Thursday, June 07, 2007

All's Well That Ends The Well of Questions

MG has responded to my reply:

Once again, this thread is limited to MG.

"The only infallible authority in Orthodoxy is the Church as a whole."

i) I didn't refer to infallible authority, just authority. Some Orthodox are more authoritative than others due to their institutional standing.

ii) So you deny that ecumenical councils are infallible inasmuch as they only represent a tiny subset of the church as a whole?

iii) How do you survey the mind of the church as a whole? Or is this just an empty abstraction?

"In this way, a 'Protestant-like' criteria of 'who has the best interpretation' could be used to adjudicate between conflicting claims by hierarchs to represent Orthodox teaching."

So your ultimate fallback position is the Protestant right of private judgment?

"I am fine with having a Protestant epistemology operate in a certain sphere of inquiry (ie. establishing which organization accurately represents Christianity, adjudicating between conflicting interpretations of infallible doctrine). But if we find out that a certain organization accurately represents Christianity, namely Orthodoxy, then it would be appropriate to start operating with an Orthodox epistemology."

This assumes that these are, in fact, compatible and supplementary theories of knowledge. But in case of conflict, which one takes precedence?

"Surely pre-enlightenment thinkers were concerned with certainty to some degree and had some desire for it. But I think we can both agree that the enlightenment emphasized it much more heavily."

No, I don't agree. What makes you think that Locke or Descartes was more concerned with certainty than Plato or Augustine or Aquinas?

"How does 'no qualification is mentioned' imply 'there are no qualifications?"

You have the burden of proof upended. The absence of any qualification doesn't mean the onus lies on someone to disprove an implicit qualification, but on someone to prove an implicit qualification.

"As it turns out many Orthodox clergy have been known to have such spiritual gifts. If you would like me to provide you with evidence of this, then please ask and I can give more details."

i) There is nothing in the passage which limits its scope to the clergy. Indeed, that would be rather anachronistic in context.

ii) And even if there were, do your details include immunity to poison?

"I think the Church was given its authority directly by Jesus and the Holy Spirit."

In Scripture, you mean? Then Scripture authorizes the church rather than vice versa.

"I just don’t think its self-authentication (if it has that) could establish its authority."

Then how can Scripture authorize the church? If not, then where does your appeal to Jesus and the Holy Spirit come from? (You touch upon this below).

"Perhaps some people can realize it is God’s revelation by just reading it; but that doesn’t seem to be a sufficient grounding for biblical authority that can really bind all of our consciences."

Why would an argument from experience need to be binding on those who have no such experience to be valid for those who are privy to it? It would still be binding on those who do have that experience. For the others, they might need another ground.

"And of course the Church couldn’t have canonized either of those texts, because they do not contain the content of Christian revelation or even worthwhile reading that can be read in Church to encourage Christians. Because God is a certain way and Jesus is a certain way, the Church could never accept books that are contrary to how God and Jesus are."

How do you know what Christ is like apart from Scripture? So if Scripture is in no degree self-authenticating, then how does content place a bar on what is canonical or not?

"So one could argue, without assuming the authority of Scripture, that Jesus gave the Church infallibility."

Even if that were the claim, it would be a fallible claim to a claim of infallibility. How does that improve on what you find deficient in the Protestant rule of faith?

Unless the Bible is in some degree self-authenticating, you cannot bootstrap your way from a fallible witness to an infallible witness. The testimony cannot rise above its source.

"The question then becomes how the early Christians understood the relationship between the apostles’ authority and gift of the Holy Spirit and the nature of the Church. Our best bet is to assume that what happened in the early Church accurately reflects the kind of authority the apostles had and the actual consequences of the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Why is that our best bet? There were heretics in NT times, during the lifetime of the Apostles. A number of NT letters combat heresy in NT churches (when an apostle was away). So you need a more discriminating standard than antiquity.

And appeal to the early "Church" begs the question of which local churches were true churches or false churches. So, once again, you need a more discriminating standard.

"We see the authority of the apostles exercised in Acts 15 with the apostolic decree. The early Christian Church understood its decrees as being divine revelation. Hence the statement 'it seemed fit to the Holy Spirit and to us' (Acts 15:28)."

This equivocates over the identity of the "early church." In context, it refers to the Apostolic church, not the subapostolic church.

"So the early Church understood itself as founded on Christ and the apostles, and as having the power to decree things with divine authority."

i) You're oscillating between the authority of the apostles and the authority of the church. Prooftexts for one are not automatically transferable to the other. Your conclusion overreaches your supporting material—by a wide margin.

ii) It's equally equivocal to invoke what Scripture says about the Church, then invert this into what the subapostolic church understood about itself. There's a continual slippage in your argument.

"This also coheres well with other Pauline statements about the Church revealing divine wisdom (Ephesians 3:9-10)"

That has no reference to divine teaching authority.

"And being the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15)."

In context, that's a reference to a local church, not the universal church. And a reference to a NT local church during the lifetime of the apostles.

"Because this is the only interpretation we have from early Christians about the nature of the Church, absent evidence to the contrary, we should assume this accurately reflects and appropriates Jesus’ own understanding."

You keep referring to the "early Church" in the singular. But this monolithic picture oversimplifies the variety of claimants. What about "heretics" and "schismatics"? What about the historical evolution of the episcopate? What about the evolution of certain patriarchates?

"I think the criteria would be that the best claimant to being the Church is whoever 1. Understands itself in the same way that Jesus and the apostles understood the Church."

This assumes the priority of Scripture.

"2. Seems to in fact operate and exist in the same way that the original Church operated and existed."

Isn't NT church polity far simpler than Orthodox church polity?

"Well I can’t be certain that Jesus and the apostles taught that 'the majority of the hierarchy can make infallible decisions when in consensus'. But if the early Church was at all consistent with what Jesus had actually said, then it seems that a collegial/consensus model of authority should be the most likely framework for Church authority."

You're missing the point. In your original statement you made a sudden jump from "the church as a whole" to "the majority of the hierarchy."

So you're alternating between two propositions that are by no means interchangeable.

"Well I would say that if a person believes something contrary to the teaching of the apostles they are not actually a part of the Church. Arianism is clearly contrary to the teaching of the apostles so I don’t see any need to ask questions about whether or not an Arian council or an Arian consensus would be valid."

Sorry, but this is textbook special-pleading. You were the one who originally appealed to the "majority of the hierarchs." When, however, a majority of the hierarchs goes off the reservation, you say they don't belong to the true church.

I don't deny this, but if you're going to make that move, then your Orthodox polity is just as unreliable as the Protestant polity you find fault with.

"Could you provide documentation for the idea that the majority of the hierarchy agreed to the council?"


"One of the worst conciliar debacles occurred with the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439) wherein all the sitting hierarchs except Mark of Ephesus capitulated to Rome; and on returning to their dioceses they met an angry reception—and most swiftly recanted in order to hold their sees," Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church, 50.


"However this would seem to only apply to a few books."

No, intertextuality is a pervasive literary phenomenon.

"And in any case it presupposes the divine authority of the authors."

i) The first question to answer is the degree to which the self-witness of Scripture testifies to the scope of the canon.

ii) Whether or not you believe that testimony is a separate question with separate answers.

"This wouldn’t imply that the Bible is authoritative, just that it is accurate. What grounds the authority of the Bible?"

You're merging two or three distinct issues:

i) How do we identify the canon?

ii) How authoritative is this identification?

iii) How do we establish the authority of Scripture?

Although these questions are interrelated, there's no one answer to all three.

"It might give an individual access to the fact that the Bible has authority; but what about individuals who don’t have a confirming religious experience when they ask if the Bible is true? By what authority are they commanded to assent to the truth of the inspired Scriptures?"

Perhaps they lack this experience because they're unregenerate. Nominal believers.

Instead of pointing them to an ecclesiastical shortcut, they need the New Birth.

"I don’t see how any of this would ground the publicly-revealed authority of the Scriptures. Is there a publicly-accessible basis then is there for the Evangelical belief in the infallibility and authority of the Bible?"

Ground it for whom? Believers or unbelievers?

We cannot eliminate the subjective element, for we cannot eliminate grace.

We can supplement the subjective element with objective lines of evidence. As you must know, there are various ways of arguing for the inspiration of Scripture.

"Where can I find your critique?"

"I see your point about frequency. Can you provide me with some examples where yada means 'choice'?"

As you're now aware, I've given some examples from Witherington. And I’ve also posted a reply to Abasciano.

"And also, if yada can mean 'choose' or 'know cognitively about the qualities of a person or thing' then doesn’t this just put the two meanings on equal footing?"

That doesn't put them on an equal exegetical footing, for the operative meaning is context-dependent.

"Why do you think proegno here functions as an antonym for aposato?"

Because the function of the relative clause in v2 is to ground the denial in v1. The verb in v2 forms an antithetical parallel to the verb in v1, as a positive way of affirming and supporting what he denies in v1.

God will not reject his people, because he chose them—indeed, chose them beforehand (i.e. foreordination).

God doesn't change his mind or go back on his word. That's the drift. And that's the structural relation between the two sentences.

"Why do you think proginosko applies to the remnant?"

Because, in Romans, there's a contrast between ethnic Israel as a whole and the remnant. Ethnic Israel in general will fall away. Indeed, that had already occurred in the rejection of their Messiah. It's the remnant that remains faithful because it's the remnant that's the object of divine election.

Study the flow of argument in Rom 11:1-5. Look at how v5 answers to 1-2.

"Wouldn’t it be better to compare Pauline theology to the Pharisees?"

My point is that Arminians are closer to the Sadducees, and Paul's audience would not hear him taking the side of the Sadducees in Rom 9-11. So that's one reason to reject the Arminian interpretation.

There are, however, many other factors involved in pinning down the correct interpretation. That's just one way of narrowing the field of options.

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