Friday, August 24, 2007

The Ugly Duckling of Orthodoxy

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays and Gene Bridges. Perry Robinson's words are in blue and indented. Steve's words are in plain text. And Gene's words are in green.)

Perry Robinson has responded1to something I previously wrote.2
I generally like Monty Python. And of course I dig the Holy Grail. It’s a hoot. The Black Knight is especially funny. Ever major wound is “Tis but a scratch!” No arms? I’ll kick you to death! No legs? No problemo. “Ill bite your bloody knee caps off!” The man doesn’t known when to quit. So it seems with Steve Hays and Gene Bridges over at Triablogue.
And Robinson is the Ugly Duckling of Orthodoxy. He never felt at home in the Protestant roost, meandering from one pond to another until he at last beheld his own reflection in the bejeweled chalice of Orthodoxy. To paraphrase Frank Loesser:

There once was an ugly young churchling
With feathers all stubby and brown
And the other churchlings said in so many words
Get out of town
Get out, get out, get out of town
And he went with a quack and a waddle and a quack
In a flurry of eiderdown
That poor little churchling
Went wandering far and near
But at every place they said to his face
Now get out, get out, get out of here
And he went with a quack and a waddle and a quack
And a very unhappy tear
All through the wintertime he hid himself away
Ashamed to show his face, afraid of what others might say
All through the winter in his lonely clump of wheat
Till a flock of Oriental swans spied him there
And very soon they agreed:
You’re a very fine swan indeed!
A swan? Me a swan? Ah, go on!
Yet they said yes, you’re a swan
Take a look at yourself in the chalice and you’ll see
And he looked, and he saw, and he said
I am a swan! Wheeeeeeee!
I’m not such an ugly young churchling
No feathers all stubby and brown
But downy brocade and a glittering crown!
For in fact these swans in so many words said
The best tailor in town,
The best, the best
The best tailor in town!
Not a quack, not a quack, not a waddle or a quack
But smells and bells and a snowy white throwback
And a head so noble and high-churchly
Say who’s an ugly churchling now?
Not I!
Not I!

Steve’s comments even if correct still give us no example of where the Bible uses the method.
I gave examples from Carson.
Second, I am not assuming that we must be able to exegete the resurrection from the passage in isolation, but that we must do so primarily on the basis of the grammar of the text. Pull in the grammar of any other text if you like. The literal meaning of the text is primary, is it not?
And how does the interpretation of R. T. France, which I quoted, depart from the grammar or literal meaning of the text?
Yet Jesus doesn’t interpret the passage based on those considerations.
This is misleading. For one thing, it jumbles two different questions into one: (i) How does Jesus exegete the text, and (ii) How do we exegete the text?

Jesus is addressing fellow Jews who already understand the background of Exod 3:6. By contrast, the job of a modern commentator is to bring the modern reader up to speed by filling in the blanks. What was common knowledge to the original audience isn’t common knowledge to the modern audience.

The grammatico-historical method isn’t operating with a different set of principles. Rather, it spends a certain amount of time explicating the unspoken assumptions of the text, since the original audience brings a broad preunderstanding to the text which, at our cultural distance, a modern audience doesn’t share.
To appeal to the idea that the function of a citation is to act as a trigger for associations is just to capitulate that something else other than syntactical/semantical considerations are sufficient to give the literal sense of the passage.
One of Robinson’s problems is that he equivocates. He originally asked how the grammatico-historical method would justify this inference. But now he’s substituting “literal” for grammatico-historical, which exposes the fact that he doesn’t understand what the grammatico-historical method amounts to.

The GHM is a hermeneutical method, not a type of interpretation (i.e. literal). It doesn’t prejudge whether any given passage will yield a literal or figurative sense.

So, let’s take a look at the text itself before moving on, just for Perry’s benefit to illustrate how this works.

One of the problems with Perry is that he doesn't do an exegesis of the text to know if what he's saying is correct or not, and where he has in this cased made an attempt it is patently false.

The issue isn't whether or not the GHM can produce the Resurrection from the dead from Exodus 3:6 in isolation without reference to other texts or “the Church” or “Christologically.” The issue is very simply "Why did Jesus cite Exodus 3:6?" and "What associations does that text trigger? - For that exegetical conclusion is derived from several texts, not 3:6 in isolation." For our purposes, from our vantage point we also need to consider the Jewish understanding in that century – which, I might add Perry glosses right over and does not address at all.

Did the Jews believe this text taught the resurrection? Yes.

37. Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

[He calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, &c.] "Why doth Moses say (Exo 32:13), Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? R. Abin saith, The Lord said unto Moses, 'I look for ten men from thee, as I looked for that number in Sodom: find me out ten righteous persons among the people, and I will not destroy thy people.' Then said Moses, 'Behold, here am I, and Aaron, and Eleazar, and Ithamar, and Phineas, and Caleb, and Joshua.' 'But' saith God, 'these are but seven; where are the other three?' When Moses knew not what to do, he saith, 'O eternal God, do those live that are dead?' 'Yes,' saith God. Then saith Moses, 'If those that are dead do live, remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'"

One need only thumb through Judaica to know that.

God is not the God of the dead.] Read, if you please, the beginning of the chapter Chelek, where you will observe with what arguments and inferences the Talmudists maintain the resurrection of the dead out of the law; namely, by a manner of arguing not unlike this of our Saviour's. We will produce only this one; "R. Eliezer Ben R. Josi said, In this matter I accused the scribes of the Samaritans of falsehood, while they say, That the resurrection of the dead cannot be proved out of the law. I told them, You corrupt your law, and it is nothing which you carry about in your hands; for you say, That the resurrection of the dead is not in the law, when it saith, 'That soul shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity is upon him.' 'Shall be utterly cut off'; namely, in this world. 'His iniquity is upon him': when? Is it not in the world to come?" I have quoted this, rather than the others which are to be found in the same place; because they seem here to tax the Samaritan text of corruption; when, indeed, both the text and the version, as may easily be observed, agree very well with the Hebrew. When, therefore, the Rabbin saith, that they have corrupted their law, he doth not so much deny the purity of the text, as reprove the vanity of the interpretation: as if he had said, "You interpret your law falsely, when you do not infer the resurrection from those words which speak it so plainly."

With the present argument of our Saviour compare, first, those things which are said by R. Tanchum: "R. Simeon Ben Jochai saith, God, holy and blessed, doth not join his name to holy men while they live, but only after their death; as it is said, 'To the saints that are in the earth.' When are they saints? When they are laid in the earth; for while they live, God doth not join his name to them; because he is not sure but that some evil affection may lead them astray: but when they are dead, then he joins his name to them. But we find that God joined his name to Isaac while he was living: 'I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac.' The Rabbins answer, He looked on his dust as if it were gathered upon the altar. R. Berachiah said, Since he became blind, he was in a manner dead." See also R. Menahem on the Law.

Compare also those words of the Jerusalem Gemara: "The righteous, even in death, are said to live; and the wicked, even in life, are said to be dead. But how is it proved that the wicked, even in life, are said to be dead? From that place where it is said, I have no delight in the death of the dead. Is he already dead, that is already here called dead? And whence is it proved that the righteous, even in death, are said to live? From that passage, 'And he said to him, This is the land, concerning which I sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob'...He saith to him, Go and tell the fathers, whatsoever I promised to you, I have performed to your children."3

(I do so enjoy Lightfoot, as he knew his way around Judaica so well).

I'd also point out the notes on this from John Nolland's commentary (NIGTC), where he discusses Philo's allegorical interpretation in a footnote and then points to other sources for rabbinic attempts to deduce resurrection of the dead from Moses. (See footnote 92 on page 906).4

See also, his citation of Dreyfus.

And note too that 4 Macc. 7:19; 16:25 (which one would think Perry would know about) support the conviction these 3 live on.
4Mac 7:19
they who believe that to God they die not; for, as
our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they live to
4Mac 16:25
And they saw this, too, that they who die for God,
live to God; as Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and
all the patriarchs.

Jesus is not inventing a new interpretation of this text. Rather, He is setting the religious leaders at odds with each other. He's appealing to one side over the other and starting an argument to confute them for trying to confute him. This is not at all a new interpretation. This is, of course, the way the Synoptics regularly portray His interaction with them.

The citation of Exodus 3:6 would, of course, trigger theses associations in the minds of the teachers and those in earshot. Perry also forgets that this text (Mt. 22:30) alludes to Dn 12, where very plainly the resurrection is taught.5 Jesus is linking Daniel (like the angels in heaven). Jesus is taking the Pharisees side on the Scriptures too, and he's doing it in front of the people. Jesus is, thus, in line with the GHM here, for the GHM is sensitive to this kind of intertextuality.

And the issue is one of inference, for that was the position of the Pharisees at this time. They did not argue that the Law could directly teach the Resurrection and that isn’t Jesus argument here, nor is it ours. Rather, they taught it inferred the Resurrection. Jesus takes that position too, for he links the plain text of Daniel with the inference of Exodus. That, for Perry, is how grammatical-historical exegesis works. One interprets the unclear by the clear.

Here is sample from Judaica regarding the Jewish understanding of these issues.6

For more on the Resurrection and the Pentateuch in Jewish rabbinical thought see Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and Torah: A Second Look.7

Moreover, even if this idea were to be let through as supporting the grammatical-historical method it bumps up against the text itself since plenty of people had those background associations and yet couldn’t seem to derive the interpretation that Jesus gives, which explains well why they were “astonished.” What’s there to be “astonished” about if they all pretty much had the same background data and the literal sense already?
i) To begin with, Jesus has more than one audience. He’s responding to a challenge posed by the Sadducees. The Sadducees denied the afterlife, even though there are OT passages that explicitly affirm the afterlife. Their precommitment to mortalism precluded them from inferring the afterlife from this verse of Scripture or any other.

But Jesus is also speaking for the benefit of other onlookers. The crowds that followed him from place to place. And most of them were dependent on the religious authorities for their knowledge of Scripture, and interpretation thereof.

They knew the narrative contours of Scripture. But this doesn’t mean they thought through the interpretation of every verse. On the other hand, they wouldn’t have found his interpretation persuasive unless it dovetailed with their general knowledge of Scripture.

There’s nothing the least bit surprising about this. Christians who know the basic storyline of Scripture are often startled by a novel interpretation. They hadn’t heard it before, or thought of it before, but as soon as someone draws their attention to it, it falls right into place.

ii) However, that isn’t necessarily the point of Mt 22:33. Perry is evidently assumed that they were astonished at the content of his teaching. But they were more likely astonished at his ability to go head-to-head with the Jewish authorities and beat them at their own game. “The multitudes are again astounded by Jesus’ quick wit (22:33; cf. 7:28; 22:22,46),”8

Again, let’s spend some time here.

Were the people astonished because that isn't the literal, plain meaning of the text? Where does Matthew talk about them being astonished for that reason? Where is Perry getting that information? It clearly isn't from the text, for it is nowhere in it.

Matthew is bookending 22:32 with 7:28. The crowds are amazed not because "that's not the plain, literal reading of the text," but because Jesus speaks as one in authority - and able to silence the Sadducees, something even the Pharisees were unable to do with them. The text goes on from there to talk about the Pharisees, having now seen Jesus silence their opposition, challenge him themselves. He then silences them. Afterward nobody dared to ask Him another question. The astonishment of the crowd is clearly over Jesus ability to confute their teachers - not the interpretation He gives. It appears to me that Perry is the one who is "unable to understand spiritual things." For one who talks about us needing to quote sources, Perry would do well to crack a few commentaries himself.

The point is that the background data wasn’t sufficient to get you to the true meaning, which isn’t the literal meaning. If you do think that Jesus’ interpretation is the plain and literal meaning of Exodus it’d be nice for you to show me that it is so.
i) Perry needs to define his terms. What does he mean by “plain and literal”?

ii) As I’ve said before, Perry is shifting gears. He originally posed the question in terms of the GHM. Now, however, he’s recasting the question in terms of the “plain and literal” meaning. But “plain and literal” are hardly synonymous with the GHM.

iii) ”Literal” in contrast to what? Figurative? Is Jesus teaching a figurative resurrection of the just? No.

iv) The real question is whether Jesus drew a valid inference in light of Pentateuchal covenant theology. I answer in the affirmative.
The people were astonished because it wasn’t the literal meaning of the text. They didn’t understand the true meaning because natural men do not understand godly things. So while it is true that knowledge of the patriarchs is a necessary condition for understanding the passage as Jesus does, it isn’t a sufficient condition, which implies that the grammatical-historical method is inadequate. So in no way does any of this show how you could get that meaning from those words in that context by linguistic analysis alone. The Spirit blows where He Will.
i) Perry is now confounding the objective sense of the text with the subjective mental state of the audience. Even if we accept his explanation that the crowd didn’t understand the true meaning of the text because they were “natural” men, lacking spiritual illumination, that wouldn’t add anything to the meaning of the text. Rather, that would create a mind receptive to the meaning of the text. So Perry is committing a category mistake.

ii) And his argument either proves too much or too little. If the reason they didn’t grasp the true meaning of the text was due to a spiritual impediment, then Jesus’ explanation would fall on deaf ears. As long as they’re in their “natural” state, godly things will continue to elude them even when their attention is drawn to godly things—just as pointing a color-blind man to a rose garden doesn’t make him see shades of red.
The France citation simply begs the question for he wishes to claim it is by some implication that Jesus shows that the relationship between God and the patriarchs still holds good. But what implication would that be? By what rule of reasoning does one get from, God had this relation to, God still has this relation?
i) Notice that Perry sounds just like the Sadducees. “Resurrection? What Resurrection?” Perhaps Perry can’t grasp the true meaning of the text because he remains in his natural state.

ii) The whole point of a God who binds himself by covenant, as a covenant-keeping God, is that God is always faithful to his promises, to which the Patriarchs were party. He maintains his end of the bargain.
The same could be asked concerning Paul’s use of “seed” in Gal 3:16 or Gal 4:21ff with respect to the two women. To note that the way that the NT writers use OT material forces us to think “afresh” is just to note that the meaning is spiritually discerned and not accessible by the grammar of the text.
i) I’m not going to play a game of car-tag with Perry, in hot pursuit of every prooftext he throws out the window. I’ve seen more than enough car chases in my time, and Hollywood does it better.

Perry is now dusting off stock objections as if no one had ever dealt with these before. If you want to know how a practioner of the GHM would answer your questions, try reading their commentaries, viz. Bruce or Longenecker on Galatians.

ii) It doesn’t require spiritual discernment to discern the true meaning of Scripture. It only requires intellectual discernment. It’s quite possible for an unregenerate commentator to discern the true meaning of Scripture. For the unregenerate, the spiritual impediment is not with the meaning of Scripture, but with the authority of Scripture. Indeed, it’s because the unregenerate are in a position to know better than their unbelief is culpable.

A liberal Bible scholar can have a better understanding of exegetical theology than a regenerate layman. He understands much more, but believes far less.

iii) Incidentally, Perry’s reasoning is reversible. Given the way he misinterprets Scripture, we should conclude, by his own logic, that Perry is unregenerate.
The Jews were competent users of the grammar as well as being well aware of the historical facts and yet they got the interpretation wrong.
Fallacious. That would only follow, at best, if the Jews offered a contrary interpretation of Exod 3:6 wherein they denied its implications for the resurrection of the just. That would be a misinterpretation. But merely failing to see its bearing on the afterlife is hardly the same thing as “getting the interpretation wrong.” Not perceiving something is different than misperceiving something.

And let’s remember, once again, what “Jews” we’re talking about. In context, what we have, on the one hand, are the Sadducees, along with the “crowd” (i.e. Jewish laymen) on the other.
It would be nice if Hays could use his imagination and anticipate how I might answer these questions rather than pretending that he actually has an argument here by merely asking a question.
What would be nice is if Perry were to present his alternative exegesis, using something other than the GHC to get from Exod 3:6 to Mt 22:32. Appealing to “spiritual discernment” does not chart a course from Exod 3:6 to Mt 22:32.
I think that the OT Scriptures testify to Christ (Jn 5:39) and so it is only by seeing the scripture theandrically or Christologically, as the Apostles were trained to do by Christ that they understood the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27)
i) This is so amorphous that it could either be true or false depending on how he applies it. Does Perry interpret 1 Sam 24:3 theandrically and/or Christologically? Does spiritual discernment elicit the true, theandric meaning of this verse?

ii) In addition, Robinson is erecting a false dichotomy, as if a theandric reading of Scripture is one thing, while a grammatico-historical reading is another.

But if Scripture is objectively Christocentric, then the GMC will uncover its Christocentricity. To deny that a grammatico-historical reading is Christocentric denies that Scripture, itself, is Christocentric.
If Scripture is the rule and everyone’s application of the rule possesses the same degree of normativity, then it seems that no one is obligated to adhere to any other interpretation than their own in the absence of reasons they judge to be sufficient to alter their judgment.
A straw man argument since the Protestant rule of faith does not entail the thesis that “everyone’s application of the rule possesses the same degree of normativity.” So Perry is getting off on the wrong foot.
The judgment of the church seems to carry a sufficiently higher degree of normativity than any individual.
Any individual? What about an apostle? Mt 18:17 is only as reliable as the Apostle who recorded it for posterity.
Much the same could be said for Paul’s actions in 1 Cor 5:5 and 1 Tim 1:20.
Isn’t Paul an individual? And isn’t he issuing orders to the church? So this isn’t emanating from the church.

(Actually, there’s nothing about the church in 1 Tim 1:20.)
We would need something with a greater degree of normativity than knowledge to match the kind of normativity that the NT ascribes to the church’s ministerial judgments.
We do? Is Perry claiming that church discipline is predicated on infallible ministerial judgments? Is every instance of church discipline in the history of the Orthodox church infallible?

And if it’s fallible rather than infallible, then how is Orthodox church discipline any more or less normative than Protestant church discipline?
That kind of normativity is sufficient to bind not only the conscience of another person, but their body and soul with respect to eternal destiny apart from their assent and that level of normativity seems greater than that found at the level of knowledge. Secondly, on epistemological grounds, given fallibilism, for any knowledge claim of contingent agents there will always be a sufficient amount of epistemic distance between thinking that we fulfills the conditions on knowledge and actually doing so (See Greco, Putting Skeptics in Their Place). So knowledge claims won’t be sufficient to ground the kind of normativity necessary to map the biblical view on the ministerial authority of the Church.
i) Where is this coming from? Is this an allusion to something like Mt 18:18?

If so, is Perry claiming that every instance of Orthodox church discipline in the whole history of Eastern Orthodoxy was ratified by heaven? Are there no examples in which Orthodox church discipline was a miscarriage of justice? No cases of church authorities abusing their authority?

ii) Perry is also guilty of acontextual spooftexting. As one scholar has noted:
There is an inevitable tension between these two factors, the frightening responsibility of passing on the decrees of heaven and the all to clear fallibility of the actual people to whom this responsibility is delegated. Matthew does not offer a direct resolution of this tension, but the fact that he allows the two factors to stand side by side suggest that we should be cautious of assuming that he held so naïve of view of the church of the church that he saw no problem in endorsing any and every pronouncement made by a group of disciples. The ideal of the clear communication of the will of heaven through the presence of Jesus among his people must always be balanced by the fallibility and self-interest to which those people continue to be prone, and the recognition that it is not always easy in practice to discern where the true people of God is to be found (a problem of which Matthew was well aware, as we shall see later in this chapter.9
iii) You have a parallel to church discipline in the OT penal code. Yet, as the OT prophets constantly complain, there were many miscarriages of justice in the actual enforcement of the penal code by corrupt judges and perjurious witnesses. Indeed, the trial of Christ is the supreme case in point.

The OT penal code was normative, even though its concrete implementation was fallible as well as vulnerable to grave injustice—in the wrong hands.
Moreover, the Protestant position on the canon necessarily and functionally relegates divine revelation to the realm of a pragmatic or provisionally adhered to body of documents so that what counts for divine revelation becomes a function of provisional judgment.
i) Even if this were the whole story, what it would mean is that our canon is provisional insofar as the evidence for our canon is provisional, which is, in turn, contingent on the state of the evidence that God has chosen to preserve for his people. If our judgment is provisional, that is due to the fact that we form our judgment on the basis of the provisional evidence that God has supplied us with. If he wanted us to form a different judgment, it was within his power to supply us with better or more abundant evidence.

Is the evidence inadequate? That’s not my claim. But if it were inadequate, then we are having to form a provisional judgment on the basis of the inadequate evidence that God has left at our disposal.

Assuming that worst-case scenario, why is that my problem? Why should I fret over circumstances beyond my control? God could prevent the worst-case outcome if he wanted to. If he did not prevent this outcome, then why should it bother me if it didn’t bother him?

ii) As usual, Perry theological method is aprioristic. He stipulates that a given outcome is unacceptable, then he invents a theological system to yield the desired result. (More precisely, he piggybacks on someone else’s theological invention.)

iii) There’s also a difference between the evidence we adduce to make a public case for the canon, and our spontaneous faith in the word of God. Many Christians believe the Bible because they find the Bible believable. That’s a reflexive effect of regeneration. Our faith in Scripture is not provisional in the same sense that our arguments for Scripture may be. But religious experience doesn’t figure in the public evidence for the canon.
As James White never tires of harping, “Words have meaning.” Of course White doesn’t show any proficiency in being able to say exactly what meaning is or how he found that out. I suppose some conceptual apple of Newton’s just fell out of the sky giving him a full blown theory of meaning which he is yet to grace us with.
White can speak for himself, but since you choose to drag him into this debate, permit me to point out that one doesn’t need to have a prefabricated theory of meaning to know what something means. Unless we had a pretheoretical grasp of meaning, we couldn’t even formulate a theory of meaning. And unless we had a pretheoretical grasp of meaning, we couldn’t grasp the meaning of the competing theories of meaning.

Perry is falling into the Socratic gimmick of supposing that you can’t know something unless you can define it. Does Perry think the OT prophets had a theory of meaning? Does Perry think the apostles had a theory of meaning?

For that matter, how many Orthodox laymen or clergymen have a sophisticated theory of meaning at their fingertips? Must the readers of Perry’s blog submit a theory of meaning for his preapproval before they’re entitled to agree with him? What ecumenical council has formally defined the correct theory of meaning?
Hays states that the Protestant position isn’t claiming to be superior. Well that is certainly news to me since Protestant apologists like Hays never seem tired of claiming so. In fact, the Protestant position is proffered as superior which is then employed as a reason for preferring it to its competitors. If Hays wishes to concede that it isn’t in fact a better position, and its consequent that it lacks warrant on that point to justify someone believing it over its competitors, I am all too happy to concede that point.
Perry is either a demagogue or deficient in mental concentration. In context, I was discussing the rule of faith. Protestants don’t adopt sola scriptura on pragmatic grounds. Rather, we adopt sola scriptura because it’s true. This is the rule of faith which God has imposed on the church. Indeed, I was quite explicit on that point.
And Hays makes the claim too strong. He writes, “The Protestant position would only need to be problem-proof if we made that a criterion for the true rule of faith.” If a position has conceptual problems that it cannot address, that seems to be grounds for rejecting it or at least not adhering to it in the first place.
Once again, Perry is either a demagogue or deficient in mental concentration. In context, I was discussing the rule of faith. The point at issue wasn’t “conceptual” problems, but the common claim that sola scriptural is a false rule of faith because it allegedly generates practical problems (i.e. religious uncertainty), whereas the Orthodox rule of faith allegedly confers an immunity to said consequences.
If those problems undermine its justification for consistently adhering to its rule of faith in the way that it claims to do so, then the problems again undermine the Protestant position.
The Protestant rule of faith is both self-consistent and consistent with the outcome.
And I would think that Protestantism would not only be concerned with the correct rule of faith but also a normative application of it.
i) What we’re concerned with is discharging our duties to God to the degree that God has enabled us. We do not stipulate to some abstract level of certainty, and then intuit a corresponding theological system.

ii) Incidentally, I don’t deny that a Christian can attain religious certainty in various respects. And I’ve argued for that elsewhere.

But it’s wrong to lead with the question of certainty, as an a priori stipulation, and then concoct an ecclesiology that will make good on you’re a priori stipulation.

Perry has made a token gesture towards spooftexting his stipulation, but as I’ve demonstrated, his appeal to church discipline is exegetically ill-founded.
Second, it does prima facia certainly seem to be a problem, given that comparably intelligent users of the rule should converge on their interpretations, but for 500 years the major Protestant traditions have been producing more divergence than convergence with no end in sight.
i) Perry doesn’t bother to explain how he reckons divergence. What is he counting? Theological traditions? Denominations?

ii) As scholars like Jacob Neusner have documented, there was no lack of “divergence” in 2nd temple Judaism. If God could live with that arrangement—which is ultimately his arrangement, why can’t I?
Such facts raise questions in other disciplines such as normative ethics between Utilitarians and Kantians for example and one wonders why Protestants just schlep off the increasing divergence.
i) Simple: I’m content to schlep off whatever God is content to schlep off, and I’m not responsible for divergence. I’m not auditioning to play God. I have no control over what other Christians believe. That’s not my problem. I’m not a theological busybody like Robinson. I state my opinion, and give my reasons, but beyond that, I’m answerable to God and you’re answerable to God. I’m not answerable for you.

ii) Now, if God had said in his Word that he disapproves of all this divergence, and if he had mandated some enforcement mechanism or quality control mechanism to contain or constrain theological divergence, then that would be a different story. But there’s nothing like that in Scripture, which is why high churchman resort to tradition to pad out their high-church pretensions.

iii) Eastern Orthodoxy is not as monolithic as it appears to be. That’s because, in the past, Orthodoxy was culturally isolated. In addition, living under dhimmitude necessarily fosters a ghetto mentality.

But Orthodoxy has liberalized from exposure to the West. So you have your own divergence to deal with.
That all by itself seems to be sufficient to raise concerns that Protestantism can meet the demands of the Biblical description of the degree of normativity attributed to the ministerial authorities. If Hays were correct, Acts 15 should have been re-written along far more eclectic and individualistic lines. I suppose the Holy Spirit didn’t have a good enough argument yet. I for one would think that we should be concerned that our formal theological systems do in fact map on to the Bible’s teaching and that if they don’t then that is a problem that we need to solve and so it is a problem that Protestants need to solve.
This looks like as good a place as any to quote an Orthodox analysis of the elusive locus of authority in the Orthodox church:
The appeal to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) as paradigmatic for church decision-making procedure is frequently made by those emphasizing the importance of the hierarchy in the process of defining the faith…seemingly a perfect example.10

On closer examination, the example is problematical. Did the hierarchy really make the decision? First, Peter makes a speech and in it takes responsibility for the Gentile mission; but then James, the brother of the Lord, speaks and states, ‘I have reached a decision…’ Next, we find that ‘the apostles and the elders with the consent of the whole church decided…’ (v22); and again, when we read Paul’s account of what is ostensibly the same council (Gal 2:1-10), he states that he is the leader of the Gentile mission and the meeting in Jerusalem added nothing to his message or method.11

Finally, the Council was not really about orthodoxy at all, but about orthopraxy: The decision did not involve theology (q.v.) or the content of the faith, but only whether circumcision and certain types of abstinence would be practiced.12

The appeal to ecumenical conciliarity (sobornost, in Russian) and the emperor are frequently taken as normative for the Eastern Church’s self-expression. Certainly the Seven Ecumenical Councils (q.v.) have unique authority in the East, and the emperor was looked upon as blessed by God to enforce secular, if not religious, justice.13

The problem with the councils and the emperor, briefly put, is that terrible difficulties in the conciliar period began immediately with Constantine the Great (q.v.). Councils were convened that attributed ‘ecumenical authority’ to themselves, but which were subsequently judiciously overturned.14

Similarly, the emperor soon showed himself capable of being as much a hindrance to the faith as a help. Heretical laws were passed and enforced. The state inferred in the Church and itself created new martyrs (q.v.)—most recently with Soviet sovereignty.15

One of the worst conciliar debacles occurred with the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439) wherein all the sitting hierarchs except Mark of Ephesus (q.v.) capitulated to Rome; and on returning to their dioceses they met any angry reception—and most swiftly recanted in order to hold their sees.16

The appeal to Holy Tradition (q.v.) (including Scripture and/or the Councils [qq.v.]) is recognized as of ultimate authority…The primary hurdle in appealing to Holy Tradition as an authority lies in the selection of appropriate sources, applicable to a given situation.17

Similarly, precedent is difficult to establish quickly, since the selection of sources itself is a matter of interpretation, and the question raised might not have been asked previously.18

Everyone agrees that Holy Tradition is authoritative, but which beliefs and practices truly manifest Holy Tradition is open to a variety of interpretation.19

Various appeals to the authority of ancient patriarchates, especially Rome and Constantinople (qq.v.), have been made throughout history. During the later Ecumenical Councils (q.v.) the Roman Church had a remarkable record of protecting orthodoxy from heresy (q.v.), less so Constantinople.20

Unfortunately, dominant heresies occurred in each of these centers; so, one finds Hippolytus’s papal adversaries and Honorius I in Rome, and Theodore of Mopsuestia and Cyril of Lukaris (qq.v.) in Constantinople, as notable, fallible examples.21

Holy Tradition (with a capital ‘T’) is to be distinguished from tradition (with a lower case ‘t’) or custom…The distinction is firm in theory, although its precise application in practice is often thorny.22
Doesn’t sound like Perry can offer us benighted Evangelicals much by way of a practical alternative.
I for one would think that we should be concerned that our formal theological systems do in fact map on to the Bible’s teaching and that if they don’t then that is a problem that we need to solve and so it is a problem that Protestants need to solve.
i) Which misses the point. We work with the tools that God has given us. I happen to think that God gave us the tools we need. Otherwise, it was within his power to give us a better toolbox.

What I’m not going to do is to reify a “better” toolbox out of a figment of my imagination because I believe on a priori grounds that the status quo is unacceptable. Certainly the OT status quo was far from ideal, yet the Mosaic covenant was a divine institution.

Either God is unable to ensure a particular outcome or else he’s unwilling to ensure a particular outcome. As a Calvinist, I deny that he’s unable to ensure the outcome, so he must be unwilling.

ii) The fact that some theological systems deviate from Scripture does nothing to impugn Scripture as the rule of faith. Indeed, the objection is muddleheaded, for you can only say that they deviate from Scripture if Scripture is the benchmark—in which event, deviation from Scripture presupposes that Scripture is, indeed, the rule of faith. That’s is what makes unscriptural deviations deviant in the first place. They reflect a declension from the gold standard of Scripture.
As for Hays’ basic principle that something is a problem for us if it’s a problem for God and since God doesn’t consider the situation a problem then presumably we shouldn’t either, here is what I have to write. This is simply question begging.
It’s fine with me if Perry admits that God doesn’t share his concerns. I’ll side with God and Perry can side with his denomination.
Second, there are obvious cases where something isn’t a problem for God but a problem for humans, namely when our ideas don’t match God’s in the appropriate way. God never seems to have a problem with that and yet we do.
How is that at all obvious? Why should that be a problem for us unless it is a problem for God?

Incidentally, I’m not denying that we are in the wrong when our ideas don’t match God’s in the appropriate way. It is wrong to entertain wrong ideas—ideas that are false because they don’t correspond to God’s.

However, a fallen world is full of falsehoods. And much of this is humanly insoluble. God hasn’t put us in a position where we can eradicate all or even most falsehoods.

We can correct some errors, but not others. We have very limited control over what other people believe. Yet it was within God’s power to empower some individuals to preempt certain errors. But he did not exercise his power to so empower us.

So why decry theological diversity or disunity as if there’s something we’re supposed to do about it? We should do whatever we can, but pointing to a problem like heresy is no reason to postulate an infallible church—any more than pointing to the problem of crime is a reason to postulate an omnipotent police department; or pointing to the problem of disease is a reason to postulate an omniscient medical community; or pointing to the problem of sin is a reason to postulate Wesleyan perfectionism.

The world is full of moral and natural evils. Some of these are preventable or soluble, but many others are not. They are part of God’s plan for the world—as a means to a higher end. There wouldn’t even be a church apart from the Fall.
Some of the objections turn on the assumption about theoretical, explanatory and justificatory convergence. If the theory were correct it should lead to greater agreement and not less.
Sola Scriptura is not a theory or problem-solving device. Theology is not a scientific hypothesis.

God could forestall all divergence by the individual and immediate inspiration of every Christian. He could also make us impeccable in this life, instead of the next. But he has chosen to refrain from taking the preemptive actions.

Robinson’s armchair conjectures are wholly out of touch with God’s governance of the world. Indeed, his theology is a form of insanity, for that’s the definition of insanity: to lose touch with reality.
Anglo-Catholic divines historically just didn’t argue like that.
Since I’m not Anglo-Catholic, what’s that to me?
And if anything, the line of reasoning that Hays outlines seems to be exactly the Protestant line of reasoning, namely that the pre-Reformation history of the church showed that the way things went wasn’t in fact part of God’s plan for the church. So much for trust in providence. I suppose all that abosolute predestinarinism doesn’t extend to bodies so Hays must have a ‘heathen” attitude when it comes to providence.
Either Perry is a demagogue or else he can’t distinguish between God’s decretive will and his preceptive will. So his objection shipwrecks on an elementary equivocation.

God “plan” for the church can either denote his decree for the church or else his law for the church. There is an exacting match between predestination and providence. Providence is predestination in action. The temporal execution of God’s timeless decree.

By contrast, it is possible to defy the law of God. Even that does not by any means represent a frustration of God’s will for the world. God decreed every violation of his law, as a means to a higher end.

And it is also God’s will that, in many cases, his law shall be upheld. We only know what’s doable by doing it—or by failing in the attempt.

As a former Calvinist, Perry should be able to draw these distinctions. Of course, he has long since repudiated the doctrines of grace, but for purpose of critiquing Reformed theology, there’s no excuse for him to be so sloppy.

But maybe his grasp of Reformed theology really is that clueless and superficial. I don’t know which is the more charitable interpretation: mendacity or ignorance.
Certainly Hays doesn’t think that all Christian traditions handle that problem equally well and so I see no reason why, even if true (it is not) it can’t function as an objection to the “no-church” position.
Remember the distinction between decretive and preceptive. No, not all Christian traditions handle the problem equally well. And in some cases we can limit the damage or nip certain errors in the bud.

But there’s a continuum, ranging from fatalistic pessimism, at one end of the spectrum, to utopian optimism, at the other end. In opposition to either extreme, we can solve some problems, but not all problems.

Just pointing to the problem of heresy or diversity is no justification for postulating an infallible church—whether you situate the locus of infallible guidance in the papacy or the councils or the sobornost. That’s a daydream.
As for textual corruption and other kinds of error that could become enshrined in Protestantism, dismissing them doesn’t do any argumentative work. Hays poses the possibility of tradition being corrupted as if the Orthodox have neither thought of this nor have a mechanism for identifying it and rooting it out (just like with textual corruption-we’ve done that too btw-your welcome). That by itself is rather strange as Hays should know better knowing the history of the church. What he needs to do is not pose questions but arguments as to why those mechanisms have in fact failed or are likely to do so.
I’m merely answering Perry on his own grounds by countering one hypothetical with another. If he chooses to float a hypothetic defeater to the Protestant rule of faith, I can float a hypothetical defeater to the Orthodox rule of faith. And it’s no answer to a hypothetical defeater to say that Orthodoxy has a mechanism for identifying and rooting out corrupt traditions; it’s child’s play to pose a hypothetical defeater for his corrective mechanism. How does he know that the mechanism to identify and root out corruption is not, itself, corrupt?

He is the one who began by proposing hypothetical defeaters, not me. If he now wants to switch from hypothetical defeaters to those mechanisms have in fact failed or are likely to do so, we can change course, but let the record show that he has abandoned his original argument.
Moreover, the possibility that error can be just as easily enshrined in texts and Protestant Confessions, which Hays thinks, as a Baptist, is in fact the case, would function as just as much a defeater for sola scriptura as it would for thinking that scripture is part of the tradition of the church.
How is the possibility of error in a Protestant confession a defeater for sola Scriptura? Does sola Scriptura posit that Protestant confessions must be inerrant? Hardly.

Incidentally, I’m not a Baptist. If you must know, I’m a Welsh-Methodist Anglo-Bapterian.
Not to mention the fact that providence has allowed textual corruption to occur and that on no small scale.
Now he sounds like a Bart Ehrman book cover. The vast majority of textual corruptions are either trivial, easily detectable, or both.
As well as corruption of the canon for long periods of time.
As in the OT canon of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches? Agreed.
In any case, Hays confuses our belief in the theological and spiritual perfection of Christ’s body as a whole with the personal failings of its members. (ya just got to love that fallacy of composition.)
No, the question at issue is how this idealized abstraction cashes out at the concrete level. Answer: it doesn’t.

Perry has two different ecclesiologies: there’s the theological and spiritual perfection of Christ’s body as a whole, which he keeps under glass, in a state of incorruptible preservation, like a mint condition museum piece—and then there’s the ecclesiology he’s taken out of the airtight glass case, which immediately begins to decay when brought into direct contact with the natural elements.
Moreover, given that the Orthodox are a species of Libertarians, we have a nifty explanation of why the world isn’t perfect without making God the ogre who causes and ultimately sanctions that imperfection out of some dependence via legal relationships on it.
I see. The “nifty explanation” of the Orthodox is that God stored plastic explosive in a kindergarten cupboard, then went on vacation. If the kindergarten goes up in smoke because a little tyke mistook some plastique for silly putty …oh, well…accidents will happen.
Of course Hays may be implicitly admitting that he doesn’t have an answer-I don’t know. In any case my position wasn’t that if Hays doesn’t have an answer that his position is wrong.
Robinson finds it difficult to keep track of his own argument, in part because he oscillates from one argument to another, as if these are interchangeable. What I said, in context, is that I don’t have to rebut every hypothetical defeater to my position, any more than Perry is able to rebut every hypothetical defeater to his own position.

As a practical matter, I don’t need to know all the answers as long as I know God, and God knows all the answers.
As for “speculations” Calvinists in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones with doctrines like the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism. They aren’t exactly jumping off the surface grammar of every or any page.
i) A theological construct needn't “jump off the page” to be exegetically well-founded.

ii) A supralapsarian theodicy is well grounded in Scripture.

iii) Notice that he’s playing a game of bluff. He double-dares the Calvinist to question some aspect of traditional Reformed theology, like the covenant of works.

As a matter of fact, covenant theology underwent extensive reexamination in the 20C. Reformed theologians were prepared to scrutinize the traditional synthesis in light of modern exegesis (e.g. Beckwith, Murray, McComiskey, Robertson). So, yes, we take sola Scriptura seriously. Reformed tradition did not get a free pass.
In any case, this is simply a sidestep for Hays offers no reason to think that it is any more plausible that Protestantism won’t in fact get it wrong and enshrine large scale error or that this hasn’t in fact happened.
i) This is irrelevant to the status of sola Scriptura as a true rule of faith. 2nd temple Judaism “got it wrong” on many things and managed to “enshrine large scale error.” Is that an argument for an infallible Jewish church? But there was no infallible Jewish church. God never instituted an infallible Jewish church, which is one reason you had so much “divergence” in 2nd temple Judaism.

It was the will of God that no backup mechanism would be in place to prevent his covenant community from going astray to one degree or another. In the OT, we have the spectacle of national apostasy. In the NT we have the execution of the Messiah by his own people. Each outcome is a worst-case scenario.

ii) At the same time, you also have a remnant. Not all OT Jews were apostates. Not all NT Jews repudiated their Messiah.

There’s a difference between general providence and special providence. God has decreed that he will bring his elect to a saving knowledge of the truth. So there are limits to the possibility of error. We’re not in a state of freefall.
Why think that Protestants are guaranteed to get it right or even likely?
Perry always circles back to his systemic error. God never guaranteed that his people would always get it right. The status of sola Scriptura as a true rule of faith doesn’t turn on having a guarantee that we will always get it right.

We can live with the guarantees that God has actually given us. But God hasn’t issued a blanket guarantee that would immunize us from all possibility of error.

We live by God’s promises. But we don’t invent divine promises.

This is Perry’s fundamental failure. He lives in a world of make-believe. A world of counterfeit guarantees.

He turned his back on the Reformed faith because the Orthodox church has a vending machine in the narthex dispensing money-back guarantees. Well, that’s a wonderful sales pitch, but when you try to track down the company headquarters for a refund, all you turn up is a post office box.
Have they managed convergence on say baptism?
Why should we? The reason for the lack of agreement on baptism is because the Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to say on the subject. It doesn’t answer all the questions that some Christians demand answers to.

The problem is not with the rule of faith, but with the questioner. If you keep asking questions for which there are no clear-cut answers, then you’re asking the wrong questions—because you have the wrong priorities.

If convergence on baptism was a divine priority, then it was within God’s power to anticipate our questions by revealing more information on the subject. So we go with whatever God has told us. If he wanted us to know more, he would have told us more.

Our duty is to stay faithful to what God has told us to think or do—not to stay faithful to what God has not told us to think or do. Ironically, the high churchman is faithful to many things God never told him to do, and faithless to the many others things God told him to do.
Once you start off taking up ministerial offices upon yourself without biblical license, that is without being ordinarily or extraordinarily commissioned, (Calvin was never ordained by anyone)
The “biblical license” is given in 1 Tim 3 and Tit 1-2. It requires no “commission.” Only that you meet the stated qualifications for ministry.
I would think that it is all the more plausible to think that you are going to get other things wrong as well. In any case, if people truly believed semper reformada, I don’t think they would reject revisionary projects like the NPP out of hand or treat them dismissively as they have by and large done.
Do Reformed scholars like D. A. Carson, John Piper, Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and Guy Waters reject NPP “out of hand”? Please give us the titles and page numbers where they are guilty as charged?

Every theological tradition has its share of blind partisans. Company men. This phenomenon is prior to any particular tradition. It’s often an accident of birth that said individual is a partisan of, say, Orthodox theology rather than Catholic theology or Baptist theology or Anglican theology or Lutheran theology or Presbyterian theology, &c. And if that’s a problem, then whatever’s a problem for one is a problem for all.

Once again, his objection is wholly irrelevant to the status of sola Scriptura as a true rule of faith. I have no control over this phenomenon, and neither do you. What someone else believes is not a problem for what I believe. I am not responsible for what they believe. God has not made me their spiritual guardian. If the teenager next door becomes a skinhead, is that a problem for my rule of faith? And how does your rule of faith solve that particular problem?
As for controlling the future, certainly this is a claim you don’t truly wish to proffer for comaptibilists have usually claimed a kind of “guidance control” in genuinely contributing to future events so as to secure human agency.
i) Calvinism is not interchangeable with compatibilism.

ii) It’s one thing to have faith in the future because Scripture warrants a measure of faith in the future—specific to specific divine assurances—quite another to intuit a whole ecclesiology out of thin air in order to issue you a set of comforting, albeit counterfeit, guarantees about the future.
And as I have pointed out previously, why think that God is going to save your theoretical arse?
A straw man argument:

i) This is irrelevant to the status of sola Scriptura as a true rule of faith.

ii) Likewise, I don’t have to be one of the elect for election to be true.
Since God has predestined the corruption of the canon in the past (not to mention the corruption of the Presbyterians and Lutherans), which you readily admit, how does it help matters, even in terms of assurance, to bring in divine providence which can for “hidden reasons” determine you to not only think that you have the correct canon but also determine you to corrupt it?
i) Special providence exists to provide for the needs of God’s people. So, although both true and false beliefs are the providential instantiation of God’s decree, God has different purposes for the elect and reprobate.

ii) Moreover, not all errors are damnable errors.

iii) Furthermore, I’m not attempting to “help matters.” I don’t subscribe to a pragmatic theory of truth. I don’t judge theological claims by their imagined utility. The Bible is not a hardware store.

iv) Finally, if you want to play that game, then Cartesian demons are highly contagious. They can infect Orthodox theology as easily and fatally as they can Reformed theology.
Hays could have saved us all a bunch of time in addressing my objections instead of asking why he needed to answer these objections with simply saying “I don’t know.” The two answers are functionally equivalent.
To the contrary, it’s entirely valid to identify some “problems” as pseudoproblems.
As for Hays not dealing any of life’s cards and just playing the part, it is amazing to me how much convergence there is between Calvinism and Stoicism.
So Perry doesn’t believe that God is the cosmic card-dealer. Rather, he believes in a happenstance universe where the deck is randomly shuffled, and it’s a question of good luck or bad luck whether you draw a winning hand or a losing hand.
I am asking him to show that his account is rational and well founded and not to show the reasons why God permits this, that or the other.
It’s rational and well-founded because it’s founded in divine revelation. By contrast, Perry’s alternative is irrational and ill-founded because it’s founded in wishful thinking.
If the high church position is interchangeable with the mentality of the psychic in fear of the future as Hays claims, then certainly the Protestant position is interchangeable with the Gnostic who fears the past and the idea that God unites himself to creation intrinsically.
Notice that Robinson is reverting to the tu quo que argument, despite his prior disapproval:
As for tu quo que arguments, showing that your opponent has the same problem doesn’t answer the opponent on his own grounds. It just extends the scope of the problem.
This is why Baptists like Steve view the sacraments as nothing more than signs.
No, I take this view on exegetical grounds.
I am sure Jason’s a nice kid, but a BA in English doesn’t exactly encourage me to think that he is worth talking to.
i) Did Perry suffer from this degree of overweening spiritual pride back when he was still a Calvinist? If so, it would help explain why he abandoned the doctrines of grace for Orthodox synergism.

If not, then the Orthodox means of grace haven’t done much to advance his sanctification. I guess the sacraments are nothing more than signs after all.

ii) This all has reference to the canon, about which Robinson made the following claim:
As for Orthodox disagreeing on the canon, I think you might be thinking of the Ethiopians. We accept the canon as defined by earlier synods ratified at 2nd Nicea in 787 and re-affirmed at the 8th Council in 880 A.D. Since they were busy being monophysites and weren’t there, we don’t have the same canon. Go figure.
Okay, I’ll take you up on your advice. By all means, let’s “go figure.” In particular, let’s see how Timothy Ware figures the canon:
The Hebrew version of the Old Testament contains thirty-nine books. The Septuagint contains in addition ten further books, not present in the Hebrew, which are known in the Orthodox Church as the “Deutero-Canonical Books. These were declared by the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) to be “Genuine parts of Scripture”; most Orthodox scholars at the present day, however, following the opinion of Athanasius and Jerome, consider that the Deutero-Canonical Books, although part of the bible, stand on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament.23

Some Orthodox editions of the Bible also contain 4 Maccabees.24
Sounds like the Orthodox canon remains in an unsettled state. It was defined by two councils, neither of which is ecumenical, and “most Orthodox scholars” today merely pay lip-service to that conciliar declaration. In addition, there’s no uniform edition of the Orthodox OT canon.

And yet, as Robinson would undoubtedly be the first to say say, “I am sure Kallistos Ware is a nice kid, but a metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as the Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, not to mention the chairman of the board of directors of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, doesn’t exactly encourage me to think that he is worth talking to.”
As for divine simplicity, Hays simply stalls. I challenge him to support the doctrine using his exegetical methods and Scripture alone and he responds that I am assuming he holds to it. I wonder if he holds to the London Baptist Confession of 1677/89, chapter 2, article 1? Or I wonder if he thinks that standard Reformed Baptist theologians who interpreted it it got it all wrong and on the doctrine of God no less? Put up or shut up here Steve. Is practically the entire Protestant tradition wrong in its doctrine of God at this point or not? (Can he produce a single representative Reformed baptist theologian who denied it? Same with the Filioque?) Hmm, would that be a case of enshrining serious error? Ya think? I would pay money (not a lot) to just watch Steve defend his rejection of divine simplicity or the Filioque before his congregational elders. In any case, Steve’s profession matters not since the doctrine is enshrined across the board in Baptist, Reformed and Lutheran Confessions and all of their major systematic and biblical theologians who exposit those confessions, thereby fixing the meaning in a sufficiently rigid fashion for my argumentative purposes. The doctrine takes a variety of shapes either a more Thomistic (Turretin, Gill) or Scotistic (Hodge) form, but all of them are Platonic and not derived from Scripture alone. It is a feeble argument in deed to argue that the authors and interpreters didn’t have the Platonic doctrine in mind since their reasoning follows point for point the Platonic reasoning, not to mention the fact that the historical use and derivation of their choice of terms is from the Platonists, through the Scholastics and on to the Anglican Divines and the 39 Articles into their own Baptist confession demonstrates otherwise. Tis grasping at straws. Nor does it do any work to claim that the philosophical theology is merely ancillary since you don’t require subscription and profess as doctrine ancillary speculations.

It seems funny to me that rather than admit the point, Steve has to condemn his own church, confessions and major theologians, either explicitly or implicitly in order to condemn Orthodoxy. Hmm, looks like an inconsistency there. Might that be an internal critique maybe? And of course he completely ignores my question of justifying the Filioque on biblical grounds. Is that just another doctrine he conveniently and rather on an ad hoc basis rejects? Better start talking to your elders there Steve about all these doctrines from your Confession that you deny and that your church has enshrined.
i) Sealing his reputation as the consummate demagogue, Perry now resorts to blackmail. He certainly has a flair for melodrama.

But the problem with blackmail is that you need some sort of leverage to put the squeeze on the victim. Perry’s heavy-handed attempt to exhort a damning admission from my lips is comical because I have nothing to lose one way or the other. Unlike Perry, I’m not a company man—so I can’t be intimidated by his sociological threats and blustery strong-arm tactics.

ii) I reject his paternalistic polity. I reject a church polity in which some adults play the role of grown-ups while other adults play the role of children, subject to the adult supervision of the official grown-ups. Rather, every Christian is answerable to every other Christian. The accountability system is horizontal rather than vertical. A two-way street.

Some Christians are wiser or more mature than others. That, however, is not an official trait. And the authority of a church officer is in direct proportion to the degree in which his judgments are authorized by Scripture.

iii) In addition, I also regard formal church membership as an optional, extrascriptural development. In the NT, baptism is the rite of church membership. And there were no denominations in the 1C.

iv) Creedal subscription (a la WCF) is a requirement of church office, not church membership

v) And even for purposes of church office, the required level of subscription is systemic subscription rather than strict subscription.

Didn’t Perry used to be a Calvinist? How did he manage to forget so much Reformed ecclesiology?

Taking Perry’s two questions in order:

1.Divine simplicity

i) I think one can establish on exegetical grounds that God subsists outside of space and time. That, of itself, would make him ontologically simple since there would be no spatial or temporal subdivisions in the life of God.

That is also entirely consistent with the immanent Trinity, since space and time do not individuate the members of the Trinity.

ii) Beyond this we’re transitioning from exegetical theology to philosophical theology. There’s nothing inherently wrong with philosophical theology. We can arrive at reasonable judgments on the basis of philosophical theology. But it doesn’t enjoy the same authority as exegetical theology.

So, for example, the Mandelbrot set is an abstract object. As such, it is ontologically simple. And yet, in another respect, it is infinitely complex (an actual infinite).

One can use examples like that as theological models. But it doesn’t rise to the level of dogma.


Historically, this has its Scriptural appeal in certain Johannine statements. And,traditionally, these statements are understood as having reference to an ontological subordination within the immanent Trinity.

But, in context, they actually refer to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity. When I recite the Filioque clause, I do so in the Johannine (economic) sense. This may or may not be in line with the original intent of the creed, but unlike the original intent of Scripture, which is divinely authoritative, creedal intent is not inherently authoritative.

Indeed, to take a different example, the Westminster standards say that God made the world in the span of six days. After consulting the words of those Westminster Divines who spoke to the issue, I think it’s generally admitted that this phrase means just what it seems to say.

However, the OPC and PCA have chosen not to enforce that particular article of the Confession. And this is consistent with Presbyterian polity, where it’s ultimately up to the session, Presbytery, and General Convention to determine the outer bounds of Confessional conformity for purposes of ordination or church discipline.
The problem is that Steve is cherry picking through handbooks, dictionaries and on line pieces by popular authors, who are incidentally often criticized by members of their own tradition, rather than showing any real familiarity or grasp of the system from the inside out.
Here’s a challenge for you, Perry. Why don’t you write an open letter to the editors or contributors to these reference work in which you accuse them of incompetence. Publish that on your blog. Then publish the replies you receive. We’ll pick up the discussion from there.
Nonetheless, Steve’s question of why he should take the word of a Layman over a bishop says a lot. First, we don’t have the same ecclesiology as Rome, let alone the same methodological outlook. Consequently, some of the best theologians of our church were laymen-Maximus is a prime example.
Two problems:

i) I’m aware of the role of lay theologians in Orthodoxy. But this exposes a fundamental tension in Orthodox polity. If the opinion of the bishops can be rightly dismissed by a layman, then why not be consistent and join the Plymouth Brethren?

ii) Perry is mounting an argument from authority. He’s demanding that I take his word over the word of the editors or contributors to these reference works. If Perry is going to dismiss Engwer’s documentation out of hand, why shouldn’t I dismiss Perry’s claims out of hand when it comes down to choosing between a lowly student and the highly credential scholars I cited?
As for Gene’s statement that he has “cracked the books” his reading activities leave a lot to be desired. The fact that you guys are spoof texting from popular dictionaries and authors says it all, not to mention the fact that you can’t see glaring historical and theological errors in the sources you cite.Good thing Steve is in seminary and Gene wishes to go.
Notice here that Perry doesn't deny what they say, he just tries to blunt their force by calling them "popular," and he doesn't tell us where the historical and theological errors are. No, he's just an educated layman.

Is Perry concerned for the laymen in his own Communion? This objection cuts the ground out from under the average Orthodox layman, who is by no means a Patristics expert or Orthodox historian.

Florence, ROCOR and other tidbits. And so goodie for Steve that Steve was citing from a dictionary.
Fine, if he doesn’t like my reference works, let’s try another source:
A second reunion council was held at Florence in 1438-9. The Emperor John VIII (reigned 1425-48) attended in person, together with the Patriarch of Constantinople and a large delegation from the Byzantine Church, as well as representatives from the other Orthodox churches…Eventually a formula of union was drawn up, covering the Filioque, Purgatory, “azymes,” and the Papal claims; and this was signed by all the Orthodox present at the council except one—Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus, later canonized by the Orthodox Church…Thus in matters of doctrine, the Orthodox accepted the Papal claims (although here the wording of the formula of union was in some respect vague and ambiguous); they accepted the doctrine of the Double Procession of the Holy Spirit, although they were not required to insert the Filioque into the text of the Creed at the Divine Liturgy; they accepted the Roman teaching on Purgatory (as a point of dispute between east and west, this only came into the open in the thirteenth century).25
i) And yet, as Robinson would undoubtedly be the first to say, “I am sure Kallistos Ware is a nice kid, but a metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as the Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, not to mention the chairman of the board of directors of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, doesn’t exactly encourage me to think that he is worth talking to.”

ii) But beyond Perry Robinson’s unrivaled standing as the world’s greatest living authority on all things Orthodox, suppose we play along with his claim that
not all delegates signed, some of those that did, did so under duress, simony and bribery, not to mention the fact that the Emperor played an ipso facto negating role in the council by excluding certain theological issues and ideas.
This only pushes the problem back a step, for it raises the question of what authority authorizes an ecumenical council.
In any case, the previous ROCOR accusations only do work for you if they were true and I don’t think they were.
And by what authority does Robinson render that value judgment? Perry said the problem is that Steve is cherry picking through handbooks, dictionaries and on line pieces by popular authors. But Perry is cherry-picking his own authorities. “Normativity” is in the eye of the beholder.
And I know plenty of Presbyterian, Lutheran and Baptists ministers who have in the past and in the present preached on Mark 16.
Which doesn’t make it right. And the problem is not with preaching on Mk 16:1-8, but with preaching on the long ending of Mark (vv9-20).
In any case, I don’t see why the fact that you cut out Mark 16 from your Bible precludes me from keeping it in and exegeting it differently.
If you keep it in your Bible, but proceed to negate the signs through a “nifty interpretation,” then this is clearly duplicitous. But Perry needs to be duplicitous to maintain his faith in Orthodox tradition.
Protestant Bible society that I know of has removed it from the text or relegated it to an appendix.
Bible societies are interdenominational organizations that seek consensus and avoid controversy. That’s irrelevant to the question of truth, i.e. is the long ending original or spurious?

This is the best he can do?

I own several Bibles in several translations, and they actually state or note that the longer ending is not part of the earliest manuscripts. Perry acts like a Bible society must produce a critical text with all the notes or remove it for people to understand it's not in the best MSS.

And how does this statement absolve him of his own problems within his own Communion regarding the longer ending?

So is the long ending of Mark inspired Scripture or not Steve?
In all likelihood, uninspired.
If it isn’t, why do you attend a church which includes it as the inspired word of God?
Do I? What contemporary Reformed denomination continues to make that claim? OPC? URC? PCA?

3 Lightfoot’s commentaries on Matthew and Luke
4 J. Nolland. New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Eerdmans, 2005). 906.
5 Ibid., 905.
6 Rodkinson,, (The Babylonian Talmud pp.148 -153).
8 C. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 1999), 530.
9 R. T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher (Zondervan 1989), 250-51.
10 M. Prokurat et al. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1996), 49-50.
11 Ibid. 50.
12 Ibid. 50.
13 Ibid. 50.
14 Ibid. 50.
15 Ibid. 50.
16 Ibid. 50.
17 Ibid. 50-51.
18 Ibid. 51.
19 Ibid. 51.
20 Ibid. 51.
21 Ibid. 51.
22 Ibid. 323.
23 T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books 1997), 200.
24 Ibid. 200n1.
25 T. Ware, The Orthodox Church, 70-71.


  1. A little criticism. I can't say I read the whole thing but something that caught my eye was using the Talmud to show that the Jews believed that passage referred to the resurrection. I thought the issue at hand was second temple Jews. If that is the case, then the Talmud is definitely not the place where you look. That is the weakness, for example, of E.P. Sander's monumental book on Paul. It may be that the Talmud teaches covenantal monism, but you cannot say that because the Talmud says that, that is how 2nd temple Jews understood it. Now, using 4 Mac. it better because that is a second temple source.

  2. oh by the way, if it is not second temple Judaism that you guys are talking about (which I thought it is because of the Gospel context) then disregard my comment.

  3. Wonderful response.

    Would it be too much to ask to deal with his post against White?

    You guys are doing a great service here.

  4. A little criticism. I can't say I read the whole thing but something that caught my eye was using the Talmud to show that the Jews believed that passage referred to the resurrection. I thought the issue at hand was second temple Jews. If that is the case, then the Talmud is definitely not the place where you look. That is the weakness, for example, of E.P. Sander's monumental book on Paul. It may be that the Talmud teaches covenantal monism, but you cannot say that because the Talmud says that, that is how 2nd temple Jews understood it. Now, using 4 Mac. it better because that is a second temple source.

    The Talmud did arise after Christianity.

    However, it codifies traditions that reach back beyond the time it was codified.

    Further, if you'll go through the material in the links above, you'll find your concerns are addressed rather fully.

    In short, the Pharisees made this argument from inference. They also used passages like Daniel and then applied them to the Law. As times changed, and Christianity went further, they moved from argument by inference to argument by grammar, though it seems one can find argument by grammar in the earlier literature as well. Again, this is all covered in the sources noted above.

    For example, the view of the Patriarchs as containing the seed of all Israel and this text in relation to God's covenantal promises occurs in rabbinic Judaism, but it is also part of 2nd Temple Judaism, for it is to this that the author of Hebrews makes reference in his discussion of Aaron paying tribute to Melchizedek via Abraham.

  5. Orthodox must be terminally illiterate. Patrick is not the author of this post. Why should we take anything he says here seriously when he can't get that much correct?

  6. Gene,

    I think it was the whole "Perry Robinson's words are in blue and indented. Steve's words are in plain text. And Gene's words are in green." that threw Orthodox there.

    Give him a break. How was he to know Patrick didn't write this? >:-D

  7. gene,

    i worked with a jewish scholar on some aspects of second temple judaism and i can say directly and personally that using rabbinic texts for looking at how, say, the first century Jews looked at the world is anachronistic. it may have "codified" traditions but we only know that by actually looking at the second temple texts. there are many developments after the temple was destroyed that looking at rabbinic texts is, again, anachronistic. i mean, there is the notion that the rabbis came from the pharisees which could be disputed. there is also the effect of the temple being destroyed that could have changed their eschatology. to simply say, "the rabbis believe this, the pharisses probably believed this" is simply wrong. the whole practice of rabbis is unknown of, except of course, the qumran community who focused on the study of the law. try to write for a peer-reviewed article on second temple judaism while using rabbinic materials and it will either be rejected or they will give you the criticism i have given. that is why looking at rabbinic texts to see the historical Jesus better is a big mistaken, for example. and that is, again, the weakness of Sanders.

  8. Hey Gene and Peter,

    Hm, maybe Orthodox isn't just illiterate, but he's color blind, too? :-)

    Or possibly just lazy?

    In any case, Orthodox is either illiterate or lazy. So, yeah, it's really hard to take the guy seriously. Not to mention because, if memory serves, this isn't the first time he's mistaken the author of a post.

  9. Patrick,

    C'mon, I was trying to be charitable since CC thinks I'm too mean and all.

    Although that brings up a moral dilemma. Is it better to focus on someone's physical handicap (color-blindness) or mental handicap (brain damage) to try to excuse their mistake? Urgh, I just can't figure this PC stuff out anymore....

  10. Apolonio said:
    i worked with a jewish scholar on some aspects of second temple judaism and i can say directly and personally that using rabbinic texts for looking at how, say, the first century Jews looked at the world is anachronistic.

    A little criticism. I can't say I read the whole thing but something that caught my eye was that Gene referred to some sources for his arguments. I realize that you have your argument from authority and personal testamony in response, but have you looked through the sources to see what they said yet?

  11. Apolonio,

    You said, "I can't say I read the whole thing but..."

    Here's what you need to do: read the links. That's what footnotes are for.

    You have a nasty habit of running around the internet and giving people lectures and then, when the chips are cashed in, we find you've not done your homework.

    I am WELL aware of what you say - but if you'd bother to do your homework, you'd know this is addressed.

    I've been cozy with the Jewish community for many years. You don't need to lecture me. What you do need to do is read the material. Take it up with Levenson and Rodkinson. You could also take a look at Nolland's footnotes.

  12. gene,

    yup, i will contact levenson. we'll have a little discussion.

  13. Due to his incorrigible abuse of the combox, the team members of T-blog have decided to ban Orthodox from our blog. Subsequent comments by Orthodox will be summarily deleted. For further explanation, see rule #4 of the Rules of Engagement (upper sidebar).

  14. orthodox said...

    “LOL, so what is the point of the creed if you feel free to interpret it contrary to intent?”

    This is a perfect illustration of the childish mentality I was critiquing in my reply to Robinson. Let’s expand on this childish mentality with some comparable examples:

    1.An errant shepherd defeats the purpose of having a shepherd in the first place. Therefore, all bishops are inerrant.

    2.A collapsible bridge defeats the purpose of having a bridge in the first place. Therefore, God would not permit us to construct a structurally unsound bridge.

    3.A plane crash defeats the purpose of having an airplane in the first place. Therefore, God has guaranteed that all airplanes are crash-proof.

    “But Presbyterians use the Jerusalem council where the whole church got together in council as a lynch pin for Presbyterian polity. So by saying that one Presbytery should have no qualms abandoning part of the Presbyterian creed, they are actually saying that they are not one church with the other Presbyterian churches.”

    Presbyterians never made infallibility a criterion of the true church. So the inference is palpably fallacious.

    “Plymouth Brethren being a group with no ministers or pastors. But does Pat put himself at either end of this false dichotomy? Is he either in the plymouth brethren, or does he on the other hand consider the elders in his church as infallible popes?”

    Notice that Orthodox is punting to Patrick because he (Orthodox) is unable to resolve the fundamental tension in EO polity.

    “But the delegates at Florence signed off subject to the agreement of the folks back home.”

    The “folks back home”? If the laity can overrule the hierarchy, then the laity has more authority than the hierarchy, in which case you don’t have a hierarchical chain of command. So why not be consistent and join the Plymouth Brethren?

    “LOL, do any reformed denominations have the guts to officially rule on this either way?”

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Reformed denominations are “gutless” on this point, how about the gutless behavior of the hierarchs at the council of Florence? If gutless behavior invalidates Reformed ecclesiology, then it equally invalidates Orthodox ecclesiology.

    “Which all assumes of course that God intends for us to look for the evidence of every book and part of book in the sands of history instead of looking to the pillar of the truth, the organization through whom God said that his wisdom is to be made known (Eph 3:10)”

    i) The Bible is, itself, a historical revelation.

    ii) I explicitly said in my reply to Robinson that historical evidence is not the only line of evidence.

    iii) I’ve corrected Orthodox many times on his abuse of 1 Tim 3:15. And I’ve corrected MG on his misinterpretation of Eph 3:10—a misinterpretation which Orthodox reiterates.

    “Pat doesn't tell us what his criteria for practical is.”

    Notice, once more, that Orthodox punts to Patrick because he can’t answer the question in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy. That’s a tacit admission that his own position is indefensible.

    “One would think that a church having survived for 2000 years and be more united now than it was 1500 years ago…”

    All assertion, zero argument.

    “A rule of faith spawning hundreds of denominations as being impractical. Apparently because Pat can't figure it out, it can't be practical. Not a very good criteria.”

    Sola Scriptura serves the purpose that God assigned it. Indeed, the word of God has more than one purpose.

    For example, God commanded the preexilic prophets to forewarn Israel of the impending Exile. Yet the mission of the prophets was doomed to “fail” since the Exile was inevitable. Was that practical?

    “And if someone were to convince me that the Church decending from the apostles…”

    Begs the question.

    “I would just as well stick with the Church that at the very least take's Christ's admonition to be One seriously…”

    Begs the question of where to find the one true church. Also turns on a tendentious interpretation of the Scripture verses to which he alludes.

    All Orthodox has done from start to finish is to express his groundless opinions.

  15. Notice, too, that Orthodox will appeal to historical evidence when he thinks it supports his position, yet will object to how difficult it would be for people to think through historical issues when Protestants appeal to historical evidence. If it’s too difficult for people to follow the historical evidence for the canonicity of a book of the Bible or the evidence for a particular interpretation of scripture, then it’s also too difficult for people to follow the historical arguments for Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox’s selective fideism doesn’t make sense.

  16. I posted a response to Perry here:

    Also, I have a lengthy exegesis of John 6:26-66 posted here:

  17. "Looks like the protestants here, devoid of a good argument are just
    going to censor out everything I write."

    That's because you've already wrote it. It's nothing new, and it has been answered several times already.

    Steve has rules for comments on this blog that prohibit using the same stock objections that have been refuted time and again. If you want to keep using those objections, answer the refutations. If not, don't post. Make your case instead of using ipse dixits.