Sunday, April 09, 2006

Priests, Levites, & Josiah's Destruction of the High Places: Closer to Sola Scriptura or Catholicism? (vs. "CPA"), Part I

This was a very interesting discussion indeed: from the Pontifications blog. I absolutely love the subject matter, and have learned a great deal about certain OT happenings and beliefs: especially concerning the "high places": usually mountaintops where various Israelites worshiped prior to the Temple and afterwards (though mostly in an idolatrous manner by that point). "CPA" was originally making an argument that the elements from OT history discussed suggest an analogy to sola Scriptura and the Protestant rule of faith and conception of authority. I disagreed and held that they were, rather, viable primitive developments of what later became the Catholic Church. His words will be in green. Citations from Protestant reference works will be in purple. John Henry Cardinal Newman's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

. . . the Newman theory that without an infallible organ of authority there is no revelation. There is one big problem with this, that no infallible organ authority existed under the Old Covenant, nor has anyone ever claimed that such an authority ever existed. Was there no revelation at the time of Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, or Zechariah?

Case in point: the Hezekian and Josian reformations, in which royal power pushed through a radical and unpopular centralization of traditionally uncentralized Yahwistic worship, solely on the basis of the text of Moses. (They also abolished pagan cults, but that was long the object of traditional denunciation, and so would not be a point of controversy between traditional and reforming Yahwists). I have set forth the issues here. Can Catholics produce any arguments that their principles would not land them squarely on the anti-centralizing, anti-Josiah/Hezekiah side?

. . . The implication I see is that not just Adam, Noah, and Abraham, but Moses, David, Isaiah, Zechariah, the whole crew in fact of prophets before Christ, were not given any revelation in the Newmanian sense, since no authority - not the High Priest, not the priests as a college, not the Levites, not the kings, not the prophets can be said to be an authority - in the Newman sense - for the determination of what was said in their revelations.

. . . Newman . . . speaks of how "the very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide".

He argues that:

We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints; it disappoints us, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian’s reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: "How can I, unless some man shall guide me?" (emphasis added).

I fail to see how completed vs. unfolding resolves this dilemma: "A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given." Did revelation forbid worship and sacrifices to Yahweh at high places? The law of Moses seemed to say yes. But all tradition said no. Who decides?

God might have decided to do things differently in the New Covenant, although all the contrasts between New and Old would seem to indicate that LESS extraordinary authority is needed in the new than the old: e.g.


"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

"No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jer. 31).
or


"They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth." (1 John 2)
But the Newman contention is that revelation by its nature for certainty demands an authoritative organ to interpret it. The OT case proves Newman wrong. It still might be true that God has decided to do things differently in the NT, but that has to be proven on the merits, not simply assumed as being part of "the very idea of revelation" speaking to us through the "voice of nature."

Oh, I forgot to add this categorical statement of Newman’s:

"And if the very claim to infallible arbitration in religious disputes is of so weighty importance and interest in all ages of the world, much more is it welcome at a time like the present, when the human intellect is so busy, and thought so fertile, and opinion so manifold." (emphasis added).

I consider the case closed, at least on what Newman meant. He meant, no infallible arbitration, no revelation, ever, any time, period, end of statement.

This is a decent, respectable argument, but it can be given a solid answer. I intend to do so. First of all, let's clarify (lest it be misunderstood) that Newman is not saying that it is intrinsically impossible for a revelation to exist without an infallible interpreter, but rather, that whenever in fact revelation is given by God, He provides an authoritative interpretation. This may not have been strictly infallible under the Old Covenant, I grant, but it was a strong authority (and far closer or analogous to the Catholic model than to any Protestant model). I would contend that with the New Covenant, more provision was made for protection from error, commensurate with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who would guide us into all truth. That gives us much more assurance and protection than the Jews had before the indwelling and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is to be expected and would itself be quite harmonious with Newmanian development.

One must also (as a preliminary) examine the context of the statement of Newman which you cite (from an article on this blog). It is from the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Part I, Chapter 2. On the Antecedent Argument in behalf of Developments in Christian Doctrine, Section 2. An Infallible Developing Authority to be Expected; part 12. Here is that section in its entirety (with the one line quote bolded):

The common sense of mankind does but support a conclusion thus forced upon us by analogical considerations. It feels that the very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide, and that an infallible one; not a mere abstract declaration of Truths unknown before to man, or a record of history, or the result of an antiquarian research, but a message and a lesson speaking to this man and that. This is shown by the popular notion which has prevailed among us since the Reformation, that the Bible itself is such a guide; and which succeeded in overthrowing the supremacy of Church and Pope, for the very reason that it was a rival authority, not resisting merely, but supplanting it. In proportion, then, as we find, in matter of fact, that the inspired volume is not adapted or intended to subserve that purpose, are we forced to revert to that living and present Guide, who, at the era of our rejection of her, had been so long recognized as the dispenser of Scripture, according to times and circumstances, and the arbiter of all true doctrine and holy practice to her children. We feel a need, and she alone of all things under heaven supplies it. We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints; it disappoints us, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian’s reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: "How can I, unless some man shall guide me?" The Church undertakes that office; she does what none else can do, and this is the secret of her power. "The human mind," it has been said, "wishes to be rid of doubt in religion; and a teacher who claims infallibility is readily believed on his simple word. We see this constantly exemplified in the case of individual pretenders among ourselves. In Romanism the Church pretends to it; she rids herself of competitors by forestalling them. And probably, in the eyes of her children, this is not the least persuasive argument for her infallibility, that she alone of all Churches dares claim it, as if a secret instinct and involuntary misgivings restrained those rival communions which go so far towards affecting it." These sentences, whatever be the errors of their wording, surely express a great truth. The most obvious answer, then, to the question, why we yield to the authority of the Church in the questions and developments of faith, is, that some authority there must be if there is a revelation given, and other authority there is none but she. A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given. In the words of St. Peter to her Divine Master and Lord, "To whom shall we go?" Nor must it be forgotten in confirmation, that Scripture expressly calls the Church "the pillar and ground of the Truth," and promises her as by covenant that "the Spirit of the Lord that is upon her, and His words which He has put in her mouth shall not depart out of her mouth, nor out of the mouth of her seed, nor out of the mouth of her seed’s seed, from henceforth and for ever."

(link to online version of this section)

Note the internal scriptural arguments (as well as the logical and practical ones). In other words: the Bible itself indicates that such an authority would be needed. Acts 8:26 ff.: the passage about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch alluded to by Newman, is a particularly apt example of this biblical teaching, and one of many biblical evidences against sola Scriptura and perspicuity.

Now, is it true that in OT times the people were basically on their own vis-a-vis biblical interpretation, and application of the Mosaic Law. No? Theirs was not a sola Scriptura system, as I once argued at length with a Baptist. Here are some examples:

1) Moses did not just give the Law to the Hebrews; he also taught it:


Exodus 18:15-20 (RSV): 15: And Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God and his decisions." Moses' father-in-law said to him, "What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it alone. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God, and bring their cases to God; and you shall teach them the statutes and the decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do."
2) Aaron, Moses’ brother, is also commanded by God to teach:

Leviticus 10:10-11: You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.
3) Levite priests were to teach Israel the ordinances and law:

A) Deteronomy 33:10: They shall teach Jacob thy ordinances, and Israel thy law; they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt offering upon thy altar. (see 33:8)

B) 2 Chronicles 15:3: For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law; [which was, of course, not the normative situation]

C) Malachi 2:4-8: So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him, that he might fear; and he feared me, he stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts,
4) Ezra read the Law of Moses to the people in Jerusalem (Ezra 8:3). In 8:7-8 we find 13 Levites who assisted Ezra, helped the people to "understand the law" and who "gave the sense." Much earlier, in King Jehoshaphat's reign, we find Levites exercising the same function (2 Chronicles 17:8-9). So the people did indeed understand the law (8:12), but not without much assistance - not merely upon hearing:

Nehemiah 8:1-9: 1: And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel.
2: And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.
3: And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
4: And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden pulpit which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Ma-aseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Misha-el, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand.
5: And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood.
6: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
7: Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Ma-aseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places.
8: And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9: And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
Now, is this "infallibility"? No, we must admit that it doesn’t say that, yet it is very strong. This is authoritative teaching from the "OT Church," so to speak. Moses doesn’t just give a nice, wistful, pleasant sermons to ponder over a steak lunch. He says that "I make them know the statutes of God and his decisions." Of the Levites it is said: "For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts." Ezra and his teaching assistants "gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." This is authoritative teaching! Yet when the Catholic Church merely claims the same prerogative, somehow it is objectionable and some supposedly radical and new thing. It’s exactly what was already happening before.

The NT continues the same notions of guided understanding of the Scriptures. The Ethiopian eunuch says “How can I [understand the Scripture], unless some one guides me?” Other passages concur:

2 Peter 1:20: First of all, you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.

2 Peter 3:15-17: . . . So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability.
Jesus Himself even upholds the teaching authority of the Pharisees, of all people, and based on a Jewish tradition, not found in the OT at all:

Matthew 23:1-3: Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the 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."
I had a huge debate about this with anti-Catholic James White (he never replied to my lengthy counter-replies to all his objections:

So we see that the Bible (both OT and NT) teaches a notion of authority precisely like what we find in the Catholic Church: the three-legged stool of Scripture + Church + Tradition. It does not teach sola Scriptura. But Martin Luther started teaching something very different from this:

But, that there are in the Scriptures some things abstruse, and that all things are not quite plain, is a report spread abroad by the impious Sophists; by whose mouth you speak here, Erasmus . . .

This indeed I confess, that there are many places in the Scriptures obscure and abstruse; not from the majesty of the things, but from our ignorance of certain terms and grammatical particulars; but which do not prevent a knowledge of all the things in the Scriptures . . .

All the things, therefore, contained in the Scriptures, are made manifest, although some places, from the words not being understood, are yet obscure . . .And, if the words are obscure in one place, yet they are clear in another . . . For Christ has opened our understanding to understand the Scriptures . . .

Therefore come forward, you and all the Sophists together, and produce any one mystery which is still abstruse in the Scriptures. But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from their own blindness or want of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth . . . Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God . . .

If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God . . . If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.

(The Bondage of the Will, from translation by Henry Cole, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976, 25-27,29)
Chris's article proves exactly nothing with regard to some supposed support of sola Scriptura and the Lutheran rule of faith, because it is a circular argument, assuming what it purports to prove: that the Bible stands on its own without need of an authoritative interpreter. But I have already shown how the Bible itself and the history which it recounts, bear witness to the fact that it does indeed need that. So Chris can’t just come around and tell us now, "see, Josiah was going by the Bible alone!" "Dr." (?) James White tried to do the same thing in his argument that I responded to in my last book (The Catholic Verses, p. 51). Here is that excerpt:

White, however, writes:

"And who can forget the result of Josiah’s discovery of the Book of the Covenant in 2 Chronicles 34?"

(White, 101)

Indeed, this was a momentous occasion. But if the implication is that the Law was self-evident simply upon being read, per sola Scriptura, this is untrue to the Old Testament, for, again, we are informed in the same book that priests and Levites "taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; they went about through all the cities of Judah and taught among the people" (2 Chron. 17:9), and that the Levites "taught all Israel" (2 Chron. 35:3). They didn’t just read, they taught, and that involved interpretation. And the people had no right of private judgment, to dissent from what was taught.
Chris simply passes over this aspect (just as White had done earlier, citing Ezra, but "forgetting" to point out that Ezra and his scribes were interpreting and giving the "sense" so that the people could understand. Anyone can "win" an argument if they simply assume its conclusion and ignore all counter-evidences in the very Scripture which the argument purports to be self-evident in the main upon reading (i.e., without necessary need of an authoritative Church or interpreter to resolve various disputes on doctrine which incessantly plague Protestants because they have adopted this false, unbiblical principle).

Did revelation forbid worship and sacrifices to Yahweh at high places? The law of Moses seemed to say yes. But all tradition said no. Who decides?

This is the typical Protestant fallacious "either/or" mentality. It's a false dilemma, because the choice presented is "Law of Moses / Torah / Bible" vs. "tradition" (in this case, a false tradition of men). Therefore, Chris simply presupposes for the purpose of this argument (like all good opponents of the doctrines of the Catholic Church) that all "tradition" is bad. But of course, this is not the NT position, which is that there can be such a thing as a good, apostolic, true tradition (many statements from Paul, as well as Jesus), as well as a corrupt (mere) tradition of men.

So if we re-approach the question above, the answer is that the Torah combined with true oral tradition (which all Jews believed to have also been given to Moses at Mt. Sinai) gives one the truth. Such worship was condemned in the Bible, and Mosaic Law. But both the Law and the Bible had become obscured by that time. When Josiah rediscovered them, the true teaching was restored. But this doesn’t prove that all tradition or authoritative teaching is therefore eliminated, simply because there had been a false tradition of such worship! So again Chris argues in a vicious circle.

Sure, God might have decided to do things differently in the New Covenant,

In my particular form of defense, this is not true at all. I contended that the development was consistent: there was strong authority and tradition in the OT, as well as the Bible, and there continues to be in the NT. Both teach the "three-legged stool" notion of authority: not sola Scriptura. For heaven's sake: mainstream Judaism accepted oral tradition right alongside the Torah and the rest of the OT. It was only the liberal Sadducees who denied that (also the afterlife). They were the liberals of the time, and also the sola Scripturists (just as the later heresies like Arians believed in Bible Alone because the apostolic Tradition refuted them and they couldn't appeal to it). But the Sadducees are never called Christians in the NT, whereas Pharisees are (indeed, Paul calls himself one, and Jesus said to follow their teaching, despite their hypocrisy of action).

But the Newman contention is that revelation by its nature for certainty demands an authoritative organ to interpret it.

That’s why I have shown that precisely this is a consistent motif throughout the Bible. You need to deal with those passages, too, not just selectively present ones which you think provide a "slam dunk" for your case.

The OT case proves Newman wrong.

I strongly disagree, based on my previous (biblical) argumentation and I hope you will interact with it.

It still might be true that God has decided to do things differently in the NT, but that has to be proven on the merits, not simply assumed as being part of "the very idea of revelation" speaking to us through the "voice of nature."

Again, my argument shows, I think, that things are not essentially different. Both the OT and NT conform far more closely to the Catholic model, not the Lutheran one, or any other Protestant variant.

END OF PART ONE

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