Archive for the ‘Analogies’ Category

Unto What Shall We Liken the Roman Hermeneutic?

February 5, 2012

Rome insists that she is an authentic interpreter of Scripture.  We can easily provide an example, within a document defining a dogma, of Rome making a clear blunder.  But let’s leave that aside for a second, and consider the effect of Rome’s claims on a conversation.

Christian: We should reject Marian devotion because the Bible teaches us to trust in God alone.
Roman apologist: You have wrongly interpreted the Bible.  Only Rome can authentically interpret the Bible.
Christian: That’s not true, the Bible was written to be understood.  Anyone can authentically interpret the Bible, and many do – some more, and others less, well than others.
Roman Apologist: No, you cannot understand the Bible without the Roman Catholic church.
Christian: That’s not so.
Roman Apologist: Look, it says so right here in Matthew 16:18.


Now, that appeal to Scripture looks an awful lot like the Roman Apologist conceding that people can understand the Bible without the Roman communion.  But behind that appearance lies a question about what this Roman hermeneutic entails.

1) Is it like special decoder glasses?

Is the Bible simply incomprehensible on its own, and one needs the Roman church to provide spectacles to make the incomprehensible, comprehensible?  If that were true, then it would make no sense to appeal to Scripture to anyone not already looking through the spectacles.

2) Is it like the answer key to a Rubik’s cube?
Is the Bible simply highly complicated, and one needs the Roman church to show the map of the way through to get the solution?  If this were the case, the appeal to Scripture might make sense.  This is just the first breadcrumb along a trail that eventually leads to Rome.  In fact, though, all of Rome’s attempts to prove her distinctive doctrines from Scripture fail.  When you get an answer key to a Rubik’s cube, you can see the parts all come together to form the solved puzzle, even if you couldn’t have done it on your own.  But with Rome, you don’t get satisfactory answers like that.  You get alleged solutions, but even knowing the supposed solutions, one cannot arrive at these solutions from Scripture.

3) Is it like the person who showed you how to look at “Magic Eye” 3D pictures?
Sure, at first it was just a weird bunch of lines and patterns, but once you were taught how to change your focus, suddenly the beautiful stereoscopic patterns emerged.  Some of Rome’s converts stories make it sound like they feel Rome’s hermeneutic is similar to this.  The two problems are – first, they don’t seem to be able to teach us how to see the butterfly amidst the squiggly lines – and second, until we see the butterfly, appeals to Scripture are just appeals to squiggle lines, and consequently futile.

4) Is it like Humpty Dumpty?
In Alice Through the Looking Glass, she encounters the character Humpty Dumpty who insists on making words mean what he wants them to mean, even when that meaning is quite distant from any conventional sense of the word.  Some of the arguments from the Roman side favor this interpretation.  After all, some Roman apologists try to approach the Bible as though it were the creation of the Church, rather than being God’s word delivered to the churches (and CCC 111 and 113 seem to encourage them to take this approach).  If the Bible were the product of the Church, then the authorial intent behind the words becomes important, and we need to let Humpty Dumpty use words like “only mediator” in a far from conventional sense.  One problem with that is that it turns the text of Scripture into such a “living document” that the document itself has no particular significance.  Matthew 16:18 might as well teach the papacy as it teaches the bodily assumption of Mary, so long as Rome says that is what it means.  The fact that we don’t see it in the actual meaning of the words doesn’t matter.

Ultimately, no matter what we liken the Roman hermeneutic to, we should realize that the Roman hermeneutic boils down to sola ecclesia: what Rome says goes.  If the Bible appears to say the same thing, and that convinces someone that Rome is right – great.  If the Bible appears to say the opposite, the Bible’s apparent meaning should be subordinated to what Rome teaches.

But if that’s Rome’s hermeneutic, then the appeals to Scripture as an authority are really disingenuous.  Honest Roman apologists shouldn’t argue that we should believe them because (to use their lingo) we interpret the Bible the same way they do.  After all, when we interpret the Bible differently, we’re supposed to just set that aside, no matter how clear the Bible is.

Yet, I welcome comments from Roman apologists, clergy, and even laity.  To what do you liken the Roman hermeneutic, and to what shall I compare it?  And when you try to quote the Bible to me, do you think I’m just unaware that your church teaches that “all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God”  (CCC 119, quoting Dei Verbum 12, 3rd paragraph)?


P.S. Oh, and by the way – the alternative is that the Bible is the very word of God, and that God made it clear enough to serve as a rule of faith and life for his church.  Not all parts are equally clear, however, and sin blinds the minds of some men so that even the most clear parts become dull.  Nevertheless, core doctrines (like the contents of the Apostles’ creed, for example) are plainly and unmistakeably set forth in the Scriptures, without the need for any special glasses, tricky eye techniques, or authoritative lexicography.

The Weakest Argument Against the Spiritual Presence

April 30, 2009

I recently received the pleasure of a comment from someone who has been following this blog for a long time, a reader who uses the handle “Orthodox” (“O” for short). O doesn’t necessarily represent Eastern Orthodoxy, but he does provide comments against the Reformed position.

O writes: “In too many places to list, Augustine says that the Eucharist IS Christ’s body and becomes Christ’s body. He doesn’t say it becomes Christ’s spirit.”

Agreed, both as to Augustine saying that (though certainly not in too many places to list) and as to that being what happens. The Eucharist IS Christ’s body and blood, and the bread, by being consecrated for the particular purpose, becomes Christ’s body, while the cup (or more specifically its contents) become the blood of Christ.

They are not and do not become Christ’s spirit and Augustine does not say so (which poses interesting problems for transubstantiation, but since Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t teach transubstantiation, that’s not necessarily a problem for O).

Nevertheless, Christ is spiritually (or mystically, if you prefer) present in the sacrament. We don’t derive this from the words of institution (this is my body etc.) but from other parts of Scripture. This spiritual presence does not imply any physical change in the elements, nor does it imply that Christ’s spirit is somehow contained within the elements. When we feed on Christ (and we do) in the sacrament, it is not through the act of grinding our teeth and digesting the physical substances, but by faith.

O continued: “What would Augustine have to say to convince you, that is the question I have to ask. Anything that could be said in favor of our position, he did say.”

As noted previously, there is no particular reason that the Eastern Orthodox view of the mystical presence needs to be set against the Reformed view (and Augustine’s view) of the spiritual presence. What Augustine would NOT say if he held to transubstantiation were things like: “Christ deprived them of his bodily presence.”

Positively, there are any number of ways that Augustine could have indicated that he meant that Christ was present in more than just a spiritual (or mystical) sense. He did not express himself in those terms, but instead made fairly clear comments to the contrary.

O concluded: “You say the argument is about bodily presence versus spiritual presence. Fine, Augustine says it is Christ’s body, so you lose, end of discussion.”

This is what I call the “weakest argument against the spiritual presence.” As I have noted over and over again, even someone who views the sacrament is merely symbolic could use those expressions.

Even those who hold to a bare symbolic view of the Eucharist affirm that the bread is the body of Christ and the cup is his blood: they simply understand those terms analogically. Perhaps an illustration would help:

Imagine boys playing capture the flag in the woods: there are two teams, the red team and the blue team. The boys from the red team huddle around in a small circle, while their leader draws a map in the dust. “This rock,” says the leader, “is Blue’s camp. “And this stick,” he continued, carefully placing a slender branch next to the rock, “is the creek.”

Now, who in their right mind would think that the leader meant that the rock was transubstantiated into the Blue team’s base, and who would think that the leader transmogrified the stick into a creek? No one would think that. Everyone would correctly understand that a symbolic sense is intended by the expression “This rock is Blue’s camp” and “this stick is the creek.” But for some reason (tradition!) people have trouble recognizing the obvious fact that “this is my body” and “this is my blood” were similar statements that shouldn’t be understood transubstantially but according to their most obvious sense: representatively and analogically.


Fishers of Men

July 19, 2008

I couldn’t help but smile at this lovely feel-good news story about a river rescue (link). At the same time it reminded me of the Biblical analogy between fishing and evangelism.

We need to be careful, of course, to remember that we do not fish with a baited (or lured) hook, but with a net. Recall the experience of the disciples who were fishing all night and caught nothing, but when they obeyed God’s instruction and fished on the other side of their boat, they got a massive haul?

Evangelizing can be like that. When God chooses to put fish in the net, he does so. We do our duty: we put the nets in the water, but God brings in the harvest of fishes. Sometimes it is a slow night, other times it is a busy morning.

But there is another application of the analogy. Sometimes we hear non-Calvinists suggest that man is drowning in a river, and God throws him a life preserver. Let me suggest that if God wanted to, God could pull him in with hook and line, like the fisherman in the story above. If God wants to save a man, nothing – not even a little bit of foolish flailing on the part of a spiritual flounder is going to stop that.

Even more amazingly, God can do so with means such as a hook that fights the will of the fish, but rather by changing the will of the fish so that he loves the net. Speaking for myself, I’ve been netted by the Lord, and I’ve never been happier. I’m his willing slave, who delights to be in the house of the Lord.

Praise be to that greater Fisher, for whom we are under-fishers,


Response to Counter-Analogies on the Atonement

April 20, 2008

In response to my earlier post regarding One of my Theological Opponents on the Atonement, Dan (GodIsMyJudge) has provided some objections:

Dan wrote:

“I found your analgesic tablet example inapplicable to Arminius’ point. Your using the tablet comes after someone having provided the tablet by putting it on your shelf. But in your view, the decree of election comes before Christ’s death. So while the tablet (after it’s been put on your shelf) is still able to alleviate your headache, Christ’s death (after Christ died) is unable to save the reprobate.”

a) It may be important to differentiate between historical order and decretal order. Certainly, with analgesics and with Christ’s death vis-a-vis post-Apostolic believers, the order of history is that provision is made and then the provision is applied. Obviously, there is no difference between the Arminian and Calvinist as to the historical order for the post-apostolic NT era.

b) The decree of election doesn’t change the intrinsic power of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice is still of infinite merit – even though it has been provided to save a finite, definite number of people.

c) The counter-analogy is unfair, because it compares a situation without any election (analgesic on shelf) to a situation with election. To fix that, we would need to add election to the analgesic part of the analogy.

Suppose that a pharmacist has a huge supply of analgesics behind the counter. Suppose also that 5 men come to him with headaches. Finally, suppose that he elects to give 4 of them the analgesic, but withholds the analgesic from the fifth person. Has the pharmacist’s election affected the analgesic’s properties in any way? Of course not. The analgesic still has the same intrinsic ability to cure headaches.

To make the analogy closer, though, we may need to stretch our minds a bit. Suppose instead of the pharmacist, we have a miracle worker, and instead of a headache we have blind men. Now, suppose that the miracle worker becomes aware of blind men in his city. Suppose he takes pity on three of the blind men who happen to beg on his street. Therefore, the miracle worker creates a staff that will heal the blindness of anyone who it touches. The miracle worker than takes the staff and touches those three blind men and no one else. Has the miracle worker’s election (even prior to the provision of the staff) affected the staff’s intrinsic properties such that it could not heal the other blind men in the city, if the miracle worker wanted to use the staff that way? Of course not. The staff still has the same intrinsic ability to cure blindness.

Even so, God has shown favor on some of mankind. He has provided for them His Son’s blood – blood of infinite intrinsic efficacy. Yes, the blood WILL not do the reprobate any eternal good, but it WOULD do the reprobate good if the reprobate turned from his sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, it WOULD do the reprobate good if Christ had offered it for the reprobate, in short it WOULD work for the purpose of expiating the sins of the reprobate if it were applied to that use.

Dan continued: “A Calvinist saying Christ is able to save the reprobate (or that Christ’s death was sufficient for them) is kinda like me saying I am able to speak French, because I could have taken French in college (even though I didn’t).”

This is also not a fair analogy, because we conventionally take “able to speak French” to mean something other than intrinsic ability to learn French. To make the analogy fair, we need to change the situation into one in which one elects not to exercise an intrinsic ability one already has.

Thus, for example, suppose that the King of your local jurisdiction declares that “He who speaks French shall die,” (and “pardon my French” is not a defense). Well, if – in that case – you had carefully studied French until you were thoroughly familiar with the language, you might say that you were able to speak French, and that the law (and your fear of death) do not affect your intrinsic ability to speak French.

But, in any event, the comparison to linguistic skills is somewhat foreign to Scripture. Instead, the better comparison is to that of a penal price. Christ’s death is a price that would have been accepted by the Father not only for the elect, but for all those for whom it was offered if it had been offered for more than for the elect.


Do Dead Men Bleed?

April 3, 2008

Illustration – the “Dead” Man

Recently, I heard a radio message in which the speaker provided an illustration: whether it is true or not, I do not know. It’s believable, which is all that matters for my purposes.

This is the story. I young doctor is working for a large hospital, which includes a facility for those suffering from maladies of the mind. The young doctor is not very experienced, but he’s very idealistic and he hopes to make a difference.

One day, the young doctor meets a patient who swears that he is dead. In fact, he swears that he’s been dead for years. This poor patient is somewhat delusional, obviously, but the young doctor thinks that some cognitive therapy might help. Surely, he could talk this man out of his delusion.

So, he sits the man down and asks him, “You’re dead, eh?”

“Yes,” the young man replies, “been dead for years.”

“Tell me,” the doctor replied, “do dead men bleed?”

The young man answered, “No, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a dead man bleeding. That wouldn’t really seem possible.”

At this point, the young doctor recognizes he has found the solution. One can almost see the glimmer of hope in his eye as he pulls a sterile hypodermic needle from his kit, requests the man finger, and pricks it with the needle.

Imagine his face, however, when hears the man exclaim, “Well look at that! Dead men DO bleed.”

The story is amusing to most people, because it is so absurd, and yet conceivable. That made me ask why. I realized that the thinking ran this way:

Premise 1: I am a dead man.
Premise 2: Dead mean don’t bleed.

From those premises, the natural conclusion is that I don’t bleed. We might characterize that as the expected conclusion.

Expected Conclusion: I don’t bleed.

But along comes evidence intended to disprove Premise 1 (that was the doctor’s intent). We’ll call this evidence the falsifying datum.

Falsifying Datum: I bleed.

It was hoped that this would cause the “dead” man to recognize that premise (1) was false, but instead the “dead” man instead rejected premise (2).

Parallel – the Scotsman Porridge-Sugaring

Readers may recognize this as similar to what has been called the “No True Scotsman ‘fallacy’,” (“fallacy” gets an extra set of quotes, because it is not strictly speaking a fallacy) in which

Premise (1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
Premise (2) No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Conclusion (1) Angus is not a true Scotsman.
Conclusion (2) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

It has occurred to me that both of these examples, the “No Dead Man” and the “No True Scotsman” examples, are simply examples of attempts to falsify, in which something goes wrong.

We could rearrange the NTS example this way:

(P1) Angus is a Scotsman.
(P2) No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
(EC) Angus doesn’t put sugar on his porridge.
(FD) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
Selection (by Gourmand): P1 is wrong.

There is a fundamental problem in both cases. In the first case, we’d like the dead man to select P1 as being wrong. In the second case, we’d like the Porridge gourmand to select P2 as wrong. In each case, we feel (intuitively) that the wrong selection has been made, but I respectfully submit to you, the reader, that the error made is not a strictly logical one. Instead, the error is epistemological. I’ll explain that in more detail shortly, but first let’s examine yet a third example (or actually a set of examples).

Roman Catholic Error Examples

(P1) Rome is the true church.
(P2) The true church cannot err.
(EC) Rome does not err.
(FD) Rome errs.
Selection: ?

Let’s knock out the non-Catholic answer right away. The non-Catholic simply says, I’m not surprised by the FD, because I never accepted either P1 or P2. That’s completely uninteresting.

Next, let’s turn to the reaction of someone like Gerry Matatics, who holds a “Traditionalist Catholic” to the point of being labeled by others a “Sedavacantist” and contrast that with the selection of mainstream conservative Catholic (presumably someone like Jimmy Akin or Scott Hahn).

Both of these folks would select not P1 or P2 as false, but would claim that the FD is incorrect. GM would argue that the FD is incorrect because while a mistake has been made, “Rome” is not a correct identification of the errant party. The MCC would argue that the FD is incorrect because, while Rome is the right party, “err” is an incorrect identification.

In other words, using the NDM example, it is as though the “dead” man says, “that’s not my blood” (GM case), or “that’s mine, but it’s not blood.” In the NTS example, it would be as though the gourmand says, “that’s not Angus putting sugar on the porridge” (GM case) or “Angus is putting SALT (or whatever) on his porridge” (MCC case).

As you can see, in the GM case, it is P1 that is – in essence – favored, whereas in the MCC case, it is P2 that is – in essence – favored. Perhaps “favored” could be alternatively expressed as “emphasized.” GM emphasizes that Rome is the true church, whereas the MCC emphasize that the true church does not err.

Explaining the Outcomes

What dictates the result? Aren’t any of those escapes as validly logically as any other? Apparent contradictions require resolution, and there are lots of ways to resolve them. One can deny one or another previously held premise, or one can reject the new datum, either favoring one premise or the other. There’s one other option, which we occasionally see from irrationalists, which is to accept all the data, but throw out reason (criticizing rational thought as an “either/or mentality”).

Each of these outcomes reject something:

NTS => reject first premise
NDM => reject second premise
GM => reject falsifier for first premise reason
MCC => reject falsifier for second premise reason
Irr => reject logic

The Irrationalist position is the oddball, but I think we’ll see that it can be fit within an overarching scheme. There are basically two intuitive ways to group the remaining four, either by which premise they favor (NTA and GM vs. NDM and MCC) or by whether they reject a premise or the falsifier (NTS and NDM vs. GM and MCC). Neither way is necessarily incorrect, as will be seen.

Ultimately, the answer to the question as to which outcome gets selected, is “what is the mostly tightly held view?” In other words, is it the first premise (the major premise), the second premise (the minor premise), premises as opposed to new data, or data as opposed to logic.

The Irrationalist falls in the last category. He holds logic the least strongly of all the items. Thus, he’s willing simply to accept contradiction, and throw out logic.

Those who favor the first premise simply interpret the FD in light of that premise, and vice versa for those who favor the second premise.

Finally, those who favor the premises over the FD are those who are not willing to be persuaded.

Judging the Processes

We intuitively recognize in the NTS and NDM examples that the person ought to accept the FD and ought to alter one of the premises. That’s partly because we know that one of the premises is suspect. In the NDM example, we’re pretty sure the guy is alive, and in the NTS example, we think that the broad claim about Scotsmen is too much.

We, Reformed Christians, view the GM and MCC situations as problematic for much the same reason: we believe that both the premises are false, and consequently we think that the FD should persuade those groups to reject the premises. Unfortunately, their minds prefer their premises over the new data.

We run that risk too. Any time something appears that facially contradicts an expected conclusion of our systems of thought, we need to ask ourselves how our premises are grounded. Indeed, that’s what we’d counsel the “dead” man and the gourmand.

“Why do you accept the premise that you are dead?” “Why are you so sure that Scotsmen don’t sugar their porridge?”

To the Catholics, we ask the same questions: “Why do you think that Rome is the true church, but more importantly, why do you think that the true church cannot err?”

Conclusion / Application

I respectfully submit that there is not a valid epistemological basis for the view that the true church cannot err. But trying to prove that to someone who tightly holds that as a premise is quite difficult, because mens minds seek to compromise that which they hold less tightly.

I sincerely think that there are many Catholics (and Orthodox and so forth) who hold to the premises that their church is the true church, and that the true church cannot err so tightly that when an error in the teaching of their church is presented to them they will either deny that it is an error (the majority reaction in the long run), or deny that it is a teaching of their church (the minority reaction in the long run, although sometimes the majority reaction in the short run).

That’s one reason that we need to be careful to limit our premises to things which cannot fail us. By God’s revelation, we are aware that this includes the Word of God in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. By keeping our presuppositional acceptance of Scripture as a minimal set of tightly held premises, we can avoid the various errors mentioned above.

Likewise, I hope that Catholics will consider whether an approach in which they presuppositionally accept the premise that Rome is the true church or (more importantly) the premise that the true church cannot err, is really the best hope for their discernment of the truth of the matter. I respectfully submit to them that they ought to reconsider those premises, as we have good reason to believe that both are incorrect.

May God give us grace to discern our errors,


Monergism vs. Synergism Discussion

February 16, 2008

In the video below, Dr. James White discusses monergist salvation with a synergist.

I mostly agree with Dr. White’s answers. However, as to the answer regarding the burning house, I’d have something else to say.

The analogy about the burning house is inaccurate, because the synergist does not assert that total passivity is the way that man is rescued from sin. Instead, the synergist asserts that man cooperates with God in order to be saved.

In other words, the situation is more like people hearing the voice of the fire marshall sounding through the smoky haze and some carefully follow his instructions and escape, and others ignore his instructions and perish.

Still, one might ask, do those who escape have any ground for boasting?

The intuitive answer is “no,” but it is important to understand why that is.

Imagine there is no fire marshall at all. Some manage to escape the fire by strenuously exerting themselves to escape the blaze, and others die because they make bad attempts.

No, again, one might, do those who escape have any ground for boasting?

I still think the intuitive answer is “no,” even though in this instance their salvation from the fire is entirely their own work. We wouldn’t think people who bragged about how they escaped when others perished to be very nice people.

So, perhaps that’s not quite what we mean by boasting. In other words, maybe what we mean by boasting is having any part in the credit for our salvation. In the last case, the escapees clearly can take credit. They used their wits or their muscles, or just their bravery to escape the fire.

But when we then reflect that back to the middle analogy where people cooperate with the fire marshall, we see that again those who are saved are those who are more obedient, more attentive, or have the good judgment to listen when others try to find their own way out. While they cannot take all the credit for their escape, it is a difference between them and the others that is the critical reason why they are saved and the others are not.

Even so in synergistic salvation. In synergistic salvation, man gets some of the credit, because man does some of the work. This detracts from the glory of God and contradicts Scripture. The former reason is enough to make the doctrine suspect, but the latter is the reason we reject synergism.

Scripture says:

Romans 3:24-28
24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Praise be to the God who Justifies!


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