Time Magazine & “The New Calvinism”

Apr 17th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

I stumbled across this article in Time Magazine while waiting for my oil change. I guess it’s old news by now but I’m interested in your reaction to it (particularly if you’re a Calvinist).

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism’s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision. (Full Article)

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  1. Tim,

    I think there is some truth here that Calvinism has made a comeback. The crass Pelagianism of Finney and the 2nd Great Awakening as well as the Dispensationalism of Darby and Scofield ran their course and left their adherents with a very man centered religion that could not satisfy. The Calvinists were always in the background and continued to preach God’s sovereignty even while the man-centered versions of Christianity were at their strongest.

    Both Catholicism as well as Protestantism have experimented with issues that pit God’s sovereignty vs. man’s free. And in both cases experiments with Pelagianism and Semi-pelagianism lead the Church away from the truth very quickly.

    Cheers….

  2. I do not think it is a stretch to say that Mike Horton has played a significant role in the resurgence of Calvinism within mainstream Evangelicalism. I can remember when I was in Chicago in the mid-90′s many of the Moody Bible students would tune into the White Horse Inn and when he came to speak at Covenant PCA in dowtown Chicago the place was packed with Moody staff and students.

  3. Interesting article, thanks Tim. Is the flow of evangelicals and reformed folk into the Catholic Church greater than a few years ago? The Roman Catholic world is still new to me, but the current rate of movement of Protestant clergy into the Catholic Church is much larger than I expected. Is this a growing trend? Why do you think Biblical scholars and clergy are converting to Rome, but thousands of layman convert to various evangelical Churches every year? Thanks, Jeremy

  4. Jeremy, sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I don’t know of any statistical data to say one way or the other regarding the flow of Reformed into the Catholic Church. I know that every time I turn around I hear of or meet another one. There was a staggering number of Anglican clergy that converted in the 90s and laity have been coming in by droves ever since then. So the Catholic Church is losing members to secularism and Protestantism, but she’s gaining members who are theologically orthodox (not to mention well educated).

    I think if you look at the conversions to Rome and the conversion to Geneva you’ll notice a huge difference in the quality of the two. No one would deny that over the last few decades, more Catholics have become Protestant than vice versa. But name the converts to Protestantism… who were they? Now let’s talk about the converts to Rome. I don’t even need to mention names.

    When a Catholic becomes well educated in his/her faith, they don’t struggle with questions like “what if Luther was right?” or feel the need to learn to deal with the Protestant claim. On the other hand, when Protestants learn their faith well, they inevitably wrestle with the Roman Claim. Only when they remain ignorant can the ignore the Catholic Church. You can tell the best Protestant scholars by their proximity to Rome. It’s nearly the opposite with Catholics.

    I don’t know how I turned this into an apologetic plug. I tend to find ways to do that. Hope it was of some use.

  5. So the Catholic Church is losing members to secularism and Protestantism, but she’s gaining members who are theologically orthodox (not to mention well educated).

    Truth be told (and not to sound elitist), these seem much more precious in kind when you consider not only the quality of such persons with respect to their own knowledge of their former Protestant faith but the fact that, more likely than not, they know what it is exactly that they are converting to when they come into the Catholic Church, more so than the average lay protestant.

  6. I think if you look at the conversions to Rome and the conversion to Geneva you’ll notice a huge difference in the quality of the two.

    Tim,

    What do you mean by “quality” above? Do you mean that they are smarter than the average Catholic to Protestant convert, or that for some reason they have obtained a name for themselves, or both, or something else?

    I think there will always be intellectuals within Evangelical Protestantism who will move to Catholicism/EO or out of Christian circles altogether (i.e. Bart Ehrman). But I hope you would agree that these are man bites dog sort of stories. There are countless thousands of scholars that move through Protestant institutions who study Christian theology, history, philosophy, etc, but just a very few of them go to Rome (or further afield). Not to say that the scholars who go to Rome aren’t an interesting story and one that we are generally interested in listening to.

    For me, I’m at least as interested in hearing why the average priest or Catholic in the pew converts (in other words someone from Rome without big name status like a Francis Beckwith).

  7. I am a 31 year old father of 5. I guess I’m an “average Catholic in the pew.” I entered the Church on Easter, 2008. But I was baptized by my grandfather, a Baptist minister, at the age of 12. For me, entering the Church was, as RR Reno put it, much like placing myself up for spiritual adoption. My experience within protestant circles felt so riddled with subjectivism. It seemed that my “religious identity” was only as good as my ability to defend it. As a result, I looked at CS Lewis as a “model christian” due to his ability to so clearly defend the faith. However, over time, I came to realize that Baxter’s/Lewis’s “mere christianity” was really Catholicism. Christ’s prayer on our behalf in John, chapter 17 meant a lot to me, as well. In light of that prayer, “Planting new churches” itself seemed contrary to the prescriptions for church discipline outlined Matthew 18. Matthew 18 simply presupposes a single, unified, Church. Lewis’s article entitle “Priestesses in the Church” really impacted my thinking. For me, becoming Catholic was like a lengthy, drawn out exercise in connecting the dots. Chesterton, Anne Rice, Peter Kreeft, CSL, Muggeridge, Tolkien, Sayers, all of these people represented to me a “great cloud of witnesses” affirming my decision to seek full communion with Rome.

  8. Random question. Does σῶμα, the Greek word for “body”, always mean a physical/visible body? I have heard different answers to this question (from Catholics and Protestants of course). I think answering this helps to clarify whether unity is a defining characteristic of the Church or just a quality to be cherished. Any helpful answers would be well appreciated. Thanks, Jeremy

  9. I am thinking of the context of Ephesians 4:4. Thanks again!

  10. Andrew – I did not mean to imply that there is a difference in intelligence – only, or at least primarily, in motive.

    The vast majority of Protestant intellectuals remain Protestant – you are right. The same is true for Muslim and Hindu intellectuals as well. Still, the number of clergy and professors who have converted to Rome in the past couple decades is huge. I’ve heard a Catholic priest who converted to Protestantism speak on Catholicism. He was utterly clueless. He was the only one I ever heard of but I’m sure there are a few others.

    And like Herbert, I’m an average Catholic in the pew.

    Jeremy – it’s been a long time since I’ve studied Greek but I think the Greek grammar is a red-herring here. We don’t need to know the Greek word to know what he’s talking about – the context makes it clear (especially in light of verse 16). Paul has in mind an ordinary body – otherwise the analogy would be useless. He has in mind something natural that we’re already familiar with – that’s the purpose of the analogy. If he had in mind some discontinuous collection of parts animated by a common invisible entity (analogous to the Protestant conception of “Church”), then he picked a terrible things to illustrate it with. Further, given this strange interpretation, verse 16 becomes unintelligible: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

    So regardless of what someone says about the Greek words, the context makes it abundantly clear that when Paul says “body” he means… “body”.

  11. I’ve heard a Catholic priest who converted to Protestantism speak on Catholicism. He was utterly clueless.

    Tim,

    No doubt you are right and that there are many converts just like this person. I remember a little while back a book came out that was the testimony of 50 ex-Catholic priests and bishops on their conversion from Rome (can’t remember the exact title – Near to God, Far From Rome or something like that). The critique from Catholic readers was that they felt that these converts from Rome did not understand the teachings of the Catholic Church. Now you would think that folks who had spent much of their lives in the RCC would have a good grasp on what they had left, wouldn’t you? But maybe they don’t. There are certainly people in most any school of philosophy or theology that are there for the wrong reasons and don’t understand the institution they have gotten into. So it’s certainly no surprise if it is true that the aforementioned 50 didn’t know what they were talking about. But I wonder if the same is not true for the opposite situation. You would think that Protestant scholars and seminarians coming to Rome would know what they had come from, but my distinct impression is that they don’t. Or at least, they have some significant misunderstandings about where they came from. The first Reformed turned Catholic guy I can remember reading was Scott Hahn and like other Reformed folks reading Hahn, I was left wondering where on earth he had gotten some of his understanding of Reformed theology and practice.

    In The Everlasting Man Chesterton has some interesting observations about dealing with disaffected skeptics who turn their sites on Christianity after having been part of Christian churches and cultures in the West. Chesterton’s thought is that such folks are too close to the situation to think objectively about Christianity. It’s exceedingly difficult to have a straightforward discussion about Christianity with such individuals because they are so sure they understand Christian thought and culture. He contrasts such skeptics with pagans from foreign lands, who while conceptually are every bit as opposed to Christian thought as the Western skeptics, are able to interact in a much more detached and objective fashion. I tend to think of converts from the Reformed world to Catholicism in a similar light. I have read critiques of Protestantism where I thought the writer had really gotten to the heart of understanding his subject, but generally such critiques come from authors who have distanced themselves from their subject. That is, they don’t come to the debate with the kind of intellectual and psychological baggage that seems to come from Converts to Rome who have a particular zeal for seeing others follow in their footsteps. It is also my observation that the vast majority of discussions between the Reformed and the ex-Reformed focus on trying to convince the Reformed to Catholic convert that what they think they know is not entirely accurate. It is during these interchanges that Chesterton’s words really resonate with me.

  12. Andrew,

    You bring up a good point. I don’t want to say ipso facto if someone left the Catholic Church that they didn’t understand Catholic doctrine (and yes that has been charged against all of us here at CTC, i.e. that we didn’t understand Reformed doctrine). So I don’t like that line of reasoning. In that regard I just echo what Roma said, the comment about the quality of converts has to do primarily with intention and understanding. A great number of the converts to Rome knew exactly where they came from and exactly to where they were going. I’m confident that this does not go both ways.

    The priest I heard was just saying absurd things about the Catholic Church which were easily and objectively refuted. Scott Hahn, as a counter example, may have some opinions and ideas about Reformed theology that are debatable, but he doesn’t hold any absurd beliefs of the same kind. The priest was saying things like Catholics worshiped Mary. This would be the equivalent of Scott Hahn saying Reformed worship Calvin. Now Dr. Hahn may have some subtle misunderstandings (not saying he does), but whatever the case – I know its not in the same ball park. We’re talking about two radically different things.

    Anyway, again you have a good point and I agree with you. I don’t want to start brushing people with too broad a brush and saying “oh they don’t understand.” If they misunderstand something, let’s talk about that specific misunderstanding.

  13. A great number of the converts to Rome knew exactly where they came from and exactly to where they were going. I’m confident that this does not go both ways.

    I’m sure you are confident. Catholics gone Evangelical are just as confident as are the skeptics in my Chesterton example. Everyone is just brimming with confidence. From my standpoint, I would love to have a few more exchanges where instead of getting told what Reformed theology holds to, I was asked what the Reformed position is.

  14. Andrew – I know the feeling!

    Well let me ask you, do you feel that any of us at CTC have misrepresented Reformed doctrine? If so, can you be specific? I’m not trying to spring board into an argument – I’m just trying to gauge how what we’re doing is being perceived. We are trying hard to accurately represent Reformed doctrine and I’ll reiterate something I’ve said on here before, when we converted to the Catholic Church – we didn’t jettison Reformed theology as if it were wholly wrong. It was Reformed theology that taught us our love for Christ, for the Scriptures, for the Triune God, for the importance of doctrinal purity, for the authority of the Church structure etc… So please forgive me if I come across overly polemic (as I often do) – I can’t tell you how many Godly and highly intelligent Reformed men and women I know.

  15. I was initially attracted to Calvinism because it at least attempted to offer a coherent systematic theology.

  16. Here are a few more of my cents… Reformed theology represents a sort of “pillar and bulwark of truth” in its own right. Though my grandfather, the eldest of eight staunchly Reformed brothers, left the reformed tradition after his return from WW2, my father attended Calvin College. And to this day, I thoroughly appreciate so much of the Reformed tradition. Peter Kreeft, in particular, writes with a profound honor and respect for the tradition with which he himself parted ways.

  17. I agree with Taylor. Calvinism pulls Scripture together into a coherent framework. It takes the bits and pieces and offers a unifying template that makes sense out of a lot of things, and it’s robustly theocentric in its impulses. (And that’s just the TULIP bit. We all know that deeper and richer currents run beneath the surface.) I also think Andrew makes some really good points about the difficulty in maintaining critical distance and trying to be deliberate and fair in your thinking, regardless of which side of the fence you used to be on or now are. I’ve watched you interact on various blogs, Andrew, and I think you do a good job trying to maintain the right posture. For my part, I guess I would not be comfortable making blanket statements to the effect that if a person converts from X to Y it’s just because they never really got X. I think people can make the change either way with their eyes open; at the same time, it is very probably true that there will always be more to X than the convert who leaves it knows about.

  18. Calvinism pulls Scripture together into a coherent framework. It takes the bits and pieces and offers a unifying template that makes sense out of a lot of things, and it’s robustly theocentric in its impulses. (And that’s just the TULIP bit. We all know that deeper and richer currents run beneath the surface.)

    If Calvinism was so amazingly spectacular, it’s great wonder why one should ever even consider leaving its endearingly intimate embrace in the first place!

  19. I’m going to refrain from comment any further after this post. I’m not sure that I can begin to hold my own with the intellect here on this site. Because of that, I tend to read more, and chime in less. I must say, though, that I agree with Roma Victor. There is certainly an integrity within the Reformed tradition…which I honor. However, there is a solid basis for rejecting “the system” wholesale- despite its many bright points. That’s certainly why we find ourselves embracing the truths of Christ held faithfully within the Catholic Church. signing out…

  20. Herbert, your comments were much appreciated. Don’t be shy about piping in.

  21. I think Calvinism, fully embraced and lived, produces a profound hunger for the Catholic Church. Long before I considered Catholicism, I recognized the disturbing irony in my committment to belief in God’s absolute sovereignty, His love for the Church, and then, what I could only see as His failure to preserve it throughout history. It did not add up. If he promised to preserve the Church, and easily could preserve the Church, how could I maintain the position that one visible and true Church no longer existed? I literally day dreamed of living in the 5th century, where I could be part of one true visible Church.

    In convincing the non-Calvinist world of calvinism, John Piper encourages Calvinists to “out-joy” their other (non-Calvinists) Christian brothers. I think we can apply the same advice to the Catholic Church. The best apologetic for the truth of the Catholic Church, in my opinion, is Catholics who are deeply in love with Christ. Too many Protestants have had interactions with Catholics who can give a good defense of the Catholic Church, but seem to have no genuine affection for Christ. Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  22. Jeremy,

    Your words remind of what Pope Benedict has said many times, “The Church does not need more reformers, it needs more saints, and the more saints She has the more She shall be genuinely reformed.” If I can suggest a wonderful Catholic community (Apostolate) google the name Monsignor Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation. By the way Pope Benedict is a member of the community and has a weekly meeting that he attends when he is in Rome (on Saturdays). When Benedict was the then Cardinal Ratzinger he preached the funeral homily for Monsignor Giussani because he said, “That man changed my life.”

  23. Dear Herbert,

    I second Tim’s remarks. I appreciate your comments and hope you continue to provide them. I too think there are sufficient reasons for rejecting Calvinistic systematic theology; I just don’t think that if a Calvinist (or Calvin) says something true or important that we should reject it simply because they happen to be Calvinists or, as the case may be, happen to be Calvin. (I’m not, for example, going to reject the Trinity just because Calvinists are Trinitarian; I’m not going to reject the idea that Christians are in union with Christ just because Calvinists believe we are united in Christ. What except emotionalistic flag-waving would ever induce me to adopt such a strange posture?) Somehow or other, this appears to have created suspicion among some that I think Calvin was right about everything, but went ahead and became a non-Calvinist Catholic anyhow. A peculiar inference, given that Calvinistic non-Catholics generally don’t do that sort of thing. To say that a system is ‘coherent’ is just to say that it is internally consistent. To say that it provides a framework for pulling together the strands of Scripture in a coherent fashion is not to say that it is true, or that it is the best or most illuminating or most consistently Biblical framework. To say that it has robustly Christian impulses or “currents” behind it is not to say that it should be accepted in toto.

    It puzzles me why this isn’t just obvious to everybody. Isn’t this just obvious to everybody?

  24. Neal,

    Calvinism pulls Scripture together into a coherent framework. It takes the bits and pieces and offers a unifying template that makes sense out of a lot of things, and it’s robustly theocentric in its impulses.

    You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t happen to find the same coherence that you do in The Gospel According to Calvin which would have one basically believing that “God so Loved the World” that He Gave His Only Son to Save Only a Specific Few, Regardless of Whatever Else These Few Folks Happen to End Up Doing in Their Own Lives, while God Deliberately Damns the Others.

    Not only does Calvin’s theological gloss on scripture ultimately contradicts it, but I hardly find any of the traditional Christian attributes of God (most especially, that concerning his being “All Merciful”) in the kind of God Calvin would have me believe in.

  25. Roma,

    The claim was that Calvinism offers an internally consistent and systematic template. Many evangelicals grow up with a scattershot approach to the Bible, getting bits and pieces of truth from Bible verses here and there. For a good number of them, when they are exposed to Calvinism they are exposed for the first time to a system that pulls together these bits and pieces and imposes some semblance of order and unifying coherence upon the whole. The effect is that it feels like you are getting a grip on things and finally starting to understand how the bits and pieces fit together. This is a tremendously powerful experience, and it helps to explain the attraction to and staying power of Calvinism as a system of theology or “worldview.”

    All this is simply descriptive, and all of it can be said and affirmed without being committed to the truth of the system. In particular, your claim that aspects of Calvinism ultimately contradict a proper understanding of Scripture is not in conflict with anything I just said.

    Your concerns about definite atonement and the compatibility of divine mercy with “double predestination” are somewhat more specific; they are issues we hope to discuss more fully here in the days to come. In the meantime, please (again) be measured.

    Neal

  26. Neal,

    Many evangelicals grow up with a scattershot approach to the Bible, getting bits and pieces of truth from Bible verses here and there. For a good number of them, when they are exposed to Calvinism they are exposed for the first time to a system that pulls together these bits and pieces and imposes some semblance of order and unifying coherence upon the whole.

    You are certainly correct about the deplorable state of evangelicalism.

    In comparison, I would deem both Lutheran and Calvinist theological systems significantly well-constructed than the kind of piecemeal paste found in certain evangelical circles.

    On the matter of double predestination, I look forward to any upcoming topic concerning it.

    Personally, where Augustine simply figuratively flirted with the idea, it seems Calvin outright mutated his thoughts on the matter to some grandly disfigured notion that defaces the Christian God.

    (apologies for the harsh rhetoric… I’ll try in subsequent comments to be less acerbic in tone; though I do appreciate the patience and courtesy with which you kindly reply.)

  27. Well let me ask you, do you feel that any of us at CTC have misrepresented Reformed doctrine?

    Tim,

    I did not mean to ignore your question, I’ve been off doing scouting things with my boys for a few days.

    When you say “misrepresent” I think there is some connotation of knowingly suppressing the truth and I certainly don’t want to say that. But as I said above, we Reformed do tend to get into lots of debates with Catholics (and others) who have come from the Reformed world about what Reformed theology and practice is. So why is this? Well maybe it is something akin to the ex-Catholic priest you referred to who seemed so clueless concerning Catholicism. Maybe what he believed was what he really experienced in the Catholic community he was in. Many Catholics leave the RCC and come to Evangelicalism because (for instance) they hear the gospel for the first time and they are convicted and come to Christ. They know nothing of Christ in a life transforming way in their local church community or any of the other Catholic church communities they have been part of. So from your standpoint they know nothing of Catholicism, but from their standpoint they had no access to what you know. So I’m suggesting an analogous sort thing happens when folks go in the other direction. Sometimes these people may be rather simple in their understanding of Evangelicalism or they could be much better informed but still have some misconceptions about where they came from. It is this last sort of situation which I think gives us Reformed quite a but of frustration. Sometimes debates die before they even get started because we cannot agree what Reformed theology says. I don’t think this is because there is any lack of consensus among Reformed scholars on the issue, but rather that the Catholic in question really (but errantly) believes that this is indeed what Reformed theology holds to. And this is likely because this is what their Protestant friends before they converted largely held to. There certainly is no lack of poor catechesis in the Protestant churches and even confusion among the students in the seminaries. This confusion then can get carried into the post-conversion life of the individual and hamper discussions with those from the community from which he came. But such a person feels absolutely confident that they know exactly what their old community believed .

    For my part, I guess I would not be comfortable making blanket statements to the effect that if a person converts from X to Y it’s just because they never really got X.

    Neil – I just want to suggest that it’s a possibility that they did not get X. And I would also add that in my limited interaction with you that you seem to try as hard as anyone I know to understand and represent fairly those who disagree with you.

  28. Neal – Sorry!! I misspelled your your name again. Mea cupla – it’s some sort of mental block.

  29. Andrew, well if you come across any point where you feel we’ve misrepresented (whether intentional or not) please let us know. No one has charged us of this yet.

    As for the ex-priest, he said things which were demonstrably untrue regarding the Catholic Church. None of us here have; there is a qualitative difference. Again, if you disagree – then demonstrate where we have misrepresented Reformed theology. So I can appreciate the idea that the same thing might be going on with me (I think he’s misrepresenting when he’s actually understanding it well) – I just have to reject that because he said things which were unequivocally contradictory to Catholic teaching.

  30. Tim,

    It’s difficult for me to saying anything substantive about folks on this blog since it only recently came into existence and I’ve only written a few posts. But I will give you an example from a discussion that Bryan Cross and I had on Jason Stellman’s blog. Byran told me that the Reformed don’t have an infallible canon and I told him that we do have an infallible canon, we just say that it is infallible because God is infallible and He oversaw the process of canonicity rather than saying that God gave the Church the charism of infallibility and she then acted infallibly. Bryan quoted for me R.C. Sproul who does does say that we have an fallible collection of infallible books. Now this gets complicated because of course Sproul has quite a large readership and no doubt the folks Bryan interacted with as a Protestant really did believe this and for Bryan this really was what Reformed theology teaches. But the fact is that this is not the way the Reformed professors typically describe the canon. This kind of thing happens all the time both with simple Catholics who don’t know much about the Reformed creeds but also with much more sophisticated people who were in Reformed churches and maybe even went to seminary. It is the sophisticated folks who tend to be the more difficult challenge for us to deal with because they they are much more confident of their position.

    I do believe that you that you really want to represent those who disagree with you fairly. And I don’t want to harp on old debates, but rather to point out the possibility that what you think you may know may not always be completely accurate.

  31. Andrew, that’s not a good example because Bryan isn’t making a statement about what he thinks Reformed theology teaches, he’s stating a fact that follows from clear Reformed principles. Reformed may believe they have an inerrant canon, but an infallible canon is something quite different and the Reformed do not have it.

    “All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. ” – WCF 31.4 Since the canon reflects the decision of a council, to call the canon “infallible” would be to call the council that selected it “infallible”. Clearly, Reformed theology has no room for this. So, Bryan was right.

    Any other examples?

  32. Hey, Andrew.

    I recognize that description of the canon’s formation that you provide. I’ve seen it (e.g.) in systematic theology and other reformed texts in which the authors don’t want to say, with Sproul et al, that what we’ve got is a fallible collection of infallible books. This is I think the most plausible approach for a Reformed person to take, but I do think it makes “the” Reformed position a lot closer to what Catholics say than may typically be realized. I understand the distinction you’re wanting to draw between God being infallible and infallibly guiding the Church, and the Church itself (or members of it) having been granted the property of infallibility themselves. But I think we have to be careful here. Catholic theology doesn’t say that anybody possesses intrinsically the property of infallibility. It does say that God has promised to preserve from error the Church, or persons filling some or other office within it, as you know. But this is a relational thing, and doesn’t entail that the persons in question (the ones filling the office) have somehow been transformed into infallible people, no more than we’d say that Paul was transformed into a person who was intrinsically infallible just because the Holy Spirit spoke through him as he wrote the Scriptures. So if you’re willing to say that, sometimes, God infallibly guides the Church, so as to ensure that she reaches some or other infallible decision, then it isn’t clear to me that you’re really carving out a via media. At any rate, it may be that the via media you’ve carved out is already occupied. Again: whatever “infallibility” or “authority” the Church in council or at any time can be said to possess, it is derivative and “borrowed” authority — something we can rely upon because of God’s gracious promises and faithfulness, to be sure, but not because God handed over something called “infallibility” that the Church or the popes can sort of fold up, put in their pockets, and do whatever they want with henceforth. Thus if the Church insists upon a charism of infallibility, it’s insisting upon the reality of something like the state of affairs you described (which entails indefectability, etc.), but they are not limiting it to certain specific cases (the formation of the canon, say).

    I think the main reason you don’t hear things like this coming from popular reformed authors is because it frankly does take us a large step closer to the traditional stomping grounds of Catholic thought. What I myself have noticed, time and again, is that when Reformed people who have really thought hard about this stuff start to go from the Sproul-type formulations to more rigorous and sensible formulations of their positions, they often at the same time start making the Catholic positions they’re trying to distinguish themselves from sound more and more outlandish. Thus a person realizes there’s a lot more to baptism than he once thought, but he can’t defend a strong view of baptism without also making shots about Romanist priestcraft and magic and so forth; and the result is that the Catholics believe something that any 4 year old with a Bible could tell you is ridiculously off base. I’m not saying that’s what is going on here: I am saying that the distinction between an infallible God infallibly guiding the Church, as per His promise, sounds a lot like what Catholics have in mind when they talk about the indefectability of the Church and the theological rationale behind it.

    Neal

  33. Andrew, that’s not a good example because Bryan isn’t making a statement about what he thinks Reformed theology teaches, he’s stating a fact that follows from clear Reformed principles.

    Tim,

    Firstly, I’m not arguing that Bryan was wrong, and secondly, you make be 100% correct concerning your “fact” above. But the point is that Reformed scholars don’t generally formulate the doctrine the way that Sproul does. As I went into with Bryan, Sproul does have some curious idiosyncrasies (and I should add that we all have our idiosyncrasies) when it comes to proving some doctrines, something that seems to flow out of his philosophy on evidences. He is quite attached to a Thomsitic approach in these regards. He wants to see things proved from basic principles. So my point is that this is not the way that Reformed scholars look at the matter. We don’t start with a fallible canon and prove that the individual books are infallible. Whether or not this is right, it is the way that the Reformed typically look at it. What we are talking about is what the Reformed believe here and Bryan was telling me what the believed rather than asking me. Of course he was quite sure he knew what they believed.

  34. I’m not saying that’s what is going on here: I am saying that the distinction between an infallible God infallibly guiding the Church, as per His promise, sounds a lot like what Catholics have in mind when they talk about the indefectability of the Church and the theological rationale behind it.

    Neal,

    I think you are right that what the Reformed have come to does sound like something more like Catholic thought on the matter than someone who is convinced that the canon in really fallible. So maybe you can tell me what you do perceive as the difference. From my standpoint it is perfectly possible that the the collection of individuals who comprised the Church at that time could have erred in their receiving the canon just as it is possible that the individual authors of the books in that canon could have erred in their writing of these books. The fact that God was there working through them assured that what they wrote and what they received was infallible. In short, the books and collection of books are infallible because God is infallible whether or not the individuals writing or collecting those books were infallible. This does not disprove conciliar or ecclesiastical infallibility, but only tries to show that they are not necessary for an infallible canon.

  35. Andrew, why are you more qualified to speak for Reformed theology than R.C. Sproul?

  36. Andrew,

    Thanks. You say:

    …it is perfectly possible that the the collection of individuals who comprised the Church at that time could have erred in their receiving the canon just as it is possible that the individual authors of the books in that canon could have erred in their writing of these books. The fact that God was there working through them assured that what they wrote and what they received was infallible. In short, the books and collection of books are infallible because God is infallible whether or not the individuals writing or collecting those books were infallible.

    This is precisely what I was saying, when I distinguished between having the property of infallibility inherently (which no human being does) and being such that you are, in certain circumstances, preserved from error by the Holy Ghost, who is Himself inherently infallible. These things are entirely different. This is why I am saying that your very sensible position sounds Catholic to me. Catholic theology does not teach that any human being — irrespective of their office, irrespective of whether they were inspired to write Scripture, or whatever — has intrinsically the property of being unable to be wrong (“infallibility”). Catholic theology does teach that the Holy Spirit can preserve inherently fallible humans from error if He so wishes, and, indeed, that the Holy Spirit has in fact done this from time to time.

    You agree that the Holy Spirit did this with the Biblical writers. You seem also to agree that the Holy Spirit did this with the Church in council (for some councils), and through various processes (e.g. those complex processes involved in the canon’s gradually taking specific shape). (At any rate, you certainly could agree with this without contradicting yourself or saying something that any sensible Christian should reject.) And you (rightly) do not think that saying this commits you to an entirely distinct position, which holds that some human beings are somehow just infallible as they are, or that, perhaps, after being “rendered” infallible by God, their natures are henceforth changed, so that, no matter what they say they simply can’t be wrong about it. Of course, if I were to make that last claim, then I’d have to hold to the position that the Christians at the pertinent councils were very special individuals indeed. I guess I’d get the order of explanation backward: I’d think that God went out searching for infallible persons, found them, got them to write the Bible for Him, and then hunted down a new batch of infallible people to recognize infallibly which books were infallible. But of course I don’t think that.

    So I guess I have to say that your alternative explanation of how infallible decisions were reached (or how infallible, inspired words were penned) does not successfully show why authoritative councils and the like are not needed for an infallible canon. Rather, your alternative explanation isn’t really an alternative one, so far as I can see. You rightly say, for instance, that the one and only reason we can have trust that the books of the Bible are infallible is that God was “working through” them and “assuring” that they wrote what He wanted them to write, not because they were just such bang up historians or theologians that they couldn’t possibly have written something false or pernicious if left to their own devices. And certainly not because they were, just all by themselves, “infallible.” But Andrew, you know that Catholics believe exactly the same thing about inspiration and the Biblical authors, right? You don’t think that Catholics believe that, e.g., Paul of Tarsus was an inherently infallible individual whose words would necessarily have been infallible or ‘inerrant’ no matter what God was up to when he was writing, do you? We don’t say that about the Biblical authors, the bishops, or the councils, or whatever.

    Neal

  37. Andrew,

    If a Reformed Christian believes that the canon is infallible, then the question he faces is the one I asked you on Jason’s blog: How, without being arbitrary, does one determine which of the processes God oversees is perfect? Catholics have a principled answer to this question. But Reformed Christians (as Reformed) do not. They must arbitrarily select some ecclesial processes to be infallible (e.g. the providential guidance of the formation of the canon) and other processes to be fallible (i.e. the outcomes of ecumenical councils). But arbitrarily picking and choosing, without any principled basis, which ecclesial processes or decisions are infallible and which are fallible, is equivalent to building your own religion, because what gets selected as infallible is anything you like or agree with, and what gets selected as fallible is anything you dislike or disagree with. It’s like “Build-a-Bear” at the mall, except here it is “Build-a-Religion”. I see no principled distinction between “Build-your-own-Religion” and idolatry. It is precisely these implications that Sproul is seeking to avoid when he denies the infallibility of the canon. But the only other option, besides “Build-your-own-Religion” and Sproul’s “the canon is fallible”, is accepting what the Church says about when the Holy Spirit protects her from error — i.e. accepting Catholicism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  38. Jeremy –

    I noticed no one answered your question about σῶμα. I’d say yes the word always means a physical body (something that can become a corpse). However it is frequently used metaphorically; example Romans 12:5, Philippians 1:20. Outside the bible it is used for things like sexual organs, slaves. As an aside it is also used in non bible literature to refer to the physical part of man minus the head, same as in English: “his head flew through the window but the rest of the body ins intact”. It seems like this is a word that translates quite well. Every usage I see in Greek in BDAG seems to be captured fine by the English word body.

  39. Tim,

    I hope I’m not being unfair with RC Sproul on this issue but I think that he would agree that he has a rather unorthodox way of arriving at certain proofs if we look at how Reformed theologians in general look at such things. Sometime scholars will take a maverick approach to a given issue. There are some Reformed folks who champion paedo-communion, exclusive psalmody, head coverings, etc, etc. Sometimes these things are important but most often they are not. But the Reformed theologian who would defend something like paedo-communion would do so in full realization that his approach is outside of the norm even though it does not separate him from Reformed orthodoxy. So what I am saying about Sproul is that he has a ways of defending certain beliefs that are unlike those of his contemporaries. Anyone who champions the methodologies of Aquinas to the degree that Sproul does is doing something rather out on the fringe of Reformedville. But Sproul fully realizes this I think.

    Let me also say that I really like Sproul. He is an amazing guy and a fantastic communicator. Many of us wonder who the next RC Sproul will be when he passes on and we just cannot think of anyone with his unique combination of skills.

  40. Andrew – Ok. I get where you’re coming from now.

  41. Andrew, you know that Catholics believe exactly the same thing about inspiration and the Biblical authors, right? You don’t think that Catholics believe that, e.g., Paul of Tarsus was an inherently infallible individual whose words would necessarily have been infallible or ‘inerrant’ no matter what God was up to when he was writing, do you? We don’t say that about the Biblical authors, the bishops, or the councils, or whatever.

    Neal,

    But there is a difference though, isn’t there? When I read the Catholic Encyclopedia article on infallibility, they speak of the general gift to the Church of infallibility. I do understand that the RCC does no see infallibility as localized in any individual. But there is a general charism of infallibility given to the Church that protects her from error when making certain pronouncements. So from the RCC standpoint, when the Church defined the canon she was exercising this gift from God, correct? The promulgations of the synods/council that spoke to this matter spoke infallibly, correct?

    So the question that I’m in effect asking is whether it is possible to speak of an infallible canon if there is in fact no general gift of infallibility granted to the Church (with of course qualifications as noted above)? And the answer as we see it is “yes.” If God is working through the process (which we know He is because he says so in the Scriptures) then then the books will be infallible even if the Church has no special gift of infallibility as this gift is defined in the CE. We hold that God worked through fallible people to produce individual infallible books (I think you would agree here) and likewise God worked through a fallible collection if individuals (the Church) to produce an infallible collection of books. We are tethering our concept of an infallible canon directly to an infallible God and his perfect character. But in the RCC system, this process of defining an infallible canon is mediated through a Church which has been given this general gift of infallibility, no?

  42. Bryan,

    I don’t understand why you would think that trusting in God’s promise of infallibility in overseeing the process of giving us His Word is relying on something arbitrary.

  43. Dear Andrew,

    I was writing something to you before I saw this most recent comment of yours. Let me say, in direct response to it, that believing that God actually gave the gift to the Church that He said He did does not take anything away from God as the gift’s Author. That is to say, if the CE says that “the Church has received this gift of infallibility,” the CE says this because Catholics believe that the infallible God really did impart this gift to the Church. But this is *not* to say that whatever gifts God has given to the Church are henceforth totally disconnected to the providential governance of the God who gave them. As you know, when the covenant God promises to make something happen, He does so. But this has never implied that the covenantal recipients of God’s grace are then licensed to run wild; the “general charism” of truth given to the Church is similarly relational or covenantal. It is not to say that God handed over some set of special capacities and then left the Church to run under its own steam. The Church’s belief in this “special charism” is grounded precisely in God’s unwavering covenantal promises, and not in something Catholics believe that the Church has possession of quite apart from God’s continuing involvement throughout her history. I would say, then, that what the CE says about the Church is focusing attention upon the recipients of God’s gracious gift, and affirming the belief that the recipients of God’s gifts really did in fact receive those gifts. What it isn’t saying is that, since the Church has at one time in the past received those gifts, therefore now God can just sort of go away, as if He were an otiose deist sort of God rather than the covenantal Father we meet with in Scripture.

    Those are just my immediate reactions to what you most recently said. Let me now post what I was about to post to you:

    Dear Andrew,

    I think there is probably a clearer way for me to sum up what I was trying to say earlier. (Kids are in bed now; and mirabile dictu, I tend to think clearer when that happens!) Let me try it like this.

    This seems like a statement that a classical or confessional Protestant would want to endorse: “Scripture (alone) is infallible. Councils, popes, etc. are not infallible.”

    If this statement expresses an important and distinctive Protestant commitment, which I believe it does, then we have to be sure that we are not equivocating on the term ‘infallible’, right? We have to be sure we mean the same thing by ‘infallible’ when we attribute it to Scripture and deny it of councils, popes, or whatever else.

    When we affirm together the infallibility of Scripture, we are (as you pointed out) not saying that the Biblical authors themselves were inherently infallible: God did not contract them to write the Bible because they were infallible by themselves, but the Holy Spirit did guide them to write what they wrote when they wrote the stuff that made its way into our Bibles. (Also: God did not ‘zap’ them with an infallibility ray, and then just let them do their thing. That isn’t how it works. The process was guided by God throughout, and this does not entail that they became something other than what they were before writing Biblical stuff – they were not qualitatively transformed into inherently infallible persons, who could then operate in that capacity without divine oversight or influence.) So: the Biblical writers are not inherently infallible, but the Holy Spirit preserved them from error as they wrote. This is why (and only why) what they wrote is infallible, and that’s why we affirm the infallibility of Scripture.

    (As we know, the Holy Spirit also guided them in such a way that they wrote just what He wanted them to write, and in the way He wanted it written. This is to say more than that they were preserved from error; it is also to say that they were inspired. But the meaning of ‘infallible’ in this occurrence is all that’s relevant here, since Catholics don’t claim that popes or councils are inspired. So put this aside.)

    So if we wish to deny infallibility to councils or popes or whatever, we now have a fixed meaning of ‘infallible’ before us. We will then have to say that popes and the men involved in councils are inherently fallible – just like the Biblical authors – but that, in contrast to the Biblical authors, the Holy Spirit does not preserve them from error. This does not mean that what they said was necessarily false. It does however mean that the Spirit provides no guarantee that what they said is true: if they got it right, they managed to do so either by themselves, or they did so, perhaps, with an undefined Spiritual “prodding” of a kind that does not entail any divine guarantee that what they said is actually correct. (If the “prodding” does entail a guarantee that what they said is right, that is just to say what they said was infallible.)

    Keeping the meaning of the term univocal throughout, then, the confessional Protestant position entails that conciliar decrees concerning the canon of Scripture (e.g.) may possibly be true (just as whatever I say about the canon may possibly be true), but there is no guarantee that the Holy Spirit preserved them from error as they made these decrees. Not only are they inherently fallible like the Biblical authors, but, unlike the Biblical authors, they were not kept from error by the Holy Spirit. Else they’d be just as ‘infallible’ as the Biblical writers, which, according to the Protestant statement above, they are not.

    Tim doesn’t need me to speak for him, but I think this is precisely what he had in mind when he claimed that Sproul’s formulation – “Scripture’s a fallible collection of infallible books” – follows from the Protestant commitment to the sentence above: “Scripture is infallible, but councils and popes etc. are not.” Sproul, in this case, is simply using the terms ‘fallible’ and ‘infallible’ univocally, and maintaining the classical Protestant claim, so as to distinguish Scripture from councils vis-à-vis their infallibility. Catholics think he is wrong; but they do not think he is being inconsistent here.

    What we cannot do, though, is use the terms equivocally, and say this: “Scripture is infallible because, although its authors are inherently fallible, the Holy Spirit kept them from error. However, councils and popes are not infallible, because no human person is inherently infallible.”

    This gloss is defective for two intimately related reasons. First, in order to say that councils and popes are ‘infallible’ one need not affirm that either popes or the men making up councils at any time are inherently infallible. (Just as one needn’t say that the Scriptural authors were inherently infallible in order to justify the assertion that when they wrote Scripture it was infallible.) Second, to say that popes and councils are not infallible in this sense is consistent with saying that they are or can be just as infallible as the Scriptural writers were.

    What this means is that a person can endorse the “classical confessional Protestant statement” above in such a way that what he says is completely consistent with Catholic theology, and thus inconsistent with a classical Protestant orientation. At any rate, it would be clearly inconsistent with the classical Protestant orientation to say this if this orientation is supposed to be flatly incompatible with Catholicism.

    That is why I agree with you that we can have an infallible collection of infallible books (despite the fact that only Scripture is inspired). But it is also why you sound very Catholic to me when you say things like this. If you reject infallible councils (etc.) however, and if you use the term ‘infallible’ univocally or consistently throughout, then I am not sure I see how you can get more than the canon’s being a “fallible collection of infallible books” to work consistently with the confessional Protestant statement: “Scripture only is infallible; councils and popes etc. are not.” For example, when Luther says that he’s bound to Scripture and to his own conscience only, because councils and popes “can and have erred,” he’s making an important distinction between Scripture and councils and popes (leaving for the moment his “conscience” out of the equation). He’s saying that the Scriptural writers were inspired and preserved from error, but that popes and councils can lay claim to neither of these distinctions: they “can” err, in a way that the Biblical authors evidently “cannot” err – not because of what they (the Scriptural writers) are in themselves, but because the Spirit infallibly guided them but didn’t infallibly guide councils and whatnot. That’s why Luther thinks he’s in a position to correct them, whereas he doesn’t think he’s in a position to correct the Biblical authors (sort of: put aside the fact that he harbored grave misgivings about some of the texts you and I receive as canonical, to say nothing of the deuterocanonicals; you get the point.)

    The upshot is this. We agree that councils and popes are not inspired. However, if you wish to hold that councils can be preserved from error by the Holy Spirit (i.e. can be ‘infallible’ in the same sense the Scriptural authors were) long enough to get a canon infallibly established, I do not see that you can agree with the substance of what Luther says here. This is why I think you have a good position on the canon, but that you don’t have a position on the canon that confessional Protestantism can really rest comfortably or consistently with.

    If you reject the Catholic position, then, it should not be because you think Catholics have an understanding of what it takes to be ‘infallible’ that they do not really have. There are probably other things that need discussion at this point, but I honestly don’t think (given what I’ve seen you write here and elsewhere) that this is the real issue. The major concern is the next step: what does sacramental, apostolic succession have to do with any of this? And what about the unique claims made on behalf of the bishop of Rome?

    Those are, I think, the real issues before us. But this stuff about the “infallibility” of councils etc. over against the “infallibility” of Scripture is not I think the primary issue we’re dealing with. What we’re dealing with (I think) is not the plausibility of the claim that God remains with His Church, in accordance with His promise, to keep her from running off the rails. You already believe that. But what you’re worried about is this: given that the Jews could claim lineage from Abraham, and given that the Levites could claim some sort of priestly succession, so what? Neither of these was sufficient to ensure what they said was right. So why think it’s supposed to be different for those who can claim “apostolic lineage” or “apostolic succession?” What matters, in other words, is the content of the apostolic Gospel proclaimed, and not whatever “apostolic pedigree” some particular person proclaiming the Gospel might be able to claim. What surety do we really have, then, that apostolic succession provides us with anything like a criterion of truth, given that we believe God won’t allow the Church to collapse?

    I might be wrong, but I think this is your main concern; and until it’s answered you will probably see me and Bryan (et al) as doing quite as much picking and choosing (or “Build-a-Bearing”) as you are accused of doing, and doing it in the same way: trying ourselves to figure out how the Bears ought to be put together, and making the choice with just as much fallibility as you make yours.

    In Christ,

    Neal

  44. Andrew,

    I don’t understand why you would think that trusting in God’s promise of infallibility in overseeing the process of giving us His Word is relying on something arbitrary.

    I didn’t say that “trusting in God’s promise of infallibility in overseeing the process of giving us His Word is relying on something arbitrary.”

    I said, “But arbitrarily picking and choosing, without any principled basis, which ecclesial processes or decisions are infallible and which are fallible, is equivalent to building your own religion.”

    So where, in your opinion, did God make a “promise of infallibility in overseeing the process of giving us His Word”?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  45. Another random question; have any of you shared your testimony on The Journey Home on EWTN? I try to catch it every now and then and I haven’t seen anybody on it coming from a Reformed background. Just curious.

  46. Jeremy,

    Taylor Marshall was a featured guest about two years ago.

  47. In reading this discussion of infallible scriptures I think Protestantism is being accused of not being able to defend a thesis which is stronger than the one it actually claims. This blog mainly concerns the Reformed right, so if we use the ESV as a sample “bible” we can reverse engineer a theory.

    1) The ESV uses the NA17 indirectly and the NA27 directly. So there is no claim that we have the “original autographs” rather the bible text we have is in the process of being reconstructed and we are improving the process with time. We don’t have the correct originals but rather with time are able to better approach them. Further large sections that were agreed to in the past are currently dubious and up for discussion, as indicated by example by the the notes before John 7:53-8:11 an Mark 16:9-20.

    2) The ESV in terms of translation and understanding they certainly believes both our understanding of Greek and Hebrew is improving as indicated by the frequent claims that the ESV is based on the latest scholarship. So there is no claim of perfect understanding.

    3) In terms of the actual canon the ESV supports mainstream theories that the canon was debated until the 4th century and then the consensus started to fall apart in the 16th century. That is the selection of books underwent a revision and hence the original selection was not infallible.

    I’m not sure where in that theory any sort of infallibility is needed.

  48. CD-Host,

    I’m not sure where in that theory any sort of infallibility is needed.

    If we didn’t know for sure whether any book in the Bible ought to be there, then we wouldn’t know for sure whether any passage of Scripture actually belongs in the Bible. In that case, we would be in doubt about the truth and authority of every passage of Scripture. And in that case, the Bible could not function as an authority.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  49. Hi Bryan,

    And in that case, the Bible could not function as an authority.

    Well first off let me just pause here and try and clarify that we are agreed that at least for the ESV (being taken as a proper representative sample) we are agreed on how weak the claims are? If so lets move on….

    Certainly you are correct that we can never know with 100% certainty about any verse. We can however know the certainty of the verse at this time, again the ESV itself list variants. These come from the UBS variants listed in the NA27 itself. Things get into the UBS variants from the textual commentary as consensus changes. So in other words the church through its authorized medium decides on what the verses in any book are via. a processes. I should mention that’s the same process Catholics use, including even the same Greek from the same committee. So if you attack here, you are attacking a point of non disagreement as a disadvantage of protestantism. That is, for example, the NJB and NAB come from the same source as the NLT, TNIV, NRSV, REB….

    In terms of lexicons, dictionaries translator commentaries again these are mostly shared. There are some differences, but lets say up to 90% the two sides are using the same tools for translation. Even on the issue of the Latin the tools are the same, there is no disagreement about what the Vulgate said or what it meant. An NJB or an NAB translator is slightly more likely to yield to the latin than an NIV, ESV, NLT translator. I’d assert that this doesn’t make a valid point of attack since they are simply too close. If you want to go after specific differences in lexicons I guess we can go here, but in previous discussion you tend to be a big picture kind of guy so I tend to doubt this is where I’ll need to defend.

    So the major point of disagreement is the status of the list of canonical books. Let me comment both sides agree AFAIK on the history of how the list came to be, again not a point of disagreement. The Catholic position is there were a bunch of debates in the first few centuries of Christianity and those were resolved to our current list of 75. The Protestant position is there were a bunch of debates in the first few centuries of Christianity and those were resolved to our current Catholic list of 75, but they were wrong. So up until 1522 I’d assert there is no point of debate at all about what happened. I just want to check back and see if we are in agreement to this point. Because it is my assertion that the only question remaining is the legitimacy of 1522-1826 process by which 9 books were dropped. In other words this is not a broad question but a narrow one.

    Now of course there is a more basic point you can raise. If the 4th century process was wrong about 9 of them how do you know it was right about other 66 included or the several hundred candidates excluded? So let me turn this around. With two similar questions:

    1) The Orthodox church includes the book of Odes how do you know they are wrong?

    2) The RC church removed, starting in the 16th century, 3 books
    * 1 Esdras (Vulgate 3 Esdras)
    * 2 Esdras (Vulgate 4 Esdras)
    * Prayer of Manasses
    How come it took them till 1545-63 to even start to figure out they had the wrong list?

    It is my assertion that the Protestants and the Catholics are using the same process to determine the list, a community consensus of the faithful. I see no evidence that there is any qualitative difference between how their lists are constructed. Both seem to be able to err, or at least are able to engage in actions consistent with error to an impartial observer.

  50. Hey CD-Host,

    If I could jump into part of your last comment;

    “It is my assertion that the Protestants and the Catholics are using the same process to determine the list, a community consensus of the faithful. I see no evidence that there is any qualitative difference between how their lists are constructed. Both seem to be able to err, or at least are able to engage in actions consistent with error to an impartial observer”.

    I don’t think it is accurate to assert that both Catholics and Protestants “use the same process”. Dr. Daniel Wallace from Dallas Theological Seminary has strongly asserted that story of the adulterous woman brought to Jesus in John 8:1-11 is not part of scripture because the account does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. I was taught the same thing as a student at RTS. Now, rather than having the Church as our reference point for authority outside of Scripture, Protestants have made archeology a reference point. The Catholic Church, however, does not have to re-examine the accuracy of the cannonical content everytime a new manuscript is discovered. Even if the list has changed, the Word of the Church, not archeology, has the power to bind and loose that which is bindnig for all Christians to believe.

    I am not Catholic yet, but one thing I love about the Catholic Church is that “consensus” is not an authority for the RCC. The teachings of the Church don’t follow the stream of popular thinking in the way my own tradition has done. Peace, Jeremy

  51. Jeremy –

    I think this is a good example so lets work it. Daniel Wallace is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible, and the Dallas Theological Seminary is the sponsoring organization. If you look at the NET bible’s treatment, you’ll see those verses are in there. He hasn’t changed the canon he has supported a proposal. That is the NET does place this in brackets and includes a full page note look at note 138 at the bottom of the page.

    The process is:

    (1) A scholar makes a proposal made a proposal.
    (2) If that proposal gains wide acceptance it will become a textnote in the USB. For a new one that probably be around the NA29, but this is one going back a long time.
    (3) Some translators will start to incorporate it which will draw larger debate and discussion.
    (4) If that proposal continues to draw a consensus it will become the default reading in the Greek
    (5) At that point essentially all translations will attach a note similar to the one for John that you see in protestant bible. This creates awareness of the issue and builds consensus.
    (6) Some translations will start to move it to an appendix which will again widen the debate. If there are strong objections the process may stop here.
    (7) Most translations will move it to an appendix
    (8) Some translations will start to drop the appendix.
    (9) It will be dropped entirely across the board.

    The same process would work for an inclusion. This is a very careful and deliberate process.

    I should mention the NJB has a long passage on it which basically dismisses the historicity of this as part of the original manuscript but asserts its role in the canon, that is stage (5) actions but arguing for inclusion in spite of the historical problems. The more radical bibles have moved it to an appendix.

    In other words both sides agree we are at phase (6) with respect to this passage, both are agreeing on the evidence and now the question is the proper response to the evidence. I see both sides doing the same sort of thing.

  52. But this is *not* to say that whatever gifts God has given to the Church are henceforth totally disconnected to the providential governance of the God who gave them.

    Neal – I do appreciate this point and I agree with you. I think here we are in agreement and I don’t want to try to represent the RCC position as something disconnected from the infallible character of God. But I think from the RCC standpoint you would not try to divorce the specific pronouncement of infallibility of the canon from the general gift of infallibility that is given to the Church, correct? So you might say that what I am trying to do in my previous posts is ask you to do a thought experiment: Just now for the sake of argument, suppose that the CE defense of infallibility in general does not hold water and that there is in fact no general charism of infallibility given to the Church by God. So now given this, is there any way that the canon could still be infallible? Our answer is “yes.” We say this because we are convinced that an infallible God who works through a fallible Church will produce an infallible canon just as an infallible God working through fallible writers produces infallible books. It would make no sense to talk about inspired books if there is no way to determine which books God inspired, would it? Canonicity is thus just a necessary corollary to inspiration. I would hope that you would agree with me that we don’t want to drive a wedge between God’s work in inspiration and His work in collecting those books into a collection of inspired works. So, we hold that these processes are intimately connected and neither one requires an infallible Church.

    Keeping the meaning of the term univocal throughout, then, the confessional Protestant position entails that conciliar decrees concerning the canon of Scripture (e.g.) may possibly be true (just as whatever I say about the canon may possibly be true), but there is no guarantee that the Holy Spirit preserved them from error as they made these decrees. Not only are they inherently fallible like the Biblical authors, but, unlike the Biblical authors, they were not kept from error by the Holy Spirit. Else they’d be just as ‘infallible’ as the Biblical writers, which, according to the Protestant statement above, they are not.

    So here I assume you understand that we are tethering our commitment to an accurate canon by what God says, not by what a council later said, even if it was a plenary council. If God guarantees the text is infallible and we find no good reason to divorce inspiration from canonicity then we are sure that the canon we possess is perfect even if the Church does not possess a general gift of infallibility. I would also add that there was no ecumenical council that promulgated a listing of canonical books until Trent. When we read what particularly Athanasius said about what the churches received as canonical (and I can’t think of anyone who would have known better than Athanasius) he was not describing a process that happened within an ecumenical council or something that happened under the oversight of the Bishop of Rome. At least I don’t know of anything that would suggest this was the case.

    But what you’re worried about is this: given that the Jews could claim lineage from Abraham, and given that the Levites could claim some sort of priestly succession, so what? Neither of these was sufficient to ensure what they said was right. So why think it’s supposed to be different for those who can claim “apostolic lineage” or “apostolic succession?” What matters, in other words, is the content of the apostolic Gospel proclaimed, and not whatever “apostolic pedigree” some particular person proclaiming the Gospel might be able to claim. What surety do we really have, then, that apostolic succession provides us with anything like a criterion of truth, given that we believe God won’t allow the Church to collapse?

    I think that this certainly relates. The first thing I wanted to establish was (as discussed with Tim) how the Reformed typically look at the issue. Then secondly, even before we start talking about councils (and the role the Bishop of Rome plays with them) whether it is possible to have an infallible canon without an infallible Church. And then I think a discussion the role of the councils would naturally follow. It certainly seems to follow for the RCC apologist who wants to use specific cases of infallibility to be adduced as proof for a more general infallibility as the Church in an ecumenical fashion weighs in on de fide matters.

  53. CD Host and Jeremy,

    It seems to me that the subject of textual criticism and that of the canonical status of books like Tobit, Psalm 151, etc are separate matters. Protestant, EO, and Catholic are all going to look to the science of textual criticism to cast light on specific texts. But there is a fundamentally different way we approach the aforementioned books.

    The contention that the process by which the RCC rejects the Prayer of Manasseh, etc is similar to the process by which the Protestant rejects Judith, etc is an interesting idea. I would like to hear more about this….

  54. Bryan – I just don’t see why you think that I am arbitarily picking processes, some that are infallible and some that are not. Maybe you could explain yourself a little.

  55. Another random question; have any of you shared your testimony on The Journey Home on EWTN? I try to catch it every now and then and I haven’t seen anybody on it coming from a Reformed background.

    Several years ago when I used to watch it (at a time I was reconsidering Rome), I recall seeing a special episode (i.e., “roundtable”) where they had former ministers engage in several discussions about their protestant faith, who themselves used to belong to the PCA but happened to convert to Catholicism.

    In fact, I believe (and folks here can correct me if I happen to be wrong since it’s been quite awhile) Scott Hahn & Marcus Grodi himself were formerly a member of PCA.

    Yet, it would be nice if you gents would volunteer your own testimonies of what exactly led you to Rome and dared convert to papism.

    Don’t underestimate the power that such testimony could do for those who might consider it if given some encouragement but have a very difficult time in actually thinking about it due to various misconceptions about Catholicism or even personal family obstacles (e.g., their families had since perhaps at the very beginning been Calvinists) that might very well prevent such conversion to the Catholic Faith.

  56. Hi Andrew and CD Host,

    Textual Criticism and cannoncial status overlap once textual criticism calls into question the legitimacy of certain passages. Whole books, not parts of books, were recognized as canonical. How can a book be called canonical, but not its parts? If anything is removed, it is no longer the same book, it becomes a different literary work. If somebody picked up the Bible for the first time and began to read the the gospel of John, this passage of the adulterous woman in John would certainly influence their conception of Jesus. If the passage is removed, then their conception of Jesus would be different.

    CD-Host, I was not familiar with how the process of dealing with manuscript discoveries worked, thank you for the insight. From what I can gather though, the process seems to work on the basis of an authority foreign to the Bible. Consensus (of the living Chesterton reminds us) is shaky ground to stand on . The Bible never even hints that democratic agreement on doctrinal matters is the final authority for anything. Yet, demoocratic agreement/consensus is the operating mode for most denominations (liberal and conservative). To me, this is the heart of the issue. – Tate

  57. Marcus Grodi was PCUSA and Hahn was OPC.

  58. Jeremy –

    My assertion is consensus of this sort is the operating mode for all of them. Roman Catholics participate in the UBS process the same as Protestants. Jehovah’s witnesses and Adventist translations are pulling from the same UBS text. Asian and African churches are pulling from the same source. This IMHO is one of the great ecumenical triumphs of this century. And not only across denominations: from the ESV (conservative) to the NRSV (NCC) to the very liberal scholars version to even atheist translations like Price the NA is the standard.

    I’ve argued on Bryan’s blog that this is a model for ecumenicalism that actually worked and continues to work. This IMHO has been a huge success, I’m not sure why people who are interested in ecumenicalism don’t pay more attention to an area where the goals were achieved. Full Christian unity. And it gets better. The JPS is a member of the UBS and the NJPS (1985) is pulling from the UBS Hebrew which means that even the Jews are part of this ecumenical unity. Think about that for a second, at least in one example we are able to publish unified collection of books on an important topic which is authoritative as Christiandom! We don’t have this breadth of consensus on the creeds.

  59. Andrew –

    There are bunch of issues with Prayer:

    1) It is obviously a translation from Hebrew, yet we only have the Greek.
    2) The Palestinian canon has n0 mention of it — which means its authenticity is very unlikely
    3) There is no record of how it got into the Alexandrian canon

    It got in during the early centuries because it was in the LXX that the Christian church used it. Jerome included it because there was a consensus to include these books, though he thought it shouldn’t be. By the time of Trent a “we don’t know where it came from” book wasn’t going to cut it. There were gnostics around anymore, there were protestants so the canon had to be defendable under different criteria. So Trent left it off the canonical list, where it got moved to an appendix in the next Vulgate. No one really objected so its status as non canonical status remained. At this point explicitly Catholic bibles like the NJB drop it, while bibles like the NRSV still include it (i.e. we are in stage 8).

  60. Sorry should read “There weren’t gnostics around…..”

  61. Jeremy,

    Marcus Grodi was PCUSA and Hahn was OPC.

    Thanks — but (and if you’ll kindly forgive my apparent ignorance in this) isn’t the PCUSA and the OPC one and the same thing?

  62. CD-Host,

    In order to keep things in order, let’s keep the focus on one thing at a time. Andrew has asked about the canon issue, so let’s not try to do the canon and textual criticism in the same thread.

    Andrew,

    I just don’t see why you think that I am arbitrarily picking processes, some that are infallible and some that are not.

    How do you determine which ecclesial processes are infallible and which are fallible?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  63. CD-Host,

    Catholics are not in the situation of having a fallible canon, because the Catholic magisterium has spoken infallibly about the canon. The Catholic Church at Trent infallibly said this:

    If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.

    So Catholics have 100% certainty that each of the books in the canon belongs in the canon.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  64. Bryan –
    If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.

    You see here is your problem you infallible church blew their list. They unquestionably missed 3 books:
    * 1 Esdras (Vulgate 3 Esdras)
    * 2 Esdras (Vulgate 4 Esdras)
    * Prayer of Manasses
    which were part of the old Latin Vulgate Edition in their list of books. So the list they
    proposed at Trent and the list they claimed to be proposing at Trent were different. An infallible error. So if you take the above as written, then the entire RC church is anathema.

    And even if we excuse the typo and assume they really meant to say “except these 3″ or meant to list those 3, you still have the problem there were multiple Old Latin Vulgates and their book lists conflict. There is no canonical list from the “Old Latin Vulgate” there are multiple lists, the vulgates forked over time. Which was the point of my earlier question about Odes. But even if we forget that and assume they just meant the list from the Vulgate they happened to have on hand, there were still objections since Trent and so the Epistle to the Laodiceans is in the Nova Vulgata but not in the old or the Clement version, i.e. the list has changed with time.

    I don’t want to belabor the point so I’m going to stop address the infallible perfect canon which is completely unchanging through time and to which all catholics are in perfect agreement on pain of anathema. But if I were going to be mean there are all sorts of problems within books as well and lots of them.

    I’m standing by my Catholics use the same process Protestants do.

    Sorry to do that but you did force the issue…

  65. You see here is your problem you infallible church blew their list. They unquestionably missed 3 books:
    * 1 Esdras (Vulgate 3 Esdras)
    * 2 Esdras (Vulgate 4 Esdras)
    * Prayer of Manasses
    which were part of the old Latin Vulgate Edition in their list of books. So the list they
    proposed at Trent and the list they claimed to be proposing at Trent were different. An infallible error. So if you take the above as written, then the entire RC church is anathema.

    Your understanding is based on a misunderstanding; that is, books that we know better by another name, such as sometimes called the Books of Esdra and Nehemiah are called 1st and 2nd Esdras.

    So, if you see a Catholic bible, let’s say an old one that has 1st and 2nd Esdras in it, well, what that is really is Esdras and Nehemiah, as rendered in our current Catholic bible; they’re just being called by another name.

  66. Jeremy –

    Consensus (of the living Chesterton reminds us) is shaky ground to stand on . The Bible never even hints that democratic agreement on doctrinal matters is the final authority for anything. Yet, demoocratic agreement/consensus is the operating mode for most denominations (liberal and conservative). To me, this is the heart of the issue.

    Actually I would argue the UBS process is precisely what the bible calls for in terms of leadership. The bible calls on Christian leaders to be servant leaders. The UBS leadership leads the flock by providing services. They don’t lord or command anyone, rather they provide a service so useful that everyone is drawn together. Further the bible calls on the church to choose men respected and the UBS leaders are those genuinely respected by the faithful in this area. No one with a large following is excluded and no one who does not command either the respect of other leaders is included. And the faithful fulfill their Hebrews 13:17 obligations, believing these leaders have their best interests at heart because they do.

    So I would assert UBS is a model of Christian leadership. God is our true King and all earthly kings are a rejection of him 1Sam 8:7.

  67. The Latin Vulgate’s table of contents do not constitute an infallible Church decree.

  68. Roma –

    Your understanding is based on a misunderstanding; that is, books that we know better by another name, such as sometimes called the Books of Esdra and Nehemiah are called 1st and 2nd Esdras.

    So, if you see a Catholic bible, let’s say an old one that has 1st and 2nd Esdras in it, well, what that is really is Esdras and Nehemiah, as rendered in our current Catholic bible; they’re just being called by another name.

    That’s why I listed the names twice., KJV (standard) and Vulgate names. Using the Vulgate names:
    1 Esdras became Ezra
    2 Esdras became Nehemiah
    3 Esdras became 1 Esdras in the KJV and is not in Catholic Bibles today
    4 Esdras became 2 Esdras in the KJV and is not in Catholic Bibles today

  69. CD-Host,

    Pope St. Damasus I, in 382 at the Council of Rome issued a decree called the “The Decree of Damasus“. In it he listed the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. This list includes Ezra (1 Esdras) and Nehemiah (2 Esdras), but not 3rd Esdras or 4rth Esdras or the Prayer of Manesseh. St. Jerome was at that council, and at that time Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome to use this canon to compose the Latin translation that became known as the Vulgate, which St. Jerome completed in 405. So the old Latin Vulgate Edition did not include the three books you mentioned. And therefore, your accusation that Trent anathematized the Catholic Church, is not true.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  70. Hey, Andrew.

    Thanks for getting back to me, and sorry for the delayed response. Been a long day.

    I get what you’re saying. Let me just make a few clarifications and then offer you my reaction.

    First, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t using this bit about the canon as a piece of inductive evidence for the more general claim about an infallible Church. I can see why you’d think I was doing that, but I don’t really think about this issue that way and that isn’t a form of argument I’m really comfortable using. So this was less me going on the attack (qua Catholic apologist) and more me jumping into an interesting discussion already under way and offering some feedback on your remarks. (The stuff about succession should be understood in that way, too. I was just bringing up points you and I have discussed before, and noting their relevance to what I thought you were saying about God leading or guiding the Church.)

    Second, I appreciate what you’re up to here: wanting me to step in your shoes for a moment and consider the possibility that we can have an infallible canon sans an ‘infallible’ Church, in a sense of ‘infallible’ that conflicts with confessional Protestantism. In fact, it doesn’t take much work for me to try to occupy this perspective and consider the thought experiment you’re putting forward, because your view (or something very like it) was exactly the view I held for a really long time. Like you, I was never really happy with the “fallible collection of infallible books” response, and it seemed to me like we Protestants could do better than that. I mean, look, God is sovereign, right? If He wants to ensure that the right stuff gets in there that doesn’t exactly pose a problem for Him. And it never seemed to me as though affirming this much, which seemed pretty clear cut, somehow committed me to something as specific and contentious as a full-blown Scripture/Tradition/Magisterium picture. So I really do sympathize with your orientation here.

    So let me now try to say something in response to your recent questions and remarks. You want to know whether I agree that, possibly, we have an infallible canon without having an infallible Church. My initial remarks about using the term ‘infallible’ univocally were geared towards explaining why I think that, on one straightforward understanding of the statement, this is not a possibility, and I was trying to explain why (again, on this reading) people like Sproul might feel themselves forced to the position they advocate. So for example, if we were to affirm that God infallibly led the Scriptural authors only (so that Scripture alone is infallible), and God has not done anything comparable in the history of the Church after the death of the last Apostle, then it does seem to me that we cannot be using ‘infallible’ in the same sense in both occurrences when we affirm the possibility of an infallible collection of infallible books. Do you see what I mean?

    (Note well: I’m not packing anything more into ‘infallible’ when we talk about an “infallible collection” here than I am when we’re talking about “infallible books.” In particular, I am not saying that the persons who (infallibly) collected the documents in question had to be the bearers of a kind of gift or power that the inspired authors weren’t recipients of.)

    One way that we can affirm the possibility of this state of affairs, though, is to hold that God infallibly guided the Scriptural authors, and also infallibly oversaw and guided the process which eventuated in the canon, but that these are the only times God ever did this. This is one clear way to deny the infallibility of the Church, the authority of tradition, etc., and also to reject Sproul’s statement that the collection of infallible documents is itself fallible. However, this does seem (as I think you’ll agree) a little ad hoc and unsatisfying. It looks as though we’re invoking something like an infallible Church just long enough to get our canon established, only to turn around and use the canon we’ve just been handed to argue against an infallible Church. (Note well: I am not accusing you of doing this. So far as I can see you’re not thinking of the matter this way.)

    So here’s a final possibility. Suppose we say that God infallibly led the Scriptural authors, and that He remains with the Church so as to guide her into truth – not just in the case of the processes leading to the canon, but as a general matter. This I think is an attractive position. It does not sound ad hoc or undermotivated to me. And if I understand you right, it sounds like you think something like this is true (noting the obvious, that by “Church” you don’t mean the Roman Catholic Church!). You’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong about this, but it seems like this is something you are okay with. What you aren’t okay with is that this implies that the Church (whatever exactly we mean by “Church”) has received a special or general gift of infallibility, as per the stuff in the CE you referenced. So it seems like we agree on these things:

    (a) God alone is inherently infallible. Whenever another person or institution does or says something infallibly, it isn’t because of anything nifty about them per se, but rather because God is infallibly guiding them.
    (b) Everyone other than God is thus inherently fallible, not infallible; however, this presents no obstacle to God’s getting the job done right through them: God can infallibly guide inherently fallible persons or institutions in such a way that an infallible outcome results.
    (c) Whenever God mediates through an individual or institution, then, the direct or foundational reason for believing that the outputs of the individuals or institutions are infallible rests in God Himself – His authority, infallibility, “perfect nature,” as you say.
    (d) Therefore, God can guide the Church, even as He guided the Scriptural authors, in such a way that they do things infallibly, even though it’s not the case that the collection of individuals comprising the Church on earth at any time are in any sense inherently infallible.

    What we appear to disagree on is this:

    (e) God hasn’t given to the Church any kind of gift of infallibility.

    This last, (e), is I think doing all of the work, in terms of distinguishing your position from a Catholic view.

    The main reason I think I have no problem saying that God has given the Church the promise of indefectibility, or this “general gift of infallibility,” is because I want to keep both terms of the causal relata in view. In other words, God is the supreme and ultimate cause of this state of affairs. However, when God causes something it takes effect. (I’m not lecturing you; just giving you my thought process here.) In particular, if God makes a promise to guide the Church into truth – or if He promises to oversee the formation of the canon, as you believe Scripture indicates – then it follows from this that whoever or whatever is on the receiving end of this promise is going to enjoy some special prerogative of some sort.

    To be sure, we want to keep in view at all times the fact that God is the one who is guiding this process; God can’t be moved from the equation. But neither can the medium, inasmuch as God is doing this stuff, not directly by Himself, but through human media. There’s no question that the media here are inherently fallible and weak – this is one way God’s power and faithfulness are made manifest. But there’s also no question that if God promises to work through these inherently weak and fallible means, that means something about the means. It means, I take it, that they really are on the receiving end of a promise, of a gift. And to affirm this about the effect doesn’t (so far as I see) detract from the cause. To affirm this is to affirm the fact that there is a Promise Maker or Gift Giver, and that we have on His authority good reason to believe in the recipients of the gifts that He has given for the equipping of the saints to the building up of the Body of Christ.

    What I’m getting at is that although I see the distinction you are trying to make, I am not sure that the distinction is ultimately very tenable. So for example, when you ask me whether I would be willing to divorce “the specific pronouncement of infallibility of the canon from the general gift of infallibility that is given to the Church,” there are two things you might be asking. You might be asking, in accord with the second possibility above, whether I think it’s “possible” for God to infallibly guide the formation of the canon, but not to do that at any other time. In this case, again, I’d be uncomfortable with this position, because it looks unprincipled or ad hoc. “Possible?” Sure. Plausible? Not very. It is reasonable to ask, at this point, for a principled reason to think that God does not possibly do this as a matter of course, throughout the Church’s history. And I think it’s hard to give a principled reason against that possibility.

    Second, you may be distinguishing between “God infallibly guiding a Church that isn’t gifted with a promise of infallible guidance” from “God infallibly guiding a Church that is so gifted.” In this case, again, I see the gift of infallibility as claimed by the Church as a consequence of the fact that there is a giver of this gift, an infallible leader of inherently fallible people with whom He has covenanted to remain. I see it, in other words, as affirming that the effect really did take hold. (This, I realize, doesn’t answer the question: “Given that there is such a gift and such a recipient, how can we properly identify who or what the recipient is?”)

    What I don’t think we can do is to gloss over the fact that there really is and must be a medium, as well as a God upon whom this medium relies for any special prerogatives it may have received or may be said to possess. You say, “We are tethering our concept of an infallible canon directly to an infallible God and his perfect character. But in the RCC system, this process of defining an infallible canon is mediated through a Church which has been given this general gift of infallibility.” You can’t mean by this that you tether an infallible canon “directly” to God, in a sense which entails that you do not believe the canon is “mediated through a Church.” You do believe it was so mediated. I affirm this too; but I also affirm that the Church through which it was mediated was, although not itself inherently infallible, infallibly guided by God. (I go back “directly” to God and His perfect character in just the same way, so far as I can see. I just affirm that the mediation that occurred, occurred through an organ God has promised to work with. And given His perfect character, I affirm that the promises hold up: I affirm that the medium in question has been “given this general gift,” and I don’t see why I should limit it only to the case of the canon’s formation.)

    Again, you say: “we are tethering our commitment to an accurate canon by what God says, not what a council later said … If God guarantees the text is infallible … then we are sure that the canon we possess is perfect even if the Church does not possess a general gift of infallibility.” Here I’m honestly unsure what you mean. Where does God “say” something about the canon and its authenticity (sans any mediating agencies, such as councils)? Where does God “guarantee the text is infallible” so as to ensure us that the “canon we possess is perfect?” Both you and I agree that God is the ultimate author of all these things; and I know you believe in and endorse the fact that there were mediating agencies involved throughout all this messy business. I’m affirming the reality of these mediating agencies and affirming that they were guided by an infallible God. I’m also affirming that this wasn’t a one-off deal, but is reflective of a general and abiding covenantal relationship God has with the New Covenant Church. It may be at that last point that we disagree, perhaps? But I myself don’t see why, if there is such a Church and such a covenantal relationship, there is something objectionable about saying that it really is on the receiving end of this general gift.

  71. Bryan –

    It was more of a joke on infallibility. In any case….

    Let me just start off with a an easy list Wikipedia. Moreover the issue with the Clementine Vulgate If you look at the Latin bible you’ll see all 3 books right there, also bible gateway. You can see these books listed even predated Jerome Vetus Latina.

    The NET bible has a lot of details, for example in terms of Prayer:

    Yet it is wholly absent from the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) of Sixtus V, though it is in the Appendix of the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) of Clement VIII. Its position varies in manuscripts, versions and printed editions of the Septuagint. It is most frequently found among the odes or canticles following the Psalter, as in Codices Alexandrinus, T (the Zurich Psalter) and in Ludolf’s Ethiopic Psalter. In Swete’s Septuagint the Psalter of Solomon followed by the odes (Odai), of which The Prayer of Manasseh is the 8th, appear as an Appendix after 4 Maccabees in volume III. It was placed after 2 Chronicles in the original Vulgate, but in the Romanist Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) it stands first, followed by 3 and 4 (1 and 2) Esdras in the apocryphal Appendix. It is found in all manuscripts of the Armenian Bible, where, as in Swete’s Septuagint, it is one of many odes. (from NET Bible Dictionary

    Catholic encyclopedia on Esdras mentions how it is usually included. I can keep pulling sources on this but you can google as well as I can. Maybe Trent got their bad list from Damasus, interesting possibility. But what was actually in the bibles of the time is a matter of history. As an aside the Pope’s bible is the copy of the Codex Amiatinus which includes these 3 books.

  72. The link to the Latin bible must have a problem. corrected link.

  73. CD-Host,

    This forum is for sincere inquiry and dialogue, not for anonymous persons to make jokes at the expense of the Catholic Church, and our time.

    The Tridentine Fathers are speaking of the canon that governed Jerome’s translation work, not of any book that happened to have been included (as non-canonical) in copies of Jerome’s Vulgate at various times. That canon had been spelled out very clearly by Pope Damasus I in 382, and it did not include the three books in question. That same canon was affirmed by the Council of Hippo in 393, and by the Third Council of Carthage in 397, and by the Fourth Council of Carthage in 419, and again at the Council of Florence in 1442. In each of these cases in which the Church laid out the canon, she did not include those three books. And Trent simply followed that very same canon.

    Catholic encyclopedia on Esdras mentions how it is usually included

    In the appendix, not as canonical. Canonical inclusion and physical inclusion should not be confused. Moreover, linking to sites that have 3rd and 4rth Esdras in the list of books in the Latin Old Testament does not refute what I said, or what Trent said. What is canonical is what the Church says is canonical, not whatever happens to be included in internet lists. The typical purpose of internet lists is to be exhaustive for the sake of research, not necessarily to follow the canon of the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  74. Bryan –

    I’m not being sincere! Let me quote you:

    So the old Latin Vulgate Edition did not include the three books you mentioned.

    And I disproved that. There were included. In fact they have been included in every popular Vulgate we have until the Nova Vulgata in 1979, including the Stuttgart edition in 1969.

    So now you are changing your point and launching an ad-hominum to disguise it and what you are saying is:

    The Tridentine Fathers are speaking of the canon that governed Jerome’s translation work, not of any book that happened to have been included (as non-canonical) in copies of Jerome’s Vulgate at various times… In the appendix, not as canonical. Canonical inclusion and physical inclusion should not be confused.

    And this is still wrong, and my previous post also disproved that. They were not included in an appendix until the Clement Vulgate in 1592. Until 1592 they were in the main body of the text along with the other books when the appeared (which was in most versions).

    Those “internet lists” are not exhaustive they were evidence regarding specific editions, the editions you were citing, in particular the “Old Latin” (Vetus Latina) (as referenced by Trent) and a Jerome Vulgate (Codex Amiatinus), a copy of which just so happens to be the Papel bible so even the Pope doesn’t go by the list from Trent.

    Trent issued a claim including a list of books in the Old Latin. The list was wrong. That’s not me making fun of your church, that’s the facts. You are the one who is asserting that you have 100% confidence based on the fact that Trent was infallible, it could not possible be in error, and yet the evidence shows….. they got the list wrong.

    And I’m not the only one who thinks they got the list wrong. As soon as Trent finished Sixtus V issued a Vulgate (Editio Sixtina) which was completely overhauled by pope Clement VIII (which is what that text note from the NET was about). I should mentioned the overhaul was because the laity rejected the Editio Sixtina because of the changes required to get in in compliance with Trent. And lets be clear, the Clement Vulgate was published by the Vatican with those books included, that is the Vatican publisher under the direct order of the Pope didn’t follow the “canon”.

    You have is an “infallible list” that had no influence what-so-ever, or a fallible list representing the bibles that people actually used and continue to use. And since I’m just “playing games with you time” I’ll let you have the last word. I think my point is proven.

    [comment removed by editor]

  75. CD-Host,

    First, I recommend that you review the posting guidelines for this site.

    My comment about the purpose of this forum was not intended as an ad hominem, but was prompted by your statement that your criticism of Trent was a “joke on infallibility”. Presumably, you did not mean that your criticism was itself a joke, but rather that it made Trent look like a joke. Whether or not your criticism made Trent look like a joke is something I won’t debate, because I’m less interested in appearances, and more interested in whether or not your criticism of Trent actually falsifies Trent’s decree. I think your criticism does not falsify Trent’s decree, as I explain below.

    As I explained above, when the Tridentine Fathers say “as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition”, they are not saying that whatever books happened to have been physically included or inserted into copies of the Vulgate are canonical. They are speaking of the canonical books (which they have just listed out in agreement with the canon listed in the Decree of Damasus under which Jerome fulfilled his commission), as these canonical books are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition. The relevant inclusion is canonical inclusion, not physical inclusion. No other books were canonically included in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, as shown by Pope Damasus’s Decree. If you are interpreting the Tridentine Fathers as meaning “whatever books were physically included in copies of the Vulgate, those are canonical”, then you are misinterpreting the Tridentine Fathers. Nor does a book have to be placed in a designated appendix in order to be non-canonical. So finding a non-canonical book physically proximate to canonical books in various copies of the Vulgate does not mean that that non-canonical book was canonical. And therefore none of the evidence you have pointed to falsifies Trent’s statement on the canon.

    Trent issued a claim including a list of books in the Old Latin. The list was wrong.

    Again, you are misunderstanding Trent. The Tridentine Fathers were making no claim about the lists of books physically included in copies of the old Vulgate. They were making an authoritative decree about which books are canonical. And their decree about the canon perfectly agreed with the authoritative delineations of the canon made by Pope Damasus and the Councils of Carthage, and Hippo, and Florence, as I showed above.

    So the physical inclusion of other books in copies of the Vulgate at various times in no way falsifies the Tridentine decree concerning the canon. And because Trent’s decree is infallible, a Catholic can be 100% certain that each of the books in the canon belongs in the canon.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  76. CD-Host, why be anonymous? Just curious.

  77. Several posts have tried to distinguish between textual criticism and the RCC’s magisterium. For example (Post 63): “Catholics are not in the situation of having a fallible canon, because the Catholic magisterium has spoken infallibly about the canon”; and (Post 50) “The Catholic Church, however, does not have to re-examine the accuracy of the cannonical content everytime a new manuscript is discovered. Even if the list has changed, the Word of the Church, not archeology, has the power to bind and loose that which is bindnig for all Christians to believe.”

    I’m really suprised by these quotes. A typical (and likely correct) argument against Protestants’ appoach is that ‘sola scriptura’ isn’t in scripture. The Protestants’ claim may be self-refutting (perhaps a better approach is ‘prima scriptura’?) Nevertheless, the same difficulty the Protestant encounters when defending sola scriptura appears to face the RC when he attempts to defend the above quotes. As the above quotes indicate, the RC often appeals to tradition or the infallible teaching authority of the Church regarding the authority the cannon. But the Church’s claim to infallibility is based (at least partly) on scripture itself, namely the doctrine of petrine succession coupled with the promise that the gates of hell won’t prevail against the (Catholic) church.

    Suppose, textual critics discovered even better (and earlier) manuscripts that indicated the “on this rock I’ll build my church” passage is a later addition to the text. It was never in the original, inspired, autograph. Some later scribe added it for whatever motive. If we suppose that’s true, the textual cricism has a dramatic impact on the claim to infallible teaching authority of the church. This effect is even greater when, as the above quotes attempt to do, people try to argue that the RCC is in a greater position of security over against textual criticism. Surely, there’s a closer link between what the biblical text says and the churche’s teaching authority.

  78. Bryan,

    I have greatly enjoyed your posts on this site and on your personal blog. But I must take issue with your statement in post #37: “But arbitrarily picking and choosing [which books compose the cannon], without any principled basis, which ecclesial processes or decisions are infallible and which are fallible, is equivalent to building your own religion, because what gets selected as infallible is anything you like or agree with, and what gets selected as fallible is anything you dislike or disagree with. It’s like “Build-a-Bear” at the mall, except here it is “Build-a-Religion”. I see no principled distinction between “Build-your-own-Religion” and idolatry.”

    That last sentence seems too much. Do you really believe that Protestants’ approach to canonicity is identical to idolatry? I realize you didn’t specifically say that such an approach is identical with idolatry, but that seems the be what you’re implying by no seeing any “principled distinction.” If you see no such distinction, do you believe the Protestant approach to cannoicity is idolatry?

  79. Ryan,

    But the Church’s claim to infallibility is based (at least partly) on scripture itself, namely the doctrine of petrine succession coupled with the promise that the gates of hell won’t prevail against the (Catholic) church. … Suppose, textual critics discovered even better (and earlier) manuscripts that indicated the “on this rock I’ll build my church” passage is a later addition to the text.

    It is hard to communicate the Catholic paradigm to the Protestant mind. The Catholic Church’s teaching on her own infallibility is not fundamentally based on an argument from Scripture, although it is supported by Scripture. The Catholic starting point is not the same as the Protestant starting point. The Protestant starts from Scripture, and seeks to deduce what must be true concerning God, the Church, salvation, etc. But the Catholic does not start with the Scripture as abstracted from the Church, but starts with the Church, and thus comes to the Scripture as something already located in the bosom of the Church. For the Catholic, what has been declared dogma de fide by the Church is therefore infallible, and so we know that textual critics (or anyone else) can discover nothing that refutes it. That is no less true of the Church’s infallible decree on the canon as it is of the infallible declaration that Christ rose from the dead, as I argued here. In other words, whatever the Church has decreed infallibly is unfalsifiable in the same way as Christ’s resurrection is unfalsifiable.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  80. Jeremy –

    I’m being anonymous on religious blogs mainly so that I can tie things back to my main blog. CD-Host = host (moderator) for the Church Discipline blog. I’m identifying myself by what is relevant (my role) rather than what is incidental (my name).

    As to why my blog is anonymous, there are two reasons. CD-Host frees me up to engage discourses at on their own terms. To discuss issues of church discipline you need to work within systems. At the same time the blog is non denominational, so I move from discussing Methodist, to Catholic, to Reformed, to Adventist, to Mormon discipline. To work within systems you need to take a whole collection of beliefs as “givens”.

    So for example, I can freely on a Independent Fundamentalist Baptist discipline talk about “the bible says” when referring to something in the KJV and not have to nuance the statement by bringing in all the extraneous information about my real beliefs, “The King James version translates the TR as saying A. That translation is a bit questionable I really think an accurate handling of the TR is B. Moreover, the TR is using an inferior manuscript here, so if I were to translate the NA version it would be C. But even then NA reconstruction is a bit questionable, and I personally would have reconstructed it as D leading to a translation of E. But for purpose of argument lets assume A is the correct treatment then from this it follows ____”. The moment you question that the KJV isn’t a perfect preservation of the “Word of God” the discussion is over.

    Or to pick this board likely you are all going to freely intermix the author 1Peter with the Peter from the Pauline corpus and the Peter of the Gospels. That’s a given inside a conservative Christian discussion. The fact that I happen to personally believe that is a crock, would be a distraction.

    I also firmly believe ad-hominum is disruptive to discourse. Ideas are independent of people. The Christian community is very found of attacking people rather than ideas. Mark Driscoll curses so therefore his obvious success in creating a conservative missional Christianity are dismissed. Frances Siewert is a woman so therefore her bible translations should be dismissed. Elaine Pagels is a liberal so therefore her knowledge of 1st and 2nd century literature should be dismissed. Now that the blog is about 2 years old there is simply too much of my actual personality that bleeds through. But when it started I could avoid attacks on me, or at least avoid non contradictory attacks. Sure I still got called names: I was Jen Epstein (a well known women excommunicated from a family integrated church), I was a Scientologist, I was David Ger (an anti scientologist), I was an excommunicated fundamentalist, I was Mike Rucker (a critic of Reformed Christianity)… but they weren’t terribly convincing to anyone.

  81. Very helpful Bryan with the starting point. That helps put some clarity at my own grasping of this idea. One of my very good friends who is at Westminster Philli, who has incredible Scripture knowledge, (we’ve had countless conversations about this) is at the point of saying, “we both have fundamentally different presuppositions about the nature of the Church and Scripture, and Scripture does not support does not answer who is right.” I’ve been at a loss in terms of where to take the discussion since he now sees that we’re at a stalemate with no possibility of checking our presuppositions. Any ideas? Where would you go next in the discussion?

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  82. Bryan,

    Thank you for your response. Your wrote: “In other words, whatever the Church has decreed infallibly is unfalsifiable in the same way as Christ’s resurrection is unfalsifiable.”

    Suppose archeologists and genetics found some bones and proved they were Jesus’. Don’t you think that would falsify the ressurrection? If not, what could possible falsify the historical fact of the ressurection of Jesus? If nothing could *possibly* faslsify the ressurection, in what sense can we say that the ressurection is an actual event in history (which I presume you belief, as do I)? Butif an event could falsify the historical fact of the ressurection, then would it no also falsify the RCC’s infallible teaching?

  83. Ryan,

    Do you really believe that Protestants’ approach to canonicity is identical to idolatry?

    Let’s make a distinction between material idolatry and formal idolatry. Formal idolatry could be defined as worshiping the created as though it were the Creator, while knowing that the Creator alone deserves such worship. But material idolatry could be defined as worshiping God in some way that is (unbeknown to the worshiper) contrary to worship of God. So, for example, a “cafeteria Catholic” who, for some reason, didn’t know any better would be engaged in material idolatry in this sense. But so would anyone who, without knowing better, approached the worship of God in a “Build-your-own-Religion” manner, instead of accepting what God Himself has specified as the manner in which He is to be worshiped. My point above was that

    arbitrarily picking and choosing, without any principled basis, which ecclesial processes or decisions are infallible and which are fallible, is equivalent to building your own religion, because what gets selected as infallible is anything you like or agree with, and what gets selected as fallible is anything you dislike or disagree with.

    So insofar as anyone does that, whether Protestant or Catholic, that would, in my opinion, be a form of material idolatry. This might seem harsh, but Protestants tend to think the same thing about Catholics, i.e. that we aren’t worshiping God as God wants. In other words, the greater problem arises when anyone, Protestant or Catholic, thinks the “Build-your-own-Religion” mentality is perfectly fine. The situation is better when we both agree that God should be approached as God has specified, even if we disagree about how God should be approached.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  84. Bryan,

    After more reflection on your post, it seems like you’ve hit on probably the key difference between Protestants and Catholics: the starting point. You wrote: “But the Catholic does not start with the Scripture as abstracted from the Church, but starts with the Church, and thus comes to the Scripture as something already located in the bosom of the Church. For the Catholic, what has been declared dogma de fide by the Church is therefore infallible, and so we know that textual critics (or anyone else) can discover nothing that refutes it.”

    I realize that much of my last few posts have been full of questions. I don’t use them as a tactical device, but rather because I think we’re on such different ground, that I need to understand your position fully first, before I can decide whether I agree or disagree.

    If your explanation of the RC starting point is correct, it seems as circular as the typical Protestant’s sola scriptura. The Protestant says: “Sola scriptura!” And the RC rightly responds: “Now, where exactly is that in scripture?” But if we switch the dialectic, the result seems just as circular. For example, the Catholic says: “The Catholic Church is infallible because it says so.” But the Protestant responds: “That’s circular!” To break out of this vicious circularity, it seems to me, the RC must appeal to some authority outside itself: namely scripture. Isn’t that the case?

  85. Ryan,

    Suppose archeologists and genetics found some bones and proved they were Jesus’. Don’t you think that would falsify the resurrection? If not, what could possible falsify the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus? If nothing could *possibly* falsify the resurrection, in what sense can we say that the resurrection is an actual event in history (which I presume you belief, as do I)? But if an event could falsify the historical fact of the resurrection, then would it no also falsify the RCC’s infallible teaching?

    Read the link I posted in the comment box above. Here’s the link again.

    When you say, “Suppose archeologists and genetics found some bones and proved they were Jesus’”, that’s like saying, “Suppose that someone proved that you don’t exist” or “Suppose someone proved that God doesn’t exist” or “Suppose someone proved that 2+2=5″. The Catholic denies the possibility of the supposition.

    If not, what could possible falsify the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus?

    Nothing could possibly falsify the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus. Truth cannot be falsified.

    If nothing could *possibly* falsify the resurrection, in what sense can we say that the resurrection is an actual event in history?

    It actually occurred. (Read the post at the link.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  86. Ryan- allow me to make a quick point or two. Scripture refers to the “Church of the Living God” as the pillar and foundation of truth. And as I said above, Matthew 18 simply presupposes the existence of a unified Church from which a person may be excommunicated. What constitutes a true Church? The many attempts at redefining the term to include any random group of believers meeting at Starbucks, in my view, simply does violence to Matthew 18′s prescriptions for church discipline. thank you.

  87. Neal,

    Well, nobody should ever accuse you of not being thorough! I wanted to answer you last night but I needed to think a little about what you wrote and I was distracted by worries about water coming into my house from some very impressive rain last night. Anyway, it’s a good time to write now since unlike me most sane people didn’t try to brave the high waters and come to work.

    I wasn’t using this bit about the canon as a piece of inductive evidence for the more general claim about an infallible Church.

    I wanted to mention this because it is sometimes a tactic that the Catholic apologist will use. And I do think it’s a reasonable argument and one that can’t be ignored.

    On the use of the term “infallible,” I do think we have to use it univocally. I don’t want to say that infallible as applied to a given inspired work has a fundamentally different quality than if we want to apply it to the preaching of a prophet or the teaching of a collection of bishops or the collecting of the books in the canon or anything else.

    if we were to affirm that God infallibly led the Scriptural authors only (so that Scripture alone is infallible), and God has not done anything comparable in the history of the Church after the death of the last Apostle, then it does seem to me that we cannot be using ‘infallible’ in the same sense in both occurrences when we affirm the possibility of an infallible collection of infallible books. Do you see what I mean?

    One way that we can affirm the possibility of this state of affairs, though, is to hold that God infallibly guided the Scriptural authors, and also infallibly oversaw and guided the process which eventuated in the canon, but that these are the only times God ever did this. This is one clear way to deny the infallibility of the Church, the authority of tradition, etc., and also to reject Sproul’s statement that the collection of infallible documents is itself fallible. However, this does seem (as I think you’ll agree) a little ad hoc and unsatisfying. It looks as though we’re invoking something like an infallible Church just long enough to get our canon established, only to turn around and use the canon we’ve just been handed to argue against an infallible Church. (Note well: I am not accusing you of doing this. So far as I can see you’re not thinking of the matter this way.)

    In the two quotes above I think you are pointing to a tension in my argument. If we are going to say that God spoke infallibly utilizing humans and then did not speak infallibly through a human institution after that, then how do we include the process of canonization since this extended long after the closing of the canon in the Apostolic Era. I can see why this could be perceived as a tension and one that could be dispelled by positing a Church that continues to enjoy a gift of infallibly as she extends her teaching authority beyond the time of the Apostles. We Protestants certainly agree that the Church was authoritative and her teaching authority extended through the time of the Apostles. From our standpoint it is not a tension but perhaps becomes a point of tension when we have to explain ourselves to the RC or EO who are approaching the matter with a different paradigm. And we are suggesting that the process of inscripturation does extend beyond the Apostolic Era and does encompass the collecting of the books into the canon. And this underscores my earlier logical connection between inspiration and authority. I asked whether we can conceive of one without the other, and if “no” then how could we not extend the quality of infallibility applied to inspiration to the process of canonization? So again, canonicity is a necessary corollary of inspiration.

    Now I think you would agree with me that there is a necessary connection between the two processes, but you then might ask why we cannot extend the concept of infallibility beyond the process of inspiration and canonicity. I think this is a reasonable question and ties into what Bryan was asking me about how we determine what processes are infallible and what are not. It’s certainly possible that God could have granted and still does grant a general gift of infallibility to His people. We see that certain people and groups of people speak with the very voice of God. Elijah, Moses, Paul, etc talk about their words being those God or those which are Spirit-breathed. These words must be infallible because God cannot speak something untrue. Oftentimes the people would want some verification that the given revelation was truly from God. Sometimes these requests were sincere and sometimes they weren’t. But the people who were asking sincerely let’s say at the time of Elijah realized that it is possible that Prophet A was from God while Prophet B was not. They did not just lump Jewish prophets together and assume that all of their words were true. They looked at the situations on a case by case basis. And in a certain way of looking at the matter, we are doing something similar with the claims made concerning speaking something infallibly from God. We don’t just want to say Council A and Council B are Christian councils and therefore their official pronouncements are incapable of error. We are trying to look at these situations individually. When we read about the pronouncements from the Council of Jerusalem we conclude that what we know from the conclusions of this council are perfect because God breathed out the very words that made up these pronouncements. So now as we look at the pronouncements from the Nicaea I, Nicaea II, Trent, etc, do we then say that they are all councils just like Jerusalem so their pronouncements must be perfect? I would hope that you would grant that this is a fair question. Now of course for the Catholic, this question has already been decided. The RCC has determined that the official pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils that were blessed by Rome are incapable of error. So we Protestants are asking something that for you has already been answered. And I think that the belief infallibility of this ecumenical collection of bishops acts as sort of a presupposition rather than something that you would try to prove. At least you probably would not try to prove it unless you were pressed to do so from someone from the outside like me.

    So, we don’t want to arbitrarily chop off infallibility as a principle that could be granted to the Church throughout her earthly existence before the second coming of Christ, but then neither do we want to assume that the principle extended to the Church for all time without very good justification. And in the interest of being univocal concerning infallibility, we would like to see that Rome’s claims of infallibility concerning the councils at Nicaea, Trent, etc. are able to withstand the sort of scrutiny that the people of God gave to the prophets and apostles that they heard in biblical times.

    Your points “a” through “e” were right on target.

    In particular, if God makes a promise to guide the Church into truth – or if He promises to oversee the formation of the canon, as you believe Scripture indicates – then it follows from this that whoever or whatever is on the receiving end of this promise is going to enjoy some special prerogative of some sort.

    And so maybe we could say that we disagree on what the nature of this special prerogative is?

    What I don’t think we can do is to gloss over the fact that there really is and must be a medium, as well as a God upon whom this medium relies for any special prerogatives it may have received or may be said to possess. You say, “We are tethering our concept of an infallible canon directly to an infallible God and his perfect character. But in the RCC system, this process of defining an infallible canon is mediated through a Church which has been given this general gift of infallibility.” You can’t mean by this that you tether an infallible canon “directly” to God, in a sense which entails that you do not believe the canon is “mediated through a Church.” You do believe it was so mediated. I affirm this too; but I also affirm that the Church through which it was mediated was, although not itself inherently infallible, infallibly guided by God.

    Yes, I believe that there must be a medium and actually yes, I do believe that God leads infallibly because God’s leading must be perfect. I think that God has always lead infallibly, even at times when the people of God went haywire. I think of the times of Josiah for example. God was leading infallibly but many of the civil leaders (like Josiah’s father) and the ecclesiastical leaders did not follow this leading and turned the people away from God. God lead perfectly, but the Church did not follow perfectly. But of course God has given a perfect law to His people and when Josiah found this law it was a perfect guide to bring the Church back to the right path. So we Protestants see God’s perfect leading in our times following the same sort of principle. The Church may have not always followed God’s perfect guiding well, but God’s Word is always there and thus He never forsakes His Church.

  88. herbert stated:

    Scripture refers to the “Church of the Living God” as the pillar and foundation of truth. And as I said above, Matthew 18 simply presupposes the existence of a unified Church from which a person may be excommunicated.

    Note, in particular, Matthew 18:17:

    17 And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican.

    In order to communicate the severity of disobedience to the Church, Christ used the strongest language possible:

    The Greek word used for those who will not hear the church in Mt 18:17 is parakouo. This means to “disobey”; it is from this word we get parakoe which is the same word used for Adam’s disobedience in Rom 5:19. This is quite significant since there’s another word which could have been used instead for disobedience of the church and this is the Greek word: apeitheia.

    Even further, Jesus compared those who disobey the Church with two of the worst groups of people that the Jews despised at the time. He says he who rejects the Church is to be treated as a heathen or a publican (other translations say a gentile or a tax collector). Hence, “Excommunication”. This means that if one does not accept the teaching or the proclamation of the Church, this person ought to be ‘excommunicated’.

    Choice of these specific terms suggests a policy of non-association with those who are disciplined by Church leaders (cf 1 Cor 5: 9-13, 2 Cor 6:14-15 in reference to the man guilty of incense).

    The consequences mean that if one does not accept the teachings or the proclamation of the Church, he is to be excommunicated (i.e., separated from communion with the Church and the Sacraments); therefore, if one is excommunicated, there is indeed a “spiritual death” since one is outside the divine life that flows through the sacraments and the Church.

  89. Ryan,

    But if we switch the dialectic, the result seems just as circular. For example, the Catholic says: “The Catholic Church is infallible because it says so.” But the Protestant responds: “That’s circular!” To break out of this vicious circularity, it seems to me, the RC must appeal to some authority outside itself: namely scripture. Isn’t that the case?

    The disagreement between Protestants and the Catholic Church is not about the authority of Scripture. We both (Protestants and Catholics) agree that Scripture is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore holds divine authority. The [relevant] disagreement concerns whether or not Christ gave governing authority over the Church to the Apostles, and the Apostles gave such authority to those they ordained. Catholics believe that Christ did not leave His Church without shepherds or without a divinely established rule for the preservation and identification of the government of the Church. This we call apostolic succession.

    Apostolic succession is a succession of authority. Instead of thinking about authority as circular, think about it as linear back to a foundation. The foundation is God Himself. God the Father does not need to appeal to some authority outside Himself to ground His authority. The buck stops right there. But look at the Son:

    “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19)

    “I can do nothing on My own initiative” (John 5:30)

    “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” (John 8:28)

    “for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.” (John 8:42)

    “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)

    The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. (John 14:10)

    Notice the pattern. This is the same pattern we find in the Apostles in relation to Christ:

    For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you (1 Cor 11:23)

    And how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:15) [I discussed that here.]

    Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words … (Acts 15:24)[which I discussed here]

    We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)

    The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 2:2)

    It is the same pattern. This pattern of receiving authority, ambassadorship and stewardship over the deposit of faith, is the imaging by the Church of the relation between the Son and the Father.

    After the death of the Apostles, the early Church faced challenges from gnostics and other heretics who claimed to be preaching the Apostles’ message. The New Testament was not yet a recognized set of books. But already the heretics were quoting from Scripture to make their case. If Christ had not left the Church with an authorized magisterium, then the faithful would have been left with a he said-she said situation, perhaps forced to set up Lincoln-Douglas type debates between the successors of the Apostles and the heretics, in order to determine who had the ‘better’ interpretation of Scripture. Scripture alone would have been the authority, and each individual would have had to decide for himself which self-proclaimed religious teacher’s teachings best represented what he himself thought Scripture said. But that is not how the early Church treated the situation. They strongly affirmed the authority of the bishops on the ground of their succession from the Apostles. See, for example, here. And see what St. Ignatius of Antioch (107 AD) says here about how Christians should respect bishops and priests and deacons. Tertullian, writing about 200 AD says this:

    “Our appeal [in debating with the heretics], therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. For a resort to the Scriptures would but result in placing both parties on equal footing, whereas the natural order of procedure requires one question to be asked first, which is the only one now that should be discussed: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong? From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions” (Tertullian, On Prescription against the Heretics, 19)

    “Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you?’” (Tertullian, On Prescription against the Heretics, 37)

    This is what I mean by coming to the Scripture as something already located in the bosom of the Church. Does that mean that the Magisterium is superior in authority to the Scripture? No.

    Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. (CCC 86)

    But the Scripture comes to us as already belonging to the Church, entrusted to the Church, interpreted by the Church. It does not come to us as abstracted from the Church, and from her authority. This is what Pope Benedict was saying last week, when he said:

    Scripture must be read in the context of the living Tradition of the entire Church. . . . In her Tradition the Church carries the living memory of the Word of God, and it is the Holy Spirit Who provides her with the interpretation thereof in accordance with its spiritual meaning.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  90. Bryan,

    We both (Protestants and Catholics) agree that Scripture is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore holds divine authority.

    But what exactly comprises Scripture?

    I don’t see how anybody could count the very books of the New Testament as ‘Scripture’ when such canon was virtually defined by a Catholic council as determined at the Councils of Rome, Hippo and Carthage.

    If Protestantism rejects the Church as having actual authority, then why accept the Canon so defined by the Church as far as the New Testament is concerned?

  91. Roma,

    You are getting at the problem of arbitrariness that I was raising earlier in this thread. However, fundamentally, Protestants do not want to appeal to the authority of the Church to establish the canon of Scripture, because they believe that doing so would give the Church authority over Scripture. And that would be contrary to sola scriptura. That is why the Westminster Confession of Faith says:

    The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author therefore; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (WCF 1.4)

    Therefore, Reformed Protestants, for example, fundamentally ground the canon in an internal witness of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer:

    [O]ur full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” (WCF 1.5)

    As a former Pentecostal, and someone who spent a summer debating Mormons, here are my thoughts on that position. As a general rule, if you resort to bosom-burning, you have just taken the theological blue pill of fideism. If you establish your canon by bosom-burning, then ultimately you establish your interpretation by bosom-burning. If you ultimately establish your canon by bosom-burning, you make superfluous your appeal to history in support of your canon. If you establish your canon by bosom-burning, semper reformanda will become your universal acid.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  92. Bryan,

    In response to your post at #85, I’ve been preparing a reply, but I occured to be that much of it would be obviated depending on your answer to the following questions:

    1. Do you believe a person can come to a knowledge of God’s existence by general revelation?
    2. If so, do you believe a person can come to a knowledge of God’s incredible power by general revelation?
    3. If so, do you believe a person can to to know that God raised Jesus for the dead by general revelation?

    Regarding the third question, what I have in mind is something like William Lane Craig’s argument supporting the historicity of the ressurection from three widely agreed upon historical facts. He argues that the propsition “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation for the following three facts [both individually and cumulatively]: (1) the reason Jesus’ tomb was found empty; (2) the reason hundreds of people believed they saw Jesus after his dead; and (3) the reason for the disciples’ belief and worship Jesus unto death.

    To ensure we don’t get too far afield from the point of all this ressurection talk, I think it’s profitable for our discussion to chase down these issues. This issue of ressurection is being used as a case study for how the RCC’s teaching authority relates to historical inquiry that (I’m supposing for the sake of argument) contradicts RC infallible teaching. The parenthetical language is what we’re currently trying to come to terms with so we can either scrape or get on with the thought experiment.

  93. Roma –

    I don’t see how anybody could count the very books of the New Testament as ‘Scripture’ when such canon was virtually defined by a Catholic council as determined at the Councils of Rome, Hippo and Carthage. If Protestantism rejects the Church as having actual authority, then why accept the Canon so defined by the Church [councils] as far as the New Testament is concerned?

    Because they reject the assumption in the first line, that it was the councils that did the meaningful determination. Rather just like the examples we worked through with 3Esdras, 4Esdras and Prayer of Manasseh it was the faithful who ultimately make the determination of what is scripture. The faithful acted freely to both add and subtract what was in their bibles (an effective canon if you will), certainly the councils carried weight, but the final determination were the broad regional communities not the global hierarchy. The catholic system, when not utilizing state terror, acted the same way as the Protestant canonical system does today as a feedback loop and a conversation, not a monologue. And because a consensus emerged early (late 2nd – 3rd century) for a canon very like the one we have today, before the capacity for state terror existed it carries weight even among protestants.

    A modern example of a similar process is the current US catholic population and birth control. The official teachings could not be any clearer. The actual doctrines that the faithful hold to are quite different and not out of ignorance of the teaching. They simply reject the magisterium on this issue.

    The encyclical [Humanae Vitae] had the unintended consequence of persuading them that the threat of mortal sin and the fear of hell, which were for many years the principal elements of the church’s popular authority, should not be controlling motivations for their lives. In effect they appealed from a pope who they felt did not understand married love to a God who did. Reaction to Humanae Vitae joined the powerful forces for change set in motion by the council and set loose the full force of the Catholic revolution. Children of the Council

    And as a result of this clear rejection doctrine is starting to subtly shift Winnipeg memo.

  94. Ryan,

    1. Do you believe a person can come to a knowledge of God’s existence by general revelation?

    Yes. That’s de fide Catholic dogma. See Vatican I, Session 3, Chapter 2.

    2. If so, do you believe a person can come to a knowledge of God’s incredible power by general revelation?

    Yes.

    3. If so, do you believe a person can to to know that God raised Jesus from the dead by general revelation?

    If “by general revelation” you mean “by the natural power of reason”, then yes. See, for example, the book by Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar who denies the divinity of Christ but believes that God raised Jesus from the dead, and took Jesus to heaven.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  95. Bryan,

    I guess my question would be if the Church doesn’t carry any such authority, then the books traditionally deemed as comprising the Canon of the New Testament by past Councils of the Church should be doubted and, in fact, the scores of books originally rejected by the Church should have been re-evaluated by such protestants as possibly having been erroneously rejected by what ultimately was considered (mildly speaking, of course) an error-prone Church, no?

  96. CD-Host,

    it was the faithful who ultimately make the determination of what is scripture.

    Faithful to what, as determined by whom?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  97. Bryan,

    I think I see your argument now. Are you following Aquinas when he says no truth we come to know via special revelation can ever contradict what we come to know via reason? So your argument would be that we know Jesus rose from the dead via special revelation. Thus, any argument from reason to the contrary (whether philosophical or scientific) must be wrong in some way. That appears to be your argument in the article you linked.

  98. Roma,

    Yes, exactly. Each individual Christian would have to read each candidate book, and use the bosom-burning test to confirm or disconfirm each one. That’s why it ends up [in principle] being like “Build-a-bear”. You make your own personalized canon. Protestants who don’t do that (i.e most all of them) are still living on Catholic inertia, not being consistent with their own position. Hence my claim about this methodology being ultimately a “universal acid”, when its own principles finally work their way out.

    Ryan,

    Yes. Divine revelation and reason cannot contradict each other. And if we know something by divine revelation, then we know that nothing from science or philosophy can falsify it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  99. Roma, Great way to put it. “If Protestantism rejects the Church as having actual authority, then why accept the Canon so defined by the Church as far as the New Testament is concerned.”

    SO, did Luther, Calvin and the rest think this far ahead, to see the “build a bear” dilema? I see the Reformers as too blinded by the sin of the Catholic Church to see what lies beneath. In my own seminary experience, self-attesting nature of the Scriptures were drilled home time and time again. But, this would mean that somebody who converts and is baptized after hearing the gospel could pick out the correct 27 inspired books of the NT in a pile of 1st century Christian writtings. I know I wouldn’t have been able to pick them out. Great discussion, very very helpful.

  100. Roma –

    I guess my question would be if the Church doesn’t carry any such authority, then the books traditionally deemed as comprising the Canon of the New Testament by past Councils of the Church should be doubted and, in fact, the scores of books originally rejected by the Church should have been re-evaluated by such protestants as possibly having been erroneously rejected by what ultimately was considered (mildly speaking, of course) an error-prone Church, no?

    That is what you are starting to see happen. In 1970 Gospel of Thomas was another Gnostic work of very little interest beyond scholars and esoteric Christians. Since then several dozen books have published on it with at least one best seller (Beyond Belief). 2 mid run bibles (Good as New, 5 Gospels) have included it. Even conservative scholars are backing away from claims of a late dating. Quotes from it have been put into at least 5 blockbuster (i.e. mainstream) movies I can think of as being “from Jesus”. Among the Hindi community GOT 19, “Jesus said: Blessed is he who was before he came into being. If you become disciples to me (and) listen to my words, these stones will minister to you. For you have five trees in Paradise which do not change, either in summer or in winter, and their leaves do not fall. He who knows them shall not taste of death. is heavily quoted.

    Now don’t get me wrong this is still the early stages and probably 97% of Christians haven’t even considered whether Gospel of Thomas should be in the bible, but the fact that perhaps 3% have is likely a million fold increase in a generation. I can imagine in 100 years it becomes standard for liberal bibles to have it in an appendix, maybe 150 for conservatives and by say 2300 the equivalent of the NIV will have it in with the main text.

    This isn’t a prophecy just a scenario of how it might play out. And then of course there is the daVinci code, which while terrible in terms of accuracy, has convinced millions upon millions of Christians that the canonical determinations should be questioned.

  101. But, this would mean that somebody who converts and is baptized after hearing the gospel could pick out the correct 27 inspired books of the NT in a pile of 1st century Christian writtings. I know I wouldn’t have been able to pick them out.

    (my emphasis)

    That’s just it –

    Personally, I wouldn’t know where to begin and by what criteria I would attempt such a selection of specific books I would ultimately deem as ‘Scripture’.

    Do you simply go by the criteria that it must’ve been authored by an apostle or by one of their closest acquaintances?

    What do you do when you don’t know the actual author of a book, such as in the case of Hebrews (currently considered as part of the New Testament) where even today (at least, as far as I know) we do not happen to know who exactly wrote it?

    I don’t envy the position of those in the early church then who eventually endeavoured to completing such a huge task. There were, as could be expected, huge disagreements in the early church between figures like St. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, for example. Many in those days rejected books that we now consider part of the New Testament, such as Revelations, Jude, 2nd & 3rd John as well as Hebrews and claimed they were not at all Scripture and, in fact, not inspired.

    There were even those in the early church who actually accepted books like the Epistle of Clement as authentically comprising Scripture. In fact, it was read in Corinth for over a hundred years as Sacred Scripture after Clement himself passed away.

  102. To Roma Victor @ 101:

    This is a good point. I totally agree, especially after having read the epistles of the post apostolic fathers. They’re so good, and were written by individuals who had as much authority to compose them as Luke or Mark had to compose their gospel accounts. What could any Protestant tell me if I decided to put Clement or Polycarp into the canon?

  103. Andrew,

    Again, apologies for my tardiness getting back to you. The last couple of weeks of the semester are always ridiculously hectic. I imagine this is true for Bryan, too, though you’d never know it given all the rapid-fire responses he’s let loose here recently. How he manages this I cannot say.

    Sorry to hear about the rainfall. We got hit this morning, too, and I’m now a fellow member of the not-sane-enough-to-stay-home club. (The only redeeming factor is that I’m putting together a lecture on the Noahic Covenant for my church’s Bible study tomorrow night, and I couldn’t ask for a better ambiance; “amnesis” indeed.)

    Okay, it seems like we’re dealing with a few questions at once:

    (1) Did God infallibly guide the Church after the death of the last Apostle, in a way similar to the way in which He infallibly guided Scriptural authors, so as to establish the canon infallibly?
    (2) Does this reflect a more general infallible guidance God has promised to provide for His Church, even after the canon was (infallibly) formulated?

    I believe (2) should be answered in the negative from your perspective, so let’s put that aside for now.

    Your answer to (1) is somewhat more subtle. Clearly, you want to say that, yes, God did this, but that it does not reflect a more general promise of infallible guidance. However, you also apparently wish to avoid saying something that sounds ad hoc, namely, that

    (3) God infallibly guided the Church so as to receive the right canon in more or less the way Catholics say – not by bequeathing a general promise of infallibility per se, but rather by ensuring that this one unique process was providentially and infallibly guided. Now that this process has been terminated and the canon has been decisively formed, God no longer does anything like this with the Church (as the Church defines dogma, say).

    I think you see how this kind of position would put pressure on a person who adopts it to say exactly why – aside from an a priori denial of a possibility that is supposed to be open – we should say that God did this only just this once. It looks like an epicycle, so to speak, because we are admitting some sort of infallibility aside from the infallible documents of Scripture only because we need to find a way to assert that the collection of these documents is itself infallible. So we pick up for a moment a Catholic sounding position, and then promptly put it away again after it has done its work for us. This, I think you will agree, appears to be ad hoc and unfair, pointing to a real tension in the position itself. (This is something that I think can legitimately be felt from within the standpoint of the position, and not just looking at it critically from without.)

    So your more nuanced position appears to be this:

    (4) The process of canonization was infallibly overseen by God, but this does not mean anything other than Scripture is infallible, because the process of canonization is itself an aspect of the process of “inscripturation.” Given, that is, that inspiration and canonicity are logically related to one another as corollaries, we can say that the process whereby God inspired authors to pen His Word extended beyond the lifetimes of the human persons who actually penned those Words.

    This I think is a very interesting move, but I’ve got misgivings about it. Let me quote from you for a minute and explain what I think the problem is:

    And we are suggesting that the process of inscripturation does extend beyond the Apostolic Era and does encompass the collecting of the books into the canon. And this underscores my earlier logical connection between inspiration and authority. I asked whether we can conceive of one without the other, and if “no” then how could we not extend the quality of infallibility applied to inspiration to the process of canonization? So again, canonicity is a necessary corollary of inspiration.

    You then add:

    Now I think you would agree with me that there is a necessary connection between the two processes, but you then might ask why we cannot extend the concept of infallibility beyond the process of inspiration and canonicity.

    I agree that the question you put in my mouth here is a reasonable one to ask, but we aren’t quite there yet. I think it would become a very pressing question for you if you accepted (3) above, because then you yourself would be “extend[ing] the concept of infallibility” beyond the writing of Scripture and into the post-Apostolic era, and would be cutting it off thereafter in a way that does appear arbitrary or theory-motivated. But you seem to cut this question off at the pass, because you try not to “extend the concept of infallibility” beyond the inscripturation of God’s Word at all. Instead, you extend the inscripturation process itself so as to include within it the entire process that led to the canon’s ultimate formation several centuries later.

    Your strategy thus relies crucially on the plausibility of the claim that the process of inscripturation includes the process whereby the canon took its final form some centuries down the road.

    There is one way to make this claim come out true, but I don’t think it will be of use to you. What we would do is this: we would distinguish between the “scriptures” – i.e., those writings that were inspired by God at some point – from the “Scriptures” – i.e., those writings that have been canonized because they were judged to be inspired. Because the process whereby these things made their way into a “canon” did indeed extend beyond the lifetimes of the Biblical authors, it would be true to say that the process of “inScripturation” – capital “S” – extended beyond the actual writing of the “scriptures” – little “s.” However, we must note in this case that “inscripturation” – i.e., the actual inspiring and writing of those texts that made their way into the canon – did not extend beyond the lifetimes of the Biblical authors, right? (Can’t write when you’re dead.)

    Thus “inScripturation” took a longer time than “inscripturation.” But this point is of no obvious use to you, because to be “inScripturated” here just means to be canonized through a process that extends well beyond the actual inspired writing of the texts that later became canonized. (Because “Scripture” here is in effect just equivalent to “the Canon.”) Granting that “inscripturation” was infallible – because it is the process whereby God infallibly led inspired authors to write what they wrote – this does not entail that “inScripturation” was infallible – because that process takes place after God had already finished up inspiring people to write things. Thus “inscripturation” does not include “inScripturation.” So the fact that “inScripturation” includes “canonization” does not entail that “inscripturation” includes “canonization.” Indeed, it does not.

    So I don’t think this reading of the claim that “inscripturation includes the process of canonization” is one that you can rely on to distinguish your position from (3).

    Now, you will have to correct me if I am wrong, but I think your argument for this claim (that canonicity is included in inscripturation) runs like this:

    (a) There is a logical connection between inspiration and canonicity.
    (b) Inspiration entails infallibility.
    (c) Therefore, canonization likewise entails infallibility.

    It is in this way that you are able to say that our confidence in an infallible canon derives directly from our confidence in the non-contentious claim that whatever is inspired is infallible.

    Here is why I don’t think this argument works. You are right to say that there is a logical connection between inspiration and canonization. We can agree that if something is inspired, it ought (in accordance with God’s good pleasure) to be canonized; and we can agree that something should be canonized only if it is inspired. The purpose of the canon is to collect all and only the inspired writings.

    But this is something like a definitional or logical point. It does not by itself answer the different question: “By what means can we tell that something is, in fact, inspired? Which of the candidate writings ought by rights to be canonized, and which should be left out?” Another way to put the point is to note that everyone (Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, whatever) believes in the same corollaries between “inspiration” and “canonicity.” But affirming this definitional point does not by itself resolve the disputes concerning which of the writings before us actually have this inspired status, and therefore which ought to go into the canon. This is something that the fact that “God has inspired some things and only they should be canonized” does not answer. (And indeed, answering this question is in large measure what the process of canonization amounted to: recognizing the corollary between inspiration and canonicity is simply what motivated the process, it is not what completed the process.)

    So (a) and (b) together do not justify (c). Canonization is a process which involves recognizing inspired texts for what they are, and then collecting them up into a nice black leather bound book with maps in the back of it. The a priori, definitional relation between “inspiration” and “canonicity” therefore does entail the non-contentious claim that inspired-and-correctly-canonized books are infallible. It does not, however, entail the distinct claim that the historical process leading to the judgment that a certain class of books are inspired was therefore an infallible process. For this assumes more than the claims in (a) and (b): it also assumes that the process of recognizing inspired texts for what they are was infallibly guided by the God who inspired those texts. That’s the crucial premise missing from your argument; it is also the point of dispute between Catholics and Protestants who affirm the infallibility of Scripture alone.

    Overall: because you are affirming that inspired writings only are infallible, and because “inScripturation” involves more than God inspiring specific writers at specific times, but also involves processes taking place after their deaths, we cannot rely upon the logical or definitional connection between inspiration and canonicity alone to argue that the process whereby particular writings were “canonized” (i.e. judged to be inspired) was also infallible.

    If that’s right, then your options are to affirm the fallibility of the collection, or to fall back on (3).

    Now, I gotta get back to work!

    Neal

  104. Bryan,

    In response to your post at #98, I agree. It was probably a bad idea to use the resurrection as an example. I was thinking from the bottom up (reason to special revelation) and you were thinking from the top down (special revelation to reason).

    As an aside, I’ve started to read little more regarding your statements about the written word being supplementary to the oral word as handed on via tradition. I guess I don’t object to this in principal, because we’d still have the faith even if we didn’t have the New Testament. But my concern is what results when we have an infallible scripture coupled with an infallible magisterium. If the latter infallibly proclaims something contrary to the former, how can we possibly arbitrate the dispute? For example, the dogma regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity seems very difficult to maintain in the face of the clear NT teaching that Jesus had brothers. This NT teaching requires the RCC to introduce an ad hoc notion that these brothers were step (or half) brothers.

    If there is such a dispute, it seems to me the written document takes precedence because its earlier. It is incredibly hard to believe (as a Protestant, even if I grant apostolic succession) that the church realized Mary was forever a virgin nearly 550 years after her death. And its even harder for me (as a Protestant, even if I grant apostolic succession) to see any purpose or utility in declaring such a view to be dogma.

    The reason its so hard for me to see these things is because, even if I grant apostolic authority, the authority needs reasons for its dogmatic assertions. The early church appeared to give reasons for their views (Acts 15) and it seems like the councils were something like a Lincoln-Douglas debate, with two (or more) sides being presented and one wining. That’s one reason Protestants can affirm the NT cannon as the Catholics do. The posts at 99, 101, and 102 appear to confuse authoritative proclamation with the basis for the proclamation itself. The councils didn’t just close their eyes and pick some writings and infallibly declare them inspired. It seems nearly all NT scholars agree that the council made that decision based on (at least) three principles: apostolicity (was it written by an apostle or by someone who knew an apostle), orthodoxy (are the writings consistent with the deposit of faith they’d already received); and catholicity (are these writings widely accepted among believers). For one example of an imminent NT scholar, see the late F.F Bruce, The Cannon of Scripture, chapter 21.

    With these two examples in mind (i.e. the Marian issue and the cannon criteria), its hard to swallow the infallible teaching, one the one hand, when the basis for at least one teaching is weak or non-existent. Thoughts?

  105. Ryan,

    Mary’s Perpetual virginity does not run contrary to the NT. See St. Jerome against Helvidius for various proofs.

    This is a good example of why lay persons should trust infallible tradition over their limited exegetical ability. Here’s another post demonstrating the historicity of this dogma + the original Reformers’ agreement with it.

  106. Someone else may bring it up if I don’t… But if Jesus’s “brothers” were indeed brothers, not cousins, why would Our Lord “give” Mary, His Mother, to John at Calvary? (“Behold, your Mother”) Certainly if Christ had brothers, Mary would have entered another household before entering John’s. If I’m mistaken with my understanding of what’s going on here, I trust someone will set me straight. thank you.

  107. Herbert,

    You are right in your principle that if a doctrine runs contrary to sound reason in it’s derivation, and a better explanation can be provided, then it must give way to what is more reasonable(only at the magisterial level, of course). But like Tim said, though it appears to be contrary to scripture(Mary’s perpetual virginity) the Church has in fact interpreted it correctly, which you could find out by reading those links he provided. Many times things can appear to be so clear when in fact they arn’t. This case of Mary’s perpetual virginity is a great opportunity for you to boost your confidence in the teaching of the Church so that you may be able to trust her with other doctrines that you may, at this point, have trouble swollowing.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  108. That was actually supposed to go to Ryan (Yikes) :)

    Jared B

  109. Herbert –
    (in ref to #106)

    Conservative answer:
    If you take the passage from Matthew (Matt 27:56) and John (19:25) Mary the wife of Clopas is the mother of John of Zebedee, and also Mary’s sister. So by going with him perhaps it is to be with her sister.

    Liberal answer:
    the author of John is establishing further credibility for “the beloved disciple” i.e. this gospel is written by the person closest to Jesus by establishing that he entrusted his mother to him.

  110. To Ryan at #104:

    “The posts at 99, 101, and 102 appear to confuse authoritative proclamation with the basis for the proclamation itself. The councils didn’t just close their eyes and pick some writings and infallibly declare them inspired. It seems nearly all NT scholars agree that the council made that decision based on (at least) three principles: apostolicity (was it written by an apostle or by someone who knew an apostle), orthodoxy (are the writings consistent with the deposit of faith they’d already received); and catholicity (are these writings widely accepted among believers). For one example of an imminent NT scholar, see the late F.F Bruce, The Cannon of Scripture, chapter 21.”

    I don’t think you’re getting the thrust of my contention.

    1) There are non-canonical documents that meet the test you alluded to (i.e. written by “someone who knew an apostle,” orthodox, and widely used).

    2) What makes any decision by councils in the 4th and 5th centuries valid? If I (or a denomination, or multiple denominations) wanted to add or remove something today, who would stop me/us? and by what authority?

    3) The church leaders you mention, who applied this rule for canonizing scripture, included the 7 books of the Old Testament that the Protestants later removed.

  111. Tim [Post 105]

    This is a good example of why lay persons should trust infallible tradition over their limited exegetical ability.

    I’m trying to interpret this comment as charitably as possible because I recognize you could mean several things by it. I hope you don’t intend by this comment that: (1) I am a lay person (because you don’t know that); (2) that I have limited exegetical ability (because you don’t know that); or (3) that all lay people have limited exegetical ability (because that’s patently false). Perhaps you mean that (4) the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity is a ‘good example’ of how difficult exegetical issues could result in splintered interpretations, which could result in splintered Christian groups. If you mean the latter, then what prevents the splinter isn’t infallible tradition, it’s infallible teaching authority because surely you’d agree that the RCC could pronounce infallibly on a subject where there is little or no tradition. If you mean (4), I certainly agree that the presence of an infallible teaching authority prevents splinters.

    Here’s another post demonstrating the historicity of this dogma + the original Reformers’ agreement with it.

    I have to say that this link is of very limited value. The author is Dr. Robert J. Schihl who is a Professor of in the ‘School of Radio, Television and Film’ at Regent. Dr. Schihl is hardly an authority on these issues. Of course, his lack of authoritativeness doesn’t entail his quotes of the Reformers are false or misleading. Nevertheless, assuming the quotes are accurate, the quotes don’t mean much to me as a Protestant because there are no arguments given in the quotes. The mere fact that Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli believed it, isn’t sufficient to sway me without arguments.

    But Dr. Schihl’s brief discussion of the ‘very common objection’ that Jesus had brothers and sisters is also unconvincing because it relies on the Hebrew term that is a possible equivalent to the Greek term actually used in the NT text. It’s the Greek term that should be exegeted, not the Hebrew. Apparently, the majority of RC biblical scholars agree with Protestant scholars on this issue. Consider the entry on ‘James’ in the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, edited by esteemed NT scholar David Noel Freedman. The EDB is a one-volume abridgment of the six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary, which is the standard. The entry states: “The exact relationship of James and ‘the brothers of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 9:5; cf. Mark 6.3 par.) to Jesus has been strongly debated in the ancient Church and in modern times. Three main positions have emerged: (1) James is the son of Joseph and Mary, the literal brother (or half-brother, given Jesus’ virginal conception of) of Jesus. Most Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars holds this meaning of ‘brother….;”(3) James is Jesus’ cousin or other near relative. Supporters of this position argue from the Hebr[ew]/Aram[aic] ah, which means both ‘brother’ and ‘kinsman.’ It is the traditional Roman Catholic position in both piety and scholarship.”

    Mary’s Perpetual virginity does not run contrary to the NT. See St. Jerome against Helvidius for various proofs.

    The moment you start offering biblical arguments, you’ve given up the field to the splintering that I’ve referenced above. The strongest argument you have is that of infallible teaching authority via apostolic succession: ‘Rome said it. I believe it. End of story.’ But the biblical argument you adopt from St. Jerome is essentially view (3) in the immediately above section + a philosophical (not textual) discussion of what the term ‘brother’ means. St. Jerome offers four senses of the term ‘brother’: he argues that people can be brothers by ‘by nature, race, kindred, love…. (para. 15). Maybe so. But the question is the meaning of the Greek term in the sentence.

    Some questions:

    1. Do you grant that nowhere in scripture is Mary’s perpetual virginity taught or even mentioned? If not, where is it mentioned? (NB: I’m not trying to pin you down w/sola scriptura here. I’m just wondering whether you think the doctrine can be found in scripture).

    2. Would you please clarify what you meant by this being a ‘good example of why lay persons should trust infallible tradition over their limited exegetical ability’?

  112. Amanas @ 110

    There are non-canonical documents that meet the test you alluded to (i.e. written by “someone who knew an apostle,” orthodox, and widely used).

    I agree. In all honesty, it’s hard for Protestants to say the canon is closed and no other book can ever be added. But it’s not hard for Protestants to say that they books currently in the canon are proper there.

    What makes any decision by councils in the 4th and 5th centuries valid? If I (or a denomination, or multiple denominations) wanted to add or remove something today, who would stop me/us? and by what authority?

    As to the first question, the decisions’ ‘validity’ is rooted in their arguments; their reasons. As to the second question, there wouldn’t be anyone to stop you, of course. But the lack of authority to ‘stop’ you, doesn’t entail that your decision to add or remove is correct. I still think you’re not making the distinction between the reasons for the decision to add or remove, on the one hand, and the authority to declare what should be added or removed on the other hand.

    The church leaders you mention, who applied this rule for canonizing scripture, included the 7 books of the Old Testament that the Protestants later removed.

    Two points here. First, your point refers to the OT, which was largely already ‘canonized’ by the time of Paul’s writings. So your point doesn’t directly bear on the NT canon. Second, to the extent the OT wasn’t fully or finally canonized by the time of the councils, the Protestants’ removal of the referenced books doesn’t run contrary to what I’ve mentioned immediately above. The Protestants’ position is consistent, but some (perhaps you) believe its consistently wrong.

  113. Ryan,

    I believe that we’re planning on doing a more in depth look at the Perpetual Virginity of Mary in the future.

    However, for the time being I can try to address your questions.

    The strongest argument you have is that of infallible teaching authority via apostolic succession: ‘Rome said it. I believe it. End of story.’

    I disagree with this position. For the Catholic Church, scripture is part of her tradition. So, quoting scripture for the proof of doctrine is perfectly sound with our image of authority.

    But the question is the meaning of the Greek term in the sentence.

    And in the Greek, we have several passages where the same words are used in a way that completely excludes ‘blood brothers by the same mother.’ Such as…

    The “brothers” of Jesus number are actually the children of Mary the wife of Cleophas
    Mary wife of Cleophas and “sister” of the Virgin Mary (Jn 19:25) is the mother of James and Joseph (Mk 15:47; Mt 27:56) who are called the “brothers of Jesus” (Mk 6:3).

    This is a clear example where scripture tells us that those that are ‘brothers’ of Jesus (Mk 6:3) are not Mary’s sons.

    Do you grant that nowhere in scripture is Mary’s perpetual virginity taught or even mentioned? If not, where is it mentioned?

    I believe that the perpetual virginity is taught in the figure as Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. Take a look at 2 Sam. 6 and compare it to Luke 3.

    Also Ezekiel 44:1-3:

    “Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. 2: And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. 3: Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.”

    The Lord God of Israel will pass through the gate and no one shall pass by it. The Patristic exegesis of this passage is that Mary is the gate. The reformers also adopted this view.

    St. Ambrose of Milan writes in 391 AD:

    Who is this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-4), if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity.” The Consecration of a Virgin and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary , 8:52, in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 2, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1978, #1327, p. 172.

  114. How do I put quotes in italics?

    Ryan,

    I am trying not to get confused about “reasons” and “authority.” Granted, though, that we all have these same reasons, or kinds of tests, that we apply in making decisions about the canon of scripture, how do we decide who gets the final say when people who employ the same criteria come to different conclusions?

    For example, I find the “reasons” in themselves to be wholly unsatisfying and ultimately unhelpful. You said that Protestants have plenty of reason to believe that the books we have are canonical, even if they aren’t the entire thing, but I can only reply, “Says who?” Some of the criteria are subjective enough that the early Church had to convene councils that were at least regional, or, according to Bryan, regional with the approval of the Pope. So when I fast-forward to the 17th century and look at Article I of the Westminster Confession of Faith, all I see is chaos. I see private judgment and the Mormon burning in the bosom.

    “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”

    If National Association of Evangelicals or the Southern Baptist Convention, or I myself decided that the book of Revelation or the Gospel of John are not in line with “the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of the parts, [and] the scope of the whole,” what recourse would other professing Christians have? Could I start my own church? If so, would other churches have any right to warn others to steer away from me? I’m only doing the same thing the early Christians and, later, the Reformers did. My whole question is whether there is anyone on earth whose opinion is more valid than mine. We can’t just go back to “reasons” because sincere people have often come to different conclusions with regard to these matters. At the end of the day, all judges in America are supposed to be doing the same thing, but the decision of the Supreme Court has a weight that the decisions of lesser courts do not have. Do Protestant churches have a supreme court?

    *******

    Sean,

    At this point, without some kind of final arbiter, wouldn’t the (contemporary) Protestant and the Catholic simply be reduced to: “Yes, this passage teaches perpetual virginity.” “No, it doesn’t.” “Yes, it does” ad nauseam. Then this same scenario happens for most every doctrine. “Yes, James proves you wrong.” “No, Paul proves you wrong.” It makes me just want to sleep in on Sunday morning.

  115. Amans,

    Put quotes into italics like this…

    [i]Put the quote here.[/i]

    Except change the [] to <> .

    Hope that makes sense.

    At this point, without some kind of final arbiter, wouldn’t the (contemporary) Protestant and the Catholic simply be reduced to: “Yes, this passage teaches perpetual virginity.” “No, it doesn’t.” “Yes, it does” ad nauseam. Then this same scenario happens for most every doctrine.

    That might be the case if the aim of the dialog is just to win the arguement. However, it was about four years ago that I was sitting across a very committed Catholic at a bar in Houston, Texas as a Presbyterian. I asked him about Mary and he whipped out the bible and showed me a lot of passages that I had never seen nor considered. I did not convert on the spot or anything but I didn’t walk away thinking, “Maybe Catholics have a firm grasp on the bible after all.”

  116. Sean @ 113

    Thank you for your responses. I’m going to do some additional study on the Greek term, and I’ll get back to that issue.

    I disagree with this position. For the Catholic Church, scripture is part of her tradition. So, quoting scripture for the proof of doctrine is perfectly sound with our image of authority.

    I think I didn’t clearly make my point. I agree that scripture is part of the RCC tradition and therefore quoting ‘for the proof of doctrine is perfectly sound….’ My point is that this discussion about whether Mary and Joseph had children together is a key issue with respect to the RCC’s infallible teaching authority. The RCC doesn’t cite these ‘brothers’ passages as ‘proof of the doctrine’ of Mary’s perpetual virginity. That doctrine developed either outside scripture altogether or at least outside these specific ‘brother’ passages. So these ‘brother’ passages are being offered as a possible foil for the infallible teaching authority.

    When the RCC church responds to that possible foil, it has to offer an interpretation of these specific passages that doesn’t conflict with the perpetual virginity doctrine it’s developed. The RCC then gives an interpretation of the verse(s). I may be understanding the magisterium incorrectly, but the RCC wouldn’t be offering up that interpretation is a plausible way to interpret the text. Instead, the RCC interpretation is the only way to interpret the text because that interpretation itself becomes dogma (please correct me if I’m wrong here). So the loop is perfectly closed and the infallible teaching can never be assailed by an infallible scripture because the portions of scripture that appear to teach something contrary to an infallible extra biblical doctrine (or, as I’ve said, at least outside the specific text under consideration) are given an interpretation that is itself infallible and can’t conflict with the RCC’s teaching. I understand that tight system. And, of course, if I grant that system there’s no problem.

    I interpreted Tim as offering me an argument about why the ‘brother’ passages actually supported RC teaching. If he was offering me an argument (and inviting me to agree or disagree), then my statement that he’s given up his ground is accurate. The moment he invites me to an exegetical study where we’re permitted to follow the evidence of an infallible scripture, it’s possible we’d end up somewhere contrary to an infallible RC teaching. But neither you nor Tim appear to allow that. Thus, the citations of scripture aren’t really invitations to dialogue, they’re proof texts that no one is permitted to disagree with. That’s the locus of my concern. If we start from the beginning saying: ‘Nothing in my infallible scripture can conflict with anything from my infallible church,’ then of course there won’t be any conflict. But it seems that we’re required to limit our attempts to follow the biblical evidence where it leads in some instances (e.g. the Marian issue and, perhaps, the forensic justification issue). As a practical example of this, I’ve seen many RC on this site reference in passing the errors that had crept into the RCC by the time of the Reformers. And that Trent did a decent job remedying these errors. If I’ve read those posts properly, how can a RC ever say that the church is making mistakes in doctrine or practice? Isn’t it scripture? If so, why doesn’t scripture stand over tradition?

  117. Sean,

    I did not convert on the spot or anything but I didn’t walk away thinking, “Maybe Catholics have a firm grasp on the bible after all.”

    Do you mean you DID walk away thinking that?

  118. …the author of John is establishing further credibility for “the beloved disciple” i.e. this gospel is written by the person closest to Jesus by establishing that he entrusted his mother to him.

    Yeah, but even in such a case, how would you know to trust that author?

    And even insofar as works purportedly written by an actual apostle, can you really authenticate it as actually being so?

    I don’t think one can ever ultimately overcome these obstacles without tremendous difficulty.

    When depending on one’s own infallible opinion, at best, you place faith on merely your own Word; at worse, descend into a Jesus Seminar sort of realism.

  119. Do you mean you DID walk away thinking that?

    I think I walked away with more respect for the Catholic position. Looking at Marian typology in the OT is just awesome. And once you see it, its hard to ignore.

    Seeing Mary foreshadowed in 2nd Sam 6 compared to Mary’s three month visit with Elizabeth is neat. Then seeing St. Ambrose and others write about it in the third century is just amazing. Then seeing Calvin and Luther use the same passage to make the same argument (that Jesus had no brothers) is really weird.

    I remember thinking, ‘Why haven’t I seen that before?’

  120. Roma @118 –

    CD@109 (from original):
    Liberal answer:
    the author of John is establishing further credibility for “the beloved disciple” i.e. this gospel is written by the person closest to Jesus by establishing that he entrusted his mother to him.

    Yeah, but even in such a case, how would you know to trust that author?
    And even insofar as works purportedly written by an actual apostle, can you really authenticate it as actually being so?
    I don’t think one can ever ultimately overcome these obstacles without tremendous difficulty.

    In terms of the liberal answer they are trusting the author to be presenting his theology accurately. By the church having canonized it is source for Christian theology. In other words the author is trustable about the nature of Christianity as a tautology. The canonization made his authority official and heightened it. The same way moving from assistant attorney general to attorney general raises one’s legal authority.

    When depending on one’s own infallible opinion, at best, you place faith on merely your own Word; at worse, descend into a Jesus Seminar sort of realism.

    I don’t think any Protestant considers themselves infallible. Generally what they assert is there are no infallible opinions. Perfection never moves beyond the divine. The church and its theologians are human institutions.

    In terms of the liberal protestant position they just take it back a step further and say that the original documents are not perfect but the things spoken about (Jesus, God, Angel of God, Holy Spirit…) are. Obviously that creates a very large fight regarding the nature of scripture, with the Jesus Seminar trying to attach percentages of probability to various quotes and acts in the gospel accounts. So assuming you agree with their premises we can’t know with 100% certainty that Jesus met the woman at the well but maybe with 30% certainty.

    But regardless we can know with 100% certainty that the author of John was trying to teach something by the woman at the well. And that this teaching is authoritative.

  121. I’d enjoy more discussion about this. I know the purpose of Called to Communion is to discuss issues broader than the usual suspects in Catholic/Protestant dialogue, but I’m interested in hearing more. Mary has been the hardest issue for me. I can’t relate at all when I watch people on Journey Home say that Mary called them home to the Catholic Church. The fallicy of “sola scriptura” led me to the Catholic Church, but in many ways I still see Mary as a red flag. I’m not comfortable with it even though I can’t say that there is anything clear in Scripture that indicates that the Church is in error here. My experience has been very different than Sean’s. You wrote This issue has repeatedly made me think that many Catholics have very little Scripture knowledge. Sometimes I hear, even on EWTN, people giving thanks to “Jesus and Mary” as if they’re equal partners in redemption. I’m interested to know whether or not you guys think mariolatry is a problem in the Catholic Church? I know this conversation began as one about Church authority, but I think this is relevant because here, I feel like my only option is to just trust the Church.

  122. I tried the quote’s thing, it didn’t work, I thought I just needed to use ?

  123. I just noticed that the signs I tried to use actually deleted what I quoted Sean saying. It makes it look like Sean said what I’m saying. Sorry.

  124. No problem.

    Make sure you use lower case ‘i’ when using the arrow brackets and you have to actually close the brackets using /i (in arrow brackets).

    I think we are all aware that Mary is a big issue for a lot of people. So rest assured, we’ll go there.

  125. Sean @ 113 & Tim @ 103

    I’ve done some additional research on the exegesis of the Greek word used in these brother passages (i.e. adelphos) and the historical interpretation of whether Jesus had brothers. To ensure that we don’t get off track about why we’re dealing with this issue, please remember that the detail I’m about to go into is relevant to whether an infallible scripture can conflict with an infallible teaching authority. My contention is that the RCC teaching on Mary’s perpetual virginity conflicts with the scripture. So far, I haven’t been presented with any plausible textual or historical argument that my contention is false (or that another view is more plausibly true). While Sean and Tim have offered Greek and historical arguments (respectively), I believe both their arguments are mistaken, as I’ll try to show below. The primary basis for what I have to say below derives from the imminent NT RC scholar John P. Meier. Dr. Meier is a professor of NT at Notre Dame and is working on the fourth volume of his acclaimed four-volume work on Jesus. What follows are my thoughts on his commentary from the first volume of this work, pages 318 to 332. If I (following Meier and the late NT RC scholar Raymond Brown) am right, then the infallible teaching of the RCC conflicts with the infallible teaching of the scriptures. At that juncture, which gives? That’s my basic question (and it’s not rhetorical either).

    1. Relevant biblical texts

    A few relevant biblical texts for this issue are Matthew 1.25, 12.46–50, 13.55; Mark 6.3; Galatians 1.19; and 1 Corinthians 9.5. I’ll treat the Matthean texts in detail and refer to the others later when I review the historical interpretation of the 2d and 3d century church fathers (Tim pointed me back to only the 4th century).

    In Matt. 1.25, Matthew carefully stakes out two key issues for Jesus identity: “An he [Joseph] did not have sexual relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son; and he called his name Jesus.” Here Matthew carefully and clearly indicates Joseph had no role in Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus is the son of God. Second, Matthew makes clear that because Joseph gave Jesus a name, Joseph adopted Jesus into Joseph’s family, and thus lineage. Because Joseph’s lineage reaches back to King David, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the messiah coming out King David’s lineage.

    Meier discusses some of the difficulties with the Greek verb for “until” in 1.25a. It could mean the two had sexual relations after Jesus’ birth; or it could mean that after Jesus’ birth, their sexual relationship remained the same, namely none. He mediates the difficulties by “look[ing] to the larger context” because “we cannot take Matt 1.25a in splendid isolation” (322). The key context that unlocks the issue is 13.55: ‘The author who tells us in 1.25a that Joseph did not have relations with Mary until she bore a son is the same author who tells us in 13.55 that Jesus’ mother is called Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. Putting aside for the moment the special question of the meaning…[of the Greek term for brothers]we must admit that, at first glance, the combination of the “until” statement in Matt 1.25a with the naming of Jesus’ mother and brothers all in the same verse (13.55) creates the natural impression that Matthew understood 1.25a to mean that Joseph and Mary did have children after the birth of Jesus’ (322).

    Meier goes on to explain that the ‘initial impression’ of what Matthew thought is probably accurate. He gives to reasons to support this. The first is a rather complicated redactional approach to how Matthew treats is Markan source. I’ll leave that out for space reasons. The second is how the story of Jesus’ family functions in the narrative. Meier writes: ‘Moreover, in both Mark’s and Matthew’s versions of the story, the final “punch line” of Jesus carries full weight only if the mother, brother, and sisters all have a close natural relationship to Jesus: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12.50). The whole thrust of the metaphor is weakened if we must interpret the natural point of comparison to mean: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my male cousin, my female cousin, and my mother.” The full force of the aphorism is retained only if the natural relationships mentioned are all equally close and blood-related….’ (323). Indeed, this is exactly the result reached in an ecumenical study co-authored by prominent RC and Protestant NT scholars entitled Mary in the New Testament.

    2. Meaning and Usage of adelphos in the NT

    Sean argued that the Greek word translated as ‘brothers’ (i.e. adelphos) has multiple senses. In fact, Sean argues that Mark’s usage of the term is a ‘clear example’ of a usage in which blood-brother is excluded. In other words, Sean is arguing that adelphos can (and, here, does) mean ‘cousins.’ Meier disagrees. According to Meier, no NT writer ever uses adelphos to talk about a cousin relationship: ‘What is the constant usage of the NT in this matter? The answer is clear: in the NT, adelphos, when used not merely figuratively or metaphorically but rather to designate some sort of physical or legal relationship, means only full or half brother, and nothing else. Outside of our disputed case, it never means stepbrother…[the view that the adelphos are Joseph’s children from another marriage, which view originated 4th century by Epiphanius who was Bishop of Salamis on Cyprus], cousin (the solution of Jerome) [contra Tim’s link], or nephew’ (328). Taking stock of the shear number of times adelphos is used Meier is startled by this consistency of meaning: ‘When one considers that adelphos (in either the literal or metaphorical sense) is used a total of 343 times in the NT, the consistency of this “literal” usage is amazing’ (328). Given this consistency, those who claim that the use of adelphos in reference to Jesus’ is only cousins amounts to special pleading: ‘To ignore the strikingly constant usage of the NT in this regard, as well as the natural redactional sense of the Gospel passages we have already examined, and appeal instead to the usage…[of the term adelphos in extra-biblical literature] cannot help but look like special pleading’ (328).

    As an example, consider Paul in Galatians 1.19 where he references ‘James, the adelphos of the Lord,’ and in 1 Corinthians 9.5 where he speaks of all Jesus’ brothers: ‘the brothers of the Lord.’ Paul is writing some 20 to 30 years earlier than the gospels. And, more interestingly, he actually knew the people to whom he was referencing in these two passages. He knew ‘James, the adelphos of the Lord.’ Paul refers to James (and the others) as ‘brothers,’ not cousins. There’s a perfectly good word for ‘cousins’ in Greek Paul could have used by didn’t (i.e. anepsios).

    3. Early Church Fathers on adelphos.

    Tim’s link to Jerome’s article is a 4th century document. At least two, and probably three church fathers, writing in the second and third centuries took the view of Jesus having actual brothers. Meier notes how many overlook how old and widespread the view was that Jesus had actual brothers: ‘Those who wish to sustain the cousin approach must face the further difficulty that it is a relatively late, Post-Nicean solution. By contrast both the Epiphanian solution [that the brothers were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage] and the view that the “brothers of Jesus” were real brothers can find support in the 2d and 3d centuries. The antiquity and spread of the opinion that the brothers or Jesus were real brothers are often overlooked by supporters of the cousin approach’ (329).

    Meier gives three examples. Perhaps one of the earliest is the 2d century church father, Hegesippus. Meier reports that Hegesippus’ ‘testimony about the teachings of the bishops in the great cities of the Roman Empire is highly esteemed by defenders of traditional Catholic ecclesiology. Yet such defenders are usually silent when it comes to Hegessippus’ testimony about the brothers of Jesus’ (329). What little we know of Hegessipus is contained in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. In a single passage from Hegessipus reporting the martyrdom of James ‘the adelphos of the Lord’ Hegessipus also mentions two other family members of Jesus: and ‘uncle’ and ‘cousin’ (i.e. anepsion). Obviously, then, Hegessippus is able to distinguish between ‘brother’ and ‘cousin,’ and he uses the two appropriate Greek words for each.

    Second, Meier reports ‘the only other pre-Nicene Father of the Latin-speaking Church to take of the issue, Tertullian (160-220), considered the brothers of Jesus true brothers’ (330). Third, its arguable that Irenaeus (130-220) held the real brother view too. The arguments for whether he did are lengthy, so I’ll spare you unless someone is interested.

    4. Conclusion.

    Given the relevant biblical passages, the philology of the term adelphos, and the witness of some of the earliest church fathers, it seems that the most plausible view is that Jesus really did have brothers. And the only reason someone would differ with that conclusion is if he or she brought some doctrinal issue to the text and was required to read the text in a way consistent with that doctrine. Meier concludes: [I]f—prescinding from faith and later Church teaching—the historian or exegete is asked to render a judgment on the NT and patristic texts we have examined, viewed simply as historical sources, the most probably opinion is that the brothers and sisters were true siblings’ (331).

    Unless someone can present a more plausible case that adelphos means ‘cousin,’ it seems we have good grounds to believe Jesus really did have siblings. But if that’s so, that conflicts with the infallible church teaching. It seems then, that if the RC is to adhere to the infallibility of the RCC, then he or she must simply accept the teaching in the face of the evidence to the contrary. I write all this not to be polemical or trash RCC teachings. I’m here to reach the truth. I hope this rather long post will be taken in that spirit.

  126. Ryan,

    Maybe we should start another thread, so that we can keep these topics distinct. I find it unhelpful to veer off into different topics, and not stay focused on the topic in question. But, anyway, here are some thoughts on your last comment.

    My contention is that the RCC teaching on Mary’s perpetual virginity conflicts with the scripture.

    The Catholic doctrine certainly conflicts with a particular interpretation of Scripture. But none of the verses you referred to contradict the Catholic doctrine, given a tradition-informed understanding of what is meant by here by ‘adelphos‘.

    If I (following Meier and the late NT RC scholar Raymond Brown) am right, then the infallible teaching of the RCC conflicts with the infallible teaching of the scriptures.

    Any conditional statement that begins with “If … Raymond Brown is right, then … ” should provoke the same intellectual red flag as “If … Bishop Spong is right, then ….” If you want to appeal to liberal Catholics to attack Catholic dogma, well, then if I can find liberal Protestants who deny, let’s say, the deity of Christ … you see where I’m going.

    The author who tells us in 1.25a that Joseph did not have relations with Mary until she bore a son is the same author who tells us in 13.55 that Jesus’ mother is called Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. Putting aside for the moment the special question of the meaning…[of the Greek term for brothers]we must admit that, at first glance, the combination of the “until” statement in Matt 1.25a with the naming of Jesus’ mother and brothers all in the same verse (13.55) creates the natural impression that Matthew understood 1.25a to mean that Joseph and Mary did have children after the birth of Jesus’

    Only if you approach the Scripture in a vacuum in which all tradition has been sucked out. “Natural impression” is not exegetically strong enough to justify denying a teaching of the holy Catholic Church, or justify separating from or remaining in schism from her.

    The whole thrust of the metaphor is weakened if we must interpret the natural point of comparison to mean: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my male cousin, my female cousin, and my mother.”

    Look at the over-riding a priori exegetical rule: always choose the interpretation that makes the statement as strong as possible. Why let philosophy, rather than tradition, dictate our exegesis?

    According to Meier, no NT writer ever uses adelphos to talk about a cousin relationship:

    That claim (by Meier) simply begs the question, i.e. assumes precisely what is in question.

    ‘What is the constant usage of the NT in this matter? The answer is clear: in the NT, adelphos, when used not merely figuratively or metaphorically but rather to designate some sort of physical or legal relationship, means only full or half brother, and nothing else.

    Again, this just begs the question (i.e. assumes precisely what is question).

    Given this consistency, those who claim that the use of adelphos in reference to Jesus’ is only cousins amounts to special pleading:

    By committing one fallacy (begging the question), he gains the high ground to accuse his interlocutor of another fallacy. Nice.

    The Catholic doctrine would be “special pleading” only if there were no tradition. In other words, only if we adopt solo scriptura. Go back to my point (here and here) about approaching Scripture as found in the bosom of the Church, to see how the Catholic approach to this question is altogether different.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  127. Ryan,

    Very interesting and strong argument, especially with the help of an RC scholar. This may present some big problems for other Marian dogmas if you are right. I would like to see an argument in response from my fellow Catholics on this one. If you are right, maybe the Church needs to redefine what she means by infallibility. Of course, it is sort of strange it wasn’t until the 1800′s, I believe (someone correct me if im wrong), that the Marian doctrines were dogmatized; that leaves around 1800 years of Christians not being bound to believe such doctrines. Things must have been easier for Catholics back then. Im with you, Ryan, to be here for the truth. Since I have nothing to say in response, I am waiting for a response from the other RC’s. Hopefully they will have something to say here or in their future discussions on this site. I hope that you will be there for those Marian posts.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  128. Ryan,

    How does Meier deal with the following?

    Mark 6:3 says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.”

    The word for ‘brother’ here is ‘adelphos.’

    So according to Meier, this should mean that James, Joses, Juda and Simon are Mary’s other sons correct?

    But what about Mary wife of Cleophas and “sister” of the Virgin Mary (Jn 19:25)? She is described as the mother of James, Josas and Joseph (Mk 15:47/Mt 27:56).

    What does Meier say about that? In Mark you have the gospel calling these men ‘adelphos’ of Jesus and then later Mark says that these men’s mother is Mary’s sister, Mary of Cleophas.

    What about Acts 1:12-15 which says that there were 120 at Pentecost consisting of apostles (12 people), Mary (1 person), “some women” (about 12 people) and Jesus’ “brothers.” If ‘adelphos’ means the “brothers of Jesus”, than according to this passage Jesus had about 95 brothers. Obviously “brothers” does not mean blood brothers in Acts 1:15.

    I haven’t read Meier’s argument beyond what you summarized but it seems fairly evident that scripture does not limit the meaning of ‘adelphos’ to only literal blood brother or half brother.

  129. Jared,

    The perpetual virginity of our Blessed Mother is de fide. It isn’t going anywhere; the Church has no power to reverse an infallible dogma. The fifth Ecumenical Council (553) affirmed Mary as aeiparthenos (i.e. perpetual virgin).

    Last July, I wrote the following:

    But if a person becomes a Catholic only because he sees that the Catholic Church shares his own interpretation of Scripture, he is not truly a Catholic at heart; he’s still a Protestant at heart. One does not rightly become a Catholic on the grounds that one happens to believe (at present) all that the Church teaches; one rightly becomes a Catholic by believing (as an act of faith) all that the Church teaches (even if not fully understanding), on the ground of the sacramental authority of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. When we are received into the Catholic Church, we say before the bishop, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” We aren’t saying that we just happen to believe Catholic doctrines, i.e. we are not merely reporting our present mental state viz-a-viz Catholic doctrine. We are making a confession of faith, an act of the will whereby we are submitting to the sacramental authority of the Church regarding what it is that she “believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God” on the ground of her sacramental magisterial authority in succession from the Apostles whom Christ Himself appointed and sent.

    That is why those persons who decide to wait until they agree with all Catholic doctrines before becoming Catholic are thinking like a Protestant. They’re not understanding the act of faith that one makes in becoming Catholic. They are still in the mindset of ‘submitting’ to church authority on matters of doctrine only when they agree (or mostly agree), or picking a “church” based on whether it teaches what they already believe. They are not recognizing the sacramental authority of the Catholic Church and the difference that sort of authority makes. They are treating the Catholic Church as if it were another denomination, a Protestant “ecclesial community”, without Holy Orders from the Apostles. That approach is a form of rationalism, not fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). “Faith seeking understanding” is possible only where submission is required, but strictly speaking, submission is not required wherever the identity and nature of the Church is determined and defined by one’s own interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  130. Bryan @ 126

    Thank you for your responses. Your post doesn’t address any of the textual or historical arguments from Meier. Instead, you attack Meier (and Brown) as being ‘liberal Catholics.’ Maybe they are, but I’m certain virutally all very conserative Protestants would agree with their interpreation of these verses. So if they are ‘liberal’ perhaps it is to the RC magisterial teaching and not exegetical method. If that’s so, then its your reponse that begs the question. Your certainly right that you could quote some Jesus Seminar folks and get some odd results. But I wouldn’t dismiss the Jesus Seminar conclusions simply because they’re Jesus Seminar conclusions. I’d dismiss them because of their arguments or presuppositions (the latter is the most usual method because the JS begins its work with the presuppositon that miracles don’t happen). It appears to me, that instead of addressing the textual and historical arguments from Meier (and Brown), you just attack their credibility. Surely Meier and Brown are far more authoritative than most anyone posting on this blog when it comes to exegesis.

    Your response that Meier’s exegesis is the result only if ‘all tradition is sucked out’ itself begs the question. The ‘question’ (or issue under consideration) is what Matthew intended, what Paul intended, what Mark intended. Meier (and Brown and virtually all conservative and mainline Protestant scholars) gives an exegetical and historical argument to address that issue or ‘question.’ Their conclusions on the basis of that research, as represented by Meier here, is that Jesus really had brothers and no use of adelphos in the NT ever refers to cousins. That’s not beging the question. That’s a conclusion based on assessing the evidence. Unless you can marshall some contrary arguments based on the text or history, then simply dismissing them as wrong actually begs the question because you haven’t shown that the adelphos instance under consideration means ‘cousin.’ I really hope someone engages these arguments instead of dismisisng them outright beacuse they don’t line up with Catholic teaching. That’s what conservative Protestants do with the Jesus Seminar or anyone else who denies the ressurection (as per your example).

  131. I agree with Bryan that this needs a new topic but I’d also add that now is not the time.

    Called to Communion will certainly deal with the Marian dogmas but right now we’re intentionally tackling much more fundamental topics. If we don’t agree on the fundamentals, why move on to the details? Or in other words, I’m sure (Ryan correct me if I’m wrong) that if we were to convince you that Mary was a perpetual virgin as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli maintained, you wouldn’t rush off to become Catholic; you’d just bring up another point you take an issue with.

    So I recommend that we start a new thread for this topic or better yet: drop it for now.

  132. Ryan,

    Your post doesn’t address any of the textual or historical arguments from Meier.

    Which argument did I not address? Please lay out the argument premise by premise. (I just saw Tim’s comment; if you want to do this by e-mail, that’s fine.)

    That’s a conclusion based on assessing the evidence.

    How much weight was *tradition* given in evaluating “the evidence”? How much weight was given to the Protoevangelium, for example? I’m guessing that tradition was given little or no evidential weight. The case was probably argued entirely as an exegetical case from Scripture alone (and contemporary pagan sources in order to determine the lexical meaning of terms). And that approach, I’m pointing out, is precisely to come to Scripture as if Church tradition tells us nothing about how to interpret Scripture. It adopts a Protestant mentality in the very methodology of going about answering the question, and thus begs the question viz-a-viz the Catholic. It is not a neutral methodology.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  133. Sean @ 28

    I haven’t read Meier’s argument beyond what you summarized but it seems fairly evident that scripture does not limit the meaning of ‘adelphos’ to only literal blood brother or half brother.

    Thank you for interacting with the substance of my post. I quoted a section from Meier that addresses your questions, but is suspect it got buried in my post’s length. Meier says that there’s a few sense in which adelphos is used: to refer to a blood, legal, or familiar relationship or metaphorical/figurative sense. I’ll bold the section where Meier addresses this: ‘What is the constant usage of the NT in this matter? The answer is clear: in the NT, adelphos, when used not merely figuratively or metaphorically but rather to designate some sort of physical or legal relationship, means only full or half brother, and nothing else. Outside of our disputed case, it never means stepbrother…[the view that the adelphos are Joseph’s children from another marriage, which view originated 4th century by Epiphanius who was Bishop of Salamis on Cyprus], cousin (the solution of Jerome) [contra Tim’s link], or nephew’ (328).

    Mark 6:3 says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.”

    The word for ‘brother’ here is ‘adelphos.’

    So according to Meier, this should mean that James, Joses, Juda and Simon are Mary’s other sons correct?

    But what about Mary wife of Cleophas and “sister” of the Virgin Mary (Jn 19:25)? She is described as the mother of James, Josas and Joseph (Mk 15:47/Mt 27:56).

    Two points here. All scholars I’ve read agree that the Mark 6.3 incident is the same incident depicted in Matt. 13.55. So the sons are same. Second, Meier doesn’t directly address (as far as I can tell) the text you reference (i.e. John 19.256; Mk 15:47/Mt 27:56). But I’d hazard a response with three points. First, the names James, Joseph were incredibly common in the 1st centry (so was Mary). I’m not as sure about Joses. Second, the evidence that textual and historical evidence adelphos refers to real brothers is so strong that it seems reasonable to belief that Mary of Clopas’ children were additional children not identical with the brothers referenced in Matt. 13.55. But that’s just a conjecture as I haven’t read much on that issue. Third, if you’re view was true, then the brothers (i.e. James, Joses, etc.) who come to see Jesus in Matt. 13.55 are Mary of Clopas’s children who are coming to visit Jesus with Jesus’ mother (their aunt) Mary. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for that kind of jump in the text.

  134. Bryan @ 132

    Which argument did I not address? Please lay out the argument premise by premise. (I just saw Tim’s comment; if you want to do this by e-mail, that’s fine.)

    I’ll email you in response to your post at 132.

    Tim @ 131

    I’m sure (Ryan correct me if I’m wrong) that if we were to convince you that Mary was a perpetual virgin as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli maintained, you wouldn’t rush off to become Catholic; you’d just bring up another point you take an issue with.

    It would be a step towards Rome beacuse it would deal with the fundamental issue of the RCC’s infallible teaching authority. As I’ve mentioned several times, I’m not hear to sharpen my arguments against some ‘real live Catholics.’ I’m hear to find the truth. If the RCC is the true church, then I’d like to know it. If not, I’d like to know that to. Please start interpreting the motives behind my arguments more charitably. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I detect a sense of exasperation from you (‘you’d just bring up another point to take issue with’; or what you said earlier about lay persons and their limited exegetical ability) that shouldn’t be present in a site like this.

    Called to Communion will certainly deal with the Marian dogmas but right now we’re intentionally tackling much more fundamental topics. If we don’t agree on the fundamentals, why move on to the details?… So I recommend that we start a new thread for this topic or better yet: drop it for now.

    I understand your intent to slowly develop issues. The reason I’ve pressed this issue (perpetual virginity) is because it seems to me to be fundamental to how Protestants understand the relationship between an infallible scripture and an infallible church. I’m sure you’d agree that infallible teaching authority of the church is one of those issues. So all these posts are not primarly about the Marian dogma, their about how that dogma relates to the infallible teaching authority. That’s what I keep trying to mention in each of my posts. With that in mind, I’ll leave it to your discretion whether you (and your collegues) would like to drop it or start another thread.

  135. Ryan,

    Please start interpreting the motives behind my arguments more charitably.

    Sorry to come across negatively. I didn’t mean to imply that you were just looking for ways to argue against the Catholic Church – I just assumed that this is not your only issue.

    If you notice exasperation in my reply, you’ve probably judged well. Not something I’m proud of – it’s just that I (or we) deal with the same arguments over and over and it’s difficult to find the patience sometimes.

    At any rate, you are certainly free to continue your dialogue. You’ve been extremely irenic and that is appreciated.

  136. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for that kind of jump in the text.

    Accept for the fact that the text later identifies the same individuals as the sons of Mary of Cleophas…

    I think its a stretch to say that Mary’s sister had sons of the exact same name that were following Jesus around.

    What about the Acts passage I referenced?

    Earlier today I read Calvin’s commentary on this. Suffice to say he did not agree with Meier but rather insists that it is ‘folly’ to believe that Mary had other children.

  137. Sean

    @136: I think its a stretch to say that Mary’s sister had sons of the exact same name that were following Jesus around.

    Do you think its a stretch that Mary (the mother of Jesus) has a sister named Mary? To say that the textual evidence I’ve outlined above is obviated because it seems odd to have more than one person with the same name following Jesus, when those names were very common, seems implausible.

    @ 136: What about the Acts passage I referenced?
    @ 128: What about Acts 1:12-15 which says that there were 120 at Pentecost consisting of apostles (12 people), Mary (1 person), “some women” (about 12 people) and Jesus’ “brothers.” If ‘adelphos’ means the “brothers of Jesus”, than according to this passage Jesus had about 95 brothers. Obviously “brothers” does not mean blood brothers in Acts 1:15.

    I’m not sure what you’re asking here. Adelphos occurs in v. 14, not 15. The scene depicted in v. 14 is drastically different from v. 15. In v. 14, 11 disciples + ‘certain women,’ + ‘Mary the mother of Jesus + ‘his brothers (i.e. adelphos). In v. 14, all the people closet to Jesus (i.e. his physical family, his spiritual family of the disciples both male and female) are seen ‘constantly devoting themselves to prayer’ as they await guidance from the Holy Spirit. In v. 15, the scene shifts in both place and time. The place is understood the time shift arises because of the introductory phrase ‘In those days….’

    So I’m just not clear on why Acts 1.15 is a counter example. The only usage of adelphos comes in the following phrase: ‘including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his adelphos.’

  138. Sean @ 136

    Earlier today I read Calvin’s commentary on this. Suffice to say he did not agree with Meier but rather insists that it is ‘folly’ to believe that Mary had other children.

    I haven’t read Calvin on this issue. What arguments did he give?

  139. Ryan,

    Calvin wrote: “Under the word ‘brethren’ the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity. ‘Commentary on John.’

    Does Meier comment on the fact that there are no words in Aramaic, nor Hebrew that denote a separate word for brother distinct from that of a cousin or step brother? What about Greek? Is there a Koine Greek word for ‘cousin?’ The old testament uses words that mean ‘brother’ to denote relationships that are kin related but not literal brother from the same mother. Such as Genesis 11:27 where Lot is called Abraham’s ‘brother.’ If the closest word to describe that relationship is ‘brother’ the bible doesn’t box the word in to mean only ‘brother.’ I mean, Paul calls himself ‘father’ several times to the various churches.

    Also, I did some checking on the definition of the word ‘adelphos’ and found something broader than what Meier claims.

    An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W.E. Vine, defines adelphos as follows:

    Adelphos: denotes a brother, or near kinsman; in the plural, a community based on identity of origin or life. It is used of: 1) male children of the same parents . . . ; 2) male descendants of the same parents, Acts 7:23,26; Hebrews 7:5; 3) people of the same nationality, Acts 3:17,22; Romans 9:3 . . . ; 4) any man, a neighbour, Luke 10:29; Matthew 5:22, 7:3; 5) persons united by a common interest, Matthew 5:47; 6) persons united by a common calling, Revelation 22:9; 7) mankind, Matthew 25:40; Hebrews 2:17; 8) the disciples, and so, by implication, all believers, Matthew 28:10; John 20:17; 9) believers, apart from sex, Matthew 23:8; Acts 1:15; Romans 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; Revelation 19:10 (the word ‘sisters’ is used of believers, only in 1 Timothy 5:2).

  140. Bryan @ 132

    How much weight was *tradition* given in evaluating “the evidence”? How much weight was given to the Protoevangelium, for example? I’m guessing that tradition was given little or no evidential weight. The case was probably argued entirely as an exegetical case from Scripture alone (and contemporary pagan sources in order to determine the lexical meaning of terms). And that approach, I’m pointing out, is precisely to come to Scripture as if Church tradition tells us nothing about how to interpret Scripture. It adopts a Protestant mentality in the very methodology of going about answering the question, and thus begs the question viz-a-viz the Catholic. It is not a neutral methodology.

    I think you’re using ‘tradition’ ambiguously. There’s a difference between the reasons for an authoritative teaching and the obligation to abide by the authoritative teaching because it comes from an authoritative source. Call the first sense ‘the reasoning’ and the second sense ‘the obligation.’ In the first sense, Meier considers the RCC’s exegetical position extensively. He rejects the reasons given because he thinks they’re implausible. But Meier apparently makes a distinction (which actually runs throughout his work) between the ‘Jesus of history’ and the “Jesus of faith.’ Thus, Meier (as a RC) is careful to note in the footnotes, that his exegesis ‘prescind[s] from faith and later Church teaching.’ In other words, it appears he thinks that the reasons for for the tradition fail, but he believes the authoritative teaching on the basis of the obligation to believe as it’s dogma.

    So when you ask how much weight was given to tradition, it’s hard to make sense out of your question without the above distinction. You can’t give ‘evidential weight’ to tradition merely because it’s tradition. Tradition as such is a concept not an argument. You give evidential weight to reasons tradition gives for its authoritative proclamation. The difficulty arises when the reasons don’t support the proclamation.

    Which argument did I not address? Please lay out the argument premise by premise.

    Perhaps with the above paragraphs you can see why I claimed you didn’t address any of the arguments. Meier’s arguments are precisely directed against the reasons the RCC has given for it’s interpretation of this text. He concludes that those reasons fail. In response, you claim that Meier didn’t give any weight to ‘tradition.’ But surely here you mean the reasons tradition has given for its interpretation. If you mean that Meier doesn’t give any weight to the obligation sense that arises from tradition in RCC, then that merely begs the question. It begs the question because the ‘question’ is what the biblical author intended. If the RC responds, ‘Well, the author intended what the RCC says the author intended.’ The Protestant will say, ‘How do you know that?’ At that stage, the RC can either give the reasons (which can be independently critiqued as Meier and Brown do) or simply say, ‘Its de fide.’ So either you give reasons or you claim infallible authority and say you don’t need reasons. If you do the former, the reasons are subject to criticism. And even though the person criticizes the reasons he may still believe in the dogma (as Meier and Brown appear to do).

  141. you also apparently wish to avoid saying something that sounds ad hoc, namely, that (3) God infallibly guided the Church so as to receive the right canon in more or less the way Catholics say – not by bequeathing a general promise of infallibility per se, but rather by ensuring that this one unique process was providentially and infallibly guided. Now that this process has been terminated and the canon has been decisively formed, God no longer does anything like this with the Church (as the Church defines dogma, say).

    Neal,

    I think we ought to qualify this a little. Firstly, there were many times in the Bible which something was said infallibly. Obviously not everyone or every group of God’s people who say something in the Bible are speaking infallibly, but certainly they often are. Now if you asked me whether Elijah was speaking infallibly when he faced off with the prophets of Baal or when Moses brought God’s commandments to the people, or when the Apostles spoke what was recorded in Acts spoke infallibly I would say yes, and I think I could prove this although with somewhat different reasons. But each one of the cases demonstrates a person or group of people that speaks infallibly. Are they unique? Well I suppose so although I’m not sure I like the term “unique” because what might seem unique to you might not to me and vice versa. What make inscripturation a process that we can tie to infallibility is that we can clearly connect it to the complete will and voice of God. As we look at Elijah, Moses, the Apostles, etc we can see that in some sort of way they spoke with the very words of God, not just what they thought God said. When we speak of Scripture we are talking about what is God-breathed. So, my suggestion now is that if we are going to look at pronouncements from other processes or events that the RCC or EO or anyone else want to claim as infallible that we look at them with the same sort of scrutiny. It’s my contention that when we look at Nicaea or Chalsecon we should ask the same sort of questions of these assemblies that we might ask of the pronouncements of the people of God is places where we have already decided that they are speaking infallibly. So I would say that the writing of the Bible and its collection into a canon are unique events but there are other unique events in the history of God’s Church too. But if I reject the claim that the writings that came out of a given council are infallible it’s not because they were not unique, it’s because there is no evidence that we should accord such writings with infallibility.

    So in short, if you want to claim infallibility for the statements proceeding from a certain event, we would say go ahead and make your case. But we would like you to make the case the same way that you might for something like what Elijah said. For us Protestants it seems that the case has not been made by the RCC today. Also the writings of the early centuries of the Church do not seem to reflect an understanding that the Church possessed any sort of gift of infallibility.

    As an aside: I think maybe there is some assumption in the Catholic mindset that infallible pronouncements ought to continue on to the present as they were in the past while in the Protestant mindset that there should be no further infallible pronouncements once God’s Word is laid down. Both are assumptions of course and they need to be thought through.

    …“inscripturation” does not include “inScripturation.” So the fact that “inScripturation” includes “canonization” does not entail that “inscripturation” includes “canonization.” Indeed, it does not.

    Well, I’m trying to make the case that there is no inscripturation which can be separated from inScripturation. This seems to me that you are trying to separate these processes unnecessarily. The logical connection between the two is not just a formal principle; it is a dynamic connection which merges the two in the mind of God, for certainly God is not affected by the period of time between the writing of the texts and their complete reception by the Church.

    The a priori, definitional relation between “inspiration” and “canonicity” therefore does entail the non-contentious claim that inspired-and-correctly-canonized books are infallible. It does not, however, entail the distinct claim that the historical process leading to the judgment that a certain class of books are inspired was therefore an infallible process. For this assumes more than the claims in (a) and (b): it also assumes that the process of recognizing inspired texts for what they are was infallibly guided by the God who inspired those texts.

    And I think your very last statement above is just what we do want to grant and not just grant, but insist upon. In fact I have heard Protestant theologians when asked about how they are sure we have a perfect canon say something to the effect that the same God who superintended the writing of these texts superintended the collecting of them into what we know as the Bible today (discussions of Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha aside).

  142. I’m jumping in here in support of Ryan’s point in #130. I think he was very on target in trying to address evidence. The idea that evidence should be dismissed based on the who (especially when the who is very well regarded) is troubling. Perpetual virginity is a very strong claim of tradition vs. scripture. Ryan’s point is that lots of quality exegesis disagrees with doctrine, then it gets hard to argue the doctrine is correct much less that is perfect. What really is being cited is Bishop Likoudis argument, “One can try to argue that this was wrong on the basis of certain scriptural allegations, but it is useless to try and use Scripture against the Church whose Scriptures they are.” That is really the central point, does the Catholic Church has some unique claim to the scriptures or were the a Christian product that developed alongside the Catholic Church and was then adopted by them (as I would allege). And then even if they were a unique product did a point arise where the Catholic reading became so corrupted that a reformation was needed to correct those readings which may be Ryan’s position.

    At least for me, what happens in mathematics is a good example of what i would expect to see with perfect doctrine. In math almost universally things are proven very close (but not quite reaching) infallibly. Once that happens understanding the proof leads almost immediately to understanding why one’s intuition that led them in the other direction is wrong. If that isn’t happening it does throw some doubt on the correctness of the proof.

    So while perpetual virginity has never been a personal sticking point, rejecting quality scholarship is. As for Luther or Calvin, they were intermediate points of Protestant development. Protestants may admire a Calvin or a Luther but they don’t consider them binding in any way.

  143. Sean @139

    Does Meier comment on the fact that there are no words in Aramaic, nor Hebrew that denote a separate word for brother distinct from that of a cousin or step brother? What about Greek? Is there a Koine Greek word for ‘cousin?’

    anepsios used in Col 4:10. (Koine Greek)
    in hebrew uncle’s son (dowd ben) Lev 25:49; son of my uncle (Jer 32:12)
    down bath (uncle’s daughter) Esther 2:7

  144. Ryan,

    You can’t give ‘evidential weight’ to tradition merely because it’s tradition.

    If you’re going to simply stipulate your position, then I’ll just stipulate my position, and then there’s no point even discussing it. But if we are going to *reason* together, then we have to try to avoid begging the question. Your statement above assumes that tradition is in itself not authoritative. But that’s precisely what Catholics affirm, i.e. that tradition is authoritative. So your statement begs the question. The very word traditio means a handing down. Tradition is authoritative because it was handed down, preserved and unchanged. If we accepted nothing unless we could prove it ourselves, that would be rationalism. The whole of Christian faith is a tradition, and believed by faith because we were not there with the Apostle Thomas to put our hands into Christ’s side. There is no faith without tradition. See Josef Pieper’s book titled Tradition.

    Tradition as such is a concept not an argument.

    I agree that tradition is not an argument, but tradition is more than a mere concept or idea. Tradition is a set of practices and ideas, stories and memories, handed down generation to generation. Tradition is our living connection to the past.

    You give evidential weight to reasons tradition gives for its authoritative proclamation.

    That’s rationalism; it would turn tradition into a set of arguments, which we agreed tradition isn’t. The liturgy, for example, is a tradition. The liturgy is not a set of reasons telling us why we should worship a certain way. It is the living and dynamic pattern of worship repeated before our eyes and ears. Otherwise, each generation would have to start from scratch, and rebuild the liturgy from some set of reasons about how God ought to be worshiped. But we don’t have to do that because how it has been done already, by that very fact, carries authority, because our religion is not built from scratch in each individual or in each generation. It is precisely a handed down religion, because it was handed down from the Father to the Son, and from the Son to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to the bishops, through each generation of bishops to the present. Because it is a handed-down religion, what is handed down carries evidential weight of what was believed at the beginning. To abstract away the tradition, and try to build theology from Scripture alone is to treat the Bible as if it dropped from the sky yesterday. That’s why we come to Scripture through the tradition, and through the Church fathers.

    Perhaps with the above paragraphs you can see why I claimed you didn’t address any of the arguments. Meier’s arguments are precisely directed against the reasons the RCC has given for it’s interpretation of this text.

    I would like to see those arguments laid out premise by premise. We can’t evaluate an argument unless it is presented. And error and heresy love to hide behind sloppy reasoning and loose terms.

    because the ‘question’ is what the biblical author intended. If the RC responds, ‘Well, the author intended what the RCC says the author intended.’ The Protestant will say, ‘How do you know that?’

    You can interpret Scripture either as informed by tradition or as having abstracted away tradition. We (Catholics) come to Scripture through the tradition of the Church, because the tradition is our living memory of the faith-as-lived, and what the Scripture means and how it has been interpreted. Trying to understand the faith just from Scripture and apart from tradition would be like trying to understand an organism only by examining its DNA, abstracting away the role of the life and history of the organism. It is quite impossible. Scripture can be understand rightly only through and in the life and tradition of the Body of Christ. And that is part of the reason why Tertullian says what he says in #89 above.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  145. CD Host,

    Who among us has disregarded Meier’s argument based on the ‘who’ it came from?

    I simply asked what he had to say about James and Joses being named ‘brothers’ of Jesus and later being named the sons of Mary of Cleophas. I think it is tantamount to ignoring this by saying, ‘Well, this must be different people.’ The only reason one would say that is if they are trying to prove that James, Simon and Joses were Mary’s sons. No other reason. I have never read a commentary which suggests that these are different people.

    The idea that I am getting from Ryan and you is that if we just looked at scripture ‘alone’ we would admit that the perpetual virginity of Mary violates scripture.

    Maybe I am pretty stubborn but I just don’t see this as the case.

    There is more to this story, biblically, which we haven’t touched upon. The typology of Mary as the Ark. The ‘gate’ that the Lord passes through in Ezekiel which as early as the 2nd century was understood to refer to Mary. The fact that Jesus gave Mary over to John to be cared for and not some sibling.

    Here are some other passages that use the word ‘brother’ in a sense that is clearly not brother by blood.

    Luke 22:32 – Jesus tells Peter to strengthen his “brethren.” In this case, we clearly see Jesus using “brethren” to refer to the other apostles, not his biological brothers. Again, ‘adelphos.’

    Acts 7:26; 11:1; 13:15,38; 15:3,23,32; 28:17,21 – these are some of many other examples where “brethren” does not mean blood relations.

    Rom. 9:3 – Paul uses “brethren” and “kinsmen” interchangeably. “Brothers” of Jesus does not prove Mary had other children.

  146. Sean @ 145

    Here are some other passages that use the word ‘brother’ in a sense that is clearly not brother by blood.

    I guess I haven’t done a sufficient job explaining Meier’s thesis. You’re right that adelphos has several senses. Meier agrees. What Meier is saying is that anytime the NT uses the word adelphos to denote a family relationship it always means blood brother (whether full or half); not cousin. You keep offereing several passages in which adelphos is used (indeed its used 344 times in the NT). But Meier isn’t claimint that all 344 times adelphos is used it indicates blood brother. Instead, he’s saying anytime adelphos is used to denote a family relationship (as opposed to a spiritual kinship or metaphorical ‘brothers in Christ’ sort of thing) it always means half of full real brother, not counsin. Am I making sense? (I’m not asking whether you agree yet, just whether I’m clear.)

  147. Andrew,

    Some interesting comments here. I’m super busy today so let me just hit a couple of the high points and maybe we can return to some of the other things a bit later. Begin with this:

    And I think your very last statement above is just what we do want to grant and not just grant, but insist upon. In fact I have heard Protestant theologians when asked about how they are sure we have a perfect canon say something to the effect that the same God who superintended the writing of these texts superintended the collecting of them into what we know as the Bible today (discussions of Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha aside).

    I understand that you want to affirm that the process of canonization was an infallibly guided process, despite the fact that it extended beyond the Spirit’s inspiring authors. And I do think you are accurately representing one way some Reformed people (including my former self) think about it. But I don’t think your concern voiced above that I’m unnecessarily separating two distinct aspects of one large process of inspiration-and-canonization really holds up. (More in a moment.) That these are distinct is clear at any rate from these differences: inscripturation essentially includes inspiration (from which infallibility follows), but nobody argues that the canonization process involved inspiration. That’s why we need to recognize that if we accord infallibility to the process of canonization as a whole, we can’t do so on the basis that some texts were inspired by God and are for that reason infallible. (This is perfectly consistent with your claim that this was a dynamic process fused together in God’s mind.)

    You mention the Deuterocanonicals. Let me illustrate where I think the problem occurs with this little dialogue between you and Augustine:

    Andrew: You believe that the Scriptures are inspired, and that the process resulting in the canon’s formation was as a whole likewise infallible, right?

    Augustine: Yep.

    Andrew: And you agree that the notion of inspiration has as a corollary the notion of canonicity, and vice-versa, right? For God wants to ensure that whatever He has inspired is canonized, and nothing more or less?

    Augustine: Yep.

    Andrew: And you agree with me that inspiration and canonicity are related not just formally, but also dynamically in the very mind of God?

    Augustine: Yep.

    Andrew: Ah, so you agree with me that the canon should not include the Deuterocanonicals.

    Augustine: Wha?

    (We could do it the other way round, too: “Augustine: Ah, so you agree with me that the canon should include my very favorite book ever, Wisdom.” Andrew: Wha?”)

    What’s gone wrong here? How can Augustine and Andrew agree that there is a formal connection between inspiration and canonicity, voice a mutual faith in the proposition that God superintended the collecting of the texts as well as the inspiration of those texts, and that, without contradiction on either side, you and Augustine can disagree about which of the texts are inspired and thus which ought by rights to be canonized?

    I think it’s this: You are moving from a metaphysical point about inspiration, its corollary, “canonicity,” and a point about God’s ability and desire to superintend a process which extends beyond the inspiration of texts itself, to an epistemological claim: “therefore, I know with certainty that the collection I’ve got in my hands is infallible.” But you can’t get to this conclusion. Certainly, it’s not the case that if Augustine says “Wisdom’s in” he’s somehow made a mistake in the chain of reasoning just rehearsed, or is somehow committed to denying that God infallibly oversaw a process of canonization, or whatever. The problem isn’t that he’s contradicted himself, it is just that the set of considerations you give don’t clear up automatically the questions about which books are inspired and which aren’t. That’s what “canonization” is supposed to do for us.

    You suggest that you can make the judgment that this process was infallible, that you do so on the basis of “evidence” (apparently beyond the a priori claims about inspiration, canonization, God’s faithfulness, etc.), and that when you look for comparable “evidence” that what was said at Nicaea was similarly infallibly overseen you do not find it. But whatever the evidence you’re using here is, it can’t just be your faith that God ensured an infallible process in this case because the whole process is dynamically related in God’s mind. I’ve got that faith too. How does that mean that if you and I disagree about the status of Wisdom you must be the one who’s right?

    Suppose I argued like this: God’s purposes for the Church, and for the world through the Church, are not just formally fused but are also dynamically connected in His mind, so that His promises never to leave or forsake her, to guide her into truth, etc., must not be unnecessarily separated. Therefore, Nicaea and every council thereafter was infallibly guided.

    Not so much, you say. We still have to try to decide, as outside observers, which of the councils got things right, on a case by case basis. The mere fact that God has promised to guide the Church, that this is dynamically fused in His mind with God’s purposes for the Church, etc., doesn’t entail without further ado that anything held up as a “council” is therefore an instance of God’s providential and infallible guidance.

    Okay. But so too, it doesn’t follow that anything held up as an inspired writing really was inspired, or that anything claimed to be canonical must be. So the important but in some respects pedestrian insight that God wants to have those inspired writings collected up rightly and He can pull it off if He wants doesn’t entail that the collection you’ve got in your hands is the product of infallible guidance. For other people have different collections in their hands, and they believe all the stuff you do about God’s faithfulness and infallible guidance. (Indeed, they may have somewhat stronger views of these things, at least regarding infallible guidance.)

    I really don’t think (for what it’s worth) this just boils down to two different assumptions: infallibility “ought” to extend forward; infallibility “ought” not be extended beyond the Bible itself. It’s a question of which of two conflicting paradigms is most internally consistent and coherent. Because the one says that infallibility ought to be accorded to the Bible alone, and not to any councils, popes, or whatever other historical decision-reaching processes there may be, it creates problems to say that God “superintended” both the writing of and the canonization of the Bible. Note: this is not because there is a problem with the claim that inspiration and canonicity are dynamically related in God’s mind, that the God who faithfully guided the writing of these things also remains so as to faithfully preserve their transmission and collection. Catholics insist on the same thing. We just don’t see how it follows from this that the Protestants are right to reject the deuterocanonicals, or how they can have such assurance that those books don’t really belong in there, and then claim for their own collection the status of infallibility while rejecting the infallibility of the Catholic canon and asserting the fallibility of everything other than the Bible. It’s fine to have faith in God, to have faith that He superintended the process. But from our perspective it makes a lot more sense to say this if we admit that we have to have faith in the Church that was guided by God to do the canonizing. (Then the question will be of course: which Church is that? How are we thinking about “the Church” here? But what we can’t do is cut the Church’s role out of the picture by observing a connection between inspiration and canonicity, whether as a formal principle or a dynamic thing in God’s mind or both, or by declaring the Scriptures “self-authenticating,” or via similar such strategies aimed at downplaying the fact of human mediation in this process.)

    Best,

    Neal

  148. I wanted to stay out of this but just a few remarks. To reiterate what Bryan said – Meier’s thesis does beg the question. To state that adelphos is always used for brothers, never for cousins, is precisely what the argument is.

    Q – could adelphos mean “cousin” in case A A – no because it means brother in case A, B & C.

    Don’t you see how that is begging the question?

    Also, I haven’t followed this closely but I didn’t see anyone bring up the incomprehensibility of Mary’s reply to the annunciation “How can this be?” When Mary was plenty old enough to know how to conceive. Her response only makes sense given a vow of perpetual virginity.

    Let’s compare St. John Chrysostom to Meier or Brown. The latter two learned Greek from books in seminary – Chrysostom learned it from his mom. He didn’t study Greek – he spoke Greek at the dinner table. So why does Meier find all these linguistic clues that Chrysostom, a native speaker, knows nothing about? In fact Chrysostom deals with these arguments because lay persons during his time were thinking the same sorts of things (see specifically the “until” argument here : Excerpt).

    Also, no one ever claimed to be a descendant of the Blessed Virgin. This is an argument from silence but it’s worth noticing given that Christ supposedly had at least 3 brothers and multiple sisters per the Protestant readings of these verses and that strong devotion to the Virgin Mary is demonstrably present in the second century. All mention of Christ’s kin disappears well before the end of the first century. This fits better with the scenario of Jesus having no brothers by blood than the alternative.

    Also, arguing from the Greek isn’t particularly strong. As Sean said, Aramaic has no word for cousin, and I know from linguistic experience that people tend to import linguistic peculiarities into foreign languages. For example; pronouns in Tagalog don’t have gender. As a result, Filipinos often confuse “he” and “she” in English because the distinction simply isn’t important to them. Japanese nouns don’t have plural form. When the speak English, they’re prone to leave out the distinction because it simply isn’t important for them. It’s not hard to imagine that the same thing might be happening here. In the Jarai language, they have no word for cousin. I was teaching English to a bunch of Jarai people and I remember how difficult it was to even express the concept of a distinction between “brother” and “cousin”.

    So it’s clear that the text, even in Greek, does appear at first glance to lend itself to be interpreted according the modern Protestant reading (note – it’s not the historical Protestant reading), but it doesn’t hold up under the weight of sacred Tradition and the straight forward arguments by those who really know what they’re talking about; e.g. Sts. Chrysostom and Jerome.

  149. Ryan,

    What Meier is saying is that anytime the NT uses the word adelphos to denote a family relationship…

    So, how does he (or we) decide when it is used as a ‘family relationship?’

  150. My Liddell & Scott says that adelphos can mean brother, or more generally, a close relative.

  151. Very interesting argument, Tim. I think you make a good point to help put all this into perspective.

    I also think this point you made is a great one:

    Also, I haven’t followed this closely but I didn’t see anyone bring up the incomprehensibility of Mary’s reply to the annunciation “How can this be?” When Mary was plenty old enough to know how to conceive. Her response only makes sense given a vow of perpetual virginity

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  152. Sean @145 –

    Who among us has disregarded Meier’s argument based on the ‘who’ it came from?

    See #126. But if you reject it then good. I’m going to let Ryan handle the bulk of the Meier argument.

    The idea that I am getting from Ryan and you is that if we just looked at scripture ‘alone’ we would admit that the perpetual virginity of Mary violates scripture. Maybe I am pretty stubborn but I just don’t see this as the case.

    There is more to this story, biblically, which we haven’t touched upon. The typology of Mary as the Ark. The ‘gate’ that the Lord passes through in Ezekiel which as early as the 2nd century was understood to refer to Mary. The fact that Jesus gave Mary over to John to be cared for and not some sibling.

    Well I addressed Jesus giving Mary over to John in #109. Even if I granted the ark typology, I don’t see how that proves virginity, not debating yet just not even seeing even if it were true how it proves or even hints at virginity. But in addition to that (which I assume is a 1 line response) Ark is also a good one since it touches on is typology a legitimate form of exegesis for us?

    Let me just play for a second. If I grant ark I can create all sorts of doctrines about Mary from the typology. The ark defines the Kodesh Hakodashim (holy of holies) which is where the Yom Kippur offering takes place for the forgiveness of sin. So the original sacrifice of the lamb is just the first step in the mass. From there we need to perform further ritual to make it effectual. Give me 10 more minutes working with this analogy and I can create Collyridian Christianity using this typology. Ellen White and the other early Adventists were really good at typology arguments and I assume you don’t agree with their conclusions. Typology doesn’t seem to be an effective way to prove things about doctrine, though a great way to create Christian art.

    As for the final point about “brother” not being brother by blood, agreed. Earlier you were claiming that there was no way to say cousin and I gave some counter examples. That brother is used to mean all sorts of things (both in English and Greek) I don’t dispute.

  153. Tim @148, Jrod @151 –

    Because there is no such thing as a vow of perpetual virginity is Judaism. The concept doesn’t exist. The same way there isn’t a vow of perpetual barefootedness in American Christianity.

  154. CD-Host – the account of Jepthah (Judges 11) proves otherwise. The Essene community is also known to have practiced celibacy at that time. Celibacy was neither common among the Jews nor was it especially advocated, but it did exist.

  155. Sean @ 149

    So, how does he (or we) decide when it is used as a ‘family relationship?’

    The same way we determine in which sense any other word is being used: context. Context determines meaning. If I say the word “trunk,” I could mean lots of things (swim trunks, tree trunk, car trunk, a sort of box, elephant trunk, etc.). But if I use the word in a certain context, the meanings are narrowed (usually to one). For example, while at the zoo, if my daughter and I are looking at an elephant and I say, ‘Look at that trunk!’ My meaning is clear because of the context.

    What Meier is saying, is that the only reason the RCC thinks that the ‘brothers of the Lord’ passages we’ve been dealing with refer to cousins is because of some non-contextual considertion (namely, dogma).

  156. I’m noticing several patterns in responses. I’ll try to isolate the patterns and respond to each pattern while linking the pattern to a specific post (or posts) in which I see the pattern.

    1. The appropriate role of tradition v. textual exegesis.

    In post # 140, I gave a lengthy explanation of the different sense of the term ‘tradition’ as they’re being used here. That explanation was in response to Bryan’s critique that Meier (and myself by association) wasn’t giving weight to ‘tradition.’ I explained that the RCC church has dogmas that it uses scripture to support. When using scripture to support those dogmas, it has to give arguments or reasons about how a certain passage supports that dogma. Of course, the RCC could just refrain from giving scriptural support at all. Or the RCC could cite scripture and doesn’t seem to support the dogma and just declare (without any arguments or reasons) that the passage supports the dogma. But the RCC, to it’s credit, doesn’t do either of the last two. And I’d hazard to say, much of the time the RCC gets it right with respect to what the author intended in a biblical passage. But the problem with claiming infallibility is that if even one biblical passage is shown to be inconsistent with the RC teaching, then we have infallibility (in teaching) conflicting with infallibility (in scripture).

    I argued that Meier (and myself) did consider the reasons the RCC gives for its interpretation of the relevant adelphos passages, Meier (and myself) just think the reasons the RCC gives for its interpretation are less plausible that the view that the brothers of Jesus being real brothers. But in response, Bryan in post 144 argued that my approach is rationalism. Two responses. First, Bryan, you didn’t interact at all with the distinction I tried to make. Instead you just labeled it rationalism. Second, if attempting to assess the reasons for the RC interpretation of scripture is rationalism (and, thus, apparently out-of-bounds), why isn’t your position the equally wrong, but opposite: fideism. It appears your argument is that whatever the church says goes, regardless of whether there are any good reasons at all. In short, in assessing the reasons for the RCC position, my approach has been called rationalism. But what else are we to do? Just accept the RC position without assessing its reasons at all? If so, why isn’t that fideism?

    2. The ancient’s knew better than we do.

    In posts 105 and 148, Tim relies on early Church fathers as more authoritative than modern exegesis. Notice that this approach is very different than the approach dealt with above. The approach above is (so far as I’m understanding it correctly), ‘We don’t have to give good reasons. What we say goes because we’ve been around since the beginning.’ (I don’t mean to be trite here, but that’s how I’m interpreting Bryan’s approach.) But this approach in 105 and 148 is that the tradition is inherently better than modern exegesis because the tradition arises out of people who were close to the actual writers of the biblical text in time, proximity, and sometimes relationship. In the first approach, the statement is, ‘We don’t have to interact with your arguments, because what we say goes regardless of your arguments.’ In the second approach, the argument is ‘We don’t have to interact with your arguments because they can’t possibly be more plausible than our arguments because we’ve been around longer.’ This sentiment is evident in post 148 (my emphasis): ‘So it’s clear that the text, even in Greek, does appear at first glance to lend itself to be interpreted according the modern Protestant reading (note – it’s not the historical Protestant reading), but it doesn’t hold up under the weight of sacred Tradition and the straight forward arguments by those who really know what they’re talking about; e.g. Sts. Chrysostom and Jerome.’ It’s also evident here: ‘Let’s compare St. John Chrysostom to Meier or Brown. The latter two learned Greek from books in seminary – Chrysostom learned it from his mom. He didn’t study Greek – he spoke Greek at the dinner table. So why does Meier find all these linguistic clues that Chrysostom, a native speaker, knows nothing about?’

    [Tim: are you arguing that there are not separate Greek words for ‘cousin’ and ‘brother’?]

    Two responses to this. First, if the earlier is better, why not go with the two (and perhaps three) earlier Church fathers I mentioned in post 125? It seems that this ‘we’re older and therefore, necessarily, better’ approach is exactly what Meier critizied when he said, as I’ve quoted in post 125: ‘Those who wish to sustain the cousin approach must face the further difficulty that it is a relatively late, Post-Nicean solution. By contrast both the Epiphanian solution [that the brothers were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage] and the view that the “brothers of Jesus” were real brothers can find support in the 2d and 3d centuries. The antiquity and spread of the opinion that the brothers or Jesus were real brothers are often overlooked by supporters of the cousin approach’ (329) (my emphasis). So I think what we have isn’t really a true ‘earlier-the-better’ approach, because there are earlier sources that contradict the Jerome etc. Thus, an ‘earlier-the-better-approach’ fails by its own lights because there are earlier sources that contradict the cousin approach.

    The second response arises out of that last sentence. If we’re not dealing with an ‘earlier-the-better-approach,’ what are we dealing with? We’re actually dealing with a variation on the fideistic approach that I discussed above. It’s not that the rule is the ‘earlier-the-better.’ The rule is whatever the RCC church says wins, by rule. But that’s fideism. It’s a claim that no modern scholar can interact with the reasons the RCC church gives. And so again, why isn’t that fideism?

    Notice I’m not arguing for the equal (and opposite) wrong that we know better than the ancients in all cases. It’s about argument and evidence. We defer to the ancients because they were closer in time, proximity, and (in some cases) relationship. So their opinions have an unusual sort of force behind them. But it’s about the reasons they give for their opinions. If it’s not about the reasons, then what’s the point in talking about all this? If it’s not about the reasons, then its about the edict, which is fideism.

    3. NT usage of adelphos

    Sean, the only responder who’s attempted to interact with the substance of my exegetical argument, has pointed to other instances in which adelphos is used. He rightly notes that in many of those 344 times it’s used, instances it clearly doesn’t mean ‘blood brother.’ I responded to that point in post 146: ‘I guess I haven’t done a sufficient job explaining Meier’s thesis. You’re right that adelphos has several senses. Meier agrees. What Meier is saying is that anytime the NT uses the word adelphos to denote a family relationship it always means blood brother (whether full or half); not cousin. You keep offereing several passages in which adelphos is used (indeed its used 343 times in the NT). But Meier isn’t claimint that all 343 times adelphos is used it indicates blood brother. Instead, he’s saying anytime adelphos is used to denote a family relationship (as opposed to a spiritual kinship or metaphorical ‘brothers in Christ’ sort of thing) it always means half of full real brother, not counsin. Am I making sense? (I’m not asking whether you agree yet, just whether I’m clear.)’

    4. Who’s begging-the-question?

    Meier (and myself by association) have been critiqued as begging-the-question in posts 144 and 148. Tim sets it out most succinctly in 148: ‘To reiterate what Bryan said – Meier’s thesis does beg the question. To state that adelphos is always used for brothers, never for cousins, is precisely what the argument is. Q – could adelphos mean “cousin” in case A A – no because it means brother in case A, B & C. Don’t you see how that is begging the question?’

    This is a variation on the argument over NT usage that I talked about immediately above. Meier and Brown, both of whom are very highly regarded exegets, aren’t using the reasoning methodology illustrated in Tim’s question. Specifically, when asked: ‘Could adelphos mean cousin in case AA?’ Meier and Brown don’t respond, ‘No. Of course not, because it doesn’t mean cousin in cases A, B, C, etc.’

    Meier surveys all the other the usages of adelphos and finds only two sense of the word: ‘The various meanings of adelphos in the NT can be boiled down to two basic senses: literal and metaphorical’ (327). He goes on to explain that in the first sense (literal, familial relationship) that ‘[w]ith “full brother” and “half brother” we exhaust the literal meaning of adelphos found in the NT….’ (328). ‘Every other use of adelphos falls under the general rubric of a figurative or metaphorical sense” (328).

    Meier sets out on this exegetical journey into the other instances of adelphos by beginning with the caveat: ‘Even within the NT, if we prescind from the disputed case of the ‘brothers of the Lord,’ there is no clear use of the Greek word adelphos (“brothers”) to mean precisely “cousin”’ (327). So he’s not begging the question by saying usages A, B, C… never mean cousin, so usage AA can’t mean cousin either. Instead, his conclusion is more modest (and doesn’t beg-in-the-question): ‘In short, the “cousin” approach of Jerome, like the “stepbrother approach of Epiphanius [which, incidentally is the Eastern Orthodox approach] simply lacks sufficient philological basis in the usage of the NT….As with the Epiphanian solution, so with the cousin theory: what is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied’ (329).

    In other words, Meier’s philological and exegetical analysis of adelphos indicates that there’s no reason, other than the RC dogma of perpetual virginity, to take every instance of ‘the adelphos of the Lord’ as ‘the cousins of the Lord.’ It’s unacceptably ad hoc. The RC brings the dogma to the text and thus the reading of the text is constrained by the dogma. That’s why the RC begs the question here. The RCC’s teaching assumes (as a premise) what it concludes:

    1. If Mary remained a perpetual virgin, then she never had other children.
    2. Mary remained a perpetual virgin.
    3. Therefore, Mary never had children. (by 1,2)
    4. If Mary never had children, then any biblical reference to her having children must be interpreted in some other way.
    5. Mary never had children (by 3)
    6. Therefore, the biblical references to Mary having children cannot mean she had children. (by 3,5).

    The ‘cannot mean she had children part of (6)’ was an assumption brought to the text from (2). It begs the question.

    5. What about the Hebrew?

    Sean at 139 explained that Calvin supported the perpetual virginity of Mary because (Sean’s quote): ‘“Under the word ‘brethren’ the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity. ‘Commentary on John.’ Tim (in post 148) also asks about how the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek <adelphos fits into the word study of adelphos: ‘Also, arguing from the Greek isn’t particularly strong. As Sean said, Aramaic has no word for cousin, and I know from linguistic experience that people tend to import linguistic peculiarities into foreign languages.’

    Meier discusses this at length too on pages 325 to 327. Here’s Meier: ‘In the case of the Greek OT, we are dealing with “translation Greek,” a Greek that sometimes woodenly or mechanically renders a traditional sacred Hebrew text word for word. Hence it is not surprising that at times adelphos would be used to render ah when the Hebrew word meant not “brother” but some other type of relative. But in the case of the NT writers, whatever written Aramaic sources—if any—lay before them, the authors certainly did not feel that they were dealing with a fixed sacred text that had to be translated woodenly word for word’ (325–26). Discussing Jerome’s specifically, Meier notes how Jerome relies on OT usages of the Hebrew and Aramaic terms for “brother.” Neither language had an alternate word for “cousin,” so both languages tended to use “brother” interchangeably with “cousin.” But the NT is not translated from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek. It is Greek. So there’s no reason at all to import the linguistic limitations of one language (Hebrew or Aramaic) into another language (i.e. Greek). That’s why it’s so surprising to hear someone say that ‘arguing from the Greek isn’t particularly strong’ because another, different language, had ‘no word for cousin.’ Of course, Jesus likely spoke Aramaic, but the NT writers wrote in Greek and used the specific Greek term for ‘brothers’ not ‘cousins.’ We should exegete the language in which the text is written. Calvin was wrong to rely on the Hebrew. It we believe (at least some of) the NT documents were written by people who knew the relatives of Jesus (like Paul most certainly does), then it seems we should take them at their word: ‘brother’ not ‘cousin.’

  157. Tim @154 –

    Hi Tim. Where is there a vow of virginity in Judges 11? She is a virgin, but she hasn’t taken a vow to be a virgin; same as most kids today.

    As far as the Essene cult, you have vows have of perpetual celibacy (not virginity, spiritual marriage AFAIKT is completely a middle ages Christian idea), woman who had taken one of those you don’t get betrothed so still not possible. Dyan Elliott is to the best of my knowledge the best known scholar on Spiritual marriage so if you disagree with the above do we agree on her as a source?

    But going on a deeper tangent, I am fascinated you were willing to go here. I had figured the liberal Christian theories were off the table, for the affirmative side but if they are on the table then absolutely much more interesting argument. Jesus is growing up in an Essene community with Essene theology the early Christians are Essenes. You are willing to grant that Christianity emerged from Essene Judaism? You really want to take on the legitimacy of Essene theology as being the type of Judaism that Jesus and the apostles are promoting? I’m going to assume you didn’t mean this, but feel free to tell me I’m wrong that would be mega cool. A conservative Catholic believing that Jesus was preaching a variant of Essene Judaism.

  158. Ryan,

    I don’t have much time to respond today but want to highlight a question:

    In other words, Meier’s philological and exegetical analysis of adelphos indicates that there’s no reason, other than the RC dogma of perpetual virginity, to take every instance of ‘the adelphos of the Lord’ as ‘the cousins of the Lord.’ It’s unacceptably ad hoc. The RC brings the dogma to the text and thus the reading of the text is constrained by the dogma.

    That is a pretty big assumption for Meier and you, in turn. I would like to know when it is, exactly, that the Catholic Church conocted the scheme that Mary was ever virgin according to Meier…and why.

  159. CD-Host – I don’t know her or her work. You said the concept didn’t exist in Judaism – I disproved your statement. I’m not interested in sophistry.

    Ryan – I don’t think you’ve given a fair assessment of my #148. I don’t speak Greek nor am I fluent in their culture so I need to trust the arguments of people who do. I am more prone to trust someone who I know a) is a saint b) speaks the language fluently c) live in the culture and d) is in close proximity to the actual time rather than the alternative who is a) a liberal and wrong on a lot of issues that I know of b) does not speak the language fluently c) lives thinks and has bought into a culture of rationalism and e) is far removed from the time. I think this is an entirely reasonable position. If you don’t, we’ll just have to disagree.

    [Tim: are you arguing that there are not separate Greek words for ‘cousin’ and ‘brother’?]

    No.

    Thus, an ‘earlier-the-better-approach’ fails by its own lights because there are earlier sources that contradict the cousin approach.

    That’s an oversimplification of my approach. All else equal, earlier is probably better. But Chrysostom/Jerome aren’t just earlier than Brown or Meier (see above for other qualifications).

    We’re actually dealing with a variation on the fideistic approach that I discussed above. It’s not that the rule is the ‘earlier-the-better.’ The rule is whatever the RCC church says wins, by rule. But that’s fideism. It’s a claim that no modern scholar can interact with the reasons the RCC church gives. And so again, why isn’t that fideism?

    I think Fides et Ratio would be a good resource for you to understand the Catholic approach here.

    Re: #4 & begging the question: I stand corrected. (Whether he is correct in his argument that it is never used otherwise is another issue.) Although we need to re-evaluate your approximation of the RCC argument for Mary’s perpetual virginity. If posed like that, it does beg the question. But that’s not how we pose it.

    Re: Meier’s discussion on page 325-327 – that’s a good point regarding non-translation but I don’t see how it applies since no one is claiming that the NT was translated from Hebrew (although, traditionally, the first gospel written was Matthew and in the Hebrew tongue…. therefore the references would be translated – I’m not taking a stand here, just a side note so I’ll ignore any arguments specifically related to this point).

    But Meier doesn’t address the argument I brought up and I don’ t see you bringing it up either – that they wrote in Greek but men tend to import the particularities of their mother tongue even when speaking another language.

  160. Tim –

    CD-Host – I don’t know her or her work. You said the concept didn’t exist in Judaism – I disproved your statement. I’m not interested in sophistry.

    You didn’t disprove anything. You said she took a vow of virginity (for a married woman, i.e. spiritual marriage) I said there was no such thing in Judaism and you presented a cult that has a vow of celibacy (not to marry). And another example of the ad-hominum every time you freely intermix nonsense. I’m done you all have fun.

  161. CD-Host, my response was not an example of ‘nonsense’ nor of an ad hominem attack. I am pointing out that you’re just arguing for arguing’s sake even after you’ve clearly been proven wrong.

    Anyone can read Judges 11 and see that she was a virgin and that she remained so: verse 38 “She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry” so why even argue that?

    CD-Host – you haven’t received a warm welcome here because you’ve repeatedly made it clear that you have no interest in real dialogue – you just want to argue.

    Your statement was, “there is no such thing as a vow of perpetual virginity is Judaism. The concept doesn’t exist.” Judges 11 shows the concept to exist (although not voluntary in this case), and instead of admitting “Oh ok the concept does exist” you start arguing about liberal theories of the Essene community. That isn’t productive. It only detracts from the conversation.

    Called to Communion was not set up to be just another venue to host Catholic versus Protestant debates. There are plenty of other places to do that type of thing. That’s partially why I didn’t want to get involved in this to begin with (this thread I mean, not CTC).

    CD-Host you are welcome here but the types of arguments and rhetoric you’ve been posting is not.

  162. Ryan,

    So, how does he (or we) decide when it is used as a ‘family relationship?’

    The same way we determine in which sense any other word is being used: context. Context determines meaning.

    That’s exactly what I’ve been arguing. The solo scriptura approach to hermeneutics ignores a great deal of the context, namely, what the Christians of the succeeding generations said and decided about how these passages had been understood. Tradition is the context of Scripture. That’s what it means to come to Scripture in the bosom of the Church, instead of approaching Scripture in vacuo.

    What Meier is saying, is that the only reason the RCC thinks that the ‘brothers of the Lord’ passages we’ve been dealing with refer to cousins is because of some non-contextual consideration (namely, dogma).

    The presumption in that statement is that tradition is not part of the context of Scripture, as though the Bible dropped out of the sky yesterday. So the statement is question-begging in that respect. It assumes a Protestant mentality in its hermeneutical methodology.

    But the problem with claiming infallibility is that if even one biblical passage is shown to be inconsistent with the RC teaching, then we have infallibility (in teaching) conflicting with infallibility (in scripture).

    That would be a problem if there were such a conflict. That there is such a conflict has yet to be shown.

    I argued that Meier (and myself) did consider the reasons the RCC gives for its interpretation of the relevant adelphos passages, Meier (and myself) just think the reasons the RCC gives for its interpretation are less plausible that the view that the brothers of Jesus being real brothers.

    “Less plausible” is extremely subjective and relative. In order to approach this question in an objective manner, we need the argument laid out premise by premise showing that the Catholic position conflicts with the teaching of Scripture.

    But in response, Bryan in post 144 argued that my approach is rationalism. Two responses. First, Bryan, you didn’t interact at all with the distinction I tried to make. Instead you just labeled it rationalism.

    I’m assuming that you are referring to your distinction between “the reasoning” and “the obligation”. I didn’t interact with this distinction because it is not relevant to the disagreement between Protestants who deny the perpetual virginity of Mary, and Christians (Protestant and Catholic) who affirm it.

    Second, if attempting to assess the reasons for the RC interpretation of scripture is rationalism (and, thus, apparently out-of-bounds), why isn’t your position the equally wrong, but opposite: fideism.

    The Catholic position is a middle position between the two errors of rationalism and fideism. See Fides et Ratio.

    It appears your argument is that whatever the church says goes, regardless of whether there are any good reasons at all.

    That is not an argument, but rather a claim. And yes, that is what faith is, for a Catholic, if we are talking about teachings that have been defined de fide, i.e. as infallible dogma.

    But what else are we to do? Just accept the RC position without assessing its reasons at all?

    That’s a good question. The answer would be ‘no’. But the alternative is not rationalism or a question-begging approach to evaluating the Catholic Church’s claims. Rather, to evaluate the Catholic Church, you have to do so from a Catholic paradigm, not from an Enlightenment of Protestant paradigm. That’s what fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) looks like.

    ‘We don’t have to give good reasons. What we say goes because we’ve been around since the beginning.’ (I don’t mean to be trite here, but that’s how I’m interpreting Bryan’s approach.) …, the statement is, ‘We don’t have to interact with your arguments, because what we say goes regardless of your arguments.’

    That’s quite a misconstrual / misunderstanding of what I have been saying. I don’t believe that at all, nor have I said that at all. Apparently I have not been explaining clearly the Catholic approach. What Tim is saying, and what I am saying, are actually the very same thing. You asked Tim to be charitable in interpreting you; I’ll ask you to try a little harder to be charitable in interpreting me.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  163. Bryan @ 162

    Thank you for your responses. I’m still at a loss here. I feel like I’m giving a lot of effort in presenting arguments and setting out what I believe to be your arguments (see the 6 step argument I’ve laid out in 156). And I’m trying hard to be charitable to each person’s responses, but many of the responses I’m getting simply aren’t interacting with the arguments I’m giving. For example, in none of your posts have you given any arguments that my exegesis or word studies are incorrect. Instead, you object to the method. Your objection attempts to sweep away the entire argument by claiming that it begs the question. It begs the question, you say, because ‘to evaluate the Catholic Church, you have to do so from a Catholic paradigm, not from an Enlightenment of Protestant paradigm.’

    Instead of interact with the exegetical arguments I’ve given, as others have been able to do, you want me to set out the arguments in syllogistic format. I’ll try to do so. And I’ll read Fides et Ratio. It’s something I’ve been interested in reading for a while, and you may already know, by Alfred Freddoso (Philo. at Notre Dame) has an extensive section commentary and study notes on F et R on his personal website. In the meantime, I’m interested to see you interact with the only syllogism I’ve placed up (see the 6 step argument I’ve laid out in 156). Tim alluded that there’s something wrong with the way I’ve understood the RC teaching there. The argument is valid. So the only question is the truth of the premises. Which premise is false? Why?

  164. Ryan, I don’t think the argument is wrong or that the premises are false. That’s just not exactly the approach the Catholic magisterium takes to the issue. Let me illustrate by an example from Jaroslav Pelikan (then a Lutheran), and I can’t quote it now, he argues in Vol. 1 of the “Emergence of the Catholic Tradition” that the early Church approached the subject of Christ’s divinity giving some weight to liturgical authority. In crude summary, “We’ve been worshiping Christ this entire time. He must be fully God.” So let’s look at that scenario given your syllogism:

    1. If Jesus is God, then we can worship Him.
    2. Jesus is God.
    3. Therefore, we can worship Him. (by 1,2)
    4. If we can worship Him, then any biblical reference to Him not being equal with God must be interpreted in some other way.
    5. Jesus is God (by 3)
    6. Therefore, the biblical references like “the Father is greater than Me” cannot mean that Jesus is not to be worshiped. (by 3,5).

    But as you know, that is not doing justice to the approach of the Church regarding this question. Yes, we did receive it from the apostles that Christ is to be worshiped. Yes, that does mean that it sheds light on how we are to interpret Scriptures. But that doesn’t amount to fideism. The divinity of Christ can be demonstrated to be compatible with Scripture (even if a rationalist approach to the text could strongly argue otherwise).

    One of the greatest Christian debaters of our time is William Lane Craig, in my opinion. And I’ve seen him put people like John D. Crossan to shame in debates. The only time I ever saw him lose a debate was when he debated a Muslim scholar on the divinity of Christ (as proved from the New Testament) and the reason was simple; Craig couldn’t use the strong argument of Apostolic Tradition because of his Protestant beliefs. He was at a loss for arguments and the Muslim at least had Craig on the defense the entire debate; in all fairness, given my bias towards Craig’s viewpoint – I’d say the Muslim probably won by a long shot.

    So do you see a huge distinction in the content of the argument based on Tradition together with Scripture for Christ’s divinity versus Mary’s perpetual virginity? (I realize it’s asking for a stretch…) If not, I think you can see my point regarding the Church’s approach here. They are the same in both cases.

  165. Ryan,

    I am not sure whether the argument you have construed in 156 is viciously circular or not. I do, however, believe that there are two underlying premises, one of which I think we (Catholics and yourself) have in common:

    Nothing revealed by God in one place can contradict something revealed by God elsewhere.

    This is why the Catholic argument seems circular to you: We believe that the perpetual virginity of Mary, the Mother of God, is a divinely revealed truth. Therefore, so we reason, it absolutely cannot contradict other divinely revealed truths, such as the fact that Jesus had “brothers.”

    What we probably disagree about is this premise:

    Divine revealed truths are found in both Holy Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

    I think that this is what Bryan is focusing upon. You are in the same position relative to us that an unbeliever is in relative to you (assuming you hold to the plenary inspiration of Sacred Scripture); namely, you begin by disbelieving what God has revealed.

    Just as you might chose to engage an unbeliever by trying help him see that his arguments assume a false premise (Sacred Scripture might contradict itself), and would be happy to bring him around on a particular point by changing his on the more fundamental issue, rather than versa, (although I have no quarrel with the inductive approach), some Catholics here, in like manner, are trying to “bring you around” to the Faith.

    At the very least, this transcendental approach has the virtue of better fitting within the confines of an Internet comment box. Your particular claims on behalf of unbelief deserve consideration, but they are of a nature which requires time and space to properly address. It may be that none among us here at CTC has the requisite background knowledge to immediately engage you on these points, but I note that some are trying to do so. In any case, it seems unfair to fault us for arguing as we can, both to your exegetical points and on the basis of Divine Revelation–pointing you to the fuller scope of this, such that your unbelief is shown to contradict what God has said (and done).

    Cheers,

    Andrew Preslar

  166. It seems that Tim just made my point. Oh well. Never hurts to see the same thing from a different angle (I don’t think it does, at least).

  167. I should clarify my last remark on what I take to be the RC teaching the Matt. 13.55/Mark 6.3/ Gal. 1.19 passages. I set out a six-step argument that I take to be the RC argument. It is valid in that it doesn’t commit any formal fallacies. But I think it commits a material fallacy (i.e. begging the qeustion). When I asked which premise is false, I’m asking (per Tim) which step of the argument is contrary to the RC teaching. If all steps of the argument are consistent with RC teaching, then because the argument is valid, the argument begs the question.

    I should also hasten to add, as I’ve done several times, that I have great respect for the RC tradition. I think it has greater explanatory scope than Protestantism or EO. But the questions I have are whether the gateway into being able to enjoy that greater explanatory scope (i.e. infallible teaching authority) is itself valid. Any book length treatments on this issue?

  168. I was posting during the time Tim and Andrew responded

    Tim @ 164

    Your argument from Pelikan is an intersting one. I’m going to have to think about that for a while. As for Bill Craig, I agree that he’s the best Christian debater of our time. And you’re probably right that he’d have been able to defeat his muslim opponent (probably Shabir Ally?) if he had access to a broader explanatory scope (that’s sort of whay I was referring to in my last post) As an aside, I saw a similar issue arise in a point-counterpoint book between the evangelical NT scholar Craig Blomberg and a morman phiolosopher/NT scholar whose name escapes me now. The mormon really raked Blomberg over the coals with the question: ‘How do you know the canon is closed?’ I thought, if Blomberg was RC, he’d be able to shut that down quickly.

    Andrew @ 165

    Thank you for your post, it was very helpful. You articluated some fragments of thoughts I’d noticed swiming around in my head but I hadn’t framed up into a coherent whole yet. You wrote:

    What we probably disagree about is this premise:

    Divine revealed truths are found in both Holy Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

    I don’t disagree with that statement as it’s worded. I’d rather disagree with the following statement: ‘Divine truths are revealed in every proclaimation by the RCC.’

    Your particular claims on behalf of unbelief deserve consideration, but they are of a nature which requires time and space to properly address. It may be that none among us here at CTC has the requisite background knowledge to immediately engage you on these points, but I note that some are trying to do so. In any case, it seems unfair to fault us for arguing as we can, both to your exegetical points and on the basis of Divine Revelation–pointing you to the fuller scope of this, such that your unbelief is shown to contradict what God has said (and done).

    Do you know of any book length treatments of magestial authority from reputable scholars?

  169. Ryan,

    Some here might know of such books by reputable scholars. I only have a few written by liberals attempting to undermine the concept (from within, one might say).

    As to (A) Holy Tradition and (B) the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church: One needn’t assume that the latter, by definition, represents and infallibly defines the former (although A is notoriously hard to receive with the full assent of faith apart from B, especially where there is schism) in order to perceive that the perpetual virginity of Mary in all probability belongs to A. It has been thoroughly received as such in the Eastern churches and the Latin church, as much as any other ecumenically received dogma, doubts and contrary opinions expressed along the way (i.e., by some early and noteworthy writers) notwithstanding.

    By the way, my depiction of your stance as “unbelief” is not intended as an insult or commentary on the disposition of your will. It might be literally the case relative to the Catholic doctrine, but I suppose that the fact that you are taking the time to engage us on the state of the evidence, and that in a courteous way, renders gratuitous my use of that term. Thanks for ignoring my choice of words. (Even though I can’t quite manage to follow suit!)

  170. Neal,
    Our discussion seams to be lost in a sea of Marian debates. C’est la vie…

    First on the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha, I thought it was best to leave this debate aside for now since it seems to me to be separate although related matter. But I can make a few general comments. Firstly concerning my “interview” with Augustine, do you think you would have fared any differently if the interview had been with you and Athanasius? Keep in mind when Athanasius argues for a given canon he does not leave open the possibility that the Deuteros should be considered canonical. He states quite clearly that the Church did not accept these books. And can you think of anyone better than Athanasius to make such a judgment? Perhaps it would be fairer if we had Athanasius debate Augustine on this matter. Or maybe Jerome could debate Augustine. Now of course historically (that is, judged by Rome) Augustine generally won this debate, but really who was the most able scholar on such textual and linguistic matters that would enable one to make such judgments? Our contention on this subject matter was that Jerome clearly wins.

    Also keep in mind that there was no dogmatic guidance for the Medieval Church on this debate. The synods of Carthage and Hippo were provincial in nature and reflected the importance that these texts had become to particularly Alexandria. It was not until Trent that there was an ecumenical council that dogmatically affirmed the Deuteros as Scripture. And this was only an ecumenical council in the mind of Rome who had done about everything she could in previous centuries to alienate her brothers in the East, let alone the Protestants. This is not to say that these books were not largely accepted by the majority of the scholars of the Medieval Era, but then not many of these folks had the textual tools at their disposal to make such judgments and nobody was really talking about this issue until the scholars of the Renaissance resurrected it.

    The reason why I wanted to leave this issue aside is that there needs to be a distinction drawn between the concept of infallibility and the specific application in given texts. So for instance RCC does not agree with EO on exactly which texts are part of the canon, but the EO do not accuse Rome of forgoing the testimony of the Church because Rome reject some of the texts the EO accept. So likewise we Protestants reject certain texts that you accept but this does mean that we reject infallibility by any means. What we do reject is Trent’s assessment on whether Augustine was correct or not on this matter.

    Suppose I argued like this: God’s purposes for the Church, and for the world through the Church, are not just formally fused but are also dynamically connected in His mind, so that His promises never to leave or forsake her, to guide her into truth, etc., must not be unnecessarily separated. Therefore, Nicaea and every council thereafter was infallibly guided.

    But we are in disagreement over whether the councils in general were 100% perfect or whether they could be part true and part in error. The councils were not by definition a perfect expression of the mind of God. But when I say that God inspired certain texts and insured that they were collected into one, I thought you agreed that we could not have one without the other. They are necessarily connected in the mind of God, right? You are not arguing with me that God did not superintend the receiving of the canon, correct? But I am arguing with you that the councils were a perfect expression of God’s will. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that God could not have used an infallible Church, only that we just don’t need to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon. So we don’t give up on infallibility by denying the infallibility of Rome as she speaks on de fide matters.

    You may have not had time, but I thought you might comment on my expectation that we ought to judge the claim that given statements were infallible in the light of what we already know to be infallible statements from the Scriptures. I know that you don’t typically think about placing judgments on something that the RCC has already judged definitively, but then I am on the other side of the Tiber looking across and to me it’s a natural question.

  171. Ryan,

    The six step argument you lay out (in 156) is a sound argument. But I have not been making that argument. I have been saying (on the basis of reason) that if we are trying to understand Scripture, we have to do so through the testimony of the community who received it and passed it down. That’s the basis for the Pontificator’s third law. It does not presuppose the truth of Catholic dogma. Rather, it recognizes the hermeneutical value and authority of the testimony of the community that inherited not just a book but an understanding and a way of life from those who came before them. To ignore their testimony is to approach Scripture with a kind of hermeneutical reductionism, abstracting away the whole in which this book has its life. That’s why I used the DNA example in #144. This hermeneutical reductionism, as exemplified in the solo scriptura approach to Scripture is primarily a philosophical mistake.

    I set out a six-step argument that I take to be the RC argument.

    It would be an argument we might offer to Catholics, but not to those who don’t accept the premises of the argument.

    It is valid in that it doesn’t commit any formal fallacies. But I think it commits a material fallacy (i.e. begging the question).

    Only if offered to those who don’t accept all the premises.

    If all steps of the argument are consistent with RC teaching, then because the argument is valid, the argument begs the question.

    That conclusion only follows if this [six step] argument is being made to those who don’t accept the premises, not if it is being made to those who already do (for other reasons) accept all the premises.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  172. GK Chesterton spoke of the fact that Bible cannot testify on its own behalf. This is why an infallible Magisterium must interpret the Bible. This consideration puts Ryan’s initial problem (that we’ve got a situation in which an infallible Magisterium clearly conflicts infallible Sacred Scripture) in a different light, does it not? Vatican II emphasized the Bible’s innerancy as opposed to its infallibility. Dogma is certainly infallible, irreformable. Sacred Scripture is most accurately described as inerrant. thank you.

  173. Herbert, you are correct that the Magisterium must interpret the bible.

    On the issue of inerrancy, the Bible is inerrant and infallible although we typically don’t use “infallible” to talk of the Scriptures because they’re already finished. Inerrant just means it has no errors but infallible means its not capable of making an error. For example; I can say “Obama is currently the president of the US.” The statement is inerrant (i.e. it has no errors in it) but I wasn’t speaking infallibly because I could have said something wrong.

    The authors of Scripture were writing infallibly and what they produced was inerrant. Anything produced via an infallible process will ipso facto be inerrant. But two things without error cannot be in real conflict with each other.

  174. Thanks much, Tim- I understand the term infallible to best be applied to the Spirit-led actions of a living/indwelled entity such as the Church or the Pope (when pronouncing an irreformable decree…). Only a living thing can be directed by the Holy Spirit. And I understand the term inerrant as descriptive of an innate characteristic of something (such as your Obama statement, a Biblical text, etc.). This seems to me to be the important distinction made during the 2nd Vatican Council. So though the Biblical texts may be described rightly as infallible due to the fact that they are theopneustos, it is only in the proper context of Sacred Tradition through which they are infallibly interpreted. This seems like a clear distinction to me which alleviates much of the very legitimate concern that Ryan has expressed. Thanks, all of you for your thoughtful dialogue. It’s nothing short of enlightening!

  175. Andrew [McCallum],

    I went through your comments in this thread, looking for your reasons for believing that Protestants have an infallible [better, inerrant] canon. I came up with three. You believe that Protestants can know that they have an inerrant canon, for three reasons. One, because God says in the Scriptures that He is working through the process of canon formation. [#41] Two, because it would make no sense to talk about inspired books if there is no way to determine which books God inspired. [#52] And three, because the same God who superintended the writing of these texts superintended the collecting of them into what we know as the Bible today. [#141]

    Your first reason faces three problems. The first problem is that it tries to make use of the canon in order to establish the canon, but an effect cannot be its own cause. (See my comment #48.) The second problem is that God does not make any explicit promise in Scripture to guide the canon-formation process infallibly; He promises that the Spirit will guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13), and that the Church will be the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Tim 3:15). The third problem is that your notion [cf. #87] that God always leads perfectly but humans do not always perfectly follow God’s leading, entails that even if God perfectly guided the canon formation process, the humans involved might have bungled it.

    Your second reason is a reason to believe that God would provide a clear way to determine what the canon is, but this reason does not justify the belief that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    Your third reason likewise does not justify the belief that the Protestant canon is inerrant. The same God who superintended the writing of the books of the Bible also superintended the events of the Holocaust. But it does not follow that the events of the Holocaust were inerrant. Therefore, it does not follow that God’s superintending the process of the formation of the Protestant canon means that the Protestant cannon is inerrant.

    So, I have found no reason in your comments that justifies a Protestant believing that the process by which the Protestant canon was formed was infallible, and thus that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  176. Andrew (and Neal) -

    Maybe this is too simplistic a question, but if we agree that the Scriptures are infallible, because the writing of them and the gathering of them are part of the same dynamic process, then why is the interpreting of them not similarly a part of the same process?

    Having the written word does not itself guard against heresy or schism. All sides equally “prove” their points from the Scriptures (not saying all arguments are equal, but both appeal to Scripture, and often both sides even appeal to tradition in some sense). Interpretation is the real divide.

    Feel free to simply tell me I’ve missed the entire point – I enjoy the discussion, but know full well that I follow it only tenuously.

    Jackie

  177. Andrew,

    I think I threw things off track with my Augustine/Andrew thingy. (Though you’ll have to admit it was pretty cool talking with Augustine like that, no?) I wasn’t trying to argue for the authenticity of those disputed books, or to argue for their inclusion on the basis of Augustine’s authority, or what have you. I was trying to illustrate why I thought the set of considerations you’ve so far advanced here do not help to establish what you were ultimately trying to show.

    What did I think that was? You mentioned again (in bold) that you’re wanting to establish the “possibility” of an infallible collection of infallible books without an infallible Church. But I already granted this as a possibility. To say “God inspired texts and then oversaw the canonization process infallibly” on the one hand, and then to say “but this was all part of one “inScripturation” process and God hasn’t given any *general* gift of infallibility to the Church” is not a contradiction, and so is to that extent “possible.” I tried to be clear about this above: this is a self-consistent thing to say, and so is possible. My response was that (and here I thought you agreed) it sounded somewhat implausible and ad hoc (granting its ‘possibility’).

    What you then tried to do, I thought, was to give me a few reasons why it was a plausible thing to think. You mentioned, for example, that the Bible says God had promised to oversee the canonization process infallibly. Perhaps I should have followed up on this more closely, but I didn’t. I just indicated to you that I didn’t know of anywhere in the Bible where it says that.

    You then remarked that there is a connection between inspiration and canonicity; given this connection, since inspired things are infallible, you argued, the canonization process must have been infallible too. I then told you why I thought this argument misfired.

    You then offered a broadly theological argument for the plausibility of the contended claim: you told me that the inspiration-canonization connection wasn’t just a formal principle but was a dynamic process in God’s mind; that it is sort of silly to think that God would go to all the trouble of inspiring folks and then toss caution to the wind when it came to canonizing them; that God’s perfect character and purposes therefore entail that the “canon we possess is perfect.”

    I then noted that I thought this argument didn’t help much. My main reasons for reacting in this way are these: first, what you say here is something any Catholic could accept, but it doesn’t follow from what you say here that the position your pushing has become more plausible or is more plausible than a Catholic view. Because nothing you say here makes it more reasonable to hold that this infallibly guided canonization process was more or less a one off thing — and remember, I’ve already granted the *possibility* of this claim — rather than reflective of a more stable, covenantal relationship God has with His Church. Second, and perhaps most importantly, nothing you say here justifies the conclusion that “the canon we [Protestants] possess is perfect.” For any Catholic could make the same assertions about God’s faithfulness, about how silly it would be to inspire things without ensuring they got collected right, etc., and then conclude that “the canon we [Catholics] have is perfect.” (They “could” conclude this, that is, with as much justifiability as you display when you draw your own perfect-Protestant-canon conclusion.)

    This is because the broadly theological argument you lay out, and everything before it, does not justify the epistemological claim you’re wanting to infer.

    Perhaps it would be well to remember that we’re dealing with two distinct but related things: (1) Was the process of canonization infallibly guided? (2) If so, given that there is a conflict about the canon, how can I tell which of the candidates canons were the result of this infallibly guided process?

    Perhaps you were really just aiming to answer (1) in the affirmative, in a way that is both consistent with Protestantism and rendered somewhat plausible given the broadly theological argument; and if so, I could have clouded the issue by pulling out Augustine and doing the dialogue thing. (This dialogue, I hope you can see, was geared towards showing why I didn’t think you could draw your epistemological claim from the considerations you adduced.) The reason I thought it was relevant is that I didn’t think you were aiming for the conclusion: “Well, some canon or other must be infallible, but I don’t really know which one it is.” But to the extent you want to say more than that, again, I think the broadly theological argument (and the contention that it’s “possible” that you’ve got an infallibe canon) really don’t go all the way there.

    Peace,

    Neal

  178. Jackie,

    Hi there. Good to hear from you again.

    I think that the connection you’ve drawn here is an important one. (Though you’d expect *me* to say that, wouldn’t you?) It is reasonable to think that God wouldn’t inspire things and then take a gamble about canonization; but so too, and for the same reasons, it is reasonable to think that God wouldn’t give this gift to the Church, ensure that the canonization process went right, issue a set of promises (“I’m with you always,” “I won’t leave you as orphans,” “I’ll send the Spirit so as to secure the unity of the Body and so as to guide you into the truth,” “the gates of hell won’t prevail,” etc.), and then fail to remain on in a similar infallible-guidance capacity. This is why I think if Andrew is right to see inspiration and canonization as “dynamically connected” in God’s mind, it’s plausible to extend his insight so as to cover God’s general fatherly and providential relationship to the Church through the ages.

    Best,

    Neal

  179. What do Protestants think Jesus meant when he said that part of the purpose of sending the Spirit was to guide us into all truth?

  180. I went through your comments in this thread, looking for your reasons for believing that Protestants have an infallible [better, inerrant] canon. I came up with three. You believe that Protestants can know that they have an inerrant canon, for three reasons. One, because God says in the Scriptures that He is working through the process of canon formation. [#41] Two, because it would make no sense to talk about inspired books if there is no way to determine which books God inspired. [#52] And three, because the same God who superintended the writing of these texts superintended the collecting of them into what we know as the Bible today. [#141]

    Bryan,
    I looked at my post #41, I could not find that it says what you state above for reason one, but statements two and three are definitely a good outline of what I’m saying although not of course the total of the argument.

    Your second reason is a reason to believe that God would provide a clear way to determine what the canon is, but this reason does not justify the belief that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    My tact with Neal was firstly to demonstrate that we did not need to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon. Statement #2 is just meant to demonstrate the possibility that God worked through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon. The thought question I put to Neal was to posit a fallible Church and then ask the question as to whether or not the canon would have been infallible in this case. My answer here is “yes.” My assumption concerning the formation of the canon is no different than my assumption concerning the writing of the individual works in that canon. If God worked through fallible entities (writers of the biblical books) to produce infallible works than He could likewise produce an infallible collection of these works with a fallible entity (the Church). In other words there is no reason to posit and infallible Church to have an infallible canon. God is perfectly capable of working through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon. If you disagree with this logic then maybe you should explain. Why drive a wedge between inspiration and canonization? What is wrong with making the same assumptions about both processes? Remember, I am not trying to disprove infallibility as a general charism of the Church, only to point out that it is not necessary to canonization. If you think that the Church needs to be infallible to have an infallible canon, then why?

    The same God who superintended the writing of the books of the Bible also superintended the events of the Holocaust. But it does not follow that the events of the Holocaust were inerrant.

    You are not using the term “superintended” the same way I was using it. I used this term with Neal several times as an expression of the perfect will and voice of God. God did not bless and condone the acts of the Holocaust. But God did bless and condone the process of inspiration/canonization. In fact it was His work.

    And finally I would add that if your theory is right that Protestants cannot be sure of the canon, then you would think that this would lead to Protestants actually doubting the canon. Now when you look at the Evangelical world you see a fair amount of epistemological skepticism about history, tradition, reason, and logic, but you find no skepticism about the Scriptures or their completeness. So why do you think that your theory about Protestants and the canon has no expression in the Evangelical world?

  181. Maybe this is too simplistic a question, but if we agree that the Scriptures are infallible, because the writing of them and the gathering of them are part of the same dynamic process, then why is the interpreting of them not similarly a part of the same process?

    Having the written word does not itself guard against heresy or schism. All sides equally “prove” their points from the Scriptures (not saying all arguments are equal, but both appeal to Scripture, and often both sides even appeal to tradition in some sense). Interpretation is the real divide.

    Jackie,

    Neal can correct me if he thinks I’m stating this wrong from the RCC perspective, but I think that both sides would agree that the process of interpreting is a human activity that is open to error. My point to Neal and Bryan is that the inspiration and canonization is an expression of God’s mind and heart just as much as when Moses or Elijah or another prophet came to the people of God and said, “Thus says the Lord.” But in the interpretation process we have human beings who are now trying to understand and apply this perfect Word of God and this process is fallible because people are fallible. Now for the Catholic, the promises to God’s people about being the pillar and ground of the truth and so on mean that when the Church speaks officially on de fide matters that God protects her from error. For us Protestants we don’t see that the promises of God to lead His people infallibly mean that the Church cannot fall into error. To illustrate this, I used one of the many lessons from the OT I think sheds some light here and that is the story of Josiah. This king lived in a time when the people of God had gone backwards and the leaders of the people, both ecclesiastically and civilly, were leading away from what God taught. God lead infallibly but the covenant people of God did not follow infallibly. Then in Josiah’s time the Law of God was found and Josiah and some of the priests lead the people back to God. So God protected His Church, not by assuring that she would never fall into error, but by preserving His Word so that His people could be lead back to the truth.

    Catholics often ask us how we interpret the infallible Scriptures. They will say that they have an infallible Church and we then ask them how they interpret the tradition which gives birth to the infallible Church. Both sides have to interpret. For us, placing an infallible Church in between the Scriptures and the people of God just removes the issue one step. And tradition is a very difficult thing to interpret! Your point about interpretation is a good one, but I think we both have this challenge of how to interpret.

  182. What did I think that was? You mentioned again (in bold) that you’re wanting to establish the “possibility” of an infallible collection of infallible books without an infallible Church. But I already granted this as a possibility.

    Neal,

    I don’t remembering you stating this so plainly as you did above and you seemed to be answering me as if you were rather skeptical of such a position. Anyway, given the fact that we don’t need an infallible Church to have an infallible canon, what I was hoping that you might comment on a little more was my point about how we would or would not then accept a statement as infallible or not. This is where we really start talking about the general infallibility issue. We see statements in Bible where the speakers say something that we can say is infallible. So as we look at the promulgations from let’s say Nicaea I, should we make our assessments of whether these statements are infallible using the same sort of criteria that we used to conclude that the statements of Elijah, Paul, were infallible?

    My statements about the necessary connection between inspiration and canonicity were again to establish the possibility of an infallible canon without an infallible Church. So it sounds like I’m arguing something you are not debating so maybe I should shut up about it. But I have to wonder about your statement that “any Catholic could accept this.” On the infallibility of Scripture Protestants seem to spend an inordinate amount of time convincing Catholics what we Reformed do believe and then we seem to spend an equal amount of time defending the idea that rejecting an infallible Church does not mean we are left with an incoherent position. We often never even get to debating the substance of the issue itself.

    On “candidate canons,” do you think that you have the same problem with the EO as you do with us? If so, do the EO make the same mistake as the Protestants just with different texts?

  183. What do Protestants think Jesus meant when he said that part of the purpose of sending the Spirit was to guide us into all truth?

    David,

    Take a look at my comments to Jackie above (#181) about about King Josiah and tell me what you think.

    Cheers for now….

  184. Dear Andrew,

    I admit I’ve been pretty distracted with end of semester chaos the last couple of days, so it’s possible that I haven’t kept this discussion very organized or that we’ve not been on the same page throughout. I tried to get clear on the distinctions above and I thought I was clear about where we were in the back and forth, but perhaps not. Let me just try to clear up whatever mess I’ve made here.

    If you glance back up to our early discussion, when I was talking about the need to use ‘infallible’ and its cognates univocally, I said that there was a straightforward way in which the claim that we have an infallible canon was inconsistent with the assertion that Scripture alone is infallible and nothing else is. I pointed out that this inconsistency was likely behind the contention of Sproul and others (Gerstner, too?) that the collection is fallible. What I said was, if we used the term univocally in both occurrences, and we say that Scripture only is infallible to the exclusion of everything else whatever, then, yes, we can’t turn around and affirm the infallibility of the historical process leading to canonization.

    You mention that you spend lots of time trying to persuade Catholics that your claim that we have an infallible collection (given that the documents collected alone are infallible) isn’t incoherent. Maybe so; but notice that, if so, this may not be because Catholics don’t listen to Reformed people or don’t understand the position. It could be, instead, that these Catholic critics are thinking about the Reformed view in the way Sproul is thinking about it, and then trying to say that all you can really get (without lapsing into incoherence) is a fallible collection. So it could be that these Catholic critics don’t fail to listen to or understand “Reformed theology” so much as it could be the case that they understand “Reformed theology” (on this point, anyway), at least as well as Sproul. Maybe that doesn’t amount to much from the perspective of some, but I think the broader Reformed world has some respect for Sproul.

    In any event, that was the sense in which you would get an inconsistency. You avoid the inconsistency by saying that God did in fact infallibly guide the canonization process. You ask me whether it’s possible for Him to do this without bestowing a general promise of infallible guidance. I said, “Possible? Sure.” That kind of position (“God did infallibly guide *this* process, at least”) is different from Sproul’s and thus removes the looming incoherence.

    I pointed out that there were a couple of possibilities ((3) and (4)) here. We could say that you get infallible guidance just in this one case where you need it to establish your claim about the canon, and then insist that it never happens anywhere else. I explained why I thought that was not a great position to take, but didn’t take much time on it because I thought (maybe wrongly) that you rejected (3) in favor of the more nuanced (4), which says that the process of “inscripturation” should be thought of as including the entire process that led to the formation of the canon, and not just the actual writing of inspired texts. I explained why I didn’t think you could rely on that claim to make your position more attractive than (3).

    Throughout, I granted that (3) was possible. I didn’t realize you were still trying to get me to grant the possibility, because I thought you were trying to make it plausible, and you were laying out all this really interesting business about stuff going on in God’s head. And so we ended up talking about how that stuff going on in God’s head allowed you to establish the claim that you could know that the Protestant canon in particular was “perfect.” You have clarified, now, that the stuff about inspiration and canonicity as being corollaries and as constituting one big united thing in God’s mind was just intended to establish a possible model in which the canonization process was infallibly guided, but that this doesn’t reflect a more general and abiding relationship God has with the Church. This I think is fine so far as it goes, but it doesn’t (I think) take the discussion much farther along than where it was before.

    To reiterate: the Catholics who charge Protestants with inconsistency in affirming an infallible canon are (let’s charitably assume) just thinking about the matter in the same way Sproul is. You’ve tried to distinguish your position from Sproul and I was tracking your modifications and thought processes through a series of arguments, all the while understanding that, because your position is designed to be different from his, you would not succumb to the same outright contradiction that he would were he to affirm an infallible collection. You’ve removed yourself from his position by arguing either that God infallibly guided at least this particular process, but that doesn’t mean God’s in the business of infallibly guiding any other ones, or, that nothing except Scripture is infallible, but the “inscripturation” of God’s Word extends well beyond the writing of texts and way into the post-Apostolic era. I think this is a nonstandard use of ‘inscripturation’, but however that may be it’s still another way to affirm a possibility in logical space that wouldn’t commit you to the claim that God has promised to infallibly guide His Church throughout the ages in the way Catholics think He does.

    So from my reading that’s pretty much how things went and pretty much where we are. What I’ve been trying to do is examine the plausibility and then the usefulness of these abstract possibilities given the rather concrete epistemological claim you (I thought) were aiming to establish. But again, I could’ve just misread this whole exchange, or large parts of it.

    Listen, I’ve got some term papers and things to deal with for the next week or so, so maybe I can try to address your other questions just a little later, if you don’t mind? I hate putting you off like that but I’m pretty pressed just now.

    I do hope I’ve helped to clear up a few of the things I’ve made murky.

    Neal

  185. Andrew,

    I see the point you’re getting at, particularly the need to interpret tradition, but your example of Josiah misses something very important about my question: Josiah was part of the Old Covenant. We’re part of something new, different, and better than the ecclesiastical body of which Josiah was a part. If the assurance that believers had in the Old Testament was that God would always put things back on track, how do you see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, particularly as it is described in this promise of Christ, as excelling the Old Covenant?

    Now, as to the problem of interpretation, I think that to say the Catholic position no better than the Protestant position because “words still have to be interpreted” is to destroy any basis for meaningful intercourse between living beings. What I mean is this: with a living, breathing magisterium, we have something far better than the commandments inscribed in stone to which we must constantly turn, and over which to argue constantly. A stone tablet can’t speak; neither can a book. Living people, however, who can be called to deliberate and come up with an answer to a pressing question, can answer the particular questions that are being asked, and can explain and clarify. It does no good to come to the New Testament and ask, “Should baptism be done by sprinkling or immersion?”

    This is why Protestants constantly argue over matters that were settled centuries ago in the Catholic church. You can’t go to a letter of Paul that is written primarily to correct moral failures in a congregation, and which perhaps mentions baptism only briefly, in passing, to make a larger point, and expect to be able to extract everything you need to know about baptism from it. We can see this by doing a simple comparison of the Old and New Covenants, along with their respective scriptures. In the Old Covenant, the Law precedes the community. God gave Moses a set of propositions that were meant to be clear instructions about how the community should function civilly, judicially, and religiously. Do this. Don’t do that. Build the temple this way. Worship that way. In the New Covenant, however, the community precedes the scriptures. Before books are ever written, the Spirit is poured out on human beings, and a commission is given directly from Christ to certain individuals to lead. The books aren’t finished for 100 years, and not collected into one place for 400+. So what kind of literature do we have in the New Covenant scriptures? Narratives and letters. From a purely philological perspective, this should set the alarms off in anyone’s head that this text is not meant to be used in the same way that the Old Covenant believers used Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Yet that’s exactly what Protestants do, and that’s why Protestants are still arguing about infant baptism and exclusive psalmody. There is no body of leaders like the council in Acts 15 that can come together to discuss a topic, and at the end say, “It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit…

    So I’m wandering around my point here, but to get back to the issue of interpreting tradition…it’s okay to allow for further interpretation. The benefit is that Catholics can go to the Magsterium and ask, “What do you mean by this pronouncement?” We can’t do that with Paul or Luke. The Spirit, working through the teachers, continues not only to clarify things that have been said in the past, but also to address issues which may not be addressed directly in the Scriptures or in previous magisterial pronouncements. As I see it, this is one of the key benefits of the New Covenant.

  186. Andrew –

    I’m probably wrong about this, but is seems like, in this particular argument, you are giving the “infallibility” of the Church too broad a definition. I know that you know what it means (you have demonstrated that, it just seems that here you aren’t applying it). Your example of Josiah would hold water if “infallibility” meant that every priest, bishop, and congregation couldn’t fall into error. But it doesn’t. I went back and reread the story from 2 Kings to be sure I was remembering it correctly (I was, and almost the same thing happens when Ezra and Nehemiah come back to the Temple after the exile), and honestly it reads just like a chapter out of Catholic history. The history of the Church is one of great times and bad times. Just because the Word is available, just because the Church has dogmatically defined something, doesn’t mean that the Church at large always follows what it is supposed to. No one in their right mind would try to argue that the Church as a whole has followed it’s own dictates perfectly throughout history, but there have always been Elijah’s and Elisha’s reminding the people (even those in leadership positions) of the truth. Reform is always happening.

    I think of Athenasius and Arius. Even after the Church declared Arianism to be heresy it did not die. The Church spoke correctly and yet there were plenty of bishops that were all too happy to see Athenasius banished. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The correct teaching prevailed in the end, although it was pretty ugly for a while. Just like with Josiah. God always acts to bring his people back to the truth. This is where the infallibility of the Church comes in – when the people and the clergy are off the rails, the Church leads them back onto the track and Scripture plays a huge part in this, obviously, it can never be separated from the process because it’s an integral part of the whole. There is not Scripture or Tradition, they are always together as the one Deposit of Faith.

    I’m assuming that you mean for the lesson to be that they read the Scriptures and discovered their folly, and that is how we are to know right doctrine from wrong doctrine, correct? I don’t think that we have much argument there, Scripture is good tool for that. But Josiah already knew how to please God before the book was found, he knew the key was in the Temple and he knew the priests had a part. He hadn’t completely lost it all. They also had the prophets giving them the truth. Same thing with Ezra and Nehemiah. It’s hard to argue that Nehemiah was off the rails, even though the Scriptures had been lost. He was able to maintain, through tradition I guess, what God wanted.

    You said that the process of interpreting is a human activity open to error – but so is writing and gathering, yet we’ve established that God can intervene into those activities. You also said, ” inspiration and canonization is an expression of God’s mind and heart”, and I fully agree, but to be truly an expression of God’s mind and heart it must be properly interpreted or you get all kinds of interesting expressions. It seems odd to me that God would inspire writers – allow fallible men to write infallibly; then allow fallible men to infallibly gather together those writing and pick them out amongst all the other writings; then leave the most important part – what it means – open to fallibility.

    I’d also like to see you explain more fully to David what you meant in #183. I’m assuming that you are saying that the Spirit guides us into all truth by our reading of Scripture? Or that the Spirit guides us to Scripture?

    I appreciate you interacting with me. I spent most of my life as a protestant, reformed actually (I am a convert to Catholicism) and this was an issue I never saw satisfactorily covered (I’m not saying it’s not somewhere, just not that I read). I hated Sproul’s “fallible collection of infallible books” and wanted to find a better explanation for the canon we have being infallible, this makes me interested in your argument. I am not however, a theologian or a philosopher and although I enjoy this blog immensely I’m not on a par with some of other folks around here.

    Jackie

  187. Andrew,

    My tact with Neal was firstly to demonstrate that we did not need to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon.

    My question is not about whether the Church needs to be infallible to have an inerrant canon. My question is how a Protestant can know that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    Statement #2 is just meant to demonstrate the possibility that God worked through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon.

    That it is possible (at least logically possible) that God worked through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon does not show how a Protestant can know that the Protestant canon is infallible.

    The thought question I put to Neal was to posit a fallible Church and then ask the question as to whether or not the canon would have been infallible in this case. My answer here is “yes.”

    The reasoning process that leads to this “yes” is precisely what I’m asking about. In other words, how would a Protestant know that the Protestant canon is infallible? From the [supposed] fallibility of the Church it does not logically follow that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    My assumption concerning the formation of the canon is no different than my assumption concerning the writing of the individual works in that canon.

    These are assumptions, for you? Mere assumptions? Or, are you saying that just as you get an internal witness in your spirit when you start reading the books in a Protestant Bible that these books are divinely inspired (but that you don’t get such a witness when you read the deuterocanonical books), so also when you pick up a Protestant Bible you get an internal witness in your spirit that that canon is inerrant, but that when you pick up a Catholic Bible, you don’t get an internal witness in your spirit that the Catholic canon is inerrant?

    If God worked through fallible entities (writers of the biblical books) to produce infallible works than He could likewise produce an infallible collection of these works with a fallible entity (the Church).

    That’s a separate question from the one I’m asking. My question is how a Protestant can know that the Protestant canon is infallible.

    In other words there is no reason to posit and infallible Church to have an infallible canon. God is perfectly capable of working through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon.

    But my question is how a Protestant can know that the Protestant canon is infallible.

    Why drive a wedge between inspiration and canonization?

    Why drive a wedge between [inspiration and canonization] on the one hand, and the Church’s official interpretation on the other? Would God give us an inerrant Bible with an inerrant canon, and then leave us perpetually floundering and groping in the dark without an inerrant interpretation? Catholics aren’t driving any wedges between inspiration and canon-formation. We believe that both processes are infallible. Protestants are the ones who are driving the wedge, to use your language, between Scripture and its interpretation, by claiming that the former is divinely protected from error, but not the latter.

    What is wrong with making the same assumptions about both processes?

    Maybe you don’t really mean to be using the word ‘assumption’. Maybe you are saying that if we know that individual books of the Bible are divinely inspired, then it is *reasonable* to believe that God would want His Church to know which books belong to the canon. I agree with that. But, that doesn’t answer the question of how we would then know that it is the Protestant canon, instead of the Catholic canon, that is inerrant. Either we appeal to bosom-burning for determining the divine inspiration of the individual books *and* the inerrancy of the canon, or we appeal to the Church for determining the divine inspiration of the books and the inerrancy of the canon. If we appeal to the Church for determining the divine inspiration of the books and the identification of the canon, then the result is the Catholic canon. But if we resort to bosom-burning for determining the divine inspiration of the books and the identification of the canon, there is no guarantee that the result will be the Protestant canon.

    And finally I would add that if your theory is right that Protestants cannot be sure of the canon, then you would think that this would lead to Protestants actually doubting the canon. Now when you look at the Evangelical world you see a fair amount of epistemological skepticism about history, tradition, reason, and logic, but you find no skepticism about the Scriptures or their completeness. So why do you think that your theory about Protestants and the canon has no expression in the Evangelical world?

    They’re borrowing from Catholic principles, and living on Catholic inertia. Give it time. (See my comment #98.) It is already happening — see comment #100.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  188. Andrew,

    Neal can correct me if he thinks I’m stating this wrong from the RCC perspective, but I think that both sides would agree that the process of interpreting is a human activity that is open to error.

    That mischaracterizes the Catholic position. Catholics believe that the Magisterium interprets infallibly, when she speaks with her full authority regarding various theological disputes. A layperson is fallible in interpreting the Scripture, but not the Magisterium when speaking with her full authority. That’s what is happening, for example, in Ecumenical Councils.

    My point to Neal and Bryan is that the inspiration and canonization is an expression of God’s mind and heart just as much as when Moses or Elijah or another prophet came to the people of God and said, “Thus says the Lord.” But in the interpretation process we have human beings who are now trying to understand and apply this perfect Word of God and this process is fallible because people are fallible.

    This is special pleading. Humans are involved in all three processes: writing Scripture, collecting the canon, and interpreting Scripture. But you want the first two processes to be infallible, but then claim that because humans are involved in the last process, therefore it must be fallible. That’s special pleading.

    Your Josiah example assumes that the New Covenant, in which even the least is greater than John the Baptist, is equivalent to the Old Covenant. None of the Church Fathers believed that. “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one.” (Heb 8:6) The Old Covenant did not have the graces that are available in the New Covenant, through the sacraments that flow from Christ the Head of the Body. Why not allow 1 Tim 3:15 to say what it actually says, instead of reading it as though given under the Old Covenant?

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  189. Andrew,

    I remarked above that I thought the use of ‘inscripturation’ which includes canonization was maybe ‘nonstandard’. Not that the point mattered anyway, but maybe I’m wrong about that. My Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (ed. Donald McKim) says that “inscripturation” means “The process of God’s revelation being formed as the Holy Scriptures.” Your construal of ‘inscripturation’ (i.e. “inScripturation”) fits well with this definition, if by ‘Holy Scriptures’ we mean “the [Protestant?] Canon.” Anyway, thought I should set the record straight there.

    Best,

    Neal

  190. You mention that you spend lots of time trying to persuade Catholics that your claim that we have an infallible collection (given that the documents collected alone are infallible) isn’t incoherent. Maybe so; but notice that, if so, this may not be because Catholics don’t listen to Reformed people or don’t understand the position. It could be, instead, that these Catholic critics are thinking about the Reformed view in the way Sproul is thinking about it, and then trying to say that all you can really get (without lapsing into incoherence) is a fallible collection. So it could be that these Catholic critics don’t fail to listen to or understand “Reformed theology” so much as it could be the case that they understand “Reformed theology” (on this point, anyway), at least as well as Sproul. Maybe that doesn’t amount to much from the perspective of some, but I think the broader Reformed world has some respect for Sproul.

    Neal,

    In your first statement above, I would broaden this to say that we spend lots of time trying to convince Catholics in general (not just this issue) that we really believe what we say we do. And then we spend a considerable amount of time convincing them there are not the sort of fatal flaws in our thinking that they suppose (as what Bryan is saying about Protestants and the infallible canon). If we get beyond these two then maybe we can have a good discussion about the exegetical, historical, philosophical issues that are at the core of the issue (from my perspective anyway). And so you do raise a very good point about what the Catholic critics perceive of Reformed theology (of course the vice versa is true here as well). These perceptions definitely can be headache to get beyond.

    Your reiteration looks at a quick read to be right on target – you seem to very adept at this kind of thing. And I think this kind of discussion is necessary and helpful before we start talking about whether a given statement outside of Scripture can be called infallible. But just like you the upcoming week is not going to let me do too much of this kind of thing. But have the feeling that we will “meet” again soon.

    Cheers for now….

  191. Jackie and David,

    I’m sure I’m not going to get to all of what you address and you are definitely asking some tough questions. What I am trying to answer at least partly is the the claim that the Church was guaranteed infallibility when God made promises to her (i.e. that she would be the pillar and ground of the truth, that God would never leave her, etc). What I’m suggesting is that such promises could be fulfilled without saying that the Church can never err (qualifying this of course as RCC theology does). So when we say that God leads His Church infallibly or that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth does this mean that we have to conclude that no errors can be made on de fide matters? My suggestion is that we look to other parts of the Bible to help explain. So the one I picked was the story of Josiah. My contention is that the kings before and after Josiah were also lead infallibly by God just as much as Josiah was. Of course God lead infallibly (how could God do otherwise?) but of course God’s people went astray. God’s faithfulness was not expressed in an infallible ecclesiastical structure but rather by assuring that His Word was always there to lead them back.

    So what changes in the New Testament? Is there an extra measure of guidance by God to the NT people that transform the Church into an institution that cannot err when speaking in an official capacity? We are told that the Church is the ground of truth and you are interpreting this as saying that God is promising the Church won’t make any errors on de fide issues. But just as with Josiah and so many other biblical cases, there are all sorts of ways that God could keep this promise without guaranteeing indefectibility. Yes, God leads His Church infallibly but why then should we then conclude that the Church follows infallibly?

    If you get a chance to answer I may not get to write back to you soon.

  192. Andrew,

    When, in your first paragraph, you began to talk about Josiah again, I thought you had missed the point, since I noted that we are a part of the New Covenant, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out. Then, in your second paragraph, it looked like you were on the right track when you said, “So what changes in the New Testament?” Then, in answering this question, you go back to Josiah. So how is the New Covenant different?

    Also, you said “There are all sorts of ways that God could keep this promise without guaranteeing indefectibility.” What are those ways, and how do we know which one is the right one? Would you at least grant that the Catholic position is at least one of those ways?

  193. Sorry, the last sentence should read, “Would you at least grant that the Catholic position is a viable interpretation of the new promises from Christ through the Spirit?”

  194. Andrew,

    What I’m suggesting is that such promises could be fulfilled without saying that the Church can never err (qualifying this of course as RCC theology does). So when we say that God leads His Church infallibly or that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth does this mean that we have to conclude that no errors can be made on de fide matters? (my emphasis)

    This is very similar to what liberals say about Scripture viz-a-viz inerrancy. “What we’re suggesting is that we don’t need inerrancy in some literal sense. That God uses the Scriptures to lead His Church infallibly does not mean that we have to conclude that Scripture has no errors.” The modernism that Machen fought is the natural outworking of the very same mentality applied earlier to the Church by Protestantism. “Though Protestantism has generated [the ideas of modernism] little by little, it did not understand from the beginning that such would be its sequel.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

    Why should we adopt a theological method of imagining how much can be eliminated and it still be possible for God to do something, instead of accepting by faith what the Church teaches is the deposit of faith handed down to us by the Fathers from the Apostles? This minimalistic theological pragmatism has no non-arbitrary stopping point; it eliminates the Church, the sacraments, the priesthood, the incarnation, the cross, and the gospel, because we can imagine that God in His immeasurable and incomparable omnipotence can still bring about any effect, without those things. This theological method is thus intrinsically flawed, because it circumvents the divinely revealed means to heaven, and uses our own imagination to determine a more parsimonious means of attaining heaven. The method then by its very nature does not treat divine revelation as divine, and man as rightfully subordinate to that revelation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  195. The NYT on the revival of Calvinism.

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