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?

and

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.

10 comments:

EgoMakarios said...

In reading the chapter again, I have come to the conclusion that the council was neither about orthodoxy nor orthopraxy. The council was about determining the best course of action to deal with the false teachers who went out from that congregation claiming they had received authority therefrom, and how to inform the affected congregations of their non-authority. It established no precedent for doctrinal councils, as the decision was corrective of a misunderstanding of what authority the false teachers had received, not a decree on doctrine.

orthodox said...

S&S: 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).

O: Okay...

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

O: You missed a bit:

" lay upon you no greater burden than...."

Here is the answer to the question posed in v1, which you conceed is about orthodoxy. The statement that there is no burden to follow the law to be saved answers the question concerning orthodoxy.

Saint and Sinner said...

"O: You missed a bit:

" lay upon you no greater burden than....""

It still made no theological statements on doctrine. It placed a limit on moral practices, yes, but no positive theological statement on soteriology was made.

To quote the Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church again:

"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.”"
-M. Prokurat et al. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1996), 49-50.

Your dictionary.

Saint and Sinner said...

"It" refers to the letter with the decrees, by the way.

Mike Burgess said...

The issue that brought the controversy about had to do with both, since orthodoxy and orthopraxy cannot be separated. Do you mean that the decrees of the Apostles and elders had to do with mere discipline?

Also, the interesting thing to me is that the letter tells the Syrian, Antiochene, and Cilician brethren that Paul and Barnabas are coming to teach them orally. It also tells them that Silas and Judas would "tell" them "the same things."

What same things? That they were to refrain from blood, strangled-animal meat, idolatry? Seems rather superfluous, doesn't it? If the "same things" means just those things listed right after in v. 29, why didn't they just write v. 29 and seal it up, send it along, and have the messenger tell them "sola scriptura, dudes."

Saint and Sinner said...

"The issue that brought the controversy about had to do with both, since orthodoxy and orthopraxy cannot be separated. Do you mean that the decrees of the Apostles and elders had to do with mere discipline?"

The early church (post-Constantine) held differently. They believed that the doctrines of Christology were binding for all time, but that the rules of discipline in the canons were not.

Secondly, Protestants hold that sola Scriptura applies only to today since (we argue) there are no other infallible authorities. Thus, we argue for sola Scriptura because (we believe) it is true by default. I'll not go into this since I don't want to be side-tracked.

Lastly, after I get off of work today, I'll make a significant concession concerning our debate over Augustine.

Saint and Sinner said...

"What same things? That they were to refrain from blood, strangled-animal meat, idolatry? Seems rather superfluous, doesn't it?"

No. It was so that these churches could have a confirmation that Paul and Barnabas had the authority of the council.

If P & B showed up there with just the letter, the Pharisees could have accused P & B of making it up. Judas and Silas were an independent confirmation.

Mike Burgess said...

S&S,
Whatever your concession turns out to be, you already have my immense respect for interacting with what I've actually said. I hope that when I eventually screw up (if I haven't already) I can be half as gracious as you are.

Mike Burgess said...

My contention was that fornication is a matter of faith and morals, not discipline. Idolatry is a matter of faith and morals, not discipline.

I concede that there is a way to describe something as orthopraxy which is mere discipline. I hold that the decrees concerned both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Teaching authority was further confirmed (and in some ways delineated: Pharisees who had become believers and/or others with a message of circumcision were rebuked in that teaching), and this touches upon orthodoxy. The ones who have authority from the Apostles and elders do, as you point out, bring back the confirmatory letter and independent witnesses of the authoritative proceedings which the believers had asked for.

Also, orthopraxy which was no mere discipline but contained an undeniable aspect of orthodoxy was decreed. Fornication and idolatry were, are and always will be issues of faith and morals.

orthodox said...

S&S: It still made no theological statements on doctrine. It placed a limit on moral practices, yes, but no positive theological statement on soteriology was made.

O: You're not making sense. You admit that the question of v1 was about orthodoxy, but when they answer the question, suddenly it is not about orthodoxy.

The question was whether the Gentiles need to be circumcised to be saved. The letter states that this burden is not to be laid upon them.