Friday, June 03, 2011

Robert Sungenis Misrepresents the St. Peter's "Hypocritical" Incident in Galatians, Makes a Pathetic Comparison to Pope Benedict XVI

By Dave Armstrong (6-3-11)

 This controversy began with Bob's post, A Review of Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth. I, in turn, documented (with a few of my comments) the slanders toward the Holy Father made in that hit-piece, purported "review". The following microcosm of Bob's thinking is symptomatic of many examples where he exhibits an inability to correctly consider context and the use of language. In this case we also (very sad irony indeed) observe his conspiratorial-like obsession and hostility when it comes to Anything Jewish whatever.

I contend that the deeper issue is a fundamentalist hermeneutic in his thinking that he has retained from his Protestant days. His outlook is insufficiently Catholic (and far too Protestant and liberal in its overall tenor and tone). Hence he feels a total freedom to be utterly unbridled and uninhibited in his vitriolic attacks on the current Holy Father and even far worse towards Blessed John Paul II (the Great). His words from his paper above will be in blue. His words posted in a combox on my blog on 2 June 2011, via his friend James Phillips, will be in purple.

* * * * *

. . . what cannot be said officially because of ecclesiastical constraints is said unofficially in order to achieve a desired result. . . . Perhaps this same temptation also hampered our first pope. It was Pope Peter in Galatians 2:11-21 who, when he decided to engage in some private and unofficial commentary on the Gospel under the name Cephas, eventually shunned his Gentile converts and instead bent over backwards to placate the hostile and unbelieving Jews, upon which he was severely upbraided by Paul for “perverting the Gospel.” . . . it may be no coincidence that the Jews who made the Cephas-side of Pope Peter stumble in proclaiming the Gospel are eerily similar to the Jews today who are making the Joseph Ratzinger side of Pope Benedict XVI stumble as well. It’s uncanny to see such a resemblance between the first century and the twenty-first century. [my bolding added]

This is absolutely asinine. Bob makes out that St. Peter was more-or-less duplicitously using the name Cephas as some kind of cover. Cephas or Kepha is simply the Greek, Peter (Petros) in Aramaic. It is what Christ actually would have spoken in Matthew 16 when He renamed Peter (originally Simon or Symeon). Hence, the similar passage, John 1:42 (RSV):

He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, 'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter).

There is no attempt of St. Peter to somehow use a different name in order to be two-faced, as Bob clearly implies ("under the name Cephas" / "the Cephas-side of Pope Peter"). Moreover, it is doubly absurd for Bob to "argue" like this, given the fact that in all nine instances of Cephas in the New Testament, Peter never calls himself the name. John uses it once in recording Jesus' words (above), and the other eight are from Paul. So where does Bob get off insinuating that Peter somehow used the name to be two-faced with (ethnic) Jews?

There is no New Testament evidence for this whatever. It's a non-starter (one of many in Bob's relentless anti-papal reasoning). Peter was a hypocrite there, sure, but so was (arguably) Paul elsewhere, when he had Timothy circumcised for fear of  Jewish opinion and reaction (Acts 16:3), while at the same time preaching strongly that it was completely unnecessary to do so. Paul and Peter had no doctrinal disagreement. Peter was simply playing the hypocrite in that instance.

Thank you for sending this to me James, although I hesitate to get into a tit-for-tat with Mr. Armstrong, mainly because I think his arguments are specious. 

Exactly what I feel about Mr. Sungenis. Great to agree on something! 

I will only say the following. On the issue of “Cephas,” Mr. Armstrong missed the point. Regardless of whether he was called Cephas or Meephas, the point at issue is, in his private teaching and actions Peter was being hypocritical and perverting the Gospel. 

I missed no point whatsoever. Bob blew his point and (this now having been exposed) is presently engaging in sophistry, obfuscation, and obscurantism to cover up the embarrassing whopper (trying to pretend he didn't argue as he did), rather than admit he was wrong and move on. As so sadly often, he makes a fool of himself special pleading something that is a lost cause. Isn't it easier to simply admit the mistake, as all of us mere mortals do, or should do, when necessary?

But I think this was not a mere innocent mistake. Bob knows too much (since he knows Greek) to not know that what he was using as some sort of polemical "device" was absurd in the first place. But he used it anyway, thinking that less sophisticated readers would not notice what he was doing, playing with Scripture for his own unsavory purposes of running down the current Holy Father. He tried to pull a cute "fast one," and is now being called on it. Everyone can see how pathetic this is.

It was Bob who introduced this motif of St. Peter supposedly using Cephas as a sort of second name or pseudonym, when talking to Jews. It was he who wrote:

Pope Peter in Galatians 2:11-21 . . . decided to engage in some private and unofficial commentary on the Gospel under the name Cephas,. . . 

. . . the Jews who made the Cephas-side of Pope Peter stumble . . .

Yet now Bob seeks to misrepresent his own argument because he was called on it:

I used Cephas only because it allowed me to show that Pope Peter also went by a more common name, namely, Cephas.

Again, this is utterly ludicrous. There is no dichotomy whatever between Peter and Cephas: one is not more "common" than the other, since they are both the same thing in different languages. The former is Greek and the latter Aramaic. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, Peter (like Jesus: a Greek transliteration of Yeshua or Joshua) is more common to us, but at the time, Kepha or Cephas was what the apostles (and Jesus) would have usually used, since they commonly spoke Aramaic as their first language.

Hence, Paul's own use, eight times. In fact, Paul uses "Peter" exactly (and only) twice: in Galatians 2:7-8 (ironically for my present purpose, right before the incident of hypocrisy, where Paul rebuked Peter). This shows that the two names are synonymous and interchangeable. Paul never calls Peter Simon (his actual given name).  He calls him Cephas eight times and Peter twice.

We see this synonymity also in John 1:42, where Scripture clearly records Jesus using the name Cephas (and John adding the parenthetical, "which means Peter").

This argument of Bob's in itself is ridiculous; nonsensical from both a linguistic and NT exegetical perspective. Therefore the following analogy that Bob attempts to make between Peter and Pope Benedict XXVI (my paraphrase; not his words) also fails utterly:

Pope Peter used "Cephas" for the goal of perverting the Gospel in his hypocrisy with Jews.

----- parallel to -----

Pope Benedict XVI used his given name Joseph Ratzinger for the purpose of perverting aspects about Jesus for the sake of placating the Jews.

But here is Bob in my combox reiterating his fallacious, silly "argument":

The same can be said of the pope if he teaches wrongly on Catholic issues in private and invites us to critique him, which I did. . . .  Since Pope Benedict put two names on the cover of his book (ie., Pope Benedict the pope and Joseph Ratzinger the private theologian), the gist of the comparison is made between Peter and Cephas. 

Bob concludes his combox "reply":

Be that as it may, Mr. Armstrong’s majoring on the minors is also evident in that he totally avoids the fact that Pope Benedict said we should not be preaching to the Jews. Here we have a glaring inconsistency with Catholic tradition and scripture on the order of John Paul II’s Assisi meeting, but Mr. Armstrong skips all that to dwell on whether Cephas can be an alias or not.  

I dwelt on a particularly ludicrous thing in an endless list of ludicrous items. The selectivity was totally by design, and I have made it quite clear. I deliberately ignore most of Bob's rantings against popes as beneath the dignity of any reply. Bob does the same with me (which is perfectly okay, of course): even far more so (as we saw above, he said my arguments were "specious"). The present instance, however, was such a glaring, outrageous, obvious error, and priceless gem of dim-witted reasoning, that it afforded me a golden opportunity to illustrate an altogether typical flaw in Bob's "apologetic" methodology. So I did.

Peter was guilty of being cliquish and of dissimulation. Paul, on the other hand, emphasized (almost in a boastful fashion) how Titus hadn't been circumcised (which would be caving into the Judaizers, or "false brethren"):

Galatians 2:3-5 But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. [4] But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage -- [5] to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Yet in Timothy's case it was different, and Paul seems hypocritical himself:

Acts 16:3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 

It has been argued (not, I think, without plausibility or distinct possibility) that this was mere accommodationism and "being all things to all men,"  but a case can also be plausibly made that Paul was far more hypocritical (with a grown man having to be circumcised) than Peter was.
One can only correct the errors. This was a blatantly obvious one on Bob's part, so I devoted several hours of my time to it (after he decided to dig in and not retract the clear error). But to correct all of Bob's errors and whoppers and slanders of popes and the Church and real Catholic apologists and botched exegesis and woodenly literal pseudo-fundamentalist understanding of words and doctrines would literally take thousands of hours.

I have neither time nor motivation (and especially not anywhere near the patience) to do all that, but I can do some small amount, and believe me, this one example is altogether typical of the huge fallacies and shortcomings of Bob's increasingly radical Catholic reactionary, quasi-schismatic thinking. Perhaps if enough errors of this sort are exposed, it will shock him back to reality, and cause him to cease attacking popes and Holy Mother Church and other Catholics and concentrate on his real enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil.


Dan Marcum said...

Good points, though it would be nice to see a good Catholic response to the claim that Pope Benedict thinks we can longer preach to the Jews. For starters, how about HE DIDN'T SAY THAT!

He merely quoted two other people without fully endorsing what they said. One was Bernard of Clairvaux -- the quote reads as follows:

"You also have obligations toward unbelievers, whether Jew, Greek, or Gentile. Granted, with regard to the Jews, time excuses you; for them a determined point in time has been fixed, which cannot be anticipated. The full number of the Gentiles must come in first."

The Pope says that this statement is "more accurate." He doesn't say it is "100% accurate." He indicates that there is something in it.

The other person he quotes is Hildegard Brem, who says, "In the light of Romans 11:25, the Church must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews, since she must wait for the time fixed for this by God, 'until the full number of the Gentiles come in' (Rom 11:25)."

The Pope says nothing about those words being true or false. He quotes them in an academic context while discussing the fact that the Church is oriented in her missionary efforts at saving the Gentiles; and that is true, we are oriented at saving the Gentiles, but not to the exclusion of saving everyone else. And the Pope doesn't say otherwise.

Kevin said...

I'd accept Bob's distinction. It was a very poor polemical device, but it was a polemical device nonetheless.

Had he simply said that Peter (also known as Cephas) did X, that would've sufficed.

What's interesting is that the Bob Sungenis of old (in his debate alongside Scott Butler versus James White and Robert Zins) explicitly says "Paul was overreacting." I never bought that distinction. What Peter did was wrong, and he was rightly rebuked. I think most people misinterpret what Paul did, but that's another story.

I think there's a lot more weaker remarks in his review (his terrible exegesis of "his blood be on us and our children, which completely ignores what Benedict says), but that's neither here nor there. Sungenis' "consistency" is interesting if nothing else.

williamthegreat said...

Remarkably sad. That's the prevailing comment which echoes in my mind as I, and the rest of us, watch Sungenis' slow, tragic descent into the inanity of Sedevacantism (for that is surely the position he'll find himself taking in the next few years, God's mercy notwithstanding). As a former Fundamentalist Protestant turned (amateur) Catholic Apologist, I've personally seen far too many instances of incomplete conversions to the Faith. Many people of good will are drawn to the Church, out of a recognition that She alone, among all religions, contains the fullness of truth; yet they often fail to cast off the shoddy epistemological patterns of thought they previously employed as Protestants, Mormons etc. The direct consequence of this, is eventual schism, or loss of faith altogether. I suppose we ought to be grateful that Robert (who has undoubtedly done great work for the Church) does not fall into the second category. Nevertheless, this recalls the tragedy that has become Gerry Matatics, and we should all say a rosary for both of these men each day, who, though very brilliant, find themselves thinking as men think, rather than as God thinks.