Archive for the ‘Truth’ Category

Candida Moss and the Truth Value of Martyrdom

April 8, 2013

In The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Moss repeats the assertion that martyrdom is used as proof of the truth of the martyrs’ views. For example at page 43 she states, “The notion that her innocence is proved by her death is uncomfortable to us, but it is the same idea that we saw with Socrates: individuals’ worth and the truth of their claims are irrefutably proved by their deaths.”

Likewise, at page 17 she poses the question: “Why would the apostles have been willing to suffer and die for Jesus if he hadn’t really been resurrected from the dead? Why would early Christians have been martyred if Christianity weren’t true?” At page 23, Dr. Moss puts virtually the same words in the mouth of her divinity teacher.

At page 80, Dr. Moss states “the adaptation of paganism into Christianity threatens the idea that Christianity alone has the truth. Those who reject the classical tradition for religious reasons and hold Christian martyrs in high esteem tend to ignore Greek and Roman antecedents to martyrdom.” Likewise, at page 81, Dr. Moss states “The problem is that this isn’t what Christians have said about martyrdom. They have said that it is unique to Christianity, thoroughly new, and a mark of Christianity’s sole possession of the truth. Christianity is true, it is said, because only Christians have martyrs.”

At page 137, Dr. Moss states “The result of this is that the fact of the apostles’ deaths cannot be used as evidence for the truth of Christianity, the resurrection, or any other detail of Jesus’ ministry. We know that the apostles died, but how they died, on what charges, and in what manner are far beyond our grasp. Without that information it is impossible to state that their deaths prove anything.”

At page 250, Dr. Moss states “In Christian terms, if you’re being persecuted, you must be doing something right. It’s a rather easy trick: if anyone can claim to stand in continuity with the martyrs and be victims of persecution, and if being persecuted authenticates one’s religious message, then anyone can claim to be right.”

These form a seemingly central aspect of Dr. Moss’ book – her argument that martyrdom doesn’t prove anything. Yet martyrdom does actually establish the sincerity of the martyr. It’s not infallible, to be sure. A person may suffer martyrdom because they are suicidal, rather than because they really hold to the forbidden view.

Dr. Moss is definitely correct in rebuking those who argue “he died for Christianity, so Christianity must be true.” But that is certainly not the right way to appeal to the martyrs. J. Warner Wallace is an example of a more correct use of the argument from martyrs (link), although I would point out that the source reliable historical information about the death of the apostles is canonical Scripture.

Almost none of Dr. Moss’ arguments would respond to Wallace’s usage. The one argument that might apply is this one: “The result of this is that the fact of the apostles’ deaths cannot be used as evidence for the truth of Christianity, the resurrection, or any other detail of Jesus’ ministry. We know that the apostles died, but how they died, on what charges, and in what manner are far beyond our grasp. Without that information it is impossible to state that their deaths prove anything.” (p. 137)

It seems that Dr. Moss has forgotten about the martyrdom of James.

Acts 12:1-3
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

Likewise, Dr. Moss seems to have forgotten about the prophecy of Peter’s death:

John 21:17-19
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Or perhaps Dr. Moss simply does not trust Acts (she seems rather uncertain that the author of Acts is Luke) or John.

It’s difficult to say what her argument is, on points where she offers no argument.


So Good Men Differ … so what?

July 20, 2009

One of the perennial comments one hears is that if either A or B were correct “it is doubtful that so many Bible-believing, godly evangelical Christians would have wound up on each side.” This flawed position assumes that “godly evangelical Christians” always tend to end up agreeing with correct positions.

That’s a flawed assumption. In fact, “godly evangelical Christians” often disagree over things of lower consequence than the gospel. Take infant baptism as an example, or the proper ecclesiology.

What’s worse is when people (such as Craig Blomberg) make the further leap of advocating something in-between those two positions as though this somehow bridged the gap created by the two positions.

In the case of Dr. Blomberg, the problem is worse because he’s not actually adopted a position in the middle between Calvinism and Arminianism (the two positions he originally identified): he’s adopted the Arminian position with a Molinistic explanation — which is more like a halfway point between Calvinism and Open Theism, not between Calvinism and Arminianism. In fact, the “Arminian” position he identifies is that of William Lane Craig, one of the leading advocates for Molinism.

Even if Dr. Blomberg had actually picked something between Calvinism and Arminianism (rather than just picking Arminianism), what Dr. Blomberg has overlooked is that as soon as you set up a third position, the original argument still stands, only now there are three positions instead of two: three positions that “godly, Evangelical Christians” hold to. So the truth must be a fourth, and then (once people find that), a fifth, etc. ad infinitum.

Finally, Dr. Blomberg overlooks the fact that “godly evangelical Christians” disagree (mostly) with his fundamental premise that if “godly evangelical Christians” disagree about something, both sides must be wrong. This creates something of a paradox, since Dr. Blomberg must now rethink his original synthetic premise by synthesizing it with the position that “just because ‘godly evangelical Christians’ disagree about something doesn’t mean both are wrong” position.

Truth is absolute, not relative. Just because “godly evangelical Christians” disagree about something doesn’t mean both sides are wrong (or, necessarily, that either side is right). We need to continually go back to Scripture and let that (not counting heads) be our way of determining truth.

Thanks to Josh Walker for pointing this out to me.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 19

September 23, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 19

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 nineteenth in the multi-part series.

Seventh Ecumenical Council (783) – Destroyed Patristic Writings Opposed to Icons

In mocking words, the council commanded that all writings opposed to icons be turned over to the Patriarch of Constantinople, whose job it was to prevent these writings from being read. This command was to be enforced by deposing clergy from office and excommunicating laymen and monks:

All boyish whimwhams and mad bacchanalia, the false writings that have been brought forth against the venerable icons, must be turned in to the Bishopric of Constantinople to be put away together with the rest of heretical books. If, on the other hand, anyone should be found hiding these, if he be a Bishop, a Presbyter, or a Deacon, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman or a monk, let him be excommunicated.

You will notice that, in theory, there was a sort of “heretical library” to be possessed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In effect, however, the removal of iconoclastic books from circulation had the effect of destroying those books, especially since one would not expect the Patriarch to keep each copy of every book.

As almost a footnote, it is interesting to see that this prominent role was held by the Patriarch of Constantinople, not the Patriarch of Rome. There is, of course, a practical reason beyond the fact that the Bishop of Rome was not considered the head of the church in that day: the heart of the resistance to icons would be expected to come from the Eastern church, where just 30 years previously a similarly sized council had condemned icons as contrary to Scripture and Tradition.

Ultimately, though, this council’s decree creates an easy historical explanation for the dearth of writings from the Early Church Fathers against images of Christ: they were rounded up and ultimately destroyed by those who followed the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council. But for this council, any silence in the Early Church Fathers on this topic would have been harder to explain.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 18

September 22, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 18

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 eighteenth in what has become a multi-part series.

Fifth Lateran Council (1512-17) – Promotion of Religious Wars in 16th Century

It is widely held in Catholicism today that John Paul II acknowledged the religious wars of the past were a mistake. What is an inconvenient truth for such folks is that these wars were, even to at least the 16th century, promoted by the Roman church. Those who count there as being 21 ecumenical councils consider the Fifth Lateran Council to be the 18th Ecumenical Council.

The council decreed:

We decree, with the approval of the sacred council, that the said campaign against the infidels is to be undertaken and carried through. Zeal for the faith prompts us to this. It has been so often proposed and promised by us and our predecessor Julius in the sessions referred to, when the business of the council was being explained. On several occasions it was communicated to, and discussed with, spokesmen at our court representing kings and princes. Pope Nicholas V, our predecessor of pious memory, summoned a general expedition against the infidels after the disastrous fall of Constantinople in order to crush their fury and to avenge the wounds of Christ. Callistus III and Pius II, of happy memory our predecessors as Roman pontiffs, urged on by zeal for the faith, followed in the same path with skill and energy. During a subsequent period of three years, we imitated them by means of an authorisation from ourselves and our said brothers for imposing and exacting a tithe on the revenues of churches, monasteries and other benefices throughout the world and for doing each and every other thing that is necessary and customary in a campaign of this kind. We continually pour forth holy, humble and earnest prayers to almighty God that the campaign may have a happy outcome. We order the same to be done by all Christ’s faithful of either sex. We exhort Maximilian, the emperor-elect, and kings, princes and christian rulers, whose courage God bids us to rouse, beseeching them by the tender mercy of our God, Jesus Christ, and appealing to them by his fearful judgment to remember that they shall have to render an account of their defence and preservation — even by giving their lives — of the church itself, which has been redeemed by Christ’s blood, and to rise up in strength and power for the defence of the christian faith, as is incumbent on them as a personal and necessary duty, with all mutual hatred being set aside and quarrels and conflicts among themselves being committed to everlasting oblivion. At this time of such great need, let them offer with eagerness their ready assistance in keeping with their resources. We urge with paternal affection and ask them that, at least during the campaign, out of reverence for almighty God and for the apostolic see, they assure the unbroken observance of the peace into which they have entered, so that such an important good, which we hope and desire will be obtained with the help of the Lord’s right hand, may not be impeded by some interruption from discord and dissension.

What is interesting, however, is that it does not appear that any new crusade followed on this council’s proclamation. God had other ideas for Europe. Martin Luther in October of 1517 presented 95 theses, which are often identified as the starting point of the Protestant Reformation.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 17

September 21, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 17

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 seventeenth in what has become a multi-part series.

Second Vatican Council (1962-65) – Freedom of Religion Promoted

You will recall that in a previous section, we noted that the “ecumenical” council Lateran IV canonized persecution of the Jews, even to the point of coercing them to prevent their reversion to Judaism if they once freely converted to Christianity. Vatican II contrarily declared:

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

4. The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.

15. The fact is that men of the present day want to be able freely to profess their religion in private and in public. Indeed, religious freedom has already been declared to be a civil right in most constitutions, and it is solemnly recognized in international documents.(38) The further fact is that forms of government still exist under which, even though freedom of religious worship receives constitutional recognition, the powers of government are engaged in the effort to deter citizens from the profession of religion and to make life very difficult and dangerous for religious communities.

This council greets with joy the first of these two facts as among the signs of the times. With sorrow, however, it denounces the other fact, as only to be deplored. The council exhorts Catholics, and it directs a plea to all men, most carefully to consider how greatly necessary religious freedom is, especially in the present condition of the human family. All nations are coming into even closer unity. Men of different cultures and religions are being brought together in closer relationships. There is a growing consciousness of the personal responsibility that every man has. All this is evident. Consequently, in order that relationships of peace and harmony be established and maintained within the whole of mankind, it is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society.

Frankly, it is hard to imagine a more clear example of a 180 degree change in position from 1215 to 1965 than on the issue of religious freedom. Who knows what a Roman bishop 750 years hence will do with Vatican II? It is an inconvenient truth that the canons and decrees of councils (even those designated “ecumenical”) cannot necessarily be counted on to represent the dogma of Rome, if she chooses to say something different at a later time.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 16

September 21, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 16

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 sixteenth in what has become a multi-part series.

Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) – Jews Officially Persecuted

I must immediately qualify this “persecution” claim, but noting that this is measuring the 4th Lateran Council by the standard of modern-day sensitivities, not by an objective standard.

Lateran IV forbade public offices to Jews, authorized “coercive action” to prevent reversion of “converted” Jews, required Jews and Muslims to wear distinctive clothing, required the Jews to tithe (and the like) on properties they acquired from Christians, and prohibited Jews and Muslims from public places during “Holy Week.” (Canons 67-70)

I think by modern standards, most (if not all) of those things would constitute persecution. This is an inconvenient truth for those who like to imagine that the Catholicism they practice today is the same as the “Catholic faith” practiced by the fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council, and yet who cannot stomach religious discrimination and persecution.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 15

September 20, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 15

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 fifteenth in what has become a multi-part series.

Fourth Council of Constantinople (879-80) – Overturned “Eighth Ecumenical Council”

You will notice that I’ve called this council the “Fourth” in keeping with those who recognize only seven ecumenical councils, and oppose the 21-ers. The Eastern Orthodox view the earlier council as – in essence – voided by this later council, which restored Photius (who was deposed with his supporters by the “Eighth Ecumenical Council”).

This council is sometimes referred to (as it apparently referred to itself) as being an ecumenical council (and the eighth), but is not “officially” recognized as such by Eastern Orthodoxy today, though they may occasionally refer to it that way.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 14

September 20, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 14

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 fourteenth in what has become a multi-part series.

Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-70) – Ecumenical Status a Later Fabrication

Those who claim there have been twenty-one ecumenical councils hold that a council held at Constantinople in 869-70 was the 8th such council. There are some rather obvious and severe problems with that theory.

First, there does not appear to be any identification of it as an ecumenical council prior to the era of the Great Schism;

Second, the Eastern Orthodox do not recognize it as ecumenical, although the council was held within the region (and at the political center of that region) that today is largely Eastern Orthodoxy.

The fairly obvious reason for this bickering was that the council was held to depose Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople, who had opposed Nicholas, the bishop of Rome. When it came to for the Great Schism, much cordiality between the church of Constantinople and the church of Rome became lost, and it became important for the Roman position that the deposition of Photius be given ecumenical weight.

Indeed, there is debate over whether Greeks corrupted the true text of the council or whether that was done by the Latins. In short, there was no shortage of divisiveness engendered by this council.


An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 13

September 19, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 13

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 thirteenth in what has become a multi-part series.

Council of Jamnia (90) – 1st Century Council Rejects Apocrypha

The council of Jamnia was a Jewish council of the 1st Century that officially rejected the apocrypha as non-canonical. Now, these were not believing Jews, to be sure. Nevertheless, there is no valid basis for insisting that they opposed the Apocrypha for theological reasons relating to the person of Christ. Regardless of the motivation, however, the council is an inconvenient truth for those who wish to pretend that before the Reformers there was no opposition to the canon dogmatized by Trent in the 16th century.

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 12

September 13, 2008

An Inconvenient Conciliar Truth – Part 12

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 twelfth in what has become a multi-part series.

Council of Constantinople (754) – Ecumenically Rejects Icons Prior to the Seventh So-Called Ecumenical Council

The so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council was held in Nicea in 787. According to some reports, 367 bishops were present. The Council of Constantinople of 754, however, was held about 33 years prior to that, although it apparently had only about 338 bishops present.

As noted in a previous section, though, the council of 754 declared itself to be ecumenical and apostolic:

Canon 19:

If anyone does not accept this our Holy and Ecumenical Seventh Synod, let him be anathema from the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and from the seven holy Ecumenical Synods!

And from the closing:

The holy synod cried out: Thus we all believe, we all are of the same mind. We have all with one voice and voluntarily subscribed. This is the faith of the Apostles. Many years to the Emperors! They are the light of orthodoxy! Many years to the orthodox Emperors! God preserve your Empire! You have now more firmly proclaimed the inseparability of the two natures of Christ! You have banished all idolatry! You have destroyed the heresies of Germanus [of Constantinople], George and Mansur [mansour, John Damascene]. Anathema to Germanus, the double-minded, and worshipper of wood! Anathema to George, his associate, to the falsifier of the doctrine of the Fathers! Anathema to Mansur, who has an evil name and Saracen opinions! To the betrayer of Christ and the enemy of the Empire, to the teacher of impiety, the perverter of Scripture, Mansur, anathema! The Trinity has deposed these three!

(note that the parentheticals are not my own)

Of course, today many icondules do in fact reject the council of 754, deny that it was a valid council, and substitute the council of 787 for that of 754. Why they do that presents an interesting study in ecclesiology and epistemology, but the inconvenient truth is that a purportedly ecumenical council rejected the use of icons in worship before a purportedly ecumenical council affirmed the use of icons in worship.


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