Thursday, May 12, 2005

Refutation of James White: Moses' Seat, the Bible, and Tradition, Parts VII and VIII (Now Complete)

[White's words will be in blue; my former words in green]

Previous links:

Introduction
Part I

The eight parts of my reply are in response to the eight parts of White's critique: the part numbers correspond. Hence, I am replying to White's Part VII and Part VIII.

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It's clear that (as predicted), White has no intention of actually attempting to rationally refute my response. That is especially true in Part VII, where he mostly repeats what he already wrote, or replies to someone else's argument.

Regular readers of this blog are already well aware of the fact that in almost every instance of apologetic conflict with the various religions of men the issue comes down to either the validity and accuracy of the Bible as the Word of God, or, to the proper exegesis of the text of the Bible itself. And surely that is the case here as well.

It certainly is. White and I only disagree as to where the improper exegesis lies. After repeating a citation, White opines:

We have already pointed to the many problems with the far-reaching attempt of Armstrong to find in the introduction to the announcement of judgment upon the Pharisees its polar opposite. Rather than seeing the main point in Jesus' words (the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and the judgments coming upon them), Armstrong's commitment to Rome helps him to find the opposite: Jesus hasn't gotten around to condemning the Pharisees yet; instead, he starts off lauding them as possessors of divine tradition passed down from Moses himself! The screeching transition into the condemnation of them is hard to imagine, but keeping this text consistent with the surrounding inspired material has never been a high priority of those who interpret via Roman decree.

I thoroughly answered this charge. White, throughout has simply assumed what he is trying to prove, with the following shallow "reasoning":

1. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.
2. Therefore, they are utterly evil, and nothing good can come from them.
3. Therefore, He couldn't possibly have been granting them any authority at all; He must have meant something else.

Very briefly I wish to note that the listing of passages Armstrong provided regarding alleged "oral tradition" include some which simply refer to the passing down of historical incidents or facts, which does nothing more than prove that ancient men kept historical records just as modern men do. History does not have to be inspired to be recorded or referenced.

I agree. I wasn't trying to prove that it always was.

Further, it seems odd to believe that supernatural knowledge could be granted to the writers of Scripture in various portions and yet, when it comes to the NT writers, they must be enslaved to merely human sources.

Yes it is odd, but who believes this?

In any case, it is a huge leap to move from "NT writers did not limit themselves to solely the Scriptures as their source of knowledge" (i.e., they knew other books had been written, they knew of history, and they knew of current events, and used these things in their teaching and exhortation) to "the biblical writers embraced the idea of extra-biblical tradition as inspired and equal to the Tanakh."

I have given my reasons for believing that such a tradition was authoritative (not "inspired", which is another White red herring).

As we documented many times in the initial responses to Mr. Armstrong's book, he is unaware of what he must provide on an exegetical basis to substantiate a particular reading of any text, let alone a disputed one.

The usual charge of profound ignorance . . .

Armstrong is here presenting the simplified version of what has been presented by others, like David Palm, in a more scholarly format . . .

White then goes off on a tangent of the question of oral tradition itself, with long quotes intended originally for David Palm. As this is not the topic at hand, it is irrelevant to our current discussion. I won't be diverted by this tactic.

These questions are just as applicable to Armstrong as they were years ago in this context.

As I said, that's another discussion. Here the topic was supposedly Moses' seat. We've seen how bankrupt White's arguments have been. He claimed in Part VI that he was ready to issue his actual "response." I have yet to see it, and now it's already on to Part VIII, after marveling at White's weakest, most irrelevant presentation yet.

But let us hurry to the real issue:

What a novel concept! Here we are at Part VIII and White is now prepared to arrive at the "real issue". I suppose some people are slow learners. Maybe white will give us something of significant substance this time, at long last.

Armstrong wrote, "...Christians were, therefore, bound to elements of Pharisaical teaching that were not only nonscriptural, but based on oral tradition, for this is what the Pharisees believed." Armstrong assumes no distinction between practice, interpretation, or doctrine, regarding the teaching of the Pharisees, ignoring the function of the seat of Moses in the synagogue, and assuming an entire mountain of later Roman Catholic concepts in the process.

Huh? Is this an argument? No; once again, it is a declarative statement, and largely a non sequitur. I have made my case at great length, and have now defended it at almost equally great length. At no time have I assumed "an entire mountain of later Roman Catholic concepts." I don't have to do that for my argument to succeed, and it would be dumb and historically anachronistic anyway. I didn't do it, but White (with more of his patented cynical wishful thinking) thinks I did. As usual, he provides no proof of his curious charges. What else is new? If most of his "arguments" are logically circular, it shouldn't surprise us that his accusations are also circular and incoherent.

But there is a simple, easy way of determining if Armstrong's central assertion is true (indeed, without it, the rest of his argument is vacuous and irrelevant): are we to seriously believe that the opening words of the condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes for their hypocrisy and opposition to God's truth are in fact commendations of the theology of the Pharisees, so that their extra-biblical traditions are to be taken as normative for Christians? Let's test this theory.

No argument again; just a repetition of his earlier remarks. I guess this must be what White does in his oral debates: he plays to the crowds with boilerplate and non sequiturs and straw men. I could see how that would work with your average anti-Catholic, but it won't fly with mainstream Protestants or Catholics or open-minded individuals trying to decide between the two presented positions.

And yet, in the immediately preceding chapter, the Lord Jesus had defended the truth about the resurrection (did He get this truth from the Pharisees or did the Pharisees simply believe the truth about the subject?) against the Sadducees, had He not? And how did He do so? If we are to believe Armstrong, he would do so by reference to Pharisaical tradition, since, as he said, the Old Testament is not clear enough, and besides, it is much clearer in the oral traditions, correct? Of course not!

I dealt with this false dichotomy last time. White, almost more than anyone I have ever seen, is such a prisoner of his false premises and presuppositions, that he makes some amazingly weak arguments, yet thinks they are so compelling. This is a striking example of one such "argument."

How did Jesus respond?

Matthew 22:29-33 29 But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 32 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB '? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

Did Jesus appeal to Pharisaic traditions? Surely not. He took His opponents directly back to the text of Scripture itself, held them accountable for the words as if God had spoken them directly to them that very day, and proved that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. And please note the reaction of the crowds: they were astonished at His teaching. This was not the first time.

Jesus appealed to Scripture in making arguments. Wow, what an astounding realization! I'm delighted that White informed me of this little-known fact. I'll have to remember this (and so I take out my handy-dandy notebook to record the momentous tidbit of truth from White).

This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Jesus respected Pharisaical traditions or not. He did because He observed several of them. White's reasoning is as silly as saying that, because I emphasize almost exclusively biblical argumentati0n for Catholic doctrines in my first two books, that therefore I must not accept Catholic tradition. It proves exactly nothing. The assumption would be dead wrong in my case, and it is exceedingly likely (if not certainly) just as wrong with regard to our Lord Jesus.

White continues on with this sort of utterly-irrelevant argumentation, which resolves nothing in our discussion, concluding that "He did not argue from tradition, but from the Scriptures" (as if there is an absolute separation of the two in the first place: this is yet another of White's false, unbiblical dichotomies).

This is just the opposite of the conclusions we would draw from Armstrong's position.

Since White adopts one side of a false dichotomy; he assumes that we Catholics must adopt the other extreme side. But of course, a false dichotomy is just that: false. We don't accept "tradition-only" as a viable option for anything. Our position is Bible-Tradition-Church: all in harmony with each other. Sola Traditio is just as silly as sola Ecclesia, and neither is the Catholic position. But note how White vainly tries to make it so. That's what we call a "straw man," folks.

But most compellingly the interpretation offered by Armstrong (and others) falters with finality when we ask a simple question: even if we were to grant all the inserted ideas about the centrality of "tradition" here, the fact is that Armstrong's interpretation goes directly against Jesus' own teaching in Matthew 15. You just cannot make these two passages fit together.

This is the passage concerning the Corban rule, which we have already dealt with, and disposed of, as any sort of successful objection at all.

Note the text: 1) These are Pharisees, the very ones Armstrong refers us to as carrying divine traditions as those who have seated themselves in Moses' seat. 2) The Pharisees begin with reference to one tradition (note it is behavioral in orientation, interpretive of other laws, not doctrinal or revelational) and the Lord respond by reference to a completely different tradition--but both are encompassed by the one phrase, "the tradition of the elders," which, no matter how hard Armstrong may try, is definitional of the entire body of tradition to which he wishes to bind us via his reading of Matthew 23. 3) If Armstrong is right, the Corban rule to which Jesus refers here would be properly defined by the Pharisees and properly taught from "Moses' seat." Does it not follow, inexorably, that for Jesus' followers to do as He commands in both Matthew 15 and Matthew 23 that they would have to exercise the very discernment and examination of the Pharisees' teaching that Armstrong decries? The Corban rule was just as much a part of "oral tradition" as anything else. It was an "interpretation" of the law concerning a man's duties to his parents as well as the laws dealing with giving to the temple and its worship. But it was a false teaching, as Jesus here makes clear. It was an allegedly divine tradition that men should have examined and rejected on the basis of their own reading of the Scriptures.

That's right: people should reject corrupt traditions. No argument there . . . this gets back to a statement I made earlier, concerning the modern misunderstanding of Hebrew idiom of "everything" and "all." It was not understood in the sense of having no exceptions whatsoever. That was a later, more logical, "Greek" mode of thinking. So it is entirely possible in the Hebrew mind that the Pharisees could have authority, while they might teach some things that are corrupt, and to be rejected (just as civil governments have authority, but in extreme cases, must be disobeyed, in matters of conscience). But by and large, they were authoritative. This is no contradiction; a paradox, maybe, but not another of White's false dichotomies.

In fact, it seems plain beyond contradiction that Jesus is here teaching the Scriptures are so clear and compelling on this point in relationship to honoring one's father and mother that there is surely no need for a magisterium to tell you this, for the "magisterium" of the day was telling you just the opposite!

Here White smuggles in his prior disposition of sola Scriptura, which doesn't follow simply from Scripture being clear enough to clinch a particular argument. That can be, and often is, true, but it has no inherent implication that, therefore, authority does not exist, or exists only in a provisional sense. White's general fallacy here is arguing from the particular to the general, and "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." Just because one corrupt tradition was rebuked does not mean that Pharisaical authority was null and void. He can't prove his case from the single case of the Corban rule. All the relevant data must be taken into consideration. But White refuses to do that because it doesn't help his superficial "case" for the matter to be examined too closely. We mustn't do that!

But how could Jesus say these things about the Pharisees, who had seated themselves in Moses' seat, in Armstrong's scenario? He couldn't!

No??!! He can say them just like Paul rebuked Peter. If someone is being a hypocrite, or has corrupted one aspect of their teaching, they should be rebuked. White seems to have forgotten that God made an eternal covenant with David, which wasn't broken even by murder and adultery.

But if we simply allow the context to speak, and realize Matthew 23:1-3 is not a positive statement about the Pharisee's authority, but the beginning of their condemnation, and their having seated themselves in Moses' seat in the synagogue only adds to their condemnation (but has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with later Roman Catholic theories of authority or tradition), then we find a consistent reading of Jesus' words.

This is not a plausible interpretation at all, as shown in previous installments, at great length.

In Conclusion

While there is much more that could be said, we have certainly said enough. Mr. Armstrong was unwise to sub-title his book, "95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants" when he is manifestly ill equipped to provide the "goods" to back up his claims. His work is convincing only to the already convinced, but surely not to anyone who is actually familiar with what is necessary to show respect to God's Word by handling it aright. It is truly my prayer that the time I have invested in demonstrating the lack of substance in this work will help those who are seeking to minister the gospel of grace to those who have been ensnared by Rome's false and deceptive "gospel."

Thank you, James, for a clear summary of your position (and derision). I will pass on my own summary, preferring to let what I have already written speak for itself. I continue to await a substantive, rational, biblically sound reply to my argument from James White.

Refutation of James White: Moses' Seat, the Bible, and Tradition, Part VI

[White's words will be in blue; my former words in green]

Previous links:


The eight parts of my reply are in response to the eight parts of White's critique: the part numbers correspond. Hence, I am replying to White's Part VI.

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Dave Armstrong "shows his cards" so to speak, and in so doing reveals the true motivation behind his use of Matthew 23, in these words:

Thirdly, because they had the authority and no indication is given that Jesus thought they had it only when simply reading Scripture, it would follow that Christians were, therefore, bound to elements of Pharisaical teaching that were not only nonscriptural, but based on oral tradition, for this is what the Pharisees believed. (p. 49)

What "cards" or "true motivation"? Interest in historical truth and in presenting the beliefs of others accurately? I happily plead guilty to those accusations. Whatever "motivation" I had was already plainly presented in the subtitle in this chapter: Oral and Extrabiblical Tradition in the New Testament. So why would White or anyone else think I am "revealing" anything at this "late stage" of the chapter? I was simply stating a rather obvious fact (based on what we know about the Pharisees' belief system). Because that fact disagrees with White's preconceived notions of what is "supposed" to be New Testament teaching, he has to either deny it or melodramatically pretend that my straightforward acknowledgment of it is itself an inaccurate presentation. It's fascinating to observe.

Here we see the full impact of Armstrong's reading, and, I believe, misreading of the entire opening to Matthew 23. The full power of sola ecclesia is here seen, . . .

As stated before, the Catholic position is not sola ecclesia . . .

. . . for when you can turn the opening phrases of condemnation of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy into a binding of believers to Pharisaical traditions that are explicitly condemned therein, you are obviously operating with a very, very strong external authority.

This is, of course, an absurd characterization of my position, as if I am contending that Jesus condemned some traditions out of one side of His mouth, and bound believers to the same traditions out of the other side. This is a very clever tactic, but it doesn't hold up well when exposed. My true position is that some Pharisaical traditions were corrupt (therefore, Jesus condemned them), but when they taught traditions which were perfectly consistent with the Bible, then folks were bound to those. It could be that White is unaware of the Hebrew idiom, whereby "everything" does not mean "absolutely everything without a single exception, ever." Christians were not bound to teachings or commands which were against God or the Bible. But most of Pharisaical teaching was good, since Jesus and Paul followed it themselves, for the most part (as I showed in Part V). As a fundamentalist might say: "if it's good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me!" "Gimme that old time tradition, gimme that old time tradition . . . "

But before we go further, let's document the two lengthy citations from Protestant sources, that White chose to omit from his reply (remember, how in the beginning, he complained about my less-than-total citation of his argument), because doing so would work against his plan to portray my argumentation as strictly "Catholic" and based on that "external authority," rather than biblically based and historically grounded, as confirmed by Protestant sources (which he can't accuse of being biased in favor of the Catholic position and therefore, readily dismissible, because Catholicism is the "Beast," "Whore of Babylon," etc.). Here they are, from pages 49-50:

. . . the Torah was not merely ‘law’ but also ‘instruction’, i.e., it consisted not merely of fixed commandments but was adaptable to changing conditions . . . This adaptation or inference was the task of those who had made a special study of the Torah, and a majority decision was binding on all . . .

The commandments were further applied by analogy to situations not directly covered by the Torah. All these developments together with thirty-one customs of ‘immemorial usage’ formed the ‘oral law’ . . . the full development of which is later than the New Testament. Being convinced that they had the right interpretation of the Torah, they claimed that these ‘traditions of the elders’ (Mk 7:3) came from Moses on Sinai.

(J.D. Douglas, editor, The New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 981-982)

Likewise, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes in its article on the Pharisees:

Unlike the Sadducees, who tried to apply Mosaic Law precisely as it was given, the Pharisees allowed some interpretation of it to make it more applicable to different situations, and they regarded these oral interpretations as of the same level of importance as the Law itself.

(Cross, F.L. and E.A. Livingstone, editors, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1983, 1077)

This is the central assertion, in my opinion, and hence will be the primary focus of my response (which, to the shock of some, I will, eventually, get to).

I am shocked that White responded at all. I'll be even more shocked if he actually tries to interact with my present reasoning, and either retract his opinions where necessary or fully defend them against the present scrutiny.

Next, Armstrong makes the interesting observation that the Pharisees did indeed have their "traditions" that were extra-biblical,

Correct. Now this is either historically-verifiable or it is not. I have provided the documentation, especially in my last reply. This discussion needs to proceed on the grounds of verifiable historical fact, not presuppositionalism or wishful thinking. Also, I should reiterate that "extra-biblical" is not the same thing as "non-biblical" or "unbiblical" or "contrary to the Bible" or "a contradiction against the Bible." It simply means "traditions which are not included in the letter of the Bible, but which are in perfect harmony with the Bible." But a certain kind of Protestant (of which White is one) hears "extra-biblical" and they immediately equate that with "fallible [rather than infallible] traditions of men [rather than of God] which are obviously contrary to Scripture and not allowed by Scripture." Ironically, this is contrary to Scripture, not the notion of tradition per se. But White labors under these false premises, and that weighs down the discussion and prevents it from ever becoming constructive, for those who think as he does.

. . . and since he is seeking to present as positive a picture of the Pharisees as possible, . . .

So was St. Paul, obviously, since, after all, he called himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). That's pretty "positive," I would submit. That said, I am "seeking" historical truth, not trying to pull off a silly ploy of selectively presenting facts which back me up and oppose what I oppose. We see that White is the one who wants (from all appearances) to avoid certain uncomfortable biblical and historical facts. Thus, he passed over the two extremely relevant citations from Protestant sources, which I happily provided for readers, a little bit above.

Those who have a weak case in the first place almost invariably pick and choose things from their opponents' arguments, leaving out particularly damaging bits of evidence and argumentation. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book. But I'm not interested in "debater's tricks." I'm interested in the truth. Period. I don't deny that Mr. White has the same motivation; I just think that he has "debated" for so long that he uses cute little tricks that many might not notice. They come as easily and naturally to him as breathing or a heartbeat, and need not be conscious at all that he is engaging in these methods. I notice them, because I've been around the block a few times, debate-wise, too, and I don't pick-and-choose when I reply. There is a right way and a wrong way to debate. The wrong way is called sophistry.

. . . he identifies the Sadducees as the "Jewish sola Scripturists and liberals of the time," an odd combination when one thinks about it.

This is no more odd than "Protestants and sola Scripturists." Neither position is a biblically-based one. Nor is it "odd" in light of the fact that it was Protestantism and its Bible Only rule of faith that produced (in terms of cultural milieu) what we know and love as moden liberal theology (and many of the larger modern cults and heresies, such as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Science). The ancient Arians, for example (who thought Jesus was created, and were similar to Jehovah's Witnesses) believed in Scripture Alone, whereas the orthodox trinitarian Church believed in apostolic succession, tradition, and Church authority. It has always been those who accept a larger tradition, beyond, but in harmony with Holy Scripture, who preserve orthodoxy. Thus, Pharisees, preserved the ancient Jewish theological tradition which was developed into Christianity. Sadducees and their Bible-Only position, were rapidly rejecting several tenets which Christianity accepted, as noted previously.

In support of what he realizes is, in fact, his central assertion (the third point just noted), . . .

I didn't "realize" anything. I consistently and openly developed my arguments from the beginning of the larger chapter on "Bible and Tradition."

Armstrong seeks to establish more positive connections to Pharisaism (in reference to a passage that begins the longest denunciation of them in all of Scripture--don't let that irony pass) by asserting that "it was precisely the extrabiblical (especially apocalyptic) elements of Pharisaical Judaism that New Testament Christianity adopted and developed for its own---doctrines such as resurrection, the soul, the afterlife, eternal reward or damnation, and angelology and demonology (all of which the Sadducees rejected)."

Exactly. Now, the interesting thing would be to see what White thinks of that, since he believes that Jesus' view of the Pharisees was either totally or overwhelmingly condemnatory. But (not surprisingly at all), White doesn't tell us. In the meantime, he opted to pass over the second half of this paragraph. Here it is:

The Old Testament had relatively little to say about these things, and what it did assert was in a primitive, kernel form. But the postbiblical literature of the Jews (led by the mainstream Pharisaical tradition) had plenty to say about them. Therefore, this was another instance of Christianity utilizing nonbiblical literature and traditions in its own doctrinal development.

(p. 50)

Immediately the reader is probably surprised to discover that Christian beliefs in these areas are actually found in the traditions of the Pharisees (it is hard to refrain from refuting this directly from the previous chapter, but I shall do so for the moment) rather than from the Scriptures themselves, . . .

This is a classic, blatant, example of one of White's many false, irrational dichotomies. Let me rephrase what he is arguing here, to make it more clear from a logical standpoint:


General undeniable premise or axiom:
Christian beliefs didn't come from nowhere, and had historical pedigree (going back to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, among others).

1. White's major unproven premise / conclusion (as his "argument" is logically circular, the two are identical) : Christian beliefs came solely from the Scriptures themselves.

2. Dave's query: from what theological / cultural background did the Scriptures come? (answer: the Jews). And which Jewish group preserved that heritage most fully, without giving up indispensable doctrines? (answer: the Pharisees).
3. White's hidden minor premise (#2) : What comes from Scripture cannot also come from a particular people, or school of the same people.
4. Dave's assertion: many Christian beliefs can be derived historically from the Pharisees.
5. White's ultimate premise / conclusion: Christian beliefs could not in any way be derived from the Pharisees because they were derived from Scripture.

The fallacy here is obvious. No argument was made; instead, a false dichotomy is accepted. But it is patently obvious that it is false, by the example of biblical inspiration:

1. God wrote inspired Scripture. It is, in fact, "God-breathed" (theopneustos).
2. Men [inspired and enabled by God] wrote inspired Scripture.
3. Conclusion (by White's "logic"): this can't be! One or the other had to write it, because it is a contradiction!
4. Historical Christian conclusion (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox alike): both statements (#1 and #2) are true. God wrote through men, and preserved inspiration and infallibility despite human error.

White's conclusion might hold for Islam, where it is believed that the Koran came down from heaven, written and delivered by Allah, with no human participation whatever, but not in Christianity. Therefore, his previous reasoning collapses by analogy:

Christian doctrine came from God through the Bible, but the Bible came through the Jews (culturally, historically) and Jewish writers (in terms of individual documents).

Both notions are true. But James White can't see that, because presuppositional apologetics is proudly, self-consciously circular in its "logic."

. . . let alone from the very traditions Jesus condemned so thoroughly (remember, we have only a few examples of explicit Pharisaical traditions on the lips of Jesus, but the Corban rule is one of them, and remember the Lord's view of such things).

White apparently believes that if you repeat a half-truth or a fallacy enough times, people will start believing it. How many times now has he repeated this non sequitur (in light of all the relevant considerations)? Seven, eight times now?

Armstrong's next point is to continue seeking to prop up the Pharisees as a group, pointing out that Paul respected Ananias in Acts 23:1-5, and that Paul said he was a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees" (Acts 23:6). I believe the reader can judge for himself the relevance to the point at hand.

Yes, so do I. So I'm delighted that White breezily dismisses a highly-important consideration and thinks it to be of no relevance or force whatsoever. I happen to think that it is, and I offered an actual argument in the previous installment for why I think so (citing my entire paragraph, rather than merely summarizing it). One continues to hope that White will raise himself to the level of rational argument in many of these crucial issues that he either mocks or cavalierly dismisses. I think people would be more impressed, were he to try that.

Next he misunderstands the reason why I cited the incident in Nehemiah 8, assumes I am trying to draw a parallel to the Pharisees and Moses' seat (I was simply pointing out the centrality of the Word of God in worship, revival, and its reading in the gatherings of God's people)

Fair enough, but then, that doesn't resolve anything in this dispute, as no Christian of any stripe would deny this. I hear far more Scripture at every Catholic Mass than I ever did in Protestant services in my 13 years as an evangelical Protestant.

and can't help but include yet another unfounded "swipe" by writing, "He (White) conveniently neglects to mention, however, that Ezra's Levite assistants, as recorded in the next two verses after the Evangelical-sounding Amens, "helped the people to understand the law" (8:7) and "gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading" (8:8)." (p. 51).

Of course, I could respond that it is Mr. Armstrong who "conveniently neglects to mention" that such an observation is utterly irrelevant to either my use of the text, nor my understanding of Scriptural sufficiency. The fact that instruction was offered is perfectly in line with what I do as an elder in the church every Lord's Day;

That's right, but that is not the sense in which the text is relevant to this discussion, which has to do with historical Judaism, and what they believed, not present-day (historically "Johnny-come-lately") Baptist ecclesiology, and what it holds, with regard to the issue of Bible and Tradition. White is consistent with his own false premises, in his own religious practice, but he can't apply those to the ancient Jews. That is where his inconsistency lies.

further, to be relevant to Armstrong's position, this instruction would have to include the binding of extra-biblical traditions upon the people, which, of course, is not what the text says.

It's relevant precisely because the Jews then, and the Pharisees later, held to oral tradition, which was incorporated into its understanding and interpretation of Scripture. We know that from the historical record. It's true that the text does not specifically mention this, but once we understand what the Jews have historically believed about oral tradition (cultural background being a very important consideration in good exegesis), it is far more plausible to conclude that it was part of this "instruction"; far more than engaging in historical revisionism, superimposing the 16th century Protestant innovation of sola Scriptura onto the text and Jewish worldview, and concluding that only Scripture was discussed, and that no "extra-biblical" tradition whatsoever was involved. History, as so often, tilts the discussion decisively in the "pro-traditional" (or "proto-Catholic") direction. But let's also include my next paragraph (since White did not), which greatly clarified my meaning and intent:

So this supposedly analogous example (that is, if presented in its entirety; not selectively for polemical purposes) does not support the position of White and Gundry that the authority of the Pharisees applied only insofar as they sat and read the Old Testament to the people (functioning as a sort of ancient collective Alexander Scourby, reading the Bible onto a cassette tape for mass consumption), not when they also interpreted (which was part and parcel of the Pharisaical outlook and approach).

(p. 51)

Gratuitous swipes at a person's character and honesty based upon ignorance of that person's beliefs are one element of reading "apologetic" literature that I find very distasteful.

I made no such swipe (and vehemently deny that I did). I think White is honestly, sincerely engaging the text, according to his worldview and theology. But I think he is severely (sincerely) biased, and often operates on false and inadequately-examined premises, which often leads to atrocious and false conclusions. But if White finds this so "distasteful," then why did he make precisely this accusation against me in our earlier runaround over my book? (italics added):

Armstrong simply doesn't understand the process of scholarly examination of a text, and as a result, runs headlong into walls trying to act like he does.

(The Catholic Verses: Luke 1:28 [Part II], 1-1-05)

This kind of utterly amazing mishandling of Scripture is sad to observe, let alone to realize it has appeared in publication.

(The Catholic Verses: Luke 1:28 [Part III], 1-2-05)

This next statement is especially hypocritical and enlightening, given White's false charge that I have accused him of dishonesty:

In essence, this means that instead of blaming ignorance for his very shallow misrepresentations of non-Catholic theology and exegesis, we must now assert knowing deception.

(Armstrong's Reading List, 12-31-04)

So White is quick to accuse me falsely, without sufficient grounds, of what he clearly did to me. In Christian circles, we call that hypocrisy, and I do openly accuse White of that, but not dishonesty. And this is doubly ironic, since we are discussing the Pharisees, and White endlessly repeats his mantra that Jesus accused them of hypocrisy, which we all knew already, so it adds nothing to the discussion. My explanation fully incorporates that fact into the analysis.

Next we have an odd, brief explosion of a complete straw-man argument:

One does not find in the Old Testament individual Hebrews questioning teaching authority. Sola Scriptura simply is not there. No matter how hard White and other Protestants try to read it into the Old Testament, it cannot be done.

(p. 51)

For some, this is a form of argument, but for most, it is little more than another "confession of faith." What teaching authority did individual Hebrews not question?

I'm delighted that Mr. White is inquisitive enough to ask. That indicates a willingness to learn. Good for him! To give just two examples of many:

1) Deuteronomy 17:8-13: the Levitical priests had binding authority in legal matters (derived from the Torah itself). They interpreted the biblical injunctions (17:11). The penalty for disobedience was death (17:12), since the offender didn't obey “the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God.” Cf. Deuteronomy 19:16-17, 2 Chronicles 19:8-10.

2) Ezra 7:6,10: Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding, under pain of imprisonment, banishment, loss of goods, and even death (7:25-26).

I think that with a possible death penalty lurking in the background, most folks would be inclined to obey. But we know that they were often disobedient, as all of us are at one time or another. In any event, there was clearly a strong authoritarianism in place, even regarding matters of interpretation of Scripture.

The OT Papacy? The Vatican in Jerusalem? We aren't told.

Well, now "we" have been (and I had presented this kind of biblical data long ago on my website, so it is nothing new); and I would love to hear a counter-response, not only to this, but to all my argumentation. I won't hold my breath, given Mr. White's abysmal past track record of fleeing from rational discussions, just when they get interesting, and when his positions look the weakest and most indefensible.

It is ironic indeed, in a passage where Jesus instructs His disciples and the crowds to examine the teachings and actions of the Pharisees, discern right from wrong, and not follow them into false behavior, that Armstrong can find in this passage a basis for such rhetoric.

It's not only "ironic," it is absolutely untrue that I did this. In this statement I wasn't commenting on Matthew 23 at all; I was making a general observation, in opposition to White's tendency to absurdly superimpose sola Scriptura onto the Old Testament and the Jews. The immediate context was an indirect comment on the passage I cited two paragraphs before: Nehemiah 8 (also in the Old Testament; last time I checked). Quite odd. But this isn't the first time that White has completely misconstrued and/or misrepresented some argument of mine, and it sure won't be the last.

Armstrong ends his presentation with two more main points.

White skipped yet another two paragraphs from my book, but for the sake of space, I won't cite those. I am replying at all under the assumption that this was a "point-by-point" rebuttal attempt from White (which I assumed, as it had eight parts). But alas, it is not. Why am I not surprised?

First, he draws from his own anecdotal experience as a Protestant to assert that "individual Christians" have the right and duty to rebuke their pastors for "unbiblical" teaching. I find it odd that Roman Catholics will lionize those who stood up to the corrupt Papacy in the past, and then turn around and demonize a non-Catholic who would seek biblical fidelity from his or her leaders. Be that as it may, yes, every member of Christ's body has the duty to believe the truth, and, if there is trouble in the camp, so to speak, to bring his or her concerns to the elders (note Armstrong doesn't seem to understand the plurality of elders polity position). He relates a bad experience he had in what sounds like a single-pastor situation, not realizing that in the biblical model the local church is not under the control of a despot, but under the direction of a group of men who fit the qualifications laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This changes the dynamic greatly, for instead of a one-on-one "power struggle" you have one of the sheep bringing a concern which may be valid, or may be based upon ignorance or misunderstanding, to a group of men, not just a single person.

This is not the time to get into a broad ecclesiological discussion (nor of the fine points of private judgment and sola Scriptura). White's "plural elder" ecclesiology is not at all the predominant position, even among the hundreds of Protestant denominations.

White then cynically summarizes my next four-paragraph argument and dismisses it with no real argument of his own. As I am sick to death of that tactic by now, I won't even bother quoting his remarks, since he grants me no such courtesy.

So, with all of that said (probably took me more room to review/summarize his position than he spent in the book itself!), I move to my response, and I promise to keep it as brief as possible. I could not resist the temptation to respond a bit as we were going along, but I wish to outline a response to the entire argument that should be useful to anyone encountering the use of Matthew 23 by Roman Catholic apologists. I shall do so in our next, and possibly final, installment.

Six parts to "review/summarize" a position? And now we will be blessed with a two-part "response"? I agree that the six-part soliloquy has been no "response," but it is strange to see white himself implicitly acknowledge the same. It's clear that White is now setting the stage for a general argument that will utterly ignore all or most of the particulars of my argument. As such, it will be worthless as a "response" because it won't be specific enough. I'm predicting this (I haven't read Parts VII and VIII yet). In any event, his reply-before-the-true-"response" has been pathetically weak and insubstantial, and I have no doubt that it's final quarter-portion will continue to be so. Let's see how accurate my prediction will be. I have to amuse myself somehow, as I continue to sit and wait for a decent argument to respond to.

I would remind readers that James White is widely considered by anti-Catholics to be one of the leading champions of their position. He has participated in many oral debates, written many books, and has a lot of material on the Internet. He also does a daily webcast. So please bear in mind that if one of the supposedly "best" anti-Catholic (which is different from merely Protestant, because it denies that Catholicism is Christian) apologists makes arguments this weak and easily-answered, what does that tell us about the strength of the position that he advocates? I think it reveals quite a bit.

Refutation of James White: Moses' Seat, the Bible, and Tradition, Part V (vs. James White)

[White's words will be in blue; my former words in green]

[originally uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 12 May 2005]

Links to other sections:

Introduction
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part VI
Parts VII & VIII

The eight parts of my reply are in response to the eight parts of White's critique: the part numbers correspond. Hence, I am now replying to White's Part V.

* * * * *

At this point Armstrong opines,

It reminds me of the old silly Protestant tale that the popes speak infallibly and ex cathedra (cathedra is the Greek word for seat in Matthew 23:2) only when sitting in a certain chair in the Vatican - because the phrase means literally "from the bishop's chair" - whereas it was a figurative and idiomatic usage). (sic)

(pp. 47-48)

Of course, I have never made such a statement, . . .

I never stated that he did; but only that his sort of reasoning here reminded me of that particular instance of mistaken Protestant reasoning. They misunderstood ex cathedra to be referring always to a literal chair (rather than to authority). White is doing roughly the same thing, by limiting the usage in Matthew 23 to the synagogues. Thus, my analogy was quite apt.

. . . but the fact remains that in the context of the condemnation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, the identity of "Moses' seat" and its function in synagogue worship is central.

White (as we have seen so often) simply assumes his interpretation, and proceeds onward, without seeming to realize that he needs to establish the validity of his premises first. He can't just assume that Moses' seat refers strictly to the literal seat in the synagogues, from which the Pharisees taught. In my book, shortly after this, I cited both The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary and The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, in favor of my position as to what the term meant. Without proper definitions, discussions go nowhere. So White is off on his tangent of restricting the term to synagogue teaching, and is off-base, because his definition is faulty to begin with. But perhaps White would claim that those two works know not the slightest thing about biblical exegesis, either (as he habitually claims about me).

If one allows the function of Moses' seat to be removed from the discussion (as Armstrong does), you lose the connection with the condemnation of the Pharisees: the reason they are hypocrites is because they should know better: they read from the Scriptures on a regular basis, and then turn around and do away with that teaching by their traditions, and those traditions result in actions that are contrary to the Word.

A particular function in a synagogue is not required for the condemnations of Jesus to make sense. They need not read the Scripture in a synagogue to know what it teaches. We agree that their traditions in some (or many) cases ran contrary to Scripture. But they don't have to read in the synagogue for that to be the case. Nor do they have to not accept extra-biblical tradition for it to be the case. And white still is neglecting to see that Jesus told people to obey their teachings. These teachings included extra-biblical tradition, because the Pharisees believed in oral tradition, received by Moses at the same time he received the Ten Commandments. He can't overcome this, no matter how hard he tries.

This is why you do as they say in the context of the synagogue worship, but you do not do what they do.

This is eisegesis (reading into the text), in my opinion, relying upon the already highly-questionable definition of Moses' seat that White has been utilizing. No such qualification is in the text itself, restricting it to synagogue worship. So White has a bad definition, and desperate exegesis, to shore up an already abysmally-weak position.

Since we know Christ held men accountable to have known the Corban rule was contrary to God's Word, and the Pharisees taught this, even claiming it came from Moses, then clearly we must allow the limitation of the function of Moses' seat to stand. And this Armstrong will not allow.

It's not up to me to "allow" or disallow. I'm only going by the definition of the term that the scholars who have properly studied such things have given me. We can't redefine terms whatever way we like them, like a wax nose.

He misconstrues the proper recognition of the synagogue context of Moses' seat, and hence the limitation of its purview, with a woodenly literalistic idea about whether one is standing or sitting. He writes,

Jesus says that they sat "on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you." In other words, because they had the authority, based on the position of occupying Moses' seat, they were to be obeyed. It is like referring to a chairman of a company or committee. He occupies the "chair"; therefore he has authority. No one thinks he has the authority only when he sits in a certain chair reading the corporation charter or the Constitution or some other official document.

(p. 48)

Notice the importance of this to Armstrong's argument: he must create an authority that resides in the Pharisees separate from their place in the worship of God's people in the synagogue. So, instead of the biblical limitation of their authority to the role they have taken in the synagogue, Armstrong speaks of the Pharisees (who are about to be condemned roundly) as having an inherent authority, and hence they are to be obeyed. Yet in Matthew 23, what is to be obeyed is not an inherent authority in the scribes and Pharisees, but, as the "therefore" of v. 3 shows us, the reason for obedience is the seat of Moses, not an authority separate from it. But having missed this distinction, Armstrong continues, "Yet this is how White would exclusively interpret Jesus' words." No, White would not force Jesus into internal contradiction, ignore the fact that He holds His disciples and the crowd accountable for exercising judgment on the deeds of the Pharisees (even those deeds they based upon "tradition"), and rip this section out of its role as the introduction not to the lauding of the scribes and Pharisees, but their condemnation.

This is just more building of a house of cards on top of the fallacies already listed. Catholic apologist "Matt1618" - responding to Protestant apologist Ron Rhodes - (Reasoning From the Scriptures with Ron Rhodes), illustrates the weakness of such a position:

His words are practice and observe whatever they tell you. How can Rhodes say that this is not authoritative? . . . Here Jesus legitimizes this tradition. Yes, he later castigates the Pharisees because they don’t practice what they preach. But he binded them to whatever they told them. Thus, it is an authoritative statement that binds people to obey them, even if they can be hypocrites. ’Whatever’, makes it another authoritative source that followers must obey.

Rhodes even tried to use the Corban rule of Matthew 15, just as White did, but (also like White) inconsistently, as "Matt1618" notes:

I see the double standard of Rhodes. In the earlier chapter when he mentioned Matthew 15 to say that tradition had no binding authority, he did not balance that by mentioning Matthew 23 at all, when Jesus said that whatever they tell you to do from Moses’ seat, you obey them. Now, when Jesus legitimizes that authority, he mentions Matthew 15. If he was going to use Matthew 15 to help give insight to Matthew 23, he should have given us Matthew 23 to give insight to Matthew 15. But Rhodes does not do that. Of course, what Jesus condemned is non-legitimate traditions, that caused people to disobey commandments in Matthew 15. That was an illegitimate tradition. However, in Matthew 23 he recognized the binding authority of another tradition. Apparently, Jesus as God accepted a tradition that was binding on believers as noted in this passage.

. . . the Pharisees cannot trace themselves back to Moses. However, there is authority recognized by the Jewish tradition that had passed on this authority to the Pharisees and scribes. We also see that this Moses’ seat referred to the right to interpret the Mosaic law. Jesus validated that right, independent of Scripture. The acceptance of succession is also noted. The Pharisees are seen as legal successors. This gives precedence for succession of the apostles. By the way, Jews had no concept of Sola Scriptura.

"Matt 1618" then cites two Protestant statements on Moses' seat, from fellow Catholic apologist Steve Ray's copious research:

Sitting on ‘Moses seat’ referred to a place of dignity and the right to interpret the Mosaic law. The scribes were the successors and the heirs of Moses’ authority and were rightfully looked to for pronouncements upon his teaching . . . Jesus does not appear to challenge this right”. Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1988], 2:1498, as quoted in Stephen Ray, Upon This Rock, [San Francisco, Ca, Ignatius Press, 1999], p. 47, fn. 62.

DA Carson writes "Moreover, 'to sit on X’s seat' often means to succeed X" (Exod 11:5;12:29; 1 Kings 1:35, 46; 2:12; 16:11;2 Kings 15:12; Ps. 132:12; crf. Jos Antiq. VII, 353 [xiv.5] XVIII, 2 [i.1]. This would imply that the 'teachers of the law' are Moses’ legal successors, possessing all his authority - a view the scribes themselves held...Panta hosa ('everything') is a strong expression and cannot be limited to 'that teaching of the law that is in Jesus’ view a faithful interpretation of it'; they cover everything the leaders teach, including the oral tradition as well' Gaeberlein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8:472), as quoted in Stephen Ray, ibid., p. 47 fn. 62.

Steve Ray added, right after this:

Carson later dismisses the whole passage by relegating it to irony, which even James White rejects.

(p. 47, footnote 62)

New Testament exegete Floyd V. Filson concurs with the same general understanding of Moses' seat:

The scribes, mostly Pharisees, copied, taught, and applied the Mosaic Law. They were pledged to obey and teach both the written law and the oral tradition, which they claimed was an integral part of the Law, received through a direct succession of teachers going back to Moses . . . Moses' seat [was a] synagogue chair which symbolized the origin and authority of their teaching. Jesus does not challenge their claim; he seems here to approve it.

(A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, New York: Harper & Row, 1960, 243; emphasis my own)

But continuing with his misunderstanding he cites from the Eerdman's Bible Dictionary, likewise seemingly not understanding that the definition offered is not at all contrary to what I have written.

That's not true. It referred to a general judicial authority. Here is the citation (which White curiously omitted, seeing that he made a big deal out of my not citing all of his words). Readers can decide for themselves what it entails:

References to seating in the Bible are almost all to such as a representation of honor and authority . . .

According to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees occupy "Moses' seat" (Matt. 23:2), having the authority and ability to interpret the law of Moses correctly; here "seat" is both a metaphor for judicial authority and also a reference to a literal stone seat in the front of many synagogues that would be occupied by an authoritative teacher of the law.

(p. 48 of my book; Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, edited by Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987; English revision of Bijbelse Encyclopedie, edited by W.H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands: J.H. Kok, revised edition, 1975; translated by Raymond C. Togtman and Ralph W. Vunderink, 919-920)

The ISBE is likewise noted, and its definition, "It is used also of the exalted position occupied by men of marked rank or influence, either in good or evil." Of course, in this case, it is in reference to evil men, as the rest of Matthew 23 demonstrates. Armstrong continues,

White makes no mention of these considerations, but it is difficult to believe that he is not aware of them (since he is a Bible scholar well acquainted with the nuances of biblical meanings). They do not fit in very well with the case he is trying to make, so he omits them. But the reader is thereby left with an incomplete picture.

(p. 49)

Actually, it is Armstrong who has the incomplete understanding of my own position, as has been demonstrated. On that basis he, seemingly, accuses me of purposefully omitting these "considerations" so as to strengthen my case, or worse, deceive my readers.

I'm only pointing out that one's bias can lead one to many strange tactics, in order to avoid a conclusion that one doesn't want to accept. I've never made an accusation of deliberate deception with regard to White (or almost any other theological opponent, for that matter), but White had no scruples about accusing me of that very thing in the earlier dialogue we engaged in concerning my book. I guess this is a bit of projection, which is misplaced, to put it mildly.

In the next section Armstrong comes out fully with his insistence that Jesus was here binding Christians to the oral traditions of the Pharisees, and this will certainly provide the fullest basis for the complete rejection and refutation of his reading of Matthew 23.

Not all oral traditions; only those which are consistent with the Bible. In other words, I was trying to demonstrate that such traditions exist, that they are positively mentioned in the Bible, and practiced by Jesus and the apostles, and that, therefore, sola Scriptura is contradicted.

But I wish to pursue White's argument that the Pharisees' authority was strictly confined to the synagogues. For example, we have the incident of St. Paul and the high priest. High priests (or any priests) had little directly to do with the synagogue, by definition, because they offered sacrifice, and that was done at the Temple. Yet they had authority. In this case, Ananias, the high priest, was a Sadducee, and, according to ISBE, a scoundrel: "lawless and violent . . . haughty, unscrupulous, filling his sacred office for purely selfish and political ends" (vol. 1, p. 129). But Paul thought he had authority. Here is what I wrote in my book, on page 50:

Paul shows the high priest, Ananias, respect, even when the latter had him struck on the mouth, and was not dealing with matters strictly of the Old Testament and the Law, but with the question of whether Paul was teaching wrongly and should be stopped (Acts 23:1-5). A few verses later Paul states, "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees" (23:6) and it is noted that the Pharisees and Sadducees in the assembly were divided and that the Sadducees "say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all" (23:7-8). Some Pharisees defended Paul (23:9).

So here is a case of the high priest, who sacrifices at the Temple, being granted authority by the Apostle Paul. So much for White's argument that Jesus granted authority only to Pharisees in synagogues who read the Bible in services, in Moses' seat. Secondly, he was a scoundrel, which disposes of White's continual reiteration that Jesus strictly limited Pharisaical authority, because some of them were bad men, and because He sternly rebuked them for hypocrisy. Thirdly, the Sadducees were on a lower theological plane than the Pharisees, and adopted "liberal" or dissenting views on may doctrines which Pharisees and Christians alike accepted, as noted above. But Paul still thinks they have authority! Fourth, Paul had rebuked this man (for having him struck) in much the same terms that Jesus had rebuked the authorities:

God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?"

(Acts 23:3)

After he was informed that it was the high priest (23:4), Paul (for some odd reason) quickly changed his tune:

I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, "You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people."

(Acts 23:5)

A what???!!! I thought these people had no authority other than to sit and read the Bible publicly??? Obviously, being a "ruler" of a people entails more than that. So the analogy to Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees is very close. And this time it has nothing whatsoever to do with synagogues, and the person is in an even higher position of authority than the Pharisees (in fact, he was the president of the Sanhedrin when Paul appeared before it).

Shortly afterwards, "some of the scribes of the Pharisees' party" defended Paul:

We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?

(Acts 23:9)

Now how can all this be squared with White's scenario? I dare say that it cannot be. Likewise, his commentary on Jesus' statements about tMoses' seat is based on a woefully inadequate understanding of the power that the Pharisees yielded, and on related passages such as this one.

As to the general nature of Pharisaic authority, character, and Jesus' relationship to them, the Internet article, WHO WERE THE PHARISEES AND THE SADDUCEES?, by Bryan T. Huie, is a storehouse of useful, fascinating information. Pharisaical teaching in synagogues included the oral law:

They followed ancient traditions inspired by an obscure text in Deuteronomy, "put it in their mouths", that God had given Moses, in addition to the written Law, an Oral Law, by which learned elders could interpret and supplement the sacred commands. The practice of the Oral Law made it possible for the Mosaic code to be adapted to changing conditions and administered in a realistic manner.

By contrast, the Temple priests, dominated by the Sadducees . . . insisted that the law must be written and unchanged. . . . they would not admit that oral teaching could subject the Law to a process of creative development.

(Paul Johnson, A History Of The Jews, New York: Harper & Row, 1987, 106)

Dr. Brad Young, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, writes of the oral law:

The Oral Torah clarified obscure points in the written Torah, thus enabling the people to satisfy its requirements. If the Scriptures prohibit work on the Sabbath, one must interpret and define the meaning of work in order to fulfill the divine will. Why is there a need for an oral law? The answer is quite simple: Because we have a written one. The written record of the Bible should be interpreted properly by the Oral Torah in order to give it fresh life and meaning in daily practice. . . . Moreover, it should be remembered that the Oral Torah was not a rigid legalistic code dominated by one single interpretation. The oral tradition allowed a certain amount of latitude and flexibility. In fact, the open forum of the Oral Torah invited vigorous debate and even encouraged diversity of thought and imaginative creativity. Clearly, some legal authorities were more strict than others, but all recognized that the Sabbath had to be observed.

(Jesus the Jewish Theologian, 105)

And he states, concerning Jesus' view of the Pharisees:

Many scholars and Bible students fail to understand the essence of Jesus' controversial ministry. Jesus' conflict with his contemporaries was not so much over the doctrines of the Pharisees, with which he was for the most part in agreement, but primarily over the understanding of his mission. He did sharply criticize hypocrites . . .

A Pharisee in the mind of the people of the period was far different from popular conceptions of a Pharisee in modern times . . . The image of the Pharisee in early Jewish thought was not primarily one of self-righteous hypocrisy . . . The Pharisee represents piety and holiness. . . . The very mention of a Pharisee evoked an image of righteousness . . .

While Jesus disdained the hypocrisy of some Pharisees, he never attacked the religious and spiritual teachings of Pharisaism. In fact, the sharpest criticisms of the Pharisees in Matthew are introduced by an unmistakable affirmation, "The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice" (Matt. 23:2-3). The issue at hand is one of practice. The content of the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees was not a problem . . . The rabbis offered nearly identical criticisms against those who teach but do not practice . . . Unfortunately, the image of the Pharisee in modern usage is seldom if ever positive. Such a negative characterization of Pharisaism distorts our view of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity . . . The theology of Jesus is Jewish and is built firmly upon the foundations of Pharisaic thought . . .

(Ibid., 100, 184, 187, 188)

John D. Keyser writes:

As a result of the harsh portrayal in the New Testament of these teachers of Jewish law, the very name Pharisee has become synonymous with hypocrisy and self-righteousness." He goes on to say that many modern scholars "have failed to realize that the Pharisaic religion was divided into TWO SEPARATE SCHOOLS - the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The group that Christ continually took to task in the New Testament was apparently the School of Shammai - a faction that was very rigid and unforgiving in their outlook"

("Dead Sea Scrolls Prove Pharisees Controlled Temple Ritual!", p. 1)

Huie adds:

Although Pharisees were frequently the adversaries of Christ, it should also be noted that not all their interactions were hostile. Pharisees asked him to dine with them on occasion (Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1), and he was warned of danger by some Pharisees (Luke 13:31). Additionally, it appears that some of the Pharisees (including Nicodemus) believed in him, although they did so secretly because of the animosity of their leaders toward Christ . . . the New Testament records that there were Pharisaic Christians in the early Church. Acts 15:5 shows some of the Pharisees who had accepted Christ as the Messiah voicing their opinion on the circumcision question. Some commentators believe that the zealous Jews mentioned in Acts 21:20 were actually Christian Pharisees. And Pharisaic scribes on the Sanhedrin council stood up for the apostle Paul when he was brought before them in 58 A.D. (Acts 23:9) . . . In Acts 23:6, Paul publicly declared, "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" (Acts 23:6). It is very telling that more than twenty years after his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul still claims to be a Pharisee. This alone should be proof that, on a basic level, Pharisaism and Christianity did not conflict . . . In Philippians 3:5, Paul states that he was "concerning the law, a Pharisee." In verse 6, he goes on to say that he was "concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless."

In presenting St. Paul's speech before the Sanhedrin, Luke depicts:

. . . Christianity and Pharisaism as natural allies, hence the direct continuity between the Pharisaic branch of Judaism and Christianity. The link is expressed directly in Paul's own testimony: he is (now) a Pharisee, with a Pharisaic heritage (23:6). His Pharisaic loyalty is a present commitment, not a recently jettisoned stage of his religious past (cf. Phil 3:5-9). His Christian proclamation of a risen Lord, and by implication, of a risen humanity (Acts 23:6), represents a particular, but defensible, form of Pharisaic theology "

(Harper's Bible Commentary, 1111)

The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters adds more fascinating information about Paul, Pharisaism, and the oral law:

As a further cause for boasting in Philippians, Paul claims to be a Pharisee. Here the term was defined with precision. The expression 'as to the Law a Pharisee' refers to the oral Law. . . . Paul thereby understood himself as a member of the scholarly class who taught the twofold Law. By saying that the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat (Mt 23:2), Jesus was indicating they were authoritative teachers of the Law. . . . In summary, Paul was saying that he was a Hebrew-speaking interpreter and teacher of the oral and written Law

("Jew, Paul the", 504)

Historian Paul Johnson concludes similarly concerning Jesus' closeness in doctrine to the Pharisees:

He was closer to the Pharisees than to any other group . . . Jesus openly criticized the Pharisees, especially for 'hypocrisy'. But on close examination, Jesus' condemnation is by no means so severe or so inclusive as the Gospel narrative in which it is enclosed implies; and in essence it is similar to criticisms levelled at the Pharisees by the Essenes, and by the later rabbinical sages, who drew a sharp distinction between the Hakamim, whom they saw as their forerunners, and the 'false Pharisees', whom they regarded as enemies of true Judaism.

(Ibid., 126)

Jewish historian Abba Eban states largely the same thing, from his religious perspective:

Jesus was a Pharisaic Jew . . . He meticulously kept Jewish laws, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Passover, ate unleavened bread, and uttered a blessing when he drank wine. He was a Jew in word and deed.

. . . He himself declared in the Sermon on the Mount that he "had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it." Nourished by the ideas of Pharisaic Judaism, he stressed the Messianic hope . . .

Early Christianity is closer to Judaism than the adherents of either religion have usually wished to admit. Both Christian theologians and Orthodox Jews have underestimated the original Judeo-Christian affinity. It was only gradually that Christianity severed its connection to the Jewish community and became transformed into a gentile religion.

(My People: The Story of the Jews, New York: Behrman House, Inc. / Random House, 1968, 104-106)



Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Refutation of James White: Moses' Seat, the Bible, and Tradition, Part IV

[White's words will be in blue; my former words in green]

Previous links:


The eight parts of my reply are in response to the eight parts of White's critique: the part numbers correspond. Hence, I am now replying to White's Part IV.


I would like to expand, momentarily, on a thought with which I closed the last installment in this series. Mr. Armstrong is right to say that the text does not provide us with a direct listing of what the Pharisees did or did not teach when speaking in the synagogue. That can only be determined on the basis of other texts, if at all . . .

Good. But it's not like we are historically ignorant; as if no source outside of the Bible can help us learn what they taught (or the subsequent history of Judaism).

(and I believe such texts as Matthew 15 do tell us a good bit about that).

We learn some things, but not nearly enough for White's sweepingly negative, unqualified rejection of both the Pharisees and also of tradition outside the bounds of what sola Scriptura permits.

But is it truly a "gratuitous" assumption on my part, based upon sola scriptura to believe that there is no warrant here for believing that the text is relevant to an establishment of some second source of divine authority in the views of the Lord Jesus?

Yes. It's presuppositional-type apologetics, which is not particularly compelling for anyone who does not already accept it on faith. See my critique of that form of apologetics.

I firmly believe so, and once again the grounds for this is not a gratuitous assumption, but that wonderful thing called context. As I pointed out originally, these words are the introduction to a lengthy pronouncement of woe and judgment upon the scribes and Pharisees.

I dealt with the context of Matthew 23 and the Pharisees in general and their theological relationship to early Christianity in the last installment. White's fallacy is that He sees Jesus rebuking them for hypocrisy and corruption, and incorrectly, illogically concludes that He therefore must deny that they have any authority at all. This has been the usual historic Protestant response (especially among those, who -- like Baptists and even Lutherans -- want to drive a big, unbiblical wedge between Law and Grace, as if they are literally antithetical). The Moses' seat issue (as well as continued Christian observance of sacrifices and matters of the Law in one form or another) precisely shows that they still do have authority. This can be fully harmonized with Matthew 23 and the scathing denunciations, rightly-understood. No problem there . . .

But White has a huge problem squaring this other data with the notion that Jesus was absolutely rejecting both the Pharisees and Tradition outside the Bible (however one defines "Bible" at that early stage of canonization). I give more biblical evidences for my position in my book, which I will cite as necessary, in due course. White may or may not respond to those, with either a real rational reply, or just more boilerplate and standard, ultimately ineffective sola Scriptura rhetoric, which doesn't truly take into account the nature or strength of objections. I'm answering as I read his eight-part critique, so I don't know what he does later on in the series. I strongly suspect that he will try to avoid and evade many relevant issues, because that has always been my experience with him in the past. So I will state my predictions on that now, and the reader can see -- with me -- whether it comes true or not.

As we will see, Armstrong is forced, in his attempt to force Matthew 23 into his theological mold, to speak of how indebted the early Christians were to the Pharisees, and to in essence speak positively about them.

I don't have to force it into any "mold"; I simply have to highlight, document, and follow the facts: from the Bible and history. I don't need to force those facts into anything that they aren't. White is the one who must do that, because the facts in this instance go against his "pet theory." Therefore, he is the one forced (by necessity of his unproven presuppositions) to minimize any positive historical fact concerning the Pharisees, or any of their contributions to early Christian theology. He can certainly try to do this, but he won't succeed, because the historical evidences are too compelling.

And while one may well say positive things about Pharisees in various contexts (I would argue the issue of their traditions would not be one of those contexts),

Again, he can try to argue and believe this way, but it won't succeed, because there were plenty of these traditions that the early Christians adopted wholesale. It's impossible to make a blanket condemnation of all their traditions. Jesus didn't do that, so neither should Mr. White.

. . . this passage in Matthew 23 is singularly contradictory to such a discussion.

Not in the slightest, as already shown in my last reply. This is very simple logic, but White commits a rather elementary (but momentous in its results) fallacy, which is common when one is trying to defend a position in the teeth of contrary facts; the facts and logic are the first thing to go.

The fact of the matter is that Armstrong's comments do not flow from the text at all. His position does not start with a recognition of the context of the text being examined. Instead, he clearly proceeds from the position demanded of him by Rome.

Sheer nonsense. Anyone can see that I have incorporated the context into my analysis, and it has not been a happy result for White's position. White is far more forced by his sola Scriptura position to interpret the passage in a particular (eisegetical) way, than I am forced by "Rome." It so happens that nothing here contradicts Catholic teaching about tradition. Plenty, however, contradicts Protestant false, unbiblical tradition of sola Scriptura.

The fact that these words must be heard in a condemnatory, not congratulatory, context, must be kept in mind. And when we do this, we see that the fact that these men sat in positions of leadership within the people of God only increases their guilt. This theme will build to a crescendo in the following verses.

This doesn't undermine the fact that Jesus told His followers to "practice and observe whatever they tell you" (thus, they have authority), "but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice" (authority does not preclude hypocrisy and bad example; and the latter do not forbid
continuing authority) -- Matthew 23:1-3.

Armstrong continues:

Secondly, White's assumption that Jesus is referring literally to Pharisees sitting on a seat in the synagogue and reading (the Old Testament only) -- and that alone -- is more forced and woodenly literalistic than the far more plausible interpretation that this was simply a term denoting received authority.

(p. 47)

Of course, my whole point (and this is clear when the sections DA did not include are read with the citation) is that Jesus is addressing synagogue worship and the position the Pharisees have taken in that worship. The disciples (and the crowds, v. 2) would know to what He referred by the mere reference to Moses' seat, and to the primary functions in synagogue worship of that seat. It was a position of honor to read from the Word of God, and Jesus' admonition is to do what they tell you in that context, but not to do what they practice.

If by this, White means more than a literal sitting in the seat, then good. His phrase, "sitting on Moses' seat" suggested to me a literal chair, and folks sitting in it. I stand corrected if I misread him. Hypocrisy is still being referred to, and that is a different issue from authority.

If Armstrong wishes to expand Moses' seat beyond the role it had in the synagogue and include within it some kind of "received authority" including the ability to bind men to extra-scriptural traditional teachings (which is, after all, what Armstrong is driving at), . . .

The Pharisees did indeed believe in "extra-scriptural traditional teachings." This is the whole point. There was plenty of "tradition in that tradition," both written and oral. Thus, if these Pharisees still possessed authority, according to our Lord Jesus, then that would obviously include oral tradition as well, because that's what they believed in their system. They weren't bound to arbitrary, man-made rules of faith such as sola Scriptura. But we mustn't have that! We must pretend that this authority extended only to a sola Scriptura-like, Bible-Only mentality, completely overlooking the role of tradition (particularly oral) in mainstream Pharisaical thought.

They had authority, and we know the nature of this authority. It's a simple historical question, easily-answered. But if one doesn't like the implications of the answer, then one starts minimizing, ignoring, dismissing things that go against one's pet hypothesis (as White is -- quite openly -- doing presently). And this type of dynamic and "canned response" was exactly what my book dealt with: the processes of rationalization and evasion that occur when faced with "anomalous" biblical and historical facts. White is a classic, almost quintessential case of this process-in-progress. That's why I cited him regarding Moses' Seat. His current responses merely confirm what we already knew about the incoherent and forced nature of his position. For that, I heartily thank him: for being such a picture-perfect textbook example of the very thing my book was devoted to examining.

. . . some explanation must be offered for why Jesus specifically limits their authority as He does.

I see no specific limits. Where are they? White thinks he sees some. Let's see what he can come up with:

He tells His disciples and the crowds not to do what they do. Well, what do they do? The rest of Matthew 23 tells us. In essence, they were hypocrites (v. 28).

Exactly, just like many Christians today are. For example, there are some Christians who are such hypocrites and rigid legalists that they can't even recognize certain entire classes of other Christians, or acknowledge any good thing that other Christians (whom they define as non-Christians and in "darkness" on no legitimate grounds whatsoever) do -- even when they would totally agree with that particular thing! So the worst aspects of the corruptions of the Pharisees definitely live on today, in the equally-unworthy traditions of certain backward, muddleheaded, irrationally and uncharitably judgmental, theologically-obtuse sectors of Christianity.

And what was one of the main ways they demonstrated their hypocrisy? Matthew 15:1-8 tells us: the binding of extra-biblical traditions upon men's backs in contradiction to the Word of God.

This was one particular corruption of a tradition, that was unbiblical, or contrary to the Bible. That doesn't prove that no legitimate tradition whatever exists: one that is not technically included in the letter of the Bible, yet in harmony with it. White would love the text to prove all that, but it clearly does not, so all he can do is engage in wishful thinking, and greatly exaggerate the implications of the text: basically read into it what he wants to see (which is both eisegesis and fallacious circular reasoning). The text itself cannot at all hold all the weight which White is attaching to it. And other clear biblical texts (many of which I've already noted) contradict White's interpretation of this one.

So, if Jesus told His disciples and the crowds that they should not "do according to their deeds," is He not telling them that they must examine those deeds by some standard and judge them to be wanting?

Yes. If one particular tradition of theirs contradicts the Bible, then it is a false tradition, and people ought not to be bound to it. That is, if they commit the hypocrisy of not making sure their actions are in harmony with the Law, rightly-understood in the light of the Bible, then they should not be imitated in that respect. We have no disagreement insofar as that goes.

And what is that standard? The answer is clear.

It sure is: the Bible and received, correct tradition, which is consistent with that Bible.

That is why I said Jesus was not telling the crowds to quit the synagogue or begin a revolution by throwing the Pharisees out, but He was freeing them from the ungodly control the Pharisees had over the "am ha'aretz," the "people of the land," who were told by the Pharisees that unless they acted and lived like them, they would never have the grace of God.

We mustn't imitate sinners. I couldn't agree more.

No, Jesus says, for they are hypocrites, and He is about to pronounce an entire series of woes upon them.

Indeed; yet he doesn't take away their authority. As that is the subject at hand (is there an authority not technically, strictly confined to the words of the Bible?) , most of the above argumentation of Mr. White is a non sequitur, and much ado about nothing, accomplishing nothing. As we (hopefully) get into more specifics and substantiation for each of our views, that will become all the more clear. But you must give White credit for trying so hard to support a position which is so impossible to uphold, based on the biblical record. You know: give him an E for effort . . . it's very tough to "prove" something that is untrue. It takes a lot more work, and is incomparably more frustrating. I'm having a wonderful time, though, because truth is a joy to discover and present (as well as much easier), and I can simply follow the biblical and historical evidence where it leads. Praise God!

END OF PART IV