Thursday, April 21, 2022

How To Handle Canonical Issues

An important step in addressing objections you get from a critic is to ask how much the objection could be applied to his belief system. That can help you communicate better with that critic, help you better explain to him why his objection is problematic, or get him to abandon the objection or adjust it or his handling of it in some way, for example. The value of taking that approach is especially significant in the context of interacting with Roman Catholics, since Protestants so often interact with Catholics and since they so often raise objections to Protestantism that they should be holding against their own belief system if they were to be consistent. But you sometimes come across that sort of inconsistency with Eastern Orthodox, atheists, and other groups as well.

One of the most popular objections raised against Protestantism is its supposed inability to justify its acceptance of a canon for its rule of faith, scripture. There is no table of contents in scripture, we rely on means outside of scripture to arrive at our canon, we supposedly accept our canon because a Roman Catholic authority of some sort gave us that canon, and so on. But it's not as though Protestants are the only ones who have a canon for their rule of faith. Every rule has a canon. So, ask yourself whether the group the person you're interacting with belongs to (e.g., Catholicism) handles its own canonical issues in a way comparable to how you handle yours. Is there a table of contents within the Catholic rule of faith? No. Do Catholics arrive at their canon by means outside that canon? Yes. And so forth. In fact, since the Catholic rule is so much larger and more complicated, the process of sorting through canonical issues is more difficult for a Catholic than it is for a Protestant. There are ongoing disputes among Catholics about what qualifies as tradition and what doesn't, which papal teachings are infallible and which aren't, who's been a true Pope and who hasn't been, etc.

Similarly, when atheists and other critics of Christianity claim that the canon of scripture was decided by Constantine or the Council of Nicaea, claim that Irenaeus gave us our canon of the gospels, or some such thing, we shouldn't just respond by explaining how erroneous their historical claims are. We should also notice that they make a lot of canonical judgments themselves and often approach those canonical issues in much the same way Christians do. In discussions about politics and matters like separation of church and state, they'll accept a canon of Thomas Jefferson's writings or some portion of that canon based on whatever they've been told by whatever scholar or other source they've consulted. They'll accept what a high school teacher, college professor, television documentary, book, web site, or some other source told them about the canon of Supreme Court rulings on a particular topic, what the Court said about the issue in question, and so on. We all do this type of thing many times and in many contexts in our everyday lives. So, when a Christian accepts a Biblical canon based on trusting various authority figures (parents, pastors, denominations, a historical consensus of professing Christians, a consensus of Bible publishers, etc.), that isn't much different than what atheists and other non-Christians do in other contexts. Whether an atheist or some other critic is being inconsistent in the objection he's raising will have to be judged case by case, but the possibility that he's being inconsistent should be considered and should be considered earlier rather than later in the discussion.

A lot more can be said about these issues, and we've said a lot more elsewhere (e.g., in my series of posts arguing for the New Testament canon and summarizing the case for the Old Testament canon here). But I want to reinforce the point that it's important to take a critic's objections and apply them to his belief system early in a discussion. That can go a long way in helping the discussion develop well. Protestants need to get better at doing that, especially with Catholics, but also with other groups.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Was there a papacy in the early church?

There's been a lot of discussion of the papacy lately on some popular YouTube channels. For example, Cameron Bertuzzi recently had Joe Heschmeyer and Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers on his channel, along with some Protestants arguing for the other side. Here's a good one-hour summary, from Gavin Ortlund, of the problems with arguments for the papacy. The Other Paul has been producing a lot of good material on the subject as well, often with Geoff Robinson. Steven Nemes has been making a lot of significant points, such as in this recent video on Matthew 16 and Isaiah 22. You can find collections of our posts on these issues here and by clicking on the relevant post labels, like Papacy.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Jesus Saw Light

One of Steve Hays' last posts before his death in 2020 was about the original text of Isaiah 53:11, particularly its reference to how the Suffering Servant will see light. He had written on the subject in a post the previous year as well. He had a lot of interest in the theme of light in scripture in general, and he thought (probably rightly) that the inclusion of a reference to seeing light in Isaiah 53:11 implies the Servant's resurrection. Since this resurrection is tied to the Servant's unique status, such as his unique work of atonement, the resurrection seems to be something better than the general resurrection that everybody will experience. In the context of Isaiah, an unusual resurrection like the one attributed to Jesus makes more sense.

And that brings up another issue that doesn't get as much attention as it should. It's good to argue in the traditional, more direct ways for Jesus' resurrection, by appealing to the general trustworthiness and historicity of the relevant sources, by appealing to aspects of the documents that are unlikely to have been fabricated, by appealing to hostile corroboration, and so on. But we can also argue for the resurrection more indirectly by appealing to prophecy fulfillment. Given the evidence we have for Biblical prophecy in general and Isaiah's prophecies and the Servant Songs and related passages in particular, we have reason to expect the figure who fulfilled those passages in Isaiah to have risen from the dead accordingly. It would be surprising if Jesus' life lined up so well with so much of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, but not the references to rising from the dead in verses 10-11.

Something worth noting about this line of argument is that much of what Jesus has fulfilled in the Servant Songs and elsewhere is widely acknowledged by non-Christian sources, and some of the fulfillments were brought about by non-Christians to one extent or another. That undermines the argument that Christians arranged the fulfillments by natural means. See here, for example. You can argue that Jesus rose from the dead on the basis of the resurrection's connections to prophecy fulfillments that are largely corroborated by non-Christian sources. It's similar to Peter's appeal to prophecy fulfillment and other miracles in Acts 2.