Saturday, August 04, 2012

51 Biblical Proofs Of A Pauline Papacy And Ephesian Primacy

In a recent thread, ANNOYED PINOY asked me to repost something I wrote almost a decade ago. It was a list of 51 Biblical proofs of a Pauline papacy and Ephesian primacy. I wrote it in response to a Roman Catholic apologist's list of 50 alleged Biblical proofs of a Petrine papacy. Some of the items in my list are meant to parallel items in that Catholic's list. For example, he cited the performance of a miracle through Peter's shadow (Acts 5:15) as evidence of Petrine primacy. I paralleled that with a citation of Acts 19:11-12 as evidence of Pauline primacy. I don't actually think a Pauline papacy is implied by Acts 19 or any other passage I cite below. What I was doing was demonstrating how the same sort of bad reasoning that Catholics often apply to Peter can be cited to justify similar conclusions about other Biblical figures, like Paul.
Catholics can't object to my list by pointing to post-Biblical evidence for a Petrine papacy, since the issue under discussion is whether the Biblical evidence supports a papacy. Nobody denies that a Petrine papacy eventually developed in Rome. The question in this context is whether that papacy was just a later development or is a teaching of the scriptures as well. If Ephesus had been the capital of the Roman empire and had possessed other advantages the Roman church had, and the Ephesian church had gradually become more and more prominent, the bishops of Ephesus could have claimed that the Bible teaches a Pauline (or Johannine) primacy. In fact, in other places I've noted early patristic material that could be cited in support of an Ephesian primacy.
My list loses some of its force when removed from its original context. But I think it's mostly understandable, even without much knowledge of the background that led me to write what I did. Here are the 51 Biblical proofs of a Pauline papacy and Ephesian primacy, using popular Catholic reasoning:


The Peter narrative

And as history and Tradition show – the Peter narrative continuing and culminating at Rome – the Petrine texts in Sacred Scripture, along with Clement’s epistle, point to a peculiar authority vested in the Church at Rome.

Of course, there are other continuously evolving narratives in post-apostolic tradition. We even have a term for that: legendary embellishment. Take the development of the Simon Magus narrative. For instance:

The volume discusses the post-New Testament Simon Magus from the era of the Church Fathers beginning with Justin Martyr to the early modern era represented in a seventeenth century Baroque relief in the Cathedral of Oviedo, Spain. Sources consulted are artistic, theological texts, historical chronicles, sermons, hagiographies, vernacular literatures, biblical commentaries, and heresiologies. Topics explored are: Traditions and Historiography; Types of Simon Magus in Anti-Gnostic sources; a comparison of the Acts of Peter and the Passions of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul; Jerome and Vincent of Lérins on Simon Magus; the Nicolaitian heresy; the Fall of Simon Magus in the Church Fathers; Simon Magus, Dogs, and Simon Peter; Simon Magus in Irish and English medieval legends; Simon Magus, Nicolas of Antioch, and Muhammad; Vincent Ferrer and the canonical and apocryphal Simon Magus; Simon Magus in the Cathedral of León, Spain; Simon Magus in the Cathedral of Oviedo

So that’s fatal a weakness in the theory of development. Historicized legends. Baptizing creative imagination.

Scrambled eggheads

Demagoguery vs an honest hermeneutic

Andrew Presslar 878:

It seems to me, based on the correlation with Matthew 16, that Isaiah 22:25 refers to the downfall of the house of Israel (according to the flesh).

It seems to me, based on the correlation with Matthew 16, that if Isaiah 22:22 is talking about Peter, then what really is the conclusion of the prophecy in Isaiah 22 (that the peg is cut off) is also about Peter.

The rock upon which the Church is built cannot be broken and cast down, per Our Lord’s power and promise.

Christ, of course, is the Rock. God is the Rock throughout the Old Testament; Christ is the Rock in 1 Corinthians 10. Peter is not “Rocky” according to all the commentaries. Of a rocky substance, and perhaps the first rock in the foundation of the church.

If you were familiar with what New Testament commentaries were saying, you would know that Matthew works in various kinds of “parallelisms”. (See Dale Allison, “Studies in Matthew”, pg 210, for example).

Note that in Matthew 11:11 ff, Jesus says of John the Baptist, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”. Jesus is preaching the Kingdom; given that the church is not the kingdom, but rather, “the church witnesses to the kingdom”, Peter’s position as “Rocky” and one of the foundation stones (Eph 2:20, the very concept “church”, “the one new man” you rejected from my comment 875 above), Matt 16:18 is really saying to Peter, “you are rocky, a foundation stone, along with the rest of the apostles and prophets, of the church I will build”.

In other words, while John the Baptist is the last and the greatest of the Old Covenant, Peter is the first among New Covenant.

Christ himself is the cornerstone, however, and Christ himself “builds”.

The remainder of what you say in that comment depends upon an inadequate understanding of the New Covenant as the fulfillment of the Old.

My “understanding of the New Covenant as fulfillment of the Old” has the advantage of corresponding with biblical understandings of the covenant since the Reformation. Of course, I reject your notion that the Roman Catholic Church is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. But that seems to be your only criticism of what I’ve said. Aside from that, do you have any other reasons why my understanding is “inadequate”?

The remainder of the comment repeats your faulty analysis regarding Peter’s being “cut off,” and overlooks the fact that the ongoing Petrine ministry of binding and loosing has precisely the effect of enabling the thirsty to drink the liquor of knowledge–the Petrine charism prominently features the charge and corresponding authority to confirm the faith of the brethren.

You are referring to Luke 22:32, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” There is nothing unique about Peter’s “authority” or “charism”. And you are at a loss to actually describe these using Biblical terms.

The Greek word “στήρισον” (“strengthen”) is used elsewhere in a number of places in the NT of the charge of other Christians to strengthen one another in their faith amid persecution and temptation (including 1 Thess 3:2, 3:13, 1 Peter 5:10, Acts 14:22, 15:32, 15:41).

Peter’s sin of denial is extremely serious. Jesus’s prayer for him is a rehabilitation and a restoration to the norm, it is no call to any higher “authority” or “charism”.

Again, the interpretation I have given here is consonant with the text. It does not “read back” later concepts which are not really there, as your Roman Catholic hermeneutic so often does. My “interpretation” relies on the text, and doesn’t try to make the text say something it doesn’t say.

In fact, you are so quick to use this verse to show somehow “the wonders of Peter”, that you completely miss the whole context of what is happening here, in this verse, and that is, the power of Satan is broken.

* * *

I doubt that too many people are watching, but if you are out there, Jason Stellman, what you see here is a very fine contrast between the “Scripture-as-wax-nose” effect of the “Catholic IP”, vs what an actual reading of the text, to understand what the text says, really looks like.

Evil and the burden of proof

You can accept the extension of the category "evil" to be whatever theists want. It appears to follow from essential theistic claims--that God, is the omnipotent, omniscient, creator--that evils exist only if permitted by God. It also appears to follow from the further tenet that God is perfectly good, that he will permit an evil only if he has a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. Consequently, every actual evil, i.e. every evil that God permits, is such that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. But what possible grounds could anyone have for holding that for every actual evil E God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting E? No theodicist claims to be able to account for every evil, but only to give some justification for broad categories of evil. Yet a single actual instance of gratuitous evil, i.e. evil for which God would not have a morally sufficient reason, is incompatible with the existence of God. Theists must therefore have some basis for confidence that there is no gratuitous evil. What could that basis be? I suspect (sigh) that, in the end (sigh) it will come down once again to the "F" word: Faith.

Parsons is illicitly shifting the burden of proof. Since the argument from evil is an argument which an atheist deploys to disprove God, the onus doesn’t lie on the theist to prove that no instance of evil is gratuitous; rather, the onus lies on the atheist to prove that some instance of evil is gratuitous.

JoePa and Chick-fil-A

What do Joe Paterno and Chick-fil-A have in common? Well, nothing directly, but there’s a roundable connection.

On the one hand, liberals are indignant over Chick-fil-A’s allegedly “homophobic,” “anti-gay” viewpoint. Customers who support Chick-fil-A are “haters.”

On the other hand, JoePa’s reputation is forever tarnished. Why? Because he knew that one of his assistant coaches was molesting boys, but failed to fire him or notify the authorities.

I expect that many of the same people who demonize Chick-fil-A are outraged by JoePa. But here’s the catch: the Penn State scandal is a homosexual scandal. And it’s a familiar narrative we’ve seen play out many times before. Put a homosexual man in a position of authority over younger males, and guess what happens? Homosexuality is the common denominator in the Catholic sex scandal. Homosexual priests molesting underage boys. See a pattern?

If they had their way, liberals would turn Chick-fil-A, and every other business and social institution, into another Penn State. Another homosexual molestation scandal just waiting to happen.

Opponents of Chick-fil-A are half right: hatred is a factor in this controversy. The liberals touting equal rights (often special rights) for homosexuals are child-haters. They empower homosexuals to molest minors.  

Circuit breaker

Andrew Preslar said,
But I was referring to the visibility of the hierarchy by means of the tactile succession.

Tactile succession is a very mechanistic model of sacramental grace (e.g. the grace of holy orders). Catholicism reduces the grace of God to an electrical current which must run along a continuous circuit or wire. If there’s a break in the circuit, the Holy Spirit can’t jump the break. Everything below the break is a dead line.


Notice how that trammels God, as if God’s grace is wired. God can’t act outside the circuitry. This is similar to Deism and Spinozism, which disallows miraculous interruptions in the uniformity of nature.


Compare this to Pauline ecclesiology:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor 12:4-11).
Notice on Paul’s view that God’s grace operates at the discretion of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t confined to the wiring, where you flip a switch to turn it on or turn it off. God’s grace is wireless.

Peter, unity, and the “proper exercise of the keys” in Acts

Andrew Presslar 784:

As others have noted, the binding and loosing referred to in Matthew 16 almost certainly refers to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant community of God (though as still others have had occasion to note it is even more certain that the proper exercise of the keys is not limited to this). Understanding Isaiah 22 by Matthew 16 (the old being fulfilled in the new), the deposed Sobna corresponds to the Jewish hierarchy, while the power given to Eliakim (signified by vestments and the bestowing of the key of the house of David) corresponds to the establishment of the Christian hierarchy–the office of the papacy in particular.

This expectation that “the power given to Eliakim (signified by vestments and the bestowing of the key of the house of David) corresponds to the establishment of the Christian hierarchy–the office of the papacy in particular” is hogwash, as I’ve shown both from this very passage you quote (“it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken”), and from Peter’s clearly analogous “first” in the 12 Tribes of Israel “Reuben … my firstborn, … the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power, you are unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence”

You rightly note that “the binding and loosing referred to in Matthew 16 almost certainly refers to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant community of God”, but as you say, “it is even more certain that the proper exercise of the keys is not limited to this”.

Jesus himself notes what “the proper exercise of the keys” in the gospels:

Luke 11:52: Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

Marshall notes of this verse: “The scribes have taken away the key of knowledge. They thus prevent other people entering in. The key consists of the knowledge of God and leads to knowledge of God”. In language that refers to “the key that leads to knowledge” of God or salvation, this parallels 1QH 4:11, “And they stopped the thirsty from drinking the liquor of knowledge’, in a context that makes it clear that Torah is meant’. …” Thus, “in and by God’s revelation he himself is known”.

In Matthew 23:13 the keys are “implicit” in a parallel verse: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Thus, Peter, in “the proper exercise of the keys”, is to enable “the thirsty” to “drink the liquor of knowledge”, of the knowledge of God “Torah”, – because “in and by God’s revelation he himself is known”.

By the very words of Christ we have what is “the proper exercise of the keys” – it is the very thing that Peter has done, in opening the Torah first to the Jews (Acts 2), then to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11).

Following that function, he is “cut off” in the book of Acts. This is “the proper exercise of the keys”, and the completion of it is shown, again, in “Scripture alone”. And it is fitting, because this represents the “completeness” of his mission. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, [not “the Church is our peace”] who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace [between Jews and Gentiles] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

This is “church unity” spoken of by Christ. Here, “in himself, one new man in place of the two” (instead of “Jews and Gentiles”, there is “one new man”, the church), ontologically complete, reconciled in one body through the cross.

No notion of a “successor of Peter” anywhere in the Old Testament

In fact, in the proof text that Roman Catholics use, one Old Testament figure of Peter is cut off; the other is “unstable as water” and “shall not have preeminence”.

Andrew Presslar 784:

Some here have asked for a summary of the case for the institution of the papacy, understood as the Petrine ministry perpetuated in the Church by means of an office established by Christ: The biblical basis for this understanding is quite clear: Our Lord’s words recorded in Matthew 16:18-19, like so much of his teaching, draws from the Scriptures of the Old Covenant, in this case Isaiah 22:15-25, in which a faithless minister is deposed, and a new steward is established as a “peg in a sure place.”

You cite all of this as if it were quite self-evident, but there are terrible flaws merely in this portion of what you cite.

You cite Isaiah 22:15-25, in which it is “quite clear” that Peter is the “peg in a sure place”, but you fail to mention the very important conclusion of that passage: “In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.”

If you want to suggest that Old Testament prophecies point to the Roman Catholic Church, your “Tradition” surely has an odd way of leaving out the most important things.

The subsequent historical record demonstrates (after the manner of historical demonstration) that from Jerusalem and Antioch Peter went to Rome and fulfilled his ministry there, to the point of martyrdom.

In reality, (and Luke recognizes this reality), Peter is “cut off”, and quite abruptly in Acts. He is never seen again after Acts 15.

But if you are looking for a more apt Old Testament parallel to Peter, see Reuben (Gen 49:2-3). The CCC says “Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him.”

This is no mere “typological” identification of Peter with Reuben. The parallel is very clear. The clear implication is that the 12 tribes of Israel were the “foundation” of Israel, and the twelve Apostles were the foundation of the Church. They are placed together in Rev 4:10, “the twenty-four elders”. These are clearly (and not merely implicitly) being equated.

But just as the “peg in the secure place” gives way, is cut down, and falls, so too, Reuben, according to Jacob, “my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power” he is “Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence”.

These biblical prophecies, some of which you cite favorably, actually speak very strongly against any notions of “perpetuation” or “office” or “succession”, especially with respect to Peter.

Friday, August 03, 2012

The atheist movement

In other words, the most likely course for atheism in the US is that it will remain a marginal preoccupation among well-off curmudgeonly white males.

The Most Interesting Man In The World

The anonymous "TurretinFan"—yes, the guy who refuses to face those he (or she) constantly accuses of biblical and/or moral crimes.

This allegation naturally piqued my curiosity, so I put my private investigators on the elusive trail of Turretinfan. As it turns out, TurretinFan has indeed shown his face on many occasions:

Hope and change

"Moral Bioenhancement"

Disenfranshising our soldiers

Losing the argument from evil

You can accept the extension of the category "evil" to be whatever theists want. It appears to follow from essential theistic claims--that God, is the omnipotent, omniscient, creator--that evils exist only if permitted by God. It also appears to follow from the further tenet that God is perfectly good, that he will permit an evil only if he has a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. Consequently, every actual evil, i.e. every evil that God permits, is such that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. But what possible grounds could anyone have for holding that for every actual evil E God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting E? No theodicist claims to be able to account for every evil, but only to give some justification for broad categories of evil. Yet a single actual instance of gratuitous evil, i.e. evil for which God would not have a morally sufficient reason, is incompatible with the existence of God. Theists must therefore have some basis for confidence that there is no gratuitous evil. What could that basis be? I suspect (sigh) that, in the end (sigh) it will come down once again to the "F" word: Faith.

Several basic problems:

i) Atheists often cite examples which they deem to be evil. For example, they cite divine commands or divine actions in Scripture that they (the atheist) deem to be evil. So that's not defining evil to be whatever theists deem to be evil.

ii) Aren't there theists like Peter van Inwagen and Mike Almeida who think gratuitous evil is compatible with God's existence?

iii) It's misleading to suggest that every single instance of evil requires a separate explanation, for every evil ultimately has a single ultimate cause in the will of God. So don't we just need a general explanation for our belief in God's goodness and wisdom? Indeed, isn't that in fact premised in the argument from evil ("God is perfectly good").

"Papacy Roundup"

Jason J. Stellman said,
August 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm
Here’re CTC’s arguments for succession and the papacy:

Papacy Roundup
Aug 2nd, 2012 | By David Anders | Category: Blog Posts
There has been a great deal of discussion at CTC about the rational superiority of the Catholic interpretive paradigm  over the Protestant interpretive paradigm. As Michael Liccione, and others, have pointed out, Protestantism has no principled way to differentiate dogma from theological opinion – no coherent way even to identify the contours of Christian doctrine – that does not reduce to question begging or subjectivism. Catholicism, by contrast, posits an objective way to draw such distinctions.

But the logic and coherence of a system does not make it true. It is also important to recognize that there are objective, biblical, and historical grounds for finding the Catholic claims credible. (Whereas the biblical and historical case for Protestantism is weak and contradictory.)  Catholics refer to these evidences collectively as The Motives of Credibilty. This evidence is not sufficient to compel the assent of faith. (It wouldn’t be faith, then, it would be knowledge.) But it is sufficient to show that the assent of faith (aided by divine grace) is rational.
We have treated some of this evidence – especially for the divine foundation of the Church and Papacy – before. What follows is a brief roundup of some of those articles.
Christ founded a visible Church and Magisterium

    That Christ founded a visible Church
    That Christ founded holy orders and established a sacrificial priesthood
    That Christ established a Magisterium in the Church
    St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church
    St. John Chrysostom on the Priesthood

The Papacy in Scripture and History:

    That Peter is the Rock of Matthew 16:18
    That the New Testament ascribes Primacy to Peter
    The witness of history on Petrine/Roman Primacy
    St. Vincent of Lerins on the Magisterium
    St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome
    St. Cyprian on the Unity of the Church

The witness of history against key Protestant doctrines

    The witness of history against Sola Fide
    The witness of history against “primitivism” and the claim to have “recovered” the Gospel.
    The witness of history on baptismal regeneration
    St. Augustine on Law and Grace
    St. Clement of Rome on soteriology and ecclesiology

To go no further, doesn't this impale them on the horns of their own dilemma? In assessing the "objective, biblical and historical grounds" for the papacy, is the Catholic apologist using the Catholic interpretive paradigm or not?

If, on the one hand, he can assess the biblical and historical evidence without recourse to the Catholic paradigm, then it's not begging the question for Protestants to do the same thing.

If, on the other hand, he must use the Catholic paradigm to assess the biblical and historical evidence, then how does he establish the Catholic paradigm? He can't appeal to the papacy to validate his paradigm at this stage of the argument, for at this stage of the argument he's still making his case for the papacy.

So he needs an argument independent of the papacy to justify his Catholic paradigm. But that's self-contradictory, for it wouldn't be a Catholic paradigm apart from uniquely Catholic assumptions.

Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal died this week. A man of letters, he might be best known or best remembered for his quirky cameo role in Gattaca (as Director Josef), one of the better SF films.

He was cursed to have a certain amount a literary facility that fell short of greatness. Able, but lacking ultimate distinction. A second-rate talent competing for attention. Vidal was witty, but after a while the witticisms become a means without an end. And it's no fun to be an aging queen. So he became more bitter with the advancing years.

Vidal was a New Atheist before the New Atheism was fashionable. Time had passed him by. His caustic wit reminds one of Christopher Hitchens, but Vidal was more self-consciously patrician, which limited his popularity.

A defining feature of Vidal was his homosexuality. He despised his mother. It’s quite rare for men to hate their mothers. Many men have conflicted feelings about their fathers, but they normally love their mothers.

I don’t think the combination of homosexuality and filial loathing is coincidental. By the same token, I don’t think his homosexuality and his atheism is coincidental.

Vidal led a rather aimless existence. Many sodomites of his generation led double lives, with a wife and kids. But in the decadent social circles he frequented, among the literati and glitterati, he didn’t need to conceal his perversion. So his life lacked the structuring principle of a normal family.

For more on Vidal’s life and legacy:

Mars Curiosity Rover scheduled to land in two days

A guide to the landing.

Called to Superiority

There has been a great deal of discussion at CTC about the rational superiority of the Catholic interpretive paradigm over the Protestant interpretive paradigm. As Michael Liccione, and others, have pointed out, Protestantism has no principled way to differentiate dogma from theological opinion – no coherent way even to identify the contours of Christian doctrine – that does not reduce to question begging or subjectivism. Catholicism, by contrast, posits an objective way to draw such distinctions.

This has been offered up as "CTC’s arguments for succession and the papacy".

Turretinfan responded immediately.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Pope or antipope? Let's flip a coin

But the more I [Jason Stellman] read and wrestled, the more I began to see that Geneva was not being “confused with” Saddleback at all; the two were just different sides of the same coin (or to be more precise with the metaphor, they were sister-cities in the same Protestant county). Readers of this site have no need for the arguments to be rehearsed here, so suffice it to say that, philosophically speaking, it became clear to me that Sola Scriptura could not provide a way to speak meaningfully about the necessary distinction between orthodoxy and heresy (or even between essentials and non-essentials) [From his mysteriously deleted post at Called to Communion]

    Jason (539), you say that claims for the papacy are based on the Bible and history. So let’s say you’re living in Italy in 1390. You have a pope in Rome and one in Avignon (where seven legitimate popes had ministered for almost eight decades). So how does the Bible or history help you decide which pope to follow?

That’s a question better suited for a historian.

On the one hand Stellman says the papacy is necessary to be able to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy. On the other hand, Stellman says it’s unnecessary to be able to distinguish a true pope from an antipope. We can relegate that determination to the fallible judgment of church historians. (And for the record, even Catholic church historians admit that they can’t always say which claimant was the true claimant.)

That’s like saying it’s necessary to have an accurate ruler to make measurements, but unnecessary to know which ruler is accurate. The papacy is a necessity in the abstract, but the concrete question of knowing whether any particular claimant is the true successor to Peter is not necessary.

No Contradiction at All

Mercy: “But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14)

Justice: “It happened at midnight–the LORD [Christ] attacked all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the prison, and all the firstborn of the cattle.” (Exod 12:2)

Guided mutation

On the one hand you have liberal Bible scholars like Peter Enns who confidently tell us that science rules out the possibility that Adam and Eve were the first breeding pair for humans. On the other hand, you have a Darwinian atheist like Elliot Sober who argues for the possibility of guided mutation: “Evolutionary Theory, Causal Completeness, and Theism – the Case of ‘Guided’ Mutation” (available online). But on that model, couldn’t divinely guided genetic drift produce the necessary diversity?

Advice to Jeff Lowder

Jeff Lowder presumes to offer some “advice” to critics of the argument from evil.

The problem with Jeff’s advice is that I, for one, already addressed his “obvious rebuttal.” To repeat: if unbelievers who deploy the argument from evil don’t (or can’t) affirm objective moral values, then why are they arguing with Christians in the first place? Why do they think it’s important to disprove Christianity? Why do they think people should refrain from Christian belief? Why do they think people ought to be atheists?

As far as internal coherence goes, it is incoherent for moral relativists or nihilists to find Christianity objectionable. Maybe Jeff should stop giving unsolicited advice to Christians unless and until he’s prepared to acknowledge and address the obvious rebuttal to his obvious rebuttal.

Asking for directions


But the more I [Jason Stellman] read and wrestled, the more I began to see that Geneva was not being “confused with” Saddleback at all; the two were just different sides of the same coin (or to be more precise with the metaphor, they were sister-cities in the same Protestant county). Readers of this site have no need for the arguments to be rehearsed here, so suffice it to say that, philosophically speaking, it became clear to me that Sola Scriptura could not provide a way to speak meaningfully about the necessary distinction between orthodoxy and heresy (or even between essentials and non-essentials)

Compare that to this:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (Deut 13:1-5).

Isn’t that a meaningful way to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy?

What about this?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (1 John 4:1-3).

Isn’t that a meaningful way to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy?

Several NT epistles (e.g. Galatians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 John) were written with the express purpose of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy. Suppose Stellman was attending the church of Ephesus when John’s letter arrived by courier. After hearing the latter read aloud to the congregation, Stellman gets up and exclaims: “That’s not a meaningful way to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy!”

Stellman is like a man standing in front of fingerpost. There he stands, dumbfounded, with his back to the fingerpost, scratching his head and wondering where to go. Well, turn around!

If that’s not the answer he’s looking for, then he’s asking the wrong question. Right answer, wrong question.

Public and private miracles

This is a sequel to Jason’s post:

One objection of unbelievers is to assert that if God isn’t currently performing miracles like he reputably did in the Bible, then there’s no reason to believe in Biblical miracles, either.

For now I’d like to make one point: although the Bible contains many reported miracles, we need to distinguish between large-scale and small-scale miracles. Most biblical miracles are small-scale miracles. Likewise, many Biblical miracles are acts of divine mercy.

To take a few examples of each: the fate of Lot’s wife, Balaam’s talking donkey, God answering the prayer of Abraham’s servant, the burning bush, multiplying the widow’s oil and meal, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, raising the daughter of Jairus.

We only know about these miracles (and others like them) because the Bible records them. So even though the Bible contains many miracles, most of these are not on a scale that would normally leave a physical trace or leave a literary record.

And by the same token, we’d expect the same thing in church history. Most answered prayers are acts of divine mercy. God isn’t trying to prove himself to the world. Say a mother on a Nebraska farm in 1870 prays at the sickbed of her ailing teenage son, and God heals her son. That’s not going to make it into the record books. And most miracles will be of that nature. God answering the prayer of a desperate Christian, or arranging events in the “nick of time” to deliver a Christian in a bind.

That’s entirely consistent with Biblical priorities. Unbelievers create an artificial expectation, then pretend that what happens in the “real world” is at odds with what we’d expect if God exists. But that’s a straw man. Even in Scripture, most miracles are fairly private rather than public.

God and Propositions: The Saga Continues

First Clement vs the New Testament

A number of the comments at the Green Baggins thread on the Papacy have turned to “evidence in the second and third centuries”. I’ve written a number of things about 1 Clement over the last several years; I’ve cobbled together some of them and I’ve posted them as a series of comments over there.

In short, it seems to me that 1 Clement relies far more heavily on Roman and Greek cultural elements. He relies heavily on the Roman military as a model for church authority structure – but he is a “wanna-be”, he does not seem to have actual authority. His concept of “grace” as I’ve written, is borrowed more heavily from the Hellenistic understanding than the New Testament understanding. And in an effort to bring in elements from Judaism, he contradicts the writer of Hebrews.

* * *

Misdiagnosis And Healing Miracles

How many healing claims can be dismissed as cases of mistaken diagnosis? Even if illness A was mistaken for illness B by a doctor, not all evidence of an illness is of a medical nature. Often, the person suffering from the illness can notice bodily pains, diminishing of the usual capabilities of his body, etc. without something like an X-ray or doctor's diagnosis. If the symptoms noticed by the person with the illness end at the time of a prayer for healing, for example, then suggesting that illness A was mistaken for illness B doesn't, by itself, explain why the illness was cured in coordination with prayer. The argument for misdiagnosis would have to be accompanied by other arguments, such as an argument that the actual illness was one that could be cured psychosomatically and an argument that the person was in a condition to experience such a psychosomatic healing. Critics of the miracle in question should be expected to make a full case for their alternative scenario rather than merely making a case for misdiagnosis.

Craig Keener writes:

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A moral argument in favor of capitalism

The Wall Street Journal carried an article on Saturday that was designed to bolster the business-friendly sentiments among us. According to the author, Charles Murray, things have sunk badly, and “the principled case for capitalism must be made anew”.

I think this is worth a look.

in today's political climate, updating the case for capitalism requires a restatement of old truths in ways that Americans from across the political spectrum can accept. Here is my best effort:

The U.S. was created to foster human flourishing. The means to that end was the exercise of liberty in the pursuit of happiness. Capitalism is the economic expression of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, with happiness defined in the classic sense of justified and lasting satisfaction with life as a whole, depends on economic liberty every bit as much as it depends on other kinds of freedom.

"Lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole" is produced by a relatively small set of important achievements that we can rightly attribute to our own actions. Arthur Brooks, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, has usefully labeled such achievements "earned success." Earned success can arise from a successful marriage, children raised well, a valued place as a member of a community, or devotion to a faith. Earned success also arises from achievement in the economic realm, which is where capitalism comes in.

Earning a living for yourself and your family through your own efforts is the most elemental form of earned success. Successfully starting a business, no matter how small, is an act of creating something out of nothing that carries satisfactions far beyond those of the money it brings in. Finding work that not only pays the bills but that you enjoy is a crucially important resource for earned success.

Making a living, starting a business and finding work that you enjoy all depend on freedom to act in the economic realm. What government can do to help is establish the rule of law so that informed and voluntary trades can take place. More formally, government can vigorously enforce laws against the use of force, fraud and criminal collusion, and use tort law to hold people liable for harm they cause others.

Everything else the government does inherently restricts economic freedom to act in pursuit of earned success
. I am a libertarian and think that almost none of those restrictions are justified. But accepting the case for capitalism doesn't require you to be a libertarian. You are free to argue that certain government interventions are justified. You just need to acknowledge this truth: Every intervention that erects barriers to starting a business, makes it expensive to hire or fire employees, restricts entry into vocations, prescribes work conditions and facilities, or confiscates profits interferes with economic liberty and usually makes it more difficult for both employers and employees to earn success. You also don't need to be a libertarian to demand that any new intervention meet this burden of proof: It will accomplish something that tort law and enforcement of basic laws against force, fraud and collusion do not accomplish.

People with a wide range of political views can also acknowledge that these interventions do the most harm to individuals and small enterprises. Huge banks can, albeit at great expense, cope with the Dodd-Frank law's absurd regulatory burdens; many small banks cannot. Huge corporations can cope with the myriad rules issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and their state-level counterparts. The same rules can crush small businesses and individuals trying to start small businesses.

Finally, people with a wide range of political views can acknowledge that what has happened incrementally over the past half-century has led to a labyrinthine regulatory system, irrational liability law and a corrupt tax code. Sweeping simplifications and rationalizations of all these systems are possible in ways that even moderate Democrats could accept in a less polarized political environment.

To put it another way, it should be possible to revive a national consensus affirming that capitalism embraces the best and most essential things about American life; that freeing capitalism to do what it does best won't just create national wealth and reduce poverty, but expand the ability of Americans to achieve earned success—to pursue happiness.

Reviving that consensus also requires us to return to the vocabulary of virtue when we talk about capitalism. Personal integrity, a sense of seemliness and concern for those who depend on us are not "values" that are no better or worse than other values. Historically, they have been deeply embedded in the American version of capitalism. If it is necessary to remind the middle class and working class that the rich are not their enemies, it is equally necessary to remind the most successful among us that their obligations are not to be measured in terms of their tax bills. Their principled stewardship can nurture and restore our heritage of liberty. Their indifference to that heritage can destroy it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Choosing apostolic successors

Acts 1:15-26 - the first thing Peter does after Jesus ascends into heaven is implement apostolic succession. Matthias is ordained with full apostolic authority. Only the Catholic Church can demonstrate an unbroken apostolic lineage to the apostles in union with Peter through the sacrament of ordination and thereby claim to teach with Christ's own authority.

Three quick points:

i) If you compare this tendentious summary with what Acts 1:15-26 actually says, the Catholic apologist is clearly getting out of the text what he is putting into the text. Stuffing the ballot box.

ii) It’s noteworthy that Matthias disappears without a trace.

iii) But let’s assume for the sake of argument that choosing Matthias is the exemplar of apostolic succession. Compare Acts 1:15-26 with Universi Dominici Gregis (subsequently amended by Benedict XVI) and ask yourself if the rules for papal election match the alleged exemplar:

If the case of Matthias is the yardstick, then papal elections don’t measure up.

Conservative Judaism, Intellectually Untethered

Roundtable with Michael Licona on the Resurrection of Jesus

Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence

God Without Parts

James Anderson reviews God Without Parts by James Dolezal.

BTW, here's a video interview with Dolezal on his book:

Britain's NHS

"Britain's NHS: No Fun and Games"

HT: Steve.

Roundtable Discussion Of Matthew 27:52-53

Mike Licona writes:

"The 2012 summer issue of the Southeastern Theological Review includes a roundtable discussion on the interpretation of Matthew's raised saints I proposed in my book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010). The roundtable is combrised of six evangelical scholars who discuss the viability of my interpretation and whether it infringes on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Participants are Charles Quarles, Michael Kruger, Daniel Akin, Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan, Mike Licona. Norman Geisler declined an invitation to participate and Al Mohler was not able to. Critical essays of my book by Gary Habermas, Timothy McGrew, and C. Behan McCullagh and my response essay also appear in this issue but do not appear online. A hard copy of this issue may be purchased at The roundtable discussion may be read for free and may be viewed HERE."

The man with the muck-rake

BW3 praises the NHS in this post.

BTW, I have a lot of friends and family from the UK. I've lived and studied in the UK. I'm a bit of an Anglophile too. So I hope any remarks I make about the UK and NHS won't sound like an outsider criticizing someone's mom/mum or anything along those lines!

The Brits are fiercely proud of this.

I have to wonder why someone would be so "fiercely proud" of a gov't organization like the NHS? I'd be a bit perplexed if a fellow American told me he's "fiercely proud" of a gov't organization like, say, the IRS or FDA or Homeland Security. It just sounds strange to my ears. Maybe it's because I'm not from the UK.

And rightly so. A country can and should be judged by how it treats its least fortunate, weakest, and most vulnerable members of society. On that scale, America is a pretty selfish country.

1. Why should we judge a country by this standard? Should it be a country's purpose to help the least fortunate and weak and vulnerable? If so, in what sense and to what degree should they be judged? What about judging a nation by how it holds up against crime or national defense?

2. Related, don't private individuals and groups like churches and charities tend to do a better job helping the least fortunate in society than the gov't?

3. America is a country made up of Americans. From what I've read Americans are one of the most generous peoples in the world. I'm not talking simply about money either. I've read American conservatives including American evangelical Christians are especially generous. I think someone like Arthur C. Brooks has studied the matter.

4. Among the least fortunate and weak and vulnerable are infants in the womb. Although Roe v. Wade is current law, and although there's surely tremendous room for improvement, we also have a strong pro-life movement. Can the same be said about the UK?

It would rather have a universal right to have guns of all sorts than universal health care.

1. Why should health care and gun ownership be analogous to one another?

2. This assumes universal health care is a human "right" too. Is it?

3. Gun ownership (or perhaps the right to self-defense via guns) may or may not be a human right. But the right to bear arms is part of our Bill of Rights.

But let’s be clear its [the US health care system] patchwork and piecemeal compared to the British National Health.

1. I'm not exactly sure what BW3 means to imply by "patchwork and piecemeal."

2. But is the US health care system "patchwork and piecemeal compared to the British National Health"?

3. If it is, why should "patchwork" and "piecemeal" necessarily have negative connotations? On the one hand, I think the US health care system could be vastly improved. But on the other hand, I also think it may be good that we have such a diverse health care system. For example, a single centralized gov't entity can't dictate what doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can and can't do. So I think it's possibly a good thing to be "piecemeal" in this respect, if this is along the lines of what BW3 means by the term.

No, its [the NHS] not a perfect solution to health care problems…. but it’s way better than what we’ve got. I for one would gladly pay lots more in taxes if it meant we had a truly comprehensive healthcare system for everyone in this country. I just would.

I'm sorry to say but that's quite unreflective.

We could debate how best to make that happen, but not, I think, that it would be the most humane thing for it to happen.

1. Why assume the NHS or universal health care is "the most humane thing"? As mentioned above, this assumes universal health care is a basic human right. Is it?

2. BTW, I wonder what BW3 thinks about stuff like:

"Government Control Leads to Denial of Care"

"Patients are denied high cost drugs by NHS trusts"

"NHS waiting list rise prompts government U-turn"

2. A lot of people might have the idea that U.S. hospitals are almost entirely private, and that private entails for-profit (and that for-profit is bad at least when it comes to hospitals).

While it's true most our hospitals are private hospitals, private doesn't necessarily mean for-profit. Let's look at how the numbers breakdown. U.S. hospitals can be more or less divided into three broad categories: non-profit; for-profit; and public aka government. According to the American Hospital Association (2010), there are a total of 5754 hospitals across the nation. Non-profit hospitals number 2904 or approximately 50% of all hospitals. For-profit hospitals number 1013 or approximately 18% of all hospitals. Local and state public/government hospitals number 1068 and federal public/government hospitals number 213 or approximately 22% of all hospitals. (The remaining 556 hospitals or approximately 10% of all hospitals are miscellaneous types of hospitals including prison hospitals, college infirmaries, and most numerous of all psychiatric hospitals.) In short, only 18% of all U.S. hospitals are for-profit hospitals.

As noted, these numbers are based on the most recent AHA data (2010). As far as I can tell, the AHA numbers seem to be on the conservative end. However, other organizations appear to have different numbers. For example, a University of Pennsylvania affiliated source (2005) cites the number of non-profit hospitals as 70% (not 50%) of all U.S. hospitals and likewise claims this 70% has been stable for decades.

If I'm not mistaken, most the non-profit hospitals were originally founded by religious organizations - predominantly Christian but also Jewish.

Of course, in addition to our hospitals, we have other health care providers such as private specialty clinics (e.g. surgical centers). These very often regularly work in tandem with hospitals. Unfortunately, I don't know the numbers of these other health care providers and so I can't compare them to our hospital system.

I'm not sure if military hospitals, VA hospitals, and hospitals for Native Americans (i.e. the Indian Health Service) are included or excluded from the non-profit, for-profit, and public/government numbers.

3. Even if we assume the NHS is more or less on the right track or workable (not that I do assume this), what may work in other nations like the UK may not necessarily work in the US.

4. Anecdotally, here is what one commenter (who favors universal health care) said about the NHS:

I am an American who has married a British national in the UK and currently live in the UK. Because of multiple health situations in the family, we have had frequent use of the NHS health system. This has helped me appreciate the goal of the NHS: to make sure no one is left on their own, but to provide care even for the poorest.

On the flip side, it has helped me appreciate the high quality of care available in the US. The NHS is NOWHERE close to it. Service in the US is much quicker, high quality, and is not strapped by huge government debts and cutbacks. Even elderly people are released here in the middle of the night to free up beds – they are really cutting back. Hospitals are generally clean, but not fresh looking like US hospitals. Capitalism may not be very Christian in the way it motivates healthcare in the US and I would be interested in there being changes, but I haven’t been impressed enough by the NHS to want to switch to that system. I would be more interested in how places like Denmark, Sweden, or Germany are set up. I hear that they are better, but I have no experience of that like I do in the US the UK.

Is the church a "mixed multitude"?

Covenant theology does not draw the same Israel-church distinction. Even though there are differences between the two communities, they are basically the same in the following ways: they are both the one people of God; they experience a similar salvation experience including regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit; their covenant signs (circumcision and baptism), though different, basically convey the same meaning; and by nature they are a “mixed” community versus a regenerate community, so that the locus of the covenant community and the locus of the elect are distinct. This latter emphasis has led to the “visible” versus “invisible” distinction, with the former referring to the “mixed” nature of the church and the latter referring to the elect throughout all ages.

We [the authors] affirm that old covenant believers were regenerated and they were saved by grace through faith in the promises of God.

The church, unlike Israel, is new because she is comprised of a regenerate, believing people rather than a “mixed” group. The true members of the new covenant community are only those who have professed that they have entered into union with Christ by repentance and faith and are partakers of all the benefits and blessings of the new covenant. This is one of the primary reasons why we argue that baptism, which is the covenant sign of the new covenant church, is reserved for only those who have entered into these glorious realities by the sovereign work of God’s grace in their lives.

P. Gentry & S. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant, 684-85 (cf. 72-76).

i) That’s very idealistic, but I think the authors are drawing an unstable and unsustainable distinction. They have to qualify their distinction in ways parallel to the Presbyterian position they oppose.

ii) Seems to me that NT churches are conspicuously mixed communities. In Acts and various NT letters, we see churches, which include heretics, schismatics, apostates, and impenitent sinners or backsliders.

iii) I also see a pretty direct parallel between the old covenant community and the new covenant community at a compositional level. Both religious communities are largely composed of families. Both communities contain both true believers and nominal believers.

iv) The way the authors formulate their position is equivocal. For instance, they gloss over the crucial distinction between regenerate Christians and professing Christians. Likewise, they say baptism is “reserved for only those who have entered into these glorious realities by the sovereign work of God’s grace in their lives.”

But how, for instance, do Demas, Simon Magus, Ananias and Sapphira, or Hymenaeus and Philetus fit into that framework? They were (at one time) professing baptized believers.  Were they regenerate? Were they elect? Did or didn’t they belong to the “church” and/or the new covenant community? Were they “true” members? If not, then are the authors tacitly admitting a two-tiered membership scheme?

Kingdom through Covenant

Both on his own blog as well as the aomin blog, Jamin Hubner has posted a typically wide-eyed, gushy, hyperbolic paean–in this case for the new monograph by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum entitled Kingdom through Covenant. Permit me a few brief observations.

i) The way the authors frame the issue is somewhat misleading. This isn’t so much as alternative to dispensationalism and covenant theology as it is an alternative to dispensationalism and Presbyterianism of the Westminster Confession variety (or its Dutch-Reformed counterparts).

ii) Although the work tries to stake out the middle ground between these two positions, it doesn’t really break any new ground. Instead, it’s an extended defense of Reformed Baptist/new covenant theology, a la Tom Schreiner & D. A. Carson.

Now that’s a very respectable position which merits a careful and respectful hearing. And Kingdom through Covenant is an able, up-to-date exposition and defense of that position. Well worth reading.

But it doesn’t change the state of the debate. It’s a lengthy restatement of a familiar position, with familiar arguments. There’s nothing revolutionary about the thesis or the supporting arguments. We’ve been around this track a few times before. It’s only a game-changer for the uninitiated, or for highly impressionable minds like Hubner, who believe the last thing they’ve read.

At best, it nibbles some of the edges off dispensationalism, but astute dispensationalists are already well-acquainted with the stock objections the authors use, and have well-rehearsed replies. So the work is rather naïve in that respect.

iii) In addition, there are some serious and striking omissions. There’s precious little discussion of Rom 11, even though that’s a central prooftext for “Zionism.” The authors need to present a sustained engagement of that text in relation to commentators and other scholars who think it has reference to the future restoration of ethnic Israel.

The authors also fail to interact with the restoration of Israel motif in Luke-Acts, which scholars like Bock and Bauckham have detailed.

iv) The monograph also has an excellent defense of limited atonement (670-83).

v) Since I’m noncommittal on “Zionism,” I don’t have a personal stake in this debate. That said, I think many (maybe most) anti-Zionists are ultimately motivated by envy and resentment. They feel that God is treating Gentiles as second-class citizens, and they rankle at the demotion. Their attitude  reminds me of Mt 20:21,24-25, which–not coincidentally–comes on the heels of 20:1-16.

But I don’t think Christians should be status conscious. Isn’t it more than enough to be saved? To have the hope of glory?

Links: oldies but goodies

Here are a couple of “oldies but goodies” from my series on “the nonexistent early papacy”:

The Nonexistent Early Papacy: An introduction to the series, it highlights several of the actual contradictions to be found in Roman doctrine concerning the papacy.

As a “Key” to Understand Peter, See Reuben: Biblical, Old Testament “prophecy” that Peter was not ever destined to be “pope”.

Emperor Worship and the Ancient Roman Mindset: Here’s where Jason Stellman’s early church found its urge to be authoritative.

House Churches in Ancient Rome: It’s not enough simply to “tear down” something like the papacy. It’s important to “build” the history of what it was actually like during that time period. This series on “House Churches in Ancient Rome” discusses some of the leaders, and leadership structures, where we have solid information about that time period.

The Papacy’s Missing Link: “The Shepherd of Hermas” wrote in Rome in the years 135-150. He gives a fairly extensive first-hand account of what the church leadership in Rome was like. I’ll give you a hint, he uses these words: “sorcerers carry their drugs in bottles, but you carry your drug and poison in your heart”.

Rome is all about aggrandizing Rome: The “rise of the papacy” corresponds with a burying of Paul’s letters and theology in Rome.

Newman, “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic”, and Rome’s Foundational Assumption: The “fallback position” on the nonexistent early papacy.

On church “authority” as a harmful impulse

In the search for “hard edges” of doctrine, a writer named Burton asked me this question:

I assume you believe in the necessity of some means of defining orthodoxy versus heresy regarding doctrine and morals. Is this what you mean by the ministerial role of the church? How, exactly, does the church exercise this ministerial role?

Do you see a distinction between heresy and schism? If so, how does the church in its ministerial role define and correct schismatics?

Too, Jason Stellman talked about an early church that thought of itself as authoritative:

Catholics believe they discover in Scripture and the fathers a church that is said to be, and thought of itself as, authoritative.

Aside from the concept of how “a church” might “think”, of this church, Jason equivocates,

The woman at the well eventually concluded that Jesus was the Messiah. Once she discovered this fact, her responsibility was to submit to and obey him all her days, right? But her initial discovery of who Jesus was did not come because he simply claimed to be the Messiah, but rather, he “told her all the things she ever did” (in other words, the initial discovery resulted from something independent of any claim Jesus made about himself). But just because that discovery was made independently, that did not mean she could continue to subject everything Jesus said to her own rationality or interpretive agreement.

It’s similar with people who become Catholic (it’s not a perfect illustration, but it conveys the basic point). They weigh the biblical and historical evidence and make a judgment. But once that judgment is made, they are responsible to obey the church because of its divine authority.

In response to both of these, I said:

Certainly there is a means of “defining orthodoxy vs heresy” and in that regard, a council such as Nicea (325) or Constantinople (381) or Chalcedon (451) is very helpful. But I think that conceptions of “authority” that the churches of these centuries had was not very helpful at all. Ephesus (431) is counted as one of the “ecumenical” councils, and yet, it was an embarrassment and blot on the history of the church. That is being kind to it. Such shenanigans led to major rifts in the church that have never been healed.

In a similar vein, historically, the papacy is at the pinnacle of those harmful claims to authority.

I have a series I’ve written, both at Triablogue and elsewhere, called “the nonexistent early papacy”. I’ve put together this timeline of the early papacy, which is necessarily incomplete but very revealing nevertheless:

135-150 ad: the church at Rome is ruled by a plurality of presbyters who quarrel about status and honor. (Shepherd of Hermas). “They had a certain jealousy of one another over questions of preeminence and about some kind of distinction. But they are all fools to be jealous of one another regarding preeminence.”

Also note in Hermas: “Clement’s” “job” is to “send books abroad.” — Peter Lampe does not think this Clement is the same individual from 1 Clement, but the time frame is appropriate.

235: Hippolytus and Pontianus are exiled from Rome by the emperor “because of street fighting between their followers” (Collins citing Cerrato, Oxford 2002).

258: Cyprian (Carthage/west) and Firmilian (Caesarea/east) both go apoplectic when Stephen tries to exercise authority outside of Rome.

306: Rival “popes” exiled because of “violent clashes” (Collins)

308: Rival “popes” exiled because of “violent clashes” (Collins again).

325: Council of Nicea: Alexandria has authority over Egypt and Libya, just as “a similar custom exists with the Bishop of Rome.” The Bishop of Jerusalem is to be honored.

366: Followers of “pope” Damasus [hired gravediggers armed with pick-axes] massacre 137 followers of rival “pope” Ursinus following the election of both men to the papacy.

381: Constantinople: Because it is new Rome, the Bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome. (This indicates Rome’s “honour” is due to its being the capital.)

431: Cyril, “stole” the council (Moffett 174, citing “Book of Heraclides) and “the followers of Cyril went about in the city girt and armed with clubs … with yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely, raging with extravagant arrogance against those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings…”

451: Chalcedon, 28th canon, passed by the council at the 16th session, “The fathers rightly accorded prerogatives to the see of Older Rome, since that is an imperial city; moved by the same purpose the 150 most devout bishops apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of New Rome …”

Again and again, “they argued among themselves as to who was greatest”. This is the story of the struggle for “authority” in early Christianity. As Jason Stellman pointed out in comment 296, as he studied the early church, he “discover[ed] in Scripture and the fathers a church that is said to be, and thought of itself as, authoritative”. This is the fruit of that urge to think of themselves as authoritative.

As I’ve stated repeatedly in this comment thread, the Eastern church “never”, ever accepted the claims of the papacy.

You asked, “Do you see a distinction between heresy and schism? If so, how does the church in its ministerial role define and correct schismatics?”

On the basis of the things I’ve written above, I’m willing to say, I don’t have all the right answers, but I’m certain it excludes the Roman way.

Monday, July 30, 2012


The crime of kosher

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3  who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim 4:1-5).

The German court ruling that effectively criminalizes Judaism has gotten a lot of press. But that’s only the first step. Kosher food is in the crosshairs as well:

Today’s kosher meat comes from the same abusive factory farms as all other meat. Despite the humane intention and spirit of the Jewish dietary laws, there are no standards to ensure that kosher slaughter is any less cruel than conventional slaughter. In some instances, it’s been shown to be much worse.

In the face of horrifically cruel and ecologically devastating factory farms and a kosher industry that has sanctioned even the most grisly abuse of animals, it’s difficult to see how eating animals is compatible with Jewish values.

So it’s only a matter of time before they target Jewish delis.

Back in the 70s (I think it was) I used to frequent a Jewish deli in Lake City (Seattle). It was a father/son operation. The elderly proprietor had a lot of old world charm. That’s one reason I went there. After he suffered a heart attack I stopped going.

It only occurred to me years later that he was probably a Holocaust survivor. I’m sure most of his relatives perished in the death camps.

I’m not Jewish, but it’s often virtuous to defend others when we don’t have a personal stake in their wellbeing, viz. the parable of the Good Samaritan. 

Next up they will try to outlaw meat and dairy consumption. And they don’t have to do that directly. They can regulate it to death through red tape, fines, and lawsuits.

And that would violate Christian freedom. Although the Christian faith doesn’t have any dietary requirements, Christians have the right to eat meat and dairy products. 

First they came the brit milah,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a rabbi.

Then they came for the kosher delis,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the meat and dairy products,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a farmer.

Then they came after the pharmacists,
     and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a pharmacist.

Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.