Archive for the ‘Orthodox’ 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

Steve Hays on "Pelagian Calvinism"

February 26, 2009

Steve Hays has provided an in-depth response to Perry Robinson’s mischaracterization of Calvinism as “Pelagian.” (link)

-TurretinFan

A Sad Metaphor – Church Stolen But No One Noticed

December 16, 2008

Russian church stolen by thieves (link). Unfortunately, while it can happen that an entire church building can be taken by thieves without anyone noticing, it can also happen that a church hierarchy can be taken by thieves without people noticing.

The remedy in the first case is vigilance and attendance at the church building.

The remedy in the second case is vigilance and attendance on the Word of God found in the Holy Scripture.

John 10:1-18
1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

This also ties in with my previous post on the voluntary nature of Christ’s death.

-TurretinFan

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 01

September 4, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 01

Some folks seem to find relying on councils a comfort. For these folks, there are some inconvenient facts that they must face. This post is the first in what, Lord willing, will be a multi-part series.

Council of Elvira (306)

This fourth century Spanish council, attended by around 20 bishops and about the same number of “priests,” ultimately issued eighty-one canons (sometimes it is claimed that only the first 21 of these canons were original, and that the others were added later). Canon XXVI forbade paintings in churches. While this shows that painting began to be introduced into churches quite early (otherwise, no canon prohibiting such behavior would be necessary), it also shows early resistance to such idolatry.

It is also significant because iconodules (those who believe the use of images of God in worship to be acceptable) tend to point to an eighth century council in support of their position. It is an inconvenient fact, however, that the eight century council upon which they rely was a departure from earlier conciliar decisions.

-TurretinFan

Think of a Better Headline – Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope

August 22, 2008

The real headline was something about the two leaders of their respective religions (Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism) kissing. I’m sure this sort of thing gives ecumenicists the warm fuzzies.

One cannot fail to notice, however, the EP’s enormous, highly ornate, crown. Especially in view of the pope’s choice of going with much more low-key garb for the event (though one assumes that the mitre shown worn here by John 23rd is still kicking around the Vatican somewhere), the EP’s regalia stands out.

So, since humor is so rarely expressed on this blog, I thought it might be nice to have a little fun with recaptioning the image shown above.

My proposals:

1) “This really was not a mitre-optional event, Ben.”

2) “I’d have worn a zucchetto too, but it would not cover my enormous brain.”

Any thoughts from my readers?

-TurretinFan

Biblical Evidence for the Veneration of Relics Ignored?

August 14, 2008

Previously, I discussed (and rebutted) the claim that the Scriptural discussion of the transport of Joseph’s bones from Egypt to Canaan was evidence of the veneration of relics in the Old Testament (link). Now, I turn to a second favorite passage that relic-venerators tend to appeal to, as allegedly supporting their position. That passage is the discussion of the resuscitation of a man who touched Elisha’s bones.

The Scripture in question is as follows:

2 Kings 13:20-21
20And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. 21And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.

The point of this passage would seem to be an indication of the extreme poverty of the prophet, as well as a testimony to the reality of his divine appointment as a prophet.

1) Note that they buried Elisha. They did not place his bones in a synagogue or in the temple to be venerated.

2) Note that they buried Elisha in a place of the dead. This is confirmed by the fact that men who were burying a man (who is so unimportant as not even to be named in Scripture) found Elisha’s sepulcher at hand. Thus, it appears that Elisha’s sepulcher was not in a place of great importance, but in a place of the dead.

3) Note that Elisha’s sepulchre was open. If it had been a closed sepulchre, it would not have been convenient to dump a body into it. An open sepulchre was an unpleasant and foul thing, even though it had an important purpose. In fact, the Psalmist uses it to provide a negative picture of the sinful man’s mouth:

Psalm 5:9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.

Notice the comparison there. An open sepulchre, as you can see, has the advantage of not smelling so bad at the mouth of the sepulchre, but inside is death: a carcase. We can deduce that these open sepulchres were either deep (to accomplish this smell prevention issue), and consequently the prophet Jeremiah likens the quiver of mighty men to an open sepulchre:

Jeremiah 5:16 Their quiver is as an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men.

Or possibly the idea is that open sepulchres were in essence mass graves: which would also make sense both in the context of 2 Kings 13 and Jeremiah 5 (although I am inclined to the former view).

Some have suggested that an open sepulchre is basically a crevasse in the earth, a deep, naturally occurring pit into which a body could basically be dumped, thereby saving cost in terms of the time spent having to dig up the earth for burial. This would make sense as well – the idea being in Jeremiah 5 that the mighty men have a basically limitless supply of arrows.

4) The sepulchre was not a rock-face sepulchre, like that in which Jesus was buried. Recall that the man was not simply tossed or placed into the sepulchre, but lowered into the open sepulchre. This “lowered” suggests that the sepulchre opened upward rather than laterally. Again, this confirms that Elijah was not buried in some elaborate tomb designed to honor him, but rather in a low-cost alternative.

Analysis of Verse with Respect to Veneration Hypothesis

With the analysis above in mind, we should examine the verse in view of the hypothesis that it has something to do with venerating relics. Frankly, of course, there is no hint of veneration. Indeed, the idea of placing (even carefully) an apparently dead body on top of Elisha’s would seem to show the opposite of veneration for him (dead bodies were unclean).

One might argue that the knowledge that it was the place where Elisha was buried shows some amount of honor, but it is the sort of bare honor that demonstrates that Elisha was at least not buried in an unmarked grave (as contrasted, for example, with the Muslims’ practices).

Rather than being used specifically for the purposes of showing veneration, some might argue this as showing the supernatural effects associated with the corpses of holy men.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Elisha was particularly holy, it is interesting to note that the passage does not explicitly say that the man about to be buried was dead. It says he revived, which is ambiguous (both in the original Hebrew and in our English translation) as to whether the man came to life or simply recovered from a state of apparent death (presumably folks wouldn’t bury an apparently alive person).

Either way, it is reasonable to infer that one of the reasons for the mention of the revival was to highlight this as a sort of posthumous miracle of Elisha. It is a reasonable inference, but not a necessary one. Regardless of whether it is a correct inference, all that it demonstrates is that God chose to testify to Elisha’s gifts in this particular way at this particular time.

In other words, we would have no logical or proper ground to infer a general principle from this isolated and Scripturally unexplained occurrence. It certainly does not teach the veneration of relics, nor does it provide a rational basis for endorsing the superstitious legends that have sprung up around various relics, within churches that engage in relic veneration.

In short, we can reject the theory that 2 Kings 13:20-21 in any way supports relic veneration or the churches that practice such activity. You might think, based on the explanation above, that no one would attempt to use such a clearly unhelpful passage as 2 Kings 13:20-21, but – in fact – we see such happening in papist apologetics (Dave Armstrong, for example, falsely claims that “In the Old Law we read of the veneration of the Jews for the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32), and of the prophet Eliseus [Elisha] ….” (quoting with approval from Bertrand Conway) link; See also Steve Ray relying on Joseph and Elisha, Ron aka “Saint under Construction” similarly relying on Joseph and Elisha, and this anonymous article that has received Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur which relies on Elisha while wisely omitting reference to Joseph)

May the God of the Living keep us from this,

-TurretinFan

Bentlism vs. Exclusive Psalmody

August 3, 2008

I ran across this post (link) which provides a useful pair of videos. If you are not already sick to death of Bentley’s demonic anti-Christian “revival,” you may want to watch the first clip in its entirety (especially the reminder at the end). Otherwise, for the point I am making, you need only to watch the first minute or so of each. The post is provided by the blog titled (in this case somewhat unexpectedly) Let My People Read, by someone who is more charismatic (in both senses) than I am.

Now, for the comparison, watch the video embedded in this post (link).

One form of worship shows us the imitation of the world: the other shows the transformation of the world. One video shows man-made worship: the other inspired worship. One is the logical conclusion of strange-fire innovations in worship: the other a restoration of Orthopraxy.

Thankfully most folks who reject the Regulative Principle of Worship (or who consider the lyrics of praise merely an element) do not take it to this absurd logical conclusion.

-TurretinFan

P.S. It’s worth noting that the Psalms are still sung in “Orthodox” churches, normally (if not always) as the Apostles would have done in the synagogues, a capella. There have been some innovative additions in the song of EO worship as well (various Troparia, for example), but less addition is found there (in that regard) than one finds in a typical church that has innovated more freely. A post today by the Romanian Orthodox poster, Lvka provides some examples: (link – there may be some objectionable icons in some of the still images that accompany the audio in the clips Lvka has embedded).

Saint and Sinner – Hard at Work

April 27, 2008

Saint and Sinner has been hard at work providing well-composed, concise responses what he characterizes as “High Church” arguments:

The Infallible Knowledge Argument

The Doctrinal Chaos Argument

The Argument from Apostolic Tradition and Succession (Related: The Influence of Greco-Roman Culture on Early Christianity)

The Argument from Canon Certainty

Most of his arguments/assertions seem reasonable. Even though I might quibble here and there – adding in one place and taking away in another – his posts show a lot of effort and systematic thought on the issues.

I hope you enjoy!

-TurretinFan

Yet More Territorial Squabbling in the East

April 21, 2008

Further to my post (here), we have another example of “Orthodox” priests (and congregants) who seem to find combat appropriate for territorial reasons (link). This post also helps to put some recent controversies within Reformed circles in perspective. Whatever else may be going on, it has not yet come to palm fronds!

-TurretinFan


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