Thursday, January 03, 2013

God is not some kind of loon

In response to my comment here, Michael Liccione said:

What you’ve done is interpret some biblical texts and present that as evidence that the Bible supports your interpretive paradigm (IP) over against the Catholic. Now I could reply by offering my own, Catholic interpretation of the texts you select. But I can find no good reason to so. For when the very question at issue is which IP, the conservative-Protestant or the Catholic, supplies a principled way to distinguish divine revelation from human theological opinion, neither of us can answer the question just by offering our own favored interpretation of selected biblical texts. You have interpreted, and I would be interpreting, the texts already in terms of our own respective IPs, which begs the question and gets us nowhere. So it is incumbent on anyone debating said question to argue, on grounds independent of the particular biblical interpretations he adopts, that his IP has a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinion, so that by deploying it, he at least has an argument that his particular interpretations are reliable expressions of divine revelation, not just opinions. But if you deny that you or anybody else enjoys the gift of infallibility, and thus admit that you could be wrong, you have no way of making that argument.

For several years now, I’ve been waiting for you to engage the essentially philosophical issue I’ve posed for you. If and when you do, our discussions might move forward.

I responded:

Your appeal to “philosophical issues” is an evasion, and your concept of “interpretive paradigm” is a subterfuge.

Here’s why.

Consider the world of math. Math has rules, and you can, if you make up your mind that you are going to be as honest as possible in your understanding of math, it won’t take you long to understand that 2+2=4. With a bit more work, you’ll find out that 9x9=81, and with not too much more difficulty, you can go to a smart guy and understand that a2xb2=c2 and someone may even be able to figure out the square root of a number like 5,237.

This is because we are talking about numbers, and numbers have properties that are constant, and they can be learned.

Keep in mind that God is a God who created math, with its properties unique to math.

Knowing what I do about math, it is very hard for me to imagine an “interpretive paradigm” (IP) in the universe that is going to make 2+2=5 a true statement. If there is one, it is going to be something very twisted and counterintuitive.

Even such concepts as “relativity”, as complicated as they are, are merely extensions of the “paradigm” that causes 2+2=4 to be true.

That’s the problem with the Roman Catholic “IP”.

If you consider, too, that God has properties, he tells us what these properties are, [we know them because he reveals them], and that he honest with us and is not some kind of loon, then understanding God’s revelation to us is not too different from understanding math.

Further, since we live in the universe that God created, and that he created us, it is no stretch at all to consider that he has made us with “receptors” to what he is “transmitting”. Turretin said it with a bit more precision:

…it is even most absurd that the rational creature as rational should not be subject to him [God] in the genus of morals and not be governed by him suitably to his nature (i.e., by moral means) by the establishment of a law. Hence it follows either that man ought to have been created independent by God (which is absurd) or that he has a natural law impressed upon him, in accordance with which he may be ruled by him

God is not going to make creatures that can’t hear and understand him. That’s the point of my comment 233 above.

Let’s look at this. God reveals something to Adam; Adam does something, and there is a consequence. God says more. Then he talks to different people – Noah, Abraham, Jacob. There is more history. We know the words, and we know the history.

If your “interpretive paradigm” is to be as honest with those statements, and with the history, as you can possibly be (and knowing that our understanding of both the languages of those statements, and the history, especially moving closer to our time), you are not going to have a difficult time understanding the basics.

The fact that many people aren’t good at math doesn’t make math untrue.

Now Mike, you want an “interpretive paradigm” that runs extremely counterintuitive to not only the “relativity” that has been calculated out, but counterintuitive to the 2+2=4 and the 9x9=81 statements.

Look at the other side of this: What kind of “interpretive paradigm” does the “infallible magisterium” use to come up with the things it comes up with.

The deliberations over the Trinity and Christology required no “infallibility”. It required [and Athanasius and others are clear about this] an honest look at Scripture. Athanasius Contra Arianus contains Athanasius’s “proof” of the Trinity.

We know too the sources of some of the uniquely “catholic” items and the uniquely “Roman” doctrines that you say are “materially present” “in the original deposit of faith” [and one might add, “somehow”, “implicitly”].

We know, for example, that there is no historical record for the Assumption of Mary. There are no numbers of any kind that add up to “Assumption of Mary”. Assumption of Mary is a 2+2=5 statement. Consider:

Tertullian can write a long treatise of sixty-three chapters On the Resurrection of the Dead, mentioning and discussing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the raising of Lazarus, the translation without death of Enoch and of Elijah, the returning from the dead of Moses for the Transfiguration, and even the preservation from what was humanly speaking certain death of the three young men in the fiery furnace and of Jonah in the whale’s belly. He does not once even slightly mention, he does not once remotely and uncertainly hint at, the resurrection or corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Tertullian quite clearly, like all his contemporaries and predecessors, had never heard of this story (R.P.C. Hanson, “Tradition in the Early Church”, SCM Press, ©1962, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers edition, pgs 258–259).

Tertullian was one of the most well-informed of the writers of the early (late 2nd, early 3rd century) church. If anyone had the slightest hint in his day that it had happened, he would have known about it.

And yet, the “infallible Magisterium” of the 20th century knows enough about this non-event to include it within the “formal proximate object of faith”. There is now [for Roman Catholics] no question, it was a true event. Even though, as Hanson says, “this idea first made its appearance in the fifth-century Coptic Christianity under marked Gnostic influence.”

What kind of magic dust gives the “infallible Magisterium” the “authority” to make a non-event into a dogma? What kind of magic dust makes “2+2=5” into a true statement?

This is one event, and one of the most egregious, but it is standard operating procedure for the Roman “teaching authority”.

Do we start with simple math and work our way up to calculus? Or do we commit our lives and eternal destinies to the “interpretive paradigm” that makes 2+2=5?


  1. John,

    A very interesting discussion with Mike. I've been following your posts on ecclesiology with interest, as I have also read parts of Beale's book. It seems to me that this goes to show that the rule of faith and Scripture go hand in hand (of course, Lutherans never have definitively pronounced just what constitutes the canon).


    1. Hi Nathan, I didn't intend not to respond to you, I've just been busy, and your lack of contentiousness made you less urgent :-)