Saturday, September 09, 2006

Polygamy Is Condemned By Scripture

Zac Taylor at Debunking Christianity writes:

"While I think the Bible does seem to condemn homosexuality, I do not think it specifically condemns polygamy. So, Christians are in a bind here - they seem so confident to defend the 'biblical framework of the Christian family,' as the Pro-Family Network states, but what is that according to the Bible? I don't think it's as clear cut as Christians and Christian politicians would have us believe."

Christians differ on the extent to which scripture discourages polygamy. Some would argue, for example, that it was allowed in the Old Testament era, but not since then. Others would argue that it's still allowed, but isn't the best option. And some would argue, and I'm one of them, that polygamy has always been unacceptable.

There are a lot of disagreements among Christians on a lot of issues. The same is true of atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.

I'll explain why I think that polygamy has always been unacceptable. But I'll begin with the early post-Biblical sources and work my way backward.

I don't know of a single church father who advocated the acceptability of polygamy. I know of many who condemn it. Most relevantly, I can think of six different fathers from the second century alone who condemn it (Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian). These men lived in a large variety of locations, and they represent a large variety of mindsets, personal circumstances, and theologies. They not only condemn polygamy, but even do so with much force, in multiple contexts, and with the names of specific individuals or groups they're responding to. I want to quote Justin Martyr:

"If, then, the teaching of the prophets and of Himself moves you, it is better for you [followers of Judaism] to follow God than your imprudent and blind masters, who even till this time permit each man to have four or five wives; and if any one see a beautiful woman and desire to have her, they quote the doings of Jacob called Israel, and of the other patriarchs, and maintain that it is not wrong to do such things; for they are miserably ignorant in this matter." (Dialogue With Trypho, 134)

When Justin uses phrases like "blind" and "miserably ignorant", it seems that he not only considered polygamy wrong, but also considered it to be obviously so and to a significant degree. Later in the same work, Justin comments that the followers of Judaism advocate and engage in polygamy "over all the earth, wherever they sojourn" (141). Notice not only that polygamy is an issue that Justin has to interact with as a Christian, but also that he expects other Christians to sometimes come into contact with it in other parts of the world. And although Justin obviously isn't claiming that every adherent of Judaism is a polygamist, and we know that some Jewish teachers condemned polygamy (and the large majority didn't practice it), Justin's comments do suggest that polygamy was an ongoing issue for the highly Jewish religion of Christianity. Thus, when the New Testament presents us with a monogamous view of marriage, it's doing so in a context in which polygamy was a factor. It's not as if the New Testament is monogamous only because polygamy wasn't on people's minds.

Justin attributes his comments (in a debate with the Jew Trypho) to the 130s, just a few decades after the close of the apostolic age. Later in the second century, Irenaeus condemns some heretics for trying to "introduce" polygamy into the church (Against Heresies, 1:28:2). In the mind of Irenaeus, then, there was no polygamy in the church of the apostles, and heretics are to be criticized for trying to introduce it. Tertullian attributes the condemnation of polygamy to the apostles (To His Wife, 1:2). Eusebius mentions Christians who avoid polygamy even when living in polygamous regions ("neither in Parthia do the Christians, Parthians though they are, practise polygamy", Preparation For The Gospel, 6:10). Eusebius is quoting a man named Bardesanes, who lived in the second and third centuries. It ought to be noted that the early Christians avoided polygamy even when they lived in parts of the world where it was considered acceptable.

I could multiply such comments from the patristic era. The church fathers gave a variety of explanations for the polygamy that existed during the Old Testament era, but it seems that they universally condemned its practice during this New Testament era.

Polygamy was rare in the early centuries of church history, but it did exist:

"Some peoples on the periphery of the empire reportedly practiced polygamy, including Thracians, Numidians and Moors (Sallust Iug. 80.6; Sextus Empiricus Pyr. 3.213; cf. Diodorus Siculus Bib. Hist. 1.80.3 on Egypt)...a few Greek philosophers supported group marriage (Diogenes Laertius Vit. 6.2.72; 7.1.131; 8.1.33)...Although the practice was not common, early Palestinian Judaism allowed polygamy (m. Sanh. 2:4), and it was practiced at least by some wealthy kings (Josephus J.W. 1.28.4 &562)." (Craig Keener, in Craig Evans and Stanley Porter, editors, Dictionary Of New Testament Background [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 683)

That last sentence is significant in that it illustrates an important distinction we should make. The issue here isn't just how widely polygamy was practiced. The issue is also how widely it was plausible, how widely it was considered acceptable or advocated in theory. As the church fathers illustrate, the fact that most of the New Testament world practiced monogamous marriage doesn't change the fact that polygamy was still an aspect of that world and one that was often encountered, particularly in theory, though not as much in practice. And part of that theoretical realm is the Old Testament. To say that the Corinthian Christians, for example, would only have rarely encountered the practice of polygamy doesn't change the fact that they would have encountered the concept of polygamy frequently when reading the Old Testament, when interacting with some Jewish sources, etc. Even if practicing polygamy wasn't a plausible option for many of the Christians the New Testament authors were addressing, it would have been a plausible option for some, and the theoretical possibility would surely be something any author would take into account when discussing the nature of marriage. Thus, when a passage like 1 Corinthians 7 speaks in monogamous terms, we shouldn't assume that the monogamous framework is merely the result of a social context.

And polygamy in New Testament and early patristic times wasn't limited to the rich:

"It had generally been assumed that only the very rich practiced polygamy, but one set of family documents that has survived from the second century C.E. shows a middle-class example of polygamy. The rabbinic writings assume that polygamy occurs and contain much legislation concerning it, but many people were unhappy with the practice." (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce And Remarriage In The Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002], pp. 60-61)

Some examples of polygamy during the time of Jesus and the apostles, examples the early Christians would have been familiar with, were Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Caiaphas. Though some Jews opposed polygamy, Josephus, a contemporary of the apostles, wrote that "it is the ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time" (Antiquities Of The Jews, 17:1:2).

What this patristic and other extra-Biblical evidence suggests is that the monogamist tendencies of the New Testament, which some people attribute to societal context rather than the unacceptability of polygamy, are more naturally read as mandating monogamy. The New Testament authors describe marriage as monogamous because it's monogamous by its nature, not because it's monogamous only in the societal context they're addressing.

Jesus seems to have been siding with the anti-polygamists of His day in Matthew 19. David Instone-Brewer writes:

"A move towards monogamy started very early, as evidenced by a gloss in the Septuagint and other early versions at Genesis 2:24, which read 'and they two shall become one flesh.' The word 'two' is not present in the Masoretic text, but it is found very widely in ancient versions. This gloss was included in the text when Jesus and Paul cited it. Although this gloss was widespread, it did not cause the Hebrew text to be changed. Even at Qumran, when they were amassing arguments against polygamy (see below), the text was not quoted in this form, and there is no example of the Hebrew text being quoted with the word 'two' in it. It appears that this gloss was a very common addition to the text, and that it was recognized as a comment on the text rather than a variant of it. This means that the purpose of the addition must have been obvious to the reader. The gloss affirmed that a marriage is made between only two individuals, and thus polygamy is an abberation....The significant point, as far as the Gospel text [Matthew 19] is concerned, is that this variant text is used very self-consciously, with the additional comment [Matthew 19:5] 'So they are no longer two but one' emphasizing the presence of the word 'two.'...Both [the gospel of] Mark and the Damascus Document [a document critical of polygamy] cite exactly the same portion of Genesis 1:27, and they both precede the quotation with a very similar phrase. Mark refers to 'the beginning of creation'...while the Damascus Document used the phrase 'the foundation of creation'...they are semantically identical....Jesus was making the point very strongly. He was saying not only that polygamy was immoral but that it was illegal. He gave scriptural proofs that polygamy was against God's will. This meant that the man's second marriage was invalid, and thus he was cohabiting with an unmarried woman." (Divorce And Remarriage In The Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002], pp. 61, 137-138, 151)

I see at least a few indications here that Jesus was siding with the anti-polygamists of His day:

1. He cites Genesis 1:27 with Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:4-5), a common anti-polygamist combination of scripture.

2. He quotes the anti-polygamist paraphrase of Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:5), not the original Hebrew, which has a history of use by anti-polygamists.

3. He emphasizes the word "two" by mentioning it again in Matthew 19:6.

4. He uses the phrase "from the beginning" (Matthew 19:8), which is known to have been used in anti-polygamist argumentation.

It should be noted that Paul also repeatedly uses the anti-polygamist rendering of Genesis 2:24 (1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:31). Ephesians 5 is inherently anti-polygamist. Paul tells us that there's only one Christ and only one church (Ephesians 4:4-5), then he makes that relationship the model for the marriage relationship. He also uses the head/body imagery (Ephesians 5:23), and there can be only one head and one body. Paul goes on to cite Genesis 2:24 (Ephesians 5:31). I think that the most natural way to read Ephesians 5 is as a New Testament expansion of Genesis 2. In other words, Ephesians 5 is about the nature of all marriage, not just some marriages (monogamous marriages). To argue that Ephesians 5 doesn't apply to polygamists would be like arguing that Genesis 2 doesn't either. If polygamists aren't going to get their model for marriage from Genesis 2 or Ephesians 5, then where are they going to get it?

Romans 7:3 seems to be contrary to polygamy as well. Douglas Moo writes:

"he [Paul] certainly uses the word ['law'] in 6:14, 15 and in most of chap. 7 with reference to the Mosaic law...It is almost certain, then, that Paul here refers to the Mosaic law...Since Paul does not mention divorce, we can assume that the remarriage of the woman has taken place without a divorce of any kind; and any such remarriage is, of course, adulterous. Further, any body of law that Paul may be citing - Roman or OT (cf. Deut. 25:1-4) - allows for remarriage on grounds other than the death of the spouse." (The Epistle To The Romans [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1996], pp. 411-412, n. 24 on p. 413)

Some of the most explicit passages that can be cited against polygamy are from the Old Testament, such as Genesis 2 and Proverbs 5. In Proverbs 5, we aren't told to be satisfied with our wife if she's all God allows us to have. It isn't suggested that we could seek other women if we want to. Rather, we're told to be satisfied with her throughout our life. Solomon's answer to sexual temptation is monogamy with the wife of your youth, not polygamy. Bruce Waltke cites Proverbs 5 as an illustration of 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 and writes that "Marriage is here thought of as strongly monogamous." (The Book Of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004], pp. 317, 321) Proverbs 5:17 refers to your wife being yours alone, which can only be monogamy, and the wife is referred to as satisfying the husband's sexual thirst, which is, again, monogamy. The woman is to meet the man's sexual desires "at all times" and "always" (Proverbs 5:19), which, again, can only be monogamy. Solomon is referring to sexual relations, so he can't be saying that a husband is to be always satisfied with his first wife, even as he's having sex with his second, third, and fourth wives. Similarly, Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:9 about how one wife is the reward a man is given, as if he should be satisfied with her alone.

I think there are plausible alternative interpretations to the Old Testament passages people often cite in support of polygamy. See, for example, Walter Kaiser's comments in Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1991). However, even if we were to conclude that polygamy was allowed in Old Testament times, the evidence against it in the New Testament era doesn't allow us to consider polygamy acceptable today.

An open letter to Dave Armstrong

I’d like to take the occasion to set the record straight where Dave Armstrong is concerned.

I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel.

Everyone is entitled to his own usage. I won’t judge someone else’s usage. They have their reasons.

But those are not the adjectives I’d reach for in the case of Armstrong.

Those are words I reserve for extreme cases, not borderline cases.

To judge by his conversion story, he had a rather brief and superficial experience with Evangelicalism—reading popularizers and attending emotive, anti-intellectual churches.

A transition from a shallow brand of Evangelicalism to devout Catholicism is not the same thing as apostasy—much less infidelity. Not by my definition, at least.

And, unless he’s sheltering his wealth from the Feds, I don’t think one can accuse him of changing sides for fast cars, fast women, and a vintage pint of sherry.

So it’s not as if he’s another Kim Philby or Guy Burgess with a Rosary.

I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable.

I also don’t dislike him. And this is not a pro forma disclaimer to prove what a charitable guy I am, for there are some bloggers whom I do dislike. (Sorry, no names!)

I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind.

In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent.

For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind.

As to the fact that I don’t link to his apologetic stuff on Islam, &c., there are several reasons for this:

1.I’ve only read a fraction of Armstrong’s prolific output. And only the fraction concerning the conflict with Rome.

2.I’m quite prepared to quote Catholic scholars when they have something worthwhile to say. Indeed, I do so from time to time in my review of The Empty Tomb.

3.Linking to his blog or website would be a way of promoting his agenda. Even if the material is on something other than Catholicism, it is on a Catholic blog or website, and there’s no reason why I should steer my readers in that direction.

It’s not as if Armstrong is plugging for Triablogue.

4.There’s no dearth of apologetic material on atheism, Islam, the cults, &c. There are many online sources of information, often by experts in the field.

And if it comes to a popular treatment, we can do that ourselves.

An open letter to Matthew Green

Since this issue keeps cropping up, let me say that I don’t think Matthew Green owes me an apology.

I have a rather polemical style of writing much of the time, and a polemical style is bound to provoke a hostile reaction.

I’m aware of that. I expect it. And I accept it.

I know what I’m doing, and I know why I do it—with predicable results. I reap what I sow.

By and large, the people I target are not the people I’d ever expect to win over. That’s not in the cards. And that’s not my objective.

They simply serve as a willing foil for me to make a larger point for the benefit of others.

I have nothing to apologize for, and I’m in no position to demand an apology from anyone else.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that my tone or tenor is above criticism. But I say what I say the way I say it because I think it’s appropriate. If I thought it was wrong, I wouldn’t do it.

Needless to say, I could be wrong, and suffer from a blind spot. But I respond to reasoned criticism, not sheer criticism.

I never spend much time defending myself because, among other reasons, I think readers find that boring. I know I find it boring when other bloggers spend a lot of time defending themselves.

Moreover, it’s a singularly unconvincing exercise. In general, people will defend themselves when they’re innocent, and they will also defend themselves when they’re guilty.

So it’s like asking someone you don’t trust why you should trust him. Well, if you distrust him, then he’s the wrong person to ask.

By contrast, Jason has normally irenic style. Indeed, the contrast between my polemical style and his irenic style is stark.

And that’s why I thought that Matthew’s comments were misdirected. I can see why he would resent my style of discourse, but Jason is a class act.

Some Later Sources On The Sinlessness Of Mary

I recently posted an article about the earliest Christians' belief that Mary was a sinner. That post addressed the New Testament and ante-Nicene eras. I now want to address sources who wrote from the fourth century onward.

Though belief in some sort of temporary or lifelong sinlessness of Mary appears in some sources from the fourth century and beyond, the older view discussed in my previous post continued to be advocated in many places. Even among those who viewed Mary as sinless for some period of her life or as unusually righteous, we need to interpret such passages in light of other passages in those same sources that refer to Mary as being cleansed by the Spirit, as committing a particular sin, etc. It seems that some of the later church fathers viewed Mary as sinless or as unusually righteous for some period of her life, but didn't view her as sinless from conception onward.

Below are several examples of sources from the fourth century onward denying that Mary was sinless in some sense. Many more examples could be cited.

Basil of Caesarea

Basil of Caesarea explains that the meaning of Luke 2:34-35 is clear: Mary sinned, and she needed to be restored after Jesus' resurrection, just as Peter was restored (Letter 260:6-9).

"About the words of Simeon to Mary, there is no obscurity or variety of interpretation....By a sword is meant the word which tries and judges our thoughts, which pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of our thoughts. Now every soul in the hour of the Passion was subjected, as it were, to a kind of searching. According to the word of the Lord it is said, 'All ye shall be offended because of me.' Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that when standing by the cross, and beholding what is being done, and hearing the voices, after the witness of Gabriel, after her secret knowledge of the divine conception, after the great exhibition of miracles, she shall feel about her soul a mighty tempest. The Lord was bound to taste of death for every man--to become a propitiation for the world and to justify all men by His own blood. Even thou thyself, who hast been taught from on high the things concerning the Lord, shalt be reached by some doubt. This is the sword. 'That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.' He indicates that after the offence at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself, confirming their heart in faith in Him. In the same way we saw Peter, after he had been offended, holding more firmly to his faith in Christ. What was human in him was proved unsound, that the power of the Lord might be shewn." (Letter 260:6, 260:9)

Hilary of Poitiers

"On the incident of Mary and the brothers waiting outside for Jesus [Matthew 12:46-50], H. [Hilary of Poitiers] proposes a novel exegesis: 'But since he came unto his own and his own did not receive him, in his mother and brothers the Synagogue and the Israelites are foreshadowed, refraining from entry and approach to him.'" (Michael O'Carroll, Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], p. 171)

Cyril of Jerusalem

"For we tell some part of what is written concerning His loving-kindness to men, but how much He forgave the Angels we know not: for them also He forgives, since One alone is without sin, even Jesus who purgeth our sins....Immaculate and undefiled was His generation: for where the Holy Spirit breathes, there all pollution is taken away: undefiled from the Virgin was the incarnate generation of the Only-begotten....This is the Holy Ghost, who came upon the Holy Virgin Mary; for since He who was conceived was Christ the Only-begotten, the power of the Highest overshadowed her, and the Holy Ghost came upon her, and sanctified her, that she might be able to receive Him, by whom all things were made. But I have no need of many words to teach thee that generation was without defilement or taint, for thou hast learned it." (Catechetical Lectures, 2:10, 12:32, 17:6)

John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom refers to Mary committing various sins:

"even to have borne Christ in the womb, and to have brought forth that marvellous birth, hath no profit, if there be not virtue. And this is hence especially manifest. 'For while He yet talked to the people,' it is said, 'one told Him, Thy mother and Thy brethren seek Thee. Butt He saith, who is my mother, and who are my brethren?' [Matthew 12:46-48] And this He said, not as being ashamed of His mother, nor denying her that bare Him; for if He had been ashamed of her, He would not have passed through that womb; but as declaring that she hath no advantage from this, unless she do all that is required to be done. For in fact that which she had essayed to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she wanted to show the people that she hath power and authority over her Son, imagining not as yet anything great concerning Him; whence also her unseasonable approach. See at all events both her self-confidence and theirs. Since when they ought to have gone in, and listened with the multitude; or if they were not so minded, to have waited for His bringing His discourse to an end, and then to have come near; they call Him out, and do this before all, evincing a superfluous vanity, and wishing to make it appear, that with much authority they enjoin Him. And this too the evangelist shows that he is blaming, for with this very allusion did he thus express himself, 'While He yet talked to the people;' as if he should say, What? was there no other opportunity? Why, was it not possible to speak with Him in private?" (Homilies On Matthew, 44)

"For where parents cause no impediment or hindrance in things belonging to God, it is our bounden duty to give way to them, and there is great danger in not doing so; but when they require anything unseasonably, and cause hindrance in any spiritual matter, it is unsafe to obey. And therefore He answered thus in this place, and again elsewhere, 'Who is My mother, and who are My brethren?' [Matthew 12:48], because they did not yet think rightly of Him; and she, because she had borne Him, claimed, according to the custom of other mothers, to direct Him in all things, when she ought to have reverenced and worshiped Him. This then was the reason why He answered as He did on that occassion....And so this was a reason why He rebuked her on that occasion, saying, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' [John 2:4] instructing her for the future not to do the like; because, though He was careful to honor His mother, yet He cared much for the salvation of her soul" (Homilies On John, 21)


"he [Augustine] did not hold (as has sometimes been alleged) that she [Mary] was born exempt from all taint of original sin (the later doctrine of the immaculate conception). Julian of Eclanum maintained this as a clinching argument in his onslaught on the whole idea of original sin, but Augustine's rejoinder was that Mary had indeed been born subject to original sin like all other human beings, but had been delivered from its effects 'by the grace of rebirth'." (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 497)

Augustine wrote the following about Christ being the only post-Adamic human conceived without original sin. He approvingly quotes another church father, Ambrose. Notice that one of his quotes of Ambrose specifically mentions Mary, so it can't be argued that they didn't have Mary in mind at the time that they wrote. After quoting Ambrose, Augustine comments that Ambrose's view is a view consistent with "the catholic faith":

"And now that we are about to bring this book to a conclusion, we think it proper to do on this subject of Original Sin what we did before in our treatise On Grace, --adduce in evidence against the injurious talk of these persons that servant of God, the Archbishop Ambrose, whose faith is proclaimed by Pelagius to be the most perfect among the writers of the Latin Church; for grace is more especially honoured in doing away with original sin. In the work which the saintly Ambrose wrote, Concerning the Resurrection, he says: 'I fell in Adam, in Adam was I expelled from Paradise, in Adam I died; and He does not recall me unless He has found me in Adam,--so as that, as I am obnoxious to the guilt of sin in him, and subject to death, I may be also justified in Christ.' Then, again, writing against the Novatians, he says: 'We men are all of us born in sin; our very origin is in sin; as you may read when David says, 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.' Hence it is that Paul's flesh is 'a body of death;' even as he says himself, 'Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' Christ's flesh, however, has condemned sin, which He experienced not by being born, and which by dying He crucified, that in our flesh there might be justification through grace, where previously there was impurity through sin.' The same holy man also, in his Exposition Isaiah, speaking of Christ, says: 'Therefore as man He was tried in all things, and in the likeness of men He endured all things; but as born of the Spirit, He was free from sin. For every man is a liar, and no one but God alone is without sin. It is therefore an observed and settled fact, that no man born of a man and a woman, that is, by means of their bodily union, is seen to be free from sin. Whosoever, indeed, is free from sin, is free also from a conception and birth of this kind.' Moreover, when expounding the Gospel according to Luke, he says: 'It was no cohabitation with a husband which opened the secrets of the Virgin's womb; rather was it the Holy Ghost which infused immaculate seed into her unviolated womb. For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty.' These words, however, of the man of God are contradicted by Pelagius, notwithstanding all his commendation of his author, when he himself declares that 'we are procreated, as without virtue, so without vice.' What remains, then, but that Pelagius should condemn and renounce this error of his; or else be sorry that he has quoted Ambrose in the way he has? Inasmuch, however, as the blessed Ambrose, catholic bishop as he is, has expressed himself in the above-quoted passages in accordance with the catholic faith, it follows that Pelagius, along with his disciple Coelestius, was justly condemned by the authority of the catholic Church for having turned aside from the true way of faith, since he repented not for having bestowed commendation on Ambrose, and for having at the same time entertained opinions in opposition to him." (On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin, 2:47-48)

"The Augustinian view long continued to prevail; but at last Pelagius won the victory on this point in the Roman church." (Philip Schaff, section 81 here)

Cyril of Alexandria

"In this commentary, C. [Cyril of Alexandria] uses phrases about Mary which seem to continue the opinions of Origen (qv) and St. Basil (qv) on imperfection in her faith: 'In all likelihood, even the Lord's Mother was scandalised by the unexpected passion, and the intensely bitter death on the Cross...all but deprived her of right reason.' He tries to imagine the thoughts that passed through Mary's mind. Had Jesus been mistaken when he said he was the Son of Almighty God? Why was he crucified who said he was the life? Why did he who had brought Lazarus back to life not come down from the Cross? Then he recalls what had been written of the Lord's Mother: Simeon's sword, 'the sharp force of the Passion which could turn a woman's mind to strange thoughts.' The word woman is significant, for C. thought that the frailty of the female sex was a factor in what he then thought was collapse." (Michael O'Carroll, Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], p. 113)

Leo the Great

The Protestant historian Philip Schaff counted seven different Roman bishops who denied the sinlessness of Mary (The Creeds Of Christendom [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998], Vol. I, p. 123). Leo I, a Roman bishop of the fifth century, taught that sin is transmitted by means of sexual intercourse, thus suggesting that Mary was conceived in original sin:

"And whereas in all mothers conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one [Mary] received purification from the Source of her conception. For no taint of sin penetrated, where no intercourse occurred." (Sermon 22:3)

Elsewhere, Leo refers to Jesus being the only one conceived without sin. He even refers to Christ's stock, a reference to Mary, being corrupt:

"For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock." (Sermon 24:3)

And elsewhere:

"And therefore in the general ruin of the entire human race there was but one remedy in the secret of the Divine plan which could succour the fallen, and that was that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further, because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed, of which the Scripture saith, 'Who can make a clean thing conceived of an unclean seed? is it not Thou who art alone?'" (Sermon 28:3)

The unclean seed would include Mary. And he refers to there being one from Adam who is sinless.

Roman Catholic scholar Michael O'Carroll comments that Leo viewed sin as being communicated by means of sexual intercourse (Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], p. 217).

Gregory the Great

"On Mt 12:48-50, [Gregory the Great] thinks that Mary momentarily represented the Synagogue, which Christ no longer recognized." (ibid., p. 159)

Innocent III

Even as late as the second millennium we see the sinlessness of Mary rejected by the Roman bishop Innocent III and other Western sources. O'Carroll cites the Pope saying that Mary was "begotten in guilt", that she needed "cleansing of the flesh from the root of sin" (ibid., p. 185).

Internal Evidence For Luke's Authorship Of Luke And Acts

Earlier this week, Chris Price posted an article on internal evidence that the gospel of Luke and Acts were written by a doctor.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Slithering down Mt. Improbable

According to Jon Curry:

“This point applies to Gene's comments regarding Richard Carrier. The book The Empty Tomb is not intended to show that in fact Jesus body was stolen, or in fact hallucinations occurred, or in fact the body was moved in accordance with Jewish law. It was intended to show that it is irrational to beleive the supernatural explanation. The authors don't have to agree on what actually did happen with regards to Jesus. They simply agree that a miracle did not occur. Carrier provides evidence for the stolen body hypothesis in an effort to raise that alternative to a level necessary to overcome the initial probability of belief that a miracle occurred. Since belief that a miracle occurred has such a low initial probability Carrier burden is very low. If there's even a one in a million shot, this makes Christianity irrational. So he doesn't raise this theory to a level of actual believability, but only to a very low possibility. So it makes perfect sense for him to on the one hand argue for theft as a very low possibility, but on the other hand actually believe that Jesus did not exist.”

This is a fascinating piece of special pleading.

1.Of what evidentiary value is the bare fact that the contributors all agree a miracle did not occur? That’s a statement of collective opinion—nothing more.

They were recruited for they’re unbelief, so of course they agree in that respect.

2.Does a miracle have a low initial probability? That’s a highly value-laden assertion.

3.How does a miscellany of contradictory opinions add up to a cumulative probability for a naturalistic explanation?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? You have a bunch of mutually exclusive theories which cancel each other out?

Hence, the net result is the cumulative improbability of any (and all) alternative explanation(s).

At best, all that would remain is the itsy-bitsy residual of whatever, if anything, is left over after you subtract the evidence for one competing theory from the evidence for another.

The only thing which the contributors succeed in demonstrating is the exponentially escalating improbability of any naturalistic explanation.

Mounting improbabilities in lieu of mounting probabilities. Just the opposite of what the contributors need to prove their point.

BTW, take note of Gene’s documentation in the combox of the original thread (see above).

Beckwith brouhaha


An already divisive controversy over a tenure denial at Baylor University appears to be getting even uglier.

Last spring Francis J. Beckwith, 45, an associate professor of church-state studies, was denied tenure despite a long list of publications and a recent teaching honor.

It was Mr. Beckwith's teaching, not his scholarship, that was criticized in his tenure denial. He was accused of disregarding the curriculum and using the classroom to spread his Christian views — a charge he denies.


Imagine that—a professor of church-state studies at a Baptist university using the classroom as a platform to promote the Christian faith.

This insidious Christian agenda is something we need to nip in the bud before all our Christian institutions of higher learning are corrupted by the looming specter of Christian theology.

Under no circumstances can we allow their Christian identity to be compromised by professors who think the classroom is a place to promote a Christian worldview.

Thankfully, his superiors had the integrity to see what was at stake and stamp out this pernicious influence—just as they had to do in the case of Bill Dembski.

Equestrian mortuary

John Loftus has a stable full of dead horses branded with his own initials. After he gets tired of beating one dead horse, he goes back to beating another dead horse.

Since he has no good arguments, all he can do his to repeat all his bad arguments. He keeps serving up his maggoty, off-refuted horsemeat.

Both Evan May and Calvin dude already chewed his argument into little pieces, in their best Piranha fashion, long before I got around to it, so I’ll content myself with disposing of the carrion.

JL: As far as the truth goes, God could've revealed that he wants all married people to commit adultery, because whatever he reveals has no bearing on what he wants us to do. This goes for all of the commands in the Bible too, including all statements that describe who God is, that he is loving, truthful, and that he will reward those who believe he is loving and truthful.

SH: We’ve been over this ground before. A command is not a prediction or a promise. It is not a statement of what God is planning to do. Loftus has said absolutely nothing to erase that elementary distinction.

JL: In fact, the whole basis for your believing in Calvinism is that your God decreed that you should believe it and has nothing to to with either the Bible or the evidences either way. But if he so decreed what you believe, then like the unbeliever you still have no reason to suppose that what God decrees you to believe is the truth.

SH: Once again, this has nothing to do with Reformed theology. It’s only a consequence of Loftus’ hypothetical thought-experiment, for which there’s no evidence, and which he himself does not believe.

JL: He could be decreeing you to believe falsely against the total available evidence, just like you claim he decrees what I believe.


1. I’m reminded of Dawkins’ Teapot Atheism: “There's an infinite number of things that you can't disprove: unicorns, werewolves, and teapots in orbit around Mars. But we don't pay any heed to them unless there is some positive reason to think that they do exist.”

It’s striking that unbelievers think this is a swell argument against the Christian faith, but then, like Loftus, they suddenly reverse the burden of proof and act as if some purely imaginary defeater is an actual defeater for the Christian faith.

All Loftus has given us is, at best, a hypothetical defeater, not an actual defeater. And since he doesn’t believe in his own hypothetical, why should we?

But as long as we’re on the subject, why don’t we improve on his hypothetical defeater? For all I know, there’s an omniscient and omnipotent teapot orbiting Mars and jamming the brain waves of the secular earthlings, making them project evidence for evolution where none exists, while blinding them to the overwhelming evidence for God’s existence.

JL: Therefore, you simply do not know whether what you believe will gain you access into heaven. As far as your theology goes, it just may be the unbeliever whom God will reward, since you really do not know what this God is like and what he will do with us when we die.

SH: Even if this were true, assuming that truth is a meaningful category given the global scepticism implicit in this scenario, I really don’t care.

Why should I fret over the specter of an indetectible delusion? Since I have no control over it, and can never be aware of it, it doesn’t concern me in the least.

Indeed, this goes to the incoherence of his objection. What if there were this unconscious force messing with our minds?

Well, if it were truly unconscious, then we wouldn’t be conscious of the proposition that there’s an unconscious force that’s messing with our minds.

JL: So in fact, there is nothing in the Calvinistic Bible that describes what God wants us to do or believe--nothing! In fact, if God decrees all of human history then he does not even need a revealed word in the Bible at all! It is superfluous, unnecessary, and completely irrelevant to what he wants us to believe and to do. He could decree all of our beliefs without it.

SH: Other issues aside, the law of God has more than one purpose or audience.

For the elect, it supplies a code of conduct.

For the reprobate, it may, in some cases, restrain them from sin—where the state chooses to enact and enforce the law of God.

But, more often, its function is to expose the lawlessness of the reprobate.

For the reprobate, the law of God is an instrument of hardening rather than sanctification.

Indeed, the same holds true, not only for the law, but for the gospel as well. It has one effect on the elect, and another on the reprobate.

SH: Why not just admit this? It's true. And the next time someone asks you what God wants him to do just be honest and say "I don't know." And when he asks you what God wants him to believe, just say "I don't know."

JL: I would tell him to do what God says. And if he doesn’t do what God says, then, in his case, the function of the law is purely punitive (see above).

JL: For that is the truth.

SH: But if Loftus’ hypothetical were true, then we wouldn’t know it’s true, since it’s a recipe for global scepticism.

Hence, if it’s true, then it’s false.

Back to inerrancy

I wasn’t originally intending to comment on Victor Reppert’s view of Scripture. However, he has solicited feedback from his inerrantist brethren.

I’ve also been asked to comment on Bill Vallicella’s view of Scripture. So this post will be two-for-the-price-of-one special.

I’ll just do a running commentary on their remarks:

VR: This is a response to Ed Babinski, who accused C. S. Lewis of simply ignoring morally flawed passages in Scripture.

It's not that Christians like Lewis or myself want to ignore this stuff. In many cases, Lewis is the one that calls it to our attention. But of course if you believe that God is morally perfect, then something other than God must explain moral weaknesses in the text. We don't need smoke in his eyes to explain that. Lewis maintained that the idea of a cosmic sadist who created the world was incoherent. Not emotionally repugnant, he found it *logically incherent*. I chronicle his arguments in the first chapter of my book. So why would he accept an incoherent positon?

Do you believe that there is an evil God who inspired the Bible? If not, then you explain the moral flaws of Scripture in terms of the flawed moral perceptions of the human authors. And if you can do that, then why can't Lewis do the same thing?


1.Of course, this way of framing the question is prejudicial. It assumes that Scripture is morally flawed.

2.I also find this reaction rather superficial on the part of a trained philosopher. It’s true that you can find things in Scripture which you may find intuitively repugnant.

However, philosophy typically challenges our knee-jerk intuitions. Philosophers frequently criticize common sense intuition as shallow and often false.

Philosophy regularly takes the position that the true view may be counterintuitive or unpopular.

So I could understand Reppert’s objection if it came from a village atheist. But coming from a trained philosopher, I’d like to see a more subtle reply.

3.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that inerrancy commits one to belief in a “cosmic sadist,” how does the denial of inerrancy escape that charge?

To deny the inerrancy of Scripture doesn’t solve the problem of evil, especially if you’re a professing believer.

God is still the Creator of the world. Evil is real. Pain and suffering exist.

In some respect, God is partly responsible for that state of affairs.

VR: Lewis wrote a chapter in Reflections on the Psalms entitled Scripture where he discussed his understanding of what it was for Scripture to be inspired. He for example read Ecclesiastes as the cold hard picture of man's life without God, and he maintained that it was something we needed to hear, even though it was far from being the full literal truth.


1.Other issues aside, this fails to distinguish between full/partial truth and partial truth/partial error.

These are not convertible propositions. Something could be partly true without being partly false. It could be wholly true as far as it goes, without addressing itself to the entire truth of the matter. Something can fall short of the whole truth without being partly erroneous.

2.What is the distinction between “literal” truth and “figurative” truth? Is there such a thing as figurative truth?

Perhaps you could say there’s such a thing as figurative meaning. And a figurative story can be a vehicle to convey the truth.

But when we do that we are extracting a literal truth from a figurative story. We are asking, what does this allegory stand for? Or in what respect is this fictitious story true to life?

A figurative story is truthful, not because it’s figurative, but because it’s lifelike or because it allegorizes something literal.

3.The example of Ecclesiastes also turns on the accuracy of Lewis’s interpretation.

VR: In other words, things that by themselves are scientifically, historically, or morally incorrect my be, he thought, part of a broader truth that is inspired. What is by itself a blemish may be part of the moral and spiritual education of a barbaric people which conveys an important truth.


1.How does this follow from what came before? Is Ecclesiastes figurative? Is it an allegory?

2.How can falsehood convey the truth? Or is/are Reppert and/or Lewis distinguishing between partial truth and partial error?

VR: As for biblical inerrancy, I am not so much inclined to deny it as I am to be unclear on what it means. Consider the following.

Every word of the Bible is true.
Every sentence of the Bible is true.
Every verse of the Bible is true.
Every paragraph of the Bible is true.
Every chapter of the Bible is true.
Every book of the Bible is true.
The Bible is true as a whole.

The bearers of truth and falsity, as I understand it, are sentences.

SH: To begin with, we need to distinguish between the narrative viewpoint and the intranarrative viewpoint.

According to inerrancy, the narrative viewpoint is infallible because the narrator is inspired.

Now, the narrative will also narrate the intranarrative viewpoint of various speakers within the narrative.

These speakers may or may not be inspired and infallible. It all depends on the speaker.

For example, you may have a narrative involving true and false prophets. The narrative would be in inspired record of their statements. The statements of the true prophets would be true, while the statements of the false prophets would be false.

So a Biblical narrator can inerrantly quote an errant statement.

Hence, there’s a potential difference between the truth of the narrative viewpoint and the truth (or falsity) of the intranarrative viewpoint.

Is the narrator quoting an apostle or prophet of God? If so, then the statement is true.

VR: So it is logically possible for 2 to be true, but we know it isn't, because if it were, then the sentence "Ye shall surely not die," said by the serpent to Eve, would also be true, but it isn't.


1.Actually, the sentence is true, but Reppert’s interpretation is false.

The phraseology of Gen 2:17 is idiomatic. As one commentator explains:

“The warning that is intended to motivate obedience is often misunderstood. The KJV, NKJV, and NASB all translate ‘in the day’ you read from it. The NIV has prepared this with the appropriate English rendering ‘when.’ The expression 'in the day' is one of the major ways in Hebrew to say ‘when’ and does not suggest that the events described will take place within the next twenty-four hours,” J. Walton, Genesis (Zondervan 2001), 174.

2.This brings me to another point. When Reppert and Vallicella give examples of errant Biblical claims, I don’t see any evidence that they bother to consult the standard exegetical literature.

It’s as if they read something in their English Bible, then use their 21C framework to supply the interpretive grid.

VR: If however, what we mean by the inerrancy of Scripture is that everything in it participates in some wider truth that God intended to convey, then I have no problem with it, but then I don't see why, for example, this would exclude a fictionalist account of Ruth or Jonah, positions that are anathema to inerrantists.


1.Inerrancy does not prejudge the genre of a book. In principle, Ruth or Jonah could be fictitious.

2.However, the genre of a Biblical book must be determined on grammatico-historical grounds.

To judge by their posted statements thus far, Reppert and Vallicella seem to have a habit of beginning, not with the book, but with what they believe, and then proceeding to classify the genre of the book, or meaning or veracity of a verse, not on the basis of internal evidence or period practice, but on what they are willing to believe.

But this is completely unscholarly. It leads to anachronistic interpretations or classifications.

It also leads to an ad hoc doctrine of inspiration, wherein you first stipulate how much you’re prepared to believe, and then formulate a doctrine of inspiration which is exactly calibrated to what you’re prepared to believe.

This has nothing to do with the self-witness of Scripture. Nothing to do with original intent.

But it should go without saying that Scripture means whatever it meant at the time it was written.

3.Incidentally, why is Reppert inclined to classify Jonah as fictitious? Is that due to the miraculous element? But, to my knowledge, he doesn’t deny the occurrence of miracles.

VR: I am inclined to argue, for example, when it comes to Gen 1, that it intended to convey a monotheistic as opposed to a polytheistic story of origins to the Hebrew people. In other words, it should be read in contrast to the Enuma Elish, not the Origin of Species.

SH: The key question is whether we arrive at our interpretation of Genesis on the basis of exegetical considerations, or are we allowing extraneous concerns to dictate to the text what it is permitted to tell us?

VR: Hence if you are a monotheist, it conveys the truth of monotheism as opposed to polytheism, and why should it be expected to be loaded up with science. That's not its job.

SH: No, we shouldn’t expect it to be loaded up with science. However:

1.It is quite possible for a prescientific text to make claims about the origin of the world which will intersect with scientific claims down the road.

Gen 1 doesn’t employ scientific terms or methods, but Gen 1 and modern science both describe the same object—the natural world. Inasmuch as they describe the same object, their claims do intersect.

2.Just as we should not expect it to be “loaded up with science,” we should equally resist a reactionary gloss in which we reinterpret the text with one eye on Darwin in order to accommodate or avoid a conflict with modern science.

VR: The passage participated in the broad conveyance of truth without being narrowly true in every detail.

SH: Does the disjunction between broad truth and detailed error arise from the text of Scripture? Is Reppert carving Scripture at the joints?

Or is he interpolating a face-saving disjunction into the text which will give him just enough elbow-room to believe whatever he can bring himself to believe, and relegate the rest to innocuous error?

VR: If you think there is something incoherent about Lewis's position, then you have to show me that a Christian ought to accept some version of narrow inerrancy (as opposed to the broad inerrancy that he actually adopted), which is coherent and somehow more consistent or more Christian than his own view. Perhaps some of my inerrantist brethren can help Babinski with this.

SH: One way of showing that Lewis’s position is incoherent is if it forces Lewis and like-minded believers to resort to makeshift distinctions or anachronistic interpretations.

Moving onto Vallicella: Inerrancy

WV: I am not sure what Biblical inerrancy is. Perhaps someone can help me.

Even if I wanted to join this society in violation of my Bruntonian "study everything, join nothing" policy, I could not sign the Affirmation for the reason that, as I understand inerrancy, the Bible is not reasonably viewed as inerrant "in its entirety." It may be, of course, that I do not understand what the constituent words and phrases mean. Let me say at the outset that I am a theist and I have no problem with the notion of a transcendent deity revealing himself to man in various ways.

To focus my difficulty, consider Genesis. At Gen 1, 3 we read about the creation of light on the first day. But then in verses 14-19 we read about the creation of sources of light on the fourth day. But surely physical light cannot come into existence before the coming into existence of sources of physical lights such as sun, moon, and stars.

SH: Other issues aside, there are scholars like John Walton, Donald Wiseman, and John Sailhammer who, on syntactical or semantic grounds, deny that Gen 1,3 and 14-19 are sequential in that sense.

There are also scholars like Meredith Kline and Bruce Waltke who, on literary grounds, deny that Gen 1,3 and 14-17 are sequential in that sense.

My immediate point is not to say if this is right or wrong. Rather, the point I’m making for now is that I wonder if Vallicella has bothered to consult the standard exegetical literature on Gen 1.

I realize that this is not his field, but that’s part of the problem. Frankly, there’s an amateurish quality to the examples being deployed to illustrate the errancy of Scripture.

WV: Genesis also implies that the creation was a temporal process lasting six or seven days. But it is obvious that time, however construed, is a contingent being and so in need of creation. Since time is one of the 'things' created, creation cannot be a temporal process. The creation of time cannot occur in time. And if time is uncreated, then creation is not ex nihilo.

SH: This is a rather odd objection. True, you couldn’t have a temporal process prior to time. But all that’s needed is for the creative process to date to an initial fiat.

WV: So if we take Genesis literally, we must admit that it contains at least two errors right at the outset. (Quibble with me about these, and I will simply adduce others.) So the Bible cannot be literally true in its entirety. Perhaps the claim that the Bible is inerrant in its entirety is not to be taken as implying that the Bible is literally true in its entirety. But I don't know, which is why I am asking.

SH: Actually, we can take Genesis literally and admit that Vallicella has leveled two erroneous objections right at the outset.

WV: Thanks for your excellent comment which confirms what I suspected. You write, "Inerrancy is essentially the doctrine that the Bible is truthful in all matters of faith, science, history, etc." It seems to me that if this is what is meant by inerrancy, then no reasonable and informed person of the present time can accept it.

SH: But there are many reasonable and well-informed believers who do subscribe to inerrancy.

So is he saying that we have a number of otherwise reasonable people who become unreasonable as soon as they turn to Scripture?

WV: You mentioned Augustine. The point I made about time was made by Augustine somewhere if memory serves. Augustine and Aquinas would have to be against inerrancy (as you explain it) since they were great philosophers.

I agree with you: the meaning is buried deep and has to be dug out, and that requires the use of reason. And one mark of a reasonable person is the ability to distinguish between the literal and the figurative.

SH: How does the literal/figurative distinction fit into his denial of inerrancy? If, for the sake of argument, we sad the offending passages were figurative, then in what sense are they erroneous?

WV: I like your last paragraph. But now I am deeply puzzled: how could anyone, let alone the very bright people in the EPS, subscribe to inerrancy as you explain it? They must mean something different. Or?

SH: Well, it wouldn’t hurt if he did some reading on the subject. I could suggest a number of authors.

WV: This supports my point of view. If the first 11 chapters are myth, story, allegory, something to be taken figuratively rather than literally, then I have no problem. The message is: the physical universe ("heaven and earth") is not ontologically ultimate but derives its existence from a transcendent source of a purely spiritual nature. Taken in this way, there is no conflict with physical science. But taken in the way the inerrantist wants to take it, there is a conflict. Obviously, the physical universe did not come into existence in six days…

SH: How is it “obvious” that the physical universe did not come into existence in six days?

What would such a universe look like? How would it differ in appearance from what he believes in?

Is he saying that a different cause could never yield the same effect? How would he tell the difference? Our only access to the cause is via the effect.

Does he think that John Byl is unreasonable or uninformed? Does he think that Kurt Wise is unreasonable or uniformed?

WV: Eve was not made out of a rib of Adam…

SH: How is this “obvious”? Does he have positive evidence to the contrary?

WV: Adam was not made out of dust…

SH: Once again, how is this “obvious”? Obvious in relation to what? That it couldn’t happen that way? Or that it didn’t happen that way?

WV: spirit is not wind, etc.

SH: This is rather inept. The Hebrew word has more than one meaning, and it can denote more than one referent.

WV: Does the Bible express even one proposition? The Bible is just a bunch of sentences.

SH: Why the disjunction between sentences and propositions? They are distinct, to be sure. But is he saying that a sentence cannot express a proposition?

WV: God expresses himself through the Bible. But not directly since he needed these various scribes to write things down. And I would suggest that the signal-to-noise ratio is not favorable.

SH: That is not, of itself, an argument against inerrancy. To the contrary, the very notion of inspiration presupposes the inspiration of a secondary agent. God is not inspired. Rather, God inspires the writer.

All Vallicella has done here is to beg the question by a denial of inspiration.

WV: But how could it be literally true that the physical universe came into existence in six days? We know that it didn't.

SH: Once again, how do we know that it didn’t happen that way?

Is he alluding to evidence for the antiquity of the universe?

And is this evidence for a particular process? Or does it presuppose a particular process?

The same cause will yield the same result. But a different cause may also yield the same result.

One suspects that what he’s done is simply to extrapolate from the present to the past.

But unless he subscribes to an infinite regress, he cannot extend the status quo indefinitely. There needs to be some break in the process to get the process up and running in the first place.

WV: Mr. Lovvorn made a distinction between inerrancy and infallibility, where the latter has to do only with matters pertaining to salvation. That strikes me as an essential distinction.

SH: “Essential” in what respect? Is this distinction given in Scripture? Or is it superimposed on Scripture?

WV: The evidence for common descent which is central to (but of course not the whole of) the theory of evolution is overwhelming.

SH: That’s a highly contested claim.

WV: But a literal reading of the Bible rules out common descent.

SH: I agree.

WV: Something has to give.

SH: Once again, I agree.

WV: My tendency will be to argue that man's higher origin and destiny are reconcilable with what we know from the life sciences. One way to go might be James F. Ross, Christians Get the Best of Evolution. (PDF). I have not studied this paper, only glanced at it; I have no firm opinion about it.

To put it crudely, why do (some) Protestants want to make trouble for themselves by adopting the strict inerrancy definition of Feinberg you graciously reproduced for us?

SH: Why do we make trouble for ourselves?

1.We reject opportunistic reinterpretations of Scripture. We also reject stopgap theories of inspiration.

2.We believe that Christianity is a revealed religion. It cannot be redefined at will.

3.We believe that divine revelation is more reliable than a highly inferential scientific construct.

4.We believe that Christian faith involves an element of trust.

WV: Why is it so important that the Bible give us the straight skinny about the physical world?

SH: A revealed religion is a package deal.

WV: I basically agree with Bob. Instead of 3, I would write

3* Scripture is the product of divine and human interaction.

Think of God as an impeccable transmitter and human beings as somewhat defective receivers. The end result will contain both signal and noise, and there will be a problem of separating them.

SH: Does this model have any basis in the self-witness of Scripture? Or is it an ersatz theory of inspiration which Vallicella invented on the spot to correspond with what he’s willing to believe?

Are we to suppose the nature of divine inspiration just happens to coincide with his prior, intellectual loyalties?

WV: Protestantism runs the risk of Bibliolatry. Note that I am not denying the existence of a transcendent God or the reality of divine revelation.

SH: The charge of “Bibliolatry” is purely tactical. “Idolatry” is a Biblical category. Needless to say, the Bible never classifies allegiance to God’s word as idolatrous.

To the contrary, it is idolatrous is to privilege human wisdom above divine wisdom.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Them that live in glass houses...


At 12:18 AM, September 07, 2006, Dave said...

Hi Matthew,

It's true that Jason Engwer is generally "quite gentlemanly and cordial," and a rare bird in that respect for someone whom I classify as an "anti-Catholic Protestant" (i.e., one who thinks that Catholicism is not a Christian belief-system).

That said, I do believe that he is a sophist of the highest order (Steve Hays is even more so). But this is probably not deliberate; it's just par for the course for one who adopts a self-defeating position (that Protestantism is somehow Christian while Catholicism is not).

Yours, in It,

Dave Armstrong
At 12:39 AM, September 07, 2006, Dave said...

I should clarify that when I say Jason is a sophist, I mean with regard to the way he treats Catholicism. It may very well be that when he does what I call "general Christian apologetics," he does a great job (I don't know; I haven't read much of his work). It wouldn't be the first time. I find this to be the case for other well-known anti-Catholic Protestant apologists, such as James White.

Ineptitude in one subject doesn't necessarily bleed over into another. One often finds these sorts of apologists writing perfectly ridiculous stuff about Catholicism, but quite sensible and compelling arguments when dealing with, say, Islam or excessively skeptical biblical criticism.


Yes…well…other issues aside, critics of Armstrong are not limited to us fundy anti-Catholics, but emanate from his own fold:


"C'est La Vie" Dept.
(On David Armstrong Tragic Mental Meltdown)

I spent more time than I should have pondering how to respond to the latest round of escalating bilge from one Dave Armstrong. Part of me considered posting a whole bunch of stuff on this matter and continuing the obliteration of David's fantasies and illogical public grandstanding with systematic and factual accounts of reality.

It is a sad spectacle since Dave is doing nothing more than the very excesses that makes a lot of what passes for "apologetics" so repugnant to me. And while I do at time set traps for my opponents to stumble into, it would not be honest to say that I concocted this as a ploy to trap Dave. No, this time his Tar Baby like snaring was for the most part rather serendipitous. It all gets down to the elements of logic, reason, and the objective presentation of the facts of reality. And no matter how much he publicly grandstands with presumed "new discoveries", those who can look at the evidences without bias can see that Dave has inexorably become another Captain Queeg.{3} It is sad to see someone I once respected so much fall as he has but it is a casualty to the methodology of certain "apologist" sorts.

Then, when Dave started talking behind my back again this month (and I was made aware of it), I sought to undertake a more systematical outlining of what I noted before shorn of almost all invective. What I outlined in two postings this month{8} is irrefutable by Dave and that is why he continues to ignore it.{9} Now, we have his latest attempts at Jerry Springeresque grandstanding{10} for what reason I have no idea...unless it is to generate more $$$ for the "Poor Dave Box" or something.{11} Or unless it is because his fragile ego is still hurting from the thrashing he got last year.{12} Again, I did not in any way compel him to have to respond to anything on that subject. And (furthermore), I did not compel him to make this an issue of personalities which is what he chose (for some reason) to do.{13}

Apologists like him{14} have to always "win" arguments. And when they do not "win", they go about all sorts of disgraceful historical revisionism, tearing their interlocuters words from context, etc. Rather than show some humility and admit that they may have bit off more than they can chew on something, it is viewed as better by them to demonize.



DS: Are you saying that by lack of knowledge we will always do that which God has pre-determined?

SH: We will always do what God decreed because he decreed it, and he executes his decree via creation, miracle, and providence.

Ignorance of the decree is not a positive, causal factor.

But exhaustive knowledge of the decree would be an impediment to its fulfillment.

Lack of knowledge is just that—the absence of something. A negative condition.

The absence of exhaustive knowledge doesn’t do anything, but merely removes a potential obstacle to the realization of the decree.

DS: And I remain confused (perhaps my fault) as to whether humans can thwart God’s will. Whether we have the actual capability to prevent something God pre-determined to happen from happening.

You started this off with:

Steve: To the extent that his decretive will remains a secret, that ensures the fulfillment of his decretive will consistent with his revealed will.

This would certainly imply to me that there is a possiblity God’s decretive will not be fulfilled in some way, and by the term “secret” it is the obtaining of knowledge that would prevent it.

SH: A counterfactual possibility, not a live possibility. If God exhaustively revealed his plan for the world, then that would set up the conditions for its non-fulfillment.

But, of course, that contrary-to-fact condition is not in the cards.

DS: You go on:

Steve: For if God were to reveal his decretive will exhaustively, then this would tip people off, and with that advance knowledge they would then be in a position to thwart the plan.

As I stated in my original comment, this seems to clearly state that knowledge would provide humans with an action they are already capable of doing—namely preventing God’s will from happening.

SH: Hypothetically speaking.

DS: But in this response, you now state:

Steve: 2.It’s not that human beings are able to thwart the will of God.

From which I infer that regardless of knowledge, it is impossible for humans to thwart the will of God. Do you see my confusion?

SH: This does not admit a yes or no answer because we’re dealing with counterfactuals, and so we need to draw some distinctions:

1.If (which is not the case) God were to exhaustively reveal his plan for the world, then, ex hypothesi, then that would place human beings in a position to thwart his will.

2.But they are not, in fact, able to thwart his will, in part because this a counterfactual scenario, and:

3.It would be a contradiction in terms even to speak of God’s decretive will as actually subject to non-fulfillment since, by definition, the decree ensures the outcome.

If it can be frustrated, then it isn’t the decretive will of God, as Calvinism defines it.

DS: Your example of a left turn is a good one, so let’s use that.

Steve: If I know that I’m “supposed” to make a left turn, then I can think of making a right turn instead of a left-turn in defiance of the plan.

Yes, you can think of it. But can you do it?

SH: Depends on how we define "can."


[i] Assume I have the ability to take a right-turn or a left turn.
[ii] Assume I learn, some way, that God has decreed I must take a left turn.
[iii] Assume I intend to thwart God’s plan.


[i] is ambiguous. You have the physical ability to turn either right or left.

[ii] is an assumption which I deny as a live possibility. But we can raise it for the sake of argument. If true (ex hypothesi), then certain consequences would follow.

[iii] is also ambiguous. In principle, someone could form an intention to defy God’s plan, but unless he knew it, he’d be in no position to make good on his intention.

However, you can also connect [iii] to [ii], where [iii] follows from [iii].

DS: Do I have the physical capability of taking a right-turn? Or if God has pre-determined that I will take a left turn, no matter what happens I will take that left turn?


1.You retain the physical ability to turn either way regardless of [ii] and/or [iii].

2.But if God has decreed for you to turn left, then the alternative is not a live possibility.

3.God has not decreed that you turn left despite [ii] and [iii]. Rather, if God has decreed that you turn left, then [ii] and [iii] are not in play.

4.If we grant your assumptions, then it’s possible for the agent to actually do otherwise.

In that event, he would not violate God’s decree, for there would be no decretive course of action to violate.

5.But the decree presupposes that [ii] and [iii] are false assumptions.

DS: Now assume I do not know God’s decree.

Is it possible I will take a right-turn?

SH: A physical possibility? Yes. A live possibility? No.

DS: What if I have no intent whatsoever? I do not know God’s plan, do not even know there is a God. If God DID have a plan, I have no problem following it.

Is it possible, I could inadvertently take that right-turn anyway?

SH: No, because God has decreed that your (strongest) desire is to make a left-turn, and God has also decreed that you will be able to carry out your appointed desire.

Can I be sure?


Some atheists may ask question’s concerning certitude in a spirit of frivolity, but, as a theist, I consider them central. The problem of certitude is, for me, the greatest roadblock to genuine belief.

If I invoke principles of science, historiography, sound hermeneutics, etc. to ground belief, then those beliefs are all falsifiable (subject to qualification, revision, or wholesale rejection at a later date if new evidence warrants it) and, therefore, not the kind of belief that attends to certainty…at least not the kind of certainty I long for.

There are many things of which I’m certain “for all intents and purposes”, not because I have ontological access to them but because those beliefs are useful. Most of what I believe about the sensible world falls into this category. For most of my day-to-day existence I don’t find it problematic that I can’t know the “essence” of objects of knowledge; life mostly works out just fine in the absence of “God knowledge”. Yet, I suffer bouts of philosophical/spiritual angst when I consider the question of God’s existence and my place in His kingdom. To my mind, the only cure is something akin to infallible certainty. Not saying that it exists or that I have it, just that it seems like the only way out of what would otherwise be an intractable epistemological dilemma.

Infallible certainty, or whatever you want to call it, is unlike certainty we have that, say, the General Theory of Relativity is true, or that Churchill was Prime Minister during WWII, since either/both of these examples could, however improbable it may be, turn out to be untrue. Don’t we need to have more certainty of God’s existence than Churchill’s (or your own mother’s, for that matter) if we are to have anything at all? If we can’t convince ourselves that we do, than doesn’t J.L. have a point?

If we do have perfect certainty, then we don’t need arguments at all, since, if we did, they’d be fallible ones (even if brilliant), and, therefore, our certainty would be fallible too. Right? And since infallible certainty can’t be mediated by rational or evidentiary means, it must be that it is gifted to the elect by God directly. Yes? If in answer to this, one posits a kind of synergistic relationship between the Holy Spirit’s witness and our rational means of inquiry, that doesn’t help, even if it is true, since such a phenomenon would not be open to rational inquiry and would still have to result in infallible certainty; it would simply be the mysterious means by which God instills certainty.

I can’t avoid the conclusion that either J.L. is right and Christians don’t have complete certainty, or Steve and others like him have to admit that they possess a God given imperturbable certainty of His existence and their regeneration. In the latter case I’m forced to conclude that any and all arguments in defense of faith are incidental to faith. If all the best evidence favored those opposed to Christianity, the regenerate would remain unimpressed by virtue of their God given certainty, certainty that stands in no demonstrable causal relationship to any evidence.

If this kind of certainty is possible, I’d sure like to get it.



Hi Stuart,

We need to draw a number of distinctions.

1.No, Loftus doesn’t have a point because he’s inconsistently combining elements of an internal critique with elements of an external critique.

As such, he doesn’t have any consistent argument for either line of attack.

2.We need to distinguish between reflective and prereflective knowledge. We frequently have more reasons that we can give. More lines of evidence than we can ever put into words.

We may initially come to know something, then over time we acquire ever more supporting evidence, but it’s impossible for us to remember everything that went into the formation and confirmation of what we now know.

So, in many cases, our knowledge is overdetermined by the evidence. We have more evidence than we need to know something, and we are unable to reconstruct all the lines of evidence feeding into our belief.

3.Likewise, the way I know something, and the way I prove something may be two very different things.

The process by which I come to know something is rather unique. It cannot be exactly duplicated. Your personal experience is not interchangeable with mine.

And the way I prove it may take a very different form than the process of learning. There’s a logical order and a pedagogical order.

There’s the way in which things are metaphysically interconnected, and then there’s the way in which we discover them.

We may discover them one way, and then prove them on the basis of their metaphysical relations.

4.Likewise, there’s a distinction between knowing something, and knowing how we know it. A friend doesn’t have to identify himself when he speaks to us over the phone. We know the sound of his voice.

How we are able to recognize his voice is a complicated question.

But people often make the mistake of equating second-order knowledge (knowing-how) with first-order knowledge (knowing-that), and if they cannot acquit the second-order level of certainty, they mistakenly infer that they lack any solid knowledge.

5.Probability is a relative concept. Probable relative to what is possible, which is, in turn, relative to what is actual.

We generally believe something is possible because it’s been exemplified in various instances.

6.So everything is not uncertain. You can only question one thing in relation to something unquestionable. You doubt or disbelieve something because it comes into conflict with something you already believe or know to be the case.

It’s easy to believe in something if it’s the kind of general thing we already believe in. If it falls into our preexisting classification scheme of what is real.

If something is real, then it must be possible. And our preconception of the possible in turn colors our expectation of the actual.

7.Instead, then, of beginning with doubt or uncertainty, it’s a safer and sounder procedure to begin with the fact that we must know some things to be true, and then ask what else must be true for these to be true. What other conditions must be in place? What other things must exist for me to know what I know?

8.There can also be intellectual impediments to faith. False assumptions. False expectations. These create a mental block to faith and/or certainty.

We can’t directly convince ourselves, but we can remove artificial obstacles which get in the way of spontaneous assent.

9.Absolute certainty is not a condition of saving faith. I’m not saying that absolute certainty is unattainable. But it’s a mistake to set the bar that high.

Christians vary in their spiritual experience. They vary in their level of certitude.

Likewise, the same Christian may become more certain or less certain over time. His level of certitude can increase, decrease, or fluctuate.

Fatalism or foreordination?


DagoodS said:


Interesting discussion, of course. You did say something, though, upon which I would appreciate some discussion:

Are you stating, that as humans we have the capability of thwarting God’s plan, and simply lack the knowledge? How? How could a human mess up God’s plan merely by obtaining more knowledge?

Secondly, doesn’t this introduce a reason for God to be deceptive? If the only thing preventing us from causing God to not be able to do what God wants to do is knowledge, and the only way in which God can prevent us from obtaining that knowledge is by deliberately withholding it, in the event someone DID discover such knowledge, God would be inclined to deceive the person?

This makes knowledge the ultimate weapon (poor choice of words, but still…) against God. Making secrets and deceit the tools by which God could achieve his plan.

Thanks, in advance, for your explanation.


1.We can only resist a plan if we know what the plan is. Only knowledge of the plan would supply a definite objection to rebel against.

If God decreed that I make a left turn at a certain time and place, I could only do otherwise if I knew the content of the plan. It’s the knowledge of A that generates the hypothetical alternative (non-A).

The possibility of resistance is relative to the object of resistance. If I know that I’m “supposed” to make a left turn, then I can think of making a right turn instead of a left-turn in defiance of the plan.

2.It’s not that human beings are able to thwart the will of God.

Rather, the decree is only possible under certain conditions. If those preconditions are withdrawn, then it isn’t possible to decree the outcome.

So I’m not stipulating a decree, and then saying that, given the decree, along with other variables, it’s possible to frustrate the decree.

Rather, I’m saying that predestination is no longer possible if certain preconditions are removed.

3.Now, in principle, it would be possible for God to exhaustively reveal his decree (not that we could process that amount of information), and still determine the outcome.

He could simply override the will of the agent, or box him by various circumstances.

In other words, the alternative to predestinarian determinism is fatalistic determinism.

The textbook case is Greek fatalism. Croesus and Oedipus know their fate. They make very effort to escape their fate. And they fulfill their fate in the very effort to evade their fate.

A modern variant is the B-movie “Final Destination.”

Ironically, this is how the open theist enables God to control the outcome. In open theism, God doesn’t know the future, and so he cannot predetermine the outcome, but he can still determine the outcome by outmaneuvering the human (or diabolical) agent.

So open theism exchanges predestination for fatalism.

There is also a fatalistic quality to Molinism. It endows the agent a libertarian freewill. But the agent has no control over what possible world is instantiated.

Given a choice, he’d prefer to be instantiated in a world where he goes to heaven rather than hell.

So Molinism gives the agent a free “will” without the freedom of opportunity to actually choose otherwise.

4.In Calvinism, by contrast, the agent is not trapped in a scenario against his will. He is not consciously fated to do one thing when he would do otherwise if only given the chance.

So there is, in Calvinism, no tension between what we want to do and what we’re going to do.

5.There’s a distinction between deception and concealment. While some forms of concealment amount to deception, concealment is not inherently deceptive.

And there can be many good reasons for withholding information.

For that matter, there are circumstances in which outright deception is licit, viz., the stock example of hiding Jews from the Nazis.

6.It’s not as if God must intervene, by some special action, to prevent us from discovering the contents of the decree.

The decree is not an object of natural knowledge. We are not privy to the mind of God.

The only possible source of knowledge about the decree would come by way of divine disclosure.

7. As a matter of fact, Scripture does attribute deception to God, via a secondary agent (1 Kg 22:23; Ezk 14:9; 2 Thes 2:9-11).

But God only deceives the reprobate, not the elect.

Indeed, the elect are divinely shielded from deception (Mt 24:22; Rev 20:3).

Some Early Sources On The Sinlessness Of Mary

The Biblical view of Mary seems to be that she was a believer who sometimes sinned. Like John the Baptist, Peter, and other New Testament figures, she's sometimes an example of faithfulness to God and sometimes an example of how "we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). The belief that Mary was a sinner apparently goes back to scripture itself, and it was the prevailing view of the ante-Nicene era. The concept that Mary was sinless for some lengthy portion of her life seems to first arise among patristic sources sometime in the fourth century, but it's accompanied by references to Mary's being a sinner at other times in her life and the continuance of the older view that she was a sinner like anybody else. Below are some examples of relevant comments made by sources of the New Testament and ante-Nicene eras.

A common objection to some of these passages is that Mary may be thought of as having committed some sort of non-sinful error. Sometimes it's suggested that the writer in question may have been referring to having the power to avoid sin within ourselves, so that Mary would be exempted from the category of sinlessness only because she relied on God's power to avoid sin, not because she had committed any sin. Or it will be suggested that since angels don't sin, yet the passages about everybody sinning don't mention an exemption for angels, then perhaps Mary was being exempted without any mention as well. Such arguments have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Since none of the earliest sources refer to Mary as sinless, is it likely that the early sources would repeatedly make comments such as the ones below while having an exemption for Mary in mind? Does the context of these passages suggest that the author is addressing the avoidance of sin by our own power? Or does it suggest that avoidance of sin in general, regardless of the source of the power involved, is in view? Does the context suggest that a category such as angels is being included, or is it more likely that only humans are being addressed, so that no exemption for angels would be needed? While some of these passages, below, aren't explicit, I do believe that the general thrust of the evidence is that Mary was viewed as a sinner by the earliest generations of Christianity.

I should also note that the passages discussed below are representative examples. Other relevant passages from the New Testament and the ante-Nicene sources could be cited.

In the gospels, Mary is often associated with Jesus' unbelieving brothers, not just in terms of being with them, but also in terms of joining them in their opposition to Jesus:

"Not only the religious leaders ([Matthew] 12:24, 38), but Jesus' own family doubted him (Mk 3:21-31, bracketing the Pharisees' attack; cf. Jn 7:5)....Relatives normally sought to conceal other relatives' behavior that would shame the whole family, hence their concern in Mark 3:20-21 (cf. Malina 1993: 80). Their opposition to or disbelief in Jesus is less clear in Matthew than in Mark, perhaps because of the shame of the family's unbelief, especially after Mary's experiences in Matthew's infancy narratives" (Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 369-370)

A group of some of the leading Catholic and Lutheran scholars in the world, while addressing Luke 2:48-50, commented that "Mary's complaining question in v. 48 seems to be a reproach to Jesus" (Raymond Brown, et al., editors, Mary In The New Testament [Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978], p. 160). Darrell Bock writes:

"Mary, speaking for both parents, wants to know why he [Jesus] has done such a seemingly insensitive thing. Jesus' reply in the next verse addresses both of them as well. The form of Mary's question may have OT roots (Gen. 20:9; 12:18; 26:10; Exod. 14:11; Num. 23:11; Judg. 15:11). This is the language of complaint....Bovon 1989: 159 notes that the idiom suggests the questioner's [Mary's] belief that an error has been made." (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], p. 268 and n. 18 on p. 268)

Regarding John 2:4, Craig Keener writes:

"Jesus' answer in v. 4 is a rebuff, but like the rebuff of 4:48, is more a complaint than an assertion that he will not act....Jesus is establishing a degree of distance between himself and his mother, as did the Jesus of the Synoptic tradition....The rebuff element is increased in Jesus' next words ['What is there between us?'], however. In both OT and Gospel tradition (e.g., Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34), as well as Greco-Roman idiom, a phrase like 'What is there between us?' would imply distancing or hostility....But the primary reason for the rebuff must be that his mother does not understand what this sign will cost Jesus: it starts him on the road to his hour, the cross." (The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], pp. 504-506)

Justin Martyr refers to Jesus as the only sinless person, and he denies that a Jewish opponent he was debating, Trypho, could cite a single other person who obeyed all of God's commandments:

"[Jesus is] the only blameless and righteous Man...the only blameless and righteous Light sent by God...Now, we know that He did not go to the river because He stood in need of baptism, or of the descent of the Spirit like a dove; even as He submitted to be born and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because of the human race, which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent, and each one of which had committed personal transgression....For the whole human race will be found to be under a curse. For it is written in the law of Moses, 'Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.' And no one has accurately done all, nor will you [Trypho, an adherent of Judaism] venture to deny this; but some more and some less than others have observed the ordinances enjoined. But if those who are under this law appear to be under a curse for not having observed all the requirements, how much more shall all the nations appear to be under a curse who practise idolatry, who seduce youths, and commit other crimes? If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father's will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves?" (Dialogue With Trypho, 17, 88, 95)

"And who else is perfectly righteous, but the Son of God, who makes righteous and perfects them that believe on Him, who like unto Him are persecuted and put to death?" (Irenaeus, Demonstration Of The Apostolic Preaching, 72)

"Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His Father's will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father's right hand, and with the form of God is God. He is to us a spotless image; to Him we are to try with all our might to assimilate our souls. He is wholly free from human passions; wherefore also He alone is judge, because He alone is sinless. As far, however, as we can, let us try to sin as little as possible. For nothing is so urgent in the first place as deliverance from passions and disorders, and then the checking of our liability to fall into sins that have become habitual. It is best, therefore, not to sin at all in any way, which we assert to be the prerogative of God alone...But He welcomes the repentance of the sinner - loving repentance -which follows sins. For this Word of whom we speak alone is sinless. For to sin is natural and common to all." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 1:2, 3:12)

"But there is some ground for thinking that Christ's answer denies His mother and brethren for the present, as even Apelles might learn. 'The Lord's brethren had not yet believed in Him.' So is it contained in the Gospel which was published before Marcion's time; whilst there is at the same time a want of evidence of His mother's adherence to Him, although the Marthas and the other Marys were in constant attendance on Him. In this very passage [Matthew 12:46-50] indeed, their unbelief is evident. Jesus was teaching the way of life, preaching the kingdom of God and actively engaged in healing infirmities of body and soul; but all the while, whilst strangers were intent on Him, His very nearest relatives were absent. By and by they turn up, and keep outside; but they do not go in, because, forsooth, they set small store on that which was doing within; nor do they even wait, as if they had something which they could contribute more necessary than that which He was so earnestly doing; but they prefer to interrupt Him, and wish to call Him away from His great work. Now, I ask you, Apelles, or will you Marcion, please to tell me, if you happened to be at a stage play, or had laid a wager on a foot race or a chariot race, and were called away by such a message, would you not have exclaimed, 'What are mother and brothers to me?' And did not Christ, whilst preaching and manifesting God, fulfilling the law and the prophets, and scattering the darkness of the long preceding age, justly employ this same form of words, in order to strike the unbelief of those who stood outside, or to shake off the importunity of those who would call Him away from His work? If, however, He had meant to deny His own nativity, He would have found place, time, and means for expressing Himself very differently, and not in words which might be uttered by one who had both a mother and brothers. When denying one's parents in indignation, one does not deny their existence, but censures their faults. Besides, He gave Others the preference; and since He shows their title to this favour--even because they listened to the word of God--He points out in what sense He denied His mother and His brethren. For in whatever sense He adopted as His own those who adhered to Him, in that did He deny as His those who kept aloof from Him. Christ also is wont to do to the utmost that which He enjoins on others. How strange, then, would it certainly have been, if, while he was teaching others not to esteem mother, or father, or brothers, as highly as the word of God, He were Himself to leave the word of God as soon as His mother and brethren were announced to Him! He denied His parents, then, in the sense in which He has taught us to deny ours--for God's work. But there is also another view of the case: in the abjured mother there is a figure of the synagogue, as well as of the Jews in the unbelieving brethren. In their person Israel remained outside, whilst the new disciples who kept close to Christ within, hearing and believing, represented the Church, which He called mother in a preferable sense and a worthier brotherhood, with the repudiation of the carnal relationship. It was in just the same sense, indeed, that He also replied to that exclamation of a certain woman, not denying His mother's 'womb and paps,' but designating those as more 'blessed who hear the word of God.' [Luke 11:28]" (Tertullian, On The Flesh Of Christ, 7)

"Origen insisted that, like all human beings, she [Mary] needed redemption from her sins; in particular, he interpreted Simeon's prophecy (Luke 2, 35) that a sword would pierce her soul as confirming that she had been invaded with doubts when she saw her Son crucified." (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 493)

"He [Jesus] alone did no sin at all" (A Treatise On Re-Baptism By An Anonymous Writer, 17)