Re Reading Bible as Tradition

The more I read Anchorite apologetics, the more I realize they never deal with Reformed Presbyterians, but Baptists. That’s cool. Baptists are ubiquitous. The problem is the subconscious projection of Baptist mentality upon Magisterial Presbyterianism.

Reading the Bible as Tradition by Andrew Stephen Damick.

Interestingly, I had this same thought yesterday.  Question:  is the LXX translation also a tradition?  It most certainly is, since translations are tradition. I’ll come back to that.

I recently came across a conversation online in which someone insisted that he didn’t need tradition at all, because he had the Bible.

This statement is universally rejection by our confessions (though it is the American mindset, sadly).

If you are reading the Bible for yourself at home , then you are unlike most Christians in history, most of whom could never afford a Bible and many of whom could not read.

I agree 100%.  This is why our confessions say that especially the preaching of the Word of God.  This reinforces the Verbal Ontology that is from God’s revelation.  So I say “amen” to the good father.

If you believe that the Bible’s meaning is simply apparent to you without anyone’s help, then you are discounting everything you have learned about what the Bible means from other people and even what language itself means

Again, I agree.  The above mentality, typical of American evangelicals but firmly rejected by Confessional Protestants, is simply Greek autonomy in new dress.  The desire for unmediated truth.

If you are reading a translation of the Bible, then you are trusting someone else’s word about what it says. The Bible never says it’s okay to use translations, and it doesn’t endorse one over another.

This is a good rebuttal to King James Onlyism.  I would like to add my own thoughts.  We see the apostles using both the LXX and the Hebrew traditions.

If you are reading the Bible in the original languages, then you not only had someone teach you Greek or Hebrew, but you also made a choice or accepted someone else’s choice when it came to which version of the Biblical text you would read. There are multiple manuscript traditions, and they’re not all the same.

See above.  I took years of textual criticism and this is old hat.

If you are reading the Old Testament in Hebrew, then you’re not using the Old Testament most often used by the apostles in their writings, which was the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament made by Greek-speaking Jews completed perhaps as early as the late second century BC.

I dispute that it’s overwhelmingly so.  What we don’t see from the apostles is a clear endorsement of the LXX over the Hebrew, nor does it vindicate a lot of the LXX’s goofiness as a whole.

If you are reading the Old Testament at all, then you are benefiting from the Jewish community’s traditions of textual transmission and editing—and not just the Jewish community in general, but particular parties within Judaism, which as a whole had several different incipient canons all by the time of Christ. And within the text itself, there are clear signs that not everything written under someone’s name is from that person. For instance, the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, both attributed to Moses, include the details of his death and burial. How could Moses have written that? He didn’t. Those details were included in a process of tradition.

There is a lot of stupidity in American evangelicalism, but this borders on insulting their intelligence.  Anyone with even a mediocre study bible knows all of this.

And the Bible you read may have a different Old Testament than the one the apostles did, i.e., not just different in language but with a different list of books (the Septuagint includes books like Tobit, Baruch and the Maccabees).

But in his above point he conceded that the Judaisms had multiple canons.  How does he know that the apostles are using the Hellenized Alexandrian canon and not the Hebraic Palestinian one?   Textual scholarship is by no means leaning towards the former view.   After Beckwith it is hard to even countenance it.

But what I try to tell anchorites is that Protestants hold to tradition in a ministerial sense.

It’s impossible to read the Bible without tradition. Tradition gave you the Bible. So the question really is: Which tradition?

I’ll take it a step further:  how do you know which tradition in a non-circular manner? This problem is by no means limited to sola scriptura.  It is the heart of every claim to authority.

Argument: The Apostolic Church teaches it, therefore it must be so.

Dilemma: This is 100% circular reasoning. In order to accept this, you have to first accept the presupposition that the “apostolic” church in question is infallible, which is in and of itself circular reasoning. It should likewise be noted that I have heard this argument made even when all previous evidence already stated in this post has been brought forward. At this point, it’s just appealing to authority of the individual church group, despite evidence that this group is in error.

Which came first: God’s speech or the church?

Anchoretic apologists often ask Protestants, “Which came first, the church or the Bible?” This question is misleading on a number of levels (and really reflects sophomore apologetics than anything else) but what they are trying to elicit is the recognition that church communities preceded the final recognition of the canon.

So what if they did? The Protestant can equally turn back the question: Which came first, God’s speech or the church? Obviously, God’s speech. And if God’s speech came first, and God’s speech is the Logos-Word-Debar, and Jesus created the Church (or more precisely, spoke it into existence), then God’s speech created the Church.

God’s speech is therefore over the church.

In case they don’t approve these

To my surprise OB approved one of my comments.  I wonder why they haven’t approved this one.  Maybe they know, apropos my last sentence, that they can’t give a non-circular justification of their traditions.
  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I’m not saying the distinction is perfect, but an answer does hint itself. The concept of equity. Paul even acknowledged this in 1 Corinthians. A circumstance of worship is choosing whether to worship at 3 AM or 11 AM. Both could be pleasing to God, but equity–for most communities, anyway–facilitates the latter.

    And even some Scottish churches–especially during the Killing Times–worshiped standing up (since they were in the fields!). In fact, we can even see hints of a congregation sitting in 1 Corithians. When Paul admonishes their bad Eucharistic practices, he seems to suggest they are to be at something akin to a feast, which most people celebrate in a sitting or reclining position. In fact, if we are to go back to even the Institution of the Supper, all of the disciples–John anyway–were reclining.

    As to your latter two paragraphs, I simply dispute the assertion that your traditions today are the same ones that Paul mentioned in his letters.

Some basics on Ascension

A post on the liturgical day here.

The moderator begins on a surprising covenantal note.    I am surprised–indeed, delighted–because Covenantalism is at war with his larger ontology of being.

He writes,

later entire nations like the Russian people in the tenth century.  God’s redemptive work in Christ aims at the restoration of fallen humanity through union with Christ (Ephesians 1:10, 3:14-15).

Slight difference here.   I can understand how the Tsar could be the federal head of a nation (but if you affirm that, why don’t you affirm Christ as our federal head who imputes his righteousness to us?), but how did it work out for Russian piety?

 The phrase “everything I have commanded you” is the basis for Holy Tradition which comprises both written and oral Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

This is assuming what you are trying to prove.  Paul said to hold to the traditions he had delivered to them.   How do you know that your cultural accretions today–like the iconostasis–are the traditions Paul had delivered?  You simply cannot know this.  Your argument looks like this:

Premise 1: If Paul uses tradition he is using them in the same way we are

Premise 2:  and we use tradition then.

Conclusion:  Therefore, he is using them in the same way we are!

This is the fallacy of asserting the consequent.

The main question I want to ask is this:  Is Jesus bodily in heaven?  If he is, and he only has one hypostasis, then how can he be in a million Eucharists on earth?

At least they approved one comment

Orthodox Bridge has put me on the perpetual probation list.  There are about four comments that probably won’t get approved (and about half a dozen from other sources refuting their Hellenism that will never see the light of day). While we are at it, I will put the spotlight on EO apologetics:

  1. Be loud on your “tradition.”  Notice how they will quote the apostles on tradition, but they never demonstrate that what the apostles mean by tradition is what they mean by tradition, especially relating to content?   Where did the Apostle Paul say you need to avoid food before Eucharist (contrary to 1 Corinthians 11:34)?  If one cannot show that what the apostles mean by tradition is what you mean by tradition, that is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.
  2. Ignore specific exegesis on Genesis 1-2.  This isn’t uniquely an EO problem.  All moderns are embarrassed by what the bible says on creation. A friend and I debate an Eastern Catholic who ridiculed creation theology.   We then backed the truck up and unloaded dozens of Fathers who affirmed–gasp–six day creation.   This is one area where Seraphim Rose cleaned house in debate.
  3. Apropos (2):   Creation theology teaches a firmament is placed between heaven and earth.  Later biblical theology identifies Jesus as the firmament between heaven and earth.   If Jesus is the firmament between heaven and earth, how then can saints intercede for those on earth when they are separated by the firmament?
  4. Ignore the 5 fold covenant model.   More and more I am impressed with Sutton’s fivefold covenant exegesis.  Henceforth I will no longer debate TULIP. If anyone wants to attack Reformed theology, deal with the Covenants.  Judicial Calvinism is all over the Old Testament.
  5. Does not the vaunted realism actually entail a chain of being ontology?  Isn’t this fundamentally the same thing as magic religion?  I agree that death is the main problem facing us, but the apostle Paul did not separate death from the judicial consequences of sin?

 

Turretin on post New-Covenant, non-canonical festivals

(These–and others–are some old notes that I had on Turretin which I thought I had published)

First of all, festivals properly so-called must be commanded by the divine word because God has the right of proscribing how he wants to be worshiped.  The question then follows, do we see any such command?  Any appeal to “unwritten tradition” assumes what it is trying to prove and thus commits the fallacy of “asserting the consequence” (It looks like this:  if p, then q.   Q; therefore, p.  A Protestant inquirer could ask of the anchorites, “Where is the biblical warrant for practicing x?   The anchorite could then respond, ‘St Paul told us to ‘hold to the traditions.’” The problem comes in the next question, “How do we know that the traditions that Paul mentioned are the ones you are doing today?”  The anchorite can give one of two answers to this question:  if he says that the the church has remained unbroken in its liturgy; therefore, it is the practices observed today, then he has just affirmed the consequent of his argument and reasoned fallaciously.  On the other hand, he can admit that he doesn’t know if the traditions are the same, in which case the Reformed objection stands).

But what of Paul’s keeping the feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16)?  Several things may be observed:  1) This could be seen as the time-between-times of Old and New Covenant; 2) Paul nowhere intimates that it should be kept necessarily; 3) if it Pentecost is to be kept necessarily, in no way does it follow that saints’ days today are binding on the conscience.

An interesting Puritan take is seen in the following clip, where Generals Cromwell and Rainsborough force the surrender of some Cavaliers.

Don’t let nobody take your joy!

The poor grammar is deliberate.  One of the most precious spiritual joys I have–have had–can have–is hearing the announcement extra nos that God reigns and that the finished work of Christ applies pro me, and that nothing can snatch me out of Jesus’s hands. Jesus really did something on the cross.  He really bought me back from the slave pens of Egypt.  He really gave me His Holy Spirit as a down-payment which guarantees future blessings.

That is literally the best pillow someone can have.  People think I have a bulldog mentality on Anchoretic traditions.  It’s not that I can’t change my mind and won’t change the subject.  If my life is any indicator–and please do not do as I did–I can attest to the loss of joy for almost five years.  Here’s how it happened.

I started studying the early church and Trinitarianism around 2007.  Even now it was a rewarding experience.  But some problems came up and I just couldn’t deal with them.  I came across sayings from Cyprian, “Outside the Church There is No Salvation” and numerous ones from Ignatius along the lines of “Stay close to the bishop” and “schismatics forfeit the kingdom of God” (sorry John of San Francisco).  I came to reason:  sh!+, I better make sure I am in the right church, because on these guys’ glosses, even if they don’t draw the inevitable logical conclusion, If I am in the wrong church I am going to roast in hell for all eternity.  I lost sleep for weeks, if not months, at a time.

SIDEBAR:  My focus of salvation at this point was more on “which organization am I in so that I can be saved” rather than the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Of course, God did not leave me without witnesses.  Ironically, it was N.T. Wright’s work on the Gospels that made me realize that even if Orthodoxy is true, N.T. Wright’s exegesis is just better.

And it does no good to say, “Oh, even though those saints said that, we don’t mean that.  Who knows who is going to be in heaven and hell?”  Well, the problem is that those statements by those men have to mean something and if you say no one can know, then Cyprian’s and Ignatius’s statements are simply pointless and devoid of all meaning.  If that’s the case, please stop quoting them since on your gloss they don’t mean anything.  I am not in his organization; therefore, I cannot be saved.  Being damned is the contrary of being saved. Q.E.D.

I’m skipping a lot of material, but one of the men that helped me get this straight is Michael Horton.   I didn’t want to read him earlier because as theonomists, we were taught to hate Horton because of his (admittedly) schizophrenic social ethics.  This was a shame, since Horton was one of the few Reformed writers who could actually mount a response to Anchoretism.    His response was in the way of ontology.   I’ve summarized these elsewhere.   It is simply unanswerable.

Concurrent with Horton’s project was Bruce McCormack’s lectures on Christology.  I would link to them but in a moment of failure of nerve, the Henry Center took them down.    Besides showing some fatal tensions in Cyril’s project, if McCormack’s reading is correct and the post-Damascene tradition relies on substance metaphysics, then the believer is fully warranted in rejecting that tradition.  Further, if that infallible tradition is indeed shown to be quite fallible, then they aren’t an infallible tradition after all.

But here are some thoughts on the Ignatian claim:

  1. Granted that Ignatius makes much of Christ at times, but to the extent that claims of “staying close to the bishop for salvation” take prominence, to that extent Christ has been eclipsed.
  2. Admitting that Ignatius was close to the apostle John, how are we epistemically warranted to project Ignatius’s vision onto the whole of the Roman Empire?
  3. Most basic of all questions, “Who died and made him king?”  Why should we privilege his statements more than any others?

This next line is more subjective, but here goes.  Why would God mislead Martyn Lloyd-Jones?   The better model is that God simply wanted to shed his love abroad in MLJ’s heart.  (I realize my example is quite problematic for Reformed Cessationists!)

The Deposit of Faith, towards a definition

What is the apostolic deposit of faith?  This question is hard to answer in a non-circular manner.  The implied answer among all traditions is “Whatever we are already teaching now.”  Such a position is impossible to prove.  For all of the evils of liberal/critical biblical scholarship, they did shed important light on the manner.  If we focus on the apostolic kerygma, we see an emphasis on Christ’s death and resurrection according to the Scriptures.   So what is the apostolic deposit?  To quote an older liturgy, “Christ has died.  Christ has Risen.  Christ will come again.”

A rejoinder into the Leithart foray

My first round of disputatiorum with Orthodox Bridge was seen as combative.   I still do not know why, but I hope this will be more irenic.  I am not actually trying to attack or refute Orthodoxy.  I am simply responding to a response of a weak critique of Orthodoxy.  No more, no less.

 He begins by noting the “exodus” of Protestants from Protestantism toward high-church traditions.  He calls it a “crisis.”  I don’t think it is.  There is a crisis in Reformed self-reflection today, of which I will elaborate below, but not in an exodus from the Reformed church.  The truth is, I think a lot of these numbers are overblown and as one commenter noted, shall we inquire of the number who leave Orthodoxy?

He notes the men who have left Protestantism for higher traditions.   Fair enough, but with the possible exception of Stellman, these men, with all due respect, represent mainstream, lowest-common denominator Americana evangelicalism, not robust Confessionalism.    He then picks up the Gillquist narrative and even mentions Frank Schaeffer (he probably shouldn’t have mentioned Schaeffer.   I think Schaeffer has abandoned theism altogether, in which case he functions as a counter-argument to Orthodoxy, for he left Eastern Orthodoxy!)

He comes to his thesis:  My assessment is that Protestantism having lost its theological center has become a fractured and confusing, if not volatile and unstable. Troubled by this state of confusion many are seeking refuge in the historic early Church. This is the backdrop to Leithart’s recent column.

That’s probably a fair assessment, though I would like to point out that he risks equivocating on evangelical and protestant.  I define historic Protestantism as a full commitment to the historic Reformed documents, especially as they pertain to worship (Regulative Principle), government (rule by elder, classis, synod, assembly) and doctrine.  This is how the Reformed traditionally saw themselves (cf. Scott Clark, 2008).  Such a definition rules out almost all of the examples he gave.

Now on to the substance of the matter.  He then gives a brief and fairly accurate summary of recent Evangelical history.  He notes the Ancient-Faith and Emergent Church movements.  He then turns to Leithart:

Leithart and his FV colleagues believe themselves to be on the cutting edge of “the-future-church” and much closer to getting it right than say the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). In actuality, they are just another “new-and-improved” Reformed splinter group.

Sadly, that probably is how they think.  I have no disagreements with that paragraph.  I am going to assume that Arakaki has gotten most of Leithart’s argument correct.  The problem is, though, that Leithart wrote this as a very short blog piece.  There are sections of it where both he and I would like to see Leithart flesh out his argument, but that simply isn’t possible.   Full critique and analysis must simply wait another day.

Sources:

Clark, R. Scott.   Recovering the Reformed Confession.  Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2008.

He writes,

This evolutionary approach to church history is congruent with postmillennialism favored by Reformed theologians. It reminds me of Mercersburg Theology’s Philip Schaff who posited that church history is the outworking of a Hegelian dialect, that over time division will be resolved into deeper unity, and that over time heresy and error will be resolved into deeper truth. This is radically at odds with how Orthodoxy understands truth and what the Bible teaches.

This is probably true, though one should point out that Leithart’s postmillennialism has little in common with any of the postmillennial schools in the past, but is an aberration of his mentor, Jordan.   Further, the Mercersberg theology has been rebuked and resisted many times in Reformed history (Charles Hodge had already pointed out the Hegelianism of the movement).

Leithart’s portrayal of time is based on a false characterization of the Orthodox understanding of time. Time is not the issue here. The issue here is the promise of the Holy Spirit Christ made to His Apostles in the Upper Room discourse (John 13-16).

Let’s assume that is the case.  Here is what Leithart didn’t say and should have:  Orthodox will occasionally employ the same idea of progress but will never call it such.   Notice the difference in reflection and content from Justin Martyr to Gregory Palamas. One is hard-pressed to come to the conclusion that one simply passed down the faith to the other.   True, we could argue that the latter (and I am just using these two men as examples) was merely responding to controvesies and so he would be different.  That’s true, but let’s ask a different question:   Did Justin Martyr believe in the essence/energies distinction that Palamas did?   If you say “no,” then you concede Leithart’s point.  If you say yes, then you have committed the fallacy of asserting the consequent (if p, then q; q, therefore, p).

Even acknowledging that the Holy Spirit was with the Church, and few Reformed deny that, then what precisely follows?  That every council would be infallible?  That doesn’t wash with the Robber Baron’s council or with Heira.  He then links to Ralph Winterr and the “Blinked Light” theory.  This is disingenuous.   Christianity Today may hold that position, but even a surface-level reading of Calvin, Turretin, or Owen (to name just a few) will disprove that.

He then refers to Jude 3 and 2 Thess. 2:15 (The faith once deliverd and traditions, respectively) and argues that this disproves Leithart’s evolutionary theology.  It very well may, but my same challenge returns:  without begging the question and asserting the consequent, show us that your traditions today match the apostle’s (presumably unwritten) traditions?  (Unwritten tradition by definition resists verification).

I am sure Orthodox apologists have a response to this, but to the layman on the street, this objection is fairly substantial.  I remember my own interest in Orthodoxy and Holy Tradition.  I’m no mean theologue myself.  I’ve read more than 99% of laymen today, and yet my wife stopped me in my tracks with the above type question.

He then concludes with a discussion of chairos time and chronos time.  He then gives an exegetical analysis of the Greek language of several passages.  What’s interesting is that it looks (at least in method) exactly like what evangelicals do!  Which raises the question, any appeal to Scripture by the Orthodox apologist presupposes that the Protestant can understand Scripture independent of Orthodox tradition, otherwise why quote the verse?  This is starting to look a lot like sola scriptura.

The Church is the city of the living God, not in the process of becoming the city of God.

Yet, one cannot help but see a whole lot of “becoming” in church history.

Thus, if Rev. Leithart’s theological argument is flawed, then Protestants should give serious consideration to converting to Orthodoxy.

This only holds good if Leithart’s argument fully exhausts all Reformed self-identity, but on everyone’s account, Leithart is a recent mutation (I say that with respect).

He ends with an anecdotal conversion account.   I will end with a few more comments.

RA mentions the eucharist and iconography.  I’ve raised several problems both with the EO understanding of Eucharist and Icons (which, ironically, is the same objection).

Cognitive Dissonance

Eastern Orthodox Preparing to Receive the EucharistThe Eucharistic Fast involves total abstinence from any food or drink in the morning prior to receiving the Eucharist.

The Apostle Paul if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

This is a specific example of “tradition” being falsified by Scripture.