Thursday, November 16, 2023

Why trust the early Christians' memories?

Skeptics (of Christianity and skeptics in other contexts) often try to cast doubt on the reliability of human memory. Michael Jones (InspiringPhilosophy) has posted a couple of videos that make some good points about the reliability of the earliest Christians' memories of Jesus and their memories more broadly (here and here). Other points could be made as well. For example, I've written about the many documents relevant to Jesus' life that predated the gospels, meaning that there was more than memories and oral tradition to go by at the time when the gospels were composed. See here regarding early documents related to Jesus' childhood and here on early documents related to his resurrection, for instance. And see here regarding the evidence that the earliest Christians thought the apostles were given the ability to produce scripture, meaning that more than ordinary memory was involved (e.g., John 14:26).

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Sola Scriptura And The Departure Passages

We've written a lot about sola scriptura over the years. See the relevant posts linked here, for example. I've argued that sola scriptura can be justified by a process of elimination, much as we eventually become dependent on written sources in other contexts with the passing of time (e.g., we don't depend on ongoing oral traditions about what individuals like Josephus and Irenaeus taught). But I've cited another line of evidence that I want to highlight here. I've usually brought it up in the context of discussing the papacy, but it's relevant to sola scriptura as well. I'll quote what I wrote about it in a post last year, then expand on what I said there:

But the departure passages I've referred to elsewhere have some relevance here. When Paul and Peter are anticipating their death in 2 Timothy and 2 Peter, for example, they presumably don't know whether every other apostle will also be dead soon. So, how Paul and Peter prepare their audiences for their (Paul and Peter's) death isn't equivalent to preparing them for the post-apostolic age. But it does have some relevance. For one thing, Peter was a Pope under a Roman Catholic scenario, so any apostle who was still alive after Peter's death would have a lesser authority than Peter and his successors. And even though Paul and Peter knew that one or more of the other apostles could outlive them, their own deaths would have underscored the potential for the other apostles to die and the need for preparing for that scenario. Yet, they show no awareness of anything like a papacy or infallible magisterium. The pattern in these passages of referring to sources like past apostolic teaching and scripture without referring to anything like a papacy or infallible magisterium makes more sense under a Protestant paradigm. See my article linked earlier in this paragraph for more details. In addition to the three portions of the New Testament I discuss there (Acts 20, 2 Timothy, 2 Peter), think of the writings of John. He probably wrote in his elderly years, and, like Paul and Peter, he keeps calling on his audience to remember things like apostolic teaching and scripture, but shows no awareness of anything like a papacy or infallible magisterium.

The fact that a few different apostles are addressing these issues in so many contexts is significant. There's a cumulative effect.

It's probably not just a coincidence that so much emphasis on scripture, including the material most cited by Protestants, is found in the documents I'm focused on here (John 14:26, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, 3:1-2, 3:15-16, Revelation 22:18-19, etc.).

And keep in mind that critics of sola scriptura, like Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, have taken so much initiative to tell us how important it allegedly is to have guidance from an infallible church or Pope, to have a higher form of ecclesiology like what they offer to produce a certain type of unity they claim we should have, etc. They can't tell us how important such things supposedly are, then turn around and say that it isn't problematic for their position when the earliest sources keep bringing up other sources of authority, but don't even mention the Roman bishopric, let alone refer to a papal office, say nothing of looking to an infallible church after the apostles have departed, etc. You could still argue that other factors outweigh this consideration I'm mentioning, but the point I'm making is that it is a consideration that weighs against systems like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to some extent.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Your Silence About Christ Is Dogma

He's addressing parenting, but there's also a wider application:

It is impossible not to teach children about God, because not to teach them is to teach them plenty. It teaches them that Jesus does not matter much, that Mom and Dad don't consider him nearly as important or exciting as new furniture, or weekends at the lake, or Dad's job, or all the other things that fill their conversation. Silence about Christ is dogma….

It is not true that teaching children about God has to make them close-minded and irrationally prejudiced. It might if the parents are insecure and have their own faith built on sand. But if parents see compelling reasons for being a Christian, they will impart these to their children as well. Nobody accuses a parent of prejudicing a child's cosmology because he tells the child the world is round, and the little stars at night are bigger than the earth, and the sun really stands still while the earth turns. Why? Because we know these things are so and can give evidence to a child eventually that will support this truth. And so it is with those who are persuaded for good reasons that the Christian faith is true.

And, fourth, it is simply unloving and cruel not to give a child what he needs most. Since we believe that only by following Christ in the obedience of faith can a child be saved for eternity, escape the torments of hell, and enjoy the delights of heaven, it is unloving and cruel not to teach him the way….

A second objection some parents may raise is: I don't know enough about the Bible and about doctrine to teach my children and to answer their hard questions. There are two reasons why this should not stop you. First, it is never too late to begin to study and grow in your grasp of Bible truth. You may be a better teacher than a veteran because you are learning it fresh yourself….

The second reason your sense of inadequacy should not stop you is that some tremendously valuable things can be taught when you don't know the answer to a child's hard question. I can think of two. You can teach your child humility. If you are secure enough in God to show your ignorance rather than bluff and be a hypocrite, your child learns the beauty of humility. Second, you can teach your child to take some initiative of his own in solving problems.

(John Piper)