Sunday, May 23, 2004

Biblical Evidence for Annulments

By Dave Armstrong

From my notes for The Catholic Answer Bible (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2002)

The Catholic Church teaches that a valid, sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians is permanent, or indissoluble. No power on earth can dissolve it. This is based on the explicit teaching of Jesus. In the passage where Jesus states “unless the marriage is unlawful” (Mt 19:9), Catholics believe He was referring to a situation where a marriage was never actually entered into in the first place. Matthew 19:6 states: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” For this reason, the Catholic Church opposes divorce.

An annulment is not merely a “Catholic divorce,” but rather, a declaration by the Church that a valid, sacramental marriage was never present (because several conditions must be met for this to occur: e.g., free will, truthfulness, mental health, etc.). A similar distinction is found in civil law across the entire Christian world. The Old Testament dichotomy between a concubine and a wife is somewhat analogous to our distinction between civil and sacramental marriage (Gen 21:10-14, Jud 8:31, 1 Cor 7:15). Likewise, in Ezra 10:1-19,44 (cf. 9:1-2,14-15), many Israelites “sent away” the “foreign women” they had married, not simply because they were foreigners, but because they caused them to become corrupted by false religions and idolatry (see. e.g., Dt 17:17, Neh 13:23-28). This was essentially an annulment, as opposed to a divorce.

Related Scripture

Gen 1:26-31
Gen 2:18-25
Gen 17:15-21
Gen 21:12-20
Mal 2:14 ff.
Mt 5:31-32
Mt 19:1-9
Mk 10:2-11
Lk 16:18
Rom 7:2-3
1 Cor 7:1-24
1 Cor 7:39
Gal 4:21-31
Eph 5:2,21-33
Heb 13:4
1 Pet 3:1-9

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1534-1535, 1601-1666 (especially 1629, 1650-1651), 2382-2386

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Historical Case for the "Apocrypha"

By Dave Armstrong (5-19-04)

This is Appendix Three from my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (1996):

* * *

The Old Testament in Catholic Bibles contains seven more books than are found in Protestant Bibles (46 and 39, respectively). Protestants call these seven books the Apocrypha and Catholics know them as the deuterocanonical books. These seven books are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or, Sirach), and Baruch. Also, Catholic Bibles contain an additional six chapters (107 verses) in the book of Esther and another three in the book of Daniel (174 verses). These books and chapters were found in Bible manuscripts in Greek only, and were not part of the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament, as determined by the Jews.

All of these were dogmatically acknowledged as Scripture at the Council of Trent in 1548 (which means that Catholics were henceforth not allowed to question their canonicity), although the tradition of their inclusion was ancient. At the same time, the Council rejected 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses as part of Sacred Scripture (these are often included in collections of the "Apocrypha" as a separate unit).

The Catholic perspective on this issue is widely misunderstood (insofar as it can be said to be known at all). Protestants accuse Catholics of "adding" books to the Bible, while Catholics retort that Protestants have "booted out" part of Scripture. Catholics are able to offer very solid and reasonable arguments in defense of the scriptural status of the deuterocanonical books. These can be summarized as follows:

1) They were included in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament from the third century B.C.), which was the "Bible" of the Apostles. They usually quoted the Old Testament scriptures (in the text of the New Testament) from the Septuagint.

2) Almost all of the Church Fathers regarded the Septuagint as the standard form of the Old Testament. The deuterocanonical books were in no way differentiated from the other books in the Septuagint, and were generally regarded as canonical. St. Augustine thought the Septuagint was apostolically sanctioned and inspired, and this was the consensus in the early Church.

3) Many Church Fathers (such as St. Irenaeus, St. Cyprian, Tertullian) cite these books as Scripture without distinction. Others, mostly from the east (for example, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Gregory Nazianzus) recognized some distinction but nevertheless still customarily cited the deuterocanonical books as Scripture. St. Jerome, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin (the Vulgate, early fifth century), was an exception to the rule (the Church has never held that individual Fathers are infallible).

4) The Church Councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419), influenced heavily by St. Augustine, listed the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, which was simply an endorsement of what had become the general consensus of the Church in the west and most of the east. Thus, the Council of Trent merely reiterated in stronger terms what had already been decided eleven and a half centuries earlier, and which had never been seriously challenged until the onset of Protestantism.

5) Since these Councils also finalized the 66 canonical books which all Christians accept, it is quite arbitrary for Protestants to selectively delete seven books from this authoritative Canon. This is all the more curious when the complicated, controversial history of the New Testament Canon is understood.

6) Pope Innocent I concurred with and sanctioned the canonical ruling of the above Councils (Letter to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse) in 405.

7) The earliest Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament, such as Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century), and Codex Alexandrinus (c.450) include all of the deuterocanonical books mixed in with the others and not separated.

8) The practice of collecting these books into a separate unit dates back no further than 1520 (in other words, it was a novel innovation of Protestantism). This is admitted by, for example, the Protestant New English Bible (Oxford University Press, 1976), in its "Introduction to the Apocrypha," (page iii).

9) Protestantism, following Martin Luther, removed the deuterocanonical books from their Bibles due to their clear teaching of doctrines which had been recently repudiated by Protestants, such as prayers for the dead (Tobit 12:12, 2 Maccabees 12:39-45; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:29), intercession of dead saints (2 Maccabees 15:14; cf. Revelation 6:9-10), and intermediary intercession of angels (Tobit 12:12,15; cf. Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4). We know this from plain statements of Luther and other Reformers.

10) Luther was not content even to let the matter rest there, and proceeded to cast doubt on many other books of the Bible which are accepted as canonical by all Protestants. He considered Job and Jonah mere fables, and Ecclesiastes incoherent and incomplete. He wished that Esther (along with 2 Maccabees) "did not exist," and wanted to "toss it into the Elbe" river. [Note: Luther in the latter quote was actually referring to "Esdras," not Esther, as I later learned, and wrote about. This appendix was from research in 1996 or earlier. His views on the other books may not have been quite as bad as all that, either]

11) The New Testament fared scarcely better under Luther's gaze. He rejected from the New Testament Canon ("chief books") Hebrews, James ("epistle of straw"), Jude and Revelation, and placed them at the end of his translation, as a New Testament "Apocrypha." He regarded them as non-apostolic. Of the book of Revelation he said, "Christ is not taught or known in it." These opinions are found in Luther's Prefaces to biblical books, in his German translation of 1522.

12) Although the New Testament does not quote any of these books directly, it does closely reflect the thought of the deuterocanonical books in many passages. For example, Revelation 1:4 and 8:3-4 appear to make reference to Tobit 12:15:

Revelation 1:4 Grace to you . . . from the seven spirits who are before his throne. {see also 3:1, 4:5, 5:6}

Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. {see also Revelation 5:8}

Tobit 12:15 I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One

St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:29, seems to have 2 Maccabees 12:44 in mind. This saying of Paul is one of the most difficult in the New Testament for Protestants to interpret, given their theology:

1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

2 Maccabees 12:44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.

This passage of St. Paul shows that it was the custom of the early Church to watch, pray and fast for the souls of the deceased. In Scripture, to be baptized is often a metaphor for affliction or (in the Catholic understanding) penance (for example, Matthew 3:11, Mark 10:38-39, Luke 3:16, 12:50). Since those in heaven have no need of prayer, and those in hell can't benefit from it, these practices, sanctioned by St. Paul, must be directed towards those in purgatory. Otherwise, prayers and penances for the dead make no sense, and this seems to be largely what Paul is trying to bring out. The "penance interpretation" is contextually supported by the next three verses, where St. Paul speaks of Why am I in peril every hour? . . . I die every day, and so forth.

As a third example, Hebrews 11:35 mirrors the thought of 2 Maccabees 7:29:

Hebrews 11:35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.

2 Maccabees 7:29 Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again with your brothers. {a mother speaking to her son: see 7:25-26}

13) Ironically, in some of the same verses where the New Testament is virtually quoting the "Apocrypha," doctrines are taught which are rejected by Protestantism, and which were a major reason why the deuterocanonical books were "demoted" by them. Therefore, it was not as easy to eliminate these disputed doctrines from the Bible as it was (and is) supposed, and Protestants still must grapple with much New Testament data which does not comport with their beliefs.

14) Despite this lowering of the status of the deuterocanonical books by Protestantism, they were still widely retained separately in Protestant Bibles for a long period of time (unlike the prevailing practice today). John Wycliffe, considered a forerunner of Protestantism, included them in his English translation. Luther himself kept them separately in his Bible, describing them generally as (although sub-scriptural) "useful and good to read." Zwingli and the Swiss Protestants, and the Anglicans maintained them in this secondary sense also. The English Geneva Bible (1560) and Bishop's Bible (1568) both included them as a unit. Even the Authorized, or King James Version of 1611 contained the "Apocrypha" as a matter of course. And up to the present time many Protestant Bibles continue this practice. The revision of the King James Bible (completed in 1895) included these books, as did the Revised Standard Version (1957), the New English Bible (1970), and the Goodspeed Bible (1939), among others.

15) The deuterocanonical books are read regularly in public worship in Anglicanism, and also among the Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestants and Jews fully accept their value as historical and religious documents, useful for teaching, even though they deny them full canonical status.

It is apparent, then, that the Catholic "case" for these books carries a great deal of weight, certainly at the very least equal to the Protestant view.

* * *

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Revised Fundamentalist Baptist Version (RFBV)

By Dave Armstrong (5-18-04)

Anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist Bishop James White was having fun on his blog (5-18-04), with his "New Reformed Catholic Translation" (NRCT), directed towards his fellow Reformed Protestants who don't follow his anti-Catholic line and unbiblical antipathy to sacramentalism and Church history. As a lover of satire myself, I could hardly resist presenting bits of a new translation I am working on, myself, for the benefit of my Reformed Baptist fundamentalist friends like Bishop White: the Revised Fundamentalist Baptist Version (RFBV), to be published by Eisegetical Press (Phoenix, AZ) in 2005. Enjoy!:


Luke 18:18-25 (RFBV): “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I believe to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, ‘All these I have observed from my youth.’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Know that the commandments have nothing to do with your salvation because they concern works. Have faith alone in Me alone, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard this he became sad, for he lacked faith alone. Jesus looking at him said, ‘How hard it is for those who lack faith alone in Me alone to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man who lacks faith alone in Me alone to enter the kingdom of God.’”

1 Timothy 3:15: “. . . the Bible, which is the word of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

Acts 16:4: “As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for reading the Bible passages which had been selected by the apostles and elders who were at the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church.”

2 Timothy 1:13-14: “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have read in the Bible . . ."

2 Timothy 2:2: “and what you have read in the Bible before many Baptist witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

John 17:20-23: "’I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be fundamentalist Baptists; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be Baptists even as John the Baptist was,’”

1 Corinthians 1:10-13: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same eisegesis. For it has been reported to me by Doug Wilson's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to James White,’ or ‘I belong to N.T. Wright,’ or ‘I belong to the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was James White crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church?”

James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by faith alone and not by works.”

(cf. the blatantly heretical RSV: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”)

Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own Bible-reading with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to read the Bible for his good pleasure.”

Hebrews 5:9: “and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who have faith alone in him,”

Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has failed to believe with faith alone."

Romans 2:5-13: But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his faith alone: To those who by patience in well-believing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not agree with faith alone, but follow wicked Catholic soteriology, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who denies faith alone, the Catholic first and also the Reformed Catholic, but glory and honour and peace for every one who accepts faith alone, the Pelagian first and also the Arminian. For God shows no partiality. All who have followed Christ without faith alone will also perish without faith alone, and all who have followed Christ with faith alone will be judged by their faith alone. For it is not the hearers of the gospel who are righteous before God, but the believers in faith alone who will be justified."

1 Peter 1:17: ". . . who judges each one impartially according to his faith . . ."

Revelation 22:12: "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one according to how much he has believed in faith alone."

2 Peter 2:15: “Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Aquinas, the son of Pelagius, who loved gain from wrongdoing,”

Matthew 7:16-27: “You will know them by their beliefs. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound Baptist has good beliefs, but the bad Catholic has evil beliefs. A Baptist tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a Catholic tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. But you will know them by their beliefs. Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who has faith alone in me, which is the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not place Mary above your name, and perform sacraments in your name, and crucify you again in many Masses in your name?' And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you Catholic evildoers.' Every one then who hears these words of mine and believes them with faith alone will be like a wise man who built his house upon the Bible; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the Bible. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not believe them with faith alone will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand of man's tradition; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 25:31-46: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the Real Christian sheep from the Catholic goats, and he will place the Christians at his right hand, but the Catholics at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for you believed in me with faith alone.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed Catholic idolaters, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for you didn't believe in me with faith alone.’ And the wicked Catholics will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous Christians into eternal life.”

2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has believed.”

Acts 8:27-31: “And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a Baptist minister of the True Gospel, had come to Phoenix to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his automobile, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Baptist elders and fellow bishops said to James White, ‘Go up and join this automobile.’ 30 So Bishop White ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31 And he said, ‘How can I, unless you guide me?’ And he invited Bishop White to come up and sit with him.”

2 Peter 1:20: “First of all you must understand this, that all prophecy of scripture is perspicuous and a matter of one's own interpretation,”

1 Corinthians 11:2: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the biblical interpretations even as the fundamentalist Baptists have delivered them to you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the eisegetical traditions of Bible-reading which you were taught by us, either by sermons or by e-mail or by webcast.”

Revelation 5:8: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are not the prayers of the saints (because all prayers go right to God);”

Revelation 8:3-4: “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense did not rise with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God (because John, who gave you this vision, was only hallucinating).”

1 Corinthians 3:11-15: “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each man's belief-system will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of belief each one has believed. If the belief which any man has believed on the foundation of Baptist theology survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's belief is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

[editor's note: this "fire" is not literal -- let alone the abominable and unbiblical papist, Romish doctrine of purgatory, but merely a metaphorical expression of the pain and frustration experienced by those who will be forced to get up to speed in their infallible fundamentalist Baptist theology, before they can be saved and become worthy of heaven]

Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ without the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Acts 22:16: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, without washing away your sins, calling on his name.”

1 Peter 3:19-21: “in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which does not correspond to this, does not save you; it is only a removal of dirt from the body and a bare symbolic ordinance, as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

Luke 22:19-20: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is not my body which is given for you, but only a mere symbol. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is not the new covenant in my blood, but only wine (and you may substitute grape juice after the 19th century temperance movement makes alcohol a scandal in church)’”

1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is not a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread which we break, is not a participation in the body of Christ”

1 Corinthians 11:27-30: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will not be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord, because they are only symbols. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks thinking it is the body of Christ eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I cannot complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, because I cannot add anything to Christ's perfect work on the cross”

1 Corinthians 7:7-9: “I wish that none were as I myself am. All have the same special gift from God. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to get married, unlike myself. Whether they can or cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be a celibate slave of Rome.”

1 Corinthians 7:32-38: “I want you to be free from anxieties. The married man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the unmarried man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please himself, and his interests are divided. And the married woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the unmarried woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please herself. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord . . . So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do worse; especially pastors, who must always marry, so as to secure undivided devotion to the Lord and their flocks.”

Dialogue With a Homosexual

By Dave Armstrong (April 1999)

My opponent's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

The gay rights movement has nothing to do with seeking moral approval.

It sure does, else why do homosexual activists have a cow when we dare to state our Christian belief that homosexual acts are immoral, and that there is no such thing as same-sex marriage? Why don't they allow us to disagree with them, if they are supposedly so concerned about "tolerance" and "diversity?" To merely assert such beliefs is to assure being accused of "homophobia" (a stupid, typically-modernist term which means, literally, "fear of sameness"). Law inevitably has a moral component; there is no escaping it. That is a whole 'nother discussion, but I contend that this is almost a self-evident point (though often overlooked or applied hypocritically by various political activists).

If you want hypocrisy, look no further than the phrase "Love the sinner, hate the sin".

How is that hypocritical? Of course, if you deny the existence of right and wrong, and sin, then there would be a contradiction. But then if you did that, you would have no grounds for saying I am wrong in my present opinions. If, on the other hand, there is such a thing as immorality, then it certainly is love (and profoundly so) to point out to someone that they are harming themselves, and their relationship with God and other human beings, by engaging in sinful activity.

Are we saying to homosexuals that "you must accept the tenets of Christianity and our traditional lifestyle or else you are obviously Christian-a-phobes (and we will force you to by law)?" I have no legal power to force a homosexual to attend church, but they have (or will soon have) the power to force me to accept them as tenants, or to be my church organist, etc.

You are indeed saying that.

Saying what? That a homosexual must attend my church???!!!!! That a homosexual must be a Christian by force of law???!!! This is ridiculous!

Fundamentalist Christianity unleashes it's syrupy vitriol at anyone who is not following the approved "Christian" way of life.

Why do you equate opposition to homosexuality with "Fundamentalist Christianity," when in fact, this has been the consensus of western civilization for 2000 years now? Granted, that civilization is profoundly Christian in its roots, but there are plenty of "secular" types who have agreed with this understanding of the nature of moral, legitimate sex and marriage. It was indeed a societal consensus until the Sexual Revolution made its appearance some 40 years ago.

. . . forced to deal with the likes of Fred Phelps protesting at FUNERALS.

This man is an idiot and no example of any kind of respectable Christian. I could pick the very worst example of a homosexual activists (say, that crazy group that blasphemed at a Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral a few years back), if I wanted to engage in this sort of rhetorical tactic. But I don't think you would appreciate that. Well, I have nothing to do with a fool like Phelps, either.

As long as a person's beliefs and values do not directly affect you, you have no claim to "punish" people, or attempt to make their lives difficult.

Ah, this is crucial. It does affect me, because such a momentous cultural / moral shift has far-reaching consequences for the whole society. This would undermine the very foundation of Christian sexual ethics, just as abortion already has done. Now the last remnants of Christian civilization are being attacked: the nature of marriage, family, gender, sexuality, etc. Your claim is the libertarian one, which is based on the demonstrably fallacious claim that every man lives for himself, and has no effect on anyone else. That is also another huge discussion, but I am saying that your statement is based on false premises.

You forget that Christianity and Judaism and the rest are johnny-come latelys. The earliest and most venerated religions, goddess worship, naturism, paganism, has no such learned hatred for same sex attraction. It is only after religion developed political appetite did the exclusion start.

So you determine the truth of a religion by its mere chronological age? By that reasoning, the human sacrifice of the Aztecs was more moral than the Catholicism of the Conquistadors, simply because it was there (in that particular region) first. Or the rampant cannibalism in the Caribbean islands before Columbus was acceptable -- a matter of "equal rights." Or the widow-burning of the Hindus was superior to the Christianity the English brought to India (even Gandhi opposed the practice, too). Or clitorectomies in Africa are morally preferable to Gloria Steinem "liberation" and "sexual freedom" because they stem from an ancient tradition of some sort. Or the brutal infanticide (by exposure) of babies in pagan Greece and Rome ought to have been retained, rather than the Christian compassionate ethic of protection from "womb to tomb" (now we have the wanton slaughter partial-birth infanticide, and deign to call ourselves "civilized"). Your reasoning here, therefore, is clearly absurd.

As for your comment "The left always thinks it can overturn the moral consensus of millennia by enough propagandizing, sloganizing, Big Lies (e.g., 10% of the population being homosexual -- Kinsey), fiat court decisions, Ellen shows, Heather Has Two Mommies books for first-graders, etc", this could just as easily be said of the religious right. Homosexuality can be changed, Homosexuals are Pedophiles, etc...

That it can be changed is a demonstrable clinical and sociological fact. There are thousands of former practicing homosexuals out there (we define that by the cessation of sodomy). I agree that it is grossly unfair to paint all homosexuals with the pedophilia brush, but there is certainly overlap. I'm sure you have heard of NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association). But your analogy fails because homosexuality was not the "moral consensus of millennia" -- in terms of Western Civilization. Therefore we are merely attempting to preserve what is left of that culture. The "Gay" Activists are the ones attempting to undermine it. There is no comparison. Both sides have prejudice. I won't make any argument on that. At the same time, I won't stand for such prejudices being projected onto me simply because I have a traditional Christian opinion on the subject.

No one really cares what you think or believe. Your thoughts are your own.

You obviously do. :-)

Your actions, in the public sphere, are what is at issue. I believe you may hold whatever opinion of homosexuality and homosexuals that you like. But that does not mean you should be able to discriminate against someone, or seek to deny them the same EXACT rights that you enjoy, because they do things that make you uncomfortable.

Laws do that all the time. We can't take drugs. We can't kill ourselves. We can't yell "fire" in a crowded building. 5-year-olds can't drive. Teenagers need parental permission to get their ears pierced (but not to kill their preborn child), rape and sexual harassment are considered outrages against women (unless one happens to be the President, and unless one is a feminist defending that President) etc. And in Western Civilization up until very recently, sodomy was considered an objectively disordered, immoral act, contrary to the natural law of normal sexuality (this is arguably evident in the very reproductive anatomy of males and females).

"Unnatural", "unhealthy"? Even your use of those words illustrate my point. Nothing which exists in nature is unnatural.

By that reasoning, you could go have intercourse with a hog, or a baboon, or a duck-billed platypus (if indeed that is possible). You could go stick your toe up someone's nose, or your elbow in their ear. How ridiculous are we gonna get here? I guess you don't think much about the logical outcome of the amazing statements you make. Poisonous mushrooms are natural. Does that mean I should eat them? Swamps are natural. Should I drink from them, or take a bath in one? Niagara Falls is entirely natural, but if I take a boat ride over it, certain consequences will have to be faced. I could get more graphic and absurd, but I trust that you see my point by now.

I see no need to get explicit, because a debate on which sexual acts are unhealthy is purely situational.

It is not in your interest to get explicit. But I must regrettably do so for the very reason that your side does not (for good reason). It is a known fact that anal sex - whether heterosexual or homosexual -- is extremely unhealthy. That is true for the simple reason that the rectum was not intended, or "made," if you will, for these activities, just as a throat is not a receptacle for someone's hand or foot. And it is true because the diseases which result from such activity are manifest (and more than just AIDS and VD). And it is also patently obvious because we are dealing here with human waste. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that that is unhealthy and to be avoided (this is routine hygiene).

Your comparison of normal gay people to child molesters is interesting,

Of course I didn't do that. I was making an analogy to other activities considered "abnormal" by most people, including homosexuals. This is the art of rhetoric and logical argumentation. But listing other deviancies does not imply an equivalence or no difference of degree.

Like the GOP leaders, I imagine you feel frustration akin to "But WHY doesn't everyone see that we are RIGHT!??", never ever seeing how wrong you truly are in your hate, and in the lonely direction you are dragging your supporters in.

How do you define "hate," pray tell? You claim that I am entitled to my opinion, yet now the true colors come out, you drop all the pretense, and flat-out accuse me of hatred.

Religious fundamentalists are using whatever tools are at their disposal to prove that they are not. The difference is, homosexuals are trying to show that they are just as human and worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as anyone else. You, however, are trying to deny them this right, or even worse, trying to make those choices for them.

Societies have always had codes of right and wrong. The prohibition of homosexuality has been one of these codes in many societies, including our own. One has to draw a line somewhere. There are still a few things which virtually everyone (including yourself) agrees are wrong: pedophilia, wife-beating, child abuse, rape, incest, murder, theft, torture, etc. Child-killing and fornication and divorce, on the other hand, are now fine in our society at large. Homosexuality is somewhere in the middle: on the way to being accepted as a valid "lifestyle choice."

My question is, how come it took so long to grant equal rights to a community who's only "crime" is to love someone of the same sex?

Because people have an innate sense that this is unnatural and wrong, based on not only Christian teaching, but natural law, per my arguments above about what is "natural and healthy," and what is not. People even today (in our thoroughly secular society) have the same instincts about things like bestiality, incest, or child molestation (I suspect you would agree about those, too). So this sort of thing is not unusual in societies. Homosexuality has formerly been one of these things which most people deemed to be wrong, whether or not they could articulate why. You may not like that fact, but it is a reality, and you will never completely change that, anymore than the feminist movement could effect a fundamental change in how women viewed themselves.

I will point out to you that homosexuality is fundamentally identical to heterosexuality. A person's sexual identity is part of who they are. What they do is a reflection of that, and as such, their public actions should be subject to the same standards of conduct.

So if someone wants to engage in bestiality, would you acknowledge that as a valid form of "sexual identity"?

Normal is as normal does. I suppose you would consider yourself, hatred and all, normal?

No, because I am a sinner. Complete "normalcy" is a sin-free existence, in perfect union with God. But it is one thing to acknowledge that one sins and falls short, quite another to redefine certain sins so that they no longer exist. And there is the hatred charge again. You merely prove my point that the bigotry is just as much on your side as it is on our side, by casually throwing out an outrageous charge of hatred, based on mere disagreement.

All forms of discrimination are NOT illegal. Churches are still allowed to fire or deny advancement to gay members, discriminate on the basis of who they allow to be married.

This is not discrimination. It is a failure of the "member" to be in conformity with the beliefs of the Church (therefore a form of dishonesty and subterfuge). A church is not the state (we have "separation of church and state," remember? The left loves that when it suits their purposes). You talk about us compelling you to adopt our beliefs, yet you think nothing of forcing a Catholic or other Christian to allow members whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to our teaching! You want to force us to deny our heartfelt religious beliefs for the sake of your politico-social agenda. This is no different than the pagan emperors demanding idolatry from Christians. You know what the Christians chose to do in that quandary.

I agree, you cannot legislate morality, any more than you can legislate maturity or enlightenment. Morality is a personal decision, and thoughts cannot be legislated. It is only public action, after objective scrutiny, that can be legislated. Feel free to provide even one, unquestionable, objective reason why homosexuality is any less worthy of public protection as heterosexuality.

I have already given them. Sodomy should be outlawed on health grounds alone, if not moral, religious, and philosophical. These abnormal acts are what Christians oppose. I don't care if two men love each other as long as they are chaste and abstain from immorality. Jonathan and King David did that! This is the Catholic position.

You may most certainly act on what you believe in, for YOUR life. You cannot expect to be supported when you attack ME for living MY life.

Not if my Church is forced to "legitimize" what it believes to be immoral. You can't have it both ways. You spout your libertarian, supposedly "tolerant" and "enlightened" rhetoric, but when push comes to shove -- despite yourself -- you are quite willing to compel Christians to adopt your viewpoint, by force of law and coercion, not the force of moral and philosophical persuasion.

Your view of homosexuality is irrelevant. You are not a homosexual, and therefore speak only from ignorance as to the mind of a homosexual person, of which there are millions anyway.

Well, then all your opinions about Christianity are "irrelevant" since you are not a Christian! There are many more millions of Christians than homosexuals -- if numbers must be a criterion of truth.

You have not objective basis on which to label homosexuality for the rest of the thinking public.

So you say. I have given my arguments, but you obviously are not addressing them. Prove to me, e.g., that sodomy is a healthy thing (the moral and health equivalent to vaginal sexual intercourse), and that no one has to worry about it harming them. I would love to see you attempt that.

I am neutral towards most Catholics, or people of any faith, even of people who are fundamentalist or conservative. Their beliefs are their own, and it is not my place to think for them.

If this is "neutral," I would hate to see "hostile" or "opposed."

Their public actions, which seek to try and deny a community equal rights, are worthy of the highest contempt, as are those of racists, and other dictatorial movements.

But of course homosexuals aren't ever bigots, right? And that's because they are victims, and so it is impossible by definition, just as we are told that by some leftists that black people can't be bigots, either.

I can take it that you are definitely not black.

Correct. We have to find something we can agree on . . .

10,000,000 people can still be wrong.

Of course. And one can be right, if that is all that is left. Athanasius contra mundum.

You cannot even see what you are saying as venomous hatred, because you think you have the omnipotent god on your side. So how could you be wrong? Simple. Your positions attempt to strip people of the basic rights that you enjoy because they make you uncomfortable.

You confirm precisely what I have critiqued: the attitude of scorn and derision directed towards all who merely take another view from yourself. In your black-and-white humanist world without nuance of philosophy or the accumulated human wisdom of religious reflection, a disagreement -- by its very nature -- becomes "venomous hatred." I guess there really is no dialogue here after all. My initial impression was that you were a very intelligent, thoughtful person, with whom I could dialogue and reach some level of understanding. But your persistent charges of hatred, bigotry, spiritual pride, etc. will not make that possible. Constructive discourse cannot exist with such extreme charges being cavalierly spewed out.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Christian Filmmaker's Creed

By Dave Armstrong (5-17-04)

I was asked to write this by a friend and filmmaker, Dr. Stanley Williams, for use in his work (his stated purposes and outlook, etc.). It is always an interesting discussion to go over the relationship of Christianity to art, and responsibilities of Christians in the arts in presenting their material in a fashion consistent with their Christian beliefs and ideals:


The primary goal of the Christian filmmaker is to promulgate -- with all the artistic means at his disposal -- truth, from a broad-based, biblically grounded Christian perspective, or worldview (Philippians 4:8). Positively, this entails a presuppositional adherence to those theological doctrines agreed-upon by virtually all Christians, formulated classically in the Nicene Creed.

In a negative sense, the Christian filmmaker should always seek to avoid the cinematic glorification, gratuitous use, or "normative portrayal" of (from a broad Christian view) morally and theologically objectionable ideas or acts (e.g., clear violations of the Ten Commandments, nihilism, unnecessarily explicit sexuality, prejudice and bigotry, hedonism,
narcissism, ethnocentrism, etc.).

Such morally or theologically "objectionable" elements will ordinarily be present in a Christian film, in the antagonists and to some extent in the protagonists (as all human beings are fallen and flawed, and legitimate drama demands this), but in such a way that they are ultimately contrasted against the backdrop of a Christian ethos or framework. They are not, therefore, in the Christian filmmaker's work, sanctioned or condoned in any way, shape, or form, and furthermore, the negative results flowing from sin are made manifest in some fashion in the script (perhaps only at the end of the movie, but obviously so, in any event).

In other words, typically non-Christian traits must be leading characteristics of the "bad guys" and shown (in the final analysis) in their true, repulsive colors, as both sinful and harmful to the individual and others. Many "secular" films indeed exhibit this aspect in many ways, some quite effectively and profoundly, but the Christian film makes the true nature of reality, beauty and love, the benefits of grace and discipleship, and the consequences of sin its primary goal, whether this is portrayed implicitly or explicitly (truth can be set forth in many different ways, depending on the filmmaker's purpose and intended target audience).

Even a fantasy world ought to contain (or at least not blatantly contradict) a transcendental God (i.e., a theistic universe), as in, e.g., the fantasies of C.S. Lewis, because God is the root and ground of all reality (Colossians 2:3; Acts 17:27-28). Adultery or murder would, therefore, be just as evil in a fantasy-world as in a cinematic presentation of a "real world," just as a parable of Jesus does not and cannot contain a moral falsehood, even though it is purely fictional.

Some popular movies (though usually not totally devoid of moral or artistic merit, by any means) in effect glorify (biblically forbidden) white magic, or sorcery, and present it as normative to everyday reality, whereas the Christian movie (by nature) could not do this, and would ultimately ground beneficent supernatural or (to use a better word) miraculous acts in the divine will and power; in God, as opposed to (famously) a so-called "force." Theism need not always be explicit in a film, but the overall worldview of a "Christian film" must be consistent with a biblical, Christian understanding of reality in all its aspects.

The presentation of historical events and figures -- particularly Christian or biblical persons and history -- poses peculiarly difficult and complex problems of historical accuracy, insofar as that can be achieved, given the usual and inevitable bias of individuals. At the very least, the Christian filmmaker must avoid all tendentious or ideological distortions of the known, widely-accepted facts of history. Historical fiction is valid and plausible insofar as it dramatically builds upon more-or-less accepted facts, so that it doesn't distort (a half-truth being almost as bad as a plain lie) essential characteristics of persons and events.

Beyond that, the Christian film cannot present as truth doctrines or viewpoints which are widely rejected among Christians. An example of such distortion would be the portrayal of (what Christians know as) the Two Natures of Christ (or, Hypostatic Union), in The Last Temptation of Christ. In an erroneous (even if well-intended) attempt to "humanize" Jesus, to help us to better "relate" to Him (according to the director's and screenwriter's own stated goals), our Lord, the incarnate God, is shown to possess certain Nestorian-like traits such as doubt or inner turmoil, and enticement towards sin, which are blatantly contrary to the orthodox Christology which is accepted by all three major branches of Christianity (developed in its final form at the Council of Chalcedon in 451).

Truth has an inherent power, and is able to be ascertained by any individual who seeks it, by the grace of God (Romans 1:18-20, 2:13-16). It can, and should, therefore, affect viewers of well-made,
artistically meritorious Christian films in a special and profound way. The Christian film might choose to emphasize a particular aspect of truth (aesthetic, metaphysical, scientific, moral, relational, emotional, spiritual, etc.), utilizing a full and free artistic and technically proficient expression, yet the goal is to always base the dramatic vision within a truly Christian framework and worldview, so that the viewer can walk away with a better grasp of one or more aspects of the truths of Christianity and the gospel or (more generally) a theistic universe, than he or she possessed before having watched the film.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Dialogue on Sola Scriptura (Particularly John Calvin's and the "Classic Reformation Protestant" Conception) (vs. Kevin Johnson)

By Dave Armstrong (5-9-04)

Kevin Johnson is a Reformed Protestant. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

First of all, it should be noted that Kevin did not offer any reply whatsoever to the central thesis of my paper (as indicated in its title). No biblical evidences for sola Scriptura were provided, nor were there any arguments to the effect that sola Scriptura would not be self-defeating even if biblical evidence did not exist (I still await such a response from a Protestant, but I surely won't hold my breath). Nevertheless, he does raise some other interesting and worthwhile issues apart from my paper that I will be happy to interact with.

I wrote:
[Y]our task is to show that Scripture somehow excludes the binding nature of Tradition and the Church and asserts this principle. And that clearly must be demonstrated in Scripture itself.
For the benefit of the discussion, let me cut the Gordian knot for you and get to the heart of your objections. Your dilemma is false simply because the classic Reformed position on sola scriptura does in fact include a binding Tradition and a binding Church in terms of teaching, understanding the faith, and interpreting the text.

The Reformers recognized the authority of tradition and the Church in determining matters of doctrine. The Reformers recognized the binding role of the councils in determining orthodoxy. The Reformers recognized the role of the regula fidei (rule of faith) in interpreting Scripture. But, they considered such things in their proper place. The question is not whether or not a binding tradition exists, but what is our ultimate authority in these matters?

It is not my “task to show that Scripture somehow excludes the binding nature of Tradition and the Church and asserts this principle”. I freely grant what you feel I should exclude and so the Gordian knot you propose is quite simply cut in the simple admission of what Reformers like John Calvin clearly taught about this issue.

This is incoherent. Either Calvin and other early Protestants accepted a binding tradition and obligatory assent to church teachings or they did not. You claim that your tradition includes "a binding Tradition and a binding Church in terms of teaching, understanding the faith, and interpreting the text."

I don't see how that can be the case, because if in fact you accepted such decisions and decrees as "binding" then they would have to either be infallible or not. If they were not, then Christians would be bound to theological error and obliged to accept it. If they were, then the position is hardly distinguishable from the Catholic position on authority (excepting which body of teaching and set of authorities are granted allegiance).

My key difficulty with your response is your use of the word "binding." Either you have a different definition than I do, or I have to be shown where in Calvin and other Protestant leaders such concepts are clearly expressed, with the full definition and explication in context.

The incoherence becomes immediately apparent in your words, where you start to back away from what "binding" means:
But, they considered such things in their proper place. The question is not whether or not a binding tradition exists, but what is our ultimate authority in these matters?
This contains a "loophole" big enough for a truck to drive through. All one has to do is say that such-and-such a council or Church proclamation exceeded its proper place and went beyond the Bible or historical precedent ("tradition"?). But how does one do that? One either has to set council against council or church against church (e.g., the failed Luther-Zwingli discussions), or (inevitably) fall back on the individual again.

If councils compete against each other, they obviously are not "binding" and someone has to have authority to determine which is superior to the other (and "binding"). But there can be no such authority in Protestantism, because that would require a "papal figure" which has no warrant in Protestant ecclesiology.

So, failing that, charismatic, authoritarian individuals simply assume arbitrary leadership as the "guarantors" or "exemplars" of Legitimate Tradition and Theology Over Against All That "Roman" Catholic Excess and Corruption and Merely Human Tradition (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Anabaptist and Anglican leaders, Bucer, Bullinger et al).

Their authority is based on little more than their own proclamation of it and self-anointing. So that doesn't solve the problem. Thus, the individual must decide in the end, and the result is thus as far away from a belief in "binding councils and churches and traditions" as can be imagined.

You appeal to "ultimate authority." Catholics agree, of course, that everything must be consistent with Scripture. We simply have faith enough to believe that God has the power to preserve (apostolic, biblical) Tradition intact, by means of councils and His Church, which are both binding and infallible. You claim that you accept these things as binding also, but when push comes to shove, that really isn't the case apart from Orthodoxy and Catholicism (as Pontificator has eloquently argued), because of the loophole above.

All it takes is for someone or some faction to question whether some authority has exceeded its bounds, and all of a sudden that authority is no longer as "binding" as was claimed. Catholics do not and cannot do this. Our councils and papal proclamations really are binding, and not to be questioned.

That is the practical reality of the situation, no matter how many words like "binding" and "tradition" and "church authority" are thrown out. But beyond this analysis, the statements of Calvin simply do not support this conception. At the very least they are internally incoherent, if they purport to support "binding traditions" -- because they cannot consistently do so within a sola Scriptura framework.

As Pontificator pointed out, the Westminster Confession runs contrary to your assertions:
All synods or councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both. (XXXI, 4)
You talk about "binding tradition" and "binding Church" but that is not how the above passage reads (sorry). You state: "The Reformers recognized the role of the regula fidei (rule of faith) in interpreting Scripture." Unless you wish to separate hermeneutics from the "faith or practice" mentioned above, this expressly contradicts what the Westminster Confession states above.

If you wish to maintain that the Westminster Confession contradicts other utterances of Calvin or other confessions and creeds, and that there is indeed at least one to be found which expresses what you have (and that they "clearly taught" same), feel free. That remains to be seen, as far as I am concerned, and if contradictions along these lines exist even among the so-called "magisterial Reformers" (as they certainly will, if one probes close enough), then that only highlights the problem here considered.

It's the same story with the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 (Chapter 2 -- "Of Interpreting the Holy Scriptures; and of Fathers, Councils, and Traditions" -- my comments in brackets) :
Interpretations of the Holy Fathers. Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures;

[Who decides where they agree or disagree? There are a host of doctrines where the Fathers en masse contradict Reformed Christianity]

but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures.

[Who decides what the Scriptures teach? A panel of venerable, grey-bearded Reformed worthies, assembled in 1566?]

Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.

[Yes, as judged by the apostolic Church and its authoritative Councils, and its popes, not by individuals 7,8,9,10 centuries later who count the noses of their comrades in some given sect and conclude that the majority opinion is therefore the "biblical" one]

Councils. And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils. Wherefore we do not permit ourselves, in controversies about religion or matters of
faith, to urge our case with only the opinions of the fathers or decrees of councils; much less by received customs, or by the large number who share the same opinion, or by the prescription of a long time. Who is the judge? Therefore, we do not admit any other judge than God himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what to be avoided.

[But of course! God will settle all the issues!!!!!!! Who could argue with that? But as we are not God, but mere men -- and prophets are a relatively rare occurrence -- , there must be some human Christian authority as well - binding in some sense; to some degree. One can, then, either believe that God promised to guide His Church and preserve it free from error, under a properly unified authority, with councils and bishops and a gift of infallibility (as Catholics believe) or that individuals ULTIMATELY decide what is or what is not true, dissenting from councils, Tradition, the Fathers, and apostolic succession alike if needs be]
Again, this is not "binding" conciliar or church authority. It is the furthest thing from it. We find the same thing in Calvin himself (I cite the 1960 McNeill edition of the Institutes). Calvin speaks out of both sides of his mouth. I don't contend that he was being deliberately two-faced; only that his viewpoint on ecclesiology and authority is as incoherent and inconsistent and as naive to human reality as were other aspects of his (and Luther's) thought (just as sola Scriptura itself is ultimately incoherent and self-defeating). In some places, Calvin says stuff that sounds really "Catholic" and "traditional":
What then? You ask, will the councils have no determining authority? Yes, indeed; for I am not arguing here either that all councils are to be condemned or the acts of all to be rescinded . . . But, you will say, you degrade everything, so that every man has the right to accept or reject what the councils decide. Not at all! (IV, 9, 8)
So Calvin denies the reductio he rhetorically describes in the second-to-last sentence. He respects councils, and opposes antinomianism. And so he does. I don't deny that (nor do I have to for my case here to fully succeed). But this is a different notion from the Catholic "binding Councils." Protestants are not bound to these councils, if they can pick and choose from them. Calvin would no doubt say that only the venerable old and wise men would determine when and where the councils erred, not every wild-eyed individual. This is certainly far better than the rampant individualism of Protestantism today, but not by all that much.

It sounds wonderfully pious and idealistic, but in practice it works out the same. The individual will be the final judge, or else he will allow himself to be guided by arbitrary, authoritarian judges like Calvin himself. The result is relative chaos and anarchy and what we indeed see in Protestantism: inability to resolve difficulties because of the initial principles of private judgment and sola Scriptura. Presbyterians can't even agree amongst themselves.

Thus, Calvin (precisely like Luther) exhibited a profound naivete as to how human beings operate. He thought he could maintain a catholic unity by these principles, but he was obviously wrong, and history has abundantly shown that the Catholic warnings about what would happen if these principles were adopted, have come true. But Calvin thinks he knows the answer concerning how councils are to be judged:
[W]e shall determine from Scripture which one's decree is not orthodox. For this is the only sure principle on which to distinguish. (IV, 9, 9; cf. Note 1 for IV, 9, 1; p. 1166 of vol. II)
Well, sure, this is all fine and dandy; all Christians revere Scripture. That is not at issue. But who is the "we"? That is the crucial question here. "We" determine where the errors occur. If this is an individual, then Calvin's system falls prey to what he denies: individuals do indeed judge councils. If it is another group meeting which decides, then on what grounds does it have authority that doesn't also apply to the very council it judged?

It always comes down to accepting some authority based on someone's word alone: that they are the "correct" teaching and the other guy is wrong. Catholics base such authority on apostolic tradition and the authority of bishops assembled in council, led by the pope. Protestants can only give lip service to councils but in the end judge them on their own.

Or they simply place faith in one man (Calvin) or an alternate "council" (the Westminster divines) to deliver the true Christian doctrine to them. But why should anyone think Calvin or the Westminster Assembly was any more divinely commissioned or worthy of authority than Trent or earlier medieval ecumenical councils? And why should the individual have so much responsibility in all this? Well, because Calvin in effect (again, like Luther) placed the individual above the Church:
But they will object that whatever is partly attributed to any one of the saints belongs utterly and completely to the church itself. Even though this has some semblance of truth, I deny that it is true . . . the riches of the church are always far from that supreme perfection of which our adversaries boast. (IV, 8, 12)

But of the promises they habitually allege, many were given just as much to individual believers as to the whole church. (IV, 8. 11)
Calvin falls into the same vicious circle described above when he speaks of Tradition and the Church:
For this reason we freely inveigh against this tyranny of human tradition which is haughtily thrust upon us under the title of the church. For we do not scorn the church (as our adversaries, to heap spite upon us, unjustly and falsely assert); but we give the church the praise of obedience, than which it knows no greater. But grave injury is done to the church by those who make it obstinate against its Lord, when they pretend that it has gone beyond what is permitted by God's Word. (IV, 10, 18)
That brings us full circle back to sola Scriptura and the Bible. If Calvin or his followers today think they can ground their rule of faith in Scripture itself, then let them explicate that grounding. Failing that, I say it is self-defeating, whether this sophisticated Calvinist version under consideration or any other. None can escape the logical circle and arbitrariness, and all must be confronted with biblical indications otherwise.

I am hopeful that you will avoid having me prove things that I have already freely granted.

I am hopeful also that you will understand the above argumentation, explaining why I don't think you have resolved your problem at all. This is not binding conciliar or Church authority. Period. If the individual (or some sub-conciliar gathering or decree) picks and chooses what is good and bad in councils, then those entities are superior to councils and it is nonsensical to speak in terms of their being "bound" to them, by any definitional criteria of what the word "binding" means.

I do think it is interesting the way that we see each other in this argument. I didn't quote the Confession to demonstrate proof for the fact that "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself"--I quoted it merely to point out the proper statement of the doctrine

Fine, but that neither undermines nor refutes the observation I made about what you did. You wrote:

The Bible is self-interpreting. It does interpret itself. I refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 9 which says: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…”

Note what was done here: you make a statement about the Bible, saying that it interprets itself. To back up your contention, you cite the Westminster Confession, which is making a statement about the Bible. Thus, an extra-biblical source is deemed authoritative in matters of the Bible itself. That is not sola Scriptura (to the extent that it is binding -- and I am told that the Westminster Confession is upon Calvinists); it is, rather, a tradition of men. That's one reason of many why the whole viewpoint is so incoherent. I tried to bring it back to Scripture, however, by asking, "where in Scripture does it teach that the Church cannot infallibly interpret it?"

. . . --to illustrate what sola scriptura is really about contra the solo scriptura position more common today that 'Pontificator' was attacking in his own blog.

I understand what the doctrine is. I always have (when I was a Protestant and since then). Pontificator understands it, too, and expressly states that he is critiquing the classic Reformational rule of faith. You misrepresent him if you claim otherwise. Of course you can disagree with him, but that is his self-understanding (and mine as well).

We both simply disagree with you that it is a coherent doctrine. We think the problem lies at the roots, not in corruption or misapplication. I have tried to show at great length why I believe that, and nothing I have seen thus far has disabused me of my opinion. I could be a Buddhist or a Rastafarian and make the same critique, because it is one of internal difficulty.

I think if you re-read Calvin's Institutes on these topics with a full-blown Catholic ecclesiology in mind--that Calvin still had much in common with the Fathers of the early and medieval Church--you should pick up a number of differences between the classically Reformed view of sola scriptura and what is popular today.

I do fully recognize it, and I just did some of that analysis. Where you and I differ is in thinking that Calvin's more sophisticated variant of sola Scriptura resolves its fundamental problems of being entirely non-biblical and self-defeating. Calvin doesn't resolve those difficulties at all, as I think I have shown. If you can show me where my reasoning has faltered, or where I have misrepresented anything in Calvin or the Westminster Confession, etc., I'd be most appreciative.

The very fact that I have already granted the premises that you want me to disprove should show you that there is a disparity between the view you are attacking and the view of sola scriptura that I adhere to as one faithful to the teachings of the magisterial Reformers.

All it shows me is that you have not fully grappled with the implications of your position (nor did Calvin, quite obviously, I think). That's not meant as an insult. It's very common to all of us to not think through everything to the nth degree. I am simply challenging you to do so by my argument (granting all due respect).

Your view that a citation of the Confession by myself constitutes a determination of "something about the Bible" as a tradition is looking at the matter with Roman Catholic glasses on for I never intended for it to be viewed as such.

That was simply a matter of logic. You may not have intended it, but the logic cannot be escaped, because you said, "such-and-such about the Bible is true because the Westminster Confession said so." That was the reasoning chain. I don't see how it can be denied; it was too straightforward and clear of an assertion.

I suppose we all have our own blindnesses to our own tradition and you in turn demonstrated that quite nicely here for your own view.

Great; so we're even! LOL

The Confession does not "determine something about the Bible". The Confession recognizes an inherent quality that the Bible already contains by virtue of its nature and authority as God's Word.

That is easily said, but mere assertion is not proof. You find it self-evident that the Bible is perspicuous and self-interpreting. Others do not (myself included). So you think that when the Westminster Confession states this, it is merely asserting the obvious and self-evident. Again, many deny this. How do we decide who is right?

Failing a clear teaching in the Bible about those aspects (and an explanation of passages which are in the Bible which seem to plainly suggest the contrary), it falls back (in Protestantism) to the arbitrary selection of one human tradition over against another. This gets back to the errors of presuppositionalist thought.

At some point, conversation breaks down because the non-presuppositionalist fails to accept one of the supposedly self-evident "presuppositions". But these very traditions are not based explicitly on the Bible; they are extra-biblical traditions themselves, accepted as quite binding, as it were.

I freely grant that when the actual council happened, James made the decision and it was binding. However, for us today, the result of this decision being included in Scripture shows us a very clear example of Scripture interpreting Scripture.

At the time, no one knew that it was "Scripture interpreting Scripture." It was simply apostolic authority, and the authority of the Church and councils, which was absolutely binding (which, of course, fully supports my position over against yours and Calvin's). That would have been true whether the proceedings "made it into" Scripture or not. No doubt there are volumes of volumes of Paul's or Jesus' teachings which could easily have made into Scripture as well, had the Lord so willed. They were authoritative, though, as they were spoken.

Secondly, of course Scripture interprets Scripture. As a general rule, that is true. It's the basis of all good hermeneutics, exegesis, and systematic theology. I use the method all the time in my apologetics, and have for 23 years; see, e.g., my papers on the biblical evidences for the Holy Trinity and Deity of Christ. These were written in 1982). All I am saying is that it is not an absolute rule, nor is it explicitly stated in Scripture itself (as a doctrinal statement, not merely historical example), nor does it exclude notions of the Church and Tradition and councils authoritatively interpreting Scripture. The Jerusalem Council certainly did that. Nor does Scripture exclude such notions (as this very example demonstrates).

Yes, these are the words of an Apostle in Acts 15, but for continuing generations they are the words of Scripture and they are very plainly indicating that Scripture interprets Scripture. From the very lips of our Lord, this is confirmed also in John 5:46:
John 5:46 "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.
This is an excellent example, and I'm delighted that you brought it up, because note that the Bible doesn't immediately tell us what Moses wrote about Jesus; it doesn't identify these passages. Thus, Jesus is referring to oral tradition. We don't have much in the NT which demonstrates that "this teaching from Moses was about Jesus." The same exact dynamic occurs in Luke 24:27, where Jesus was talking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Again, the Bible doesn't list these things. That would have to be determined by study and exegesis. And He interprets them! That shows that the words were not all that clear and self-evident. In fact, it was so unclear that virtually no one knew that Jesus was to rise from the dead and that the whole thing was foretold (e.g., Isaiah 53).

So it is yet another instance of authoritative interpretation being necessary, whether it was from Jesus Himself, an apostle, a prophet, a bishop, or a scribe like Ezra. Church authority. Tradition. Not sola Scriptura. In the latter position, those aspects are only given lip service. But they are not binding, because they are always able to be judged.

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg for the entire written New Testament speaks and interprets the Old Testament in light of Christ, His coming, and His work. As I said, I'm happy to grant that this reflects the teaching of the Church as well as the Apostles themselves, but let us be fair with one another and admit that after the New Testament was written as Scripture they provide us with the example that the Scripture interprets itself.

I don't deny it. It is the things that sola Scriptura denies (binding Church, Tradition, Councils, apostolic succession, episcopacy and papacy) and its radical circularity and internal incoherence that I am concerned with. You're missing the point of my paper again.

Granting this sole self-evident pillar of sola scriptura does not in and of itself endanger the Roman Catholic view so I am hopeful that we will see agreement here by you as well that at least in these three cases above we see Scripture interpreting itself.

It endangers itself by its unbiblical and logically circular nature. It never did damage our view because it is such a weak and indefensible position.

I didn't claim that "nothing outside of it can be an aid to interpretation". I'm happy to admit that God uses means as an instrument in helping us interpret the Scriptures, but this is not a matter of using a commentary to look at a passage. The question is one of authority. Where does the ultimate authority lie in terms of interpreting the Scripture?

With the Church, of course.

First, I sense you want me to provide a verse that says, "Yep, sola scriptura is right-on target".

Any passage at all which suggests this novel Protestant pillar would be nice, yes. But I suppose that is asking too much: for a Protestant to back up his pillar and rule of faith from Holy Scripture. You almost backed into a direct reply to the central thesis of my actual paper! :-)

I'm not sure that's the way we should be proceeding.

Darn! Close call, eh?

For one thing, while you have stated significant agreement between us on many of the underlying principles of sola scriptura, there are still presuppositions that would get in the way of you viewing verses that I bring to the table in support of my view. In some sense at least we are at an impasse here.

Well, that's why Christians engage in these sorts of dialogues, isn't it? I'm having a great time. It is a good discussion, and I thank you for that.

The whole of Scripture speaks to this matter and the proof for sola scriptura is just as much about how God has revealed Himself to men and His Church as it is about the particular details he has revealed to us in Scripture.

I see God revealing in His Scripture an authoritative role for the Church, Tradition, Councils, apostolic succession, bishops, and a papacy (while sola Scriptura is never asserted at all). Those things are not only not excluded, they are positively required by Scripture.

But, my question to you is this...given that you have bought into the claims of the Roman Catholic Magisterium on this, what does it matter what I bring to the table for as a faithful Roman Catholic you must reject it out of hand anyway.

This is wrongheaded and unhelpful in a number of ways:

1. It is completely irrelevant what I believe, as the present topic is a critique of the internal incoherence of the Protestant position on the rule of faith.

2. What you state about me applies equally to you, so it is a non sequitur. You are no more likely to accept Catholic distinctives than I am to accept Protestant distinctives.

3. I always allow a theoretical possibility that I can be convinced of another position. The proof of that lies in my own history: I once was Protestant and converted to my present beliefs by means precisely of study and dialogue (ecumenical discussions in my own home).

4. Does this mean that people shouldn't talk about differences where they will -- in all likelihood -- not come to agreement? Folks can still learn and understand more through talking, and come to respect opponents, while not agreeing with them in every particular. They may learn that they are closer together than they previously thought. I think that about many aspects of Reformed-Catholic differences.

5. This subject happens to be a rather large difference, but you are learning that we have a very high view of Scripture, as you do, and we are learning that caricatures of sola Scriptura are not helpful and that there is a place for Tradition and Councils and Churches in your thought.

6. I find it to be a very constructive discussion myself, so I don't see how it is helpful to point out that I will never accept something because I am a Catholic, or because my Church won't allow me, etc., when it is largely the same for you in your side. Your comrades exclude us far more from the circle of Christianity than we exclude you, as you know full well.
In other words, you have absolutely no objective basis to evaluate sola scriptura outside of the similar claim of the Roman Catholic Magisterium to ultimate authority.

That is simply untrue. I can examine it on its own merits, just as any other belief or tenet is examined. I have cited your sources for why you believe it, and called for biblical support, since you ostensibly ground all your beliefs in Holy Scripture (that's one of the cherished Protestant myths, anyway). I think you repeatedly want to switch the topic over to Catholic authority (as you are doing again here) because you sense down deep that your position is indeed weighed down by many serious internal difficulties which you are hard-pressed to even explain, let alone defend.

You can indeed subjectively evaluate the claims of Protestants regarding Scripture but at the end of the day you must submit these claims to Rome.

Not at all. "Rome" has only authoritatively announced on about 6-8 Bible passages. Of course I have boundaries of orthodoxy, outside of which my theology may not go, but so do you, so it is another non sequitur, which doesn't solve your problem to the slightest degree. it was a clever attempt at diversion and evasion, though. :-)

And on what basis? Because the Magisterium tells you so. The circular argument regarding ultimate authority returns home where it belongs--to those who would claim ultimate authority for their position.

I can defend every jot and tittle of my position. I'm interested at the moment of seeing you defend yours, or concede the difficulty (either of yourself personally or of the system you adhere to).

In contrast, the Protestant recognizes the ultimate authority of God's Word and submits to it because it is God's Word spoken to us through the Holy Spirit, both individually and corporately.

Who doesn't? Why pretend that only Protestants believe this? Last time I checked, all Christians did, so it is silly to imply that only some do. It's like saying, "scientists from the state of Nebraska recognize uniformitarianism, and the key role of replicability and empirical observation as a fundamental tenet of science."

How do we as Protestants know this? Because God's Word tells us so.

Good for you. Delighted to hear it. I love it when people respect the Bible.

You have already admitted to the basic premises of this viewpoint (see your "wholehearted" agreement to points 1-9 above)--premises which are thoroughly biblical--and I would submit to you that the ultimate reason why you do not accept it . . .

Huh? You just said I accepted it, but now I don't? Your confusion here is the usual Protestant equation of sola Scriptura with respect for the full authority and infallibility and inspiration of the Bible. The two are NOT the same. And it is rather silly to keep insinuating that they are.

. . . is simply because you have already placed your faith in the Roman Catholic Magisterium and not because of any substantial reason you might present to deny the viewpoint.

Assuming this is true (and it is only partially at best), your burden is still to show me and everyone reading this how my reasoning went awry. All I've done is examine your view. I haven't cited popes and councils. I could have been an atheist or a Sufi and made this exact same argument. it has nothing directly to do with being a Catholic. That certainly colors my analysis, but it is not essential to it.

I can hear you saying (or typing) now that such considerations are not on topic, that we must continue to discuss sola scriptura independent of the ultimate truth claims of Rome.

Bingo. No pun intended . . .

However, given that both claims are ultimate--to talk of one is to speak of the other. Your claim that the Church is as infallible as Scripture is just as much a part of the discussion about the veracity of sola scriptura as anything else you have brought up.

In a sense, to talk about one is to talk about the other. But there are also other options. Anglicanism is a sort of Via Media. Orthodoxy is also a distinct conception of authority. Secondly, it is still necessary to stick to one problem at a time if one is to have a constructive, fruitful conversation, and in order to avoid the common evasive technique of "your dad's uglier than my dad." Thirdly, Church infallibility is limited to certain specified conditions. It is not biblical inspiration. It's a negative guarantee against error.

Secondly, the classic Reformed expression of sola scriptura does not absurdly claim that "Scripture is totally clear and must interpret itself" in all things. Rather, the viewpoint of the Reformed is as follows:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 7)
Good. I understand this, and I agree that Scripture is clear in the main. I have always found it to be so in all my research. The problem, however, continues to be: what is the ultimate authority? Scripture must be interpreted, whether it is by a layman, a Bible scholar, a Council, bishops, or a pope. There is no avoiding this. The Catholic position allows "the buck to stop" somewhere. The Protestant position does not and cannot do that, it seems to me.

The proof texts provided with the Confession make the point quite clear (see Psalms 119:105, 130; Deut. 29:29; 30:10-14; Acts 17:11).

As usual, these "proof texts" do not prove sola Scriptura as a rule of faith and a system of authority. They don't come anywhere close. The Bible is a lamp and light and gives understanding. Of course. No one denies that. Deuteronomy 29:29 and 30:10-14 need to be understood in light of other passages where the scribes and Levites were necessary to interpret the Law to the Israelites. It also needs to be remembered that the Old Testament Jews (and the later mainstream Pharisaical Judaism) believed in an authoritative oral Tradition which was delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai at the same time he received the written law. The OT Jews did not believe in sola Scriptura. Acts 17:11 shows that all true beliefs must be in line with the Bible, but it doesn't necessarily indicate the system of sola Scriptura, because we deny that and we believe, like you, that our beliefs cannot contradict the biblical data.

Of course the decree of the Jerusalem Council was binding. We do not argue with such things. Calvin has quite clearly admitted the authority of councils and the Westminster Confession does as well (see Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 31, especially paragraphs 1-3).

But both deny that such councils are binding, as I have shown.

But, please demonstrate for me what new teaching the Council proposed apart from Scripture. James and the other Apostles merely recognized what was already a part of Scripture and how to apply it in their particular situation.

Precisely. That's what I am saying: authoritative interpretation is necessary, and it is binding. Protestants can accept that only to a point; then dissent must be allowed on the basis of its own principles of private judgment and sola Scriptura.

If the entire law can be summed up in "love your neighbor as yourself", then there is nothing new that the Church did in telling the Gentiles to have regard for the scruples of their Jewish brothers in the Church. No one is denying the role of the Holy Spirit in such a council and to say that the Reformed do so is clearly not in accordance with our argument for sola scriptura.

All right then. So if the Jerusalem Council was so guided, then (since it serves as an example of Church government to us), which other councils were so guided, and therefore binding? You tell me, since you claim that you accept this principle.

The presence of the Holy Spirit at such councils and working through the bishops of the Church does not guarantee infallibility for the councils or the Church.

If the Holy Spirit guiding a meeting doesn't guarantee freedom from error, then there can be no guarantee whatsoever, and we are all following arbitrary schemas, never sure if they are true or not. You either think this council was free from error or not. If you do, then this shows us that it is possible, because it happened at least once. If it happened once, I see no reason to deny that it can happen again, many times. If it didn't happen at all, then the very notion of a binding council is undermined, because it is entirely fallible, and thus of little worth for truth-seekers in matters of Christian doctrine and theology. Secondly, you believe that the Holy Spirit guided quite fallible, limited, sinful men to write an inspired ("God-breathed") Scripture, yet you deny that God the Holy Spirit is able to grant the gift of infallibility, which is far lesser a gift than inspiration. Curious . . .

This is born out not only in Scripture but also in the history of the Church. The councils and the Church are authoritative inasmuch as they agree with the truth of Scripture.

Who determines whether they agree or not, and why should its / his opinion be deemed any more authoritative than the council that it / he judges?

I have argued as much elsewhere and if you want to see the difference between the classic Reformed view and the solo scriptura view peruse the mini-discussion I had with James White concerning the authority of Chalcedon (mini, because it took place within a conversation about Congar and his writing on my blog).

I agree with this distinction, and have written about it in my first book (p. 4). But I don't agree that this distinction alone can resolve your internal difficulties.

I accept the authority of such councils as well as those teachers who are over me in the Church, but I do so only so far as they agree with Scripture for it is Scripture that has ultimate authority.

I don't know what that means in a practical sense until you can explain to me the process by which one determines who / what agrees with Scripture, and why this method is inherently more trustworthy and dependable and worthy of allegiance than the councils themselves.

Thanks for the discussion. I enjoyed it.