Friday, November 10, 2006

Reply to "CPA" (Lutheran) Concerning Bogus Notions of the Catholic View of the Bible

By Dave Armstrong (21 February 2005)

CPA has posted on his blog the paper, The Church Did Not Create the Scriptures. It provided an opportunity to criticize Catholic apologists in particular, and by implication (albeit indirectly), the Catholic Church herself. CPA's words will be in blue. A fellow Lutheran's words will be in green.

* * * * *

No matter how many times this big lie is repeated it is not true. Catholics like this "clueless Christian" (her name, not mine, I couldn't make this up if I tried) may write without blushing "For the Councils of the Church wrote and compiled Holy Scripture, and cannot be considered less authoritative than what they wrote." They may buttress these big whoppers with little ones, such as that "various synods of Rome, Hippo and Carthage that 'put the Bible together' between 382 and 419." They may be praised by people like the Pontificator. But it remains a big lie nonetheless.

I agree; it is a big lie. Pointing that out is commendable, but ironically, CPA then proceeds to make out that this is the ["Roman"] Catholic position, as represented by Catholic apologists or else (it is not totally clear in the paper) that Catholic apologists are all out to sea concerning the teachings of the Church they seek to defend. But of course, what Catholic apologists has he consulted in the first place? I'm a published Catholic apologist, with a very popular website. He could conceivably have searched on my site to see what I had to say on the subject (especially since he and I had just debated a topic within the last two weeks). If he had done so, he would have found my paper above, and then maybe would have thought twice about posting this paper.

[UPDATE {added by CPA a few days later}: OK, after reconsidering, I think the "big lie" (shades of Nazism, etc.) language was over the top and uncalled for. But I still think that what Shari deSilva wrote is common, wrong, and worthy of refuting.]

Of course in a sense it's true. If we define the church as including Christ and the apostles, then, sure, the church created the Scriptures. But that's not the issue, is it? The issue is whether the church after the apostles, being built on the foundation of the apostles, created, compiled, or wrote the New Testament.

The Catholic Church's position (and that of most Protestants, and the Orthodox, as far as I know) is that revelation ceased after the death of the apostles. In fact, "clueless Christian's" (Dr. Shari DeSilva's)words, read in context, show what a hatchet job CPA has made of her contentions. She asserts that those in the Church wrote the Bible, not 3rd and 4th-century bishops or what not:
We all agree that Scripture is an authoritative, and infallible guide, yet Christ did not write Scripture, Christ founded a Church who wrote and compiled Scripture instead. These writings included two "infallible" Epistles from St. Peter, making it clear that St. Peter could teach "with infallibility" at least part of the time, even to the most fervent Protestant. Further, most of Holy Scripture was not written immediately after the events of the life of Christ, but was written beginning some 50 odd years AD, and later compiled into what we call the canon of Holy Scripture some 300 years later.
In context, then, what was meant was "the Church" - including the apostles, like Peter. The Bible as we know it was later "compiled" (i.e., the separate issue of canonicity, which is a matter of identifying, not writing, inspired revelation). So I contend that CPA is caricaturing what was stated here. The same sense was expressed in the statement: "Yet, we accept the authority of the various synods of Rome, Hippo and Carthage that 'put the Bible together' between 382 and 419." "Put" here clearly means "compiling" or "canonizing." The only inaccurate (or one might say, poorly-worded) statements are the following:
For the Councils of the Church wrote and compiled Holy Scripture, and cannot be considered less authoritative than what they wrote.
. . . the early Magisterium that wrote and compiled Holy Scripture.
"Clueless Christian" is apparently a recent convert to the Cathoilic Church (the post from which this material was drawn is entitled, "How I Came to the Catholic Faith"). She shouldn't be seen as representative of Catholic apologists as a whole. That's not a knock on her at all (I know very little about her). No one should be regarded as representative of a whole group. Yet CPA's paper goes beyond these statements to bash Catholic apologists, as if this was some common theme vis-a-vis the Bible and Catholic authority. This won't do. If CPA insists on criticizing the Catholic Church, there are plenty of areas where Catholics and Lutherans disagree, without inventing something for the purpose of mere polemics, and making the other "side" look foolish.

Let's look first at how the first two books of the New Testament came to be authoritative. In 1 Thessalonians 5:28, written c. AD 51, Paul writes "I charge you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers." By having his letter read in church, Paul is making it equal to the Old Testament the only Scripture then in existence. Whose authority does he ask? The church? What could that possibly mean? The congregation through its appointed bishop? Paul is simply ordering them to read it, as an apostle with full authority over them. Peter in Antioch? The apostolic synod in Jerusalem headed by James? They didn't even know the letter existed. Paul's authority is simply - to use a phrase that drives foundationalists nuts - self-validating. He is sent by God: if you believe him you are saved, if not you aren't, and no complaint that you didn't have an known authority vouching for his words will save you from God's wrath when you ignore his word.

Sure, apostles had authority. No one I know denies that. But CPA starts to go off here by making out that Paul's authority was exercised independently of the Church. Paul's ministry was not "self-validating." He was initially commissioned by Peter, James, and John (Gal 2:9) to preach to the Gentiles. After his conversion, he went to Jerusalem specifically to see Peter (Gal 1:18). In Acts 15:2-3 we are told that "Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So being sent their way by the church . . ." That is hardly consistent with Paul being the pope, because he was directed by others, as under orders.

When we see Paul and Peter together in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:6-29), we observe that Peter has an authority that Paul doesn't possess. We are told that "after there was much debate, Peter rose and said to them . . . " (15:7). The Bible records his speech, which goes on for five verses. Then it reports that "all the assembly kept silence" (15:12). Paul and Barnabas speak next about "signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles" (15:12). This does not sound like an authoritative pronouncement, as Peter's statement was, but merely a confirmation of Peter's exposition. Then when James speaks, he refers right back to Peter, passing over Paul, "Simeon has related . . . " (15:14). He basically agrees with Peter. Why did James skip right over Paul's comments and go back to what Peter said? That doesn't seem consistent with a notion of Paul being "above" or "equal" to Peter in authority. But it's perfectly consistent with Peter having a preeminent authority. James shows how Peter's words coincide with Scripture. He doesn't mention what Paul said.

Paul and his associates are subsequently "sent off" by the Council, and they "delivered the letter" (15:30; cf. 16:4). Paul was under the authority of the Council, and Peter (along with James, as the bishop of Jerusalem) appears to have presided over it. Paul and Barnabas were referred to as being sent by "the church" (of Antioch: see 14:26). Then they were sent by the Jerusalem Council (15:25,30) which was guided by the Holy Spirit Himself (15:28), back to Antioch (15:30). Peter, on the other hand, is sent by other apostles (8:14). It's a bit different to be sent from an authoritative Council (which included non-apostles) and a local church (which included non-apostles), as opposed to being sent by fellow apostles.

Eminent Protestant Bible scholars F.F. Bruce and James Dunn (neither has ever been accused of being an advocate of Catholicism, as far as I know - Bruce calls himself a "Paulinist") give an account of Peter's role in the Jerusalem Council not inconsistent with mine:
According to Luke, a powerful plea by Peter was specially influential in the achieving of this resolution . . . James the Just, who summed up the sense of the meeting, took his cue from Peter's plea.
(F.F. Bruce, Peter, Stephen, James, and John, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979, 38)
Paul . . . made no attempt to throw his own weight around within the Jerusalem church (Acts 21; cf. 15.12f.)
The compromise, however, is not so much between Peter and Paul . . . as between James and Paul, with Peter in effect the median figure to whom both are subtly conformed (James - see acts 15.13ff. . . . ). Is this not justifiably to be designated 'early catholic'?
(James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 2nd edition, 1990, 112, 356)
Next take the other contender for the first part of the New Testament: Galatians. Read Galatians 1-2, and what strikes you again is Paul's absolute refusal to concede an inch to any foundationalist's demand for an answer to the question "says who?" Paul was sent by God to preach Christ, and even if the whole world denies his message, then the whole world is wrong and he is right, because he speaks God’s word. And if the Galatians don't just accept that on faith Paul's authority as apostle - not that of the church in Jerusalem, not Peter, not anyone or anything - then they will die in their sins without appeal.

St. Paul possessed extremely high authority. No one denies that. He was an apostle, and wrote most of the New Testament. He was the greatest missionary of all time. But he was under the authority of the Church: as shown. The fallacy is to try to separate him, as if he wasn't bound to what, for example, the Jerusalem Council (i.e., corporate Church authority) decreed.

Those familiar with 1 and 2 Corinthians will recognize Paul's similar claim to self-authenticating authority in those books as well.

It is not in opposition to his position as being "sent" by the Church (see the several passages cited above), or else we have biblical contradictions.

Paul's letter to Colossians is likewise ordered to be read in church with no reference to any other authority (4:16).

So what? It is fundamental to biblical exegesis and hermeneutics that we compare Scripture with Scripture, for a full and accurate understanding. The other verses, showing that Paul functioned within a community need to be taken into account. Whether he does or doesn't mention other authority in his letters is irrelevant. Not mentioning something doesn't make it nonexistent. We have additional evidences to incorporate into our understanding of Paul and other early apostles. The same thing applies to St. John (also cited by CPA in the next paragraph).

Now think, what authority could councils in AD 382 or AD 419 add to the authority of 1 Thessalonians? Or to that of Galatians, or 1 Corinthians, or Revelation?

None. They can only decree authoritatively that these books are indeed Scripture, so debates on canonicity can come to an end after some 350 years.

Once the apostles died, however, the problem remained of determining which books really were by those whom they said they were written . . . Let's be clear what this problem is and is not. It is not evaluating the Scriptures to see if what they write is true or not, in whole or in part. Still less is it "writing and compiling" the Scriptures.

That's correct.

Rather it is authenticating an already existing written testament, a task which does NOT give the authenticator any right to interpret the content of the document.

Technically, no. But the Church was given authority to guide interpretation of Scripture by Jesus Himself. Again, we clearly see this authority in practice at the Council of Jerusalem. I wrote in my book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants:
Acts 15:28-29: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
Acts 16:4: "As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem."
These passages offer a proof that the early Church held to a notion of the infallibility of Church councils, and to a belief that they were especially guided by the Holy Spirit (precisely as in Catholic Church doctrine concerning ecumenical councils). Accordingly, Paul takes the message of the conciliar decree with him on his evangelistic journeys and preaches it to the people. The Church had real authority; it was binding and infallible.
This is a far cry from the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura -- which presumes that councils and popes can err, and thus need to be corrected by Scripture.
. . . A Protestant might reply that since this Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts consisted of apostles, and since an apostle proclaimed the decree, both possessed a binding authority that was later lost (as Protestants accept apostolic authority as much as Catholics do). Furthermore, the incidents were recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture. They could argue that none of this is true of later Catholic councils; therefore, the attempted analogy is null and void.
But this is a bit simplistic, since Scripture is our model for everything, including Church government, and all parties appeal to it for their own views. If Scripture teaches that a council of the Church is authoritative and binding, then it is implausible and unreasonable to assert that no future council can be so simply because it is not conducted by apostles.
Scripture is our model for doctrine and practice (nearly all Christians agree on this). The Bible doesn't exist in an historical vacuum, but has import for the day-to-day life of the Church and Christians for all time. St. Paul told us to imitate him (see, e.g., 2 Thess. 3:9). And he went around proclaiming decrees of the Church. No one was at liberty to disobey these decrees on the grounds of "conscience," or to declare by "private judgment" that they were in error (per Luther).
It would be foolish to argue that how the apostles conducted the governance of the Church has no relation whatsoever to how later Christians engage in the same task. It would seem rather obvious that Holy Scripture assumes that the model of holy people (patriarchs, prophets, and apostles alike) is to be followed by Christians. This is the point behind entire chapters, such as (notably) Hebrews 11.
When the biblical model agrees with their theology, Protestants are all too enthusiastic to press their case by using Scriptural examples. The binding authority of the Church was present here, and there is no indication whatever that anyone was ever allowed to dissent from it. That is the fundamental question. Catholics wholeheartedly agree that no new Christian doctrines were handed down after the apostles. Christian doctrine was present in full from the beginning; it has only organically developed since.
. . . Calvin believes that Scripture is self-authenticating. I appeal, then, to the reader to judge the above passages. Do they seem to support the notion of an infallible Church council (apart from the question of whether the Catholic Church, headed by the pope, is that Church)? . . . For Catholics, the import of Acts 15:28 is clear and undeniable.
(pp. 7-9, 11)
Contrary to CPA, and Calvin and Luther, then, the Church authoritatively interpreted Scripture. That doesn't mean that the Church dictates every jot and tittle of biblical exegesis and scholarship, to be disabused of that common myth about the Catholic Church), but it does mean that the Church has authority to say: "this far in terms of the parameters of speculation on doctrines x, y, and z, and no more," or "this is heretical interpretation of Bible verse a." That's what took place at the Jerusalem Council, and there is no reason to think that it wasn't the way God wanted the Church to be run henceforth. We are to imitate the apostles, and this is how they acted when it came to Church government.

I don't wish to get into a full-fledged discussion on the process of canonization, as I have dealt with that in several other places, but I want to correct an erroneous statement:

All agree on the following books being truly written by whom they say they were written, and hence to be read in the churches as authoritative: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 Peter, and 1 John. These books together contain over 85% of the current New Testament, including all of the most theologically significant parts. About the authenticity of these books no ancient Christian ever expressed any doubt whatsoever. And hence no ancient Christian ever needed a church council to establish their authority. [emphasis added]

In fact, in several cases, some of the above books were either not recognized as canonical, or were seemingly unknown and/or not cited, by various Church Fathers:
Justin Martyr's "Gospels" contain apocryphal literature.
The Book of Acts was scarcely known or cited in the period up to 160.
Even the Pauline corpus, when cited, was only rarely referred to as Scripture, up to 160.
Phillipians not recognized: Justin Martyr.
1 Timothy not recognized: Justin Martyr.
2 Timothy not recognized: Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria.
Titus not recognized: Polycarp, Justin Martyr.
Philemon not recognized: Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria.
1 Peter was generally not considered canonical up to 160. It was first accepted by Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria.
1 John was generally not considered canonical up to 160. It was first accepted by Irenaeus, and not recognized by Origen.
During the period of 160-250, there were several other books which were accepted as canonical:
Epistle of Barnabas: Clement of Alexandria, Origen.
Shepherd of Hermas: Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria.
The Didache: Clement of Alexandria, Origen.
The Apocalypse of Peter: Clement of Alexandria.
The Acts of Paul: Origen.
Gospel of Hebrews: Clement of Alexandria.
Sources (all Protestant):
J.D. Douglas, editor, New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962 edition, 194-198;
F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd edition, 1983, 232, 300, 309-310, 626, 641, 724, 1049, 1069;
Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible, Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, 109-112,117-125.
This is more than enough to contradict CPA's strange statement above. Yet CPA writes:

The debates raged between theologians, Bishops, and Church Fathers, for several centuries as to which books were inspired and which ones weren't." But this is not the case.

It certainly was the case, as just shown. It's fascinating that the Muratorian canon should be brought up, which only proves my point. Following the very link CPA has provided, we find the following, written by the author of the fragment:
Moreover, the epistle of Jude and two bearing the name of John are counted in the catholic Church; and the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour. We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church.
The Muratorian Canon excludes Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter and includes (as seen in the quote) The Apocalypse of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon.

No one dared to utter the idea that the church having created the Scriptures therefore acquired some controlling right of interpretation over that text. No, that was left for Catholic apologists today.

Was it? It's somewhat amusing that CPA also mentions Origen as a chronicler of some "85% of the current New Testament, including all of the most theologically significant parts" right before this statement where he pretends that sola Scriptura was the rule of faith of the early Church, since the same Origen wrote:
When heretics show us the canonical Scriptures, in which every Christian believes and trusts, they seem to be saying:'Lo, he is in the inner rooms [ie., the word of truth] ' (Matt 24.6). But we must not believe them, nor leave the original tradition of the Church, nor believe otherwise than we have been taught by the succession in the Church of God.
(Homilies on Matthew, Homily 46,PG 13:1667; ante A.D. 254)
St. Irenaeus had written even earlier:
True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].
(Against Heresies, 4,33:8; written between A.D. 180-199, in ANF, I:508)
St. Basil the Great wrote:
To refuse to follow the Fathers, not holding their declaration of more authority than one's own opinion, is conduct worthy of blame, as being brimful of self-sufficiency.
(EpistleTo the Canonicae, 52:1; A.D. 370,in NPNF2, VIII:155)
Now on to the comments on this post. Thomas wrote:
To be fair, Roman Catholic doctrine does not actually require Catholics to say such loopy things as 'the Church created the Scriptures', although as you point out too many apologists do just that, and in so doing sink their whole enterprise.
The first clause is correct, but the second is not. But let's assume for the sake of argument that the second clause is correct also. What evidence and proof did CPA present for this claim? Well, one person (who may not even claim to be an apologist) who is a recent convert from Anglicanism, and her words had to be taken out of context in order to support the charge. I looked at Pontificator's blog to find out more about "Clueless Christian." It turns out that she doesn't claim to be an "apologist," just as I suspected:
Personally, I believe that his article is far too harsh in its critique. Shari is not a Catholic apologist nor a theologian. She is a thoughtful believer who has shared with us, in non-polemical fashion, the whys of her conversion to Catholicism. CPA should have cut her some serious slack, in my humble pontificatorial opinion.

So that is hardly "proof" of a universal incompetence and supposed widespread absurd claim about the authority of Scripture. Pontificator thuis wrote, in the same excellent article (well worth reading, as a follow-up in this discussion to this paper, and CPA's):
CPA has assigned himself the task of exposing the big Catholic lie that the Church "created" Scripture. In fairness to Catholic apologists, I would like to ask CPA to provide citations from respected writers who have actually said this. (Shari, for example, does not use the word create in her article.) Perhaps this is a popular way of formulating the matter, but I have not run across it.
The next "proof" is from Catholic apologist Bob Stanley. CPA wrote (citing his words):
Catholic apologists like to write as if, "Christians had the Old Testament Septuagint, and literally hundreds of other books from which to choose. The Catholic Church realized early on that she had to decide which of these books were inspired and which ones weren't. The debates raged between theologians, Bishops, and Church Fathers, for several centuries as to which books were inspired and which ones weren't." But this is not the case.
Nothing in Bob's statement supports the notion that "the Church created the Scriptures." He was discussing canonization, for heaven's sake. Does CPA not understand the difference between writing inspired Scripture and authoritatively recognizing it and proclaiming it to be what it intrinsically is already? One may quibble about the degree of dispute on various books, I suppose, but the fact of significant disputes is undeniable. So that's 0 for 2. He also cited "Pontificator," who is an Anglican priest (though some may argue that he is a "Catholic apologist," given the leading emphasis on his blog), in his first paragraph. But all he said in the link provided was the following:
The Church and the Clueless Christian
Dr. Shari DeSilva has posted an article on her website, The Clueless Christian, describing her spiritual journey and her decision to leave the Episcopal Church. I don't think she's nearly so clueless as she intimates by her blog title.
Somehow, by some inexplicable "reasoning" unknown to me (and, I suspect, many others), CPA determines that Catholic apologists (en masse) are promulgating this nonsense that he rightly calls a "big lie." To "prove" this, he cites a recent convert who probably hasn't even claimed to be an apologist, a second real apologist who claims nothing of the sort, and an Anglican priest who merely noted that the first person wrote her conversion story (which contained the portion which CPA had to quote out of context in order to "demonstrate" his absurd generalization). I hope the reader may forgive and indulge me a bit when I say that I am completely unimpressed by this "case" that CPA seems to think is so compelling.

Then an inimitable colleague of CPA's chimes in:

The weird thing about such arguments is that it sounds like they're saying the letters of the apostles weren't inspired before later councils decided they were.

What's "weird" here is that nothing which has been cited suggests anything of the sort. But it's easy to simply state that they do. That may make for great polemics and rhetoric (in the worst sense of that term) and sophistry, but it is very bad reasoning.
And Chris Jones opines:
The RC apologists are being quite sloppy to assert that the Church "created" the Scriptures, . . .
He offers no evidence that this is a general shortcoming of "The RC apologists." So we can dismiss his statement as an unsupported bald assertion with no content (until it is demonstrated). Even if he were to bring forth two or three legitimate, indisputable examples, it would still not be sufficient to establish that this is a general failing (a far greater claim, and hence, more in need of solid substantiation), so as to justify the sweeping language being utilized here by (now) three Protestant commenters. CPA responded again:

Thomas, I recognize our "clueless Christian" was not being the smartest expression of Catholic apologetical literature. But what just stonkered me was that NO ONE in her comment box, or in her trackback or anything, expressed any reservations about this. This kind of "sloppiness" seems to be becoming the poular Catholic apologetic position by default.

First of all, if he recognizes this, then he should revise his absurdly general language. Secondly, lack of a direct rebuke in comments boxes on a blog which may receive relatively little traffic (I don't know) hardly constitutes strong evidence that CPA's caricature of what she wrote is "becoming the popular Catholic apologetic position by default." I'm one of these apologists, and it is not my position. I have the credentials, the publications, the vocation as a real, live apologist. So why didn't CPA consult someone like me to prove his contentions? As soon as I found out about this paper and thread, I responded, and we have this paper. Does that not count as good counter-evidence for the (false) claim? He may reply that I am but one person. Very well, then: my challenge to him is to go out and find other apologists at least as credentialed or published as I am who think anything differently than I do about it.

Catholic "Secret Agent Man" made a rather delightfully ironic response to the same statement from CPA:
That's rather odd, I think, given that your post describes how 'stonkered' you are about the "big lie" and "whopper" being put forth by Catholicism in general and Clueless Christian in particular. As the Pontificator points out, you make a rather bizarre claim for Scriptural authority, namely that the entire NT was written by the apostles. It is manifestly not so. Yet not one of your commentators point that out. So, tell me, is your gaffe an example of apologetic sloppiness or of Lutheranism's big lie? I'll accept either judgment you choose.
After some "damage control" from CPA's friend (green text), Secret Agent Man counter-replied:
I'm quite willing to accept your conclusion, namely that CPA's resting their apostolicity on having been somehow written by the apostles themselves, is simply the result of hasty and/or sloppy writing. I only ask that he and you allow the same charity to Clueless Christian's small gaffe. That would, of course, entail some expression of regret for having hastily (sloppily?) called Clueless Christian (and, by extension, the Catholic apologetics community) a pack of liars who tell "big lies" about the Gospel.
He replied:

The apostles never appealed to the collective authority of the Church - they spoke and expected the entire Church to listen on the basis of their apostolic office alone.

I already refuted this above. I'll repeat it again (because repetition is a great teaching and memorization tool):
Paul and his associates are subsequently "sent off" by the Council, and they "delivered the letter" (15:30; cf. 16:4) . . . Paul and Barnabas . . . were sent by the Jerusalem Council (15:25,30) which was guided by the Holy Spirit Himself (15:28), back to Antioch (15:30).
In Antioch, Paul and Barnabas "delivered the letter" (Acts 15:30; cf 16:4) - of the authoritative decree of the council. Josh hangs himself again with his excessive, overzealous language ("never"). Perhaps he will learn to refrain from doing this, the more he is corrected. It was in his letter to the Galatians that Paul mentions (2:9) having been initially commissioned by Peter, James, and John to preach to the Gentiles. That's now two strong evidences of "collective authority" over against a supposed "Lone Ranger Apostleship" (i.e., Protestant individualism anachronistically forced onto the early Church and the apostles).

Paul simply says to the recipients of his letters, "I am an apostle, you have to listen to what I say."

He does do that indeed. But it doesn't rule out the collective, anymore than the authority of a bishop today in Catholicism rules out councils and popes. It simply isn't required logically. The one thing doesn't prove the other.

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