Tuesday, March 23, 2010

1 Timothy 3:15: Was My Take in "The Catholic Verses" the "Worst Exegesis Ever"?

By Dave Armstrong (3-23-10)

A book review blog called Diglotting made the following short "review" (if one can call it that) of my book, The Catholic Verses. I reproduce it in its entirety:

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Worst Exegesis Ever
A while back I was reading Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses. What he does is take 95 passages from the Bible and then attempts to show why these passages “confound protestants.” 
One passage he tackles is 1 Timothy 3:15, which says, “…the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 
This is what Dave Armstrong says about this verse …
Catholics accept this passage at face value: the Church is the ground or foundation of truth; it is infallible; it is specially protected by the Holy Spirit so that it can be the Guardian and Preserver of apostolic tradition and truth and doctrine.
That is pure and simple eisegesis. He is merely reading back what he believes to be true into the text of Timothy. Essentially, he is saying, “Seeing as I am a Catholic, and I believe that the Catholic Church is infallible, when Paul then says that the Church is the foundation of truth, he must mean that the church is infallible.” 
But what in the actual text would even begin to lead one to think that the Church is infallible and guided by the Holy Spirit from falling into doctrinal error and infallibly preserving apostolic tradition? Nothing at all. 
Perhaps the reason Paul called the Church the “pillar and foundation of the truth” is because it is the Church’s job to proclaim the gospel of Jesus (who is “the Truth”).

Additional Comments:

Carl Sweatman

Armstrong’s reading also assumes that Paul has in mind an institutionalised paradigm for church–i.e. a specific entity (read: building) to which all of society comes for healing. I would say that Paul’s view of ‘church’ is the opposite–i.e. the healing (read: believers) is dispersed throughout society.

Jeremy Peterson

Foundations are just where things begin. It doesn’t mean they don’t have faults or cracks – sometimes so severe that the buildings themselves are destroyed because of them.

T.C. R.

Yep! Downright careless and yielding to that anachronistic fallacy. I see more of that certain of thing even among evangelicals. Ha!

I then put in my $00.02 worth (I have added some additional thoughts that go beyond the initial blog comment). I absolutely love these sorts of challenges, because on the spot I came up with an analogical, biblically cross-referenced argument that I don't believe I have ever used or even thought of before (it came to me simply by searching for "foundation" in Scripture).

* * *

I see. I'm curious, then. How do you interpret the following passage?:

Ephesians 2:19-21: . . . you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

This is also a foundation. Does it, too, have "faults or cracks"? Since Jesus is the cornerstone, are you saying that it can be a faulty foundation, with Jesus included in that? Are the apostles and prophets also fallible when proclaiming prophecy or the gospel or the inspired Bible message? If so, where do we see any hint of that in Holy Scripture? And I assume you are aware that the Church is often described as the Body of Christ as well. So Jesus has a place in the Church, just as He does in the gospel. The two can't be separated. In fact, the "household of God" is indeed the Church, since 1 Timothy 3:15 itself uses the same exact phrase as a synonym for the Church.

Where in Scripture, for that matter, does "truth" ever equal less than the total truth and nothing but the truth? In my more recent book, Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths I collected 40 passages about "truth" in the NT: showing that it was synonymous with sacred tradition. I don't see where it is taught that it is anything less than pure truth, unmixed with error. That was certainly how Paul conceived his own "tradition" that he received and passed down. The same applies to the biblical synonyms "the faith" and "the commandment" and "the doctrine" and "teaching" and "the message" and (yes) "the gospel" or "good news": all essentially identical with the notion of sacred, apostolic tradition.

Yet when I make a strong Catholic statement on the Church as the "pillar and foundation of the truth" in line with all this other scriptural data, all of a sudden it is laughable and the "worst exegesis ever." But if "truth" is a very strong concept in Scripture, certainly the "pillar and foundation" of same (which the Bible describes as the Church, not Scripture) is at least equally strong, if not even more so.

Of course, you only cited one sentence of what was a nearly four-page section on the verse, so readers get no idea of the overall thrust of my argument, which was (per the modus operandi of the book) a critique of Protestant exegesis and the internal contradictions therein, not a comprehensive presentation of Catholic exegesis. Many people seem to misunderstand my aim in this book, but it is laid out very carefully in the Introduction, so there should be no mystery.

I can grant that the statement you cite is not technically exegesis, and probably should have been worded a bit differently, so that it didn't appear that I was claiming to be doing such. What I was doing there was stating Catholic dogma, which is entirely consistent or harmonious with that passage; not necessarily entirely drawn from it alone, as if every jot and tittle of Catholic ecclesiology is present in 1 Timothy 3:15. Of course it is not. But there is also doctrinal development, and there is a mountain of related scriptural data that we incorporate: some of which I have briefly recounted above.

Nowhere do I claim in the book that I am attempting to do exegesis as occurs, for example, in a Bible commentary written by a theologian or Bible scholar. It's simply not the same thing. But I think I have some valid insights in the book that need to seriously be dealt with, not just dismissed with insults. One must first thoroughly understand that which they are critiquing, and the post and comments here do not convince me at all that this is the case.

I contend, therefore, that it is not so much a matter of my reading into Scripture in one passage, something that is not there in every minute particular, as much as it is a case of non-Catholics omitting (or "reading out") literally dozens of other passages about truth, about the Church, about the rule of faith, and apostolic succession, and tradition, and bishops (and Petrine primacy and the papacy), and councils (particularly the Jerusalem Council), etc. (i.e., relevant data from from cross-referencing and systematic theology).

* * *

Armstrong’s reading also assumes that Paul has in mind an institutionalised paradigm for church–i.e. a specific entity (read: building)

Catholics (as usual) think in “both/and” terms here: there is a notion of the Mystical Body of Christ and also of an institutional Church, and this is entirely biblical. You want an institutional Church in connection with St. Paul? I submit the Jerusalem Council:

Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. . . .
Acts 15:25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, . . . 

Acts 15:28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .
Paul thought so much of this institutional council, led by the Holy Spirit, that he went around proclaiming its decrees (which were binding):

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.
What do you make of all that? Maybe you can bless us with some of the “best exegesis ever” to counteract my alleged “worst”. LOL
* * *
Are the apostles and prophets also fallible when proclaiming prophecy or the gospel or the inspired Bible message? If so, where do we see any hint of that in Holy Scripture?
Diglot [the one who wrote the initial post]: I would say that they are fallible. Paul confronted Peter about his hypocrisy as seen in Galatians 2. As Paul said, Peter’s behaviour “was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” That is at least one instance where an apostle was fallible in proclaiming the truth of the gospel message in his life.

The example you give — with all due respect — has not a whit to do with fallibility or infallibility, because that is a matter of truth claims and preservation of same, not of behavior. Apples and oranges. If I said “2+2=4″ while stealing an apple, the act of stealing would have nothing whatsoever to do with the “non-fallibility” of the mathematical assertion.

Likewise, Peter is not shown to be fallible simply because he was a hypocrite at one point. Some have argued that Paul was, too, since he had Timothy circumcised after the Jerusalem Council that declared it was no longer necessary for Gentiles. He did it (as I understand) because of the Jews around them at the time (in other words, precisely Peter’s shortcoming that Paul rebuked him for).
By the same token, Scripture doesn’t become “fallible” because it was largely written by a bunch of serious sinners (Moses, David, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul).

The gospel is proclaimed not only by our words but also by our actions.

Yes, of course. But truth propositions are logically distinct from actions. Remember, the matter under consideration is the Church as the foundation of truth. Saying Jesus is God or that God created the world or that we are sinners or that it is wrong to steal or lie or that a circle is round or a=a or that I am not you are all true assertions. This is what we’re talking about. If I steal a banana at the supermarket it has no bearing on the truth of the statement “stealing is a sin” (even if I made it at the same time I was stealing). The two do not nullify each other. My action doesn’t change the true proposition. It changes the state of my soul: from being a consistent Christian to (until I repent) being one guilty of serious sin.

Peter’s actions were fallible, so why not his words?

Again, you are mixing apples and oranges. You have your categories all mixed up. Infallibility has a particular meaning and an etymology. Hence, Dictionary.com:
1. (of persons) liable to err, esp. in being deceived or mistaken.
2. liable to be erroneous or false; not accurate: fallible information.
early 15c., from M.L. fallibilis “liable to err, deceitful.” lit. “that can be deceived,” from L. fallere “deceive.” Fallibility.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
1. absolutely trustworthy or sure: an infallible rule.
2. unfailing in effectiveness or operation; certain: an infallible remedy.
3. not fallible; exempt from liability to error, as persons, their judgment, or pronouncements: an infallible principle.
4. Roman Catholic Church. immune from fallacy or liability to error in expounding matters of faith or morals by virtue of the promise made by Christ to the Church.
This is clearly related to matters of truth or falsity; propositions, teachings, doctrines; as I have stated. What you keep talking about is the different notion of impeccability (a very common Protestant confusion):
1. faultless; flawless; irreproachable: impeccable manners.
2. not liable to sin; incapable of sin.
1531, “not capable of sin,” from M.Fr. impeccable (15c.), from L. impeccabilis “not liable to sin,” from in- “not” + pecare “to sin,” of unknown origin.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Until you start to distinguish these two concepts, then the discussion can’t progress forward. 1 Timothy 3:15 is talking about truth; hence it has (we argue) quite plausible relation to infallibility, once we examine what truth is in Scripture. It’s not talking about sin or perfection or lack of hypocrisy, which are different things.

I was accused of producing the “worst exegesis” ever, yet now I have to go through very basic explanations of logic and category? That is what I find amusing in all this. Words mean things. Truth has a meaning and so does infallibility, and they are directly related. That’s why my take on the passage was indeed relevant and not groundless or ridiculous, as you contended.

And where does it talk about infallibility in 1 Timothy 3:15? I wasn’t talking about impeccability by the way.

What I was saying is that I see no reason to think Peter (or the other apostles) were infallible when proclaiming the gospel or Biblical message (as you claim they were). Nothing in 1 Tim 3:15 teaches that.

You seem to see 1 Tim 3:15 as teaching Peter being infallible in proclaiming the gospel because of your pre-conceived notion of what the “truth” must imply for the people who proclaim it.

Whereas, I see no reason for Peter (or the other apostles) being infallible in proclaiming the gospel or the “inspired Bible message.” And the only evidence that would make me think so would be if they lived out the gospel message in perfection. Peter certainly didn’t do that. But Jesus did, and that is why I believe Him to be infallible in proclaiming the gospel.You may not agree with my reasoning, but that does not really matter, because it is the evidence that I would require to believe that someone is infallible in proclaiming the gospel.

One more thing before I go to sleep for the night. The reason that my responses are “dinkiness” to you is because you haven’t really given me anything meaningful to respond to. I am sure you think you have provided some cogent argumentation but I haven’t seen it yet. I guess I am still trying to find where 1 Tim 3:15 says that the church is “infallible”, as you still have not shown me.

We are done then, having accomplished nothing. You have ignored virtually all of the argumentation I have produced, while I have been dealing systematically and comprehensively with yours. Having done that, you claim that I “haven’t really given [you] anything meaningful to respond to.” Fine. That means we are finished. Where else could we go?

Whatever the merits of any man’s argument, it must at least be dealt with (not ignored) if there is to be any meaningful dialogue. And you simply have not done that. You went off on this rabbit trail of sin and hypocrisy from the start, which has nothing to do with the topic at hand. You can’t see why. I am powerless to show you the error of your ways. You start out with a way-over-the-top insult; I elaborate in great detail, offering a number of supporting arguments, exactly on-topic and relevant to the discussion. But you direct the discussion the way you want it (off-topic rabbit trail) and then say all my additional arguments are meaningless.

It’s great postmodernist-type mush, but hardly a rationally productive discussion. And you prove it is subjective mush by insisting that the criterion for convincing you must be determined by the parameters of the subject matter as you (fallaciously) define it; not as the Bible defines it over and over. Yet you accuse me of eisegesis?!

Wow. I am astonished. In any event, we must amiably agree to disagree and end a futile discussion. God bless you and all here.

Well, I just haven’t found where the Bible defines infallibility “over and over.” Thanks for stopping by.

Like I said, if you do a word study of "truth" and “tradition” and “the faith” and “the commandment” and “the doctrine” and “teaching” and “the message” and “the gospel” / “good news” and ponder the meanings and connection of all of the above, the notion of infallibility of something other than the Bible itself, will, I believe, become very clear to you in due course.
Be well and I wish you and yours a blessed and joyous Easter.


Adomnan said...

Pillars and foundations support things, so that they don't collapse. Therefore, if the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, that means the Church supports the truth, preventing it from collapsing. Evidently, if the Church can err, then it's no firm foundation. The truth would collapse like the house built on sand -- instead of a foundation -- of which Jesus speaks.

So, your interpretation that 1 Tim 3:15 implies infallibility, Dave, makes perfect sense and is really the only reading of this verse that makes sense.

The alternative interpretation offered -- that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth because it spreads the truth -- is incoherent. The purpose of a pillar or foundation is not to disseminate, but to uphold, support. Of course, the Church also spreads the truth, but that is a completely different function from upholding it, keeping it whole and intact.

The critics of your exegesis are mixing their metaphors.

Dave Armstrong said...

I don't believe they are thinking biblically, either (oh, the irony there) because they fail to logically follow-through in a way that you have, or to harmonize all the other related data that can be brought to bear.

The biblical (and historic, patristic, Catholic) view is that there is an inspired, infallible Bible, interpreted within the orthodox and dogmatic framework of an infallible, divinely guided Church, which in turn infallibly interprets and formulates the true doctrinal tradition.

By gutting two of the three biblical elements of binding, infallible authority (Church and tradition), the view becomes incoherent and unworkable, as we apologists have been pointing out ad nauseum.

One either grasps this or they don't. But when they do, in many cases it is time to become a Catholic (or Orthodox). And this is why, of course, it is so resisted in the first place, because the stakes are high.

Nick said...

The guy totally threw away his credibility when he said this:
"But what in the actual text would even begin to lead one to think that the Church is infallible and guided by the Holy Spirit from falling into doctrinal error and infallibly preserving apostolic tradition? Nothing at all."

Haha. That's certainly the "worst exegesis ever" right there. It's not as bad as those (White I think) who say the Church is the foundation and pillar *because* it holds up the Bible (aka the "Truth"), though I guess this guy is saying a variation of that.

Adomnan said...

Yes. If the Church could err and yet sustain the truth, that would imply that a foundation of error and a pillar of lies could sustain the truth.

And note: It's specifically the truth that is upheld by the Church here, not missions, not preaching, not even unity and love (in this verse), but the truth. Only an infallible Church can sustain the truth by guaranteeing -- as a foundation and pillars guarantee the strength, durability and integrity of a building -- that error never undermine it.

How could an error-prone Church sustain the edifice of truth? How could a fissured, friable and unstable foundation support a superstructure? How could you build a house on sand?

Dave Armstrong said...

It seems so crystal-clear, doesn't it?

I think the only reason in the end that Protestants don't seem to "get" this is that the stakes are so high. To "get" it means (ultimately) forsaking Protestantism. It's all over then.

Secondly, I've long noted that a sola Scriptura Protestant (which virtually all of them are by definition, barring some traditional Anglicans, Methodists, etc.) is like a fish in water. It's the most difficult thing in the world to get them to see that they are "in" anything at all. Believe me, I've tried for almost 20 years now.

On top of all that is a dislike of Catholicism or outright anti-Catholicism, which tends to make one highly suspicious of the result of an argument that leaves one's own position (sola Scriptura) in shambles and suggests a direction of the dreaded Catholic Church.

I'm not just propagandizing. I truly think these factors are key, because I believe that it is so absolutely clear in Scripture.

And there is more irony: supposedly the purveyors of a "clear" Scripture can't see how clear the Scriptures are in this regard. WE see that . . . and that is because we are truly "biblical Christianity" par excellence.

Nelson said...

Dave, I think you are completely right in your understanding of the scriptural passage that you quoted. I honestly do not understand why some folks fail to "get" that the New Testament is only some of the oral teachings and traditions of the Church set down in written form by members of that same Church. For the Church to contradict it's own teachings is absurd. Not to mention the fact of the Holy Spirit being there to protect that Church from error. If the Church is in error then it never was protected by the Holy Spirit and if that is the case then all of Christianity is in a whole lot of trouble...

romishgraffiti said...

Worst. Charge. Of. Eisegesis. Ever. See? I can throw stuff like that around too. :)

Ben M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Armstrong said...

My comments on the other blog haven't been seen yet because there is comments moderation, and I think they were missed, since it was an older thread. I made note of that.

I would like to have some dialogue. I've been accused of abominable exegesis. I responded. Now I'm very anxious to see the counter-replies.

Dave Armstrong said...

The comments are up now. The guy who wrote the post made a short reply and I counter-replied (now added to the end of the post here, as of 6:15 PM EST Wednesday).

ljchristian said...

I'm curious: have you ever come across anybody who ever made the argument that the "pillar and foundation" of the truth in that verse is referring *only* to "the living God", and not the "church of the living God", (and therefore that that verse cannot be used in support of the church)? How would you suggest going about responding to such an argument? Thanks.

ljchristian said...

(I realize I'm probably overlooking something obvious, but...lol)

Nelson said...

To ljchristian, I don’t believe that Paul was referring to the living God in 1 Tim. 3:15 but to the Church. In any case even if he had been referring to the living God, we are all part of Christ who is the living God. Being part of Christ means being part of His Church. The Church and Christ are synonymous and cannot be separated ever. If you would be a part of Christ you must be a part of His Church.

Carmelite said...

Since the Church is the foundation or the pillar of the truth, it must be infallible, for a pillar that can crumble is worthless. Without the pillar, there would be no truth, just as there cannot be a house where there is no foundation. If the Church is the foundation of the truth, then this foundation must be faultless, blameless, perfect, or, in theological terms, infallible.

Adomnan said...

ljchristian: I'm curious: have you ever come across anybody who ever made the argument that the "pillar and foundation" of the truth in that verse is referring *only* to "the living God", and not the "church of the living God", (and therefore that that verse cannot be used in support of the church)? How would you suggest going about responding to such an argument? Thanks.

Adomnan: In the Greek, "the living God" is in the genitive case. "Pillar and foundation" are both in the nominative case, in apposition to "church," which is also in the nominative case. For "pillar and foundation" to be in apposition to "the living God," these two nouns would have to be in the genitive case.

Thus, it is grammatically impossible for "pillar and foundation" to refer to "the living God." It can only refer to "the church."

As one of the standard grammars of Greek ("Greek Grammar" by Herbert Weir Smyth, Harvard University Press) puts it: 925.2: "A word in apposition with another word agrees with it in case."

Dave Armstrong said...

I added an additional round of dialogue. I ain't gettin' much counter-reply, but something is better than nothing. To me the "dinkiness" of the counter-replies merely verify that there was very little substance in the first place behind the charge that my exegesis had little or no substance. If there is it hasn't been elaborated upon as of yet. We continue to hope and pray that it will be forthcoming, so I can learn what was so absurd about my exegesis and get up to speed.

The new section was added at 11:45 PM EST on Wednesday.

Ben M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Armstrong said...

I added another (the last) exchange, as of 1:45 AM EST, Thursday. Clearly the exchange is going nowhere, so I am done with it.

I was curious what "Diglot" believed since I didn't know when I made my comments.

He appears to be an Arminian Protestant with some liberal leanings. He stated that he could possibly accept Eastern Orthodoxy. He has a great interest in the Church fathers.

In at least one area he is heterodox:

"I do not believe in the orthodox view of hell, that is, that people will experience eternal unending physical torment in the lake of fire. I strongly lean towards the annihilationist-conditionalist view."

("My Christian Unorthodoxy": 10-29-09)


ljchristian said...

Nelson and Adomnan, thank-you. :-)