Thursday, January 27, 2022

Justification Through Faith Alone Before The Reformation

Gavin Ortlund recently released a video providing an overview of a Protestant perspective on justification. Much of the video involves a comparison between Protestant views on the subject and Catholic understandings of it. A large portion of the video responds to the common objection that there isn't enough historical precedent for a Protestant view of justification prior to the Reformation.

I want to expand on what he says about that issue. For my argument that justification through faith alone is found in scripture and in sources between the time of the Bible and the Reformation, see here, here, and here, among other posts on the subject that can be found in our archives. Read the comments sections of those threads as well, since I discuss other sources and other issues there and interact with critics. My posts in those threads include documentation of belief in justification prior to baptism among sources between the New Testament era and the Reformation. Gavin cites John Chrysostom as his primary example of a pre-Reformation source whose soteriology seems to agree with certain Protestant themes, but he acknowledges that Chrysostom believed in baptismal justification. I concur with Gavin that we don't have to agree with every soteriological belief of a source in order to cite that source in support of our view on a soteriological issue. Partial agreement is less significant than full agreement, but lesser significance isn't equivalent to no significance. Citing Chrysostom on some issues while disagreeing with him on others is fine. But there are sources who advocate justification apart from baptism in the patristic era and other pre-Reformation contexts, and that fact gets far less attention than it should. My posts linked above discuss the topic and give it more attention than it typically gets.

I also want to mention that I've discussed Hilary of Poitiers' soteriology in his commentary on the gospel of Matthew in a lengthy thread here. Gavin referred to Hilary's material in passing, but chose to focus on Chrysostom without elaborating on Hilary's views. For those who are interested in Hilary, see my thread just linked.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Arguing For Miracles

Than Christopoulos recently hosted a video discussing miracles, with Caleb Jackson and David Pallmann. They make many good points. Caleb has done a lot of good work on the subject and has a book about it coming out soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Rewriting History Is Harder And Rarer Than Often Suggested

Late last year, I discussed Stephen Carlson's recent book on Papias. Among other things, the book documents several dozen passages about Papias in various historical sources, spanning about 1500 years. You notice some recurring themes as you read through those passages. One of them is the widespread opposition to premillennialism during most of those centuries. Over and over, there are negative comments about the premillennialism of Papias and some other sources (Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc.). Notice not only that so many documents and fragments of documents advocating premillennialism were preserved for so long, but also that even the opponents of premillennialism kept discussing the subject, acknowledging the belief's existence and the fact that early sources like Papias and Irenaeus advocated it, etc. We see the same kind of thing in other contexts, such as later sources acknowledging that an early form of church government was different than what developed later. That doesn't go well with the notion that the early Christians had the ability and the will to rewrite history to the extent that skeptical hypotheses often require.

Another approach to take toward this issue is to think in terms of the differing circumstances of individuals within groups. If thousands or millions of people across countries and continents were opposed to something (Papias' premillennialism, a claim about the authorship of a certain book, a passage contained in a book considered scripture, or whatever), how likely is it that all of those individuals would simultaneously have sufficient motivation and opportunity to do something like destroy copies of a document or change its text? People range across a spectrum in terms of their interests, moral standards, how much risk they're willing to take in a given situation, their health, the responsibilities they have, etc. The fact that two people oppose something like the premillennial beliefs of Papias doesn't prove that both would be willing to do something to suppress what Papias said, that they'd both have sufficient opportunity to do so if they had that interest, that they'd agree on taking one approach toward the situation rather than another (e.g., destroying copies of Papias' writings rather than changing the text of those documents), and so on. Critics of Christianity often put forward hypotheses that would require an inordinately large amount of coordination among the people involved. The fact that people are sometimes dishonest, for example, doesn't justify a hypothesis involving a far larger degree of dishonesty than we typically see. If skeptics are going to increase the number and variety of people involved in that sort of activity, they need to increase their argumentation accordingly. It's one thing to forge a document written to an individual on one occasion, such as a letter from Paul to Philemon. It's something else to forge multiple documents written to a much larger number of people on multiple occasions, such as two letters of Paul to the Corinthians. It's one thing to speculate that one or two of the individuals who allegedly saw Jesus after he rose from the dead were hallucinating. It's something else to suggest that most or all of the witnesses were hallucinating. We have to make these distinctions.