Review of Robert Louis Wilken’s The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity

Aug 4th, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Robert Louis Wilken’s The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Yale University Press, 2012) is an ambitious survey of Christian history, from one of America’s most accomplished religious historians. Wilken is William R. Kenan Professor of History of Christianity Emeritus at the University of Virginia, an associate at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, as well as a former president of the American Academy of Religion and the North American Patristic Society.1

Wilken’s work begins with Christianity’s humble beginnings in Jerusalem and follows the Church’s theological, cultural, artistic, architectural, and political developments across Asia, Africa, and Europe, ending with the baptism of Vladimir, the Rus prince in Kiev, at the end of the millennium in 988. Besides serving as a helpful guide in understanding the most important events and trends of early Christianity, Wilken’s book also has catechetical and apologetic implications in its description of the early Church. In particular, his historical analysis brings out certain markers that most universally defined the early Church. Here I will argue that these markers remain present in today’s Catholic Church, rather than in Reformed Protestantism. This may not be accidental: Wilken himself is a Catholic convert from Lutheranism and committed to ecumenical dialogue through his participation in the organization Evangelicals and Catholics Together. In reflecting on Wilken’s latest work, I will highlight three specific markers (among many) that serve as evidence that the Catholic Church has a better claim to being the continuation of the early Church than Reformed Protestantism.

One characteristic shared by Christians through the ancient world was the universality of the office of the bishop. In his chapter “The Making of a Christian Community,” he writes:

Ignatius [of Antioch] is the first to use the term “catholic church.” This expression would grow in meaning as the centuries passed, but already it carried some of its later overtones, namely that the churches formed an organic fellowship belonging to a single and undivided communion united to Christ. The sign of this unity was the person of the bishop. As Ignatius puts it in one of his letters: Wherever the bishop is, there one finds the fellowship; just as wherever Jesus Christ is there is the catholic Church.2

As has been argued elsewhere on Called To Communion, Ignatius’ proximity to the apostolic age and the writers of the New Testament is significant; his death in c. A.D. 107 was approximately twenty years after the completion of the Gospel of St. John.3 Wilken later notes that by the end of the second century, the principle of one bishop for a city was “almost universal.”4 He explains:

As Ignatius put it, there is one Eucharist, one altar, one cup, one Christ, and one bishop. There could be no liturgical celebration, no communal action, no public teaching except in fellowship with the bishop.5

Reformed theology has often argued that the office of bishop did not exist in the apostolic era, as its unique functions are absent from the writings of the New Testament canon, and that the distinction between bishop and presbyter is a later and inauthentic development. However, Tim Troutman, in his article Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood has argued that the interchangeability of the terms ‘presbyter’ and ‘bishop’ does not necessarily entail that there was no apostolic distinction between the two offices, as “they were still developing from common references to Christian ministers into technical terms indicating the clear distinction between the offices.” Wilken likewise seems willing to concede this point:

Note that the terms “elder” (presbyter) and “overseer” (episcopos) are used interchangeably. In time the term episcopos would become the Greek word for “bishop,” and presbyter would become “priest,” but at this stage the two terms were used without distinction for members of a council of elders.6

However, as Troutman has argued, “the earliest extra-biblical texts consistently point to an established tradition of a single resident bishop,” and there was a growth in mere presbyters that made the distinction between bishop and presbyter more historically explicit. Wilken’s analysis brings to light that the peculiar office of bishop occurred early in Church history, was quickly applied universally, and was the only form of Church government to endure. Wilken explains:

There is no evidence for enduring Christian communities without the office of the bishop. Even in distant lands, when a king adopted the faith, one of the first actions was to send for bishops from more established regions. In other lands, such as in northern Europe, bishops were often in the vanguard of those who brought the faith to the Germanic peoples.7

Bishops were thus essential to the governance and spread of the early Church, and believed themselves to carry an authority given by Christ Himself, passed to the apostles and subsequently to successive generations of bishops.8 Yet there is no record of any serious debate in the early Church over divergent forms of Church government; no popular demands for a low-ecclesial congregational form of government, nor for a Reformed-style session of elders. If Christ or His apostles had wanted an alternate form of government, the silence of any dissenters from the episcopal form of government in the early centuries is surprising, at the very least.9

A second marker that diverges from Reformed Protestantism is the widespread practice of the ascetic lifestyle across the Christian world. Wilken writes:

No less important were the monks. Already in the second century the ascetic impulse within Christianity was observed by outsiders. By the end of the third century small groups of men or women lived chaste lives in community, and in the fourth century monasticism exploded across the Christian world.10

Monachoi, or solitaries, appeared early in the development of Christianity. Drawing upon research from his The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale University Press, 2nd ed., 2003), Wilken refers to the Greek physician and philosopher Galen, who noted in the 2nd century that Christian men and women were refraining “from cohabiting through their lives” and practicing self-control in matters of food and drink.11 This is perhaps not surprising, given an ascetic strain in the New Testament found in such passages as Luke 20:34-36 or 1 Cor. 7:29. Although most vibrant in Egypt, where the well-known figure of St. Anthony drew upon the practices of another earlier monachoi in the late third century, the monastic life was found elsewhere in Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia, and eventually western Europe.

Wilken notes:

Yet once monasticism took hold in society there was no stopping its growth. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, and in medieval Christianity both East and West, nothing was more vital to Christian life than monasticism. It is among the oldest and most durable Christian institutions and must be reckoned as a distinctive mark of classical Christianity along with the Eucharist and baptism, bishops, creeds, and the canon of scripture.12

The centrality of the ascetic and monastic life to the early Church stands in sharp distinction to historic, confessional Reformed Protestantism, which has typically viewed such religious communities with suspicion. Calvin in book IV, 8-21 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (available here) firmly criticizes the Catholic monastic life, both for its departure from earlier forms of monasticism during the time of St. Augustine, and for Calvin’s claim that the monastic life suggest that “all other callings of God are regarded as unworthy by comparison.”13

Calvin further condemns monasticism for separating individuals from the larger Christian body:

The facts themselves tell us that all those who enter into the monastic community break with the church. Why? Do they not separate themselves from the lawful society of believers, in adopting a peculiar ministry and a private administration of the sacraments?14

And:

I frankly admit that even in that ancient form which Augustine commends there is something that I do not like very much . . . . they were not without immoderate affectation and perverse zeal . . . . God prefers devoted care in ruling a household . . . . But it is not the part of Christian meekness, as if in hatred of the human race, to flee to the desert and wilderness and at the same time to forsake those duties which the Lord has especially commanded15

Likewise, the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that monastic orders are sinful:

Popish monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself.16

Even today, a common Reformed/Protestant objection to monasticism is the alleged absence of scriptural evidence for monasticism, given that no monastic communities are explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. However, the seeds of the monastic lifestyle are present in the lives of the Old Testament prophets, who often lived separated from the community of Israel, while maintaining a rigid and ascetic lifestyle (e.g., Elijah or Jeremiah). As an example from the New Testament, St. John the Baptist, whom Jesus himself called the “greatest born of women,” (Matthew 11:11) followed in the footsteps of these prophets, living an isolated and meager life in the desert, wearing clothing made from camel’s hair and subsisting on honey and wild locusts (Matthew 3:4).

Although some contemporary Reformed thinkers have praised certain aspects of the monastic life,17 the ascetic lifestyle remains for the Reformed tradition a departure from, rather than an embrace of, the Christian’s calling. Yet Wilken’s research demonstrates that monasticism, far from being a divergence from Christianity, fostered deep and communal spirituality, drawing the “devout and curious,” and often served the community, establishing hospitals, providing vocations for women, as well as giving spiritual advice and arbitrating local disputes.18

Third and finally, Wilken’s assessment of the development of the office of the bishop of Rome into the papacy, in his chapter “The Bishop of Rome as Pope,” stands in contrast to Reformed rejections of the authority of the papacy. Wilken first appeals to those scriptural passages that demonstrate St. Peter’s elevated status among the followers of Jesus (Mark 3:16), serving as their spokesman (John 6:68), being present at key moments in Jesus’ life (e.g., the transfiguration and crucifixion), his calling to tend Jesus’ sheep following the resurrection (John 21), and his being listed first among those witnesses to Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5). Wilken then notes support for the preeminence of the Bishop of Rome from such early sources as St. Irenaus in the 2nd century19 and St. Augustine in the 5th century.20 He further explains that bishops convening at the Council of Sardica (A.D. 344) acknowledged Rome’s “appellate jurisdiction” to adjudicate disputes among other bishops, and that Rome’s records ranked Sardica as second only to Nicaea in importance.21 This was followed by a practice inaugurated by Rome’s bishop Siricius (384-99), who issued official letters responding to problems across the 4th century Church, offering directives viewed as binding on various churches. St. Augustine himself sought affirmation from Pope St. Innocent I (401-17) that the writings of Pelagius were in error, demonstrating that the office of judge was transforming into that of teacher.22

Wilken concedes that eastern bishops, through recognizing Rome as maintaining a unique status within the Church, did not view Rome’s authority in the same way as Rome did, and especially later popes such as St. Leo the Great. This point is repeated in Reformed claims that the belief in the preeminent authority of Rome was uneven in the early church, and thus questionable. However, Wilken interestingly offers a helpful distinction: while the bishops of Rome firmly rejected “unwelcome” interventions by political authorities in ecclesial and theological matters, eastern bishops were “much readier to submit to the authority of the emperor.23 That the bishops of Rome displayed an “independence and self-confidence” in confronting political authority demonstrates that Roman bishops have acted much as Reformed theology would require: namely, holding that the Church and her leaders, not secular authorities, should ultimately determine matters of faith and practice.

In the conclusion of The First Thousand Years Wilken notes those qualities fundamental to and universally applied within the early Church:

Of course, the Armenians, Greeks, and Ethiopians had much in common: they were governed by bishops; they fostered monastic life; they baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; they confessed the Creed of Nicaea.24

Christian communities in the early Church shared an episcopal form of government, an appreciation for the monastic life, the practice of the sacraments, and their union with ecumenical councils such as Nicaea, that defined the doctrinal boundaries of orthodox Christianity. Notably, all of these are present in the Catholic Church, while in the sixteenth century the Reformed tradition typically rejected episcopal forms of government, abandoned any formal link to apostolic succession, and denied the authority of church councils by accepting only those councils and particular teachings viewed as in accord with their interpretation of scripture.

Although the Reformed position might seem at first to preserve a more authentic, scripture-based Christianity that seeks to avoid what it views as post-apostolic innovations, Wilken’s analysis suggests a Church that grew organically out of the apostolic age, building upon scripture and the teachings of Christ and His immediate followers.25 Indeed, there appears little substantive debate within the early Church over ecclesiology, monasticism, or at the very least, the uniqueness of the bishop of Rome. That these developments occurred with so little resistance across the early Church is a significant evidential indicator that rather than being aberrations from the apostolic age, they were viewed as consistent with the teachings of Christ and His apostles.26 Thus has the Catholic Church many centuries later preserved these, and many other attributes that characterized the early Church.

  1. For full disclosure, I took Wilken’s “History of Christianity” course when a freshman at the University of Virginia, and Wilken served as an adviser for my Religious Studies minor. []
  2. Wilken, pp.29-30. []
  3. See Bryan Cross, “St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church.” []
  4. Wilken, The First Thousand Years, p.31. []
  5. Id. []
  6. Wilken, The First Thousand Years p.31. []
  7. Id., p.356-357. []
  8. See also Andrew Preslar, “Apostolic Succession and Historical Inquiry: Some Preliminary Remarks” and Bryan Cross, “Doug Wilson’s Authority and Apostolic Succession.” []
  9. A Protestant might also retort that other forms of Christianity, such as the Orthodox or Coptic Churches, have episcopal forms of government that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. Even so, the Orthodox and Copts bear a stronger resemblance to the early Church than do Reformed Protestants who have no claim to maintain a form of government united by succession to the apostolic age. Theological concerns with the Orthodox and Coptic Churches can be found elsewhere on Called to Communion, including Andrew Deane’s “Two Rights Declare a Wrong — On Appeals to Orthodoxy.” []
  10. Wilken, The First Thousand Years, p.357. []
  11. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, p.100. []
  12. Wilken, The First Thousand Years, p.108. []
  13. Institutes, book IV, ch. 13, sec. 10, 11. []
  14. Institutes, book IV, ch. 13, sec. 14. []
  15. Institutes, book IV, ch. 13, sec. 16. []
  16. WCF, ch. XXII, sec. 7, “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.” []
  17. See, for example, Andrew Hoffecker, The Benedictine Rule (Tabletalk, Aug. 2006). []
  18. Wilkens, The First Thousand Years, p.103. []
  19. Id., p.165. []
  20. Id., p.168. []
  21. Id., p.168. []
  22. Id.. []
  23. Id., p.171. []
  24. Id., p.356. []
  25. See also Tom Riello, “The Doctrinal Seed of Scripture.” []
  26. See also Sean Patrick, “How Quickly Catholic Heresy Took Over the Church (Immediately).” []
Tags: , ,

44 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. Thanks Casey. This was a wonderful read. I’m happy you will be contributing here.

  2. Hi Casey,

    “Indeed, there appears little substantive debate within the early Church over ecclesiology, monasticism, or at the very least, the uniqueness of the bishop of Rome.”

    I’m neither a patristics scholar nor Reformed, but this passage from 1 Clement 44 comes to mind:

    And our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would
    be strife over the name of the overseer’s (episcopes) office.

    This is not in favor of Wilken’s or your position. That strife goes on today – hence CtC.

    Would you agree that it is impossible to rely on the work of a historian to establish certainty? We write with a purpose and must by necessity be selective in what we write. That very selectivity, coming from fallible man, implies some perspectives will be misrepresented, no?

    But God, who can already see history from before the creation of the world, is selective in what He reveals knowing what comes ahead of the time He reveals it. For example, He’ll use Isaiah to prophesy of the coming virgin birth of Jesus Christ 700 years before the event (Isa. 7:14). No problem for God.

    Jesus said that when the Spirit come He would guide the apostles into “all the truth” (John 16:13-15). That’s both certainty and comprehensiveness.

    And the apostles do not reveal, in either precept, or example, the episcopacy (as Wilken appears to admit in one of your block quotes above).

    We are left with 2 faith systems in Christendom. One that does believe that the NT contains “all the truth” the churches need to know for faith and practice, or one that believes the NT does not. You are of the second, I am of the first. And your approach is to move men from certainty to uncertainty? More likely, it is to move men from already existing uncertainty to a greater certainty thanks to selected historical writings.

    But one and only one position between us yields certainty; your approach reads history to gain greater certainty in the bishopric of Rome; the other does not, indeed, cannot. For it rests on Scripture alone.

  3. Casey,

    Nice review!

    Though completely off-topic, on the cover of Wilken`s book is a depiction of the Epiphany. I see Baby Jesus, Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, with a full gray beard, scratching his forehead. I also see depicted Santa Claus, King Henry VIII and Chuck Berry. Do you know the name of the artist?

  4. Hello Ted (#2),

    Thanks for the comment. You said,

    I’m neither a patristics scholar nor Reformed, but this passage from 1 Clement 44 comes to mind: “And our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the overseer’s (episcopes) office.” This is not in favor of Wilken’s or your position. That strife goes on today – hence CtC.

    I think you are suggesting that this reference from 1 Clement is claiming that there would be debate over the apostolic authenticity of the office of bishop. If this is the case, I do not think yours is the best interpretation of this passage. Consider what Clement says in 1 Clement 42.4:

    So preaching everywhere in country and town, they [the Apostles] appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.

    Clement here affirms that the apostles themselves appointed bishops. Furthermore, in reference to your quotation of 1 Clement 44.1, consider the remaining of the chapter:

    For this cause therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they [the apostles] appointed the aforesaid persons, and afterwards they provided a continuance, that if these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministration. Those therefore who were appointed by them, or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole Church, and have ministered unblamably to the flock of Christ in lowliness of mind, peacefully and with all modesty, and for long time have borne a good report with all these men we consider to be unjustly thrust out from their ministration. For it will be no light sin for us, if we thrust out those who have offered the gifts of the bishop’s office unblamably and holily. Blessed are those presbyters who have gone before, seeing that their departure was fruitful and ripe: for they have no fear lest any one should remove them from their appointed place. For we see that ye have displaced certain persons, though they were living honorably, from the ministration which had been respected by them blamelessly.

    The context of this chapter is thus not a reflection on whether or not the office of bishop is of apostolic origin, but rather that the early Church would suffer strife from people, in this case people in Corinth, seeking to contend for the office of bishop and thereby immorally exploit it. Indeed, the context of this letter is Clement’s reprimanding of the church in Corinth for illegitimately removing bishops who enjoyed an authority given to them from the apostles.

    You also said,

    Would you agree that it is impossible to rely on the work of a historian to establish certainty? We write with a purpose and must by necessity be selective in what we write. That very selectivity, coming from fallible man, implies some perspectives will be misrepresented, no?

    and,

    We are left with 2 faith systems in Christendom. One that does believe that the NT contains “all the truth” the churches need to know for faith and practice, or one that believes the NT does not. You are of the second, I am of the first. And your approach is to move men from certainty to uncertainty? More likely, it is to move men from already existing uncertainty to a greater certainty thanks to selected historical writings.
    But one and only one position between us yields certainty; your approach reads history to gain greater certainty in the bishopric of Rome; the other does not, indeed, cannot. For it rests on Scripture alone.

    No, I do not agree that the work of an historian will fail to achieve any level of certainty. I would propose that every time you open your Bible and try to understand what it means, you immediately enter into a degree of historical study, trying to understand its meaning in relationship to the original language and its meanings and context, the historical context of the passage, what a 1st century Jew or Greek would have understood from what Jesus or the apostles said or wrote, etc. Scripture itself is a historical document, and what we can understand of it is also achieved through a reading of extra-biblical historical texts that allow us to translate it faithfully and perform exegesis on it. Throw out historical analysis, and you’ll have a hard time making sense of any of scripture. Furthermore, sola scriptura itself is a thoroughly historical claim, because you must answer questions of authorship, authenticity, and the criteria by which you recognize this book and not that book as canonical. All of these concerns will immediately draw you into complex historical debates. Tom Brown’s article on CTC on “The Canon Question” is a superb treatment of that dilemma.

    You are right that history is indeed a subjective, flawed human science, but so is every academic pursuit. I’m guessing the subjective nature of translating Koine Greek has not led you to doubt your interpretation of John 16:13-15? You seem to suggest that my book review, and historical analysis of Christianity more generally, is seeking to “stack the deck” against Protestantism by playing favorites with the historical data. That claim, however, is not substantiated in your argument, and is ad hominem, in that you presume that when I read history I am looking to find only what I want to find. If that were the case, I certainly wouldn’t have left the Reformed faith for Catholicism. Do you have any objections to Wilken’s or my assessments of early Church history?

    Historical analysis can provide helpful, thought-provoking indicators of what Christianity is, how it has developed, and what Christ or the apostles intended. If our historical assessment of the 2nd, 3rd, or 10th century Church looks far more Catholic than Protestant, that should, at a minimum, spark questions as to which faith tradition has been more faithful to the apostolic witness. Indeed, given that Christ said the “gates of hell” would not prevail against His Church, what that Church looked like in the decades and centuries following his death should be very informative.

    Lastly, I would propose that you do not believe simply that the NT contains “all the truth” Christians need to know for faith and practice. You interpret the NT, and whatever interpretations you make that you believe to be normative, are themselves also necessary for faith and practice. God bless, Casey

  5. @Ted (#2):

    …[Y]our approach reads history to gain greater certainty in the bishopric of Rome; the other does not, indeed, cannot. For it rests on [every individual's personally preferred interpretation of] Scripture alone.

    There, fixed it for ‘ya. ;-)

    Yours Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin Keil

  6. Hi AH (#3),

    The jacket illustration from Wilken’s book is by Hans Balduing Grien, and is the central panel of a triptych called “Adoration of the Magi,” produced in 1506/7. cheers, Casey

  7. An excellent review.

  8. I am just speaking from experience here as a new catholic (having previously been a life-long evangelical). But to chime in concerning Ted Bigelow’s post, I found that Catholic theology didn’t so much move me from certainty to uncertainty (as he asserts is the approach of CTC toward its readers who are searching). Rather, in coming to believe in the authority of the Catholic Church, I moved from significant uncertainty to certainty of the truth of the gospel. Scripture and Sacred Tradition together have filled in the missing panes of glass that had previously been my understanding of the faith as an evangelical.

    No longer do I need to rely on my own private interpretation of Scripture (and try to discern the myriad conflicting arguments among Protestant traditions). As Ted rightly said, “Jesus said that when the Spirit comes He would guide the apostles into ‘all the truth’ (John 16:13-15).” But the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church continues to this day, because the Apostles appointed others to follow through the laying on of hands which has continued throughout the ages, hence the Apostolic Succession.

    Blessings!

    Lee

  9. Hi Casey,
    If I read your reply correctly your main point is that I misunderstand the nature of the debate. You see me taking the conflict to be whether the apostles established the office of bishop:

    I think you are suggesting that this reference from 1 Clement is claiming that there would be debate over the apostolic authenticity of the office of bishop.”

    And

    The context of this chapter is thus not a reflection on whether or not the office of bishop is of apostolic origin, but rather that the early Church would suffer strife from people, in this case people in Corinth, seeking to contend for the office of bishop and thereby immorally exploit it.

    But I was looking at the question not from the Catholic perspective where the office of bishop is distinct from the office of presbyter, but synonymous with it. To me the terms were interchangeable, and I’d like to show you that they were for Clement as well.

    preaching through the countries and cities, they appointed their first fruits to be elders and deacons over such as should believe

    This is confirmed in passages like Acts 14:23 where only one office is appointed, yet in plurality in every church.

    Just so I’m being clear, in the apostolic times a presbyter was a bishop was a shepherd, and in every church there was a plurality of men who functioned in equality (parity) in that office. There was not one man (a bishop) above the others.

    Perhaps you saw this when you write bishops in the plural?:

    Indeed, the context of this letter is Clement’s reprimanding of the church in Corinth for illegitimately removing bishops who enjoyed an authority given to them from the apostles.

    If so, thanks.

    1 Clement 44:1-2 traces the origin of elder appointments to Christ’s appointment of the apostles, and the apostles’ appointments of the first elders in the churches. He writes, “After” (μεταξὺ) the apostles appointed the first elders, all future elders were likewise “tested and approved” (δοκιμάσαντες) even as the first elders were (cf. 1 Timothy 3:10). The pattern is exactly that of 1 Tim. 3:10 and Titus 1:5. Clement calls this pattern a “permanent rule” (ἐπιμομὴν δεδώκασιν, my translation), cf. Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, William F. Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (BAGD) 2nd. Ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) 296, ἐπιμομή.

    This is further corroborated by two things.
    1. Clement doesn’t merely say that the conflicts would be internecine (within Corinth only, for example), but over the “office” of the overseer: “επι του ονοματος της επισκοπης” (1 Clement 44:1), where ονοματος της επισκοπης refers not to the personage of the overseer, but the authority of the office of overseer – the term “name” referring to authority (cf. Mark 9:39).

    2. Clement uses the plural when referring to those whom apostles appointed. He doesn’t say they appointed “a bishop” but “elders.” If this referred to a bishop system such as in Catholicism his plural “elders” would have miscommunicated that office to the people of the single church of Corinth. And so on through the 44:1-2 – it is all plural when referring to those whom apostles appointed.

    Thus I come back to my original point. The strife was over the office – a matter of authority. Who would have it? As history bears out, the single office of bishop did, not the plurality of elders. But just because it happened that way, doesn’t make it apostolic.

    Furthermore, Clement is not speaking of a universal church consenting to the apostolic appointment of elders when he writes, “with the consent of the whole church” but the local church in Corinth. Your version, which capitalizes church, should not be taken to mean anyone beyond the church of Corinth.

    As well, Clement does not know of an appointment of future elders made by a single bishop. “Those therefore who were appointed by them, or afterward by other eminent men…” As in ancient churches, future elders were appointed by the full plurality of elders in the church, or by those designated by apostle (Titus, Timothy). But those men were temporary, and they placed authority in a plurality of men, never a single bishop.

    Moving on, you wrote, “Throw out historical analysis, and you’ll have a hard time making sense of any of scripture.” Agreed, and no one is suggesting that. What is being thrown out here, though, is the claim of Jesus Christ that he would give to the apostles “all the truth.”

    To discover the truth of Scripture, God has given us the ability to compare Scripture to Scripture in both precept and command, rather than by alleged subsequent revelation NOT made to apostles. Since the Lord gave it, He already anticipated all the questions men would have of it, and their weakness in interpreting it. For this reason He gives to anyone willing to know His will the ability to cross-check Scripture so all, the weak and the strong, can determine from God what ought to be believed and obeyed.

    For more on this, please read my article, Precept and Example (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/precept-and-example/).

    Lastly, I think you might be a wee bit touchy on the ad hominem stuff. You are reading into my words ever so slightly.

    Warmly,

  10. Hi Lee,

    Thank you commenting on my post. Nice to meet you.

    You are trying to mix oil and water, my friend.

    On one hand you agree that Jesus “would guide the apostles into ‘all the truth’ (John 16:13-15).”

    But then you write,

    But the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church continues to this day, because the Apostles appointed others to follow through the laying on of hands which has continued throughout the ages, hence the Apostolic Succession.

    But Jesus didn’t include that in what He revealed to the apostles, thus it isn’t part of “all the truth.” You won’t find Apostolic Successionism in the New Testament.

    For more on this, please read, “Jesus Builds the Apostolic Foundation.” (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/jesus-builds-the-apostolic-foundation/). Please bear with me as i work on getting the greek font working on the page – it won’t hinder you from understanding the article.

    Warmly,

  11. You won’t find Apostolic Successionism in the New Testament.

    That is all I find in the New Testament. Jesus taught, with His actions, how He wished His Church to be passed on. He never once commissioned the writing of a book. He chose successors, and handed His ministry off to them. So, naturally, they did the same.

  12. Tim,

    You are drawing logical, but not necessary, conclusions from the references in early Christian writings (including the New Testament) to “bishops” and “presbyters” and “elders”. For a while, if you stick to one understanding of all of the data, and then also blame the early christians for simply getting it all wrong, and have no problem doing so, then it seems quite reasonable to stay within the conviction that you are in right now.

    What you must understand is that the Catholic Church believes that the first authority is God the Father, and that Jesus Christ comes into the world to be the apostle of God. So he came and bore witness to the truth. But why didn’t his resurrected body just stay on earth? Why did he ascend into heaven? Whey didn’t his resurrection body just remain on the earth and continue to teach in the synogogues and churches of the world? He chose 12 men to “carry on” this emissary role that He himself had from God the father when he said “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me” (Jesus has the right to send) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all things that I have commanded you, and I am with you always, even unto the end of the age”.

    So we have here a commission. Try not to think of this as a commission that just anyone can pick up and run with. As if some bystanders who overheard Jesus saying this to the apostles could just leave Jerusalem and start preaching in Asia somewhere with Christ’s authority. In fact, the apostles themselves who specifically taught not to immediately begin discipling the nations until the Promise of the Father was sent upon them in Jerusalem. If any part of the Scriptures testify to the need of the Holy Spirit above and over the need for a mere human being teaching, it is Christ’s insistence that they could not do such without the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

    So once Jesus leaves planet Earth, the only thing left is His 12 apostles, who they themselves cannot even begin to trek out of Jerusalem with Christ’s doctrine (notice the insufficiency of preaching, teaching itself) until they are endued with the power of the Holy Spirit which came down from heaven, and was a visible mark in salvation-history. All knew where the Holy Spirit was outpoured. It was in Jerusalem. And all knew who were Christ’s representatives. The 12 apostles.

    The Church began with this visible society. A small one, indeed. A mustard seed.

    Why am I bringing this up? Well, it is particularly important right around the time when the Samaritans receive the word of God. It is written that they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but had yet received the Holy Spirit. For some reason, the Jews from Jerusalem who preached to the Samaritans saw that they were not yet completely formed into the Church yet. Notice how a simple faith or an acceptance of Jesus was not the marker at which everyone was assured one was ingrafted into Christ, and thus the Church. They needed the Holy Spirit. But this gift of God did not come to the Samaritans immediately. They had to have the apostles lay hands on them for them to receive the gift. This is just one example of human instrumentality in the divine program of human salvation.

    Now, to the main point. Would Jesus Christ give His own emissary and apostleship to 12 men who would live approximately 1.5% of the life of Church on earth, and still going, and not intend for this commission to outive the apostles? And if Christ intended such a visible society at the beginnings and foundations of the Church from it’s birthday, the Day of Pentecost, why would he intend to allow it to divide into thousands sects around the world with no common instrumentality of bringing men into salvation? ( I understand there is much overlap in protestantism with many denominations, but the beliefs are vastly different, even if reduced to non-essential).
    Doctrines for baptism, the laying on of hands, repentance, the Lord’s Supper, excommunication, restoration, discipline, etc,etc,etc… they all vary from one group to the next. However, with the apostles it was all one teaching.

    If Christ did intend for the commission to outlive the apostles, and if Christ did intend to form a visible society of people endued with the Holy Spirit to carry that commission to the ends of the earth, then how can you be well with the idea that just any person who studies the bible really well can just “feel” called of God to start a Church ? This methodology has started an endless bickering around the nations…it has not helped in calling people into the one unity of Christ in the one school of the apostles. Each person is endowed with the resources of framing his own version of the truth, as much as he would like it to conform to the real truth. There is no territory in God’s Church for the protestant. Therefore, the Church is an invisible, purely spiritual, non-human regulated experience that leaves each to frame, design, decide, and conclude in any which way they see as most faithful to Christ so as to enter His eternal kingdom. It matters not of the disunity, as long as each one’s conscience is pure in the method. Do you see how destructive such thinking is?

    The way Christ managed His Church eventually lead there to be an explicit differentiation between the office of Bishop and the office of Presbyter. The monoepiscopacy can be seen in James the Bishop of Jerusalem. He was in charge of this region, ecclesiastically. Of course there were “elders” and “presbyters”, but James was the one Elder who presided. Polycarp is said by himself to dwell with the presbyters of Symrna, but at the same time exalts St. Ignatius threefold distinction of the Bishop, Priests, and Deacons. Now how can St. Polycarp, a disciple of John, accept such a false idea if it really was novel and foreign to the apostolic teaching? The bishops of Asia Minor understood a mono-epicopacy from the very beginning of their bishoprics. Rome always understood a single Bishop in charge since the beginning. The technical way of distinguishing between Bishop and presbyter just became an easier way to distinguish between the presbyter who presided and the presbyters who ruled under the leading presbyter. It became normal for one to preside at the top while the others are subordinate co-ops, retaining the same ancient name.

  13. Hello Ted (#9),

    Thanks for continuing the conversation. You said,

    If I read your reply correctly your main point is that I misunderstand the nature of the debate. You see me taking the conflict to be whether the apostles established the office of bishop… But I was looking at the question not from the Catholic perspective where the office of bishop is distinct from the office of presbyter, but synonymous with it. To me the terms were interchangeable…

    I may have misunderstood what you were arguing in your original post – I thought you were taking issue with my claim in the original book review that the office of bishop was observed early and universally in the early Church, and that a lack of debate in the early Church over ecclesiology, and more specifically, the development of the office of bishop, suggests that the early Church widely accepted the office of bishop as a faithful, organic development from apostolic teaching. Rather, you seem to be claiming that at the time of Clement’s letter (c. 95 A.D.), Clement, and the early Church generally, used the Greek terms for bishop and presbyter to refer to the same position. If I am interpreting you accurately, I agree, as I did in the original book review. Please consider the section where I write,

    However, Tim Troutman, in his article Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood has argued that the interchangeability of the terms ‘presbyter’ and ‘bishop’ does not necessarily entail that there was no apostolic distinction between the two offices, as “they were still developing from common references to Christian ministers into technical terms indicating the clear distinction between the offices.”

    And,

    However, as Troutman has argued, “the earliest extra-biblical texts consistently point to an established tradition of a single resident bishop,” and there was a growth in mere presbyters that made the distinction between bishop and presbyter more historically explicit.

    In sum, the interchangeable use of “bishop” and “presbyter” in the 1st century does not necessarily entail there was no distinction, nor that the distinction did not become clearer and more recognizable over time.

    You also write,

    Clement doesn’t merely say that the conflicts would be internecine (within Corinth only, for example), but over the “office” of the overseer: “επι του ονοματος της επισκοπης” (1 Clement 44:1), where ονοματος της επισκοπης refers not to the personage of the overseer, but the authority of the office of overseer – the term “name” referring to authority (cf. Mark 9:39).
    Clement uses the plural when referring to those whom apostles appointed. He doesn’t say they appointed “a bishop” but “elders.” If this referred to a bishop system such as in Catholicism his plural “elders” would have miscommunicated that office to the people of the single church of Corinth. And so on through the 44:1-2 – it is all plural when referring to those whom apostles appointed.
    Thus I come back to my original point. The strife was over the office – a matter of authority. Who would have it? As history bears out, the single office of bishop did, not the plurality of elders. But just because it happened that way, doesn’t make it apostolic.

    However, in the case of the church at Corinth, Clement’s letter does not seem to suggest the problem was between two competing theories of ecclesial governance – a single office of bishop or several. Rather, a dispute led the church to overthrow those leaders appointed for them by the apostles or their successors. Clement castigates Corinth for overthrowing these individuals who had been living uprightly, and appeals to his own office in demanding Corinth reinstate the recently deposed. All of this suggests a belief in apostolic succession held by Clement and the original leaders in Corinth, and that the conflict in Corinth was not whether there should be one bishop or several bishops, but over the circumstances and criteria by which such officers could be removed from office.

    Finally, you write,

    To discover the truth of Scripture, God has given us the ability to compare Scripture to Scripture in both precept and command, rather than by alleged subsequent revelation NOT made to apostles. Since the Lord gave it, He already anticipated all the questions men would have of it, and their weakness in interpreting it. For this reason He gives to anyone willing to know His will the ability to cross-check Scripture so all, the weak and the strong, can determine from God what ought to be believed and obeyed. For more on this, please read my article, Precept and Example (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/precept-and-example/).
    Lastly, I think you might be a wee bit touchy on the ad hominem stuff. You are reading into my words ever so slightly.

    Please accept my humble apologies if I read more into your previous post, and that no ad hominem was intended on your part. As for your “P&E” thesis, I have a few concerns after looking at your article and website. First, at a very specific level, you don’t seem to recognize the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist as threshold for “P&E,” although Jesus’ teaching in John 6, I believe, fits much better in a Catholic or Orthodox paradigm than in a Protestant one. We have examples of this in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 and 11:17-32, too, which uses noticeably provocative language in describing the nature of the Eucharist.

    However, more broadly, your “P&E” thesis is I fear simply another personal theory on how to interpret scripture and apply it to faith and practice. By what authority did you decide that this method is what Christ intended? Why are we ruling out the possibility that Christ gave authority to his Apostles, who had the “keys to the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose” and guide the Church through history, acting on the authority of Christ. Or, alternatively, how did you decide the contents of the New Testament canon was what Christ intended?

    In Christ, Casey

  14. Dear Ted Bigelow,

    I read through your article on Precept and Example.
    If I understand you correctly, you hold that that all matters necessary for the faith and life of the Church are contained in scripture, and that the interpretation of scripture is to be carried out by “precept and example.” By this phrase, you mean that the “essential” content of the faith is that which is repeated in Scripture in both precept and example. Furthermore, you assert,
    “At the same time, if a matter is not discussed in both P&E it is not essential either to your Christian life or to the practice of your church.”

    If I have understood you correctly, it raises a number of questions for me.

    1st – Are the contents of the Biblical Canon taught by precept and example? If they are not, then I must assume (on your view) that knowledge of the Biblical Canon is not necessary to my Christian life or the practice of my church.

    2nd – Is the theory of “precept and example” as a hermeneutical method and/or rule of faith taught by precept and example?

    3rd – What, on your view, should I do when the precept and example of the Scriptures point me to extrabiblical authorities?

    Thanks for your participation in this discussion,

    David

  15. Hi Ted,

    As a follow up to my comment in #13, I made a mistake. The interchangeability is between the Greek words for bishop and presybter, not bishop and deacon. I’ve changed my original comment to reflect what I meant, and for the sake of other readers of the site. Sorry for the confusion. cheers, Casey

  16. As a protestant, I’ve been on my own personal mission to better understand the first 1000 yrs of church history, with particular focus on whether history largely does, or does not, support the RCC’s assertions about AS, ecclesiology, etc. To that end, to avoid possible Protestant bias, I read Wilken’s book a few months ago.

    Casual readers who would only read Casey’s review, and not Wilken’s book, might conclude that history validates RCC lore. However, as has been noted elsewhere on other CTC blogs, the historical evidence is very spotty. Wilken would agree.

    As regards to Rome’s supremacy, Wilken writes (p. 39) (emphasis mine): “As to the controversy over the dating of the Pasch revealed, THERE WAS NO CENTRAL AUTHORITY WITHIN CHRISTIANITY IN THE SECOND CENTURY. The Church was composed of a constellation of local communities spanning the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East. They had a strong sense of unity among themselves, but they were ONLY LOOSELY ORGANIZED.”

    As regards to the infamous Matt 16:18 citation for Petrine supremacy, Wilken writes (p. 164) “Few passages from the Bible have been more controversial than this one…yet it comes into play in the early Church ONLY GRADUALLY. It is first cited in the THIRD century by Stephen, bishop of Rome, in his dispute with Cyprian over rebaptism”.

    Further, in explaining the events of the Council of Sardica, Wilken (pp 166, 167) writes: “Rome acquired what has been called ‘appellate jurisdiction': the right to adjudicate disputes among other bishops. The term ‘appellate’ is SIGNIFICANT; Rome was called upon to act as judge, NOT AS TEACHER. Only in the FIFTH century did Rome begin to see itself charged with responsibility to instruct the church at large.”

    Even casual readers who are not patristic experts will understand that the RCC may claim whatever it may claim for itself, and will understand that its key claims are not only frequently extra-Biblical but are beyond what history has been able to substantiate.

  17. Corn-Czar,

    I do not believe that Roman Catholic depend on the differences that have existed throughout history in the course of “development”. In other words, if you were to point out that Rome was not aware of it’s supreme rule of authority in the first 2 centuries, this would not at all affect the confidence of the Roman Catholic in his ecclesiology.

    For starters, it is essential in Roman Catholic theology that Christ is the head of His mystical body, the Church. Since Christ is the head of the Church, and the Church has both visible and invisible qualities, the Church visible is indefectible (cannot pass away). The Church on earth is a supernatural society on earth which contains a visible hierarchical governance which is necessarily included in this indefectibility. Therefore, if one wishes to know which Church on earth today is founded by Christ, you find the one that existed in a unified body of doctrine, sacraments, and governance since the very beginning. It is not an option in catholic ecclesiology that the Church ceased to exist in one form of doctrine, sacraments, and governance, and is then recapitulated in a different form of beliefs, no sacraments, and little or no governance. Therefore,little differences here and there only highlight the growth in development of the Church’s understanding of how it would continue to exist on this earth as a unified body in doctrine, sacraments, and governance based upon the apostolic tradition.

  18. Hi Casey,

    This looks like a really interesting book. Thank you for your review.

    It looks as though you, and Wilken, are drawing a picture of what the church largely looked like during the first 1000 yrs rather than making a case for the petrine office.
    I am not familar with the writings of the ECF’s, and would like to know if the sacrifice of the Mass, or asking for Mary’s intercession, was condemned during the first 1000 yrs. It seems to me if these things were condemnable, being unbiblical, that they would have been addressed as heresies early on, which makes me wonder if ecclesial leadership was sleeping on the watch.

    And another question I have, that you might have the answer to is, why St. Ireneus’ List of popes isn’t received as a positive case for the Petrine Office?

    This is befuddling me.

    Kind Thanks,
    Susan

  19. #16

    “THERE WAS NO CENTRAL AUTHORITY WITHIN CHRISTIANITY IN THE SECOND CENTURY”

    That is not correct. In the FIRST century Pope Clement I (Latin: Clemens Romanus; died 99), also known as Saint Clement of Rome, was the head of the Catholic Church from 92 to his death in 99. Listed as Bishop of Rome from an early date, he is considered the first Apostolic Father of the Church.
    Clement’s only genuine extant writing is his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Clement), in response to a dispute in which certain presbyters of the Corinthian church had been deposed. He asserted the authority of the presbyters as rulers of the church, on the grounds that the Apostles had appointed such. It was read in church, along with other epistles, some of which later became Christian canon; and is one of the oldest extant Christian documents outside the New Testament. The Corinthians accepted this writing as a matter of fact as authoritive. This important work was the first to affirm the apostolic authority of the Bishop of Rome.

    In the SECOND century there was Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons. In his writing against the Gnostics, who claimed to possess a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none were Gnostic — and that the bishops provided the only safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture. In a passage that became a locus classicus of Catholic-Protestant polemics, he emphasized the unique position of the bishop of Rome. In other words he affirmed the church idea of Clemens Romanus of the first century.

  20. Hi Susan (#18),

    Thanks for the comment. In ref. to your questions, the short answer would be that there is strong evidence for the sacrifice of the Mass and devotion to Mary among the ECFs. Even Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly recognizes in his “Early Christian Doctrines” that the Eucharist was viewed in the early church as a “distinctively Christian sacrifice” (196-7). A short list of early Church writings and ECFs who discuss the Mass as sacrifice include the Didache, 1 Clement, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus of Lyon, St. Augustine, and many more. As for Marian devotion, “Mary and the Fathers of the Church” by Luigi Gambero is an extensive survey of the development of Marian doctrine in the ECFs. In the introduction, Gambero cites Blessed John Henry Newman’s comment that the ECFs were for him “enough” of a positive case for Marian devotion in the early Church (“A Letter Addressed to the Rev. E.B. Pusey, D.D. on His Recent Eirenicon”).

    As for St. Irenaeus’ list of the bishops of Rome, I would argue it is at a minimum a positive case for apostolic succession from the era of the apostles Peter and Paul, as well as an evidence of Rome’s pre-eminence among the bishoprics of the 2nd century Church. Is there something you’ve read or heard that’s cast doubt on the authenticity of that list? God bless, Casey

  21. Hi Erick Ybarra, nice to meet you.

    I’m assuming you are addressing me? – (Tim?)

    Thanks for your lengthy interaction with what i said, and for thinking so deeply on the church.

    Due to space, I’ll just comment one thing where I feel I ought.

    you wrote, “The monoepiscopacy can be seen in James the Bishop of Jerusalem.”

    Unfortunately, that’s anachronistic. James is never called the Bishop of jerusalem in Scripture, and always acts in ecclesiastical matters with other elders (cf. Acts 21:18). Notice that the counsel to Paul is from the elders, not merely James (v. 20ff). Considering he was Jesus half-brother, the son of the union of Mary and Joseph, that’s quite something. (Mat. 1:25, Mat. 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke 8:20, John 2:12, John 7:3-5, 1 Cor. 15:7).

    Furthermore, the Jerusalem Conference closes with a letter, but it’s human authority is most definitely not a bishop, but ‘apostles and elders’ (Acts 16:4).

    I’m sorry Erick, but you are reading your ecclesiology into Scripture.

    Have you considered the effect of Eph. 2:20 on your claims? (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/built-on-the-apostles-and-prophets/)

    Warmly,

  22. Hi Casey,

    Great response, my friend.

    you wrote, “However, in the case of the church at Corinth, Clement’s letter does not seem to suggest the problem was between two competing theories of ecclesial governance – a single office of bishop or several.”

    Agreed, but you didn’t respond to my main point, which was Clement’s words “the office of overseer” refer to a deeper conflict than that in Corinth. The conflict would be over the authority in the office. Truth is, none of are too clear what the original struggle in Corinth was… certainly a power issue, but we are left with questions, like, what about the other elders – were they involved?

    You wrote,

    However, more broadly, your “P&E” thesis is I fear simply another personal theory on how to interpret scripture and apply it to faith and practice. By what authority did you decide that this method is what Christ intended?

    Great question, for who am I but like all flesh. is my interpretive grid to be the one that all others must submit to?

    Not at all.

    The Bible reveals its own interpretive grid as I attempt show in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and how the incarnate God chose to convince John the Baptist that He was the Coming One. Casey, the examples of Precept and Example in the Bible could be multiplied until books could no longer contain them. I only gave a few in the article. Please consider re-reading Precept and Example with an ear open to the idea that the Bible gives it own cross-check system for all willing to know Christ and willing to do His will (John 7:17) – (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/precept-and-example/)

    Warmly,

  23. Dear David Anders,

    Great questions.

    “1st – Are the contents of the Biblical Canon taught by precept and example? ”

    Absolutely. Great question, a bit more involved and not so much on the surface as say the Trinity or the deity of Christ.

    Precept: Rev. 22:16-19 (the gift of prophecy is shut down in the last book to be given by inspiration)

    Example: The OT canon is closed not by the Israelites or a committee of rabbis, but by the Spirit who no longer gives prophecy from Malachi until John the Baptist – “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.
    And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mat. 11:13-15).

    “2nd – Is the theory of “precept and example” as a hermeneutical method and/or rule of faith taught by precept and example?” – good question, hopefully answered in the article. If not to your satisfaction, read the first 3 chapters of Genesis. God gives correlative precept (Gen. 2:16-17) and example (Gen 3:19) on life, obedience, faith, and death. Here we learn that even if we choose to reject the principle of God explaining life, faith, and obedience by loyalty to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, it matters not, for we shall all die by it (unless the Lord returns!).

    “3rd – What, on your view, should I do when the precept and example of the Scriptures point me to extrabiblical authorities?”

    They don’t. Go back and read Rev. 22:18-19, my friend.

    Warmly,

  24. Hi Casey,

    You probably have so many people to address, so I won’t keep you long.

    I am in a conversation with someone who doesn’t believe in the positive case that St. Irenaeus”s list provides, and so I don’t know how to get around this obstacle in our talks.
    The way I view it is that the early church looked and behaved as history demonstrates, and that per Irenaeus, and others, we can safely say that the church of the 2nd century, at least, saw itself as continuing on from the apostles being possessed with a special chrisma that was passed down through the laying on of hands, and if in actuality that is not the case, we would not be able to know.
    Does this make sense,and is it a correct way to consider the data or lack of data?

    Thanks for you help,
    Susan

  25. Hey Susan (#24),

    No worries there. I’d say that on the topic of apostolic succession, why reinvent the wheel when some CTC contributors have already done a lot of the “grunt work” for you? If you to go “Index” and look under “Apostolic Succession,” there are several articles that discuss the historicity of the doctrine. Bryan Cross’ article on Doug Wilson particularly addresses some of your friends’ concerns regarding Irenaeus’ list. He particularly explains how modern skepticism of that list is unwarranted.

    Also, I’m a little confused by your second sentence:

    The way I view it is that the early church looked and behaved as history demonstrates, and that per Irenaeus, and others, we can safely say that the church of the 2nd century, at least, saw itself as continuing on from the apostles being possessed with a special chrisma that was passed down through the laying on of hands, and if in actuality that is not the case, we would not be able to know.

    Are you saying that if the early Church did not view apostolic succession as normative, we would not be able to know? I’m unsure how that would further your argument re: apostolic succession’s historicity, it seems rather to hurt it. Plus, I would think if the early Church did not view apostolic succession as normative, I think we might know from the historical record, because there would be no clear way to determine who had authority to represent Christ – a sort of “competing Christianities” Bart Ehrman style, if you will, with all claims to authority being equal. Could you help me understand better what you mean? in Christ, Casey

  26. Tim,

    With regard to the whole issue of James being a child of union between Mary and Joseph, maybe you should read this link: http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/mary.html

    However, with regard to James being the bishop of Jersualem, the Scripture does not quite answer the question. If you keep yourself to the Scriptures as the only source of historical facts, then when the Scripture does not explicitly answer certain questions, you dismiss the question as an essential question. That there were a plurality of elders and apostles in the first centuries of the Church is very apparent. But how do you really know if James did not exercise a presiding function as one leader? You are limited in your sources, for you keep yourself to the Scriptures which were historical documents written to historical people without your limitations in mind.

    For instance, how is it that the early Fathers such as St. Clement, St. Ireneaus, Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, and Origen read the Scriptures so much and so close to the originals and come to the same catholic conclusions about what Scripture was saying in a variety of instances. Please do not nit pick one or a few things here and there. These all had the same view of baptism, the Eucharist, the Church, sacraments, etc,etc… How could they have all been reading the same sources as you are, but come to radically different conclusions? It is because they were taught a certain way of reading the Scriptures, and they come from a school that is much more apostolic than you may think. You being a human being in the 21st century are somewhat deprived of this type of schooling on how to interpret Scripture because you are approaching it much differently than they are. This is how you and they disagree on many essential and important doctrines.

    I would appreciate it you interacted with the rest of what I said, because many times protestants ignore big issues that I brought up and focus on little issues here and there.

  27. Greetings Corn-Czar (#16),
    Thanks for the comment. You wrote,

    Casual readers who would only read Casey’s review, and not Wilken’s book, might conclude that history validates RCC lore. However, as has been noted elsewhere on other CTC blogs, the historical evidence is very spotty. Wilken would agree. As regards to Rome’s supremacy, Wilken writes (p. 39) (emphasis mine): “As to the controversy over the dating of the Pasch revealed, THERE WAS NO CENTRAL AUTHORITY WITHIN CHRISTIANITY IN THE SECOND CENTURY. The Church was composed of a constellation of local communities spanning the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East. They had a strong sense of unity among themselves, but they were ONLY LOOSELY ORGANIZED.”
    As regards to the infamous Matt 16:18 citation for Petrine supremacy, Wilken writes (p. 164) “Few passages from the Bible have been more controversial than this one…yet it comes into play in the early Church ONLY GRADUALLY. It is first cited in the THIRD century by Stephen, bishop of Rome, in his dispute with Cyprian over rebaptism”.
    Further, in explaining the events of the Council of Sardica, Wilken (pp 166, 167) writes: “Rome acquired what has been called ‘appellate jurisdiction’: the right to adjudicate disputes among other bishops. The term ‘appellate’ is SIGNIFICANT; Rome was called upon to act as judge, NOT AS TEACHER. Only in the FIFTH century did Rome begin to see itself charged with responsibility to instruct the church at large.”
    Even casual readers who are not patristic experts will understand that the RCC may claim whatever it may claim for itself, and will understand that its key claims are not only frequently extra-Biblical but are beyond what history has been able to substantiate.

    Your claim regarding authority in 2nd century Christianity would be more effective against the Catholic Church if the Church required that the doctrine of papal primacy be fully developed in the second century. However, this is not the case. The Church has instead taught, and practiced, that doctrines develop over time as circumstances warrant. This doesn’t mean the Church has authority to make up whatever it wants, but must find the basis for any doctrine in revelation given to the Church in scripture and tradition. For example, the doctrine of Christ’s humanity and divinity was not fully developed until 451 A.D. at Chalcedon. I doubt many Protestants take issue with Chalcedon despite the four centuries it took the Church to declare Jesus as fully God and fully man. Keep in mind, also, that the first time we see the early Church determining the contents of scripture in any authoritative sense is not until the end of the 4th century (e.g. Councils of Rome, Hippo, Carthage). So Wilken’s acknowledgement that there was no central authority within Christianity in the second century does not negate that the authority did develop, or that it had scriptural or apostolic warrant. The same can be said for your reading of Wilken’s assessment of the development of Rome’s appellate jurisdiction and its teaching authority in the fifth century. What did you make of Wilken’s citation of the preeminence of the Bishop of Rome from St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century (p.165) and St. Augustine in the 5th century (p. 168)?

    For this review, I chose those aspects of the early Church that I believed were most demonstrative of the early Church’s relationship to the contemporary Catholic Church. I certainly was not trying to “play loose” with the historical details; when I read Wilken’s book this past winter, his analysis seemed to me to overwhelmingly support the thesis that the early Church was far more similar to the contemporary Catholic Church than any Protestant tradition. I’m glad you brought up the issue of the development of doctrine, however, so that we could more thoroughly contextualize Wilken’s writings on Rome’s supremacy. In Christ, Casey

  28. Hello Ted (#22),

    Thanks for the continued dialogue. You wrote,

    …you didn’t respond to my main point, which was Clement’s words “the office of overseer” refer to a deeper conflict than that in Corinth. The conflict would be over the authority in the office. Truth is, none of are too clear what the original struggle in Corinth was… certainly a power issue, but we are left with questions, like, what about the other elders – were they involved?

    I’m guessing your point is that Clement’s statement that the Apostles knew there would be “strife over the name of the overseer’s (episcopes) office” calls into question mine and Wilken’s thesis that there was little substantive debate over ecclesiology in the early Church. However, I’m not sure the above quotation from Clement tells us that much, only that there would be contention over the authority of the office of bishop. What this means, exactly, I am not sure. Your analysis of the Greek in comment #9 is helpful, but does not elucidate the exact meaning of Clement’s statement. It could mean people would not want to be governed by a bishop, or even group of bishops, because of stubbornness or sin. Or it could mean people wouldn’t want a formalized church government structure at all. It does not necessarily indicate there was widespread debate between varying church government models in the early Church. Nor does an apostolic recognition that there would be contention over the name, or authority of the office of bishop, deny the historical reality that the normative authority across the early Church was episcopal in nature.

    You also wrote,

    The Bible reveals its own interpretive grid as I attempt show in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and how the incarnate God chose to convince John the Baptist that He was the Coming One. Casey, the examples of Precept and Example in the Bible could be multiplied until books could no longer contain them. I only gave a few in the article. Please consider re-reading Precept and Example with an ear open to the idea that the Bible gives it own cross-check system for all willing to know Christ and willing to do His will (John 7:17) – (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/precept-and-example/)

    I am familiar with your thesis that the Protestant Bible provides its own cross-check system in my years as a non-denominational evangelical and then Reformed Christian. For years, I found it persuasive and helpful. Yet certain problems nagged me that led me to question the inner logic or scriptural warrant for this system. For example, what do we do when competing interpretations of scripture seem equally plausible, but have serious implications for doctrine and practice, such as the Catholic/Protestant understandings of justification? Even if examples of P&E in the Protestant canon are indeed legion, by what authority or basis do we determine this is the preferred method of exegesis by Christ, or that we’re determining what fits the mold and what doesn’t? That God chose to convince John the Baptist of Christ’s status as the Messiah does not entail that God would prefer that your P&E method is the God-intended way of doing scriptural interpretation. Do you have any evidence that Christ explicitly taught the P&E method as normative for biblical exegesis, or that the early Church viewed P&E as normative?

    Or, more broadly as I asked in my first response to you in #4, how do we even determine what is the canon in order to discern which “interpretive grid” to use? Your response to David Anders in #23, I submit, does not really answer the question. What is your basis for presuming the contents of the NT canon are indeed the inspired, infallible Word of God, or that the book of Revelation was placed at the end of the NT canon by the early Church by the Holy Spirit?

    Furthermore, the P&E method is subjective, in that you and I can debate ad infinitum what is clearly taught and practiced in scripture, and what is not. For example, I might propose that the Holy Spirit was given by Christ to safeguard the church from doctrinal error (Matthew 16:18-19), and this was then demonstrated by the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 3:15 that the Church, not the canon, is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” Or, I could propose that Christ intended for extra-scriptural traditions to also be held as normative and binding on the conscience, when he told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would remind them of of everything he said to them (John 16:13), given that it’s unlikely the New Testament records “everything” Jesus said to them (see John 21:25). This would then be validated by Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that his readers “hold to the traditions” taught by Paul and his companions. In sum, I think we will need a more authoritative model for defining and interpreting scripture than what you have presented.

    In Christ, Casey

  29. Hey Erick (#26),

    You bring up some great points. For the sake of charity, just wanted to reiterate that our Protestant friend’s name is Ted Bigelow, not Tim. cheers,

    Casey

  30. Hey Casey,

    Sorry that I am not good at explaining myself. Yes, I believe that the early church did see apostolic succession as normative, which Irenaeus confirms, and which the Church still has to this very day.
    And while I’m not sure, I think that Protestants see AS as a second century invention, and would not accept any list of popes as proof of apostolic succession. On what grounds do they reject it I wonder. To me, the fact that the early church believed that succession was normative proves the chrism of apostolic succession. I would wonder what informed them to establish such a norm in the first place. I’m playing devil’s s advocate and trying to account for apostolic succession coming about during the 2nd century if it wasn’t already an established norm prior that time.
    Am I clearer now?

    Susan

  31. Hi Susan (#30),

    No problem, probably just as much my fault in mis-reading your original comment.

    OK, so you’re saying that the Protestant objection you are hearing is that apostolic succession is a second-century invention, since Irenaeus’ list is from the second century? I suppose first I’d say that there are plenty of doctrines Catholics and Protestants agree on that were determined much later than the 2nd century: the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) or hypostatic union of Christ (451 A.D.) are two examples that come to mind. So if the objection is “anything that is after the first century is out,” (which, by the way, is an arbitrary chronological distinction), the objector would also be calling into question all kinds of doctrines historic Protestantism has viewed as orthodox, including, ironically, the contents of the New Testament canon, as well.

    Secondly, I’d also argue that the seeds of apostolic succession are visible in the scriptures. Jesus tells his followers in Matthew 23 that they must obey the scribes and Pharisees because they sit on the “seat of Moses,” which seems to imply they stand in a line of succession dating all the way back to Moses, and that their teachings are binding on the conscience. Or consider Acts 1:12-26, where Judas’ vacant seat among the apostles is filled by Matthias. Or consider the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Tim, Titus), where Paul seems to be conferring some degree of authority (and by extension demonstrating some degree of succession) to other Christian leaders – thinking particularly of 1 Timothy 1:6, 4:14, and 5:22. These are just some “off the cuff” thoughts. I think the “apostolic succession” page in the index has some articles that may be worth the time for your dialogue with your Protestant friend on the subject; I haven’t exhaustively read them all, but Bryan’s article I mentioned before does touch on some of the scriptural basis for apostolic succession. blessings, Casey

  32. Hi AH (#19),

    Thanks for the catch earlier on misspelling Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman’s name in one of my comments.

    I’d like to briefly respond to your comment regarding Wilken’s claim that there was “no central authority within Christiany in the second century.” I think you are right to highlight that there were indeed bishops, including the bishop in Rome, who enjoyed a level of authority in the second century that was widely recognized and seen by some as profoundly unique. If I’m reading Wilken correctly, his point is rather that there was no demonstrative central authority in the second century church, in that what we later see with the bishop of Rome (arbitrating between churches, proclaiming doctrine, etc.) is not yet widely recognized or strongly developed. The second century church was more a loose confederation of ecclesiastical bodies with representative bishops, some with more power or influence than others. There was not yet a centralized authority as we would see with Rome, or to a lesser degree Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, or Constantinope, by say the 5th century A.D., when people across Christendom (e.g.Augustine) are self-consciously looking to Rome to provide insight or validation on certain doctrinal or ecclesiastical matters. Hope that provides some clarity. cheers, Casey

  33. Hi Casey,

    Thanks for your continued interaction!

    I am familiar with your thesis that the Protestant Bible provides its own cross-check system in my years as a non-denominational evangelical and then Reformed Christian. For years, I found it persuasive and helpful. Yet certain problems nagged me that led me to question the inner logic or scriptural warrant for this system. For example, what do we do when competing interpretations of scripture seem equally plausible, but have serious implications for doctrine and practice, such as the Catholic/Protestant understandings of justification?

    Such as? For example, if you wish to assert faith+works in James 2:24, kindly provide an example so we can see its equality to sola fide.

    Even if examples of P&E in the Protestant canon are indeed legion, by what authority or basis do we determine this is the preferred method of exegesis by Christ, or that we’re determining what fits the mold and what doesn’t?

    There is no higher authority than Christ; hence his treatment of John the Baptist’s question as well as all His dealing with weak and errant men are our pattern. As well, consider his dealing with errant Jews and errant disciples in John 10:25, 37-38, 14:10-11.

    Or, more broadly as I asked in my first response to you in #4, how do we even determine what is the canon in order to discern which “interpretive grid” to use? Your response to David Anders in #23, I submit, does not really answer the question. What is your basis for presuming the contents of the NT canon are indeed the inspired, infallible Word of God, or that the book of Revelation was placed at the end of the NT canon by the early Church by the Holy Spirit?

    Please be satisfied by blog post (brief) answers: The Scripture was Scripture the instant it was God-breathed (when written), not the instant it was voted on. 1 Thess. 5:27, 1 Tim. 5:18, 2 Pet. 3:15-16. Thus God’s people instantly recognized the value of Scripture (indeed, they were obligate to-Col. 4:15-16). Ask yourself the question: when the Roman Christians received the letter from Paul, when were they obligated by God to believe it, and obey it – when they voted on it, or when they received it?

    The process of formally recognizing the canonical books did not make them Scripture, but recognized what was commonly received from the very beginning.

    I might propose that the Holy Spirit was given by Christ to safeguard the church from doctrinal error (Matthew 16:18-19)…

    Sure, you like anyone or any church can say anything, but the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned in Mat. 16:18-19, so you would be wrong. P&E isn’t for theologians with an institution to defend but for anyone who can read. Might that not be the reason you write Church with a capital ‘C’ in the statement, “1 Tim 3:15 that the Church, not the canon…”? Perhaps a helpful article on this point could be http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/jesus-defines-his-church/.

    Warmly,

  34. Hi Erick,

    However, with regard to James being the bishop of Jersualem, the Scripture does not quite answer the question. If you keep yourself to the Scriptures as the only source of historical facts, then when the Scripture does not explicitly answer certain questions, you dismiss the question as an essential question.

    Erick, just because the Bible doesn’t give a specific answer to a question you have doesn’t make it less than “all the truth” (John 16:13-15). In fact, before the world began God already knew you would ask that question and wrote His word in order that it could be answered. But you’ll have to have faith in God first, for without faith it is impossible to please Him.

    It is never a good idea to hold God’s word captive to a hermeneutic of suspicion or inadequacy. Jesus said, “man shall live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

    The fact the NT does not tell you that James is the bishop of Jerusalem is sufficient. You just have to take it on its own terms, my friend.

    Warmly, Tim

  35. Hi Ted (#33),

    You wrote,

    Such as? For example, if you wish to assert faith+works in James 2:24, kindly provide an example so we can see its equality to sola fide.

    Well, it certainly is interesting that the only place in the New Testament where the phrase “faith alone” is used, in James 2:24, is where James declares that man is justified “not by faith alone.” In all the Protestant proof-texts for sola fide, we find “justification by faith,” but never “justification by faith alone.” Or the fact that Abraham is “justified” on three separate occasions in the OT (Gen. 12, 15, and 22), vice the Protestant understanding of justification as a single event. But more generally, this issue is addressed in Bryan Cross’ article on CTC “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” Here Bryan explains how the Catholic understanding of justification, achieved through faith and love, is visible even in some of the most consistently cited proof-texts for the Protestant understanding of justification.

    You also wrote,

    There is no higher authority than Christ; hence his treatment of John the Baptist’s question as well as all His dealing with weak and errant men are our pattern. As well, consider his dealing with errant Jews and errant disciples in John 10:25, 37-38, 14:10-11.

    I would submit that the passages you provided indicate that Christ is appealing to the disciples to consider His works as sufficient evidence to believe in Him. That this method is the same that Christ intends for us to interpret scripture does not follow, as the question of “on what basis should I believe in Christ?” is quite a different question from “how do I interpret scripture to determine what is required for faith and practice?” You seem to be conflating the two. If Christ’s intended model was this “P&E” model you have proposed, why would he tell people that what scribes and Pharisees teach is binding on the conscience, because these leaders sit on the seat of Moses (Matt. 23)?

    You also wrote,

    Please be satisfied by blog post (brief) answers: The Scripture was Scripture the instant it was God-breathed (when written), not the instant it was voted on. 1 Thess. 5:27, 1 Tim. 5:18, 2 Pet. 3:15-16. Thus God’s people instantly recognized the value of Scripture (indeed, they were obligate to-Col. 4:15-16). Ask yourself the question: when the Roman Christians received the letter from Paul, when were they obligated by God to believe it, and obey it – when they voted on it, or when they received it? The process of formally recognizing the canonical books did not make them Scripture, but recognized what was commonly received from the very beginning.

    Of the scripture you cite, the first does not prove your case, only that Paul urges his letter be read to all the brethren. 1 Tim 5:18 cites a passage from Luke as scripture, and 2 Peter 3:15-16 refers to Paul’s writings as scripture. To answer your question, I believe you are right that scripture was God-breathed when written, not when it was voted on. The Catholic Churches teaches the same. The problem is that we still have to go about the business of figuring out which texts are scripture, and which are not, based on some sort of criteria. There was not, as you seem to propose, universal agreement in the early Church regarding what was or wasn’t scripture (consider the debates over the Didache, 1 Clement, Hebrews, James, 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, Revelation), just as within the varying Christian traditions today there is not uniformity in the contents of the entire canon. Even if there was, you seem to be suggesting that the criteria for determining was the consensus of a certain body of individuals claiming to be Christians. Yet that raises all sorts of problems, such as who decides which group of individuals claiming to be authentic Christians have the authority to recognize what is or isn’t canon? Gnostic communities believed themselves the true heirs of Christ’s teachings, and had their own set of scriptures (e.g. Gospel of Thomas). Why wouldn’t they have an equal say in determining the contents of the canon? If this is not the criteria you believe to be normative, what criteria are you using, and on what authority do you believe those criteria to be infallible, so that you are assured your criteria are indeed correct?

    Finally, you wrote,

    Sure, you like anyone or any church can say anything, but the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned in Mat. 16:18-19, so you would be wrong. P&E isn’t for theologians with an institution to defend but for anyone who can read. Might that not be the reason you write Church with a capital ‘C’ in the statement, “1 Tim 3:15 that the Church, not the canon…”? Perhaps a helpful article on this point could be http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/jesus-defines-his-church/.

    Haha, OK: “church” in 1 Timothy 3:15 doesn’t need to be capitalized. It is still an interesting question how you interpret that passage within a Protestant interpretative paradigm. As for Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus here tells Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, built upon Peter, that Peter would be given the “keys to the kingdom,” a reference to Isaiah 22 where Eliakim is given the authority to act authoritatively on behalf of the king, and that whatever Peter binds on earth would be bound in heaven, whatever he looses on earth would be loosed in heaven. To infer that the means by which such astounding promises would be fulfilled would operate through the Holy Spirit seems reasonable. My point, however, has more to do with Jesus’ promise to Peter to protect the Church, that Peter would be given the ability act and speak authoritatively on behalf of Christ, and this would entail tremendous spiritual authority (i.e. binding and loosing). The references to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, and Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 3:15 would then be the evidence of this authority to proclaim faith and practice binding on the Christian’s conscience. God bless, Casey

  36. Hi Ted,

    Thanks for responding to my question. If you don’t mind, I’d like to discuss your responses – 1 at a time. Beginning with my question about the canon.

    You cited Rev. 22:16-19, with the focus, I presume, on verses 18-19:

    18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

    Now, I’m having trouble seeing how this answers my question. I want to know how Esther, say, or 2 Peter, or Jude, or Revelation for that matter, can be known to be part of the canon – If you think knowing this is essential to the faith and life of the church. (Maybe it’s not, for argument sake.) But assuming you think it essential to know whether or not Esther is part of the Canon (or jude, 2 peter, or what have you) – is this information taught by “precept and example?”

    I’ve looked over Revelation 22 and I’m just not seeing how John in that passage identifies the book of 2 Peter, or the book of 3 John, or Esther – or anything – as part of the biblical canon. – Whether by precept or example. But perhaps I misunderstand you.

    Could you elucidate?

    Thanks,

    David

  37. Hi Casey, (35)

    You wrote, “Well, it certainly is interesting that the only place in the New Testament where the phrase “faith alone” is used…”

    ’tis indeed! but it avoids my question asked of you above – asking you for an example of justification of faith+works. I expected you to answer Abraham or Rahab. Mulligan?

    Question off topic – “Bryan explains how the Catholic understanding of justification, achieved through faith and love…” wouldn’t suffering also be required from a RC perspective (purgatory) so that justification can never be spoken of in the present (contra James 2:24)?

    I would submit that the passages you provided indicate that Christ is appealing to the disciples to consider His works as sufficient evidence to believe in Him.

    I’m asking you instead to focus on the “words/works” fullness of Christ’s own revelation of the Father as mirroring the Precept and Example approach to Scripture I am advocating. Both were/are cross-checking mechanisms, and I’m asking you to see these as having the authority of Jesus Christ. Since we today can’t hear Him speak, or see Him work miracles, we receive less revelation of the Father than either the Jews or the disciples did. But the word of God is still with us, and even as the incarnate word, confirms itself. It does need the testimony of man to validate it but is rather self-validating.

    “Of the scripture you cite, the first [1 Thess. 5:27] does not prove your case, only that Paul urges his letter be read to all the brethren.”

    I’m sorry, i owe you better explanation. In order for the letter to be read to all the brethren and thus obey the apostolic command it must be read in the next worship serve where all the brethren will be. But only Scripture must be read in worship. Therefore Paul knows the instant he writes 1 Thess. that what he is writing is Scripture.

    “we still have to go about the business of figuring out which texts are scripture, and which are not, based on some sort of criteria…” yes, but are you leaving out the most obvious criteria? – almost universal instantaneous acceptance not based on votes but based on the spiritual qualities of the letters as self-attesting documents (just like Jesus works and words self-testified to the Father. btw, nobody argues anything was universally accepted).

    “you seem to be suggesting that the criteria for determining was the consensus of a certain body of individuals claiming to be Christians.” nah – far from it, for example….

    “It is still an interesting question how you interpret that passage [1 Tim 3:15] within a Protestant interpretative paradigm.”

    Well, i don’t know about using a Prot paradigm as you say, and I am very aware of my interpretive process (not claiming infallibility, just awareness), but 1 Tim. 3:15 must refer to the institutional church. That which makes the institutional church the “pillar and buttress of the truth” is not its flesh and blood people but rather it’s reception of “all the truth” (John 16:13-15). When an institutional church strays from that it is no longer the pillar and buttress of the truth but only of itself. Please note that 1 Tim. 3 is all local church in orientation, not anything connected to an alleged universal church. Timothy is to “know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.” No one can measure their conduct in something universal or world-wide when they inhabit a corporeal body. Therefore 1 Timothy 3:15 claim that the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth cannot refer to the RCC except by those committed to the institution and not to the pillar and buttress of the truth.

    As for Mat. 16:18-19, may I recommend an article that applies the Precept and Example approach to this wonderful passage: (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/jesus-christ-her-lord/). BTW, do the words of Isa. 22:30, “the son of Hilkiah” bother you in the slightest?

  38. David –

    The book of Esther was recognized as belonging in the OT canon due to its inner qualities, not by vote. Same with the other books in the NT canon – they were recognized by their inner spiritual qualities, both in self-attestation, source, genuineness – all of which were qualities of “propheticity” – the matter of which Rev. 22:18-19 speaks in concert with the Trinity Who speaks in Scripture: “The Spirit says….” (Rev. 22:17).

    So, David – how do you know the what the Spirit says – by your church?

    Please allow me to sketch out a better way.

    Due to 2 Tim 3:16, the great test to prove a book’s canonicity would be its propheticity, or inspiration: “All Scripture is inspired by God.” Since all Scripture is “God-breathed” canonization entailed that same qualification, because books of the NT canon constitute NT Scripture just as books of the OT canon constitute OT Scripture. Scripture frequently assumes the intrinsic quality of inspiration and is itself devoid of the ideas of delimitation and selection that canon entails. While apostolicity, antiquity, and orthodoxy, catholocity, and use in churches were critical in determining the Christian canon, those in themselves couldn’t account for all the inspired writings.

    For example, in the Muratorian Canon is found this, “The blessed apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor John, writes by name to only seven churches…. It is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth. For John also in the Apocalypse, though he writes to seven churches, nevertheless speaks to all.”

    Paul’s predecessor here is John; hence Paul is measured by John. Whoever put the list together revealed his preference for prophetic inspiration even over apostolic authorship. (see FF Bruce, Canon of Scripture, 54).

    The compiler’s view of prophecy’s importance is confirmed in his rejection of an early church writing some wanted to include later in the canon:

    “But the Shepherd was written by Hermas in the city of Rome quite recently, in our own times, when his brother Pius occupied the bishop’s chair in the church of the city of Rome; and therefore it may be read indeed, but cannot be given out to the people in church either among the prophets, since their number is complete, or among the apostles for it is after (their) time.”

    The same high opinion of propheticity is found in another ancient document:

    And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself doeth, shall not be judged among you, for with God he hath his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets (Did. 11. 4–8, 11).

    In the third century Dionysius (of Alexandria) mistakenly assumed that John did not author Revelation, but nevertheless accepted the book’s inspiration. “But for my part I should not dare to reject the book” (Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History 7.25).

    In other words, there were Christians who believed that propheticity more critical than the claim of apostolicity. And why not? There were some pretty strange works claiming to be apostolic. But how do you forge propheticity?

    And ultimately, the issue of propheticity brought the early Christians together to agree on a list of 66 books. It is the determning factor in the canon and reflects the action of God in Rev. 22;18-19 in pulling back all prophetic activity from that point on.

    But is propheticity itself a factor in canonicity the RCC knows nothing of?

    The challenge now comes back to you. As you admit, various groups within Christendom accept different lists of books as canonical. But back in the 3rd and 4th Centuries, Christians came together and in a process resulting in virtual universality, agreed on a list of books.

    But now your ecclesial group believes they were mistaken to limit the list at 66. Would it be fair to say that your church has replaced propheticity with its own test of ecclesiality?

  39. Hi Ted (#37),

    This is becoming quite the conversation! You wrote,

    ’tis indeed! but it avoids my question asked of you above – asking you for an example of justification of faith+works. I expected you to answer Abraham or Rahab. Mulligan?

    I didn’t realize you were asking that specific question, but I did cite Abraham’s justification on three separate occasions in Genesis as evidence that a Protestant/Reformed conception of justification as a single event in the life of the believer may not be faithful to the biblical data (see first para, #35). Did you want me to flesh that out more?

    You also wrote,

    Question off topic – “Bryan explains how the Catholic understanding of justification, achieved through faith and love…” wouldn’t suffering also be required from a RC perspective (purgatory) so that justification can never be spoken of in the present (contra James 2:24)?

    I’m not sure I follow your question, or why suffering or purgatory would be “required” to be justified within a Catholic interpretive paradigm. In Catholic teaching, justification is most certainly a present reality, and it does not necessarily require suffering… though I suppose to be justified by faith and love could involve suffering, since love often includes suffering. Yet consider Catholic doctrine on baptism, where the individual is justified by virtue of the nature and effect of the sacrament. Maybe the fastest way to get read up on the Catholic understanding of justification would be to consult to the catechism, such as CCC 1987-2029. If you have specific questions regarding Bryan’s article on justification, it would probably easier and more effective to ask him in the combox of his article rather than here. My earlier point was simply that interpretation of scripture is often complex, and that competing interpretations, such as on the doctrine of justification, can often appear equally plausible.

    You also wrote,

    I’m asking you instead to focus on the “words/works” fullness of Christ’s own revelation of the Father as mirroring the Precept and Example approach to Scripture I am advocating. Both were/are cross-checking mechanisms, and I’m asking you to see these as having the authority of Jesus Christ. Since we today can’t hear Him speak, or see Him work miracles, we receive less revelation of the Father than either the Jews or the disciples did. But the word of God is still with us, and even as the incarnate word, confirms itself. It does need the testimony of man to validate it but is rather self-validating.

    It still seems like you’re taking a certain model (i.e. Jesus provides a precept/teaching and then provides an example of that teaching to confirm its reality) and then applying it wholesale to biblical exegesis, without any clear command from Christ to do this, or an example from NT writers themselves, that this is the appropriate, or only way to interpret scripture. I also don’t know what you mean when you say that the word of God is “self-validating.”

    You also wrote,

    I’m sorry, i owe you better explanation. In order for the letter to be read to all the brethren and thus obey the apostolic command it must be read in the next worship serve where all the brethren will be. But only Scripture must be read in worship. Therefore Paul knows the instant he writes 1 Thess. that what he is writing is Scripture.

    I don’t deny that scripture was probably the only text that was mandated to be read in worship during the apostolic era, but I’m curious as to where you find the evidence for this to be the case? Also, a couple verses from different letters in the New Testament regarding other particular texts being considered scripture hardly helps us to discern how to go about determining the contents of the canon in any authoritative or meaningful way. Furthermore, I’ll let David Anders respond in full to your comments addressed to him in #38, but one brief comment: you claim that in the 3rd and 4th century the Church largely agreed upon the canon, and that it was 66 books, and that only later did the Catholic Church decided to “add” more books. But this is not the case. The Councils of Hippo (393 A.D.), Carthage (397 A.D.), and Rome (382 A.D.), all affirmed the Deuterocanonical books as scripture. These books were in turn rejected by the Protestant Reformers in the 16th century.

    You also wrote,

    “we still have to go about the business of figuring out which texts are scripture, and which are not, based on some sort of criteria…” yes, but are you leaving out the most obvious criteria? – almost universal instantaneous acceptance not based on votes but based on the spiritual qualities of the letters as self-attesting documents (just like Jesus works and words self-testified to the Father. btw, nobody argues anything was universally accepted).

    What are the “spiritual qualities” of specific books included in the New Testament canon that make them “self-attesting,” and what do you mean by “self-attesting”? I’m guessing you may mean propheticity given your comments to David Anders in #38, but I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that, either. Or, more to the point, who recognizes the “self-attesting” qualities of certain texts, especially when people have claimed all sorts of books to be scripture? “Self-attesting” on the grounds of some spiritual quality, even whatever you mean by propheticity, will ultimately be reduced to “self-attesting to me,” since anyone claiming to be a Christian could say that a text is not “self-attesting.” Indeed, I am guessing you would tell me that the Deuterocanonical books are not “self-attesting,” even though Wisdom 2 contains a very notable prophesy of Christ’s passion that I might find suggestive of its divine inspiration. Who between us will judge?

    You also wrote,

    Well, i don’t know about using a Prot paradigm as you say, and I am very aware of my interpretive process (not claiming infallibility, just awareness), but 1 Tim. 3:15 must refer to the institutional church. That which makes the institutional church the “pillar and buttress of the truth” is not its flesh and blood people but rather it’s reception of “all the truth” (John 16:13-15). When an institutional church strays from that it is no longer the pillar and buttress of the truth but only of itself. Please note that 1 Tim. 3 is all local church in orientation, not anything connected to an alleged universal church. Timothy is to “know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.” No one can measure their conduct in something universal or world-wide when they inhabit a corporeal body. Therefore 1 Timothy 3:15 claim that the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth cannot refer to the RCC except by those committed to the institution and not to the pillar and buttress of the truth.

    How is it so clear from 1 Timothy 3 that Paul is referring only to a local church, and not a universal church? I just read the chapter again and can find nothing in the chapter that excludes the possibility Paul is talking about the universal church. Also, you claim that the institutional church is the “pillar and buttress of the truth” only in as much as it receives “all the truth,” and when it strays from that truth it is no longer the pillar and buttress of truth, but only itself. But how would the institutional church go about determining it was no longer upholding “all the truth?” By not interpreting scripture according to the P&E model to which you consistently refer? Your model seems to make the nature and identity of the church beholden to your opinion.

    Finally, you write,

    As for Mat. 16:18-19, may I recommend an article that applies the Precept and Example approach to this wonderful passage: (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/jesus-christ-her-lord/). BTW, do the words of Isa. 22:30, “the son of Hilkiah” bother you in the slightest?

    I’m guessing you mean Isa. 22:20, since there is no Isa 22:30. Regardless, I’m not sure I understand your point, so it doesn’t bother me as of yet. Could you help me to understand your meaning? I read the article you suggested and disagree with your interpretation of Matthew 16. However, I think we’re already discussing several subjects at the same time, so better to leave that for now. If you’re willing to consider Catholic counter-arguments to your own on Matthew 16, I would suggest the CTC article “The Two “Rocks” of Matthew 16:18 in the Syriac Peshitta,” or this article by Jimmy Akin:
    http://www.cin.org/users/james/files/papacy.htm

    In Christ, Casey

  40. Hi Casey,

    Feel free to respond to this post, my friend, but I’m going to bow out after. Combox fog.

    you wrote,

    “It still seems like you’re taking a certain model (i.e. Jesus provides a precept/teaching and then provides an example of that teaching to confirm its reality) and then applying it wholesale to biblical exegesis, without any clear command from Christ to do this, or an example from NT writers themselves, that this is the appropriate, or only way to interpret scripture. I also don’t know what you mean when you say that the word of God is “self-validating.””

    It’s better to hear me saying the Bible displays a model by which it invites invites cross checking, even as Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, invited cross checking on His claims. Thanks to it’s internal cross checking it is straightforward to know what Christians are to believe and obey. This is where I started the conversation, and where I invite you to pursue the Bible on its own terms.

    For questions on the number of the books of the canon and the inconsistency of the RCC, please see the quotes from Pope Gregory, Jerome, and Rufinus at http://www.christiantruth.com/articles/canon.html.

    you wrote,

    “How is it so clear from 1 Timothy 3 that Paul is referring only to a local church, and not a universal church? I just read the chapter again and can find nothing in the chapter that excludes the possibility Paul is talking about the universal church.”

    1) The overseer spoken of in 1 Tim. 3 has authority in the church – not the universal church (3:4-5). 2) He must have a good reputation with outsiders (v. 7) – this can only refer to those who live near the local church the man will authority in. 3) As i stated above, ” Timothy is to ‘know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.’ No one can measure their conduct in something universal or world-wide when they inhabit a corporeal body.” 4) The universal church in the NT is not merely all living Christians on earth but also those already in heaven and the elect yet unborn (Eph. 5:23) – again, how can Timothy be judged by how he acts among that universal group, as 3:15 mandates? 5) The phrase “household of God” in 3:15 requires a local setting, not a universal setting, where one’s brothers and sisters are found.

    you wrote,
    “I’m guessing you mean Isa. 22:20, since there is no Isa 22:30. Regardless, I’m not sure I understand your point, so it doesn’t bother me as of yet. Could you help me to understand your meaning?”

    It’s a minor point that isn’t worth chasing down. Instead, Mat. 16:18-19, – the keys – has an internally consistent interpretation derived by Precept and Example instead of typology: (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/jesus-christ-her-lord/).

    Thanks for the work you put in on this conversation. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

  41. Ted,

    Let’s look again at the specific verse, while paying attention to the overall context.

    “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to conduct in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

    There is absolutely nothing here which rules out the universality of the meaning of the word “Church”. However, the word household of God can have more of a specific local meaning, but it is still the Church because the local churches are all part of the universal Church. For instance, let’s read what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32 “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God”. Here, the word “Church” has a meaning which parallels the general universal racial character of “Greeks” and “Jews”. We would not want to speak of “local Greeks” and “local Jews” and thereby differentiating them from “universal or general Greeks” or “universal or general Jews”. Rather, the Jews are one people, and so are the Greeks. All would expect the individuals of each ethnicity to form one identity, otherwise there would not be one word to classify them. Therefore, the “Church” must also have a reference to a universal, general one people whose identity is also one. They are one because of their shared life in Christ, their faith in divine revelation, and their teaching doctrines on faith and morals. St. Paul can refer to “churches” just as anyone could refer to a small colony of “Jews” or “Greeks”. But however, by the classifications “church”, “jew”, or “greek”, there is a universal element to it without which the one word would not be able to describe definitively. Something makes the churches of God make up the Church of God. Therefore, to say that the local Ephesian church is part of the universal catholic Church, which is the pillar and ground for the truth, this is no contradiction, but only a logical implication.

    Interestingly enough, St. Paul speaks about the “laying on of hands” and how certain prophetic gifts were given to Timothy when the “Elders” laid hands on him, as well as himself. This action of laying on hands signifies the prior commissioning of the one who are laying hands, which means that if one goes back far enough, you have the original Man sent, Jesus Christ Himself. This is the physical form of what Catholics call Apostolic Succession. Otherwise, why lay hands on anyone? For the protestant, you can simply just learn the Bible really well, rent a storefront, start knocking on doors, call the formation a Church, and then begin laying hands on people. But this action is meaningless, because the founder did not have hands laid on him, and so what is he bestowing, really?

  42. Hi Ted (#40),

    Sorry to hear that you’re bowing out. If you believe there to be a better means for dialoguing, please let me know. I’ll respond to your comment just to “close the loop,” and with hopes of future conversation at some later juncture.

    It’s better to hear me saying the Bible displays a model by which it invites invites cross checking, even as Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, invited cross checking on His claims. Thanks to it’s internal cross checking it is straightforward to know what Christians are to believe and obey. This is where I started the conversation, and where I invite you to pursue the Bible on its own terms.

    “Pursuing the Bible on its own terms” however begs the question, because it seems to presume the Bible, or the Protestant canon more specifically, is self-authenticating, and can speak for itself. Picking up on a concern Bryan Cross raised in the CTC article “Ecclesial Deism” combox (specifically #291, 299, 313, 319), wen have not seen you prove scripture’s self-authentification. Additionally, several articles on CTC have discussed the logical and historical problems with the claim that the canon is self-authenticating and that scripture interprets itself. Of the many good articles worth considering on CTC regarding the canon, I’d like to briefly highlight Sean Patrick’s “Is Scripture Sufficient,” because his distinction between formal and material sufficiency of scripture is worth considering in our conversation. Sean there writes,

    So what is the difference between material and formal sufficiency? For scripture to be materially sufficient, it would have to contain (explicitly or implicitly) all that is needed for salvation. Many Catholic theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict 16th) and Blessed John Henry Newman agree that scripture is materially sufficient. On the other hand, for scripture to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all that is needed for salvation, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it (e.g. the church is not needed to interpret scripture.)

    Furthermore, Bryan Cross, in his CTC article “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority,” explains the fundamental problems with belief in the “formal sufficiency” of scripture, and is well worth the read.

    You also wrote,

    For questions on the number of the books of the canon and the inconsistency of the RCC, please see the quotes from Pope Gregory, Jerome, and Rufinus at http://www.christiantruth.com/articles/canon.html.

    I’m familiar with much of Webster’s argumentation, and take issue with many of the conclusions he draws from the historical data. As it relates particularly to my previous comment in #39, my point was that there is consensus among many in the early Church that the deuterocanonical books were scripture. The quotations from Pope Gregory the Great, Jerome, and Rufinus demonstrate that debate within the Church continued over their canonicity, but does not refute my earlier argument that many in the early Church accepted the deuterocanonical books as scripture. It’s also worth noting briefly that Webster himself willingness admits that the word “canonical” was used asymmetrically in the early church to mean different things, which may help in explaining Pope Gregory’s comment.

    You also wrote, speaking of whether 1 Timothy authoritatively rejects the concept of a universal church,

    1) The overseer spoken of in 1 Tim. 3 has authority in the church – not the universal church (3:4-5). 2) He must have a good reputation with outsiders (v. 7) – this can only refer to those who live near the local church the man will authority in. 3) As i stated above, ” Timothy is to ‘know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.’ No one can measure their conduct in something universal or world-wide when they inhabit a corporeal body.” 4) The universal church in the NT is not merely all living Christians on earth but also those already in heaven and the elect yet unborn (Eph. 5:23) – again, how can Timothy be judged by how he acts among that universal group, as 3:15 mandates? 5) The phrase “household of God” in 3:15 requires a local setting, not a universal setting, where one’s brothers and sisters are found.

    Erick has done some of the work in responding to this for me in (#41 – Thank you Erick!), but I’ll add that I still don’t see how anything in 1 Tim 3 demands Paul’s words be applied only to a local, individual church. On what basis do you presume that the overseer has authority only in a local church and not the universal church? Why not both? We both believe the qualifications given for overseers and deacons here weren’t only applicable to Timothy’s immediate context, so I’m not sure why the way Paul speaks about the household of God can’t mean something beyond the immediate context. I also don’t understand why someone couldn’t measure their conduct both within the local church and within the universal church. Isn’t it possible that Paul in 1 Tim 3 moves from the specific to the general or that he is using words or phrases to connote different meanings? We certainly have precedent in plenty of OT prophetic literature of prophesies “telescoping,” or having both an immediate, localized context and fulfillment, and a longer, broader context and fulfillment (e.g. Isaiah 7:1-17).

    You also wrote,

    It’s a minor point that isn’t worth chasing down. In
    stead, Mat. 16:18-19, – the keys – has an internally consistent interpretation derived by Precept and Example instead of typology: (http://www.churchsonefoundation.com/jesus-christ-her-lord/).

    Fair enough, but I’m still not sure why we must rule out typology, or any other method of exegesis, and adhere exclusively to your “P&E” model.

    Thanks for the work you put in on this conversation. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

    God willing! I confess I have a lot more to read, both from Protestants and Catholics, to engage productively in ecumenical dialogue. In Christ, Casey

  43. Hi, At the start of chapter 7 of Wilken’s excellent book, that I have just started reading, he cites some figures for the growth of Christianity by the year 250 [page 65]. I’m interested in where this information comes from. Apologies if it’s obvious later in the book – I’m still reading!
    Tom

  44. Hi Tom (#43),

    Thanks for the comment and sorry for the delayed response. I’m afraid I don’t know where Wilken gets his “estimates” (pg. 66) on Christian populations in the Mediterranean world in the early centuries, though I’d wager they come from one of the “suggested readings” Wilken recommends in the back of the book. Sorry I can’t be of more help. best, Casey

Leave Comment

Subscribe without commenting