Monday, November 17, 2008

Reply to C. Michael Patton on "Sola Scriptura", Part Four (Tradition and Apostolic Succession)

By Dave Armstrong (11-17-08)

This paper responds to Parts Five and Six of Michael Patton's multi-part series in defense of sola Scriptura. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

The New Testament does speak of the importance of tradition, but the tradition that is referred to in these passages is the Gospel message that was eventually recorded in the New Testament (regula fidei). There is no reason to believe that the New Testament writers were speaking of some infallible “unwritten Tradition” that was separate from the message of the New Testament and that was to be passed on through an unbroken succession of bishops throughout the ages.

In this sense, “tradition” simply refers to the Gospel message. It was handed down in two forms, as it always has, written and unwritten. But these two forms are not distinct bodies of information, and there is no reason to think that they are. As time goes on, all tradition that is not codified in some form becomes increasingly unreliable (think phone tag). That is why the Gospel message was ultimately preserved in the Apostles’ writing and canonized in the New Testament.

[see image-chart]

Now, in a large (but not comprehensive) sense what Michael writes above is true, and agreeable to a Catholic. Remember, we believe, or can believe, in the material sufficiency of Scripture (just not its formal sufficiency as a rule off faith). In my first reply, I cited Vatican II: Dei Verbum (ch. II, sec. 9):
Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.
On the other hand, Michael's aim as a proponent of sola Scriptura is to ultimately discount tradition (even apostolic tradition as opposed to false human traditions) as a separate entity in any sense, by collapsing it into Scripture itself. But this is yet another classic Protestant circular argument. 

Scripture itself never equates tradition with Scripture. What it does (as I have shown in the last installment, with all the scriptural proofs) is equate "gospel" and "tradition" and "Word of God" and "doctrine" and "holy commandment" and "faith". All are described synonymously as having been "delivered" and "received."

"Word of God," however, is not (biblically-speaking), the same thing as written Scripture. It is a much larger entity, including prophetic utterances, apostolic proclamation, Jesus' non-recorded words to His disciples, etc. Tradition is never confined to the letter of Scripture. That's why this claim is logically circular. Michael and Protestants may assume it, but they have no biblical basis for doing so. Ironically, it is itself a mere tradition of men. Here is the reasoning, laid out in a plain way:
1) The Protestant claims that (true, authentic) tradition is simply the gospel message, which is encapsulated and crystallised in the New Testament. It is (insofar as it is true tradition), Scripture itself.
2) But the Bible never states this.
3) The Bible does indeed equate "tradition" and "word of God" and "gospel".
4) But the biblical usage of "word of God" does not simply mean "written Scripture."
5) "Word of God" is a larger category of utterances ultimately inspired or at least directly guided by God.
6) Tradition and Scripture thus both derive (while being categorically if not theologically distinct) from this larger entity: the "Word of God."
7) Therefore, Vatican II (Dei Verbum), in using the terminology of "sacred tradition and sacred Scripture . . . flowing from the same divine wellspring" closely reflects the biblical outlook on authority.
8) Protestantism, however, departs from the biblical understanding, by completely identifying tradition with written Scripture and denying a larger "Word of God" that lies behind both.
9) Since the Bible never states that tradition = Scripture and nothing but Scripture, this notion is an unbiblical tradition of men.
10) But unbiblical traditions of men are false.
11) The tradition of stating that tradition = Scripture is self-defeating because it involves simultaneously the following viciously contradictory propositions:
A) All true tradition = Scripture.
B) Our preliminary adopted true tradition: A (upon which we base our overall notion of tradition, and which serves as our primary definition) is not found in Scripture.
C) But then it must be a false tradition, because it fails to meet its own (non-reasoned) assumed criterion of being in Scripture, which is tradition.
D) A false, self-defeating tradition clearly cannot be the basis of all true tradition.
E) Therefore the result that flows from an already self-defeating preliminary principle is itself self-defeating and therefore false.
F) Ergo, A must be rejected as irrational and self-contradictory.
12) It might also be said to be a logically circular notion, based on the following reasoning:
A) The Bible refers to tradition.
B) (Hidden, unproven assumption): it must be referring only to itself and not a larger category.
C) Therefore, tradition = the Bible.
[no true logical reasoning chain: the conclusion is assumed and involves the same claim of the first proposition, merely stated in a reverse fashion: hence, it is logically circular, or what is called "begging the question"]
That biblical "tradition" is more encompassing than just the Bible (which does not equate with necessarily ever being contradictory to that Bible: just larger), has already been established in biblical arguments made earlier in my multi-part reply: in the facts of how "traditions" are referred to, from biblical statements of more information that was received and discussed than merely what was written, by direct allusions to oral traditions delivered and received, and by how the Bible utilizes the terminology of "Word of God".

Moreover, there is the additional consideration of Jesus' and NT writers' acceptance of oral tradition: the evidence for which is laid out nicely in David Palm's classic apologetics article, Oral Tradition in the New Testament (This Rock, May 1995).

Lastly, there are a multitude of allusions and direct citations of the "deuterocanonical" (or so-called "apocryphal") books in the New Testament. Since Protestants consider these non-inspired and thus not part of the Bible, to authoritatively cite them is, from their perspective, citing a purely non-biblical tradition. But Jesus and the Bible writers do this quite often, which goes to show that there is a much larger Christian tradition, than the Bible Alone (i.e., the latter as defined by Protestants, who deny that the deuterocanon is Scripture; for us, it is citing of Scripture, which is no problem at all). 

I'd like to expand upon one of my lines of reasoning. The terminology "Word of God" or "Word of the Lord" proves beyond any doubt that what is being referred to is a true tradition. It encompasses both written and verbal, oral delivery. The Bible states, for example: "Samaria had received the word of God" (Acts 8:14). This wasn't some Bible society or the Gideons or a Billy Graham rally. There were no copies of Scripture involved at all. Samaria had responded to the preaching of Philip (Acts 8:5-6). Indeed, it couldn't have been a matter of Scripture, because this was the gospel of Christ, which was only implicitly and darkly contained in the Old Testament, and the New Testament was not yet compiled or (mostly) even written; nor was Philip one of the inspired writers when it was written and compiled.

St. Paul believes the same thing, and assumes that the "word of God" is an oral proclamation: "You received the word of God, which you heard from us" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Now, unless one assumes that Paul only spoke to the Thessalonians the things which were later recorded in his two epistles to them (which is beyond silly, and would involve the same fallacy of equation and limitation that I already critiqued above, since Paul could speak / read his entire two letters to them in maybe 15 minutes), then this involved more than Scripture.

That "word of the Lord" as used in the Old Testament meant something far beyond written Scripture (usually prophetic utterance) is utterly obvious, and so I won't treat that here.

I'd like to now highlight the use of "word of God" or "word of the Lord," etc., in the New Testament (RSV), in a clearly oral, verbal sense, as opposed to meaning "written Scripture":

Matthew 13:19 When any one hears the word of the kingdom . . . 

Luke 3:2-3 in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca'iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari'ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 
Luke 5:1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennes'aret. 
Luke 8:10-18, 21 he said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience. "No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." . . . But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." 

Luke 11:28 But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 6:2, 7 And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. . . . And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Acts 8:25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Acts 11:1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

[see the entire listing in an online concordance; cf. Acts 13:5,7,44,46,48-49; 14:3; 15:7,35-36; 16:32; 17:15; 18:11; 19:10,20; 20:32]

Romans 10:8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach);

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

Philippians 1:14 and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear. (cf. 2:16)

Colossians 1:5, 25 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel . . . of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

1 Thessalonians 1:8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedo'nia and Acha'ia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you,

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear. (cf. 2 Peter 3:5; John 1:1,14; Rev 19:13)

Hebrews 1:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.
Additionally, there are many more instances of "word" in which it is an implied "word of God": e.g., Matt 4:4; Lk 4:32; Jn 8:31,37,43,51,52; 17:20; many times in Acts; Gal 6:6; Col 4:3; 2 Tim 4:2; Jas 1:22-23; 1 Jn 2:7; see all examples: first page / second page).

Notice here that advocates of sola Scriptura recognize the equal authority of the Apostles unwritten teaching while alive (word of mouth). We also recognize its abiding influence into the first few centuries of the church (though diminishing in reliability).

Well, this is a subjective loophole so wide that a truck could drive through it. So now the non-biblical apostolic tradition has "abiding influence" for a few centuries and then fades away as the canon is established? I think Michael has undercut his own case quite a bit and conceded much of the argument to the Catholic. It's the "fading away" part that is truly problematic, since it is as unbiblical and as unproven of an assertion as many others associated with sola Scriptura.

This is why we believe that these teachings were codified in the New Testament canon. Eighty-percent of the New Testament canon (Gospels, Acts, Pauline corpus) were accepted as authoritative by the mid second century, possibly as early as the late first century.

One can "believe" anything. I want to know why it is believed and given such authority?

Certainly, various traditions arose in the practice and liturgy of the first few centuries of the early church, but these traditions should not be seen as a prescriptive mandate on how to do church. Neither should they be understood as an equal authority to that of Scripture. There is simply no justification to do so.

More bald statements, with no rationale or justification: biblical or otherwise. Clearly an authoritative Church is necessary to uphold orthodoxy, just as it was necessary in the case of the canon.

Of course the message was “handed to the saints” as it is the saints (Christians) who are responsible for the passing on of the Gospel, not any institutional authority.

An unnecessary pitting of saints against Christian institutions, as if the latter were a bad thing . . . again he assumes what he is trying to prove.

The third argument for the Dual-Source Theory and against sola Scriptura has to do with a concept called “apostolic succession.” Most non-Anglican Protestants are not very familiar with this concept, but it has deep roots in the theological history of the church. How one defines “apostolic succession” will differ. This differing is not one with regards to purpose, but process.

It was always understood in a certain way by the fathers of the early centuries of the Church. Catholics continue on with that patristic, biblical understanding; Protestants decided to forsake it.

It is agreed that Peter and the apostles were given authority and the guidance to teach the truth. Their authority and teaching continues today. But, from a Protestant perspective, this authority and teaching is not through an unbroken lineage of succession, but through their teaching contained in the Scripture. In other words, Protestant believe in apostolic succession, but believe that this succession is a succession in teaching, not necessarily person.

I noted many papers of mine that deal with all of these Catholic evidences for succession and related issues in my previous installment. But I would reply to the above: "okay, great. You have a succession of true teaching from Jesus and the apostles: known not because of historic apostolic succession, but straight from the Bible. Wonderful. Now the next thing is for you to tell us what this true teaching is." This is where the inevitable difficulties quickly come to the fore. As I asked anti-Catholic apologists James White and Eric Svendsen 12 years ago on the former's invitation-only sola Scriptura discussion list:

Why not boldly tell us, then, James, precisely what "the Apostles taught"? In particular, I am curious as to their teaching in those areas where Protestants can't bring themselves to agree with each other; for example:
    • 1.TULIP
    • 2. Baptism
    • 3. The Eucharist
    • 4. Church Government
    • 5. Regeneration
    • 6. Sanctification
    • 7. The Place of Tradition
    • 8. Women Clergy
    • 9. Divorce
    • 10. Feminism
    • 11. Abortion
    • 12. The Utility of Reason
    • 13. Natural Theology
    • 14. The Charismatic Gifts
    • 15. Alcohol
    • 16. Sabbatarianism
    • 17. Whether Catholics are Christians
    • 18. Civil Disobedience
. . . How can you have "fidelity" to an "apostolic message" if you can't even define what it is? And if you either don't know, or are reluctant to spell it out here, then you illustrate my point better than I could myself: either your case collapses due to internal inconsistency, or because of the chaos of Protestant sectarianism, which makes any such delineation of "orthodoxy" impossible according to your own first principles; or if theoretically possible, certainly unenforceable.

Needless to say: neither ever answered my question, even though White had waxed confidently a day or two earlier:

I believe it is vitally important to believe in what the Apostles taught. Which, of course, is exactly why I cannot embrace the teachings of Rome. In fact, it is fidelity to the apostolic message that is the strongest argument against the innovations of Rome over time, Dave.
They could not and would not answer a simple request for them to tell us what this "message" was. Ultimately, it is an exercise in meaningless, empty words: that sound mighty impressive, but have no substance or content as soon as the first challenge is levied. Protestants say they have this "succession" from the Bible, but yet they can never unify enough based on their own principle of sola Scriptura, to share with the waiting world what exactly it is. When pressed to give an answer and an expansion of his original claim, White stated: "That's pretty easy, Dave. I have 27 books filled with their teaching. " And so we were back to square one with the circular reasoning routine again:
1) Protestant [P]: We have the apostolic teaching, passed down via the Bible.

2) Catholic [C]: Cool! Please kindly tell us all, then, what this teaching is?

3) P: I told you: it's in the Bible!

4) C: I know that, but what is it? Don't you guys disagree amongst yourselves about many doctrines, yet all appeal to the Bible?

5) P: Yes, we have some disagreements, but the Bible settles all that.

6) C [somewhat exasperated by this point]: How does the Bible settle all the issues over which Protestants disagree? Tell me what the true doctrines are!!!

7) P: Oops! I just noticed my watch. Gotta run. We'll continue this good conversation later . . .
And of course the conversation never does continue on, or the topic is switched so that all the hard, necessary questions are never dealt with, in order that the vacuous natures of the claims are never revealed. But we apologists are here to point them out, whether or not Protestant apologists want to ignore them or rationalize them away or not. They can defend their view or refuse to do so. Readers can then observe who is making a more plausible, biblical case, so as to decide which of the two worldviews makes more sense.

However, Protestants should recognize that a succession in person is a necessary part of the succession in teaching (this is why we still practice ordination). It is not a guarantee of the proper succession and must be continually tested by a foundational source (Scripture). In fact, I think we as Protestants should deeply consider our attitude toward the doctrine of apostolic succession. The common free Protestant mentality is fueled by those who find no connection, no accountability, indeed, no knowledge of the faith that has gone before them. This is not to our credit. We need to find a way to reassess our position here. I would be a strong advocate of any movement to re-institute the norm of apostolic succession within the Evangelical church at large. Again, this would not involve some infallible guarantee, but it does connect us to the historic Christian faith rather than our own johnny-come-lately denominational bent. (More on this someday).

Good; very good. However, this half-measure will not resolve the problem, any more than patching up three holes in a boat will stop the boat from sinking if there are 124 holes altogether. It only delays the sinking a bit. So it is good and an improvement, but no solution. Having any sort of succession with men makes no sense if it has no inherent authority or infallibility, or if it doesn't claim to preserve doctrines all the way back to Christ and the apostles. The same inherent problems in the Protestant system of sola Scriptura remain. This is only giving lip service to some semblance of historical continuity. That argument is always a losing battle for the Protestant.

The Catholic Church claims that its doctrines can be traced all the way back: historically, through men: good, bad, indifferent (the Donatist controversy dealt with the question of bad men presiding over sacraments, and the Church determined that they were still valid), but still in possession of the deposit of faith, which is developed through the centuries, remaining essentially what it has always been. That is what the fathers taught; it's seen in the Bible in things like the selection of Matthias to succeed Judas, and in Paul's seeming commissioning of Timothy to carry on his work. But Protestants decided to ditch all that and to place all authority in a book: as if a book can settle issues without, in effect, a "court" to interpret and apply it, just as secular law requires courts and judges and lawyers and law professors and politicians.

Nevertheless, concerning some infallible conference being passed on through the Apostles to some successors, while this might be nice and I have nothing against it, I simply have no reason, outside of a pragmatic desire for unity, to believe such occurred.

I think this is a roundabout way of saying (as I have always argued): "I as a Protestant, dont have enough faith to believe that God could or would preserve His truth without error, in any institution of men: even if such an institution believes itself to be identifiable as the 'Christian Church.'" Note also the touch of attributing belief in institutional or conciliar or papal infallibility to "a pragmatic desire for unity." Most Protestants, if they think about it long enough, conclude that all of this is implausible and that it is beyond the realm of possibility. They assume this at the outset, without argument, as a self-evident truth. I know the outlook well: I used to veryu much hold it myself, and infallibility was the biggest obstacle by far that I had to overcome, in becoming a Catholic. I fought against it long and hard, with much vigor and passion.

But the whole thing has to be closely examined and discussed, because this is, in fact, the historic teaching of Christianity, that was held by the fathers and the great teachers and doctors of the Church all the way up to the 16th century.

The Scriptures presented concerning the authority of the apostles concerns them alone. There is nothing, from what I can see, said either explicitly or implicitly concerning the passing on of some infallible authority through apostolic succession.

This is incorrect. Here is the biblical argument in a nutshell:

St. Paul teaches us (Ephesians 2:20) that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles, whom Christ Himself chose (John 6:70, Acts 1:2,13; cf. Matthew 16:18). In Mark 6:30 the twelve original disciples of Jesus are called apostles, and Matthew 10:1-5 and Revelation 21:14 speak of the twelve apostles. After Judas defected, the remaining eleven apostles appointed his successor, Matthias (Acts 1:20-26). Since Judas is called a bishop (episkopos) in this passage (1:20), then by logical extension all the apostles can be considered bishops (albeit of an extraordinary sort). 

If the apostles are bishops, and one of them was replaced by another, after the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, then we have an explicit example of apostolic succession in the Bible, taking place before 35 A.D. In like fashion, St. Paul appears to be passing on his office to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-6), shortly before his death, around 65 A.D. This succession shows an authoritative equivalency between Apostles and bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles. 

As a corollary, we are also informed in Scripture that the Church itself is perpetual, infallible, and indefectible (Matthew 16:18, John 14:26, 16:18). Why should the early Church be set up in one form and the later Church in another? All of this biblical data is harmonious with the ecclesiological views of the Catholic Church.
Other indications of Paul's passing on his office in some sense to Timothy, and of a sense of succession:

1 Timothy 6:20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. 

2 Timothy 1:6 Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 
2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. 

2 Timothy 2:1-2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
I contended in my book, The Catholic Verses (pp. 8-9), after noting the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15):
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, 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 does not 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 (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 the way 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.
Concerning the Roman Catholic idea of ultimate infallible authority being conferred on the successors of Peter, this idea cannot be found in the Church until the late Middle Ages (unless forced into the thoughts of the Church fathers). As well, it was not declared dogma by the Catholic Church until Vatican I (1870). See here in Vatican I:

“The Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff [Pope] hold primacy over the whole world, and that the Pontiff of Rome himself is the successor of the blessed Peter, the chief of the apostles, and is the true vicar of Christ and head of the whole Church and faith, and teacher of all Christians; and that to him was handed down in blessed Peter, by our Lord Jesus Christ, full power to feed, rule, and guide the universal Church, just as is also contained in the records of the ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons.”

This again assumes what it is trying to prove, and doesn't offer any arguments, so I won't digress into this area, as the subject at hand is the truth or falsity of sola Scriptura. There is an abundance of evidence in the early Church concerning the very strong authority of the pope (and I can back myself up and have done so: I wonder how closely Michael has studied this?). Infallibility was a developing concept (like all other doctrines), but its essential aspect: strong, binding, unquestioned authority was present in the early popes, and indeed, in Peter himself (many evidences in papers of mine noted previously). We see it, for example, in the epistles of Clement of Rome immediately after the apostolic period. It is very explicit and conscious in Pope Leo the Great in the mid-fifth century.

From my perspective (and I think I speak with some common sense here), if God wanted believers to see the Church as an institutional authority that houses infallibility, either through the unity of the bishops or the ex cathedra statements of the Pope, then it goes without saying that this would be a primary doctrine that the Bible should address.

I agree. It does do so, and this is what I have dealt with in many papers. The Jerusalem Council is the most obvious example: a gathering of bishops and elders and apostles, for the purpose of issuing a binding decree, presided over by the local bishop (James) and the leader of the apostles and first pope (Peter), whereas Paul is not seen exercising any particular authority in it. It is complete with an infallible decree, led by the Holy Spirit (hence, infallible): Acts 15:28. Paul and Timothy then proclaim the decision of the council on their subsequent mission journey: Acts 16:4. What more does one need, for heaven's sake? It is staring the Protestant right in the face on the pages of Holy Scripture.

While the Scriptures contain many opportunities to teach this type of apostolic succession, either through example in the book of Acts or through explicit instruction in the Pastoral epistles, there is no such teaching.

I've just provided several. Michael has not done his homework on this. He has it exactly backwards: what truly can never be found in Scripture is the man-made tradition of sola Scriptura. There is plenty of biblical evidence for Catholic ecclesiology.

The Scriptures just don’t teach that the Apostles conferred their authority—infallible authority—on anyone else.

Apart from the biblical arguments provided, how, then, does Michael account for the fact that the fathers assume en masse that there is apostolic succession, and appeal to it constantly (especially St. Irenaeus), as their "ace in the hole" after Scriptural arguments have been set forth? If indeed it is so unChristian and unbiblical, why do the fathers get it so wrong and become so "Catholic" at this early stage?

To rely solely upon unwritten Tradition begs the question and makes one wonder why such an important doctrine is unmentioned in Scripture.

It's mentioned all over the place, as I have shown. Granted, virtually all of it gets written down eventually (of course), but this is stuff that goes beyond the Bible, without contradicting it.

All attempts to find the doctrine of infallible apostolic succession in Scripture, in my opinion, must be labeled as eisegetical theology (reading your theology into the text, rather than deriving one’s theology from the text).

Fine: the critical position has been staked out: now let's see Michael defend it against our counter-arguments. The Petrine evidences offer one line of inquiry. For example, the analogy of Jesus granting to Peter (alone) the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" goes back to Isaiah 22 and Shebna, who was a steward, governor, manager, or superintendent of the royal household. Commentators go into great detail in discussing this parallel. See, for example, what three prominent Protestant commentators write about this:
All these New Testament pictures and usages go back to a picture in Isaiah (Is 22:22) . . . Now the duty of Eliakim was to be the faithful steward of the house . . . So then what Jesus is saying to Peter is that in the days to come, he will be the steward of the Kingdom.

(William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, vol. 2, 144-145)

Isa 22:15 ff. undoubtedly lies behind this saying . . . The keys are the symbol of authority . . . the same authority as that vested in the vizier, the master of the house, the chamberlain, of the royal household in ancient Israel. Eliakim is described as having the same authority in Isaiah.

(William F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Anchor Bible: Matthew, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971, 196)

And what about the "keys of the kingdom"? . . . About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim . . . (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward.

(F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983, 143-144)
That much about Peter is biblically certain, at least according to these scholars, and many more who concur (as I have compiled in a paper on the subject). The remaining aspect to establish is the notion of succession. I would say that this is implied in the very setting up of the office itself, as applied to the Church, just as bishops and elders and deacons and a multitude of spiritual gifts are discussed in the NT, and no one can really argue that they were intended to only last during the lifetime of the apostles. Catholic scholar Stanley Jaki provides information about this same office being a perpetual one in ancient Israel (therefore, if we carry the analogy further through: Peter's office as pope would also be an office that is passed down):
By the time of Isaiah the office of the master of the palace was three centuries old and the highest of the royal administration which Solomon organized in full . . .

Solomon set up the office in imitation of the office of the Pharaoh's vizier. Unlike in Assyria and Babylon, where the master of the palace was a mere administrator of the king's household affairs, in Egypt as well as in Judah and Israel the master of the palace was the second in command after the king. In Egypt he reported every morning to the Pharaoh, received his instructions, and by ceremoniously opening the gates to the palace he let the official day begin for the Pharaoh's highest administrative offices. He was privy to all the major transactions of the Pharaoh's kingdom, all important documents had to have his seal, all other officials were subordinate to him, and he governed the whole land in the Pharaoh's absence. It was precisely this function which was exercised by Joseph whom the Pharaoh put in charge of his house (Gen 41:40), made the keeper of the royal seal and the ruler over the entire land of Egypt. Similarly, the master of the palace of the king of Israel headed the list of royal officials (2 Ki 18:18) and he alone appears with the king (1 Ki 18:3). The importance of the title is particularly apparent when Yotham [or, Jotham] assumes it in his capacity of regent of the kingdom during the final illness of his father King Ozias [or, Uzziah, or Azariah] (2 Ki 15:5).

(Stanley Jaki, The Keys of the Kingdom, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1986, 27-28)
This being the case, then in the word-picture of "keys in the kingdom," it is quite plausible to argue, succession and ongoing office are implicitly included, once one unpacks and fully comprehends the analogy from Isaiah that biblical commentators agree is in play.

In the end, suffice it to say that advocates of sola Scriptura believe in apostolic succession (succession in teaching—small “a”), not Apostolic succession (succession in person—big “A”)

And that is the problem, because abstract appeal to "teaching" doesn't resolve anything. It breaks down as soon as Protestants disagree, and if there is one thing we know, if we know nothing else: it is that Protestants disagree on just about everything except those things where they already agree with the Catholic Church.


Brock Mashburn said...

Is it possible that Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 8 about food sacrificed to idols can show that the declarations of the Jerusalem council were not binding and infallible? Paul says to follow your conscience, or that eating the meat is fine if it is not causing the brother to stumble. Does "things" in "abstain from the things polluted by idols" mean this meat? And does this show that Paul did not bind the Corinthians to this decree in Jerusalem?

Brock Mashburn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adomnan said...

If the decree of the Jerusalem council were not meant for everyone, then there is no difficulty. James was the head of the Jewish Christian faction in the early church, and he requested the promulgation of this decree to address Jewish Christian concerns. The council concurred.

Father Joseph Fitzmyer, a preeminent Catholic exegete, explains in his commentary on the books of Acts: "There are four regulations that James would impose on Gentile Christians who live among Jewish Christians, considering them like the "aliens" of old in Israel. James thus appeals for a sympathetic understanding of Jewish Christian sensibilities...James's regulations seek only a modus vivendi of Gentile among Jewish Christians and imply no salvific purpose in them."

The only difficulty with this interpretation is that the fourth regulation deals with "fornication," which one would think should apply to Gentiles and Jews alike and is not merely a matter of Jewish observance. However, Fitzmyer explains that, in context, the word translated as "fornication" actually refers not to sexual misbehavior as such, but rather to "various forms of marriage within close degrees of kinship" proscribed by the Jewish law. Of course, the Church later developed her own regulations about kinship and marriage, but this decree refers to the Jewish rules.

Consequently, there is no contradiction between the Jerusalem decree and Paul's relative indifference in 1 Corinthians to the issue of eating meat dedicated to idols. Corinth was largely a Gentile church, rather than a church of "Gentile Christians living among Jewish Christians." The decree was thus not really applicable to Corinth. Even so, Paul tells his flock in Corinth that they should avoid meat sacrified to idols if eating or serving it offended a neighbor's conscience, thus acknowledging the intent of the decree.

With the disappearance of the Law-observant Jewish Christian faction in the Church, these regulations became unnecessary and are, of course, no longer binding on us. By the same token, they were not binding on Gentile Christians in Paul's day who did not have regular interaction with Torah-observant Jewish Christians.