

"And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, for they had kept the dedication of the altar seven days and the feast seven days" (2 Chron 7:9).

6. So we clearly have a stereotypical numerology in play. What is more, the numerology is characteristically septunarian. The septunarian dates and intervals often represent real time, Yet they are conventional rather than natural. Arbitrary figures, chosen for their numerological or intertextual associations.

(BTW, there’s also the question of what numeral system the narrator was using. Modern scholars automatically filter these figures through a decimal numeral system, but that may be anachronistic. Depending on what numeral system the narrator employed, we might be overlooking other emblematic ratios in the story.)

7. And in some narratives (e.g. Gen 6-8) they appear to be somewhat artificial figures. It isn’t coincidental that these figures ring the changes on the septunarian motif.

This may also be true of Biblical numbers like 12 or 40, which sometimes seem to be idiomatic or numerological figures rather than literal sums.

8. To some extent, the overly precise calendar in Gen 6-8, with its unnaturally symmetrical time-markers, represents a stylized numerology of sacred time.

This doesn't mean such numbers can't approximate real time and space. But it seems to be the case that Bible writers rounded numbers up or down to create a symbolic pattern. Not simply round numbers, but rounded off for numerological purposes.

So just as sacred time and sacred space are axial coordinates in the creation account, they are axial coordinates in the flood account as well.

9. And this is one reason why it’s so naive for unbelievers to point out numerical difficulties or discrepancies in the account. Even if, for the sake of argument, these didn’t mesh, that misses the point. For if the figures are numerological, then they were never meant to express exact measurements in time and space.

10. That’s not to say that sacred time and space bear no relation or resemblance to real time and space. But there are situations in which the narrator clearly intended to forge an artificially schematic account for hierophanic purposes.

Lutheran reprobation

theoldadam said...

Thanks, Ed.

I went over there and threw in my two cents.

I wouldn't expect too much, though.

I have dealt with these hardened Calvinists before.

Often the clay is baked and is so hard that they WILL NOT hear a Word.

Although Lutherans vehemently reject reprobation, they seem to make an exception in the case of all them Reformed rebrobates!

Reformed Dog Matics

But if animals can be saved, can they also be lost? If you are a Calvinist, does animal reprobation become a possibility.

posted by Victor Reppert @ 1:20 PM

At February 01, 2010 2:02 PM , steve said...

Needless to say, the answer varies depending on whether you ask a supralapsarian, sublapsarian, or infralapsarian Calvinist.

But, as a rule, Arminian dogs are predestined to hell whereas all Calvinist dogs are predestined to heaven.

As for the fate of Lutheran dogs, I'll have to ask Gabriel the next time he drops in.

But as a rule of thumb, if a dog scores 3 out of 5 on TULIP, he's probably heavenbound–although the secret decree, being oh-so secretive–it's hard to say in advance.

At February 01, 2010 2:11 PM , steve said...

For a thorough treatment of this question, consult Spuds MacKenzie's Reformed Dog Matics.

At February 03, 2010 8:03 AM , steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"Don't all dogs accept the Doctrines Of Grace?"

As a rule, dog-matic affiliation breaks down along the following lines:

Afghan – Muslim
Bluetick Coonhound – Southern Baptist
Borzoi – Russian Orthodox
Boston Terrier – Catholic
Canaan Dog – Hassidic
Carpathian Shepherd Dog – Goth
Chihuahua – Catholic
Chow Chow – Buddhist
Dachshund – Lutheran
Doberman – National Socialist
Dorset Olde Tyme Bulldogge – Methodist
Great Dane – Lutheran
Irish Setter – Catholic
Kai Ken – Shinto
Karakachan – Bulgarian Orthodox
Löwchen – Catholic
Neapolitan Mastiff – Catholic
Poodle – Existentialist
Rampur Hound – Hindu
Skye Terrier – Presbyterian
St. Bernard Dog – Calvinist
Sussex Spaniel – Anglican
Welsh Terrier – Calvinist-Methodist
Wetterhoun – Calvinist

The Development Of The Canon (Part 4)

In response to my comment that "We already have good reason to accept the Biblical documents", Dave Armstrong wrote:

Yes; because the Catholic Church gave them her stamp of approval and orthodoxy.

The first alleged infallible ruling on the canon, by Catholic standards, occurred in the sixteenth century at the Council of Trent. Did nobody have good reason to accept the Biblical documents earlier? See my article here, in which I document the fact that ancient Christians referred to their confidence in the Divine inspiration of Biblical documents long before the Council of Trent, often for the same sort of evidential reasons I've cited in support of those documents. See here regarding the ancient use of the canonical criterion of apostolicity, which doesn't require a "stamp of approval" from Dave's denomination.

In another article, in response to my comment that Eusebius' rejection of 2 Peter doesn't represent a rejection of the book by a majority of Christians, Dave wrote:

Jason the amateur historian says this. But F. F. Bruce, the credentialed Protestant Bible scholar, cites Eusebius about 2 Peter and appears to differ:

We may think, for example, of the widespread hesitation in accepting 2 Peter .[Cf. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3. 3. 1: "But the so-called second epistle [of Peter] we have not received as canonical . . ." ]

(The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1988, 263)

There was considerable hesitation about 2 Peter, but by the time of Athanasius it was no longer a disputed book in the Alexandrian church or in western Christendom.

(Ibid., 259)

The most disputed of all the disputed books of the New Testament is probably 2 Peter . . .

(Ibid., 251)

Origen is the earliest Christian writer to mention 2 Peter; it does not appear to have been known much before his day. [footnote: Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6. 25. 8]

(Ibid., 193)

The only comment Dave has cited from Bruce that seems specific enough to qualify as a disagreement with my position is the last passage he cites. But none of the evidence Bruce mentions leads to his conclusion. Bruce cites what Origen said about the disputed nature of 2 Peter. But, as I've argued elsewhere, Origen himself accepted 2 Peter as scripture, and the passage Bruce cites in Eusebius doesn't specify how widespread the doubts about the book were. Given how widely accepted 2 Peter was in the fourth century, a majority acceptance of the book earlier makes more sense of its later status. I'm not aware of any obstacle to that conclusion in the evidence we have from the earlier sources. Eusebius classifies 2 Peter as one of the books that's disputed, but "known to most ecclesiastical writers" (Church History, 3:25:6), and he's including earlier generations in his analysis. He's not just referring to his own generation.

Thomas Schreiner writes:

"Origen noted that some doubted the authenticity of 2 Peter (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.25.11), but in his own writings he cited it six times, and we can conclude from this that the doubts of others were not compelling to him. It is also likely that Irenaeus knew and used 2 Peter...The evidence is disputed, but it seems likely that Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on 2 Peter (Hist. eccl. 6.14.1). Such a commentary would indicate a high estimation of the letter and would cast doubt on a late forgery since it is unlikely that Clement would have no information about its pseudonymity if the letter were written in the second century....It is also quite likely that Apocalypse of Peter was dependent upon 2 Peter. If so, 2 Peter was in circulation in the early part of the second century." (1, 2 Peter, Jude: The New American Commentary [Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman, 2003], p. 263)

Schreiner also cites other sources and goes into much more detail. 2 Peter does seem to have been widely known before the time of Origen. F.F. Bruce's conclusion is dubious. Dave hasn't given us any reason to agree with him.