Thursday, December 14, 2017

Who picks the referee?

I listened to Bishop Barron's argument for Catholicism. 

It's hardly an original argument. 

i) I agree with him that the Holy Spirit doesn't interpret the Bible for readers. 

ii) Notice the a priori nature of the appeal: "If God saw fit to do X, then we'd expect him to do Y." 

An armchair prediction, rather than evidence.

iii) As I've mentioned before, one problem with the "living voice" argument is that a primary purpose for NT letters is to settle disputes when an apostle couldn't be present to revolve the dispute in person. The written word was authoritative.

Imagine someone responding to 1 John or Galatians or Hebrews or Colossians by exclaiming, "Well, that's only a text! It's can't resolve anything without an infallible interpreter!"

But that reaction subverts the function of those letters. 

vi) Finally, although Barron's referee analogy is superficially appealing, it only pushes the issue back a step. If we need a referee, then who picks the referee? By what authority do we determine who should be the referee? Suppose there's a disagreement about who should be the referee? Then we need a referee to broker the disagreement. We need a referee to choose a referee. 

So that solution fails to solve the problem it posed for itself. It's necessary to exercise independent judgment to settle on a referee, before a referee can settle anything else. But why is independent judgment necessary and reliable when selecting the referee, yet unnecessary and unreliable once the referee is chosen? 

One would still need to be able to examine the Bible and church history apart from the referee to determine if a referee was God's will for the church. But doesn't that nullify the necessity of a referee in the first place? 


  1. He also trots out the old myth of tens of thousands of Protestant denominations down in the comments:

    "But whose reading of the Bible? There are tens of thousands of Protestant churches, each one representing a distinctive interpretation of the Bible. And the referee I'm talking about is one that has received the sanction of the Holy Spirit."

  2. /// ... who picks the referee?///

    The Cardinals do, of course. 😉

  3. The referee analogy doesn't work in a more fundamental sense: a referee merely arbitrates the rules of the game. He is not supposed to have an influence on the outcome of the contest. If we are indeed forming consensus over time as a church as a whole, then the Catholic magisterium analogizes more closely to a Commissioner of Baseball, not a caller of balls and strikes. For it can overturn a victory earned on the field, even one fairly adjudicated by an umpire.

    Rome is not the moderator of debate. She is the stifler of debate. She is the predeterminer of wins and losses, not based on the merit of arguments but on dictatorial fiat.