Archive for the ‘Gabe Martini’ Category

Did Hippo, Carthage, or Rome’s Bishop Settle the Canon?

August 25, 2009

Some Roman Catholics are under the false impression that the councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and/or Carthage (A.D. 397) authoritatively settled the canon of Scripture for the church – either directly or by endorsement by one or more Roman bishops. To be deep in history, however, is to cease to be so naive.

John of Damascus (lived from about A.D. 676 – 749) wrote on the canon of the New Testament:

The New Testament contains four gospels, that according to Matthew, that according to Mark, that according to Luke, that according to John; the Acts of the Holy Apostles by Luke the Evangelist; seven catholic epistles, viz. one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; fourteen letters of the Apostle Paul; the Revelation of John the Evangelist; the Canons of the holy apostles, by Clement.

– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 17

You will note that differs from our canon by the inclusion of the canons of Clement. He was wrong to include that work, but the fact remains that there was not a “catholic” (universal) canon of the New Testament even as late as the 8th century. There was widespread agreement by that time on the 27 books that we recognize were inspired, but there was no authoritative presence telling all Christians they must accept one set of books or another. Ask any Eastern Orthodox scholar when their church defined the canon – the answer will not be a date, and it may be a lecture on the difference between the eastern churches and those of the West.

On the Old Testament, John of Damascus similarly provides a list:

Observe, further, that there are two and twenty books of the Old Testament, one for each letter of the Hebrew tongue. For there are twenty-two letters of which five are double, and so they come to be twenty-seven. For the letters Caph, Mem, Nun, Pe, Sade are double. And thus the number of the books in this way is twenty-two, but is found to be twenty-seven because of the double character of five. For Ruth is joined on to Judges, and the Hebrews count them one book: the first and second books of Kings are counted one: and so are the third and fourth books of Kings: and also the first and second of Paraleipomena: and the first and second of Esdra. In this way, then, the books are collected together in four Pentateuchs and two others remain over, to form thus the canonical books. Five of them are of the Law, viz. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. This which is the code of the Law, constitutes the first Pentateuch. Then comes another Pentateuch, the so-called Grapheia, or as they are called by some, the Hagiographa, which are the following: Jesus the Son of Nave, Judges along with Ruth, first and second Kings, which are one book, third and fourth Kings, which are one book, and the two books of the Paraleipomena which are one book. This is the second Pentateuch. The third Pentateuch is the books in verse, viz. Job, Psalms, Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes of Solomon and the Song of Songs of Solomon. The fourth Pentateuch is the Prophetical books, viz the twelve prophets constituting one book, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. Then come the two books of Esdra made into one, and Esther. There bare also the Panaretus, that is the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Jesus, which was published in Hebrew by the father of Sirach, and afterwards translated into Greek by his grandson, Jesus, the Son of Sirach. These are virtuous and noble, but are not counted nor were they placed in the ark.

– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 17

You will notice that this is just the same (if we understand his “two books of Esdra” to refer to Ezra and Nehemiah, which seems probable and if we further assume that Lamentations is viewed as a part of Jeremiah, which is also probable) as our canon of the Old Testament, including the relegation of Wisdom and Sirach to a lesser status (useful, but not inspired).

What’s more, we see that John of Damascus (iconophile though he may have been) shares a very high view of Scripture:

It is one and the same God Whom both the Old and the New Testament proclaim, Who is praised and glorified in the Trinity: I am come, saith the Lord, not to destroy the law but to fulfil it [St. Matt. v. 17.]. For He Himself worked out our salvation for which all Scripture and all mystery exists. And again, Search the Scriptures for they are they that testify of Me [St. John v. 39.]. And the Apostle says, God, Who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son [Heb. i. 1, 2.]. Through the Holy Spirit, therefore, both the law and the prophets, the evangelists and apostles and pastors and teachers, spake.

All Scripture, then, is given by inspiration of God and is also assuredly profitable [2 Tim. iii. 16.]. Wherefore to search the Scriptures is a work most fair and most profitable for souls. For just as the tree planted by the channels of waters, so also the soul watered by the divine Scripture is enriched and gives fruit in its season [Ps. i. 3.], viz. orthodox belief, and is adorned with evergreen leafage, I mean, actions pleasing to God. For through the Holy Scriptures we are trained to action that is pleasing to God, and untroubled contemplation. For in these we find both exhortation to every virtue and dissuasion from every vice. If, therefore, we are lovers of learning, we shall also be learned in many things. For by care and toil and the grace of God the Giver, all things are accomplished. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened [St. Luke xi. 10.]. Wherefore let us knock at that very fair garden of the Scriptures, so fragrant and sweet and blooming, with its varied sounds of spiritual and divinely-inspired birds ringing all round our ears, laying hold of our hearts, comforting the mourner, pacifying the angry and filling him with joy everlasting: which sets our mind on the gold-gleaming, brilliant back of the divine dove [Ps. lxviii. 13.], whose bright pinions bear up to the only-begotten Son and Heir of the Husbandman [St. Matt. xxi. 37.] of that spiritual Vineyard and bring us through Him to the Father of Lights [Jas. i. 17.]. But let us not knock carelessly but rather zealously and constantly: lest knocking we grow weary. For thus it will be opened to us. If we read once or twice and do not understand what we read, let us not grow weary, but let us persist, let us talk much, let us enquire. For ask thy Father, he saith, and He will shew thee: thy elders and they will tell thee [Deut. xxxii. 7.]. For there is not in every man that knowledge [1 Cor. viii. 7.]. Let us draw of the fountain of the garden perennial and purest waters springing into life eternal [St. John iv. 14.]. Here let us luxuriate, let us revel insatiate: for the Scriptures possess inexhaustible grace. But if we are able to pluck anything profitable from outside sources, there is nothing to forbid that. Let us become tried money-dealers, heaping up the true and pure gold and discarding the spurious. Let us keep the fairest sayings but let us throw to the dogs absurd gods and strange myths: for we might prevail most mightily against them through themselves.

– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 17

Scriptures tell us what to believe and how to live. I would be very interested if someone wanted to try to find any comparable statement by John Damascene on oral tradition or (with still lower probability) the interpretative tradition of “the church.”

-TurretinFan

Thanks to former Federal Visionist Gabe Martini, whose quotations from Eastern sources I’ve been enjoying, for bringing this to my attention (link to his Eastern Orthodox blog).

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Responding to Martini’s Answers to Objections

July 21, 2009

Gabe Martini at The Franciscan Mafia has a post up (incidentally, while I believe Mr. Martini was previously associated with the Federal Vision group, it appears that he has now switched his allegiance to Eastern Orthodoxy)(link to post). The post is designed to answer an objection to the Eastern Orthodox. Here’s the objection:

The Orthodox Church teaches that it is infallible; that is, incapable of any error. The Orthodox Church claims that it is incapable of erring in not only its interpretation of Scripture but also in its teachings, dogmas, canons, and decrees. There is, in other words, no possibility of reform within the Orthodox Church and the Tradition of the Church is therefore not subject to the authority of the Scriptures.

Mr. Martini responds to this objection in a rather unusual way. He does not directly dispute any part of the objection, instead he asserts that it misrepresents “the origin or source of the Church’s infallibility.” With all due respect, Mr. Martini’s assertion is incorrect. In fact, the objection as stated doesn’t identify (at all!) any alleged origin or source of the EO church’s alleged infallibility.

What Mr. Martini seems to be trying to argue (without properly establishing the matter) is that the EO church is infallible because she is the mouth of God. Of course, if the EO church were really the mouth of God, how could she err? Can God err? But the idea that the EO church is the mouth of God is not a premise we’re willing to concede just because Mr. Martini asserts it.

Mr. Martini also asserts: “The major disagreement between Protestants and the Orthodox, for example, is not between one’s view of “tradition” but between one’s view of Truth.” This argument doesn’t especially support the main thesis of misrepresentation, but it may have some value. Let’s explore what Mr. Martini means:

Since Protestants view Scripture as “objective truth” which we subjectively understand (and leaving the possibility that our understanding can be shown as incorrect in light of future understanding), they not only view Christ as just another “objective truth” which we need to apprehend intellectually (which is how many will define “faith”) but they view tradition and other issues in the same way as well.

The wording of this comment does show Mr. Martini to be less than thrilled with the academic rigor of “Protestantism.” Furthermore, it is the case that some “Protestants” (perhaps even some of the Reformed) can find themselves viewing their faith in Christ as purely intellectual assent (although such is contrary to the teachings of the Reformed churches.

Mr. Martini’s anti-intellectual comment, though, seems to be well connected with the anti-intellectual milieu of Eastern Orthodoxy. But Mr. Martini wants to drive a wedge between objective truth and what he calls “personal truth,” which sounds like pure relativism, especially in light of comments like this:

Therefore, the infallibility claims of the Orthodox Church are related to “objective truth” and not personal Truth as She understands it. Truth can only be personal, for we can only be individuals in the context of a community and so it is with Truth. God’s Truth in His Holy Church is expressed to us by means of People and the faithful life of such community — of such communion. The claim to being capable of infallibility is not about having the best scholarship or the best traditions, it is a claim that what we have been given and what has been preserved by the blood of martyrs is the Personal Truth given by God through Christ and His Apostles and handed down to us through the Liturgy, Councils, Canons, Fathers, Saints, Martyrs, and Icons of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

This sounds for all the world like: “We aren’t saying that our traditions are objectively true, but rather that we believe them to be true and we got them from the apostles somehow.” When we examine the apostolic teachings handed down to us (“traditioned to us” if you will) in Scripture, we discover that the EO teachings (however strongly they are sincerely held by the EO churches) don’t fully align with the teachings of the apostles.

Mr. Martini continues:

When Protestants approach the Church Fathers, as well, they assume that the infallibility of the Church means that all so-called Fathers of the Church are infallible in everything they say.

This certainly is a common mistake, both in addressing the errors of EO as well as in addressing the errors of Roman Catholicism. Of course Roman Catholicism accepts the concept of objective truth, so the response that Mr. Martini is about to provide would help them, but both EO and Roman Catholicism recognize that their “saints” were fallible men.

One commenter allied with Rome noted on my blog that his church permits their saints not to agree in every respect with modern Rome. We might likewise say that the EO permit their saints not to agree in every respect with the modern teachings of whichever EO church one is considering (the EO have a much less centralized hierarchy). Mr. Martini’s response:

Many Fathers say things that seem to be at odds with one another, and some Fathers are even later condemned by Ecumenical Councils as heretical in their teachings, or in specific teachings (e.g. Origen, Tertullian). The problem with this approach again lies in the Protestant’s rationalistic approach to truth and understanding; i.e., that of objective truth or subjective truth. They can only conceive of Church Fathers who are making objective truth claims and therefore only approach them as sources of objective truth, forgetting all along to approach them as living people, alive with us in Christ to this very day.

Mr. Martini’s comment here seems misplaced. It is plain from reading the writings of even fairly “Eastern” fathers (such as Gregory of Nyssa) that he thought he was providing objective truth in his writings. He sought to “prove” his positions from Scripture, and he demanded Scriptural proof from his critics. This is also seen from the councils that condemned as heretical some of the teachings of earlier “church fathers” such as Origen. They were not willing to simply accept Origen as a “living person, alive with us in Christ to this very day,” but were willing to condemn his doctrines or practices as false in certain aspects.

But the vacillating argument of Mr. Martini does not stop there. He continues:

The truth of the Church is the life of Christ Himself. Only when one assumes a “rationalistic” or “nominalistic” view of truth and the false dichotomy of “objective” and “subjective” truth would one also have trouble with the truth claims of Holy Orthodoxy. For in Orthodoxy, it is not incumbent upon every person to equally have a full knowledge and understanding of all things theological or doctrinal, as you’ll find encouraged within Protestantism[.] This is simply because Protestants and Westerners view truth as an object to be grasped while the Eastern Church views truth as Christ Himself; a Person to know and be known by through our living of his life again and again in the Liturgy and life of the Church itself. As a result, there can be no “individual” discovery of truth within Orthodoxy in the sense of rational discovery or intellectual accomplishment. The truth of Holy Tradition is found in the conciliatary nature of the Church and our living together as a community united by One Faith and One All-Holy Trinity.

That first sentence sounds quite grand, but it lacks content. What does it mean that the “truth of the Church is the life of Christ”? Well, apparently (and we have to say “apparently” because there is no explicit explanation) the comment is intended to suggest that what the EO church says is true, because the EO church is, in some sense, Christ. This is actually quite the same argument that Catholicism makes, and is as unsupported by EO assertion as it by Roman assertion. While Christ is united with his church, the church is made up of all those who believe, not a particular sect.

There is another and more uniquely EO argument in that string of thought, however. The argument is that we should treat the saints not as individuals but as a collective. There’s certainly some intuitive value in this approach. The major problem, of course, is that the “saints” wrote as individuals, not as a collective (leaving aside a small handful of allegedly ecumenical councils). Approaching those writings as a “collective” is a difficult task, to say the least. Indeed, individual inconsistencies within individual fathers can make fully understanding their thought difficult. So likewise, and much more so, it can be difficult to get a strong sense of the shared beliefs of a particular school of patristic thought (such as the Alexandrian, Antiochian, or Cappadocian schools). Trying to say “the fathers believed ‘x'” without at least qualifying the statement by century and school seems rash, since there is so much variety of thought among them. In short, the proposal of trying to consider them as a collective is largely untenable.

Well, it is untenable if you hope to discriminate truth from error. Mr. Martini, however, seems content not to separate truth from error. He quotes approvingly the following statement: “The Church is infallible, not because it expresses the truth correctly from the point of view of practical expediency, but because it contains the truth. The Church, truth, infallibility, these are synonymous.”

The danger of Mr. Martini’s approach can be illustrated by an example. Suppose that one has a basket full of wheat and arsenic. It would be absurd to say that the bag was pure wheat simply because it contained wheat. Likewise it is absurd to say that a church which may contain both truth and damnable heresies is infallible. Does EO contain the truth? Well, they have Bibles and those Bibles teach the truth. But that doesn’t address the objection.

The objection is about reform. Is reform impossible in EO? Is it impossible that the teachings of the EO are in error? If so, then it seems the objection holds, and if not – then it seems that the objection may be misplaced.

Martini claims:

Regardless, the Orthodox Church never claims that She is “in every way and instance” infallible. However, there are truths of the Faith which are considered to be “trustworthy” and “without error,” and fully believed to lead one into salvation and proper devotion to Christ. It is only in these areas that the Church is to be considered infallible and that is appropriately expressed and found in various places within the life of the Church (such as Her liturgy, prayers, psalms, icons, canons, apostolic doctrines, ecumenical councils, etc.).

The “in every way and instance” seems to be a straw man. Not even Rome claims that kind of infallibility.

Martini’s final argument:

Finally, the idea of the Orthodox Church in its infallibility not being subject to the authority of the Scriptures is a strange objection, as according to Orthodoxy, the Scriptures are truly the authoritative Word of God.

I’m not sure why this seems odd to Mr. Martini. Rome makes the same kind of claim. Both Rome and the EO churches say that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God, yet both view reform of official church teachings in light of the Word an impossibility. That’s not “a very sincere reverence for the Scriptures” (as Martini claims) but lip service.

Martini also included, in his concluding paragraph, a reference to the creed:

Indeed, the meaning of the words “I believe in,” found within the Symbol of Faith (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) imply trust, and when we confess our faith/trust in the Church alongside our faith in the All-Holy Trinity (and strikingly, not in the Scriptures alone or separate from our faith in the Trinity and the Catholic Church), there should be no confusion left about how we are to view the Church.

Sadly, there is much confusion in this description of the creed.

First of all, it’s worth noting that the clause including reference to the church is part of the additions made at the Council of Constantinople. It’s not part of the core Nicene creed, but that’s at least implicitly recognized by the name Mr. Martini gives it.

Second, the creed as a “symbol of faith” is a summary of Scripture teachings, not some new teachings. As Augustine (circa A.D. 354-430) explained:

We have, however, the catholic faith in the Creed, known to the faithful and committed to memory, contained in a form of expression as concise as has been rendered admissible by the circumstances of the case; the purpose of which [compilation] was, that individuals who are but beginners and sucklings among those who have been born again in Christ, and who have not yet been strengthened by most diligent and spiritual handling and understanding of the divine Scriptures, should be furnished with a summary, expressed in few words, of those matters of necessary belief which were subsequently to be explained to them in many words, as they made progress and rose to [the height of] divine doctrine, on the assured and steadfast basis of humility and charity.

Augustine, Of Faith and the Creed, Chapter 1

Note that it is especially for novices, for those not yet familiar with Scripture.

Third, while the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed may be confusingly worded, the historic understanding was not that we believe “in the church” as the object of our trust, but rather that we believe in the existence of one church.

Rufinus (circa A.D. 344-410) explains with reference to the Apostles’ creed:

36. “The Holy Church; The Forgiveness of Sin, the Resurrection of This Flesh.” It is not said, “In the holy Church,” nor “In the forgiveness of sins,” nor “In the resurrection of the flesh.” For if the preposition “in” had been added, it would have had the same force as in the preceding articles. But now in those clauses in which the faith concerning the Godhead is declared, we say “In God the Father,” and “In Jesus Christ His Son,” and “In the Holy Ghost,” but in the rest, where we speak not of the Godhead but of creatures and mysteries, the preposition “in ” is not added. We do not say “We believe in the holy Church,” but “We believe the holy Church,” not as God, but as the Church gathered together to God: and we believe that there is “forgiveness of sins;” we do not say “We believe in the forgiveness of sins;” and we believe that there will be a “Resurrection of the flesh;” we do not say “We believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” By this monosyllabic preposition, therefore, the Creator is distinguished from the creatures, and things divine are separated from things human.

Rufinus, A Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, Section 36

Martini also throws out another interesting claim:

Nowhere do we read in the Scriptures that the “Bible” (which didn’t exist until the 4th century and wasn’t readily available to Christians even up until the 17th or 18th centuries at the earliest) is the “pillar and foundation of truth” — only the Church.

What Mr. Martini seems to be unaware of is that there have been various interpretations of the verse he identifies. For example, the earliest implicit interpretation (of which I’m aware) is this one from Irenaeus (circa A.D. 115-202):

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 1

Notice that Irenaeus considers the “ground and pillar of our faith” to be the Scriptures, not the church. In fact, he goes on to say that Gospels are ground and pillar of the church (not vice versa):

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 11

Irenaeus provides one interpretation, but Gregory of Nyssa provides another, he says that Paul is speaking of Timothy personally (link). Gregory of Nazianzen seems to have a similar view in that he refers to his father (link) and Eusebius Bishop of Samosata (link) each as a “pillar and ground of the Church.” And, of course, the apostles were viewed as pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.) so it should be no surprise that the writings of the apostles, together with the other Scriptures should be the foundation of the Church whose who object and purpose it is easy to support and defend the truth.

Thus, we in Augustine’s response to Petilianus’ question the same thing:

Petilianus said:

David also said, ‘The oil of the sinner shall not anoint my head.’ Who is it, therefore, that he calls a sinner? Is it I who suffer your violence, or you who persecute the innocent?

Augustine answered:

As representing the body of Christ, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and mainstay of the truth, dispersed throughout the world, on account of the gospel which was preached, according to the words of the apostle, “to every creature which is under heaven:” as representing the whole world, of which David, whose words you cannot understand, has said, “The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved;” whereas you contend that it not only has been moved, but has been utterly destroyed: as representing this, I answer, I do not persecute the innocent.

Augustine, Answer to the Letters of Petilian, the Donatist, Chapter 104, Sections 236-37

Notice how Augustine views the Church as the pillar and mainstay of the truth, not in itself but by virtue of “the gospel which was preached.”

Before commending himself to Christ at the intercession of the saints, Mr. Martini provides one last jab:

Indeed, if the Church was in any way successful in infallibly preserving the true Faith of Christ, then that should be made evident, and the blood of the Martyrs and lives of the Saints who have gone before us and “finished the race set before them” are proof enough for this very fact.

To which I respond:
1) The Faith of Christ is passed down in Scriptures, which are able to make one wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16);
2) Scriptures are able to furnish one for martyrdom and for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17); and
3) Martyrs are a powerful testimony, but do not forget that four hundred fifty priests of Baal were slain in one day by Elijah’s command (1 Kings 18) who Jehu subsequently imitated (2 Kings 10). Dying for one’s faith may show sincerity, but it does not prove particular doctrines to be correct. And do not forget, there have been no shortage of martyrs who have confessed the name of Jesus but have not been in communion either with Constantinople or Rome.

In Conclusion

Every church ought to recognize that it is a church, not the church. As such, it ought to be willing to modify its positions if it can be shown from Scripture that those teachings are wrong. Conversely, a church ought not to bind men’s consciences with doctrines not taught in Scripture. Any church who seeks to be a pillar and ground of the church should have no problem with such requests, just as any teacher who wishes to be a pillar should obtain his own foundation in the Holy Scriptures.

-TurretinFan

Bad Exegesis Illustrated

December 26, 2008

I stumbled across an example of truly terrible exegesis today (link). It’s not exegesis of Scripture, but exegesis of another written document, the PCA’s Book of Church Order. The author of the post, Gabe Martini, argues that this restriction, “58-2. The ignorant and scandalous are not to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper,” should bar all from the Lord’s table, because all men are ignorant or scandalous on some level. This is a bizarre reading of the text.

What the PCA BCO is saying is that those unable to “discern the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.) and those who are living in open, unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.) should not be admitted to the Lord’s table.

Now, this bad exegesis is not because Martini cannot read, but because he disagrees with what is written. He generally understands that these two restrictions are meant and not that “Nobody’s Welcome” as he proclaims.

I am guessing that Martini is not opposed to the latter restriction, but only to the former. In fact, I don’t have to guess, his railing continues:

Realistically, this is simply meant to ban two groups of people that Jesus hates from the Table: retarded people and babies. Yeah, those [expletive omitted] babies and retarded people! God surely doesn’t care about them, right? Right.

WRONG.

Martini’s objection is misplaced. 1 Corinthians 11:29 doesn’t teach that Jesus hates children and the simple-minded, but rather that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a serious matter, not to be undertaken without proper self-examination. Barring children and the simple-minded from the communion table is not out of hatred for them, but love for them – and concern that they do not eat unworthily.

-TurretinFan


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