Sunday, December 17, 2017

Catholic prooftexts

Over the years I've commented on stock prooftexts for Catholicism. In this post I'm going to collate my various responses. To a great extent this will repeat what I've said before, but it's useful to consolidate my interpretations in one place. 

There are two kinds of Catholic prooftexts. One set concerns prooftexts for specific Catholic doctrines, viz. apocrypha, synergism, transubstantiation, baptismal regeneration, cult of the saints, relics, auricular confession, absolution, Purgatory, indulgences, indissolubility of marriage, Marian dogmas, contraception, lying. 

Although I've discussed many of those issues before, I won't rehearse them in this post. For one thing, it would make it too long. That covers many of the loci of systematic theology and Christian ethics, with complex historical and hermeneutical arguments. 

In addition, some of these beliefs aren't that distinctive to Catholicism. In theory, Catholicism could be right about baptismal regeneration or the real presence but still be false. Catholicism is a take-it-or-leave-it package. So it isn't necessary to disprove every Catholic essential or distinctive to disprove Catholicism. While it's useful to attack Catholicism on multiple fronts, that's overkill. 

The other set concerns prooftexts for the authority structure of Catholicism. This post will focus on that set. Many Catholic doctrines aren't derivable from Scripture. They require the deus ex machina of the magisterium to validate them. So a decapitation strike is more efficient than blow-by-blow rebuttal (which, however, is valuable in its own right. 

Matthew 16:18-19

This is the classic prooftexts for the papacy.

1. Let's begin with some programmatic questions:

i) What does the "rock" refer to?

ii) Does Hades refer to the realm of the dead or the realm of the demonic?

iii) Does binding/loosing have independent meaning, or is that simply an alternative metaphor for keys, and derives its meaning from whatever the keys represent?

iv) Are the gates of hell and the keys of heaven mutually interpretive, or does the latter have an independent meaning?

2. Now I propose answer my own questions:

i) Caesarea Philippi is situated on a rocky terrace at the base of Mt. Hermon. As such, it's natural to suppose the rocky metaphor was suggested by the immediate surroundings. Jesus was standing on rocky ground, and standing in the shadow of Mt. Hermon, at the time he made his statement. 

This may also goes to a difference between the written word and the spoken word. Consider the demonstrative pronoun: "this". In that setting, it's easy to imagine him pointing to an actual rocky object. "I will build my church on this!"–accompanied by an illustrative gesture. The repetition of "rock" may well include a reference to Simon, but the double reference may also include a reference to the rocky surroundings. Indeed, that may be primary. 

"Rock" is probably a double entendre, both for Peter and especially the emblematic location. "Rocky" is a pun in honor of Peter's insightful confession, but what the church is built on is what the location symbolizes. 

ii) In Revelation, the Netherworld is subdivided into a realm of the dead (Rev 20:13-14) and a realm of the demonic (9:1-11; 11:17; 17:8). And keys are associated with each (Rev 1:189:1-2.; cf. 20:1-3). My point is not to use Revelation to interpret Mt 16 directly. Rather, this seems to be stock imagery that was in circulation in Jewish circles. 

iii) Caesarea Philippi was pagan territory. In OT times, it may well have been a site of Baal-worship. Later on, it was a shrine for the Greek god Pan. So it would have demonic associations.

iv) Although Matthew doesn't fill in the details, the implicit imagery involves a parallel between hades and heaven, where they stand in contrast. Gates imply keys and keys imply gates. If we mentally flesh it out, the reader should visualize both heaven and hades as gated locations.

Since these two images occur back-to-back, not to mention the intrinsically related imagery, it stands to reason that these are mutually interpretive, picturesque metaphors. And it would be jarring if binding/loosing had a different import. 

v) Gates can be used to lock people out or keep people from escaping. A form of authorized access and/or confinement. The porter is a sentinel who guards the site. No one can enter or leave unless he unlocks the gate. 

vi) Given the associations with heathen idolatry, I think hades more likely connotes the realm of the demonic in this evocative setting. Jesus may be boldly saying he will build his church on top of hellmouth. The gates of heaven and hades may not be two separate gates, but a single gate separating the church from the demonic realm. And the function of the gate may be to block the demonic realm from storming the church. It's daring to build the church right over hell, but that's an example of God subjugating his enemies. A variation on making his enemies his footstool. Rather than building his church at a safe distance, he builds his church right behind enemy lines to demonstrate God's invincibility. The church survive and thrives in the face of the enemy. 

3. Catholic apologists typically allege that v19 is an allusion to Isa 22:22, then imports the entire Isaian context into v19. However, the related metaphors of keys, gates, and doors are stock imagery (e.g. Mt 23:1325:10Lk 11:52Jn 10:9Acts 14:271 Cor 16:9Col 4:3Rev 1:183:7-8,209:120:1), so it doesn't require any special explanation, in terms of literary dependence, to account for the imagery. 

The opening and shutting metaphor isn't additional to the key metaphor, but a variation on the same metaphor. Keys, doors, open, shutting. 
Moreover, binding and loosing are absent from Isa 22:22. That's a different metaphor.

And even if it was an allusion to Isa 22:22, it doesn't follow that Jesus is reproducing the entire context of Isa 22, rather than mining the passage for picturesque metaphors or theological motifs. 

4. To ascribe certain prerogatives to Peter does not imply that he alone has these prerogatives. Mt 16 doesn't contrast Peter with what is said about the other disciples in the Gospel. It doesn't say Peter had these prerogatives to the exclusion of the other disciples. It's illogical to infer that what is said about one person can't therefore be said about someone else. 

5. Catholic apologists sometimes say binding and loosing is a rabbinical concept. Well, that's one possible meaning. But the binding/loosing metaphor needs to be related to the keys metaphor. And is it coincidental that we have a back-to-back comparison between the "gates of hell" (v18) and the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" (v19)? Isn't that a clue? 

6. When Catholic apologists point to NT statements about "the church" in Matthew and elsewhere, there's the danger of committing the illegitimate totality transfer fallacy, where they read a theological construct, based on all the varied occurrences of "the church" in NT usage, back into any particular occurrence. We need to avoid making "church" a loaded word wherever it occurs in the NT.

When a modern reader sees "the church" in the NT, he has the entire NT at his fingertips, as well as 2000 years of church history behind him, in addition to his personal experience with whatever denominations he's attended. But the original audience for Matthew didn't have that frame of reference. For them, "the church" didn't trigger all those associations. When we read the NT, we need to screen all the anachronistic connotations of "the church" which that word evokes for a modern reader. 

7. Jesus singles out Peter on that occasion because Peter answered the question. Peter is often the first to speak or act.

However, that sometimes gets him into trouble because he has a tendency to say or do foolish things. He sometimes takes the lead when he should keep his mouth shut. He speaks without thinking. Blurts out the first thing that comes to mind. Acts rashly. Indeed, in the very next pericope, Jesus accuses Peter of Satanic misunderstanding (v23). 

8. The fact that Peter is incidentally singled out on that occasion is confirmed by the fact that in Mt 18:18-20, the same authority conferred on Peter is conferred on local churches. 

9. It's not at all clear that the "rock" on which the church is built refers to Peter. In that regard, John Nolland, in his commentary, makes two significant points:

There is no straightforward antecedent for taute ('this') since petra ('rock') has not been used previously" (669).

Therefore, the syntax and usage don't select for Peter as the object of the demonstrative pronoun. Nolland goes onto say:

The very fact of the choice of different words suggests that in this case some difference of meaning is intended (petros in both places would have served better for the sense: 'You are Peter, and on this rock/stone [which you are] I will build my church')…The change of words encourages the linking of taute ('this') not to the immediately preceding Petros ('Peter'), but back via v17 to the confession of v16 (669).

Robert Gundry, in his commentary (p334, 2nd ed.), has argued that this refers back to the parable in Mt 7:24-27. Jesus is quoting himself:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Mt 7:24).

In that event, the "rock" refers to building on the foundation Christ's teaching.

10. But even if Peter is the "rock" in both occurrences in Mt 16, these "rocky," foundational metaphors aren't confined to Peter–but include the Apostolate in general (e.g. Rev 21:14).

Matthew 23:2-3

1. This passage says nothing about church officers, much less the papacy or Roman episcopate. 

2. It's quite likely that Christ's statement is sarcastic. Throughout this very Gospel, he's routinely at loggerheads with the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 12:1-14; 15:1-20; 16:5-12; 19:3-9). And in this very chapter, he mercilessly lampoons the scribes and Pharisees. It would sabotage Christ's own messianic claims to issue the scribes and Pharisees a blank check when they were his theological opponents. 

3. However, even assuming we should take his statement at face-value, which is improbable, it may only mean:

the scribes and Pharisees occupy a world where most people are illiterate and copies of the Torah are not plentiful. Since Jesus' disciples do not themselves have copies of the Torah, the will be dependent on the scribes and Phariseees to know what Moses said.

We might say that the scribes and Pharisees were walking copies of the Law. What they did with it might be suspect, but not their knowledge it. They would be relied on to report the Law of Moses with care and accuracy. J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2006), 923.

4. Unlike the Levitical priesthood, the Pharisees were not lineal successors to Moses (or Aaron). You didn’t need to be a priest to be a Pharisee. Indeed, many or most of the Pharisees were layman. 

Same thing with the scribes. You didn’t need to be a priest to be a scribe. A layman could be a scribe. 

5. Ironically, Catholic apologist unwittingly ascribing an authoritative teaching office to mere laymen. If anything, this passage is a prooftext for the right of private judgment. Not in the sense that every individual is equally competent to expound the Scriptures. But some men are competent to expound the Scriptures. And when it singles out two group of able teachers, it doesn’t draw the line between the laity and the clergy. That’s not what distinguishes a fit teacher from an unfit teacher. Indeed, the text implicitly attributes teaching ability to a class of men, many or most of whom were laymen. 

Assuming that it's not sarcastic, this is a prooftext for a low-church ecclesiology, not a high-church ecclesiology. So the Catholic appeal generates a dilemma for Catholicism. 

Luke 22:32

1. To begin with, this passage says nothing about the papacy or the pope strengthening the Roman episcopate. It's not a promise to the papacy. It's not a general promise. It's very topical. 

2. Peter is singled out, not because he outranks the other disciples, but because he will betray Jesus. The prayer anticipates his denial. Jesus prays for Peter's restoration in advance of his betrayal.

3. As a matter of faith, Peter's faith did fail. He lost his nerve and publicly renounced Jesus. That's a paradigmatic act of infidelity. 

In context, the meaning of the statement is not that his faith will be unwavering, but that his failure won't be permanent. Jesus prays that Peter won't abandon the cause. Having betrayed Jesus, he will repent of his betrayal and renew his commitment. 

4. The text doesn't say how Peter will strengthen his fellow. The most immediate explanation, in context, is that the example of Peter's restoration will strengthen the other disciples. The source of encouragement is not something Peter will do, but something Jesus did for Peter. If even Peter can be forgiven and restored, after publicly disowning Jesus, that's an encouragement to the other disciples, as they face persecution in the years ahead. Indeed, one reason Jesus tells Peter, in the presence of the other disciples, that he has prayed for him, is so that when Peter is contrite and rejoins the movement, that outcome will be attributed to the prescient and efficacious intercession of Jesus rather than Peter's fortitude naturally rebounding. 

5. Finally, there's the fallacy of inferring that if Peter is said to strengthen the other disciples, this carries the implication that the other disciples won't strengthen each other. Catholic apologists act as though statements like this imply a contrast, where affirming something in reference to one person disaffirms the same thing in reference to anyone else. But the statement is not logically exclusive, as if only Peter can play that role. What makes Peter special in this passage is not his leadership but his failure of leadership. He buckled under pressure and set bad example. The proleptic prayer of Christ is to rectify Peter's dereliction, not to promote him.  

John 16:13

1. Catholic apologists routinely "quote" this verse as a promise to "the Church". But that's not what the text says. At best, that's reading apostolic succession back into Jn 16:13. This verse is a promise to the Eleven, not to "the Church".

2. Moreover, the promise isn’t made to Peter, much less the pope, but to the 11 remaining disciples in the upper room. Peter isn’t singled out. And the papacy is nowhere in sight.

3. And even if, for the sake of argument, this is a promise to "the church", there's nothing in the text or context or entire Gospel to index that promise to the Roman Catholic church. 

John 17:21

1. The context of Jn 17:21 isn't ecclesiastical, but Trinitarian. In Jn 14-17, as well as 1 Jn 1:1-4, there's a threefold unity. There's the intra-Trinitarian fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit. Then there's Christians in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Indeed, they wouldn't even be Christian apart from that. Then there's the mutual fellowship of Christians by virtue of their fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. In Johannine theology, the unity of Christians is grounded in their participation in the paradigmatic unity of the Triune God. To be one with God is to be one with each other. That's the source. It has no connection with "the sacramental hierarchy, in communion with the successor of Peter"–which is completely absent from Johannine theology.

2. It's striking that the NT never says there is "one church". The NT uses the metaphor of the temple. The significance of this metaphor is that what makes a building a temple is the divine presence within the temple. As Paul adapts this metaphor, a Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That, however, means whoever has the Spirit ipso facto belongs to the church. 

Another corporate metaphor is a flock of sheep. That isn't called the "church". Rather, it's a collective metaphor for Christians. But if we use it as a synonym for the church, then whoever has Jesus as their shepherd belongs to the church.

Finally, the Paul uses the "body" as a metaphor for the church. And he says there is "one body." That's the closest you get to a "one church" formula in the NT. 
If there's one body, and the body is a synonym for the church, doesn't that mean there's one church? 

i) In a sense. However, this is a flexible metaphor which Paul uses to illustrate diversity as well as unity or unicity. He alternates between the one and the many.

ii) In addition, Paul says:

so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Rom 12:5).

To be in Christ makes you a member of his body. That's the constitutive relationship. That's what makes all believers belong to one and the same body.Christians have a corporate identity by virtue of their incorporation in Christ. 

But in that event, each and every Christian already belongs to the "one church" in virtue of their union with Christ. 

John 20:22-23

i) How should we interpret this statement? It's in a Gospel, not a church history. So it doesn't explicitly show us how that was understood and implemented in the church. For that our best source is the Book of Acts. It's not that the disciples personally absolve sin. Indeed, you don't find that in Acts. Rather, they provide the means for the remission of sin by evangelizing the lost. 

ii) How were the Eleven in a position to be father confessors to thousands of converts? That's quite unrealistic. So it doesn't envision auricular confession and absolution. God does the forgiving. The Eleven are simply intermediaries of forgiveness by preaching the Gospel. Their role is indirect rather than direct. That's further reinforced by the fact that there's no rite of confession to a priest and sacerdotal absolution in the NT epistles. Catholicism is a different religion. 

iii) Finally, in the context of John's Gospel, passages like Jn 3:16-18 offer a clue about how 20:22-23 was meant to be understood. The basis for forgiveness and damnation isn't confession to a Roman Catholic priest and absolution from his lips but by having faith in Jesus or refusing to have faith in Jesus. 

John 21:15-17

Peter was an apostle. He had pastoral responsibilities. So did other apostles. Indeed, one doesn't need to be an apostle to discharge pastoral duties. Shepherding the flock is not a uniquely Petrine or even uniquely apostolic distinction. Cf. Acts 20:281 Pet 5:1-2. Catholic apologists commit the elementary fallacy by acting as if something said about Peter is said in contrast to everyone else.

Jn 21 concerns his restoration to the status quo ante, not his elevation. Jn 21 is not a promotion. It's a reinstatement after Peter's betrayal. 

Acts 1:21-26

Catholic apologists cite this as precedent for apostolic succession. However:

1. It's about maintaining the symbolism of the Twelve after Judas defected. Which disproves the Catholic appeal, since that means there can't be more or less than Twelve at a time. There were originally 12 disciples, corresponding to the 12 tribes of Israel, and when Judas defected, he was replaced to maintain that numerically closed unit.

The Twelve is a closed number. Judas was replaced to maintain the symbolism. By definition, you can't extrapolate from a closed number (the Twelve) to an indefinite number beyond twelve at a time. The Twelve constitute a self-contained unit. There can only be changes within that unit. 

2. There's no transfer of office. To the contrary, the Twelve is, in the nature of the case, a self-enclosed numerical unit. You can't legitimately expand from that to more than twelve at a time. So this Catholic prooftext disproves the Catholic contention.

3. Catholic apologists play a shell game by switching from that to apostles appointing elders, as if that flows out of the appointment of Mathias. But that's categorically different. At best, the appointment of Mathias would be an example of one apostle replacing another apostle. 

But Catholics don't think there's a permanent apostolic office with successive incumbents. They don't think apostolic succession means one apostle succeeding another apostle. Rather, they think bishops in union with the pope are the true successors to the Apostolate. Therefore, Daniel's prooftext either proves too much or too little. 

Acts 1 involves replacement of the same kind whereas apostolic succession involves a shift from apostles to bishops. Different principle. Replacing one apostle with another apostle isn't any kind of precedent for replacing an apostle with a bishop.

4. Consider the qualifications:

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.

That's a very restrictive pool to choose from. And that generation died out. So you can't very well use that as a paradigm for apostolic succession, since that disqualifies virtually member member of the Roman episcopate!

Acts 15

1. Even assuming we classify the event in Acts 15 as a church council, that's a pastoral council rather than dogmatic council. The policy they hammer out is pragmatic compromise. Due to missionary concerns, they avoid giving Jews unnecessary offense. So this "council" isn't precedent for "the Church" to promulgate doctrine.

2. Peter didn’t convene the "council" and he didn’t preside at the "council."

3. He’s one of three delegates to the "council." He speaks with no more or less authority at the "council" than Paul and Barnabas. And Peter isn’t speaking for the council. He is speaking to the council. Speaking before the council. Not speaking on behalf of the council. 

4. Indeed, he’s a defendant. He must explain and justify his actions before the assembly of apostles and elders. They sit in judgment of his actions. It’s more like a heresy trial than a council.

5. Finally, it is James who hands down the verdict.

6. Peter doesn’t have jurisdiction over Paul’s ministry. Rather, they have separate jurisdictions (Gal 2:8-9). Peter is not Paul’s religious superior. Peter doesn't have universal jurisdiction. 

None of this is consistent with Peter as the head of the Christian church.

What we have in Acts 15 is a get-together in which leaders in the early church came to a mutual agreement. They discussed the issue as equals. Very collegial. They talked the issue over with one another and came to a meeting of minds.

Ephesians 4:3-5

1. The source of basis of unity isn't the church, the papacy, the magisterium, but the Holy Spirit. Of course, Catholics will say that's channeled through the magisterium, but they can't get that from this text (or any text!)

2. Even in the mid-1C, when this letter was written, there were many local churches, so a plurality of churches in consistent with "one body".

In addition, the unity stands in contrast to pre-Christian divisions. Ancient tribal and ethnic rivalries and animosities. The 1C church was geographically and demographically diverse. Christians in Israel, Syria, Greece, Rome, &c. Jews, Gentiles, patricians, plebeians, slaves, men, women, &c. The Christian faith incorporated these disparate and competitive people-groups and social classes into the family of faith.

3. "One Lord" refers to Jesus. All Christians have the same Lord. Incidentally, "One Lord" applies the Shema to Jesus. A prooftext for the deity of Christ.

4. "One faith" could either denote objective faith or subjective faith. If the former, it refers to the apostolic kerygma. All Christians share that common frame of reference.

If the latter, it refers to the exercise of faith. But there's no much practical difference between the two inasmuch as the object of faith is the apostolic kerygma.

5. "Baptism" is ambiguous. It could denote water baptism. But unlike the Gospels and Acts, where the narrative setting clarifies the reference to water baptism, passages about "baptism" in the epistles usually lack that context.

It might denote Spirit-baptism (e.g. 1 Cor 12:13). That's something all Christians share in common.

Or it could be a metaphor (e.g. 1 Cor 10:2). At this early stage in Christian theology, we should guard against the anachronistic assumption that "baptism" was already a technical term for the rite of initiation. Usage may not have hardened yet.

So there's nothing in this passages that's at odds with Protestant theology or denominations. 

6. There's the final irony of Catholics quoting a letter to the church of Ephesus to prooftext the claims of the Roman church. 

Catholic apologists might complain that this is just my private interpretation, and the ambiguities of the passage, which give rise to multiple interpretive options, demonstrate the need for a divine teaching office. To that I'd say two things:

i) Assuming the magisterium, you could, in theory, appeal to the magisterium to resolve these ambiguities–but it's premature at this stage of the argument to invoke the magisterium when this is supposed to be a prooftext for the magisterium. It would be viciously circular for a Catholic apologist to appeal to magisterial authority at this preliminary juncture when he's using this text to establish magisterial authority in the first place. 

ii) To my knowledge, Rome has never even purported to present an official interpretation of this passage. 

2 Thessalonians 2:15

Catholic apologists quote this to prove the authority of Sacred Tradition. However:

1. In this verse, Paul points to his own firsthand teaching, and not some free-floating paradosis. 

2. This is a command…to whom? To Christians in general? Did Paul address 1 Thessalonians to modern-day Christians? No. Did he speak to us personally? No. Was a modern reader in the audience when he spoke? No.

Is Paul enjoining us to adhere to the written and oral traditions which he (Paul) taught us by his spoken word or earlier letter? No. False on both counts.

Is Paul enjoining us to follow a 5C bishop of Thessalonica—or 8C bishop of Constantinople, or 18C bishop of Moscow—who claims to be handing down an oral Pauline tradition? No. Since the text never says that, it can’t very well mean what it never said.

Rather, the verse is directed to mid-1C members of the church of Thessalonica. It's not referring to Christians in general. It's not referring to apostolic succession. It's not referring to subapostolic oral traditions allegedly of Pauline origin.

That’s what it says. That’s all it says. It can’t mean more than it says. No contortions. Couldn’t be more straightforward.

3. Indeed, it has an expected expiration date. Paul is telling people who have face-to-face knowledge of his teaching to hold fiast to what they heard from his own mouth. You can't legitimately extrapolate from that to situations far removed from face-to-face knowledge, as if Paul is vouching for traditions in the indefinite future. 

4. Keep in mind that this occurs in correspondence where Paul warns about forgeries. That's why he signs his letters. So even at that stage there's a concern about spurious apostolic traditions.

The Thessalonians should hold to the oral preaching which they heard direct from the lips of Paul himself. It doesn’t extend to allegedly apostolic tradition from some thirdhand source (or worse). To the contrary, this very epistle warns the reader to be wary of spurious apostolic communications (2:2; 3:17). That’s the point of 2 Thes 2:15. It’s the polar opposite of a blanket endorsement of allegedly apostolic traditions. 

5. Of course, there are commands in Scripture which do apply beyond their immediate audience. But there’s no automatic presumption that any or every divine command is binding on all Christians at all times and places. That, rather, depends on the nature of the command, the wording of the command, and/or the context in which it’s given. You’ve taken a verse of Scripture, stripped it of its historical context, and then reapplied it willy-nilly to your denomination of choice.

6. Paul isn't appealing to apostolic tradition, in the customary sense of tradition. The concept of tradition connotes a chain of transmission with links in the chain. But that's not what Paul is describing. He's explicitly referring to direct oral teaching, from Paul to his immediate audience. There are no intervening links. Not what Paul taught a second person who passed it along to a third person who passed it along to a fourth person. That's not what Paul has in view. Rather, hold fast to what Paul taught you in person. Face-to-face transmission from an apostle to a Christian. The principle is restricted to Christians with firsthand knowledge of Paul's oral teaching. 

That doesn't necessarily invalidate a chain of custody. Some historical traditions are reliable. But 2 Thes 2:15 isn't making that claim. 

1 Timothy 3:15

Catholic apologists quote this passage to prove the infallibility of their sect. However. 

1. A basic problem is quoting the verse out of context. A pitfall of chapter and verse division is that Christians sometimes read a particular verse while failing to place that verse in the flow of argument. They don't consider what comes before or after. 

Catholic apologists say, "See, Paul doesn't say "Scripture" is a pillar of truth, but "the Church". Yet they completely ignore the preceding verse. Paul is directing Timothy to what he wrote.  Look at what I just wrote you!

2. Moreover, he wrote Timothy so that Timothy would know how to conduct himself in church, based on Paul's written instructions. If, however, the church is the source of truth, then that's superfluous. Yet Paul points Timothy to Paul's explicit, written directives. That's the benchmark. 

Catholic apologists quote v15 but disregard the preceding verse. Yet we need to back up one verse to get the overall thrust: "14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God..."

3. Syntactically, v14 refers back to the preceding section (2:1-3:13). But the principle extends to the rest of the letter. Since Paul can't instruct Timothy and the congregation in person, the letter is a stand-in, which serves that purpose.

4. By Paul's own admission, his letter takes the place of Paul's face-to-face teaching. Catholic apologists claim we need a "living voice". An infallible interpreter. Yet the function of an apostolic letter is to instruct the faithful in the apostle's absence (cf. 2 Cor 13:10).

It would be insubordinate to say, that's only a text, so we can't know what Paul really meant. That's why we have apostolic successors like Timothy, to infallibly expound the deposit of faith.

Yet Paul takes for granted that his written instructions should suffice in his absence. And even if we anachronistically classify Timothy as a bishop, Timothy has no independent authority. Timothy can't say, by virtue of his "office", how Christians are supposed to behave in church. That's based, not on Timothy's teaching authority, but on Paul's teaching authority, in written form. Timothy simply transmits what he was taught by Paul. There's nothing here about the necessity of an infallible teaching office to interpret the deposit of faith, even though Paul is nearing the end of his career. He will soon pass from the scene. He will have to hand off the work to the next Christian generation. 

5. Even if Timothy received oral instruction from Paul in the past, the letter is an aid to memory. 

6. In addition, it's funny when Roman Catholics quote Bible verses about "the Church," because, for them, "the Church" instantly shrinks down to the papacy or current pope or so-called ecumenical councils. But, of course, Paul didn't say anything about the pope or papacy or a episcopal council in 1 Tim 3:15

Notice what Paul doesn't say. He doesn't say the papacy is a pillar and foundation of truth. He doesn't say the Roman episcopate under the Roman pontiff is the pillar and foundation of truth. He doesn't say church councils ratified by the pope constitute a pillar and foundation of truth. 

When Catholic apologists read this verse, they mentally substitute something it doesn't say in place of what it actually says.

Timothy was one of his handpicked deputies. Once again, you can't legitimately extrapolate from that to claimants centuries after the fact.

In this verse there's no lay/clerical dichotomy. No doubt Paul thought pastors should be guardians of doctrinal truth, but he doesn't drive a wedge between pastors and laymen in that regard. 

Most of his letters are addressed to the entire congregation. To be read aloud in church. Christians in general are supposed to uphold the Gospel truth. It's not as if he thinks pastors are supposed to safeguard the truth while laymen are not supposed to safeguard the truth. When Paul says "the church" in 1 Tim 3:15, he's not excluding the congregation, as if elders and deacons are the church, but the congregation is not. As a Catholic prooftext, this verse either proves too much or too little. 

7. In Pauline ecclesiology, the church is the people of God. Christians. Hence, Christians have a duty to uphold the truth. 

So, for instance, you had mid-1C churches planted by Paul. It was incumbent on individual members comprising the congregation to uphold what Paul taught them. They received the truth from St. Paul. Their duty was to remain faithful to what he taught them–or in some cases his handpicked deputies.

8. Moreover, Paul doesn't say the church is the source of truth. And he doesn't say the church has the authority or prerogative to determine the truth. Rather, the church is tasked with the responsibility of upholding the truth. 

For that matter, "determine" is ambiguous. That can mean "ascertain" or "arbitrate". Those are two very different concepts. To ascertain is an act of understanding. To arbitrate is an act of authority. To obligate other people. 

9. The NT doesn’t command blind submission to church leaders. After all, some church leaders were false teachers. The NT warns Christians to be on the lookout for false teachers. That means Christians have to exercise some degree of independent judgment, using the Bible as their standard.

10. A Catholic apologist just decide for himself what it means (1 Tim 3:15). His denomination can't very well determine that for him, because he must to know if it's even applicable to his denomination. Unless it refers to his church, or includes his church, then his church isn't a ground and pillar of truth. In which case it isn't qualified to interpret that passage on his behalf. 

That's a Catholic conundrum. You can't rely on your denomination to determine what is true before you determine that your denomination is a rightful candidate for that distinction.

11. Did Paul consider "the church" to be infallible? Paul didn't even regard Pauline churches as infallible. Would he call the church of Corinth a "pillar and foundation of truth"? Would he call the Galatian churches "a pillar and foundation of truth"? Even churches he planted and supervised were prone to moral and doctrinal aberrations. 

12. A Catholic apologist might object that God doesn't protect individual congregations from falling into heresy. But this means Catholic theologians must add qualifications to 1 Tim 3:15 that are conspicuously absent from the text.

1 Timothy 4:14/2 Timothy 1:6-7

Catholic apologists quote this to prove holy orders. However:

1. There's a semantic fallacy, which equates the meaning of Greek words, with the concept of episcopacy in Roman Catholic theology. That's reading later theological developments back into ordinary 1C Greek usage. 

2. "Succession" in the sense of church office is not equivalent to succession in the sense of apostolic succession. Apostles had very specific prerogatives. The fact that they appointed church officers to carry on their work hardly carries the implication that their specific apostolic prerogatives are perpetual. It just means that having planted churches, other people need to maintain what they started. Like the difference between an architect and a custodian. 

3. The argument either proves too much or too little. In Catholicism, apostolic succession is funneled through the papacy, but there's nothing distinctively Petrine about these examples. 

4. If Catholic bishops possess apostolic prerogatives, why don't they perform miracles the way Peter and Paul did?

5. If Catholic bishops possess apostolic prerogatives, why is the era of public revelation over? It's ad hoc to claim apostolic succession, on the one hand, then say the era of public revelation is over, on the other hand.

6. Timothy and Titus weren't bishops. So there's this studied equivocation when you claim that Timothy and Titus were "bishops". That's a loaded word with connotations based on centuries of theological development subsequent to the Pastorals. 

There is no fixed definition of "bishop" in church history, even in reference to Roman Catholicism. And it's ridiculous to quote early church fathers, as if they are prospectively vouching for subsequent developments in Roman ecclesiology, many centuries later. The church fathers weren't prophets. They were men of their times, adapting to the challenges of their day.

The episcopal office has been under continuous evolution in Roman Catholicism. In fact, you have two competing theories of the episcopate in Vatican II, one given by the majority of the bishops, and one given by Pope Paul VI. And currently, Pope Francis is attempting to decentralize the church of Rome.

7. In the pastorals, elders aren't "bishops" in the Catholic sense. They don't oversee a diocese. At most, they are pastors or troubleshooters for one local church at a time.

8. For that matter, notice that the qualifications for elders in the Pastoral epistles omit to say anything about sacerdotal functions. There's no priesthood in the Pastorals. 

9. The fact that apostles appointed elders doesn't entail apostolic succession in the sense of how Roman Catholic theology defines the role of the episcopate. The Pastorals don't ascribe distinctive episcopal functions to church officers. Indeed, they don't even ascribe sacerdotal functions to church officers. Rather, it's just pastoral duties.

You can't develop the concept of the Roman episcopate and priesthood from the Pastorals, for the distinctive concepts aren't present to develop.

10 The imposition of hands has various functions in Scripture. That doesn't imply "succession" in the technical sense that you are using it. 

11. There's an equivocation over the meaning of "tradition". Naturally some Christians were orally taught by Apostles when Apostles were still alive. That hardly justifies appeal to Sacred Tradition centuries after their demise.

12. St. Paul mentions many different spiritual gifts in his letters. What makes a Catholic apologist presume the gift in 1 Tim 4:14 & 2 Tim 1:6-7 corresponds to the "charism" of the priesthood or episcopate? 

13. Suppose, for argument's sake, we agree that the ceremony conferred a "charism" on Timothy. But Paul officiated at that ceremony. So that provides no precedent for "bishops" who aren't handpicked deputies of the apostles. For "bishops" on whom apostles did not lay hands.

14. Moreover, Paul isn't Peter. At best, the case of Timothy establishes Pauline succession, not Petrine succession. So that's hardly precedent for the papacy. Indeed, that's at odds with the exclusive claims of the papacy. That example is counterproductive to Catholic claims. 

15. The key principle isn't structural continuity but doctrinal continuity. To faithfully transmit public apostolic teaching: "and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also."  

2 Peter 3:15-16

1. Ironically, Catholic apologists quote this passage to delegitimate private interpretation, yet they rely on their private interpretation of this verse is the same breath as they denounce private interpretation. Where has Rome provided the official, approved interpretation of 2 Pet 3:15-16?  

2. It doesn't refer to how a reader or listener interprets prophecy, but how the prophet interprets his dreams and visions. It's about the divine origin of prophecy. 

It stands in contrast to false prophecy. In that regard, the papacy is a fine example of the very thing 2 Pet 1:20-21 admonishes. Popes are like false prophets who presume to speak in God’s name when God hasn’t spoken to them or given them words to speak. As one commentator notes:

A major divide exists among scholars on the precise understanding of idias epiluseos ["from an individual's own interpretation," or "by the will of man"]. Some, such as Kelly, assert that this verse forbids the private interpretation of Scripture by the reader (or hearer) outside of an authority such as the church. Thus, idias, "from an individual's own," would refer to any reader of Scripture, rather than to the prophet who authored Scripture. Along with epiluseos, "interpretation," these two words would pertain to any person's unauthorized, illegitimate interpretation of written Scripture. 

However, that understanding of idias epiluseos does not make sense in the present context. In 2 Pet 1:16-18, Peter addressed the divine origin of the apostolic message. 2 Pet 2:21 addresses the same issue of origin regarding Scripture in general. Moreover, 2 Pet 1:21 includes the explanatory gar, "for," which draws  close connection between 2 Pet 1:21 and 2 Pet 1:20, implying that Peter's further declarations about the inspiration of Scripture in 2 Pet 1:21 are intended to elaborate upon his statements in 2 Pet 1:20. Thus, 2 Pet 1:20 too must be about the origin and inspiration of Scripture, not about its later interpretation by readers. Since the context of 2 Pet 1:20 addresses Scripture's divine origin, and since idias epilueos ["by the will of man"] in 2 Pet 1:20 supports this topic if taken to refer to a prophetic author (rather than a later reader), the best conclusion is that 2 Pet 1:20 speaks of the divine origin of Scripture as well. C. Giese, 2 Peter and Jude (Concordia 2012), 93-94.

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