Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sola Scriptura and textual criticism

There’s a striking parallel between Catholic objections to sola Scriptura and liberal objections to inerrant autographa.

There are two related versions of the liberal objection to inerrant autographa:

i) It’s ad hoc to insist that God inerrantly inspired the autographa unless God inerrantly inspired all copies of the autographa.

ii) The distinction is useless in practice since we don’t have the autographa at our disposal.

A general version of the Catholic objection goes something like this:

i) Sola Scriptura is self-refuting. For if revelation alone is the rule of faith, then our knowledge of the rule must, itself, be a reveled datum.

A more specific version of this general objection goes something like this: Sola Scriptura is self-refuting unless Scripture enumerates the books of the canon.

One immediate problem with the Catholic objection is that it constitutes a straw man argument. To my knowledge, classic formulations of sola Scriptura don’t formulate the principle in self-referential terms. Theologians who formulate sola Scripture never meant to subsume the rule of faith within the items covered by the rule of faith.

Therefore, the standard formulation(s) of sola Scriptura is not self-refuting.

ii) However, a Catholic might object that this misses the point. Even though sola Scriptura may not be classically formulated in just those terms, that’s a logical implication of sola Scriptura.

But is that true? On the face it, it’s fallacious to assume that a rule of faith must take itself as its own object–as if you use a ruler to measure itself.

In fact, you can’t use a ruler to measure itself because you’d have to have a ruler in the first place. A rule of faith is something over and above the thing it measures. That’s understood.

iii) Perhaps, though, a Catholic would say that while sola Scriptura is not self-contradictory, nevertheless it is ad hoc to insist that revelation alone must be our rule of faith unless our knowledge of the rule is, itself, a revealed datum.

And that version of the objection parallels the liberal objection to the autographa.

But are these ad hoc distinctions? For two reasons they are not:

i) For one thing, they go to an underlying distinction between natural and supernatural means of knowledge. Some things can be known by natural means whereas some other things can only be known by supernatural means.

a) Although some Biblical events can be known by natural means, other Biblical events can only be known by supernatural means. For example, there was no Edenic stenographer taking down the conversion between Eve and the Tempter.

Likewise, God’s plan for the world can only be known by supernatural means (i.e. divine revelation). Since only God has privileged access to his own intentions, only God can declare his intentions.

b) Moreover, even though some Biblical events can be known by natural means, their ulterior significance cannot be known by natural means.

The crucifixion of Jesus could be known by natural means, but the theological significance of his crucifixion could not be known by natural means. Although the crucifixion is an empirical datum, the theological meaning of that event is not an empirical datum.

So far from being arbitrary, (a)-(b) are principled distinctions, where revelation is our only point of entry–either to the event itself, and/or the theological significance of that event in the plan of God.

ii) In addition to principled distinctions, we also have probabilistic distinctions. Degrees of certainty. While this type of distinction admits borderline cases, involving the identity of a least lower threshold, the distinction, itself, is not ad hoc.

For example, questions of health and safety frequently turn on such considerations. What’s the risk of being vaccinated in relation to the risk of foregoing vaccination?

1.Regarding the autographa:

It is not ad hoc to distinguish between inerrant autographa and errant copies:

i) There is a major difference between errant copies of errant records, and errant copies of inerrant records.

a) For one thing, it wouldn’t even be possible to have an uninspired record of many Biblical events. For some of these events are naturally unknowable. Future events. Private conversations. What someone was thinking. The plan of God. The fact that God even has a plan. And so on and so forth.

b) Moreover, while some events are naturally knowable, their theological significance is naturally unknowable.

In cases of (a) and (b), a supernatural means of knowledge is a necessary means of knowledge. For such items of knowledge would be otherwise unobtainable were it not for God’s prophetic word.

c) Furthermore, necessity is not the only consideration. There can be higher and lower degrees of certainty. And there are many times when that distinction is hardly inconsequential.

In general, we remember events better than words. We may not be very good at verbatim recollection.

What we generally remember is a paraphrase of what somebody said rather than his verbatim utterance. And, of course, sometimes we misremember what he said.

There is also a difference between paraphrasing a verbatim recollection and a paraphrastic recollection. If you have a verbatim recollection of what somebody said, then you can accurately paraphrase his statement. But if all you remember is a paraphrase, then you can’t compare the paraphrase with the original.

Likewise, we tend to remember some events better than others. And, of course, some people have more reliable memories than others.

As such, there is a major difference between inspired and uninspired records of what was said and done. If all we had were uninspired records to go by, that would create systematic, insoluble uncertainties.

And the level of uncertainty might be pretty high. Indeed, you only have to look at the way liberals treat Bible history. Having denied the inspiration of Scripture, they regard Bible history as, at best, largely or fairly dubious.

To be sure, there’s a degree of willful, irrational scepticism among liberals, but once you deny inspiration, there is some validity to their scepticism.

Only inspiration or revelation can supply a baseline of certainty.

iii) That, however, isn’t comparable to errant copies. An individual MS can be errant, but still be quite reliable. When, moreover, we have many MSS and versions of Scripture, it is possible to reconstruct the Urtext with a high degree of certainty.

Moreover, there’s a lot of built-in redundancy in Scripture. It doesn’t turn on one key word or phrase.

As such, natural means of knowledge are perfectly adequate in textual criticism. It doesn’t require inspiration to sift through the available evidence and achieve satisfactory results.

2.By the same token, every Christian doesn’t need a special revelation of a special revelation. A private special revelation over and above the inscripturated revelation itself. He doesn’t need a revealed table of contents. For it is possible to identify the canon by using natural means of knowledge.

And that, in turn, goes to the distinction between miracle and providence. Everything is not miraculous. Everything is not providential. Each in its own place.

I’d add that Scripture itself furnishes a great deal of internal evidence (textual, intertextual, paratextual) to demarcate the canon. This isn’t just a random anthology.

At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with supplementing the internal evidence with external evidence.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Principles of sola Scriptura

Some Catholic epologists try to argue that sola Scriptura is self-refuting. Or they may argue that certain versions of sola Scriptura are self-refuting. I’ll probably have more to say about the logic (or lack thereof) of this objection. But let’s approach the issue from a different angle.

1.What’s the rationale for sola Scriptura? Well, let’s start with this question: who or what is the ultimate source and standard of our duties to God and man?

The answer to that question is God. God is naturally the final source and standard of our duties to God and man.

And why is that? Because God is our Maker, Redeemer, and/or Judge.

(I say “and/or” because God is the redeemer of the elect, but the judge of the reprobate.)

God is just and true. Hence, whatever God does is just and true (i.e. true to his character).

We are uniquely obligated to God for our being and wellbeing. We are his creatures. And he endowed us with a specific nature. Our duties are a reflection of our nature.

That relationship constitutes the metaphysical basis of ethics.

2.And the order of being (metaphysics) carries over into the order of knowing (epistemology). Because God is just and true, whatever he does is just and true.

By the same token, whatever he says is just and true. Because God is the ontological source and standard of our duties to God and man, he is also the epistemic source of our duties to God and man.

God is uniquely qualified to tell us what our duties are-both to him and to our fellow man–the way an autoengineer is uniquely qualified to write the owner’s manual for the car he designed.

3.Apropos (2), God’s words are the final source and standard of our duties to God and man. Put another way, divine revelation is the only rule of faith and life.

Here I’m using “rule” as a synonym for the ultimate criterion.

This doesn’t mean we can’t have other sources of information. But they don’t set the standard.

4.This is the principle which underlies sola Scriptura. Inscripturated revelation is a special case of general revelation.

In theory, the mode divine revelation can employ the spoken word or the written word. It can take the form of visionary revelation–although mere imagery is uninformative unless there’s some key to the significance of the imagery.

In theory, mode of divine revelation can also be telepathic. Bypass the audiovisual media if God were to communicate his message directly to the mind of the recipient.

And, at one time or another, God has used all these modalities.

5.The Bible itself bears witness to (1-4).

6.The next question we need to ask is how and where to find God’s words for his people. For we no longer live in the age of public revelation. God no longer speaks to his people through prophets and apostles.

Even if, say, he were to give a foreign missionary a private revelation (e.g. “Don’t go into the jungle tomorrow!”), that isn’t given to or for God’s people collectively.

I’d add that Catholicism accepts this distinction as well. Catholicism also admits that the age of public revelation is over. Even if Jesus appears to Teresa of Avila in a vision, her private revelation isn’t binding on a second party. The faithful aren’t bound to believe or accede to her ostensible private revelation.

7.The Bible lays great emphasis on the necessity of a written record of revelation for the benefit of posterity. And that’s bound up with the nature of a covenant community. The covenant is a document. It supplies a common reference point for different members of the covenant community.

Over the long-haul, oral tradition won’t do. Uninspired memories won’t do.

Inspired written words transcribe inspired spoken words. Unless we have an inspired transcription (or paraphrase) of inspired speech, we no longer have inspired words. Rather, we have somebody’s uninspired memory of who said what.

OT prophets spoke the word of God. But it’s not coincidental that we have written records of their speeches. God didn’t leave it to the vicissitudes of oral tradition to preserve the words of Isaiah for later generations.

Peter and Paul both spoke and wrote the word of God. And we have some of their letters.

But what’s striking is that we also have written records of speeches they made (in Acts). God didn’t leave it to the vicissitudes of oral tradition to preserve their speeches. He inspired Luke to transcribe (or paraphrase) their speeches.

Jesus didn’t write anything down. Yet God inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to record his speeches. To leave us a written record of his speeches.

Of course, God is selective in what he chooses to preserve. It isn’t necessary to have a record of everything an apostle or prophet said. Just representative speeches and writings.

8.We find God’s words by using our God-given faculties. Scripture itself bears witness to our God-given faculties. So there’s nothing unscriptural about using ordinary lines of evidence to find where God has deposited his word.

That’s no more at odds with sola Scripture than using our eyes to read the Bible or accessing our memories to recollect what we read.

Likewise, God, in his providence, as put certain evidence at our disposal. Since the Bible bears witness to the providence of God, there’s nothing unscriptural about sifting the evidence which God has providentially preserved for our benefit.

There's more than could be said, but it's useful to clarify one thing at a time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Legalistic apologetics

Catholic Joe Heschmeyer has posted a response to another post by Turretin Fan. I’m going to comment on one plank of his post. I’m bypassing his other points, not because I think his other points are unimportant, but because I’ve already addressed these issues before, and I’ll probably address them again:

For Protestants to say authoritatively, "there are 66 books in the Bible," requires that their church speaks with binding authority. If it's simply a prayer conclusion from private examination of Scripture, they most that they can say is, "for me, there are 66 books of the Bible," or "my personal studies have lead me to conclude that 66 books of the Bible are inspired." I see no way that it can be a binding statement of orthodoxy; in fact, the Jews prior to Christ lacked a Church with this authority, and thus, had various canons. If you say, "you must believe this piece of information (that there are exactly 66 books) in addition to believing in the books of the Bible," you're adding an extra standard besides Scripture, and sola Scriptura self-destructs.

This is probably most easily proved by negation. Protestants deny that the Deuterocanon is Scripture. Upon what authority? Where does the Bible say that these books aren't Scriptural? And if it doesn't, then [Francis] Beckwith is right. To arrive at a canon of Scripture, which is needed even to rely upon the Bible, you must have a trustworthy and reliable Authority (which you can define as Tradition, the Church, or both). To the extent you can trust that Authority, to that extent -- and only that extent -- you can trust the Bible.

1.Notice how he frames the issue of the canon. He frames the issue in terms of “authority.” Repeatedly. Indeed, he even personifies “authority” by capitalizing the noun. The only category he can think of to frame the issue is “authority.”

And that’s typical of the way Catholic apologists approach every issue.

2.Apropos (1), notice that he doesn’t cast the question in terms of, say, “you must have trustworthy and reliable evidence” for the canon, or “What evidence do you have” for your canon?

It doesn’t even occur to him that this might be or ought to be an evidentiary question. No, it can only be an authoritarian question.

3.Apropos (1-2), I don’t think it’s coincidental that he’s a law student. A number of Catholic apologists are lawyers. Indeed, a number of popes were also laywers (canon lawyers, to be precise).

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lawyer can bring some genuine assets to apologetics. He ought to be good at reading fine print. Have a mastery of detailed information. Be concerned with legal evidence. Forensics.

4.However, there’s a fundamental difference between law and truth. Law is inherently coercive.

Laws can be unjust. Judicial rulings can be capricious. Yet they still have the force of law. They penalize law-breakers.

Laws impose compliance under threat of legal sanctions for noncompliance.

Laws are a fundamental form of social control. The pairing of “law and order.”

Making people do things or making people desist. Do this our way or else!

It’s not about persuasion. Not about reasoning with people. The force of law doesn’t rely on whether you find the legal rationale convincing.

Laws are legally compelling, not logically compelling.

5.This legalistic, police-state mentality is hardwired into Catholic apologetics. They’re scandalized by the fact that Protestantism is so disorderly. A “blueprint for anarchy!” They want to impose law and order on these “chaotic” proceedings.

They want to “settle” issues once and for all, by a court of highest appeal (the Magisterium). Silence dissent. Send in the riot police. Restore order. Keep the restive masses in check.

But the fundamental problem with this legalistic mentality is that it doesn’t make truth the priority. Evidence takes a backseat to visible, institutional unity.

The Church of the Plantagenets

CrimsonCatholic said...

What I would find far more troubling, were I a Protestant, is the new *patristics* scholarship of the last 40 years, which convincingly demonstrates that, while giving nominal adherence to the ecumencial creeds, Protestants have done so according to the same defective interpretation as the heretics. The modest claims of papal authority, which in any case are not refuted by what you cited (and I've read them), are trivial compared to the fact that the Protestant account of salvation and grace is fundamentally opposed to the Christian account of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The physical presence (i.e., real presence according to nature) of God in the Church and its necessity for salvation is unanimously agreed by all Catholic and Orthodox Christians, echoing St. Cyril of Alexandria, the great "Seal of the Fathers." Yet Protestants deny it, making the spiritual resemblance to God merely moral (hence, imputed justification) and not physical.

That's a Nestorian account of salvation, plain and simple. And the historical evidence about the heterodoxy of Nestorianism has been piling up over the last couple of decades (see, e.g., J.A. McGuckin, Paul Clayton) after some scholarship suggesting that Nestorius might have been orthodox (mostly based on Nestorius's own erroneous claims; see, e.g., F. Loofs), and therefore, that Calvin's identical beliefs might have been as well. But that has been crushed even more convincingly than the admittedly excessive claims of some Catholics about papal infallibility, and it is a much more serious error in any case. This is why I stopped even bothering with these debates, at least until I saw David wavering, because Newman's prophetic words about being "deep in history" were absolutely vindicated by the neo-patristic scholarship. Protestants today have no hope of being orthodox in the historical sense; they have to redefine orthodoxy to be broad enough to include what they believe (see, e.g., D.H. Williams).

Case in point. Rightly interpreted, Trent says that we possess God's own righteousness, but that we are not made righteous by His possession of it, but our own. In other words, Trent means exactly by "created grace" what Eastern Orthodoxy means by "uncreated energies." In any case, both sides insist on a metaphysically real, physical union with the divine nature, and that is denied by Protestantism in the sense I gave above.

1. So Prejean’s definition of orthodoxy is hostage to the shifting sands of “neo-patristic scholarship. That’s a rather odd objection coming from a Catholic epologist. Don’t Catholics apologists typically object to the Protestant faith on the grounds that we alleged substitute a priesthood of scholars for a priesthood of bishops? That we poor Protestants are at the mercy of the commentators?

Wasn’t Rome supposed to offer something more stable and univocal?

2. It’s quite true that I, for one, deny “physical justification.” In what sense is justification “physical”? Does it have a particular height, weight, and color? Does it have a sweet fragrance? Or the texture of soft Corinthian leather?

Yes, I deny that God is “physically present” in the church. I also deny our “physical union” with God.

Is Prejean a worshipper of Zeus? Does he think God is a physical being? Like Laurence Olivier in Clash of the Titans?

Admittedly, that conception of the divine nature pays certain dividends where Aphrodite is concerned, but it’s not my idea of sound theology–whatever its ancillary charms.

3. Whether one’s account of salvation and grace is fundamentally opposed to the account of the Seven Ecumenical Councils is less troublesome than whether it’s fundamentally opposed to the account of God’s word.

By the same token, I’m less anxious about orthodoxy in the “historical” sense than conformity to revealed truth.

4. The tragedy of Jonathan Prejean’s existence is that he was born a few centuries too late. He’s a frustrated courtier at heart. Prejean inhabits the bygone world of hereditary honors and titles. Of Grand Dukes and Archdukes. Counts and Viscounts. The Archduke this and the Archduchess that. The Marquess this and the Marchioness that.

A lost world where, if your surname is Plantagenet, we should curtsy in your presence and address you as Milady, but if your surname is Smith, you go to the end of the line.

He missed his calling in life–to be a Lord of the Bedchamber.

For Prejean, the church of Rome is the next best thing to the House of Plantagenet.

Papal Chamberlains of the Cape. Knights of the Golden Spur. Prelati di fiocchetto (so called because they have the right to ornament the harness of their horses with violet and peacock-coloured feathers).

For Prejean, impertinence is the cardinal sin. He treats church fathers and ecumenical councils like the divine right of kings. Theology becomes an exacting science in court etiquette.

What worse effrontery could there be than to slight St. Cyril of Alexandria, “Seal of the Fathers”?

It’s like something out of a Disney film where the dashing young prince falls madly in love with a ravishing scullery maid, and they live happily ever after in a pink castle on the hill.

Dave Armstrong Responds to Dave Armstrong (Part One) (UPDATED!!!)

[James] White man came across the sea, he brought us pain and misery…

This just in from the Associated Press: Dave Armstrong Is Trying to Set The Stage For the Apparent First Degree Murder of The Remaining 12.8% of His Credibility, And Splits Atoms…With His Mind

Uncle Davey sez:
So now we have the high privilege of being flies on the wall in Steve and Jason's (smoke-filled?) back room consultations regarding how to deal with me.
It’s almost too easy to immediately point out that Armweak admits to being a fly here. But anyone can see that as plain as day, so I’m going to focus on other aspects of this passage that are just as plainly wrong but that you’re too stupid to catch on your own.

First, we don’t have any record in the early church about any such thing as “back rooms” let alone evidence in that patristic record about the existence of them being “smoke-filled”! Perhaps King David was too busy inhaling to read what Saint Chrysanthemum said:
Yea, verily, upon the waters was cast thine blessed magnificent gaze, whereupon the role of our eternal bliss was understood to be merely the foretaste of the divine footprint left upon the shore of our shipwrecked faith. This shipwreck harkening back to the Apostle Paul himself, who was but one of many such Apostles to have been shipwrecked in faith.
The conclusion, obviously, is that when Davey speaks about his “high privilege” to be in a “smoke-filled” room, it is an obvious reference to reefer. Cheech & Chong would be green with envy, if they only knew who Armweak was. But no, it’s me, you see, who has put himself at the center of attention once more—not Dave! Of course not him. I’m just minding my own business, getting attacked by James White and TAO, and he has to come out of nowhere to steal my lettuce.

Armstrong forgets the most important thing. The motto of Catholic Answers: Twice the length, half the thought. That is the key to a proper relationship with Mary.

“BigMac” Armstrong says:
Isn't it glorious?
And here we see his prime motivation for everything. Personal glory. If it’s not glorious, then what’s the point? On this, St. Iguanata agreed, for he said in his well-known pamphlet Glorious, Is It Not?:
Indeed it is glorious.
But as well all know, he was writing in the context of rebutting the attacks of the Herculeans who claimed that Aries, who mistakenly thought that the Son was made not begotten, was more glorious than the Donaldists, who had yet to find a toupee. This is all plain and obvious to anyone who would spend the time to read the texts in their original English.

Lil Strong also said:
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would be green with envy at the tortured logic, historical revisionism, and spin being spun and manufactured here.
But this is absurd because everyone knows that Reid and Pelosi are both against torture. It is quite telling when an apologist who claims to have the backing that Dave Armystrong claims cannot even get this simple political point right. Anyone paying attention for even the last 37 seconds would have known that. Dave Armstrong displays his ignorance to everyone, and doesn’t even seem to care about it. But this is typical of Anti-Dave Armstrongians in general. After all, they wouldn’t be Anti-Dave Amrstongians if they paid attention. No, they’d be Dave Armstrong like me if they paid attention. And you can read all about it in my 1,376 page e-book, Dave Armstrongs Like Me: Why Patrick Madrid Is Going to Hell available for free when you purchase any spa through this exclusive web offer.

“I Know Lance Armstrong, and You’re No Lance” Armstrong wrote:
It's me, you see, who isn't answering comprehensively (were you duped into thinking otherwise, in reading my five lengthy replies: one / two / three / four / five)?
“It’s me,” says Prophet Navystrong. It’s always about you. On the other hand, it is refreshing to see an Anti-Dave Armstrongian apologist who can count to five. But if Armstrong thinks those responses are “lengthy” then he’s even more out of touch than even I realized. (Yes, I admit, I may have erred in considering him more intelligent than it appears he now is.) I mean, if you want to talk about length, I haven’t even gotten through his first paragraph and see how long this post is? Thus far, I’ve given 7249 words in response to Dave’s 82 words. That’s 5,681,247% longer. Give it up, Davey. You’re a rank amateur.

It’s like the old aphorism that St. Thomas the Divide once said: “ Anything can be expounded upon to great length as long as you ignore brevity.” Thomas said that, I agree with it, that settles it. You can keep your “brevity is the soul of wit” bunk for yourself, Weakstrongleg. For you have neither soul nor wit.

I can’t take it anymore. It has become increasingly obvious that Dave Armstrong is nothing but anti-Dave Armstrong. So I am going to implement a rule. From this point on, I will no longer interact with him, or any other anti-Dave Armstrongians. It’s simply not worth my time or effort any longer.

Unca Dave said:
I'm providing merely "copy/paste filler and dodgy replies" and am not "actually responsive."
This is why I refuse to interact with anti-Dave Armstrongians. They have no shame at all! He even admits that all he’s doing is providing copy/past filler and is not even pretending not to be not actually responsive. He’s proud of this! How do you deal with such a hard-headed person as that? Truly, I am left with the words St. Apostanatous said:
In those days there was a man well-known by the people, and his name was Steve.
Uncle Dave finally bothers to conclude his paragraph by saying:
Thus, Jason would be well-advised to split, according to "Whopper" Hays.
It is a well-known fact that Dave Armstrong thinks he can split atoms with his mind. Yet when we see what he considers to be atoms (Jason, anyone?) it becomes more than apparent that the only thing he has split is his personality.

I am hereby reinstituting my rule of not talking with anti-Dave Armstrongians like Dave Armstrong.

Dave Armstrong said:
It's supremely important in anti-Catholic apologetics, to construct a clever rationale / spin / sophistical explanation for why one is not answering and doesn't wish to continue not answering, while pretending all the while that one is doing so, and that the other guy ain't doin' what in fact the one splittin' ain't doin'. If I've seen it once, I've seen it (literally) a hundred times.
Legstrong really shouldn’t write while looking into a mirror. Aside from the risk of cutting his bare feet after the mirror shatters (literally), one only needs to take a look at his chops to see that such an image would turn anyone delusional. It is therefore not all that unapparent as to why his above non-answering answer would not make much sense, if you’re not expecting to be the one not splitting atoms with your mind, but instead you are not the one who didn’t see it coming. If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it (literally) a thousand times, just in this paragraph. But again, don’t take my word for it. As Platypus the Elder said:
After careful consideration of the literalness inherent in the claims adjudicated before the throne of the Almighty Herself, it was apparent that Mary was indeed the right and only Heir to the Florida Keys. Thus, anyone who would beseech her aid in times of crisis must know full well that the correct position is one of genuflection. Although using a whip on one’s own back wouldn’t hurt (figuratively speaking) either.
I’ve had about as much as I can stand of this guy for today. Look for parts 2 through 731 by tomorrow.


Dave Limparm responded to me today, so I'm going to revoke my vow not to communicate with anti-Dave Armstrongians, but for a very good reason. He said the following [and these are all excerpts that I’m too lazy to put ellipses in for, so just pretend there’s an occasional … in there]:
Anti-[Anti-Dave Armstrongians] can't ever deal with [anti-Dave Armstrongians] without mocking them. Now, here is the latest stuff that [mini-me] considers to be thoughtful intellectual discourse (and yes, I understand that it is intended as satire, but it is lousy, pitiful, dumb satire: something a sharp 11-year-old might try to write; in fact, I haven't been called "Armweak" since 7th grade at the very latest)
Now I admit there was some content between those two sentences. Forty-one words, if you want to get specific. But 41 words isn’t that much. I write that much before I blink in the morning, after I first turn on my computer screen and see if James White has written anything critical about me. So I can’t help but point out what a stupid response this is for someone who supposedly knows what he’s talking about to say I, Dave Armstrong, cannot deal with the likes of him “without mocking” him, and then follow it up with “but it’s lousy, pitiful, dumb satire: something a sharp 11-year-old might try to write” without even the faintest hint of irony on his part.

I also object to any anti-Dave Armstrongian to even begin to claim anything I write is remotely “thoughtful intellectual discourse.” Would I be forced to sell spa products on my website if I had that skill, which I believe would probably be marketable?

Apparently ashamed at taking a 41-word gap before contradicting himself, Armynavy continued by doing so in the same sentence.
Why do anti-Catholics almost universally feel a need to engage in these petty, hyper-stupid, imbecilic personal attacks?
It is utterly amazing how someone can engage in a petty, hyper-stupid, imbecilic personal attack while condemning petty, hyper-stupid, imbecilic personal attacks and still not see the irony in it.

Anyway, a leotard can’t change his polka dots, so I’ll let this child play in the mud while I go back to my regularly scheduled ignoring-all-anti-Dave-Armstrongians-until-I-don’t program…

Nicaea And The Canon

Before I address some canonical issues Dave Armstrong raised in his recent responses to me, I want to ask him for clarification on something he said. I'm also interested in any information other readers might be able to provide.

As I explained in an article on the canon last year, it's common for people to make false claims about what the Council of Nicaea supposedly did with regard to the canon. And Dave writes:

"The Council of Nicaea questioned the inclusion in the NT of James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude."

What is he referring to?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The "Anomalies" Of Papias

Dave Armstrong has written another response to me concerning Papias.

I had asked Dave whether Papias' attaining of information from the daughters of Philip (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39) was equivalent to receiving information by means of apostolic succession. He wrote:

"I would think that was a manifestation of it, yes: transmission of firsthand apostolic information through another party (in this case, daughters of an apostle)."

Eusebius tells us what Papias said:

"But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead." (Church History, 3:39)

Eusebius doesn't say that the information was given to the daughters by an apostle, and the information in question is about a resurrection. Does Dave want us to believe that all "apostolic information", as he puts it, such as a resurrection report, is communicated through apostolic succession because it originated with an apostle? He ought to explain his reasoning. Who are the successors here? The daughters of Philip? If some daughters of Philip who weren't part of a church hierarchy are going to be said to have been passing on apostolic tradition through apostolic succession, because they reported that a miracle occurred, then Dave is defining his terms far more vaguely than they're usually defined in disputes on these matters. By Dave's reasoning, the Jewish leaders and Roman government officials who passed on information about the apostles, such as legal information related to a trial, can be said to have been passing on information through apostolic succession. Does Dave believe that the resurrection Papias refers to is part of the Catholic rule of faith?

Dave wrote:

"The two are not mutually exclusive at all. Now, routine historiographical investigation (because of historical proximity to the apostles), is pit against tradition, as if one rules out the other. The NT is good history; it is also good tradition."

The two wouldn't have to be "mutually exclusive" in order to be different. And the historiographical concept Papias appeals to doesn't involve church infallibility, doesn't have the cross-generational nature of Roman Catholic tradition, etc. I've already cited some differences between the two, and citing some similarities doesn't eliminate those differences. The Catholic concept of tradition isn't equivalent to the historiographic standard that we find in Papias and in the non-Christian sources of antiquity who appeal to it.

Dave wrote:

"He demonstrated the rule of faith in how he approached all these matters. This is how he lived his Christianity: his standard of authority."

We live our lives in accordance with many sources of information. We attain philosophical information from a philosopher, news from a web site, a report about answered prayer from a Christian friend, etc. The fact that Papias attained information from the daughters of Philip and other sources, and lived in accordance with that information, doesn't prove that the information in question was part of his rule of faith or that it was attained by means of apostolic succession.

Dave wrote:

"Why should any Christian believe anything that he hears (from the Bible or whatever)? Why should Papias believe Philip's daughters or other close associates of the apostles? Why should Jason question everything to death? Why can't he simply accept these things in faith?"

Apparently, Dave doesn't understand the issue under dispute. It's not a matter of whether Papias should have believed what people like the daughters of Philip told him. Rather, it's a matter of whether what they told him was part of the rule of faith.

If a friend of Paul had told Papias that Paul had a particular illness during the last several years of his life, would we normally consider that information about Paul part of the Christian rule of faith and consider that friend an apostolic successor? No. Even if we believed what the friend said, we wouldn't apply terms like "oral tradition" and "apostolic succession" as they're commonly defined by Catholics.

Dave wrote:

"I'm not saying Jason is skeptical of Jesus. It is an analogical point. He applies the same method that the skeptics Newman describes, use: only applied to patristic questions."

No, the Newman quote is irrelevant. I can believe a friend who tells me about an answer to a prayer, yet not consider that answer to prayer a part of my rule of faith.

Dave wrote:

"Probably so (but this is self-evident). I didn't see anyone (let alone myself) making a literal list of what is and what isn't."

If Papias was referring to a historiographical category that includes material outside of the rule of faith, then it was misleading for Dave to cite Papias' comments without qualification in a discussion of what the Christian rule of faith ought to be.

Dave wrote:

"All we're saying is that his methodology does not fit into the Protestant rule of faith."

No, that's not all that Dave said. He referred to Papias as a Catholic, said that we find "an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition" in Papias, etc.

Dave wrote:

"At this early stage, there will be anomalies and vague things."

Dave allows for "anomalies" in Papias, but accuses me of "relativism", "playing games", etc. if I allow for a transitional phase between the apostolic revelation and my view of scripture today.

Dave wrote:

"How about the existence of the Old Testament? Or is that no longer considered Scripture by Protestants these days, or adherents of sola Scriptura. We'll have to start calling it sola NT, huh? How about the Gospels and most of Paul's letters, which were accepted as canonical very early: well within Papias' lifetime?"

The fact that people have access to some scripture doesn't tell us whether they also have access to other revelation. The prophet Isaiah had access to the writings of Moses, but no knowledgeable Evangelical argues that he therefore should have ignored the revelations he was receiving from God and should have adhered to sola scriptura.

Dave wrote:

"That's not what Eusebius stated [that Papias was a disciple of the apostles]."

Yes, Eusebius does refer to Papias as a disciple of the apostles, but inconsistently, as I documented in my last article in this exchange. And other sources, like Irenaeus, also reported that Papias was a disciple of the apostle John.

Dave wrote:

"But of course, that is a part of my paper that Jason conveniently overlooked, per his standard modus operandi of high (and very careful) selectivity in response."

Dave hasn't been interacting with all of the articles I've linked.

Dave wrote:

"As far as I am concerned, this data alone refutes Jason's position. But he ignored it. He never mentioned Paul once in his current reply."

Because Paul's acceptance of a tradition is independently verified by his apostolic authority. He isn't a normal historical witness. He had the authority of an apostle.

And the issue under discussion here is what standard Papias was appealing to. Papias didn't take his historiographic language from Paul. He took it from sources like the ones Richard Bauckham discusses. As I said earlier, even if you disagree with that historical standard Papias appeals to, the fact remains that he appealed to that standard. And we are, after all, discussing what Papias believed.

Dave wrote:

"But who needs apostles or Scripture, anyway, when you're able to talk directly to God?"

Dave is saying that Adam could follow a different rule of faith, since his circumstances were different. The same principle is applicable to Mary, Papias, and other figures of the Christian era. Dave hasn't demonstrated that sola scriptura must have been applicable to Papias in order for it to be acceptable as a rule of faith today. He just asserts his conclusion over and over again, accompanied by references to "relativism", "playing games", etc.

Dave wrote:

"No, because Protestants tend to collapse 'word of God' to Scripture alone, when in fact, in Scripture, it refers, many more times, to oral proclamation."

I would agree with Dave in criticizing Protestants who have that tendency. But he's having a discussion with me, not them.

Dave wrote:

"It's simply a primitive Catholic rule of faith: exhibiting exactly what we would expect to see under the assumption of Newmanian, Vincentian development."

Dave will have to explain how a period of access to reliable oral information can't develop into a period in which such reliable oral transmission is no longer ongoing. To repeat an example I cited earlier, we don't look for ongoing oral traditions about Tertullian's beliefs when addressing what he believed. Transitioning from the oral to the written is a form of development that's commonly accepted in many contexts in human life.

Dave wrote:

"Until we see anything that suggests otherwise, which we haven't, that is a perfectly solid position to take."

It would be reasonable for Dave to assume that Papias was a Catholic given his (Dave's) other beliefs. But I and other people Dave interacts with don't share those beliefs. Therefore, "we" don't begin with the assumption that Papias would likely be a Catholic.

Dave wrote:

"How is what he did contrary to apostolic succession? It isn't at all. Papias was a bishop, who received Christian tradition from friends or relatives of the apostles. This ain't rocket science. There is nothing complicated about it: much as Jason wants to obfuscate."

I'm not obfuscating when I ask Dave to support some claims he made. He said that we find "an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition" in Papias. Shifting the topic to whether Papias contradicts Dave's Catholic concept of apostolic succession doesn't demonstrate Dave's previous claim. He still hasn't documented it. He can't. Eusebius refers to "friends" of the apostles. Papias refers to "followers" of the apostles. Neither category is equivalent to apostolic succession. To equate all friends or followers of the apostles with apostolic successors is misleading, since that's not the concept of apostolic succession that's commonly assumed in disputes between Catholics and Evangelicals. If everybody from a beggar healed by Peter to a daughter of Philip is to be considered an apostolic successor, then the term is being redefined.

Dave wrote:

"What St. Ignatius taught (real presence, episcopacy, etc.) was universal in the early Church, unlike the two things above."

I was responding to a comment Dave made about the earliness of a source. Since I cited early sources disagreeing with Dave's theology, he changed the subject by adding the "universal" qualifier.

I don't know what Dave means by "real presence", but see the variety of eucharistic views documented by two of the sources he cited earlier, Philip Schaff and J.N.D. Kelly. I discuss Ignatius and Schaff's material on the subject in a thread here.

I don't know what Dave means by "episcopacy" either, but there's widespread scholarly agreement that the monarchical episcopate wasn't universal early on. That agreement includes many Catholic scholars. See my article here on early forms of church government.

If Dave is going to assume that popular early beliefs were "universal", then should we assume the same about popular early beliefs Dave rejects, such as the popular belief that Jesus was the only sinless human, the popular opposition to the veneration of images early on, the popular young earth interpretation of Genesis and other portions of scripture, etc.? See here for some examples of popular early Christian beliefs that Dave rejects.

Dave wrote:

"No one is saying that any given father is infallible, so if he is wrong on that one item, this causes no problem to our view."

The issue isn't "our view", but rather what Dave in particular said. He made some claims about Papias. If Dave believes that Papias' oral tradition includes doctrinal error, then that oral tradition isn't equivalent to Dave's infallible rule of faith.

The hermeneutics of Francis Beckwith

"We begin with what we think we have good reason to believe is true: the Catholic Church in the present is identical to the apostolic church of the first century. It is, to be sure, far more developed in both theology and ecclesiology, but the seeds for such development were present from the start. Thus, we don't cite Matthew 16 as evidence of this. Rather, we read Matthew 16 in light of the history and development that has already taken place."

How would it ever be possible to distinguish a true ecclesiastical claimant from a false claimant using that backwards methodology? Isn't that brand of confirmation self-validating? Truth by definition?

Mt 16 can never function as a criterion on that methodology. Rather, "history and development" stamp their interpretation on Mt 16.

Disturbing Behavior

To: Dr. Caldicott
From: TR
Re: Patient Engwer

I just received a troubling report regarding one of our test-subjects: Patient #17 (aka Jason Engwer). Apparently the V-chip you implanted in his brain to regulate subversive behavior is malfunctioning. According to some dude named Dave Armstrong, “I'm delighted to report that Jason Engwer has apparently decided to ignore Big Brother Hays' advice. I knew you had it in ya. Don't listen to the James Carvilles of the world.”

You’re directed to have Rocky and Bubba bring Patient Engwer back to Bishop Flats for immediate reconditioning.

Security alert!

To: Coconspirators
From: Number Two
Re: Security Breach

We just intercepted the following communiqué from Dave Armstrong’s hideout:

“So now we have the high privilege of being flies on the wall in Steve and Jason's (smoke-filled?) backroom consultations regarding how to deal with me.”

Apparently, our safe house in Prague has been compromised. It’s possible that Dave’s cohorts at Opus Dei have bugged the joint.

Please reconvene at our safe house in Braşov. If Dave also gets wind of what we said there, then we’ll know that we have a mole in the circus.

In that event, the most likely suspect is TFan. His housemaid told me recently that she ran across a cache of incense and votive candles, along with a replica of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, hidden in a box on the top shelf of his bedroom closet.

Of course, when confronted, I’d expect TFan to claim that this was just for “research,” but I'll have Sergei, our ex-KGB agent, use enhanced interrogation techniques (e.g. a feather-duster applied to bare feet) to get to the bottom of the real story.

The supreme judge of all religious controversies

“The real problem with defining sola scriptura is that there is no one, single definition by which all adherents to sola scriptura accept.”

In which case it’s incumbent on the Catholic opponent of sola Scriptura to identify which version he’s attempting to refute.

“In the example I cited above ‘If it's not in the Bible, don't believe it!’ then this objection fits!”

That’s a straw man definition of sola Scriptura. I believe the sun rose this morning, although I can’t find that in Scripture. Does my extrabiblical belief in the sunrise refute sola Scriptura? No, since that’s not how sola Scriptura is formulated.

“Sola scriptura is not taught in the Scriptures, the canon of Scripture is not taught BY Scripture, thus without Scripture telling us which books should be contained therein, by this standard sola scriptura is most definitely self-refuting.”

i) That overlooks the intratextual, intertextual, and paratextual evidence for the canon of Scripture in the canon of Scripture itself.

ii) Moreover, Scripture also has a doctrine of providence. It’s not unscriptural to consider external (as well as internal) lines of evidence.

“The problem with relying on implicit teaching is that reduces the definition to a matter of interpretation.”

i) Of course, one also has to interpret the church fathers, catechisms, papal encyclicals, conciliar canons and decrees, &c. So that objection either proves too much or too little.

ii) Moreover, Scott has strayed from the issue at hand. The question at issue is whether sola Scriptura generates an internal contradiction.

To say that if the Scriptural self-witness to sola Scriptura is implicit, this reduces the definition to a matter of interpretation is irrelevant to the claim that sola Scriptura is self-refuting. Those are two entirely different ideas.

“For example, many Protestant apologists will turn to 2 Timothy 3:16.”

Since that was no part of my argument, it’s beside the point.

“The problem we'd have with this logic is that while the BIPM may be a standard of measure it is not the sole standard of measure.”

And suppose the BIPM was the sole standard of metrics. Would that render it self-refuting? How?

“Again I would have to reiterate that when one hears ‘sola scriptura’ the next question has to be "which definition are you going by?’"

That’s a good question. And it’s a question that a Catholic apologist needs to answer for himself before he tries to attack sola Scriptura.

“The phrase alone is not self-explanatory or self-defining.”

That’s because “sola scriptura” is a slogan. One of the fallacies which Catholic apologists are prone to is to generate a contradiction on the verbal basis of a slogan. But the slogan “sola Scriptura” is not a definition of “sola Scriptura.” It’s just a label.

“The other definition, that from James White ‘Sola scriptura teaches that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church." Again, sola scriptura, alone, doesn't teach us anything beyond "Scripture Alone’ - White needs to add ‘infallible rule of faith for the Church’ to give some sort of definition to it. Now for that rule to be valid, we should expect that that rule exists within Scripture - and for that matter - how does one even KNOW what Scripture is?”

A disappointed “expectation” is hardly equivalent to a logical self-contradiction. Notice the inability of some Catholic apologists to even focus on the issue at hand.

“The teaching of sola scriptura does not exist in Scripture…”

Notice how Scott is building on tendentious premise.

“And to KNOW what Scripture is - we have to go with some OTHER SOURCE and if we don't trust that source to have infallibly declared the Canon of Sacred Scripture, then we don't really have infallible knowledge of exactly what constitutes Scripture!”

i) Of course, that only relocates the (alleged) problem. For we’d then need to have infallible knowledge of the one true church.

ii) Did OT, Intertestamental, and 2nd Temple Jews not know what Scripture was before Trent “infallibly” defined the canon in the 16C?

When Jesus, the apostles, and NT evangelists appeal to Scripture in their debates with 1C Jews, are they citing something of which 1C Jews were ignorant?

iii) Why does knowledge have to be infallible? What’s wrong with plain old knowledge?

iv) Most importantly, Scott has once again drifted from the issue at hand. Whether or not we have “infallible knowledge” of the canon is completely irrelevant to the question of whether sola Scriptura is self-refuting.

Notice how consistently illogical Catholic apologists like Scott show themselves to be.

That’s in large part because they rely on pat objections to the Protestant rule of faith. They are unable to adapt to any argument that doesn’t dovetail with their pat objections.

“So, if the canon is closed - who closed it?”

The Bible writer who wrote the last book of the Bible closed the canon–by writing the last book of the Bible.

“Does Scripture itself, anywhere, list all the books which should be contained therein?”

Of course, that’s a simple-minded objection. To begin with, there’s an elementary distinction between having a preexisting list, and having the raw materials to generate a list.

“The truth of the matter is that for the first four hundred years of the Church the canon was not set…”

i) Trobisch has argued on text-critical grounds that the NT canon was standardized in the mid-2C AD. For a useful summary and evaluation of his argument, see the discussion by Kellum, Quarles, and Kostenberger in their recent intro. to the NT.

ii) Freedman has argued that (except for Daniel), the OT was standardized c. 5C BC.
And Sailhamer has supplemented Freedman’s analysis by arguing for the pivotal role of Daniel in the canonization of the OT (in The Meaning of the Pentateuch).

iii) Scott is also confusing internal evidence for the canon with various forms of ecclesiastical recognition.

“And then when it was set that same authority which set the New Testament Canon set the Old Testament Canon with seven more books than the Protestant Bibles have.”

i) So from the time Moses wrote the Pentateuch until the Council of Trent in the 16C, the Jews were without a canon of Scripture.

ii) What is even worse for Scott, popes, Latin Fathers, and Roman Catholic bishops didn’t even know what Scripture is until the ink was dry on text of Trent.

“Logically speaking, if you're trusting THAT authority for the Christian New Testament, then why turn to a DIFFERENT authority for the Christian Old Testament?”

i) Needless to say, that disregards Jewish evidence for the Hebrew canon. A good place to start is Roger Beckwith’s standard monograph on the subject.

Observe the consistently anachronistic perspective which Catholic apologists take in relation to the canon.

ii) Moreover, the question of who or what we “trust” is irrelevant to whether or not sola Scripture is logically self-refuting. Scott keeps advertising the inability of Catholic apologists to focus on the issue under review.

“Ironically, the authority Protestants turn to for the Old Testament is that of those who had Jesus put to death as an imposter and false prophet.”

i) Well, you learn something new every day. I didn’t realize until now that Philo, Josephus, Ben Sira et al. were members of the Sanhedrin when Jesus was condemned to die.

Come to think of it, Freedman has argued that Ezra was instrumental in the canonization of the OT. It would be ironic if the authority that Protestants turn to for the OT is a Christ-killer like Ezra. Oh, well.

ii) It’s also revealing when Catholic apologists take refuge in Jew-baiting rhetoric as their last resort. But that’s consistent with the grand tradition of Catholic anti-semiticism.

“If though there were some disputes on the canon, St. Jerome for example argued for the deuterocanonicals to NOT be counted as canonical - however in HIS CANON, the Latin Vulgate, those books are indeed included. Why are they included? Because he yielded to due and proper authority.”

So when push comes to show, ignore the evidence and go with the papacy.

“Every authorized Bible from that time forward contains the deuterocanonicals.”

Authorized by the papacy? A nice, circular appeal.

“It would not be until the time of Protestantism in the 16th century that some translations would be published without them.”

i) A circular appeal to tradition to validate tradition.

ii) It also disregards dissention over the scope of the canon when Trent was convened.

“Even the initial King James Version includes the deuterocanonicals - without putting them in a separate appendix, that would come later - and then later still they would be left out entirely.”

Anglican editions of the Bible were subject to whatever royal policies prevailed at the time.

iii) Once again, this is all irrelevant to whether or not sola scriptura is self-contradictory.

“Hays here oversimplifies the ‘Catholic rule of faith’ and then makes it dependent upon the Protestant rule of faith for validity. His argument is flawed to the core. First off, the Catholic Faith (and thus rule) existed long before there ever was a Protestant rule of faith, and long before anyone ever heard of sola scriptura. Thus to begin with Hays assertion is wholly anachronistic. Secondly, Catholics do not base their acceptance of the authority of the Church based on the consequences of accepting the Protestant rule of faith. Catholics accept the authority of the Catholic Church because Jesus Christ established the Church Himself and even the book which Protestants hold so high affirms this truth! It must be noted as well, the Catholic Church does not receive this authority from Scripture, she received it directly from Jesus Christ - and Scripture just happens to record this granting and transfer of power.”

I could comment on the specifics, but it’s sufficient to point out that this is irrelevant to the issue at hand. I was responding to the aprioristic framework of Catholic apologists like Cardinal Newman and Michael Liccione. Once more, Scott is constitutionally unable to wrap his head around the actual state of the question.

“Well, first off, Hays is building upon the faulty premise we've already exposed here, but the fact of the matter is - the Catholic rule of faith IS self-referential!”

Even if we credit that tendentious claim for the sake of argument, it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand. The a priori argument we find in Newman and Liccione doesn’t require the Catholic rule of faith to be self-referential.

It would really behoove a Catholic apologist like Scott to acquire a modicum of mental discipline.

“Scripture is PART OF the Catholic Faith and Scripture records Jesus giving His Church this infallible authority (Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:18).”

i) I’m well-acquainted with Catholic spooftexting. I’ve responded to that on many occasions.

ii) I appreciate Scott’s tacit endorsement of the perspicuity of Scripture. Of course, that renders the Magisterium superfluous.

“Thus in Hays haste, he seems to overlook this fact which utterly destroys his comparison.”

My comparison was drawn from the a priori type of argument we find in Catholic apologists like Newman and Liccione. They don’t adduce verses from Matthew to make their case.

“Again, the Catholic argument is not simply axiomatic nor a priori, in fact Hays himself states that Catholicism bases her argument on the consequences of accepting the Protestant argument - which by default would make his argument for Catholicism an a posteriori argument! Neither is the Catholic argument axiomatic (self evident) for as we have seen, it is supported by Scripture - the source Protestants accept as authoritative!”

What is Scott’s problem, exactly? Is he just too dense to follow the argument, even when I explicitly identify the referent? I’m addressing the a priori type of argument for the Catholic rule of faith which we find in apologists like Newman and Liccione.

The whole point of an a priori argument is that it doesn’t require a posteriori supplementation. Rather, it has to stand or fall on its own terms.

“No Mr. Hays, it is not just because the Protestant rule of faith contains the word "only" and ours does not. Yes, that would be superficial and a foolish reason to base ones acceptance or rejection of a rule of faith. You present no Catholic making such an argument, you're merely inventing this argument and throwing it at the wall to see if it sticks - well, it doesn't. All you've done is establish a straw man and then proceed to knock it down.”

Really? Catholics don’t regard their own rule of faith as the only true rule of faith?

“Clearly Mr. Hays has not examined the Catholic objections objectively and the only muddleheaded verbal tricks we see are coming from his invented straw man arguments.”

Scott consistently misses the target because he keeps targeting a different target than I took aim at. I specified that I was discussing the issue according to the way in which Catholic apologists like Newman and Liccione chose to frame the issue. Scott can never keep his eye on that frame of reference, even though it’s Catholic apologists who supply that frame of reference.

“Dr. Beckwith, you have not gone wrong in your reasoning, but another thing to consider from the statement you quoted - they claim ‘the 66 books are the supreme authority on matters of belief...’ - that would be a definition of ‘suprema scriptura,’ not ‘sola scriptura.’ Saying something has supreme authority does not give it sole authority - I submit those writing that are not true sola scripturists, at least not if that is their credo.”

i) And how is that relevant to the actual terms of my post? It isn’t.

ii) Moreover, sola Scriptura doesn’t mean there can be no subordinate authorities. Scott is confusing a slogan with the position denoted by that label. In fact, the Westminster Confession, to cite one representative example, even says:

“The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (WCF 1:10).

“Supreme” authority is perfectly consonant with subordinate authorities.

Back to Scott:

“Perhaps the best objection to sola scriptura, outside of the fact that Scripture itself does not teach this rule, is that Scripture itself provides us with ANOTHER INFALLIBLE RULE! In both Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18 Jesus states that His bishops have the authority to bind or loose whatsoever they choose and whatsoever they bind or loose on Earth is bound or loosed in Heaven.”

i) Scott needs to exegete the concept of the Roman episcopate from his prooftexts.

ii) He also needs to exegete the “binding and loosing” language.

iii) He also needs to demonstrate how the locus of infallibility in Catholicism corresponds to whatever “binding and loose” denote in Matthew. Where does Jesus refer to ecumenical councils or ex cathedra pronouncements by the pope? I must have missed that in the wording of his prooftexts.

iv) I do appreciate Scott’s straightforward appeal to the perspicuity of Scripture–but, of course, that negates the rationale for the Magisterium.

“So, given that typically all Christians accept that the Bible itself is God's infallible word - then if the Bible itself points to something other than itself as also infallible then there is no ‘sola.’”

It points to the Apostolate. The period of public revelation–which came to an end.

Scott’s next paragraph simply repeats something he already said, which I already addressed.

“I thank you for your time and appreciate your comments.”

We’ll see how appreciative he is.

Where Are "Apostolic Succession" And "Authoritative Tradition" In Papias?

Dave Armstrong has written a reply to my recent post on Papias. He writes:

"Catholics believe there was one rule of faith that consistently developed. It is what we call the 'three-legged stool': Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession)."

When Papias spoke with the daughters of Philip (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39), for example, were they giving him information by means of "apostolic succession"? Dave hasn't given us any reason to think that Papias attained his oral tradition by that means. To the contrary, as Richard Bauckham documents in his book I cited earlier, Papias refers to the sort of investigation of early sources that was common in the historiography of his day, and we don't assume the involvement of apostolic succession when other ancient sources appeal to that concept.

Why should we even think that what Papias was addressing was a rule of faith? When he attained information about a resurrection or some other miracle that occurred, for example, why should we conclude that such oral tradition became part of Papias' rule of faith once he attained it? Some of his oral traditions would be part of his rule of faith, but not all of them. Dave is appealing to what Papias said about oral tradition in general, but Catholicism doesn't teach that all oral tradition within Papias' historiographic framework is part of the rule of faith. When Papias uses the historiographic language of his day to refer to oral tradition, including traditions that wouldn't be part of a Christian rule of faith and premillennial traditions, for example, it's misleading for Dave to cite Papias' comments as a reference to his rule of faith and claim that he agreed with Catholicism.

Dave writes:

"Therefore, Papias could indeed have lived by sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. There is no compelling reason to think that he could not have done so, simply due to his living in a very early period of Christian history."

The question is whether he should have, and I'm not aware of any reason why an adherent of sola scriptura ought to think so. Papias was at least a contemporary of the apostles, and, as I'll discuss in more depth below, most likely was a disciple of one of the apostles as well.

Dave writes:

"But Jason dissents from his colleagues and wants to play the game of having a relativistic rule of faith: not in play from the beginning of Christianity, but only set in motion later. This allows him to play the further game of denying that Papias' views are consistent with Catholic dogma and our rule of faith, while not having any responsibility of showing that it is consistent with a Protestant view."

Dave keeps accusing me of "playing games", being "relativistic", etc. without justifying those charges. The fact that my view allows me to point to inconsistencies between Papias and Catholicism without having to argue that Papias adhered to sola scriptura doesn't prove that my view is wrong.

I've given examples of other transitional phases in history, during which the rule of faith changed for individuals or groups. Dave said that he agreed with "many, if not all of these points", but then accused me of "relativism" and such when I applied the same sort of reasoning to Papias. Why?

Dave writes:

"What was in common was that all accepted 'the word of God' (both written and oral) as normative for the Christian faith, but not in the sense of sola Scriptura."

To say that everybody from Adam to Mary to Papias to Dave Armstrong followed the same rule of faith, defined vaguely as "the word of God", is to appeal to something different than the "Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession)" that Dave referenced earlier. Adam and Eve didn't have scripture or a magisterium. Even under Dave's view, a change eventually occurred in which the word of God was communicated by a means not previously used. The sort of direct communication God had with Adam isn't part of the average Catholic's rule of faith today. A Protestant could say that the rule of faith has always been "the word of God", and thus claim consistency in the same sort of vague manner in which Dave is claiming it.

Dave writes:

"He seems to be trying (by repeated, almost mantra-like emphasis) to undermine a Catholic notion of oral tradition without saying so in so many words."

I don't know how familiar Dave is with Richard Bauckham and his work. Bauckham isn't interacting with Catholicism in the passage of his book that I cited. As far as I recall, he never even mentions Catholicism anywhere in the book, at least not in any significant way. Bauckham is a New Testament scholar interacting primarily with other New Testament scholars and scholars of other relevant fields.

Dave writes:

"How in the world that is construed as somehow contrary to Catholic tradition is, I confess, beyond me."

Papias' position wouldn't have to be contrary to the Catholic position in order to be different than it. If Papias can take a transitional role under the Catholic view, in which he attains his rule of faith partly by means of the historical investigation he describes, then why can't he take a transitional role under a Protestant view?

Dave writes:

"We know that he collected eyewitness testimony. We don't know that he would say that was the only tradition that was legitimate."

I didn't claim that we know the latter. Remember, Dave is the one who claims that Papias was a Catholic, cited him in support of "oral tradition" (in a dispute with an Evangelical and without further qualification), etc.

Dave writes:

"His testimony was third-hand. He 'he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their [the apostles'] friends.' What is that if not succession?"

Why should we define apostolic succession so vaguely as to include "the apostles' friends"? In the same passage of Eusebius Dave is citing, Papias is quoted referring to these people as "followers" of the apostles. Many people, including individuals outside of a church hierarchy, can be considered friends or followers of the apostles. And, as I said above, the historiographic concept Papias is appealing to doesn't limit itself to apostolic successors or an equivalent category in its normal usage. Why think, then, that the concept has such a meaning when Papias uses it?

Dave originally claimed that "we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession" in Papias. He still hasn't documented that assertion.

Dave writes:

"Again, the trouble with this is that Eusebius specifically says (twice) that Papias only knew friends of the apostles: not they themselves. So one of [Bauckham's] key premises is unfactual."

Dave makes that point repeatedly in his article. But Richard Bauckham argues against Eusebius' position elsewhere in the book I've cited. I've argued against Eusebius' conclusion as well. See, for example, here.

Earlier, I cited an online collection of fragments by and about Papias. Eusebius' dubious argument that Papias wasn't a disciple of any of the apostles is contradicted by multiple other sources, including Irenaeus more than a century earlier (a man who had met Polycarp, another disciple of John). Some of the sources who commented on Papias when his writings were still extant said that he was even a (or the) secretary who wrote the fourth gospel at John's dictation. Eusebius wasn't even consistent with himself on the issue of whether Papias had been taught by John. See the citation from Eusebius' Chronicon on the web page linked above. The only source I'm aware of who denied Papias' status as a disciple of the apostles, Eusebius, wasn't even consistent on the issue. The evidence suggests that Papias was a disciple of the apostle John.

Dave writes:

"Bauckham appears to contradict himself...Which is it?: Eyewitnesses or those who knew eyewitnesses? Once one starts going down the chain to third-hand, fourth-hand or later generations of witnesses, one is squarely within oral tradition. It's something other than eyewitness testimony."

No, Bauckham explains, in the section of his book I cited, that though eyewitnesses were the primary source of interest, other early sources were involved as well. Even if you disagree with the historiographic standard in question, the fact remains that Papias was appealing to that standard. It involved witnesses who would quickly die out rather than going into the "fourth-hand or later generations" Dave refers to.

Even apart from that ancient historiographic standard, it makes sense to differentiate between a source who's one step removed and other sources who are five, twenty, or a thousand steps removed. We don't place all non-eyewitnesses in the same category without making any distinctions. Why are we today so focused on the writings of men like Tertullian and John Chrysostom rather than modern oral traditions about them?

Dave writes:

"In other words, the traditions that he [Ignatius] teaches are rejected, no matter how proximate they are to the apostles."

Like Dave's rejection of Papias' premillennial tradition, the soteriological tradition of Hermas (his belief in limited repentance), etc.?

Dave writes:

"St. Ignatius (c. 35 - c. 110) was born a generation earlier than Papias. He may possibly have known St. John, or known of him through St. Polycarp (c. 69 - c. 155). But does that impress Protestants? No; not if they are intent on rejecting any doctrine that has the slightest 'Catholic' flavor in it."

Ignatius' earliness is significant to me. I often cite him and often refer to the significance of his earliness. But I prefer the more accurate interpretation of Ignatius offered by an Ignatian scholar like Allen Brent to the interpretation of somebody like Dave Armstrong.

Dave writes:

"It's perfectly consistent with our notion, and we continue to think oral tradition is authoritative, whereas Protestants have ditched it: in direct contrast to what the fathers thought about such things."

Catholics "ditched" the approach of Papias long ago. They don't appeal to an oral tradition attained by means of historical investigation, without the mediation of the Catholic hierarchy acting in its infallible capacity, and they don't think that their oral tradition is soon going to die out, as Papias' "living and abiding voice" was about to.

Dave writes:

"My goal was to show that Papias is not a counter-example to Catholic tradition."

No, Dave went further than that. He said that we find in Papias "an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition". He also refers to the fathers in general as Catholic, which presumably would include Papias.

Dave writes:

"I don't believe in that [premillannielism] (used to), but the Catholic Church has not proclaimed many eschatological beliefs as dogma. Our position is not to uncritically accept any given father's view on anything, but to look at the consensus."

If Dave doesn't accept Papias' premillennial oral traditions, and he's identifying Papias' oral traditions as part of the rule of faith followed by Papias, then it follows that Papias' rule of faith involved a doctrine that Dave rejects. Was premillennialism part of the rule of faith in Papias' generation, but not today? Did Papias follow a different rule of faith than others in his generation? Would that qualify as "relativism"?

If Dave wants to argue that he wasn't referring to Papias' rule of faith when he made comments about "authoritative tradition" and "oral tradition" in Papias, then what's the relevance of such fallible tradition that's outside of a rule of faith? As I said before, that sort of "authoritative tradition" and "oral tradition" isn't what people normally have in mind when Catholics and Evangelicals are having a discussion like the current one, so Dave's comments were at least misleading.

And Papias thought he got his premillennialism from the apostles. It was apostolic tradition to him. It's not to Dave.

How does one see a Catholic concept of apostolic succession in a phrase like "the apostles' friends" or a Catholic concept of oral tradition in a historiographic phrase like "living and abiding voice"? In much the same way one sees everything from papal infallibility to a bodily assumption of Mary in scripture and an acorn of Catholicism in the writings of the church fathers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Feeling the heat

Dave Armstrong said...

“I freely grant that he has written a lot of other stuff about Catholicism. But all of his work in this regard suffers from the same fallacies and methodological flaws that I noted in the Introduction to my four-part series.”

i) Since there’s no evidence that Dave has even read Jason’s “other stuff,” he’d be in no position to venture that assessment. But why doesn’t he tell us what other stuff he’s read by Jason–on which he presumes to make that assessment?

ii) Likewise, it’s hardly impressive to claim that Jason’s “other stuff” suffers from “the same fallacies and methological flaws,” absent any effort on Dave’s part to actually document and substantiate that allegation.

“It is best shown to be deficient when someone grapples with it line-by-line, in order to demonstrate how he tries to reason. But Jason's usual method in responding to me is to pick-and-choose and be highly selective as to what he will respond to, whereas everyone can see that when I responded to him, it was line-by-line, without ignoring anything.”

The fact that Dave merely said something about everything Jason wrote in one post hardly indicates that what Dave said was actually responsive. Indeed, as I said to Jason last Saturday:

For the time being I've now said what I intend to say in response to Armstrong. I'm of two minds about saying more. Much of the time he makes no serious effort to interact with your arguments. He will simply quote a sentence or two, then make a dismissive comment which is unresponsive to the substance of your claim.

He also acts as though your post was an evaluation of Cardinal Newman's theory of development, then faults you for allegedly misrepresenting Newman or failing to take into account something Newman said here or there. But, of course, that was never your framework. You were largely responding to an article by Lane, not Newman's essay on the theory of development.

As the series continues, Armstrong's replies, which weren't high-quality to begin with, further degenerate. He resorts to extensive padding. Long block quotes from other writers. Dismissive one-liners.

He clearly got tired. Ran out of steam. So it's just filler. Creating the misimpression that he offered a comprehensive rebuttal to your post when most of what he says consists of copy/paste filler and dodgy replies.

“Therefore, nothing is ever truly accomplished, in terms of dialogue, because both parties have to be willing to interact with the other's stuff comprehensively, not in a scattershot fashion.”

But by Dave’s own admission, he’s ignoring all of Jason’s supporting material. Therefore, Dave is also picking-and-choosing what “isolated tidbits” he wants to reply to–in “scattershot fashion.”

“So I'll wait to see if he will try to actually interact with my reasoning considered as a whole, rather than from isolated tidbits. I don't have unlimited time.”

As if Jason has unlimited time.

“Moreover, note that in this present response, if I actually wanted to pursue it, it opens up into almost all major areas of Catholic theology, so that it strays almost completely from the topic at hand. I don't play those games. One can't do everything at once. I can't simultaneously answer four people all answering me at once, and every paper that Jason has written about Catholicism. “

Looks like the poor little darling is feeling the heat. Maybe he should buy a tube of sun block so that his tender epidermis doesn’t turn bright red.

“It is Jason Engwer's paper that I critiqued. It is his responsibility to defend his own ideas.”

I take it that Dave will ban all sympathetic commenters at his blog, and retroactively delete their supportive remarks. After all, it’s his responsibility to defend his own ideas. As such, it would be irresponsible of him to allow any Catholic commenters to offer statements in his defense. By the same token, I also assume that he will delete all of the supportive comments he ever left at other Catholic blogs.

“I hope Jason is not relying on Ken Temple, TAO, and Steve Hays to do a comprehensive reply, because I will respond to him alone. When all this is done, I'll go back to my normative policy of ignoring anti-Catholics.”

His normative policy is to have no normative policy.

Pseudo-apostolic succession

I’m going to quote some passages from a standard monograph on Simon Magus. The following features caught my eye:

1.It’s striking to see the historical license which church fathers took in their accounts of Simon Magus and his “successors.” One church father introduces a narrative about Simon and subsequent developments, then other church fathers embroider the narrative. What we see here is a process of rampant legendary embellishment.

2.Beyond that general trend is something more specific: a concerted effort to contrive a symmetrical parallel between apostolic succession and pseudo-apostolic succession. In both cases, church fathers seem to be working with genealogical paradigm in which truth and error each has its own dynastic pedigree. You can trace truth and error back through their respective family trees to archetypal/prototypal figures–where the heresiarch is equivalent to the founding patriarch of a far-flung clan.

But the question this inevitably raises is that if church fathers took such historical liberties in forging nonexistent links in a chain-of-custody reaching back from miscellaneous heresies in their own time and place to Simon Magus, then it’s hard to put much stock in lines of apostolic succession. Why think the ostensible lineage connecting the episcopate to an apostolic see is any more credible than their fanciful efforts to fill in the gaps allegedly connecting Simon Magus to the heresy du jour?

“What is indisputable is that the Church Fathers and anonymous writers, with Irenaeus of Lyons as a major turning point, began adapting the canonical Simon Magus to fashion him in new creative ways. For example, he became the spiritual father of all the Gnostic sects, he became an unrepentant opponent of the apostle Peter and later of Paul as well, he had extraordinary powers, and he died violently in Rome during a climatic confrontation with Peter and Paul in the presence of the Emperor Nero and throngs of admirers, A. Ferreiro, Simon Magus in Patristic, Medieval, and Early Modern Traditions (Brill Academic Pub, 2005), 3.

“Chapter three brings together the most important testimony of the Church Fathers, from Justin Martyr to Vincent of Lerins who presented Simon Magus as the prototype heretic who founded all of the Gnostic sects through a pseudo-apostolic succession. The commentary is found within the attempt by the Fathers to establish the legitimate succession of the Catholic bishops founded upon the apostles,” ibid. 4.

“In the 133 Letter written to Ctesiphon, approximately in 415, Jerome launched an attack against Priscillianists in section four. Jerome utilized mainly typology to associate Priscillian with the previous major heresies going ultimately back to the ‘Father’ of Christian heresy, Simon Magus…Vincent, on the other hand, used the Gnostic ‘type’ in a more restrained manner than Jerome. Simon’s alleged successor Nicolas of Antioch, who supposedly founded the Nicolaitan sect, was accused mainly of sexual libertarianism…I decided to include this essay because Simon and Nicolas appear together in every heresiological list as the two foundational ‘fathers’ of Gnosticism and by extension of all Christian heresies,” ibid. 4-5.

“If there is one single area of research on Simon Magus that has solicited significant scholarly attention, it has been within the field of Gnostic studies. Irenaeus in his Against Heresies claimed that Simon Magus had not only founded the Gnostic sect of the Simonians, but was also the spiritual ‘father’ of all of Gnosticism in general. This claim by Irenaeus became the catalyst that moved modern scholars to embark upon the quest to confirm the ‘historical’ links between the Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles and the sect of the Simonians who allegedly continued to perpetuate his teachings. The belief by patristic writers that Simon Magus had established Gnosticism became widespread as evidenced by the detailed references in the writings of Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Hippolytus, Against all Heresies, the Constitutions of the Apostles, the Pseudo-Clementines, and the Panarion by Epiphanius of Salamis. Wayne Meeks, in a recent historiographical essay, has noted that the efforts by modern scholars to confirm the connections between the canonical Simon Magus and any form of Gnosticism, and specifically the Simonians has come to a dead end,” ibid. 10-12.

“Fortunately, not all scholarly inquiry has come to an end on this topic. There is another area of research regarding Simon Magus and Gnosticism that is deserving of attention. As patristic writers attempted to create typological bridges between the canonical Magus and Gnosticism they did not all create an identical ‘type.’” Ibid. 12.

“Simon Magus as founder of a pseudo-apostolic succession derives principally from the anti-Gnostic polemic and is once again another instance of a tradition wholly independent of the Acts of the Apostles and the apocryphal legends. The same anti-Gnostic writers who created the fascinating portraits of Simon Magus and Helena likewise engendered the idea of a false apostolic succession paralleling and in direct opposition to the legitimate one established by Simon Peter. This concept persisted very strongly in the fourth and fifth centuries and is expanded in the works of Jerome and Vincent of Lerins. I have demonstrated in previous studies how both Church Fathers elaborated the notion of a Simon Magus pseudo-succession that continued well beyond Gnostic successors. Jerome, in what is perhaps his most creative exegesis, suggested a female pseudo-succession stemming from Helena and paralleling the male line initiated by Simon Magus. Writers such as Augustine, Filastrius of Brescia, Isidore of Seville and others mediated various forms of this concept to the Middle Ages,” ibid. 19.

“The persistent attempt by the Church Fathers, especially Irenaeus and Clement, to establish the legitimacy of an apostolic succession was matched by their effort to demonstrate the existence of a parallel pseudo-apostolic succession among the Gnostics. Irenaeus was principally driven in his rigorous rebuke of Gnostics to argue that Simon Magus founded the sect from whom all other Gnostics derived their inspiration. He clamed that the Simonians of his day, founded by Simon Magus, in turn inspired the sect of Menander. In fact, Irenaeus precisely labeled Menander a ‘successor’ of Simon Magus. In this significant work of heresiology, which became the model for all future works in this genre, Irenaeus made a case for the legitimate succession of bishops form the apostles, in particular Simon Peter,” 43.

“Two major elements of the Simon Magus type were bequeathed by Irenaeus and Clement: the belief that Simon Magus inspired/founded the Gnostic sects and that he had a female collaborator named Helena. The Church Fathers who occupied themselves with the question of the origin of heresy adopted wholesale this tradition while introducing their own emendations here and there,” ibid. 44.

“The Greek and Latin Fathers of the fourth century and beyond expanded this tradition even more. Cyril of Jerusalem called Simon Magus ‘inventor of all heresy’–an echo of Irenaeus–and proceeded in generic fashion to mention the Gnostic sects…Gregory Nazianzus warned that many doctrines ‘sprang from them’–the Gnostics, Simon Magus included, implying a succession. Epiphanius of Salamis in Panarion represents the culmination of all this earlier teaching among the Greek Fathers of the fourth century…On the succession question, Epiphanius linked Simon Magus with the Menandrians, Saturnilians, and Basilidians, with the strong implication that this constituted an ongoing succession originating with Simon Magus. John of Damascus expanded the list of Gnostic groups directly linked to Simon Magus, to include the Basilidians…We gain a better perspective of how this tradition from the second to fourth centuries among the Greek Fathers influenced the Church and its thinking about apostolic succession in light of what Jerome and Vincent of Lerins received, adapted, and perpetuated in the fifth century as is shown below,” ibid. 45.

“Vincent provided the precise language to express the succession of heretics from Simon. Like Jerome, he extended the idea of pseudo-apostolic succession far beyond any of the earlier writers, such as Epiphanius of Salamis who limited the successors of Simon Magus to the Gnostics. The emphasis in this section by Vincent is the primacy and centrality of apostolic authority. In the concluding chapters Vincent accused heretics of opposing the Holy See at Rome, specifically the pontiffs of Sixtus and Celestine, the successors of St. Peter. To add an extra touch of authority Vincent mentioned the ‘blessed Apostle Paul’ (Comm. 33.1-4. 1.24. p194). Peter and Paul, together, formed an overwhelming source of authority that vindicated Petrine primacy and apostolic succession, respectively…A crucial element in Vincent’s thought was his reference to a ‘secret and continuous succession [Continua et occulta successione manauit [Comm. 24.10. 43-44 p181] of heretics,” ibid. 52.

UNCG Outreach Report 1-19-2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to report that God granted us much grace as I preached the gospel open-air today at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). Hundreds of people heard the gospel of grace from our lips. To God alone be the Glory!

The Report: I preached for over three hours with only one or two short breaks in between (yes, I was dog tired. :-). We had several hecklers that grappled with the truth claims of Jesus Christ and many of them were laid naked and open to the law of Christ and shown to be without excuse. We heard the usual objections about the reliability of the Bible, atheistic materialistic objections, statements like "I need 'proof' that the God of the Bible exists!", objections based upon Neo-Darwinian theory, pagan monistic ideas, etc. I capitalized on their sin of intellectual autonomy and then preached grace in light of their sin and gave them the hope that can only be found through Christ. We had several folks from our church who were able to interact one-on-one with several unbelievers in the crowd who heard my preaching. Thank you for showing up and preaching the truth! There was also a Campus Crusade for Christ worker that stood around for over an hour while I was preaching who thanked us so much for being there after we finished.

Our time was coming to a close at 12 noon when a sinless perfectionist heretic showed up. These types of people are like modern-day Pharisees and they have done much harm to the church both historically and recently. As I was wrapping up my preaching, he asked me if I still considered myself to be a "sinner". I've been down this road with these heretics several times. I said "not in the sense of a lost sinner; the pattern of my life is that of holiness, righteousness, and godliness and not that of sin" and he said, "but that's not the question; I asked you if you are still sinning" and I said, "I have sinned since becoming a believer and like James 3:2 says, I 'stumble in many ways', but sin is not the overall pattern of my life . . . I repent when I sin and receive forgiveness from Christ", then he asked me if I believed that a professing Christian could rape a woman and still die and go to heaven and I said, "I have no reason to think that a man who does that was ever truly saved to begin with."

This man then turned to the crowd and told them that I was preaching a false gospel. I told him that he was self deceived and did not have the truth because 1st John 1:8 says, "If we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us", to which he had no answer. I repeated the verse several times to him and the crowd. He then asked me how Job is described in Job 1 and I said, "As an upright and blameless man" and then he said, "See, Job was perfect, just like Jesus commands us to be in Matthew 5:48!" I responded "Then why did Job have to repent in dust and ashes in Job chapter 42?" to which many Christians in the crowd groaned, feeling the point. He then started preaching that I was a false teacher and at that time I pointed my finger at him and said to the crowd, "Folks, this man is a self-deceived heretic that does not have the truth according to his own Bible." I then stepped down off my stool retrieved my belongings and left him to preach his false message. After he preached for about 3 minutes the crowd that I was preaching to grew hostile and an angry professing Christian got up in his face, ripped one of the buttons off of his sport coat and yelled right in his face something to the effect, "How dare you tell these people that they have to be perfect in and of themselves to go to heaven?" The UNCG police showed up almost immediately and after we spoke to several appreciative Christian students and the Campus Crusade worker, we then left.

I preached for three hours with the friendly cooperation of the police with no problems. There was a tense yet generally respectful give and take between myself and the hecklers while I was preaching because I encouraged them to ask questions and not to interrupt each other but to wait patiently for their question. They appreciated that and it made things much smoother. However, I interrupted them several times; something I need to stop doing! (Cf. Proverbs 18:13) This is just further evidence that the Bible is true, for I truly "stumble in many ways." (James 3:2)

What I learned and was reminded of:
  • Focus on Christ and His gospel, for only the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).
  • Remember that you are dealing with spiritually dead people that cannot love or receive the truth lest the Holy Spirit opens their hearts to respond to the gospel (Acts 16:14).
  • Answer questions succintly with the Bible presupposing the Bible to defend the truth of the Bible (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Colossians 2:3; Hebrews 6:13). If people want more detailed and specific answers that are evidential in nature, direct them to the Creation Ministries International website or give them some of our CMI booklets that address their question.
  • Don't interrupt hecklers when they are asking a question even though you have a pretty good idea of what their objection/question is going to be. This is because "He who gives an answer before he hears it is folly and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13).
  • If you get the same question again from the same person, ask them, "I just answered that question for you, did you not understand my explanation the first time?" If they say "no I didn't understand" then patiently explain it again using gobs of Scripture and be patient with them (2 Timothy 2:23-26). If they refuse to hear your answer again, then continue preaching to the crowd at large.
  • Don't get into arguments with hell-bound heretics or anybody else (Matthew 7:6). All the lost world will see is two people arguing over religion and the gospel will not be preached. If a heretic shows up while preaching and the heretic wants to argue about it and steal your preaching time; identify the error quickly, then either move to another location or stop preaching altogether for that day and return another day. Christ said that wrangling with people that have rejected the truth and made shipwreck of their faith is a waste of time since they are rejecting the very truth that they have been exposed to many times (Titus 3:10-11). "But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels." (2 Timothy 2:23)
Hopefully, I'll have some YouTube clips up for you by the weekend. However, be warned; these clips are raw, I am new to open-air preaching in the university environment, and I made many, many mistakes (again, James 3:2). It's only by God's grace that I will learn from them and press on to represent Christ in a manner worthy of His great name. Christians, please pray for these outreaches. Pray that God will quicken the hearts of people to hear the Truth and respond by the power of the Spirit. Pray that we will be kind, charitable, gentle, wise, and bold in the proclamation of the gospel. Shepherd's Fellowship of Greensboro desires to represent Christ in Spirit and Truth in these outreaches and it's only by His help through much prayer that we can be useful in accomplishing His plan in this world.