Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts

Monday, December 19, 2022

It’s Iimi! God and Pharaoh

When Lilavati has some questions about Christianity, Rick hijacks the discussion by accusing God of doing evil to Pharaoh by hardening his heart. Does he have a valid point? Or has he missed the point about the battle between... God and Pharaoh 

The close-up of the meanings for the Hebrew:

Post-Comic Notes: This is more of a technical detail. I mentioned in the comic (page 9) that Iimi leans towards Molinism. This is one of the orthodox schools of thought on free will and salvation. The other is Thomism. Molinism tries to balance God’s grace as being essential contrary to Pelagianism. At the same time, it recognizes unimpaired free will as why people resist grace. In contrast, Thomism uses concepts of efficacious grace. Molinism tends to be weaker in explaining the role of God’s grace. Thomism tends to be weaker in explaining free will. The Catholic Church has not taken a side on this debate. In fact, it forbade people to condemn either of them being in error.


Molinism was an answer to the Protestant denial of free will. Briefly, men like Luther and Calvin believed that giving weight to free will would mean that men saved themselves. But (as Iimi pointed out in It’s Iimi! A Dialogue on Misconceptions) by free will, we can lower ourselves into a hole that we can’t get out of on our own. If we accept the lifeline God throws us (grace), we did not save ourselves.


The reader should be aware that the term is also used in Protestantism as a counter to Calvinism. Calvinist based Protestantism condemns it as a heresy. Not being a Protestant, I won’t address their dispute. But it has differences from the Catholic concept. So, be aware of that.


Iimi, being Catholic with a Molinist outlook, takes a view of Pharaoh being to blame for his own predicament. Some Protestant denominations do hold that God actively blocked Pharaoh from repenting. I think that fits into their concept of “double predestination” (God predestines some for salvation and some for damnation). The Catholic Church rejects that view, and I think the double predestination position is harder to defend against scandalized non-Christians who think it makes God a “monster.” As we see, this is part of Rick’s atheism. 


Of course, no human can know the mind of God or be His counselor (see Isaiah 40:13). Nothing in this comic should be seen as disagreeing with Catholic teaching that we absolutely need God’s grace to be saved and that we are to blame for our own fall, while accepting Church teaching that culpability can vary depending on the conditions of the individual sinner.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Thoughts on the Purpose of the Christian Religion

In modern times, Christianity has a problem with people who choose not to follow the people who are the appointed leaders. They believe that when the Church differs with them, the personal preference is to be heeded, not the Church. Such an attitude is understandable when we deal with Non-Catholics who do not believe that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ, or non-Christians and non-religious people denying Christianity altogether. The point of Christianity is that it professes to have revelation from God, and that people who have been entrusted with the authority of applying that revelation have their teaching backed by this revelation. So a person who does not believe Christianity possesses any such revelation, it stands to reason that they won’t follow the teachings of that Church.

However, when it comes to Christianity, which professes to believe in the God of the Old Testament and believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, this faith necessarily presupposes that God has given us realization—through the Law, the Prophets and finally through His Son. When the Christian falls afoul of the commandments in some way, the fact is he or she is behaving in a way which God has revealed to us to be counter to the way He wants us to live. Furthermore, when God has revealed that authority has been given to certain human beings to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18) for the purpose of bring the message of salvation and teaching His commandments so that people may live as He commands (Matthew 28:19-20 and Revelation 22:11), then obedience to that human authority is a part of being faithful to that revelation of God.

Now, with the non-Catholic, the non-Christian and the non-religious, they have some excuse (if they are sincere in their error) of not obeying the authority of the Church. We do have a mission to reach out to them, but their disobedience is not based on a disregard for the truth they have been taught (see Luke 12:47-48). Their judgment will be based on what they could have learned and what effort they put into seeking the truth. It’s not for us to try to guess whether they have searched hard enough or not. Rather we are to try to give them the message of salvation and the teachings of Our Lord so that they will not have to risk that judgment (and doing so in a way which does not drive them away from the truth on account of our behavior).

However, we who profess to believe in the Catholic Church as being the Church established by Our Lord have no excuses when it comes to not being obedient to revelation and to the teaching of the Church that we profess (with our lips anyway). As Vatican II put it, in Lumen Gentium #14:

All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

Catholic Church, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

This leads to the problem of dissent. If we profess a belief in a God who reveals His will and who establishes a Church to teach people His ways, then what are we thinking when we decide to set aside a Church teaching in favor of our own preference? To do so is to either effectively deny God’s revelation or to effectively deny that the Church has any authority to teach in His name. In either case, it forces us to ask: For what purpose do we belong to a Church if we do not believe her claims to be true?

Of course such a rejection does not have to be total. People can (and do) choose to believe the Church is mostly right, except for that one area that he or she chooses to disagree with. Perhaps they are fine with the Social Teaching of the Church, but not the teaching on sexually. Or perhaps they profess to accept the moral teaching of the Church but refuse to acknowledge her authority when it comes to social justice or the ordinary form of the Mass. In such situations, the person reserves the right to say they will not recognize the authority of the Church.

The problem is, the fact that the Church has any authority on a favored issue requires that she has authority from God in the first place. If God has not revealed His authority, then one might be excused for making their own morality up. But, if God has revealed His authority, then the behavior which goes against His authority goes against Him (see Matthew 7:21, Luke 10:16 and John 14:15).

We certainly know that Our Lord has made revelation known to us saying that some actions are sins in His eyes. When we seek to determine right and wrong, and we profess to believe that there is a God who will come to judge the living and the dead, it certainly makes sense to listen to Him and to those whom He empowers to teach in His name. If we choose to treat this revelation as if it were not revelation, it raises the question: On what authority does this person make their claim to determine good and evil? As Frank Sheed put it, “The most brilliant moral system, constructed without the information only God can give, is brilliant guesswork,: (Is It the Same Church page 33). The person who disregards the Revelation in Scripture and Sacred Tradition in favor of his or her own guessing on what God really wants is choosing to ignore God’s commands in favor of the guesswork that “God doesn’t really still mean that."

In essence, the person who, while professing to be a Christian, chooses to deny the Scripture and Tradition or the person professing to be Catholic who chooses to disobey the Church, has a very confused concept on what they are called to be as Christians. If God has revealed that X is a sin, then how can one claim that in rejecting that revelation they are still being faithful to the God who revealed it? It can only be done through refusing to seek out what the truth is, relying instead on what feels good to the person. But Scripture warns that what seems right can lead to destruction (Proverbs 16:25). 

The fact of the matter is, in trying to put Jesus and His Church at odds, one is denying part of what God reveals, pretending it is manmade. But in doing so, the person is making Christianity meaningless. As Peter Kreeft put it:

Socrates: Furthermore, if you do that, why do you need the Bible at all?

Bertha: What do you mean?

Socrates: If it agrees with you, it's superfluous, and if it doesn't, it's wrong. Why read a book that must be either superfluous or wrong? In fact, why read or listen to anyone? They must all be superfluous or wrong.

Bertha: That's ridiculous.

Socrates: My point exactly.

Peter Kreeft. Socrates Meets Jesus: History's Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ (Kindle Locations 532-534). Kindle Edition.

To pick and choose is to put one’s own preferences first and when it agrees, it is only useful as a piece of propaganda to justify oneself; when it disagrees, it is considered wrong. But if the Bible or the Church is wrong in your eyes in some cases, why should another not use the same way of thinking and reject what you think is important as “manmade” and promote the things you disagree with? In such cases, the revelation of God and the teaching of His Church has no meaning. There’s no point in professing to be a part of something that you reject when it pleases you. The point of professing to be a Catholic is because one believes in God and that the Church teaches with God’s authority. Deny that and religion is a social awareness group.

But as Pope Francis said:

[W]e can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ - I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

Confessing Jesus Christ is to acknowledge what He says to be true, and when He gives the Church His authority, this means that to confess Jesus Christ is to be obedient to His Church. If we don’t choose to live in this way, then our profession to be Catholics is stripped of all meaning.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Forgetting the Inconvenient Parts of Scripture

Some of the common attacks against the Christian moral teaching involve the attempt to negate or evade the parts of Scripture that are disliked. For example, the teaching on homosexuality involves people trying to negate it on the grounds of other teachings--Leviticus is denied on the grounds that the Church doesn't oblige people to keep the dietary codes also listed there. St. Paul's epistles are denied on the grounds that people don't like what he had to say about the role of women. In other words, such attacks take the "all or nothing" view, saying that if one wants to insist on the moral obligations of Scripture, they have to take the rest of the demands as binding as well.

I am certain that such people believe that they have created a reductio ad absurdum to confound the Christian. In their eyes, they believe they have created the perfect foil: Either the Christian is forced to adopt other rules of behavior they find repellant or they will be forced to admit that others have the right to pick and choose as well. 

The problem with such an argument is that it assumes that all Christians are sola scriptura literalists who have the Bible as their sole rule of faith and assume everything must be given equal weight. Such Christians do exist, but it would be a mistake to assume that all Christians hold such a view. It would also be a mistake to assume that Christian moral teaching was invented out of this way of reading the Bible.

The fact of the matter is, Christian moral teaching comes from several sources. The Catholic Church, for example, believes that the Word of God comes from both the words of Scripture and the Sacred Tradition (which we deny is the same as the human tradition Our Lord denounced in (reference). We believe that the Church established by Our Lord has been given the authority and the responsibility to assess whether an action is in keeping with the Word of God. But the Church is the servant to the Word of God, and does not have the authority to go against what God commanded. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (888–892; 2032–2040)

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (688)

87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. (1548; 2037)

Once one recognizes this, we have to ask some questions:

  1. What exactly is the teaching? (As opposed to what someone might think it is)
  2. Why does the Church teach what she does?

In other words, before a person understands what the teaching is, and why it exists, a person is making an ignorant assumption in attacking it.  GK Chesterton wrote once, in the article, The Drift from Domesticity:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." 

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

His point is a good one. Not understanding why some teaching exists is not a valid reason for overturning it. If one wants to overturn something, that person has the obligation to understand why it exists and whether it might still remain valid after all once understood. That doesn't happen however. Instead, the modern world assumes that because they are not aware of a reason to justify a teaching, it does not exist (the argument from ignorance fallacy) and the only reasons to hold to such a teaching is hidebound ignorance and intolerance. Both of these are charges we would deny.

The fact of the matter is we oppose behaviors which go against our moral beliefs because we hold that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship which is open to the possibility of fertility and the mutual support of the spouses. Behaviors which violate this design: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation (I'll leave out the more repellant behaviors that most people already recognize as wrong and, when mentioned, invariably bring up the accusation that we are equating the disputed behavior with) are condemned—not because the teachings were made up by cranky old celibates who were suffering from an "ick factor" (a common straw man fallacy)—but because those behaviors violate in one way or another what marriage was designed to be.

Now, yes, in the earlier years of Hebrew history, we did see things like polygamy seen as normal. Just like we did see all sorts of other behaviors mentioned which cause us to raise our eyebrows today. But one needs to understand the concept of divine accommodation. The problem people have is they assume that the world was an enlightened place until the Jews (and later, Christians) showed up with their "barbaric" laws and started slaughtering people willy-nilly who didn't happen to agree. It's a common view, but dead wrong.

The fact of the matter is, if you understand the behavior of the times, the culture of the region was extremely brutal. Mass extermination of an entire population in a city, rape and enslavement of captive women etc., were widely practiced. When you look at the other cultures of the region, it becomes clear that the teachings God gave to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were not opening the floodgates to a psychotic people. They were putting restrictions on the Jews that set them apart from the barbarism of other cultures. They did not have the permission to commit genocide. They were sent to drive out those practices which were incompatible with serving God.

For example, those cities mentioned in the Bible as being "put under the ban," (herem) were guilty of practices we don't even tolerate today (though Planned Parenthood seems to be moving in that direction) such as the human sacrifice of children. The fact of the matter is, the Law of Moses made the ancient Israelites far less barbaric than their neighbors. But people who are ignorant of this fact assume the exact opposite. 

Divine Accommodation is the term used to describe how God picked out the descendants of one chosen man (Abraham), set them aside to be His holy people and moved them away, gradually, from the practices they shared with their neighbors, first by putting restrictions on them and then by forbidding them. The Law was not intended to be the final state of the Israelites, but a preparation for Christ.

Unfortunately, people today assume that Jesus was some sort of a teacher who said "Be excellent to each other," and wanted us to be nice to each other and never say that something is morally wrong. People who say that actions are wrong and that hell is the ultimate result of choosing to refuse to obey God are accused of "judging others" contrary to Matthew 7:1 and that hell is contrary to the idea of God being love as expressed in 1 John 4:8.

But such views ignore the fact that Jesus was the one who warned us about hell in the first place. Think about it. If Jesus warned us about hell and died to prevent us from going there, isn't the possibility of going there something to be avoided at all costs? Jesus thought so. Remember He once told us:

If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna. (Matthew 18:8-9)

So why are we going so out of our way to pretend that the warnings of the Bible to do good and reject evil are something we can ignore? Why do we pretend that "God is love" means there is no hell when it is clear that He meant it in the sense of God desires to save us from hell? Why do we pretend that God changed things from "X is a sin" to "X is OK" just because the thought that X is no longer a sin is pleasing to us (see Peter Kreeft’s thoughts on the attitude here).

But people who do that forget that Jesus called us to take up our Cross and follow Him. The “be nice to each other” smiley face Jesus is someone who the world would not hate, and followers of smiley face Jesus would not be hated. But Jesus told us:

18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you,* ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,* because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law* might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’

In short the smiley face Jesus is a counterfeit who has nothing in common with the Jesus who spoke against sin and warned us against hell and was willing to die to make it possible for us to be saved. We should keep this in mind and remember the teachings of Jesus that speak about our need to repent, turning away from evil and towards Him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Propaganda and Lies: Jesus Didn't Say Anything About X

Just an early morning post.  This one isn't particularly in depth.

On a recent Facebook discussion on homosexuality, a person offered the argument that Christ did not say anything against homosexuality, therefore homosexuality was not wrong.

This is the fallacy of the Argument from Silence.  To argue there is no evidence against [X], therefore [X] must be true.

We can demonstrate the problem with such an argument by pointing out Bestiality, Necrophilia and Pedophilia are not condemned by Christ either, so they must be morally acceptable.

And before you send hate mail, claiming that I am saying that homosexuality is the same as pedophilia, see THIS article.

Christ was not some hippy type saying "It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you love each other."  Rather Christ has said:

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matt 7:21)

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15)

"Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:19)

"If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." (Matt 18:17)

Moreover, Christ had this to say:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:17-19)

This is the problem with people taking the Scriptures in whatever sense pleases them without considering context.  Jesus did for example, command people to love one another as He loved them (John 13:34 and John 15:12), but He also commanded people to do what is right and reject evil.

Christianity recognizes that we are to love others – even sinners.  However, it does not follow from this that all sin must be accepted as good.  Christ telling us not to judge (Matt 7:1-5) does not mean there is no sin.  It means we are not to write people off as being irredeemable.  The parallel passage in Luke (6:37) shows that this is about forgiveness, not tolerance.

But forgiveness presumes wrongdoing.  If a person washes my car and gives me fifty dollars, he hasn't done something that requires forgiveness.  If he damages my car and steals fifty dollars from me, he has done something which requires forgiveness and in this, Christ has said that the measure I use will be used against me.

Taking Bible verses out of context to justify a political stance is a distortion just as ridiculous as citing the Declaration of Independence to support being a colony of Britain.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thoughts on the So-called Plain Sense of Scripture and the No True Scotsman Fallacy


20 Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, 21 for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

15 And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, 16 speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16)


In my last article on the subject, I shared some objections as to why Catholics do not accept the concept of Sola Scriptura — that it is a manmade doctrine not to be found in Scripture. This time I want to discuss an assumption which is held by some proponents of Sola Scriptura, which holds there is a “plain sense” of Scripture apparent to all who read it, and therefore a Church which can determine what is a correct interpretation is unnecessary.

This is not a reasonable claim. When one considers that the Bible was written by individuals who wrote thousands of years ago, as a member of a different culture, it is quite likely that to read it as if it was written by a 21st century author is to read it in a sense which was never intended.

Preliminary Comments

The reader should be aware that just because I reject the concept of a “Plain Sense” of Scripture, it does not mean I reject the authority of Scripture. As a collection of writings written by individuals passing on the Revelation which God gave them and inspired and protected the authors from error in doing so. Scripture “is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16).

However, it does not follow from this that the Bible was ever intended to stand alone or to be interpreted by itself.

Thus, anyone who interprets my article as denying that the Bible is inspired or authoritative interprets it wrongly.

I don't doubt that some non-Catholics will disagree and perhaps dislike what I write.  Please keep in mind that any comments which I deem offensive (whether personal attacks or anti-Catholic attacks) will not be approved.  Please be civil in any expressed disagreement.

What “Plain Sense” Is.

Whatever is against the plain sense of the written word, or which gives countenance or encouragement to sin, we may be sure is not that which the Lord has spoken.1

—Matthew Henry

So what is this Plain Sense?  It is essentially rooted in Literalism, which is defined by Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary as, “Interpretation of biblical texts in straightforward and nonsymbolic language, using the literal meaning of the original words.” So if the Bible says God created the world in seven days, the Bible means exactly that. Any attempt to claim that the Bible never intended to give an “eyewitness” account tends to be accused of trying to “explain away” what the Bible says.

The claim of a “Plain Sense” of Scripture is that the meaning of Scripture is obvious to all who read it, and thus a Church is unnecessary and has no authority to insist on a binding interpretation. Moreover, exegesis and interpretation is not needed since any person who reads the Scriptures in good faith will understand the proper meaning, and only those who do not approach the Scriptures in good faith would insist on a different meaning.

If that kind of thinking sounds problematic, that’s because it stems from a logical error which will claim that “if YOU disagree from ME, it’s because YOU are in error.”

No True Scotsman Fallacy

This is known as the No True Scotsman fallacy, which is used in this case to negate all views of the Bible contrary to one’s own by labeling it as not being authentically Christian. It works like this:

  1. All True Christians will accept that a certain Bible Verse means X.
  2. Jones doesn’t think this Bible verse means X.
  3. Therefore Jones is not a True Christian

Under such a fallacy, any attempts to question the major premise or any counterexamples will be labeled as not being "a true Christian."

To employ a silly example, what if I claim that Jesus stating, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36) means He is an alien and if you do not agree you are not a real Christian and read the Bible out of context. How do you refute that? Such a claim refuses to consider any rebuttals by claiming they must be false because they disagree.

Caveat: This does not mean Scripture is Subjective

Because the above point can be misunderstood, I want to make this clear: The meaning of the Bible is not subjective. What makes it seem subjective is the multiple personal interpretations all claiming to be correct.

There are right and wrong interpretations of the Bible, and the issue is: Who has authority to make a binding interpretation?

My objection to “Plain Sense” and “Personal Interpretation” is it essentially makes any individual who claims it into his own Magisterium, disguising his or her personal interpretation as the “inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

An Example of the Pitfalls with Personal Interpretation

In St. Augustine’s work Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, we see in book 22, how Faustus (a member of the Manichaean heresy) reads the Old Testament and interprets it:

4. These books, moreover, contain shocking calumnies against God himself. We are told that he existed from eternity in darkness, and admired the light when he saw it; that he was so ignorant of the future, that he gave Adam a command, not foreseeing that it would be broken; that his perception was so limited that he could not see Adam when, from the knowledge of his nakedness, he hid himself in a corner of Paradise; that envy made him afraid lest his creature man should taste of the tree of life, and live for ever; that afterwards he was greedy for blood, and fat from all kinds of sacrifices, and jealous if they were offered to any one but himself; that he was enraged sometimes against his enemies, sometimes against his friends; that he destroyed thousands of men for a slight offense, or for nothing; that he threatened to come with a sword and spare nobody, righteous or wicked. The authors of such bold libels against God might very well slander the men of God. You must join with us in laying the blame on the writers if you wish to vindicate the prophets.3

Faustus personally interprets the Creation account and the Torah on the sacrifices in a literal sense, taking what he thinks is the plain sense of Scripture.  Those familiar with Scripture will be able to recognize the Scriptural events he speaks about.   Because of this interpretation, Faustus and the Manichaeans think that the God of the Old Testament cannot be the same as the God of the Prophets and the New Testament.

Now before anyone fires off an angry response here, let me make clear I do not claim that those who believe in “Plain Sense” and “Personal Interpretation” believe in the Manichaeism that Faustus did. Rather I use this example to demonstrate that a person who interprets Scripture for himself with what he or she thinks is the "plain sense" can very easily go wrong, and if such a person makes use of the No True Scotsman fallacy, it can assume everyone else is wrong rather than consider the possibility of personal error.

Guided by the “Spirit”

In response to this, some argue that the proper understanding is done through Guidance by the Holy Spirit.  In this, it would be argued that interpretations not done under the influence of the Spirit were wildly inaccurate.  This defense would claim that the Spirit reaches out to people of good faith and helps them to understand what Scripture means. Therefore it can be said that Faustus was not guided by the Holy Spirit, but those who follow the “Plain Sense” are.

The appeal to the Holy Spirit is another defense mechanism of the “Bible Alone” which is commonly invoked against the example of the false interpretation.  But there is a problem with the assertion.  How do we know who is deceived and who is not?  Or, more chillingly, how does the individual who is certain they are right know they are not deceived?

Faustus, like Arius, Nestorius and others were probably sincere in their belief that Jesus was less than God, and sincere in believing they were inspired while those who disagreed were deceived.  They certainly appealed to the Scriptures sincerely – yet they were in error.  So who determines what is right?

The problem is, this is another example of the No True Scotsman fallacy, and argues that whoever deviates from a chosen interpretation is not guided by the Spirit.  Regardless of beliefs, anyone can use this fallacy and say "This interpretation is not the same as mine.  Therefore it must be false."

Get enough different groups all using the fallacy and contradicting each other and you have a problem. If you have several denominations that hold contradictory views and all of which claim to have the true interpretation of Scripture and all of them appealing to the Bible, to whom are we to approach to determine which view is in contradiction to what Jesus taught His disciples?

If two or more groups say contrary things, they cannot all be right. However, just because one contrary is wrong does not mean the other is right. If one person says “All [A] is [B]” and another says “No [A] is [B]” both can be wrong if it turns out “Some [A] is [B].” Thus we can’t choose who is right simply on the basis of identifying group [B] as wrong.

Self Contradiction in Practice

Thus, the problem with an appeal to a Plain sense of Scripture which therefore requires no Church is that it is a self-contradiction. This claim is in itself a claim to have the personal or denominational authority to make a binding interpretation of Scripture (which they deny to the Catholic Church). In other words, the person appealing to the Plain Sense of Scripture in judging others who disagree with him is creating his own Magisterium — and one based on the argument that if you don’t agree with [X] you are reading the Scriptures wrongly.

The Data of Divisions

The existence of numerous denominations, all calling themselves Protestant, demonstrates this problem. If there is a plain sense of Scripture obvious to all who seek it in good faith, we should expect to see evidence of such a claim in the unity of all groups who claim to rely on the Bible Alone: all pointing to the Bible should hold to the same teaching if the teaching is “plain.”

Yet this does not happen.  If people disagree with a pastor or reverend and their take on Scripture, they are free to just go elsewhere to where someone teaches what they agree with.

Now I won’t go into the “20,000+ denomination” debate which annoys certain Protestants. This seems to be mainly a dispute over what a denomination is. Certain groups consider three different offshoots of Presbyterians as three different denominations. Others consider them one denomination. Without a mutual agreement on what denomination means, such arguments are worthless.

Setting that aside, however, we can say that when one has Lutherans, Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Non-Denominational and others, each claiming there is a plain sense of Scripture while appealing to their own belief as being what that plain sense is supposed to be, we can see that this is evidence against a Plain Sense.

A thing cannot both be [A] and [Not-A] at the same time and in the same context.  If two statements about a thing contradict, they can’t both be right, but (if they both share a fundamental misinterpretation they share) both can be wrong.

A Brief Preliminary on "Agreeing on the Important Things"

While this is a topic worthy of a post itself (which I hope to get to later), I will touch briefly on the defense sometimes offered that these different denominations agree on "important things."  The argument is, the differences are less than the agreements, and the agreements are what is discovered from the plain sense. The differences are over “minor” issues.

The reason this is a problem is, denominations do not say these differences are minor issues. Baptists who say Baptism is important and Calvinists who say it is a mere symbol are saying contradictory things about the necessity of Baptism. Denominations disagree on whether abortion or divorce is permissible or not… and a growing number of them are deciding not to contest the issue at all, merely saying nothing to avoid controversy.

So when it comes to the "Agreeing on the Important Things" argument, what we have is a reduction of Christianity to the Lowest Common Denominator, where people who insist on other issues as being important are accused of focusing on trivialities.  Certain denominations (the Anglicans and Presbyterians for example) are divided over the concept of homosexual marriage.  This does not mean that homosexuality is unimportant compared to what they agree on.  Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)"  He also said "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matt 7:21)"

So we can say that the issue of obedience to His commandments is not optional, and therefore when two denominations dispute whether or not an issue is "important" either one is denigrating something important or elevating something trivial.

Actually, the "Important things" defense is another example of the No True Scotsman fallacy:

  1. There is no contradiction on major beliefs between denominations.
  2. Belief [X] is disputed between denominations.
  3. Therefore Belief [X] is not a major belief.

Any uncomfortable dispute between denominations is explained away by this argument. The problem is, it waters down the faith to the level of the group which believes the least.

The Question to Be Asked

Thus we have the problem with the claim of Personal interpretation in a nutshell. How can we know who has the correct interpretation when two groups disagree and both claim to have the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Hence, Catholics ask: When two or more denominations disagree over the plain sense of Scripture, to what do they appeal to settle who is right?

It cannot be the Bible — because this is what is being disputed.  Two parties with no other authority but the Bible can each accuse the other of interpreting it wrongly and will not accept the other's citation as a refutation of their belief.  Clearly in such a case, having an inerrant Bible alone is not of much use if people cannot agree on the meaning.

That is the problem: if one accepts The Bible Alone, there is nothing to judge between two disputing views to determine which is correct. Thus we have an impasse — if one accepts The Bible Alone and Personal Interpretation.

This is why the Catholics emphasize the fact that the teachings of the Apostles are passed on in both the writings of Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition. We believe Jesus established a Church under the headship of the Apostles and that when one reads the Bible, when one considers Sacred Tradition, one has to view it in context of the faith which is passed consistently from generation to generation. A person who views Scripture apart from how it was interpreted since the times of the Apostles does not read Scripture correctly.

The denial of the claim that Jesus established His Church and protected her from error is to effectively kick out the support for a reasoned belief that the Bible is inerrant, and that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.4

This is because: If we do not know who has the authority to interpret, how can we know whose teaching, refutation, correction and training for righteousness is correct and whose is in error?

1 Henry, M., & Scott, T. (1997). Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary (Dt 18:15).

2 Kurian, G. T. (2001). Nelson's new Christian dictionary : The authoritative resource on the Christian world. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs.

3 Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV. St. Augustine: The writings against the Manicheans and against the Donatists. (273).

4 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Board of Trustees, Catholic Church. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, & United States Catholic Conference. Administrative Board. (1996, c1986). The New American Bible : Translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources and the revised New Testament (2 Ti 3:16). Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Interlude III): What the Catholic Church Believes About Scripture

The Series so Far

  1. Article I
  2. Article IIa
  3. Article IIb
  4. Article IIc
  5. Interlude
  6. Article IId
  7. Article IIe
  8. Article IIIa
  9. Article IIIb
  10. Interlude II
  11. Article IVa

As I work my way through various Protestant Sources to make sure I understand Sola Scriptura, I have noticed one troubling trend which appears constantly: The misstating of what educated Catholics believe about Scripture.

Now of course it is one thing to understand but reject the Catholic understanding of Scripture.  It is entirely another thing to misrepresent what Catholics believe, knowingly or not.  To pass on what one knows to be false, or to pass on false statements without verifying if they are true is to bear false witness.

Ultimately God is the one who will judge the level of culpability of those who bear false witness.  For the person who has no way of finding out otherwise, the degree of responsibility is far less than the person who can find out what Catholics teach on the subject but refuses to do so.

It is not my intent to declare what the level of culpability exists in an individual.  Nor do I have any idea whether a particular non-Catholic visitor to my site holds to these sorts of views.  Rather, my intention is to point out to the non-Catholic what we in fact do believe to avoid misunderstanding us and charging us wrongly.

I believe it is important to state what we believe here before moving forward because it is possible some, not knowing what we do believe, may take the rejection of the Protestant view as a denial of the Inspiration and authority of Scripture.

The Catholic Views on Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say on the Inspiration of Scripture:

101 In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words: "Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men."63

102 Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely:64

You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time.65

103 For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body.66

104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God".67 "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."68

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."69

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."70

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more."71

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."72

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living".73 If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."74

109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.75

110 In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."76

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written."77

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78

112 1. Be especially attentive "to the content and unity of the whole Scripture". Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79

The phrase "heart of Christ" can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80

113 2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church". According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church"81).

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By "analogy of faith" we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

She also exhorts the faithful to read the Scriptures:

131 "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life."109 Hence "access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful."110

132 "Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too - pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place - is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture."111

133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.112

I hope this citation makes clear what Catholics do in fact believe about Scripture against any claims to the contrary.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reflections on Scripture Disputes Between Christians

Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death! (Proverbs 16:25)

(I think this article needs to be written before going on with my Infallibility series, based on certain accusations that Catholics "ignore" Scripture)


There is an old joke which runs as follows:

Two ministers of rival denominations found it necessary to share a cab, and as they travelled, they began to converse.  Both were surprised to learn they shared mutual interests and they had a pleasant conversation.

Arriving at the first destination, the first minister said, "You know I don't see why we can't get along.  After all, we're both trying to serve the Lord, aren't we?"

Getting out, the second minister said, "That's true.  You serve the Lord in your way, and we serve the Lord in His."

There is a truth to this anecdote which we would do well to remember, and that is we must serve the Lord in His way and not in ours.  Who accurately interprets Scripture and who errs?  Remember that with contradictory claims, one must be wrong and the other right, while with contrary claims, both can be wrong, but it is possible neither is right.

Now, between Catholics and Protestants, and between different denominations of Protestants, (or for that matter between Christians and Jews concerning the Old Testament) there are disputes over the meaning of Scripture, where conflicting claims are made as to the teachings, and such disputes are a stumbling block for the world to whom we have been required to preach the good news to.

A Common Assumption

There are times when I receive comments from a person who is quite sincere in his or her belief attacking the Catholic position on the grounds that the Catholics "ignore" certain passages of the Bible.  The problem is, this accusation makes a certain assumption:

  1. When I [Read the Bible] I see [Teaching X]
  2. [Catholics] don't believe [Teaching X]
  3. Therefore, [Catholics] don't [Read the Bible]

Why is this assumption a problem?  Because it assumes [Teaching X] is true, when this is actually a matter to be proven.

The question is: Is [Teaching X] true?  If Catholics [Read the Bible] and don't see [Teaching X], then it comes down to an issue of who is authorized to interpret Scripture to make a decision on [Teaching X].  Catholics believe the Church in communion with the Pope has that right.  Other denominations deny this, and insist on things like the Plain Sense of Scripture and Personal Interpretation.  However, just as Catholics are called on to prove their position, it follows that those denominations who deny it must prove their own position on the authority to interpret Scripture.


I don't expect this article will lead people to accept one view over another.  Rather, I post this in the hopes that when it comes to comments to articles, people will realize that the issue under dispute is ultimately over the issue of interpretation and not over accusations of "You're ignoring verses x:xx from the Book of Y in the Bible."

One needs to recognize the truth of what Bertrand Russell once said on slanting the language: "I am firm, you are stubborn, they are pig-headed."  Also, the wisdom of GK Chesterton: "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."

It is easy to assume one who disagrees with you is wrong.  However, the question which must be asked is, On what basis do you hold you are right?

This is the real dispute between Christians.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Part IIb): On Peter and Matthew 16

Preliminary Disclaimer

The article I am presenting here is not intended to be the definitive Church teaching on the subject of infallibility, but rather is my own take on the topic in hopes of offering some perspective on why the Church teaches what it does.

PART I: Introduction and Preliminary Concerns

  • Article ”Part I” is found here.
  • Article “Part IIa” is found here

In the first article, I dealt with some syllogisms about certain assumptions Christians hold and how they point to a need to know what is authentically taught and what is in error when it comes to truths necessary to salvation.  I pointed out that we had not yet reached the point of saying we had proven the claims of the Catholic Church but we had an instance where a decree of the Church was considered infallible.

In Article IIa, I spoke about some historical fallacies we need to be aware of: not asking a Have you stopped beating your wife yet? kind of question about Peter and the Papacy but rather asking what the facts were about Peter’s role in the Church.

Now in Article IIb, I would like to look at the Bible… but with a caveat to keep in mind.

Caveat: The Bible as Data vs. Arguing in A Circle

The caveat here is that I don't intend to use the sacred character of Scripture as an appeal to authority.  I have been on record as opposing the circular argument some people use which runs as follows:

  1. The Bible is inerrant because God says so.
  2. God is inerrant because the Bible says so.

A person who rejects either premise will not be willing to accept this reasoning.  Also because I reject this as an illogical way to express the authority of the Bible, it would be hypocritical of me to use this fallacy when it favors me.

Therefore, I want to make clear I am using the Bible, for the purpose of this article, as an account which all orthodox Christians accept as telling us what Jesus said, without invoking the authority of Scripture as a trump card.  Thus we will be looking at the Bible to see what Christ taught on certain subjects and look at what necessarily follows from His statements.

Remember I am simply intending to look at it in the sense of, “If Jesus said this, what is the significance of it?” What I am not going to do is to get into debates over what Jesus meant (commonly invoked in disputes over interpretation). Now of course we do need to understand the historical context of expressions and the like. However, if one person believes Jesus intended to found a Church and another denies this, the disputes generally turn out to be “argument by proxy” over beliefs and not texts.

So in terms of studying Matthew 16:17-19, we need to be aware of understanding what Jesus said before looking at the beliefs about this passage.

What is "Data"

For the purpose of this article, data is defined in the philosophical sense:

things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning.

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

If we understand Christianity to be centered on the person of Jesus Christ, then what He says when He teaches or gives example is considered to be things known as a baseline from which we must seek to understand.  To say "Christ got it wrong in this section of the Bible" is to take a position incompatible with Christian belief.

In this case, using the Bible as data is not to diminish the text for the Christian.  Rather I want to consult Scripture in the sense of looking at what Jesus said and not bringing in arguments of “you are obligated to believe this.” Eventually we may reach this point… but not yet.

Interpretations need to be established as having basis

I would like to remind the reader that there is a problem with appealing to the personal interpretation, which I made reference to in Part I of this series, and that is we have established that since individuals can err, so can personal interpretations of Scripture (See syllogism #6 of Part I in this series).  Thus when it comes to an appeal to personal interpretation, we need to see how such Scripture was seen in the past, and not merely how an individual reads it today.

With these preliminaries out of the way, we can now move on to the data of Scripture.

PART II: Considering the Data of Scripture in terms of Peter and Matthew 16

There is a lot to consider about Peter’s role in Scripture. This particular article (IIb) will look at Christ’s promise to Peter in Matthew 16. In future articles we will look at the rest of the Scriptures on Peter.

Singular and Plural

In the English language, we tend to use “you” to refer to both one person addressed or to a group of people addressed. In other languages, including Greek (the language of the New Testament), there is a form for “you” when speaking to one person (the singular form) and a form for “you” for speaking to many people (the plural form). Unfortunately, many do not make this distinction in the English translations of the Bible, and people uncritically interpret Scripture without considering this difference. Since Matthew 16 does make use of both forms, we need to be aware of this fact. If we try to make an argument based on the ambiguities of “you” in English, it will fall short if it is not supported by the Greek of the Gospels.

Peter’s Role among those called by Christ

Peter was not the sole Apostle, and He was not the only Apostle to speak to Christ about things. (Some objections to Catholic beliefs seem to be based on the assumption that we do believe this). However, he is shown to have a prominent role in the Gospels. While sometimes he is maligned for “not getting it” he was a man of great faith (remember the other eleven apostles never even got out of the boat).

In considering Scripture, we need to avoid the Argument from Silence fallacy which claims that because nothing is said on a topic it “proves” the validity/invalidity of the claim. Silence merely means nothing was said one way or another. What we are doing here is to study the words of Scripture, and what logically follows from what Christ said.

Certain People follow Jesus with different motives and Interests

In studying the relationship of Christ and Peter, first I would like to do a brief breakdown of the different relationships of people interested in Jesus and following Him. I am excluding those who were hostile to Him in this case.

The Crowds

First, we have the crowds who followed Jesus.  The word for the crowds is ὄχλος (ochlos), which has the sense of the undisciplined masses or mobs.  They were following out of curiosity or need out of their own volition. These were the people who wanted to hear about a political messiah who would overthrow the Romans and bring in a reign of prosperity for all. We could say they followed Jesus with an expectation. They were excited by miracles, but did not understand what He taught. They were fickle. Some of those who were calling out Hosannas on Palm Sunday were yelling “Crucify him!” on Good Friday.

The Disciples

Jesus had certain people follow Him as His disciples.  The Greek word used in Scripture is μᾰθητής (mathētēs), which generally has the meaning of students/pupils of a teacher.  In Greek, this had often been used for students of a philosopher or a doctor.  While Christians believe that Jesus was more than a mere teacher, the fact is that the disciples followed Him in a different relationship than that of the crowd. They believed he was teaching truth, and they sought to learn from Him. This group could contain outcasts like tax collectors, and was not limited to men of certain education or social classes. Women too could be disciples of Jesus. This would have been a great change from the society which considered only men could be disciples.

Some of them did separate themselves from Him, such as John Chapter 6.

The Apostles

It is noted that there were two circles of Jesus disciples: The Twelve and the Disciples.  The Twelve are often called the Apostles (ἀπόστολος), which means messenger, envoy or ambassador and has a literal sense of one who is sent forth. They were the ones who were closest to Jesus. They were the ones who stayed when the others left Him in John 6. They were present with Jesus at the Last Supper. Jesus chose the Twelve to be with him, and to them He gave the teachings of the Kingdom of God.

Peter Among the Twelve

This is where non Catholics will begin to disagree with me, and that is Peter's special calling among the twelve.  The most commonly cited one is Matthew 16 of course, and this will be the thrust of this article.  However it is not the only passage of authority (certain people who claim Catholics solely base their views on Matt 16:18-19 are incorrect).  Throughout the Gospels we see that Peter is always given a prominent place.  He is always there for the special events in Christ's life.  Jesus' miraculous arranging of the paying of the temple tax shows that Peter's association is close to Christ.

It is to Peter alone that Jesus addresses these promises (though in Matthew 18:18, Jesus seems to grant some of them to the Apostles collectively).  In the Greek, Jesus addresses Peter with the singular "you" in these cases.  Most significant is the promise to build the Church on Peter and to give him the keys of the kingdom.

A Look at the Promise to Peter

13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.

18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The sequence is rather interesting.  While the others could tell Jesus who others said He was supposed to be, it was Peter who had revealed to Him the true answer of who Jesus actually is.  Jesus tells Peter he is blessed because God the Father has revealed it to him.

Now we do need to look at the Greek for what Jesus says next in verse 18:

18 Κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω, ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾍδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

Let's break this up into sections.

"I to You (second person singular) say that you (second person singular)…" 

In other words, he is not speaking to the apostles in general.

"…are Peter/Rock (petros) and (supported) on this (this same) the Rock (petra)…" 

What is interesting is the meaning of ταύτῃ (tautē feminine dative demonstrative singular pronoun) is the "this" can also hold a meaning of "the same" and as a pronoun with two objects, tautē, usually refers to the object mentioned before, not the one that comes after.  It only refers to what comes after when there are not two objects. 

Essentially, the Gospel of Matthew makes use of Petros to refer to Peter and petra second simply because that is proper Greek in trying to translate an Aramaic concept.  Because Jesus was referring to Peter, and Peter was male, the Greek requires the masculine form Petros.

Also, since Peter's statement of faith is not even present in this sentence it cannot refer to this.

"I will build/found/establish of me the assembly duly summoned" 

Some have tried to make use of an argument that ecclesia doesn't mean Church.  The problem is, this word is used in the LXX for the assembly of Israel and in the New Testament for the Church in places like 1 Cor. 11:22 and Romans 16:5.

It should be noted at this point that the form ekklēsian used here is singular.  Church, not churches. It is also only found twice in the New Testament, and both times used in the sense of the body established by Christ.

"…and gates/prison of Hades (it is used in the context of "Hell" as well as death) not will prevail/overcome against it.”

So we have a three layered statement:

  1. Christ renames Simon "Peter" which is Cephas in Aramaic and translates as Rock in English.  (Cephas can be used for both Petros and Petra)
  2. Jesus promises that on this rock (which in Greek grammatically refers to Peter) He will build His Church
  3. The gates of Hell/death will not prevail against His Church.

Now with the contested verse 18 out of the way, let us move on to the next verse

Verse 19 gives evidence that it is Peter, and not his profession, is the rock, when we see Christ says to Peter singularly, He will give Peter the keys to the Kingdom, which is to be understood as the authority to rule.  To Peter singularly, Jesus gives the power to bind and to loose and that which he binds and looses on Earth will be held bound (this can mean both to be chained and to be bound together like a husband and wife) or loosed (to set free, be released) in Heaven.

Now remembering that this began because Jesus said Peter was personally blessed because God the Father had revealed this to Peter, we can see how personal a promise this is.

The Significance of This Promise

Now, what I find fascinating is that this promise in Matthew 16:19 of binding and loosing is addressed to Peter singularly, not to the Apostles in the plural form of “you.” Peter is being given the role of the steward to the King (Christ). To recognize this role, we should look at another Biblical passage where someone is given keys. This is Isaiah 22. The prophecy against Shebna, that God will take him down from his position and give it to Eliakim:

20 On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;

21 I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.

22 I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.

23 I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family;

24 On him shall hang all the glory of his family: descendants and offspring, all the little dishes, from bowls to jugs.

The keys, given to the steward meant he was given authority over the royal palace. That’s an interesting parallel in regards to Peter being given the keys to the entire Kingdom, which Jesus equates with His Church. Like a steward, Peter’s role exists until Christ returns at the Second Coming.

A Diversion: Peter, Rock and Promise

In light of Article IIa, I think we need a slight detour here.  There are some who claim that the "rock" was referring to Peter's confession of faith.  In doing so, they attempt to draw out the difference between petra and petros.  Because there is a distinction in Greek between the two words (though it is not as great as some claim, the two could be and often were used interchangeably), some try to say this means the rock was not Peter. This claim is usually accompanied by an a priori assumption that Peter could not be the Rock, therefore it must have a different meaning. If, for example, you read Matthew Henry’s commentary on these verses (I cited it in IIa), you will see his entire commentary on this passage is based on the denial of the Catholic claim and seeking an alternative meaning.

Historian David Hackett Fischer calls this the fallacy of fictional questions where one tries to find an alternate explanation. This fallacy turns a “what if” question into an “it is” assumption. However, a “what if” cannot become a “it is” without evidence for the claim.

There are a few problems here which we need to be aware of and I list here.

  1. Jesus and the Apostles spoke Aramaic, not Greek.  So when we see the writings of the Gospels we need to remember that Jesus was not speaking Greek… or English.
  2. In Aramaic, there is no gender difference between words.  It would be kêpa (sometimes written Cephas [except for Galatians, Paul almost always uses Cephas for Peter]) in both cases (You are kêpa’ and on this kêpa’…).  Only in Greek is there a gender difference in words.  So the Greek difference in words would be a red herring distracting from the issue
  3. Petros, Petra and Cephas/Kêpa were not names at this time, so for Jesus to name Simon "Peter" was significant.
  4. When God changes a name (Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel etc.), it is done only when a significant promise is made. To Abraham and to Jacob, it concerned the promise of a nation. To Peter it concerned the promise of a the Kingdom.

When we recognize these facts, the argument that says the rock was not Peter fails to prove its point.

Adding A Syllogism

Now, at this time I am not going to say “See! This proves Peter was infallible.” We will eventually get to this point, but at this time we merely need to consider the ramifications of Jesus’ promise.

We’ve pointed out in the first article that God does not err. Now, if Jesus said that what Peter (and remember Jesus was talking to Peter in the singular form) bound on Earth would be bound in Heaven and what Peter loosed on Earth would be loosed in Heaven, this is to say that Peter binds and looses with authority given him by God. Now if Peter could err in such a decision, then it follows that God would be binding and loosing error, which would be incompatible with God’s perfection. So let’s add an Eighth Syllogism:

Syllogism #8

    1. Being [inerrant] is an attribute of [God] ([A] is part of [B])
    2. [God] is [Jesus] (All [B] is [C])
    3. Therefore Being [inerrant] is an attribute of [Jesus] (Therefore [A] is part of [C])

(If God is Jesus then logically, all characteristics of God are characteristics of Jesus)

So if Jesus, as inerrant God, has made this promise to bind and loose in Heaven what Peter binds and looses on Earth, then He must either bind and loose error; or else He must at least protect Peter from declaring error bound or loosed when it pertains to matters of salvation.

We haven’t yet fully demonstrated a claim of infallibility. However, if we recognize that Jesus was inerrant and made this promise, we need to recognize that with these promises need to be backed up by something.

To Be Continued (Or, “DON’T Hit the Reply Button Yet…”)

We have not finished the discussion of Peter yet (Hence the IIb in the title). Matthew 16:17-19 is not the extent of the Catholic understanding of infallibility. However, because it is the lengthiest one in terms of potential misconceptions we did need to look into the significance of the promise Jesus made to Peter.

Nor have we merely equated the Church with Peter. We also need to look at the promises and commands Jesus made in relation to the Church itself.

Some readers may object that I have ignored the rebuke of Jesus which comes after this promise. This is not the case. Rather I will deal with this in a future article (the brief answer would be, Jesus seems to be rebuking Peter’s misunderstanding of the mission of the Messiah, and not withdrawing anything).

At this time, we need to consider syllogisms 1-8, recognizing that God cannot err, but personal interpretation can because human beings are fallible. Yet Jesus makes a promise to Peter which only makes sense if God will protect Peter from error.

Article IIc will continue looking at what Christ and the New Testament has said on Peter. Depending on length, discussion of the Church itself will be a part of IIc or else a Part IId may be necessary.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fallible Collection of Infallible Scripture? Reflections on an Assertion of Sproul

Preliminary Note

Before anyone tries to send in a comment accusing me of not believing Scripture is inerrant, let me say such an accusation would be false.  I do accept Scripture as inerrant.  The issue in question is looking at RC Sproul's statement that what we have is a fallible collection of Infallible books of Scripture.  It is my belief that this argument actually weakens the claim of the inerrancy of Scripture when we look at his claim logically.


RC Sproul has argued several times that the collection of Scripture we have is a fallible collection of infallible books.  He has said:

Though Protestants believe that God gave special providential care to ensure that the proper books be included, he did not thereby render the Church itself infallible.  Protestants also remind Roman Catholics that the Church did not "create" the Canon.  The church recognized, acknowledged, received, and submitted to the canons of Scripture…

…The church did not create the canon, but merely recognized the books that bore the marks of canonicity, and were therefore authoritative within the Church (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, pages 22-23)

Defining Fallibility and Infallibility

Now, to argue that the canon is a fallible collection of infallible books (which he says on page 22 of his Essential Truths) must recognize this: To be fallible means "capable of making mistakes or being wrong" according to the OED, while infallible means "incapable of making mistakes or being wrong" according to the same.

Denying Infallibility

Now I have seen several blogs where it attempts to argue that what was meant was that Sproul was merely denying the infallibility of the Church.  One blogger writes: "the heart of the statement is only meant to point out that the church is not infallible."  He cites Sproul as saying [yes, I am aware that this is reporting secondhand]:

Rome believes the church was infallible when it determined which books belong in the New Testament. Protestants believe the church acted rightly and accurately in this process, but not infallibly.

From this concept, the blogger in question argues:

The Church was used by God to provide a widespread knowledge of the Canon. The Holy Spirit had worked among the early Christian Church in providing them with the books of the New Testament. This same process can be seen with the Old Testament and Old Testament believers. The Old Testament believer 50 years before Christ was born had a canon of Scripture, this despite the ruling from an infallible authority.

The problem is, this is really arguing in a circle while avoiding the point.  Did God use the Church in a way where the Church could have made an error, or did God prevent the Church from teaching error?

Sproul's Definition of what makes a Book of Scripture Canonical

Sproul lists three things (see page 23) which make Scripture canonical:

  1. They must have apostolic authorship or endorsement
  2. They must be received as authoritative by the early church
  3. They must be in harmony with the books with which there is no doubt.

We can point out inconsistencies with all three of these points based on Sproul's central contention that the collection of Scripture is fallible:

  1. If those who endorse it are fallible, it means this criterion is fallible
  2. if the decision of the early church is fallible, this criterion is fallible
  3. If Criteria 1+2 are fallible, this judgment is fallible (because the endorsement of the books could be false)

[Edited to fix a typo which entirely changed the meaning from what I meant]

What a "Fallible" Collection Means

If God did lead the Church to gather together the canon of the New Testament, and God kept the Church from erring on that canon, it means the canon is infallible and it follows that the Church must have been without error (infallible) at least in that point under contention.  If the Church was without error in this, was it without error in other teachings?  Remember, Catholics do not simply believe the Church cannot err by her own authority or merit.  We believe the Church is inerrant because Christ protects her from error.

However, if the Church was not protected from error when God guided them in declaring the canon, then it opens up many problems — such as, how do we know God protected the human authors of Scripture from error?

Use of the Euler Circles to demonstrate Sproul's problem

If all A is in B, and all B is in C, it logically follows that all A is in C.

euler-all-a-is-b-is-c(If all A is B and All B is C it follows that All A is C)

If we let A be List of Scripture, let B be the Scripture itself and C things that are infallible, we have this syllogism:

  1. The [List of Scripture] was [Shows that which is Scripture] (All [A] is [B])
  2. [Scripture] is [infallible] (All [B] is [C])
  3. Therefore [The List of Scripture] is [infallible] (Therefore All [A] is [C])

So long as [A] tells us Infallibly that [B] belongs in [C], we can know that the books of [Scripture] are [Infallible].  If [A] cannot tells us infallibly that [B] belongs in [C], we cannot know [B] is a part of [C].  We can only say we think [B] is a part of [C].

Due to this, Sproul's argument can be demonstrated as follows:


This gives a form error in logic however.  If we keep to the categories above (If we let A be List of Scripture, let B be the Scripture itself and C be Infallible), then if No [A] is [C], we can only say at best that we think some [B] is [C].  If No [A] is [C], we can't know that All [B] is [C], because we can't know if the list of Scripture [A] is correct or not.

If We Don't Know the List is Free of Error, We Can't Know if All the Books Belong in the Bible

So in order to deny that the Church was at least protected from making error in the decision of what belongs in Scripture, one has to say we don't know whether all the books in the Bible we have belong there and we don't know if some of these books excluded ought to have been included.  Why is this?

Because, if the list of Scripture is capable of being wrong, it follows there is a possibility that some books might be in the canon wrongly or else that some books were wrongly excluded.  A possibility is not the same as a certainty of course, but it does admit it could be wrong.  Remember, Sproul's designation of "fallible" means "capable of making mistakes or being wrong.

So… how can we know that the Church decision as to what books to admit as Scripture to be read within the Church did not wrongly exclude certain books (as certain modern Gnostics try to argue today) or else that certain books should have been excluded (as Protestants insist concerning the Deuterocanonical books which they call apocrypha)?

If the decision was fallible, but we did get all the books right, then basically the Church got lucky… but we can't know that it did get lucky.  However, if God inspired the Church to include only the books He made inerrant, then the decision was infallible.  The Church has then taught infallibly at least once, because it was protected from error at least once.

Prior to Church Declaration, There Were Disputes over Canon

Sproul does point out Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2+3 John, James, Jude and Revelation (he could have also mentioned the 8th chapter of the Gospel of John) were all disputed at one time (Eusebius spoke of disputes in the early 4th century).  1 Clement, Shepherd of Hermas and Didache were considered to be canon by others (Clement of Alexandria made reference to them in the 2nd century).  However, he never gets around to the fact that what was accepted by decree of the Church settled the dispute (which fits his criteria #1 and #2 in the section headed "Sproul's Definition of what makes a Book of Scripture Canonical" above).

Why Sproul's Claim Puts Scripture in Doubt

The Church made the decision to include the New Testament canon as we know it today, rejecting the books which we recognize were not Scriptural.  Now, if the canon is fallible, we cannot know whether Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2+3 John, James, Jude and Revelation were rightly included, and we cannot know whether 1 Clement, Shepherd of Hermas and Didache should have been excluded.  If the decision was fallible, it might be right (if God did only inspire the books within the canon) but if it is a fallible decision, we are back again to the point that we can't know that the Church decided rightly.

This makes the claim of Sproul counterproductive.  If we can't know the canon is infallible, we can't know what parts are inspired.  We can't know who is right between the Catholics who claim the Bible has 73 books and the Protestants who claim 66 books.  So, logically we cannot accept the Bible as we have it as having only inspired titles as well as all the inspired titles unless we accept that the Church decree was infallible.  Either the Catholic Bible has 7 books too many or the Protestant Bible has 7 books too few.

A Look At Augustine's Quote

Catholics often cite St. Augustine's quote "I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church."  Some question whether or not it is taken out of context (most say they cannot find the passage).  It can indeed be found in Contra epistolam Manichaei (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental) Chapter 5 #6, and reads in context (I've underlined the quote so you can see it in context):

6. Let us see then what Manichaeus teaches me; and particularly let us examine that treatment which he calls the Fundamental Epistle, in which almost all that you believe is contained. For in that unhappy time when we read it we were in your opinion enlightened. The epistle begins thus:—“ Manichaeus, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the providence of God the Father. These are wholesome words from the perennial and living fountain.” Now, if you please, patiently give heed to my inquiry. I do not believe Manichaeus to be an apostle of Christ. Do not, I beg of you, be enraged and begin to curse. For you know that it is my rule to believe none of your statements without consideration. Therefore I ask, who is this Manichaeus? You will reply, An apostle of Christ. I do not believe it. Now you are at a loss what to say or do; for you promised to give knowledge of the truth, and here you are forcing me to believe what I have no knowledge of. Perhaps you will read the gospel to me, and will attempt to find there a testimony to Manichaeus. But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.  So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichaeus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you;—If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichaeus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel;—Again, if you say, You were right in believing the Catholics when they praised the gospel, but wrong in believing their vituperation of Manichaeus: do you think me such a fool as to believe or not to believe as you like or dislike, without any reason?

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV. St. Augustine: The writings against the Manicheans and against the Donatists. (130).

What St. Augustine is saying is, he holds Scripture as trustworthy and authoritative because he finds the Church itself to be trustworthy and authoritative.  The Church also tells him that he acknowledges the authority of the Church in teaching that Manichaeus (as an aside, Manichaeus is sometimes known as Manes or Mani in some historical documents) is not to be seen as a valid teacher, so an appeal to Scripture against the Catholic Church is to appeal against the assurance that Scripture has authority.  However, when considering the argument that the Church was right (once) when it called Scripture authoritative, but not at other times, He demands proof for why he should do so.

St. Augustine goes on in a solid rebuke of those who appeal to Scripture against the Church, saying:

It is therefore fairer and safer by far for me, having in one instance put faith in the Catholics, not to go over to you, till, instead of bidding me believe, you make me understand something in the clearest and most open manner. To convince me, then, you must put aside the gospel. If you keep to the gospel, I will keep to those who commanded me to believe the gospel; and, in obedience to them, I will not believe you at all. But if haply you should succeed in finding in the gospel an incontrovertible testimony to the apostleship of Manichaeus, you will weaken my regard for the authority of the Catholics who bid me not to believe you; and the effect of that will be, that I shall no longer be able to believe the gospel either, for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me. Wherefore, if no clear proof of the apostleship of Manichaeus is found in the gospel, I will believe the Catholics rather than you. But if you read thence some passage clearly in favor of Manichaeus, I will believe neither them nor you: not them, for they lied to me about you; nor you, for you quote to me that Scripture which I had believed on the authority of those liars. But far be it that I should not believe the gospel; for believing it, I find no way of believing you too. For the names of the apostles, as there recorded, do not include the name of Manichaeus. And who the successor of Christ’s betrayer was we read in the Acts of the Apostles; which book I must needs believe if I believe the gospel, since both writings alike Catholic authority commends to me.

Schaff, P. (1997). The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV. St. Augustine: The writings against the Manicheans and against the Donatists. (131).

Here, I think Sproul's argument runs into a solid objection against any attempt to claim that the Bible holds authority without the Church.  He argues that since he believes in the Scriptures on the authority of the Church, and the Church rejects Manichaeus, he must therefore reject the appeal of the Manicheans to Scripture against the Church.  To show that Manichaeus was an Apostle as he claimed, it would weaken his belief in the Church to be sure, but also weaken his belief in Scripture which does not list Manichaeus as an apostle.

What is the Authority of Scripture without Witness of the Church?

Now I am aware that many non Catholics would argue that the authority of Scripture is from God, not the Church.  However, this takes us back to the beginning.  How do you know then that the Bible is authoritative?  Many claim their words are from God.  Muslims claim this of the Koran.  Mormons claim this for The Book of Mormon.  Gnostics have claimed this for their false gospels.  So, without a visible authority, how can we know they are not?

Because people accepted as settled the list of Scripture set forth by the Church, we had assurance that the books chosen were inerrant.  It would only be with the attempt to separate Scripture and Church that an alternate means of justification was needed.  The proof offered is arguing in a circle:

  1. The Bible is inerrant because God said so.
  2. God is authoritative on this matter because the Bible says so.

In other words, the only guarantee of what the Bible says is true is based only on what the Bible says.  If one denies the authority of the Bible, and wants to know how we can know God is what the Bible claims the defense does not prove anything.

In contrast, the Catholic view would be:

  1. God created a Church to spread His word and keeps His Church from error
  2. The Church teaches the Scriptures are inerrant.
  3. Therefore we know the Bible is inerrant.

If one chooses to deny the first premise, then the second statement may be thought to be in error, but as Augustine pointed out above, the attack on the first would also be an attack on the second premise, and one would have to reject the conclusion.

Because of this we cannot be sure we have Infallible Scripture unless we have an infallible decree on what the canon of Scripture is.