Saturday, December 29, 2007

Roman Catholic Apologists and Anachronism

One of the biggest problems with Roman Catholic apologists throughout the centuries has been their use of anachronism. For example, RC apologists will frequently read their dogma of the immaculate conception back into the words of the church fathers when they call Mary 'immaculate'. They will read their dogma of purgatory into the words of Tertullian when, in reality, he was speaking of refrigerium interim. Oh, and let's not forget the Donation of Constantine or the Decretals of Pseudo-Isidore.

Well, James White has pointed out one such anachronism committed by our local RC apologist, Dave Armstrong.

I've also found an anachronism in DA's The Catholic Verses pertaining to Augustine's view of the 'Real Presence' in the Eucharist. Hopefully, when I finish my series on Apologetics, I'll get around to finishing my series on DA's book.

Lastly, I may from time to time debunk several of these patristic anachronisms that I see on Catholic apologetic websites.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Metaphysics and Darwinism

There is a post over at Uncommon Descent that goes through Darwin's metaphysical presuppositions that led to his theory. For a full treatment of this theme, read Cornelius Hunter's book, Darwin's God.

It shows how an unbiblical view of God, man, creation, and evil that arose in 17th-19th century Europe led Darwin to think that, since this view isn't reflected in nature, the only alternative, naturalistic common descent, must be true. Thank you natural theology for creating Darwinism! (sarcasm) Yick!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Satire of the Ecumaniacs

James White has posted a (satirical) letter to St. Paul, chastising him for not being "loving" (i.e. ecumaniac enough) in his letter to the Galatians.

Off topic:
I have been asked by one of my church's deacons to do a Bible study series, and I have elected ;) to do it on apologetics. review of DA's book will have to slow down (as it already has).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Matthew 18:15-18

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

[Before I finish my review of Mr. Armstrong’s chapter on the church, I thought that I would exegete two other commonly used texts in support of high church-ism, Ephesians 3:10 and Matthew 18:17. Though they are not cited in Mr. Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses, I have seen them used by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists in the past, and so, I believe that it would be helpful to include them in this series.]

Matthew 18:15-18

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” –Matthew 18:15-18

Issue Raised: Does the Church Hierarchy Have Binding Infallible Authority?

Roman Catholic apologists will sometimes cite this text to support the belief that the church, being defined as the order of higher clerics (or in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy, the universal church as a whole), has binding infallible authority in its pronouncements. But is this really saying that?


Just before the instructions in vv.15-18 are given, Christ gave the parable of the lost sheep (vv.12-14). In it, He teaches that if one sheep (i.e. in this parable, representing a believer) goes astray (i.e. temporarily falls into sin or separates from the church), that the shepherd (i.e. God) will search for it until He finds it. If the lapsed Christian returns to the flock, then God will rejoice over it for it is the will of God that no believer should perish.

This is a teaching about what to do when a lapsed Christian returns to the church. A repentant Christian should be accepted back into the body of Christ without hesitation or anger but with happiness and praise to God.

Christ then turns to the opposite situation in which an unrepentant member refuses to leave the church, and the Lord gives an outline on how to deal with this situation.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” –Matthew 18:15

The first step is to approach the sinful member privately and rebuke him gently for his acts (or in the case of heresy, his false beliefs). If he repents, then great! If not, then…

“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.” –Matthew 18:16

Here, Christ tells the church to use standard Israelite legal proceedings for dealing with this man. If after a private attempt at correction fails, two or three should gently rebuke the man to get him to repent so that the sinful member may know that it was not just the personal opinion of the first corrector. If this attempt fails, then…

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” –Matthew 18:17

If a private attempt fails and an attempt with two or three fails, then the correctors are to go to the church with the matter. Now, back in the life and times of the Lord Jesus, the word, “ecclesia,” simply meant “congregation”, referring to the attendance at the local synagogue. It is a semantic anachronism (see the intro., part a.) to assert that the word, “church,” here refers to the bishops and other clergy (as it later came to mean in Roman Catholicism) comprising the hierarchy of the church to the exclusion of the rest of the Christian congregate. As the commentary to the NAB on the USCCB website explains:

“[17] The church: the second of the only two instances of this word in the gospels; see the note on Matthew 16:18. Here it refers not to the entire church of Jesus, as in Matthew 16:18, but to the local congregation.”
-Commentary on Matthew 18:17 NAB

If the sinful brother does not repent at even this, then he is to be treated as an unclean heathen; that is, he is to be excommunicated.

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” –Matthew 18:18

Now, the NASB is the only translation (that I have seen) which translates the meaning of this verse in the sense indicated by the context. That is, it recognizes (as the side margin informs the reader) that this phrase “shall be loosed” is, in Greek, a future perfect passive. In other words, the sense of the phrase (as is translated literally in the NASB) should be: “shall have been bound.” The IVP New Testament Commentary notes:

“God authorizes the Christian judicial assembly that follows these procedures to act on the authority of heaven. The unrepentant person has already left God's way and cannot be restored without repentance. The verb tenses allow (though do not demand) the meaning the context suggests: the earthly action follows the heavenly decree (compare Mantey 1973). By removing an unrepentant sinner from the Christian community, believers merely ratify the heavenly court's decree (see Keener 1991a:141-43; in Jewish courts, compare t. Rossashana 1:18), removing branches already dead on the vine (compare Jn 15:2, 6).” (bold emphasis mine)
- IVP New Testament Commentary, Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 18:15-20

Thus, whatever the church (again, the local congregation) decides in regards to this unrepentant member, the decision by the church was simply to recognize what God had already seen in the sinner’s heart and decreed in terms of the means of correction (see also 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, Titus 3:10-11, and Hebrews 12:6). Again, the decision is merely a public recognition of what God in heaven has already said should happen to this man or woman.

So, the “binding” given is a real authority given to the local congregation of Christ to excommunicate unrepentant members, not the ability to make infallible doctrinal pronouncements.

[Note: When this procedure is not followed correctly, a sinful member can be left within the congregation causing others to follow into wicked ways, or a faithful member could be unjustly excommunicated. In the first case, the church failed to do what God decreed should happen, and in the latter, the church did what God never commanded.

This has happened on several occasions in many denominations. For instance, according to the Roman Catholic Church, Joan of Arc was excommunicated and burned at the stake only to be made a saint many years later.

The most famous example of this in the Protestant movement was when Luther was unilaterally excommunicated by Pope Leo X when the latter ignored the to-be reformer’s historic right to a council. Tim Enloe documents this here:]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Ephesians 3:10

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

[Before I finish my review of Mr. Armstrong’s chapter on the church, I thought that I would exegete two other commonly used texts in support of high church-ism, Ephesians 3:10 and Matthew 18:17. Though they are not cited in Mr. Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses, I have seen them used by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists in the past, and so, I believe that it would be helpful to include them in this series.]

Ephesians 3:10

“…so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” –Ephesians 3:10 NASB

Issue Raised: Is the Church the Infallible Guide for God’s Truth?

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists will sometimes cite this text to support the notion that God gives His truth and its infallible interpretation only through the Church (here being defined as the church hierarchy of priests and bishops in the case of Roman Catholicism and the universal church as a whole in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy), but does this verse really say that?


First, before exegeting this passage, it would be helpful to display its fuller context:

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” –Ephesians 3:1-10


The Epistle to the Ephesians was written by Paul, not to battle a specific heresy, but as some believe, to simply broaden the horizons of his readers. It explains the eternal purposes of God’s actions in history and salvation and the implications of these things for both the Church and the individual.

In chapter one, Paul discussed the mystery of the eternal predestination of God’s chosen (1:3-12, 17-19a), their eschatological sealing by the Holy Spirit (1:13-14), and Christ’s victory over death and dominion over all things (1:19b-23).

In chapter two, the apostle wrote about the former state of Christians (and the current state of all who are unbelievers) being by nature children of wrath and how God, in his love and mercy, decided to save us in Christ by grace through faith so that we might live in holiness (2:1-10). He then speaks of how, through the work of Christ on the cross (2:13-18), He (i.e. Christ) brought together both Jew and Gentile into one church (2:11-19) which is likened unto a holy temple of which Christ is the corner stone upon which it is built (2:19-22).

This brings us to chapter three which starts off with:

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you;” –Ephesians 3:1-2

Here, Paul, being under house arrest and having suffered many terrible afflictions in obedience to Christ’s calling of him as a steward of God’s grace (i.e. an apostle), explains that he has endured all of this for the sake of the Gentiles (cf. 2 Timothy 2:10) of which he was commissioned to.

“…that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;” –Ephesians 3:3-5

Paul explains that his calling unto the Gentiles was because of the mystery revealed to him in Christ.

What is a mystery? That question is answered in verse 5. It is a truth which God has kept secret in the past but which has now been revealed (see also 3:9, Matthew 13:11, Romans 11:25, 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Colossians 1:26, 4:3, Revelation 10:7, etc.; cf. Hebrews 1:1-2, Jude 3).

What is this mystery? In general, it refers to everything that he stated in chapters one and two, but more specifically, he identifies it in the next verse:

“…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” –Ephesians 3:6

Here, Paul is specifically identifying “the mystery of Christ” in verse 4 with the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant of grace. Although the predestination of individuals is a mystery that was revealed to Paul (1:9) and the means by which Christ builds His Church one redeemed sinner at a time (2:1-10), the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles which he spoke of before in 2:11-22 is what is in view here. As my study Bible notes:

“The repetition of [“fellow”] indicates the unique aspect of the mystery that was not previously known: the equality and mutuality that Gentiles had with Jews in the church, the one body. That Gentiles would turn to the God of Israel and be saved was prophesied in the OT (see Rom 15:9-12); that they would come into an organic unity with believing Jews on an equal footing was unexpected.”
-Kenneth L. Barker et al., The Zondervan NASB Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), p.1721.

“…of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.” –Ephesians 3:7

Paul was, by God’s power, made the instrument of the unveiling of this glorious mystery.

“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” –Ephesians 3:8-10

Here, Paul sums up what he said in verses 1-7. Paul was commissioned to preach the gospel of the grace of God to the Gentiles, and their inclusion into this covenant of grace unveils God’s plan which he had kept hidden until the church age.

Why did God do all this? It was so that His eschatological wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16) might now be shown forth to all the spiritual powers which control the happenings of men on earth (Daniel 10:10-13, Ephesians 1:21, 2:2, 6:12, Colossians 2:15).

In other words, the inclusion of men from all the nations of the earth into one church (Revelation 5:9) was Christ’s proclamation and display of victory over the devil and his angels who had for the longest time ruled the gentiles and kept them in the darkness of their ignorance (Acts 26:18, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, 6:12, 2 Timothy 2:26, 1 John 5:19, Revelation 12:9). Because He has created “all things” (v.9), this is part of His exaltation in which “He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church…” (emphasis mine; Ephesians 1:22). In the unveiling of this mystery, Christ is reclaiming in victory what is His by right as Creator.


Ephesians 3:10 does not refer to the church being the infallible interpreter through which God distributes his Truth. That would be a classical case of verse isolation (see the intro., part f.). Rather, it refers to God’s eschatological wisdom being displayed through the inclusion of the gentiles into the covenant of grace. This is His display of victory to the evil spiritual forces which once ruled the gentiles and kept them in ignorance but now are being and have been subjected to the rule of Christ.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Matthew 13:24-30

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

[In his chapter on the Church, Mr. Armstrong has a section entitled “Sinners in the Church” in which he uses 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, Galatians 1:1-6, and Revelation 3:1-6. This is a section which I don’t have too much disagreement with, and so, those verses do not need to be exegeted. However, though Matthew 13:24-30 is not one of his “Catholic Verses,” Mr. Armstrong uses it eisegetically in this section, and so, an exegesis of this passage will serve as an introduction to my review of the rest of this section of his book.]

Matthew 13:24-30

“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” –Matthew 13:24-30

Issue Raised: The Wicked in the True Church?

Dave Armstrong, after citing 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, Galatians 1:1-6, and Revelation 3:1-6, writes:

“St. Paul “betrothed” the Corinthians to Christ and writes to the “churches” of Galatia, even though he rebukes both churches for turning to a “different gospel.” He does not claim that they never were Christians, nor does he take away that title from them. Jesus refers to the “seven churches” in the book of Revelation, despite the host of sins and shortcomings for which he rebukes them. This is the Catholic position: there are sinners in the Church alongside “saints,” as in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30)…The Bible teaches that there are sinners in the true Church.” -Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004), p.16, 19.

As I take it, Mr. Armstrong is implying that the “tares” in Christ’s parable represent true Christians, those who had at one time been regenerated and included into the covenant by the Holy Spirit, albeit ones that have since turned to wickedness.


The exegesis of this text is really quite simple since it is explained by Christ in vv.36-43:

“Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”” –Matthew 13:36-43

So, the “tares” in vv.24-30 are sinners, just as Mr. Armstrong said. However:

a.) They were sowed into the “field” by Satan, not the Holy Spirit.

b.) They were always “tares” from the beginning implying that they were never true Christians at any time.

c.) Most importantly, according to v.38, the field is “the world,” not the Church. Thus, the tares would be unbelievers, not sinful Christians.

A Review of Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses on “Sinners in the Church”

Before I review this section of Mr. Armstrong’s book, some things need to be stated:

a.) I do not disagree with the belief that sinners are in the true church since every saint is also a sinner until death (iustus et peccator simul, at once both saint and sinner).

b.) I do not deny that many of those who will be condemned to perdition are found in the visible church.

c.) I agree that leaving a church because of a few bad apples is wrong (though there is a limit to this principle as I will spell out below).

However, there are standards by which the members of the church must live up to, especially the church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9). Both Christ and Paul gave clear directions for excommunication (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, Titus 3:10-11, etc.), and if a church no longer enforces these standards, then it is no longer a church (e.g. Revelation 2:5, 15-16, 3:15-19).

[Unless otherwise stated, all of these quotes come from Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004).]

After citing the above passage on Matthew 13:24-30, Mr. Armstrong writes:

“Many Protestants persist in believing that the Christian Church can be pure and without sinners or instances of hypocrisy, even though these passages show that this was not anticipated by the Apostles or by the Lord Jesus. In hopes of finding this “pure” church, Protestants proceed to form new sects all the time.” (Armstrong, op. cit., p.17)

The very individualistic tendencies of many American Protestants who practice “church hopping” should be rightly condemned, and every Christian is bound to endure the instances of sin that happen within a church body since everyone is by nature a sinner. However, when a church refuses to enact church discipline, whether it is correction or excommunication, then it is no longer a functioning church. Mr. Armstrong cited one of the letters of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation, but he did not note that Christ told the other churches who tolerated heresies and the wicked that these churches would be destroyed (Revelation 2:5, 15-16, 3:15-19).

This is exactly the kind of thing we find within the structure of the modern Roman Catholic Church: a refusal to excommunicate both heretics and the wicked. Ever since the Darwinist writings of Teilhard de Chardin, the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood in general have slid into all sorts of problems, one of which is the (unofficial) belief in universalism. As Michael Whelton writes:

“In spite of de Chardin’s ideas being officially censured, by the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1960, Fr. Malachi Martin states that “his name and theories were bathed in a vogue that could not be breached by mere ecclesiastical documents…This man’s influence on Jesuit thinking and on Catholic theologians as well as on the thought processes of Christians in general has been and still is colossal.””
-Michael Whelton, Popes and Patriarchs: An Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholic Claims (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2006), p.28.

Also, the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to excommunicate those who believe in and advocate abortion. The works of Teilhard de Chardin in the mid-twentieth century have taken their heavy toll. The past claim that the Catholic Church is “never changing, always the same” is no longer true; it has…evolved…into a “church” filled with the most monstrous heresies and toleration of wickedness. As the voice from heaven in the book of Revelation would say, “Come out of her, my people…” (Rev. 18:4, cf. 2 Cor. 6:17).

BTW: I encourage my readers to give comments on what I can add to these posts to make my arguments/counter-arguments more complete, and of course, I encourage criticism as well.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, 2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you…The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” -2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2

Issue Raised: Oral Tradition

Many Roman Catholic apologists will use these texts in support of the concept of oral tradition passed down from the apostles to their successors, the bishops, which acts as an interpretive grid for Scriptural exegesis. Dave Armstrong is an example:

“Catholics believe that these verses clearly set forth a notion of a binding oral tradition that has as much authority as the written word of Scripture.”
- Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004), p.12.


First, before exegeting this passage, it would be helpful to display its context:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you… You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” -2 Timothy 1:8-14, 2:1-2


The letter of Second Timothy was likely written during the reign and tyranny of the Emperor Nero (c.66-67). This was during Paul’s second imprisonment, the first being recorded at the end of the book of Acts (Acts 28). The first time he was imprisoned, he was allowed to stay in a rented house (Acts 28:30), but now, he was chained (1:16, 2:9) and placed in a cold dungeon (4:13). As he could foresee, his life was at an end, and he would soon be beheaded during this awful persecution.

Paul is thus instructing Timothy on how to supervise and lead his church now that Paul won’t be around. Paul instructs Timothy to pass on the teachings he taught him before many witnesses to other teachers who will faithfully teach the faith.

Is this Proof of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Sacred/Holy Tradition?

Can this be used as proof that we must adhere to the RC/EO concept of Sacred/Holy Tradition? There are a number of problems with using this as a proof-text for that concept:

a.) There is no proof that these traditions were any different in content or clarity than that which was or would be enscripturated. Why should we believe that the apostles’ preaching and teaching was any less clear in writing than in their oral proclamation? The Roman Catholic is the one making the claim here, and so, he has the burden of proof to show that the contents and/or clarity of these oral traditions were in any way different than that which is stated in Scripture.

b.) In fact, from the surrounding context, he identifies that “standard of sound words which you have heard from me” and the “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses” as the gospel:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” -2 Timothy 1:8-12

As Tertullian pointed out concerning this passage:

“Paul addressed even this expression to Timothy: “O Timothy, guard that which is entrusted to thee;” and again: “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep.” What is this deposit? Is it so secret as to be supposed to characterize a new doctrine? or is it a part of that charge of which he says, “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy?” and also of that precept of which he says, “I charge thee in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ who witnessed a good confession under Pontius Pilate, that thou keep this commandment?” Now, what is (this) commandment and what is (this) charge? From the preceding and the succeeding contexts, it will be manifest that there is no mysterious hint darkly suggested in this expression about (some) far-fetcheddoctrine, but that a warning is rather given against receiving any other (doctrine) than that which Timothy had heard from himself, as I take it publicly: “Before many witnesses” is his phrase. Now, if they refuse to allow that the church is meant by these “many witnesses,” it matters nothing, since nothing could have been secret which was produced “before many witnesses.” Nor, again, must the circumstance of his having wished him to “commit these things to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also,” be construed into a proof of there being some occult gospel. For, when he says “these things,” he refers to the things of which he is writing at the moment. In reference, however, to occult subjects, he would have called them, as being absent, those things, not these things, to one who had a joint knowledge of them with himself.” (emphasis mine)
-Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, ch.25

[I will note in passing that, according to the standards used by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, this interpretation of Tertullian’s should be considered “an early witness” to the interpretation of this verse that likely went back to the apostles.]

This teaching which Timothy was instructed to hand on, the gospel itself, is found written in the previous sentences, can be found elsewhere in Scripture, and is quite clear. Timothy is simply being instructed to teach the things of the gospel to other ministers, something that Protestants carry out quite faithfully.

c.) I actually have no problem with the idea of apostolic tradition. If a teaching can be proven to have its origin from the apostles, then it is apostolic and binding on the conscience. The problem comes in proving a tradition to be apostolic. How are we to know if the tradition in question is truly apostolic or a teaching that started in a later age? How can we tell the difference between a truly apostolic tradition and a belief that came into the church via the influence of pagan religion, philosophy, language, or culture? As Alister McGrath pointed out:

“…it is necessary to observe that the early theologians of the western church were dependant upon their Latin versions of the Bible, and approached their texts and their subject with a set of presuppositions which owed more to the Latin language and culture than to Christianity itself. The initial transference of a Hebrew concept to a Greek, and subsequently to a Latin, context point to a fundamental alteration in the concepts of ‘justification’ and ‘righteousness’ as the gospel spread from its Palestinian source to the western world…The earlier patristic period represents the age of the exploration of concepts, when the proclamation of the gospel within a pagan culture was accompanied by an exploitation of both Hellenistic culture and pagan philosophy as vehicles for theological advancement…Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil…It is quite possible that the curious and disturbing tendency of the early fathers to minimize original sin and emphasize the freedom of fallen man is a consequence of their anti-Gnostic polemic…Justin’s anti-fatalist arguments can be adduced from practically any of the traditional pagan refutations of astral fatalisms, going back to the second century B.C.
–Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2nd edition (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1998), pp.15, 17, 19, 20.

As the Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church states:

“The appeal to Holy Tradition (q.v.) (including Scripture and/or the Councils [qq.v.]) is recognized as of ultimate authority…The primary hurdle in appealing to Holy Tradition as an authority lies in the selection of appropriate sources, applicable to a given situation…Similarly, precedent is difficult to establish quickly, since the selection of sources itself is a matter of interpretation, and the question raised might not have been asked previously…Everyone agrees that Holy Tradition is authoritative, but which beliefs and practices truly manifest Holy Tradition is open to a variety of interpretation.
-M. Prokurat et al., Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1996), p.50.

So, how are we to determine what is an apostolic tradition unless it was written by the apostles, passed on, and documented? Yes, a teaching found in the early church could provide some degree of probability (depending on the doctrine and the time period), but the only way to confirm that a tradition came from the apostles is to have it written by their own pen.

d.) It is the Protestant contention that all the doctrines that were preached by the apostles, concerning both faith and morals, were eventually committed to writing in clarity. As Irenaeus said:

“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 3.1

[Again, I must note that, according to the standards used by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, this belief of Irenaeus’ should be considered “an early witness”, likely dating back to the apostles themselves, to the relationship between the early oral proclamation of the apostles and the content of Scripture.]

The evangelists wrote the gospels and the churches reproduced all the apostles’ writings for the very purpose that it should be reliably preserved for posterity. It would only be logical for them to do so since it was the policy given by God to the prophets before them (e.g. Isaiah 30:8, Jeremiah 36:2-4). Only the time-preserving medium of written documents could reliably accomplish that task.

A Review of Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses on 2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2

[Unless otherwise stated, all of these quotes come from Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004).]

[The section in his book on 2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2 also covers Jude 3 and Acts 2:42. However, the last two will not be covered since the counter-arguments given here are sufficient to answer the use of these Scriptures as well.]

First, it should be noted that there is no attempt at even a brief exegesis of the text. There is no attempt to connect verses 1:8-12 with 1:13-14 or 2:2. This is typical proof-texting all too common amongst Roman Catholic apologists, and thus, he commits the exegetical fallacy of text isolation (see the intro., part f.). While Mr. Armstrong’s stated purpose of his book was not to provide a full-length exegesis of the text, he could have at least provided a single paragraph or two to give some context to the verse he was citing.

After saying what the Roman Catholic interpretation of these verses are, Mr. Armstrong writes:

“The oral, spoken component of 2 Timothy 1:13-14 and 2:2 is also noteworthy (and potentially troubling to Protestants). St. Paul seems to make no distinction between written and oral teaching. He considers both equally authoritative (and able to be “guarded by” or “entrusted” to men).” (Armstrong, op. cit., p.12)

I don’t see how this is troubling to Protestants. Of course the apostles taught and preached orally before there was any New Testament, but the Protestant contention is that the content and clarity of their preaching and teaching did not differ in any way from what they later recorded in Scripture.

Secondly, from the context, the content of the oral teaching is the gospel message and its doctrines which are listed quite clearly in vv.8-12. Paul is simply telling Timothy to teach these doctrines to other faithful men. Protestants carry this out when we teach future pastors and theologians in our seminaries.

“The usual Protestant argument I have encountered when bringing up this topic has been to assert that this apostolic deposit was authoritatively contained and summarized in the Bible, and nowhere else.” (ibid. p.12)

I don’t know who Mr. Armstrong has talked to, but this is a straw-man (see intro., part b.) of the common Protestant counter-argument. It would have been fine if he hadn’t added on “and nowhere else.” Of course the gospel and its doctrines were contained in an oral message at first, but it was later summarized in Scripture with clarity (Luke 1:1-4, John 20:30-31, 1 John 1:4, 5:13, etc.). All the necessary ingredients that are needed for sola Scriptura are material sufficiency and the perspicuity of the key doctrines. The faith could be summarized elsewhere, but as long as Scripture is formally sufficient, it is enough to serve as the sole infallible rule of faith.

“Apart from the vexing problems of biblical interpretation, this reply fails to take into account the fact that none of the four passages just cited even mentions the Bible in this regard.” (emphasis in original; ibid. pp.12-13)

As to the issue of biblical interpretation, we must ask Mr. Armstrong, “How is the interpretation of which “Traditions” throughout church history exhibit the true Traditions of the apostles any less difficult?” Many Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox simply assume that the traditions of their church were the original traditions handed down by the apostles. However, as both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox as well as Protestant church historians have come to realize, things are not so simple. [I am not going to go into this here. I may write several posts in the future on these topics, though.]

Secondly, as to his comment that the verses don’t mention Scripture: So what? They refer to the previous verses which spell out the content of these oral teachings. These oral teachings are the doctrines of the gospel in almost creedal form which are clearly summarized in Scipture.

Next, he comments on one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons (though without quoting a word of it):

“Spurgeon rejects the very notion of a true Christian tradition and the historical sense of continuity.” (ibid. p.13)

No, just unverifiable oral tradition.

“Rather than follow the Pauline injunction to follow oral tradition, Spurgeon advises his hearers to give no heed to traditions that have been passed down.” (ibid. p.13)

No, he says not to naively follow any oral tradition that comes down the line, but to judge its veracity by Scripture. Does Mr. Armstrong believe that we should just accept any oral tradition? By this standard, how could he *ever* judge which traditions are truly apostolic and which came in via the influences of pagan philosophy, religion, language, and culture?

Secondly, how does Mr. Armstrong know that the oral traditions that Paul says to pass on are *his* Church’s traditions?

“Of course, no reason is given for this belief.” (ibid. p.13)

What, you want him to give a doctoral dissertation in the middle of a sermon?

“That the Catholic Church is corrupt and compromised beyond all hope is part of classical Protestant mythology. It need not be argued; it is assumed and is common “knowledge” in certain anti-Catholic Protestant circles.” (ibid. p.13)

That’s because its dogmas contradict both Scripture as well as many of the beliefs of the early church. [The latter is an internal critique, by the way.]

“What Catholics believe in faith is that the apostolic doctrine or Christian Tradition (uniquely preserved by the Catholic Church) does not and will not conflict with Holy Scripture.” (ibid. p.14)

This begs the question: Are the traditions of Rome truly apostolic, and how could we know? RC and EO apologists like to ask this kind of question to the Protestant about the Scriptural canon, but yet, when it is turned on their Tradition, it is far more damaging.

“Protestants believe that God protected Holy Scripture from error, by means of inspiration, even though sinful, fallible men wrote it. Catholics agree with that and also believe that God (the Holy Spirit: John 14-16) can protect His church from error by means of infallibility…” (ibid. p.15)

The reference to chapters 14 through 16 of John’s Gospel only refers to the gift of inspiration being given to the apostles; there is no mention of any alleged successors to their office.

“If God can do the one thing, he can do the other. Since both are indicated in Scripture and apostolic and patristic tradition, we believe them.” (ibid. p.15)

First of all, the question is not over possible worlds but over the actualized world. It is, of course, possible for God to preserve traditions within an infallible church. However, this begs the question: has He?

Second, he mentions the early church fathers, but yet, they believed that the key doctrines of the faith, such as the deity of Christ and the Trinity, are found in Scripture with clarity.

Third, he has yet to show that those traditions mentioned by Paul are *Rome’s* traditions.

Fourth, those oral teachings in 2 Timothy are listed in the previous verses and found elsewhere in Scripture with clarity.

The attempt to use this verse as a proof-text for Sacred Tradition fails to prove anything.

BTW: I encourage my readers to give comments on what I can add to these posts to make my arguments/counter-arguments more complete, and of course, I encourage criticism as well.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Notables: 10/13/07

There are a couple things that I would like to direct everyone to:

First, Gene Bridges posted and expanded upon one of the counter-arguments that I used against Dave Armstrong on 1 Timothy 3:15.

Second, James White's October 4, 2007 broadcast focuses on the church fathers, whether they were Roman Catholics and why or why not we should follow their teachings. Great show.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Few Concessions on the Issue of Councils in the Early Church

After reading the 19th century Protestant church historian, Philip Schaff on ecumenical councils of the NPN (Nicene/Post-Nicene) era, I would like to make a few concessions to the Roman Catholic side. I will post a few sections of Schaff and comment after each. In speaking of the ecumenical councils, Schaff notes:

“The authority of these councils in the decision of all points of controversy was supreme and final.
Their doctrinal decisions were early invested with infallibility; the promises of the Lord respecting the indestructibleness of his church, his own perpetual presence with the ministry, and the guidance of the Spirit of truth, being applied in the full sense to those councils, as representing the whole church. After the example of the apostolic council, the usual formula for a decree was: Visum est Sprirtui Sancto et nobis. Constantine the Great, in a circular letter to the churches, styles the decrees of the Nicene council a divine command; a phrase, however, in reference to which the abuse of the word divine, in the language of the Byzantine despots, must not be forgotten. Athanasius says, with reference to the doctrine of the divinity of Christ: "What God has spoken by the council of Nice, abides forever." The council of Chalcedon pronounced the decrees of the Nicene fathers unalterable statutes, since God himself had spoken through them. The council of Ephesus, in the sentence of deposition against Nestorius, uses the formula: "The Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has blasphemed, determines through this most holy council." Pope Leo speaks of an "irretractabilis consensus" of the council of Chalcedon upon the doctrine of the person of Christ. Pope Gregory the Great even placed the first four councils, which refuted and destroyed respectively the heresies and impieties of Arius, Macedonius, Nestorius, and Eutyches, on a level with the four canonical Gospels. In like manner Justinian puts the dogmas of the first four councils on the same footing with the Holy Scriptures, and their canons by the side of laws of the realm. The remaining three general councils have neither a theological importance, nor therefore an authority, equal to that of those first four, which laid the foundations of ecumenical orthodoxy. Otherwise Gregory would have mentioned also the fifth council, of 553, in the passage to which we have just referred. And even among the first four there is a difference of rank; the councils of Nice and Chalcedon standing highest in the character of their results.”
-Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church 3.5.65

Schaff states straightforwardly that many (if not most who made a comment on the subject) of the NPN fathers believed that the Christological decrees of the first four ecumenical councils were infallible.

Having made this concession, I’ve read in both Roman Catholic as well as Protestant church historians that the fathers state that Nicea only proclaimed what was already clear from Scripture (J.N.D. Kelly, Brian Tierney, Louis Bouyer, etc.).

This and statements like them are found in a number of passages from the fathers (Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 1.4.13, De Synodis, 1.6, Against the Heathen 1.1, Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 2.3, 8.43, Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit 3.14.94, Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, Sermon 2.1, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Letters of the Blessed Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, Letter 99-To Claudianus the Antigrapharius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 5.12 (though this refers to the Apostle’s Creed), John Cassian, On the Incarnation 6.4 (though this is on the creed of the Council of Antioch), etc., etc., etc.).

Could it be that they believed the Christological decree of the council to be infallible simply because it proclaimed a summation of the clear Biblical teaching? I’ll have to look into this topic.

Schaff goes on to make a partial exception:

“Augustine, the ablest and the most devout of the fathers, conceived, in the best vein of his age, a philosophical view of this authority of the councils, which strikes a wise and wholesome mean between the extremes of veneration and disparagement, and approaches the free spirit of evangelical Protestantism. He justly subordinates these councils to the Holy Scriptures, which are the highest and the perfect rule of faith, and supposes that the decrees of a council may be, not indeed set aside and repealed, yet enlarged and completed by, the deeper research of a later day. They embody, for the general need, the results already duly prepared by preceding theological controversies, and give the consciousness of the church, on the subject in question, the clearest and most precise expression possible at the time. But this consciousness itself is subject to development. While the Holy Scriptures present the truth unequivocally and infallibly, and allow no room for doubt, the judgment of bishops may be corrected and enriched with new truths from the word of God, by the wiser judgment of other bishops; the judgment of the provincial council by that of a general; and the views of one general council by those of a later. In this Augustine presumed, that all the transactions of a council were conducted in the spirit of Christian humility, harmony, and love; but had he attended the council of Ephesus, in 431, to which he was summoned about the time of his death, he would, to his grief, have found the very opposite spirit reigning there. Augustine, therefore, manifestly acknowledges a gradual advancement of the church doctrine, which reaches its corresponding expression from time to time through the general councils; but a progress within the truth, without positive error. For in a certain sense, as against heretics, he made the authority of Holy Scripture dependent on the authority of the catholic church, in his famous dictum against the Manichaean heretics: "I would not believe the gospel, did not the authority of the catholic church compel me." In like manner Vincentius Lerinensis teaches, that the church doctrine passes indeed through various stages of growth in knowledge, and becomes more and more clearly defined in opposition to ever-rising errors, but can never become altered or dismembered.”
-Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church 3.5.65

So, according to Schaff, Mike (in the combox) was probably right when he had at first said, “You quote Augustine as though he says that earlier plenary councils are corrected by later ones in the sense that the earlier could be erroneous. He does not say that. He says that later examples of conduct or practice or doctrinal teaching may not have been anticipated and therefore did not fall under the purview of the earlier council's pronouncements.” So, Augustine never actually stated that ecumenical councils could be corrected (though he did not say that they were infallible either). [Although, I must say that I am confused by Augustine’s writing style. He uses the same sort of language when referring to the fact that Cyprian was wrong concerning his belief in re-baptizing former heretics as he does in referring to plenary councils. Nevertheless, I concede that I am probably wrong and apologize.]

Having said that, Schaff (along with several other church historians on both sides) say that Augustine held the Scriptures to be clear and of the highest authority for the Christian (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 2.9, 2.42, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, Sermon 2.1, St. Augustine on the Psalms 8:2.8, Letters of St. Augustine, Letter 82.1.3, Letter 82.2.5, Letter 137.5.18, City of God 11.3, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 13.5, 23.9, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 2.3, On Nature and Grace, Against Pelagius, ch.71, Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount 1.11.32).

Having said *that*, Schaff seems to acknowledge the Roman Catholic interpretation of the passage in Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, ch.5. In fact, the footnote he gives in Augustine’s letter cites another church historian:

“[This is one of the earliest distinct assertions of the dependence of the Scriptures for authority on the Church.-A. H. N.]”

Interesting. To what kind or degree of authority is not said, but nevertheless, I’ll have to research this a bit more.

The rest is on the Protestant view of the ecumenical councils if you are interested.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy in Acts 15

A few of the comments made in regard to the last post on Acts 15 bring up two good questions:

Was the *issue that caused* the council about orthodoxy or orthopraxy?


Was the *decision and decree* of the council about orthodoxy or orthopraxy?

First of all, the issue was not over whether to include the gentiles. That was already a forgone conclusion after all the things that God had done with Paul and Barnabas in the conversion of the gentiles. Implied in their statement, even the believing Pharisees admitted as much (v.5).

Rather, the *issue that caused* the council was whether the gentiles should be circumcised in order to be saved (vv. 1 and 5). This is clearly an issue of soteriology, and thus, a matter of doctrine (i.e. orthodoxy).

As the debate progressed (vv.6-12), Peter gives his testimony about God’s revelation to him concerning the unclean foods and Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10:1-11:18), and Paul and Barnabas tell of how God used them to bring the Gentiles into the faith (Acts 11:25-30, 13:1-12, 44-52, etc.). Thus, it was made clear to everyone that the gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved since this was clearly evidenced by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in them (Acts 10:47-48).

James then gets up and judges that they should write a letter stating that they should “not trouble…the gentiles” but that the gentiles should not participate in certain pagan idolatrous acts (vv.19-20).

The letter that was written (vv.23-29) makes two “decrees”:

a.) That the Pharisees were not, in fact, sent by the Jerusalem church and had no authority, but Paul and Barnabas were (vv.24-27). Thus, this decree was to affirm the ecclesiastical and doctrinal authority of both Paul and Barnabas.

b.) That the gentiles abstain from certain pagan idolatrous acts and other immoral practices (vv.28-29).

While the first decree affirmed Paul’s and Barnabas’ teaching authority, it did not specifically affirm their teaching. Though it was clear that everyone in the council approved of their teaching, this was not part of the decree. Instead, the council simply put it into the hands of the two apostles to teach by the Holy Spirit the doctrines of soteriology to the gentiles. Thus, both decrees were over orthopraxy, practice, not doctrine.

It is here that we turn to the debate over whether this council can be made an exact example for ecumenical councils. The letter containing the decree in this council is what is comparable to the canons of the ecumenical councils of later time. Since the decree in the letter did not touch on the issue of orthodoxy, but instead, on orthopraxy and handed the doctrinal part over to the two apostles, this council cannot be used as an exact example for the doctrinal authority of an ecumenical council.

I apologize for not being clear enough, and I will change my previous post and leave footnotes with the date of the change.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

15:1 Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” 12 All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 ‘AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ 18 SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.’ 19 Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” 30 So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. 33 After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out. 34 [But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.] 35 But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord…16:4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.” –Acts 15:1-35, 16:4 NASB


The context of the passage is that the some of the Pharisees were teaching that one must receive circumcision in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, and so, the brethren asked that they should go to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to determine the issue.

Paul and Barnabas gave their side saying that God has been working through them in the conversion of the gentiles, but then, the Pharisees gave their side. The apostles and elders in Jerusalem then convened to decide on the matter.

After much discussion, Peter stands up and recalls to everyone his experiences in Acts 10 and 11. On this basis he agreed with Paul and Barnabas. The people participating in the council kept silent as each one took their turn speaking. As Chrysostom said:

““Then all the multitude kept silence,” etc. (v. 12.) There was no arrogance in the Church. After Peter Paul speaks, and none silences him: James waits patiently, not starts up (for the next word). Great the orderliness (of the proceedings). No word speaks John here, no word the other Apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule, and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. “And after that they had held their peace, James answered,” etc. (v. 13.) (b) Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part.”
-John Chrysostom, Homilies on The Acts of the Apostles, Homily XXXIII

[On a quick note, some Roman Catholics have argued that the people kept silent when Peter spoke in the sense that they fell silent when he gave his ‘Papal decree’: “That’s it, the Pope has spoken.” However, this is not what the text is saying. They kept silent for everyone out of politeness and wishing to hear everyone else’s opinion. This was Chrysostom’s interpretation. It is also interesting to note that he held that James was of higher authority than Peter (see the last sentence of the above quote)!]

Next, James gives his judgment. He sides with Paul and Barnabas citing the Old Testament prophecies of the New Covenant on the inclusion of the gentiles. From this, it was his judgment that the church assembled in Jerusalem write to the church at Antioch that circumcision was not necessary (as it was part of the ritual law fulfilled in Christ) but to abstain from idolatry and other pagan practices (as they were part of the moral law which endures forever). After hearing James’ decision, the apostles, the elders, and the whole church agreed.

“To the Holy Spirit and to Us”

The letter was written and went out. The authority for this decision was given: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (v.28). The decision was worked to by their reasoned judgment through the direction of the Holy Spirit. As Matthew Henry stated:

“They express themselves with something of authority, that what they wrote might be received with respect, and deference paid to it: It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, that is, to us under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and by direction from him: not only the apostles, but others, were endued with spiritual gifts extraordinary, and knew more of the mind of God than any since those gifts ceased can pretend to; their infallibility gave an incontestable authority to their decrees, and they would not order any thing because it seemed good to them, but that they knew it first seemed good to the Holy Ghost.”
-Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Acts 15

Chrysostom gives a slightly different opinion as to why they added “and to us”:

“For it seemed good,” say they, “to the Holy Ghost and to us” (v. 28): not making themselves equal (to Him)-they are not so mad. But why does it put this (so)? Why did they add, “And to us,” and yet it had sufficed to say, “To the Holy Ghost?” The one, “To the Holy Ghost,” that they may not deem it to be of man; the other, “To us,” that they may be taught that they also themselves admit (the Gentiles), although themselves being in circumcision. They have to speak to men who are still weak and afraid of them: this is the reason why this also is added. And it shows that it is not by way of condescension that they speak, neither because they spared them, nor as considering them weak, but the contrary; for great was the reverence of the teachers also.”
-John Chrysostom, Homilies on The Acts of the Apostles, Homily XXXIII

Either interpretation is valid though I prefer Henry’s.

Thus, Paul, Barnabas, Barsabbas, and Silas took the letter to the brethren in Antioch, and the gentiles accepted it with great joy.

Is the Jerusalem Council in a Paradigm Example for Ecumenical Councils?

Some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists argue that the council in Jerusalem was given as the model for the participation, proceedings, and extent of authority of ecumenical councils. Thus, ecumenical councils would be infallible and binding on the conscience.

However, Acts 15 isn’t exactly the example they’re looking for. As Philip Schaff stated so well:

“The most complete outward representation of the apostolic church as a teaching and legislative body was the council convened at Jerusalem in the year 50, to decide as to the authority of the law of Moses, and adjust the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.
We notice it here simply in its connection with the organization of the church.
It consisted not of the apostles alone, but of apostles, elders, and brethren. We know that Peter, Paul, John, Barnabas, and Titus were present, perhaps all the other apostles. James—not one of the Twelve—presided as the local bishop, and proposed the compromise which was adopted. The transactions were public, before the congregation; the brethren took part in the deliberations; there was a sharp discussion, but the spirit of love prevailed over the pride of opinion; the apostles passed and framed the decree not without, but with the elders and with the whole church and sent the circular letter not in their own name only, but also in the name of "the brother elders" or "elder brethren" to "the brethren" of the congregations disturbed by the question of circumcision.
All of which plainly proves the right of Christian people to take part in some way in the government of the church, as they do in the acts of worship. The spirit and practice of the apostles favored a certain kind of popular self-government, and the harmonious, fraternal co-operation of the different elements of the church. It countenanced no abstract distinction of clergy and laity. All believers are called to the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices in Christ. The bearers of authority and discipline should therefore never forget that their great work is to train the governed to freedom and independence, and by the various spiritual offices to build them up unto the unity of faith and knowledge, and to the perfect manhood of Christ.
The Greek and Roman churches gradually departed from the apostolic polity and excluded not only the laity, but also the lower clergy from all participation in the legislative councils.
The conference of Jerusalem, though not a binding precedent, is a significant example, giving the apostolic sanction to the synodical form of government, in which all classes of the Christian community are represented in the management of public affairs and in settling controversies respecting faith and discipline. The decree which it passed and the pastoral letter which it sent, are the first in the long line of decrees and canons and encyclicals which issued from ecclesiastical authorities. But it is significant that this first decree, though adopted undoubtedly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and wisely adapted to the times and circumstances of the mixed churches of Jewish and Gentile converts, was after all merely “a temporary expedient for a temporary emergency,” and cannot be quoted as a precedent for infallible decrees of permanent force. The spirit of fraternal concession and harmony which dictated the Jerusalem compromise, is more important than the letter of the decree itself. The kingdom of Christ is not a dispensation of law, but of spirit and of life.” (emphasis mine)
-Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church 1.10.64

In a later chapter, Schaff goes on to note the polity of later councils which was eventually adopted by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches:

But with the advance of the hierarchical spirit, this republican feature gradually vanished. After the council of Nicaea (325) bishops alone had seat and voice, and the priests appear hereafter merely as secretaries, or advisers, or representatives of their bishops. The bishops, moreover, did not act as representatives of their churches, nor in the name of the body of the believers, as formerly, but in their own right as successors of the apostles…As the episcopate culminated in the primacy, so the synodical system rose into the oecumenical councils, which represented the whole church of the Roman empire. But these could not be held till persecution ceased, and the emperor became the patron of Christianity. The first was the celebrated council of Nicaea, in the year 325. The state gave legal validity to the decrees of councils, and enforced them if necessary by all its means of coercion. But the Roman government protected only the Catholic or orthodox church, except during the progress of the Arian and other controversies, before the final result was reached by the decision of an oecumenical Synod convened by the emperor.” (bold emphasis mine)
-Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church 2.4.54

The Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (obviously an Eastern Orthodox source) concurs:

“The appeal to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) as paradigmatic for church decision-making procedure is frequently made by those emphasizing the importance of the hierarchy in the process of defining the faith…seemingly a perfect example…On closer examination, the example is problematical. Did the hierarchy really make the decision? First, Peter makes a speech and in it takes responsibility for the Gentile mission; but then James, the brother of the Lord, speaks and states, ‘I have reached a decision…’ Next, we find that ‘the apostles and the elders with the consent of the whole church decided…’ (v22); and again, when we read Paul’s account of what is ostensibly the same council (Gal 2:1-10), he states that he is the leader of the Gentile mission and the meeting in Jerusalem added nothing to his message or method…Finally, the Council was not really about orthodoxy at all, but about orthopraxy: The decision did not involve theology (q.v.) or the content of the faith, but only whether circumcision and certain types of abstinence would be practiced.” (emphasis mine)
-M. Prokurat et al. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1996), 49-50.

So, the council of Acts 15 cannot be used as a proof-text for supposedly infallible ecumenical councils for the following reasons:

a.) It was attended by the apostles which makes it more than an ecumenical council. Infallibility was guaranteed because of them. [Dave Armstrong tries to respond to this in his book which I will get to below.]

b.) As noted both by Schaff and the EO dictionary, it was attended by the elders (lit. presbyters) of the church in Jerusalem and agreed upon by both the elders and the whole church (thus including the laity) in Jerusalem making it less than an ecumenical council since an ecumenical council is strictly episcopal and excludes the lower clergy and especially the laity. [In the first seven (I believe) ecumenical councils, presbyters could be part of the council but only as proxies for the bishops they represented and had to cast their votes as their bishops had commanded. So, in effect, these councils were still for bishops alone.]

c.) As the Eastern Orthodox dictionary notes, **the decrees of the council (which are supposedly comparable to the canons of the ecumenical councils) only touched on orthopraxy (practice), not orthodoxy (doctrine). Instead, the council delegated the doctrinal authority to the two apostles, Paul and Barnabas.

d.) On what basis is this council a model for ecumenical councils alone? Why couldn’t this be a basis for local councils as well? Isn’t this what Matthew 18:18-20 teaches? In other words, if Acts 15 can be applied to local councils (which are fallible) as well, then how can it be used to prove the infallibility of ecumenical ones?

A Review of Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses on Acts 15:28-29, 16:4

[Unless otherwise stated, all of these quotes come from Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004).]

After citing the two passages mentioned above, Mr. Armstrong then states:

“These passages offer proof that the early Church held to a notion of the infallibility of Church councils, and to a belief that they were especially guided by the Holy Spirit (precisely as in Catholic Church doctrine concerning ecumenical councils).” (Armstrong, op. cit., p.7)

Other than the fact that this passage proves no such thing. [See the “Is the Jerusalem Council in a Paradigm Example for Ecumenical Councils?” section above.] Also, aren’t local councils also “guided by the Holy Spirit” and yet, not infallible (Matthew 18:20)?

Moving on:

“A Protestant might reply that since this Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts consisted of apostles, and since an apostle proclaimed the decree, both possessed a binding authority that was later lost (as Protestants accept apostolic authority as much as Catholics do).” (ibid. p.8)

Actually, this is incorrect. While James made the decision and the other apostles agreed, it was also agreed upon by the church elders (lit. presbyters) and the laity as well (v.22).


“But this is a bit simplistic, since Scripture is our model for everything, including Church government, and all parties appeal to it for their own views. If Scripture teaches that a council of the Church is authoritative and binding, it is implausible and unreasonable to assert that no future council can be so simply because it is not conducted by apostles.” (ibid. p.8)

How can the Jerusalem council serve as an exact model for later councils if they don’t include apostles? It can never be directly analogous (i.e. the exact same).

Armstrong should prove that the post-apostolic authority is directly analogous to apostolic authority. The apostles were an unrepeatable group.

Are bishops, the so-called successors of the apostles, independently infallible as the apostles were? Do they each possess the miracle power that the apostles had? Under the presupposition of Mr. Armstrong’s statement above, why is this not directly analogous but councils are?

Acts 15 proves that we should have church councils, but it never proves that post-apostolic councils would be infallible.

Lastly, and again, the decision was made by the entire church: apostles, presbyters, and laity, not just the apostles (or the apostles’ successors as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach). So, it proves the exact opposite of what Mr. Armstrong wants it to, namely a presbyterian or congregational style of church governance.

“The Bible does not exist in an historical vacuum, but has import for the day-to-day life of the Church and Christians for all time.” (ibid. p.9)

Yes, and this is why the apostles penned the gospels at the end of their lives and the churches made sure to preserve their letters all so that the New Testament Church would not need infallible apostles or have the need for an infallible church congregate. They had divine Scripture which was sufficient above all things. As Athanasius wrote:

Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.
-Athanasius, De Synodis 1.6

And Augustine, who denied the infallibility of plenary (i.e. ecumenical) councils in favor of Scripture being the only *infallible* authority:

But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?
-Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 2.3

Next, Mr. Armstrong states:

“St. Paul told us to imitate him (e.g. 2 Thess. 3:9). And he went around proclaiming decrees of the Church. No one was at liberty to disobey these decrees on the grounds of conscience, or to declare by “private judgment” that they were in error (per Luther).” (Armstrong, op. cit., p.9)

First of all, the passage cited, although pertaining to us imitating him, has to do with his work ethic (vv.7-12), not with his authority.

Secondly, where does Paul say to imitate his authority as an apostle? Again, Mr. Armstrong commits the fallacy of the over-extended conclusion (see my intro. to this series, part g.) by trying to extend apostolic authority into the post-apostolic church.

Again, if true, this would prove too much. Are we (or even a bishop) supposed to run around like we have *apostolic* authority (i.e. infallible individually) and the ability to write Scripture and perform as many miracles as they did? This was what some of the Anabaptists argued for. Rather than arguing for Roman Catholicism, if right, Mr. Armstrong’s argument would argue for Anabaptistry.

So, no one was allowed to disobey “these decrees” specifically because Paul was an *apostle*.

“It would be foolish to argue that the way the Apostles conducted the governance of the Church has no relation whatsoever to how later Christians engage in the same task.” (ibid. p.9)


“It would seem rather obvious that Holy Scripture assumes that the model of holy people (patriarchs, prophets, and apostles alike) is to be followed by Christians.” (ibid. p.9)

How does this prove that post-apostolic church councils (which *are* given precedent and authority in Acts 15) are infallible (something that only the apostles possessed)? Again, he commits the over-extended conclusion. He has to show that they are the exact same instead of simply being similar but not exactly the same.

“The binding authority of the Church was present here…” (ibid. p.9)

Yes, because there were apostles present.

Of course, something else should be said at this point. Protestants don’t deny that the covenant community is to convene church councils at times (as the Schaff quote above says), and we don’t deny that they possess the authority to excommunicate based on their judgment of what Scripture says. However, this decision is fallible. Basically, we see church councils in the same way that the early church saw local church councils.

Mr. Armstrong goes on to attempt a critique of Calvin’s commentary on Acts 15:28:

“This strikes me as somewhat desperate. First, Catholics have never argued that the Pope has power to make decrees contrary to the Bible (making Calvin’s slanderous charge a straw man).” (ibid. p.10)

Obviously, Mr. Armstrong doesn’t know how to tell when one is making an assertion and accusation and when one is trying to give the other side’s position. Of course Calvin knew that Roman dogma never stated that the Popes had the right to decree something contrary to Scripture! He was making an accusation that they in fact did and forced it upon men’s consciences.

“Calvin goes on to use vivid language, intended to resonate with already strong emotions and ignorance of Catholic theology.” (ibid. p.10)

Kind of like the use of the term, “anti-Catholic”?!

Secondly, Calvin didn’t write his commentaries back in the 1950’s. He wrote them in the mid-sixteenth century when Protestant congregations were mostly former Roman Catholics. He was hardly playing on ignorance, but instead, he was making an assertion.

He goes on to quote Barnes’s Notes, a commentary, saying that the decision of the council of Jerusalem was inspired and that this was to fulfill the promise of Christ in Matthew 18:18-20 and John 14:26. Mr. Armstrong then states:

“In this instance, it was the decision of the council in a case submitted to it; and it implied an obligation on the Christians to submit to that decision. Barnes actually acknowledges that the passage has some implication for ecclesiology in general.” (ibid. p.10)

Of course, what Barnes was noting by citing John 14:26 was that the promise of the Spirit in this special sense was made to the apostles. So, again, for the umpteenth time, the council at Jerusalem was infallible because it was attended and decided upon by apostles.

Secondly, Matthew 18:18-20 states that when “two or three gather”. Why wouldn’t this apply to local councils as well?

He goes on to misrepresent Calvin:

“It is remarkable, on the other hand, that Calvin seems concerned about the possibility of a group of Christians – in this case, a council – being led by the Holy Spirit to achieve a true doctrinal decree, whereas he has no problem with the notion that individuals can achieve such certainty.” (ibid. p.10)

First of all, Calvin didn’t deny that a congregate of Christians as a whole could be led by the Spirit and be moved by Him providentially toward the truth. He simply denied them infallibility. He consistently applied the same to the reader of Scripture. [There are a number of reasons why a Spirit-led person or group can arrive at the wrong outcome: lack of prayer and meditation on Scripture, misinterpreting personal emotions for the work of the Spirit, personal traditions, lack of knowledge of the subject matter, sinful pride, etc. all come into play.] Calvin covered all of this in his Institutes (IV.9.1-14).

Again, Mr. Armstrong is inconsistent since, when we apply the same standard to local councils, he denies them infallibility but yet, believes that they were moved by the Spirit as well.

“For Catholics, the import of Acts 15:28 is clear and undeniable.” (ibid. p.11)

Yes, Mr. Armstrong, because of your overriding presupposition which your Church tells you to bring to Scripture, you have managed to ignore that the Jerusalem Council was:

a.) More than an ecumenical council since it was attended and decided upon by apostles.

b.) Less than an ecumenical council since it was attended and decided upon by the presbyters and laity of Jerusalem making it more presbyterian or congregational.

c.) ****Indeed over doctrine. However, its decrees found in the letter sent to Antioch (which are supposedly comparable to the canons of the ecumenical councils) did not touch on the doctrines of soteriology but on the practices of obeying the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, and not participating in immoral acts. The decrees of the council were over orthopraxy, not orthodoxy.

d.) Would give precedent to local councils as well as ecumenical ones. [Thus, under Mr. Armstrong’s assumptions about the implications of this passage, why aren’t local councils infallible as well?]

BTW: I encourage my readers to give comments on what I can add to these posts to make my arguments/counter-arguments more complete, and of course, I encourage criticism as well.

**This paragraph used to read, "...the issue at hand was one of orthopraxy (practice), not orthodoxy (doctrine)." It was corrected in order to be more accurate. The change was made on October 11, 2007.

****This paragraph used to read, "More over an issue of practice, not doctrine." It was corrected in order to be more accurate. The change was made on October 11, 2007.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Response to Dave on 1 Timothy 3:15

I believe that I will only be doing one of these replies to his replies for each one of the verses he cited in his book (if that). I simply don’t have the time to do more. Also, I’ll try to make it brief and to the point.

“I find it a bit amusing, however, that S&S (being an adherent of Reformed "low church" presbyterian ecclesiology) wants to avoid the term bishop, even though that is the usual translation of the Greek words episkope and episkopos, found in 1 Tim 3:1 and 3:2.”

This is a semantic anachronism. The translation of episkopos into “bishop” is fine as long as one understands that, in the New Testament, it refers to a church elder, the office one place higher than a deacon. Under this definition, my local church pastor would be given the title, “bishop”. Also, the associate pastor in the same church would be called “bishop” as well. Thus, there could be as many as 4-5 “bishops” in a local church congregation numbering as few as 200 members. It does not mean (as it later came to mean) the head of several pastors/priests in a city or district.

The definition of “bishop” that Dave wants to read into the text is anachronistic.

“He mistranslates episkope / episkopos as elder because that is more amenable to his low-church Reformed ecclesiology.”

I did not mistranslate it since it is the meaning of the text. Of course, we’d have to go into what the Bible says about church government in order to settle this dispute, and so, he is now guilty of committing a red herring from the real issue of the interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:15 by distracting us with another issue, the Biblical form of church office. [Though the two issues are connected, whether the church has “bishops” in the RC sense is a separate issue from whether the church is declared to be infallible in 1 Tim. 3:15.]

He then goes on to the translations of the Bible which translate episkopos as bishop. Of course, they translate it this way because it has historically been translated this way since the Middle Ages (in English). Thus, if his argument is that it should mean “bishop” because it has meant “bishop” since the Middle Ages, a time period long after the term episkopos lost its Biblical meaning, then he is guilty of circular reasoning.

So, just for the record:

“The terms Presbyter (or Elder) and Bishop (or Overseer, Superintendent) denote in the New Testament one and the same office, with this difference only, that the first is borrowed from the Synagogue, the second from the Greek communities; and that the one signifies the dignity, the other the duty.
1. The identity of these officers is very evident from the following facts:
a. They appear always as a plurality or as a college in one and the same congregation, even in smaller cities) as Philippi.
b. The same officers of the church of Ephesus are alternately called presbyters and bishops.
c. Paul sends greetings to the "bishops" and "deacons" of Philippi, but omits the presbyters because they were included in the first term; as also the plural indicates.
d. In the Pastoral Epistles, where Paul intends to give the qualifications for all church officers, he again mentions only two, bishops and deacons, but uses the term presbyter afterwards for bishop.
Peter urges the "presbyters" to "tend the flock of God," and to "fulfil the office of bishops" with disinterested devotion and without "lording it over the charge allotted to them."
e. The interchange of terms continued in use to the close of the first century, as is evident from the Epistle of Clement of Rome (about 95), and the Didache, and still lingered towards the close of the second.
With the beginning of the second century, from Ignatius onward, the two terms are distinguished and designate two offices; the bishop being regarded first as the head of a congregation surrounded by a council of presbyters, and afterwards as the head of a diocese and successor of the apostles. The episcopate grew out of the presidency of the presbytery, or, as Bishop Lightfoot well expresses it: "The episcopate was formed, not out of the apostolic order by localization, but out of the presbyteral by elevation; and the title, which originally was common to all, came at length to be appropriated to the chief among them." Nevertheless, a recollection of the original identity was preserved by the best biblical scholars among the fathers, such as Jerome (who taught that the episcopate rose from the presbyterate as a safeguard against schism), Chrysostom, and Theodoret.”
-Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church 1.10.61

Even the commentary on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website explains:

“Overseers: the Greek term episkopos literally means "one who oversees" or "one who supervises," but since the second century it has come to designate the "bishop," the official who heads a local church. In New Testament times this office had not yet developed into the form that it later assumed, though it seems to be well on the way to such development in the Pastorals; see 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:7, where it is translated bishop. At Philippi, however (and at Ephesus, according to Acts 20:28), there was more than one episkopos, and the precise function of these officials is uncertain. In order to distinguish this office from the later stages into which it developed, the term is here translated as overseers.”
-Commentary on Phil. 1:1 NAB

He then remarks about me being a young-earth creationist. I don’t really see what this has to do with issue at hand. I have heard that Dave can go all over the place when responding to someone, and now my faith has become sight! I may post on this topic in the distant future but not now.

“Other than this trivial aside, I have no beef with what S&S wrote about verses 14 and 15. It doesn't really prove anything against my position (and I wonder why S&S would think that it does do so?).”

That’s because I wasn’t giving a critique of your book yet. To make my exegesis complete, I was going through the entire chapter.

He then asks how the presbyterian (with a lower-case “p” referring simply to a plurality of elders) form of church government works. For that, he can pick up a systematic theology such as Robert Reymond’s.

But again, this is another red herring. The issue here is whether 1 Timothy 3:15 can be used as a proof-text for Roman Catholicism that supposedly “confounds Protestants”. Since it is his book making the positive claim, the burden of proof is on him to prove that this verse says what he thinks it means.

He then goes into a discussion he had with Dr. White in the past. Of course, many of his counter-arguments against Dr. White give a question begging response, and Dr. White probably got tired of Dave’s long-winded, question begging, red-herring rants. Perhaps in the later future (much later!), I’ll respond to the philosophical and historical arguments (which are mostly ipse dixits) put forward by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists.

Next, he goes into a long quote on the topic of what is usually termed “doctrinal chaos”. Of course, this gets into a philosophical argument which was never the topic at hand, and yet again, Dave has merited the red-herring award.

“S&S has also assumed certain things above without proving them; namely, that "church" here means simply all believers.”

Actually, if one reads what I wrote, I made this case in the third paragraph after my first citation of Dave’s book. I didn’t want to go into a long-winded dissertation (like Dave) on the meaning of the word, “church”, in Scripture.

“He also blithely assumes without evidence that "truth" in 1 Timothy 3:15 refers to the gospel only, not all spiritual matters. This is not at all obvious, and I see nothing in the immediate context that proves it beyond any doubt. The gospel is certainly a very important part of Christian truth, but not the sum and total of it.”

This is actually a fair criticism. The church was entrusted with and given the duty of proclaiming the whole counsel of God (2 Timothy 2:15). Of course, the gospel encompasses all these things (compare 2 Timothy 2:15 with Colossians 1:5). Nevertheless, I will make a change to my original post with a footnote and the date of the change.

He then goes on to use more RC proof-texts against my reading of 1 Timothy 3:15. I’ll get to these in later posts. [In fact, Acts 15-16 is next.]

“Fundamental to any interpretation of an author's work is an understanding of the purpose of that work…The book itself, however, made no pretense of being an elaborate commentary of biblical evidences for Catholic positions. I had done that already in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. The purpose here was to examine how Protestants try to exegete verses that we Catholics believe don't fit particularly well into a Protestant framework.”

But how can you say that these verses don’t fit into the Protestant framework without showing what they mean in their context?! You could, at the very least, have given mention in one or two short paragraphs of how verses 1-14 and verse 16 fit together with verse 15. Context is everything, and a verse without a context is simply a pre-text.

“Technically speaking, I wouldn't say that the Church is the "source" of Christian truth, if by that one means “origin.””

I didn’t mean to imply that, and many of the readers understood what I meant. Perhaps I shall change that too.

“Even his crony "theojunkie", writing…”

Great. Now I’m a crime lord, and all my Protestant brethren are my ‘crony’ mobsters. [Eyes rolling.]

He then goes into the translation of hedraioma. Of course, it wasn’t so much the translation that was the issue as the extent of the theology one could derive from that translation.

He again goes into Acts 15 (which I will get to in the next post). It should be noted that he is using one disputed text in order to interpret another disputed text, and thus, commits the fallacy of circular reasoning.

“Yet I am accused of equating the "Church" with "just the clergy" as if I were not even myself part of it (if I am not, how could I be "received" into it?). This is ludicrous. Catholics believe also in the consent of the faithful or the sensus fidelium.”

As Turretinfan pointed out, this is an unworkable rule of faith since the Popes and councils are believed to be infallible and thus irreformable.

“It may very well mean that. But that doesn't let S&S off the hook, because he still has to explain how the entire mass of Christians can be the pillar and support / foundation / bulwark / ground, etc. of the truth, when Protestants cannot even agree amongst themselves on so many things.”

Again, this is a red-herring. I was giving a critique of Dave’s exegesis, and so, he bears the burden of proof of showing how 1 Timothy 3:15 proves the infallibility of the church. This goes into a philosophical argument which was not the issue under discussion.

“In OT times, the Jewish assembly was not yet given the gift of infallibility. Things change after Jesus comes and the Holy Spirit indwells believers. Is this not elementary?”

I am indwelt with the Holy Spirit but am not infallible, and all the passages that he normally cites to prove that the church is infallible don’t really prove that (I’ll get to them eventually).

He then quotes my paragraph on the perspicuity of the Old Testament and gives several quotes from his past writings. However, all of his points/Scripture citations either prove too much or too little. Also, one of the points he made in application to sola Scriptura commits the straw-man + false antithesis fallacy (see the introduction to this series, part d.). I will get to all of this when I critique the use of Nehemiah 8 in his book.

“Furthermore, the only ones who believed in "Bible alone" in Jesus' time were the Sadducees, or theological liberals.”

This is false since they rejected the rest of the Old Testament due to a pre-commitment to Greek philosophy.

“We also saw earlier how Jesus and the New Testament writers cite approvingly many tenets of Jewish oral (later talmudic and rabbinic) tradition, according to the Pharisaic outlook.”

This is incredibly false. See my post, Alfred Edersheim on Matthew 15 and Tradition.

“As I have contended above, even if we grant this invisible church, the problem remains of identifying the doctrines of this ethereal, nebulous, mysterious entity.”

Again, as I noted in my second post on the invisible church, this is a category error that plays off of a straw-man.

“The fact is that he contradicted himself: sometimes speaking of the invisible church and other times of a visible one (Lutheranism, after all, adopted a state church model and gave secular princes the power that bishops once had, and this was quite concrete and "visible" indeed).”

Again, the two are not mutually exclusive since they are different *kinds* of churches.

“It's a falsehood to say that Catholic visible authority "died" during the Arian crisis. It may have among eastern bishops, but not at Rome, which always held the correct faith and supported St. Athanasius in it.”

It was more resistant to the heresy of Arianism, but that did not prevent an Arian bishop, Felix II, from ascending the papal throne and promulgating the heresy. It also did not prevent Liberius (though under pain of torture) to profess semi-Arianism (as proven in the Collectanea Antiariana Parisina). Since Dave is fond of appeals to authority (which is not necessarily wrong, especially in the case of the many nuances of history), Klaus Schatz, a (seemingly conservative) Roman Catholic professor of church history, writes:

The further course of the Arian controversy seems to present the picture of a conflict in which Rome by no means prevailed; in fact, it appears that Rome did not even make an energetic and deliberate attempt to counteract the increasing deviation from Nicea. The Roman bishops Julius and his successor Liberius (352-366) did at first belong to the small group of those who remained true to Athanasius. Over time this certainly contributed to the strengthening of Rome’s authority, especially in the East, but we can by no means speak of anything like success at first. Even the Roman church had its weak moments: Bishop Liberius, under imperial pressure (he was separated from his community, sent into exile, and replaced by an antibishop) accepted a formula of faith that, while not expressly denying the formula of Nicea, deviated from and practically abandoned it. Liberius also broke communion with Athanasius.” (emphasis mine)
-Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy, English trans. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996), p.26.

Lastly, your analysis of Sardica is overblown as Schatz also points out.

[As an as aside, one of the posters in DA’s combox, Randy, wrote:
“Even their own example of St Athanasius does not work. He is help up as a remnant but he is hardly protestant. How can your remnant be wrong about Mary, the eucharist, the papacy, etc. In fact, it was the authority of the pope that saved his bacon. So he wan't a successful remnant in spite of his belief in the pope but rather because of that belief. So how can you put him up as the small, true church and still say he was so wrong.”

Whether he was a Protestant is irrelevant since I was presenting an internal critique of Dave’s claims. Secondly, he was a Christian and part of the true orthodox catholic Church which I claim to be part of as well even though we differ in theology in some areas. So, the example of Athanasius is perfect for the point I am trying to make. Thirdly, Athanasius did not believe in many of the things that you ascribe to him in your post. This is a classic case of a patristic ananchronism, reading a modern idea into the words and deeds of the church fathers.]

“Al this is secondary. I was simply trying to show that both Luther and Calvin applied 1 Timothy 3:15 to a supposed "hidden" or "invisible" church that was to be regarded as the primary meaning of "church" over against the apostolic, patristic, Catholic visible conception.”

Again, this is the category error + straw-man that I pointed out above. Secondly, Dave did not just note their beliefs, he dismissed them as being ahistorical which both Calvin and Luther actually gave arguments that it wasn’t. I realize that he was limited in space, but he could have at least dealt with this somewhere in his book since it was a key argument for the Reformation’s dismissal of Rome’s authority.

“The contradiction, however, lies in the assertion that great men of the past "agreed with Rome on almost everything" yet were still somehow Christians. Today, the standard anti-Catholic line is that in order to be a good Christian, a man has to be a bad Catholic; i.e., dissent on any number of doctrines that Protestants don't like.”

Well, since I’m not an “anti-Catholic” but a historic Protestant, I guess this doesn’t apply.