Monday, July 09, 2012

“Direct evidence” and “Keys of the Kingdom” in Context

My interlocutors at Called to Communion have been challenging me on “direct evidence”, suggesting that their “interpretations” of Matthew 16:19, for example, are exactly what Matthew meant, and that the things I am suggesting represent merely “fallible human opinion”.

In this comment, my intention is to show that the situation they present is not what it appears to be, and is, in fact, precisely the opposite of what they say it is.

Andrew Presslar (#442):

while the two of you appear to be in agreement on his central point; i.e., that the Protestant IP yields only interpretive opinions, not conclusions for which the assent of faith is warranted, you are not agreed on the significance of this point.

First off, some folks here use the phrase “binding and loosing” as if Christ, at Matthew 16 and 18, gave “the Roman Catholic Church” some power to “bind consciences” in the form of “dogma”. But this is not the slam-dunk you think it is, and in fact, in the spirit of “words mean things”, let’s look at the words.

It should be noted that, temporally, the events described in Acts and in Paul’s letters occurred [in time], that is, before Matthew wrote his gospel. And so if we assume Matthew is the Apostle Matthew (and I’m not going to argue against that assumption), we can assume at least that Matthew was (a) present for Jesus’s teaching, (b) aware of the intervening history, and (c) addressing some present audience in some situation (in the 60’s AD).

He is writing his Gospel. As a person who is literate and who is going to write, he is aware of other “biographies” that are written about other founding figures of philosophical schools, “something like a charter document which can provide definition for the movement involved and provide a point of entry for those who might wish to align themselves with the movement” (Nolland Commentary on Matthew, 19). Given the technology involved (i.e., quills and parchments”), he knows this is a major undertaking. He has done some research to know, for example, the genealogy he recounts at the beginning of the Gospel. He is aware of Jesus’s preaching about the Kingdom of heaven. He himself became a follower. He experienced Jesus’s teaching first-hand. He saw the events in Jerusalem; he may have seen the crucifixion. He definitely saw the Risen Lord. He was present at Pentecost. He was an eyewitness to Peter’s first sermon, and likely the events at least through Acts 8:1. He likely, too, was around for the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10), Peter’s arrest and release in Acts 12.

We know he was very careful in the writing of his Gospel. Nolland notes, “the complexity of the patterns of cross reference within the Gospel itself reveal themselves only to those who give patient and repeated attention to the text. Matthew seems to have understood himself to be creating a foundational text to which people would feel the need to return again and again”.

The Gospel of Matthew is, in itself, a literary masterpiece of the ancient world.

The major issue of that time was the admission of the gentiles into the church, and how that was to be accomplished. Nolland writes:

Matthew tells the story of Jesus, but he writes for a situation in the early church which belongs after the death and resurrection that brought Jesus’ ministry to an end. The disciples of Matthew’s day do not live directly within the story of Jesus. There are, necessarily, adjustments involved in moving from the one situation to the other. For the new situation Matthew wants to emphasize that what was gained with the presence of Jesus is not lost. The Twelve are authorized and empowered to replicate Jesus’ preaching and therapeutic ministry. Peter as their leader will have in his hand the keys of the kingdom, and along with other disciples he will be in a position to bind and loose: to prohibit and command in a manner that is backed by God himself. Only in Matthew of the Gospels does Jesus directly anticipate the (postresurrection) formation of a church with its corporate life; otherwise only the structured life of the Twelve anticipates this future. And Jesus promises to continue to be with the disciples in their corporate life and in their mission to all nations (pg 43)

At this point in the life of the early church (and the apostles), the admission of the Gentiles into the church was a far more important issue than the creation of dogmas. Matthew does not introduce the concept of “binding and loosing” to be applied to the creation of dogmas many years down the road. “Binding and loosing” had a very specific meaning; “the kingdom of heaven” had a very specific meaning. It is a major event – the major event of the times – that the admission of the Gentiles to the very Jewish (at the time) church, is the breaching of a major barrier. Matthew is telling his largely Jewish audience that, in “the church that Christ founded”, Peter has the authority to let “the nations” (i.e. “the Gentiles”) into the Kingdom.

We know this is the issue that is going on at the time, because (as Scripture interprets Scripture), it is cross-referenced all through Acts and Paul’s letters. Consider Ephesians 2:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh) the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility [between Jews and Gentiles] (Eph 2:11-16).

In commenting on this text, Harold Hoehner writes:

“The prepositional phrase ‘in his flesh’ refers to the crucified Christ and is parallel with the phrase ‘”by the blood of Christ’ in verse 13 and ‘through the cross’ in verse 16…It was only in his flesh that the law was rendered inoperative. It shows the locale of this accomplishment.” (374)

“In the present context kainos (“new”, v. 15) is used to show that Christ has created a whole new person entirely different from the two former persons, namely, Jews and Gentiles. It is not that Gentiles become Jews as Gentile proselytes did in pre-NT times, nor that Jews become Gentiles, but both become “one new person” or “one new humanity,” a third entity” (378-379).

“The new corporate person, who is called “one body” in verse 16, refers to the church…Later in 4:13, Paul does picture the two groups, Jews and Gentiles, as a single individual of a mature person… [The phrase “the fullness of Christ” in this verse means “maturity,” a concept which is also found in other places in the New Testament, notably Hebrews 6.] This is a new body of Christians who make up the church. This creates unity among believers in the church, for they are in Christ. It is this community to which Jesus made reference when he said to Peter, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18)” (379-380).

The “keys of the kingdom”, and the effect of “binding and loosing” referred to this phenomenon. They have a specific meaning at a specific time, for the accomplishing of specific events.

In the world of “direct evidence”, who here thinks that Matthew, writing these words, talking of Peter’s role, and Peter’s acts, has in mind the specific situation that is talked about here, in his lifetime? And who can imagine, when one has in mind the specific acts here, that some promise of some future authority to create dogmas is just mere speculation?

How can Matthew possibly have in mind the kinds of things you are talking about, as here:

Thus, Mike points out that (paraphrasing): without an interpretive authority that is protected from teaching error when definitively stating the locus and meaning of divine revelation, every definitive statement about the (complete) locus and (synthetic) meaning of divine revelation would be only an interpretive opinion.

Matthew is talking about the specific events of his lifetime – the coming together of Jews and Gentiles in “the church that Christ founded”, and you are the one actually who is speculating about some future “interpretive authority that is protected from teaching error”.

As Nolland “fallibly” relates, “the present keys imagery has as its starting point the need for the gates of the kingdom of heaven to be opened if people are to find entry”. And of course, this is a leading Protestant interpretation. Peter used the keys to admit the Gentiles into the Kingdom of heaven.

Does it make sense to say that Matthew is working to solve some present conflict in the church (i.e., admitting the Gentiles for the first time)? How then do these words (as you’ve alluded) have anything at all to do with “the Magisterium”?

You do not dispute the point, but proceed to offer a bevy of interpretive opinions (often by proxy) about revealed matters, e.g., the nature of the Church, the nature of God.

What I’ve offered here, in this comment, is far more consonant with what the Scriptures say; and what Rome offers about these verses somehow bolstering its authority, is what’s speculative.

the reason that you are inclined, on occasion, to speak in that way is simple: The topic at hand is divine revelation, and to treat that revelation, as to its locus and meaning, as though it were a matter of mere human opinion would be at least as incongruous as an unauthorized, fallible interpreter setting himself up as the oracle of God to the Church. But that is precisely what you, the unauthorized, fallible interpreter, have to do in order to propound your interpretive opinions as something that calls for the assent of faith (“thus saith the Lord”), the latter being precisely the response that we know we should have to the doctrinal content of the word of God.

Look at the “method” that I have employed in this comment. The actual words that are used draw their meaning from the historical context in which they are written. Is there some medieval style “fourfold meaning” to the text? If there is, that “meaning” is totally disconnected from the historical context in which they are written. If there is some connection between what Matthew is writing and “the Magisterium”, it is merely allegorical interpretation. It cannot be exegeted from the text.

You are waxing lyrical about “the locus and meaning” of “divine revelation”, and my own supposed fallibility, but given all the emphasis that’s put on “direct evidence” who, really, is dealing more directly with the evidence in the text here?

Keep in mind the paradigm of Acts 2: we are (Peter is) reporting on events that you have seen with your own eyes. Scripture itself provides the interpretation of these acts of God in history.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    The Achilles heel of any Roman Catholic who attempts to offer an "interpretation" of Scripture is that their interpretation MUST conform to the "unanimous consent of the Fathers."

    Trent put it this way:

    Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,—in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, —wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,—whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,—hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.

    Pope Pius IV went so far as to make the matter part of a creed which every Roman Catholic must uphold, de fide.

    So when any RC offers to give you an interpretation of Matthew 16:19, or anything else, the question is, "Did all the Fathers interpret the passage this way?"

    Of course, unanimous consent is a vapor and the supposed doctrines built thereon are a chimera.