Monday, December 29, 2008

Response to Persiflage on the Decree

Persiflage wrote:
“But I have to tell you man, if that is all Calvinism means by the word “ordain” then I don’t have a problem with the Westminster Confession when it says that God did “ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” There’d only be a small annoyance that the men who wrote this worded it poorly and could have eliminated a lot of confusion if they just wrote “whatsoever comes to pass is in God’s plan.””

Well, I think that you have again misunderstood what I said. The decree is a simple plan. However, God is the one who writes all of history including the actions of men in it. It is *not* that God looks ahead of time, sees what man does, and fits his plan around what He foresees man will do. My only point in writing this definition was to dispel the straw-man of Calvinism that God winds-up all humans like a toy at the beginning of creation, and they simply move and do what He wants them to do.

In other words, I do not deny that God actually wanted (in the decretive sense) all the actions of men in history to come to pass since He planned them.

Persiflage wrote:
“I looked up ordain in the Webster Dictionary, and it defined it as “to establish or order by decree or law.””

That is a dictionary of the modern English which has nothing to do with *Theological terms*, especially ones that originated during the times of the 17th century Protestant scholastics. You might want to purchase and use a Dictionary of Theology or a Calvinistic Systematic Theology instead.

That you are using secular definitions of terms instead of theological definitions is a constant problem throughout your response.

Persiflage wrote:
“In one sense I absolutely agree with you, in the other sense I start to worry about other Scripture that says how things happen against God’s will (even if he’s philosophically the “first cause” of everything. So I won’t argue or agree with your interpretation of these Scriptures until I understand this better.”

Yes, when I used the term, ‘ultimate cause,’ I meant it in the sense that God *wanted* it to happen (again, in a decretive sense but not in a prescriptive sense). God set in action a chain of events that He knew would result in whatever would happen, *and* He *wanted* it to happen (again, in a decretive sense but not necessarily in a prescriptive sense). When it says that “God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled,” (Revelation 17:17) God specifically *wanted* the kings to give their power over to the beast (which would no doubt include idolatrous worship).

This does not mean, however, that God wanted them to worship the beast in the prescriptive sense since God specifically forbids false worship. Rather, the way that this event would probably happen would be like that described in Job 1 or 2 Chronicles 18:18-22. God would bring Satan before Him and specifically permit Satan to “entice” and influence the minds of those kings and tell Satan to “prevail” in doing so (2 Chronicles 18:18-22). God *wanted* Satan to “prevail” in the decretive sense so that God’s purpose might come about.

When God *wants* (decretively) a certain evil event to happen, He willingly permits an evil spirit or man to do evil in order to bring about His purpose. God is never the one who entices to sin (James 1:13). He always *permits* it to happen. However, He never gives demons open reign everywhere and in all cases. God specifically sets the parameters of what He will allow the demon to do, sets the goal, and allows no more. God *wants* the evil event to happen so that it will fulfill His righteous purposes.

I know that I’m being a bit repetitive, but I don’t know how else to show you the distinction between God’s prescriptive (i.e. law) will and His decretive (i.e. providential) will. In essence, what I am saying is that defining the term, “God’s will” or “God wants this to happen,” in the sense that God prescribes a law for mankind is far too narrow for how the Biblical text uses it.

Persiflage writes:
“Do you see the problem here? If the “free choice” is caused by something, then it wouldn’t be a “free choice” in the first place.”

But that is the very issue under dispute, and it won’t be solved by a simple appeal to your intuitions. This has been debated back and forth by philosophers of metaphysics for many years now.

Persiflage wrote:
“A moral agent’s free will doesn’t cause choices, instead free will is the power through which the moral agent makes his choices. The fact that God gave him this “power” does not mean (a) that he is suddenly omnipotent, or (b) that God caused the free choice.”

But self-causality simply assumes one’s own self-existence, i.e. aseity. If God creates and sustains their very ontic existence, from where does their power come from to bring into being their self-generated choice? I don’t know how else to explain it to you. Sorry.

You go on to quote Geisler, but compatibilists of all stripes have pointed out that that is far too simplistic and creates all sorts of problems. Philosophy isn’t my best field, and so, I can only recommend some works:

J.M. Fischer’s The Metaphysics of Free Will

J.M. Fischer’s My Way: Essays on Moral Responsibility

John Frame’s No Other God

John Frame’s The Doctrine of God (pp.138-145)

Persiflage wrote (concerning 1 Samuel 2:25):
“Why did God desire to put them to death? Because they were already wicked in the first place - wicked enough for God to want to put them to death sooner than later (as opposed to the entire human population). And there is no reason for us to conclude that God preordained for them to reject him in the first place.”

Again, you’re missing the force of the passage. The passage states:

“But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death.” (1 Samuel 2:25)

They chose to disobey BECAUSE *GOD WANTED* them to. Again, this is not in the prescriptive sense as if God told them to do so or God Himself controlled their minds, but nevertheless, the text names God as the *cause* of their disobedience.

He was the ultimate cause, not in the sense that He simply set in motion a chain of events that “just happened” to result in their choice, but rather, it was a *calculated* move on His part. They chose exactly what He wanted them to chose, not because they just so happened to chose it, but because He knew that the events that He set in motion would be the *effective cause* of their choice.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Eternal Decree of God

I am continuing my response to Persiflage on the 5 points of Calvinism. However, most Calvinists (including myself) would agree that there is another point of Calvinism that is more fundamental than the TULIP: the belief that God has decreed all that comes to pass.

Persiflage has taken issue with this over at Triablogue, and Peter Pike has been interacting with him for some time now and has made this the subject of a post.

Pike has already made most of the points that I am about to make, but I intend to use a few more examples that I believe will make those points a bit less controversial. First, let’s start with the basic statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” WCF 3.1

I. Ordain/Decree-
First, let us take the term “ordain” (alt. ‘decree’, WLC 12, WSC 7). Ordain, here, simply refers to God’s plan of what shall occur in history. It is not causal in itself. It is not as if God simply wound-up creation like a toy and all history simply unfolds on its own power. Indeed, the WCF specifically denies such a form of determinism:

“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.” WCF 9.1

John Frame notes that the Confession, here, supports the notion of “the independence of human choices from sequences of cause and effect within nature, a freedom from natural causation.” (The Doctrine of God, p.145) Instead, God fulfills his decree in history by interacting with His creatures, placing the boundaries to their movements (Job 14:5, Acts 17: 26), permitting certain acts by spiritual forces (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1:12), etc. This brings us to certain other points that need definition.

II. Human Freedom-
Human freedom is defined, here, in a compatibilist sense. In other words, compatibilist free-will (CFW) is a view of metaphysics that states that human freedom can be both free (and thus responsible for its actions) and determined at the same time. In the case of Calvinism, the determinism comes not from a material determinism (as it is in Stoicism or modern secular thought) but from a Divine determinism.

CFW is opposed to Libertarian Free-Will (LFW) which states that human freedom is incompatible with determinism of any form. If an action is determined, then it is not considered to be free (and thus the person is not responsible). This is called the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP) which states that given any situation, a free creature must be able to instantiate different possible worlds. This is not to say that there cannot be any influences but that given all those influences, the will must be able to instantiate alternative choices. [Note: this is not just the existence of a choice, the condition of responsibility in CFW, but is the actual ability to instantiate a different possible world.] LFW usually takes one of two forms: 1) causal-inderminate which says that the choice of someone is uncaused or 2) self-causal which says that someone creates their own choices ex-nihilo.

I will be citing several portions of Scripture on this point later. For now, I will note that Causal-Indeterminism completely destroys human freedom and responsibility as it makes the origin of choices random and uncaused. This was the original form of LFW that the WCF speaks against when it says that CFW (in opposition to causal-indeterminism) actually establishes human freedom since the proximate cause of someone's choice originated with that person rather than it being random and uncaused. Self-causation, on the other hand, is completely absurd in a theistic system (being defined in the classical/Biblical sense) since it grants creatures (whose continual existence in dependent upon God) the ability to create ex nihilo as if they posessed aseity and omnipotence.

The next three distinctions are closely related to each other, and an example will be cited after all of them have been defined:

III. Ultimate and Proximate Causes-
Calvinism also makes the distinction between ultimate and proximate causes. As noted above, Calvinism declares that God is the ultimate cause of all things and has decreed all that comes to pass including the sinful actions of mankind. However, Scripture also states that God in no way forces man to sin, tempts him (James 1:13), or prescribes sinful actions for him (Jeremiah 32:35; again, see below).

Thus, while God may be the *ultimate* cause of everything, He is not the *proximate* cause of everything.

IV. Ends and Means-
In Calvinism, God ordains all that comes to pass, but Calvinism is not fatalism. In fatalism, someone’s fate has been determined no matter what choices they make. In Calvinism, someone’s ‘fate’ has been determined through the means of the choices that they make. Thus, King Hezekiah must pray a prayer of repentance for the nation of Judah during the seige of Jerusalem in order to obtain deliverance (Isaiah 37:14-35) even though God had already promised deliverance for Judah through the prophet Hosea several decades before (Hosea 1:7). God’s decreed end happened through the means of the human free action (remember: defined in a compatibilist sense) of the king. Fatalism would say that God would have saved Judah no matter what choice the king made.

Another example would be God’s promise to deliver Paul and the crewmen of the ship from the storm (Acts 27:23-24). However, Paul tells the crewmen that unless they remain in the ship they cannot be saved (v.31). Thus, the salvation from death is decreed by God through the means of staying on the ship. They would not have been saved no matter what they had done (as it would have been if fatalism was the case), but only through the means of Paul’s warning.

In Calvinism, God has decreed both the means as well as the ends so that the end result never comes about except through the means.

V. The Two Wills of God: Prescriptive and Decretive-
A distinction between God’s prescriptive will and His decretive will should also be made. God’s prescriptive will is that set of laws which God has prescribed for man to do or not to do, i.e. God’s Moral Law. The Ten Commandments are an example of God’s prescriptive will.

God’s decretive will is that which God wants to happen in history. Both the ends and the means (cited above) are God’s decretive will.

VI. Biblical Analysis
An analysis of a few Biblical texts will prove that these distinctions can be made and that Scripture clearly selects for the Calvinist view:

a.) Did God Will that Jesus Die at the Hands of Wicked Men?
Clearly God never prescribed that men should kill His Messiah, and in fact, it is just the opposite (Exodus 20:13). However, Scripture also says that “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). Again, Peter declares that Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) and that the Jews and the Romans did “whatever [God’s] hand and [His] purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:28).

So, did God want Jesus to die at the hands of wicked men?
Prescriptively, no.
Decretively, yes.

b.) Genesis 50:20
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
According to Genesis 37:18-27, Joseph’s brothers were the ones who plotted Joseph’s demise. However, according to Genesis 50:20, Joseph, who was a prophet, informs us that it was God’s plan the whole time. God’s prescriptive will said that what Joseph’s brothers did was evil, but God’s decretive will decreed that Jacob’s family be saved from the famine through the use of the brothers’ evil (i.e. the proximate cause). Thus, God was the ultimate cause of what happened to Joseph so that His plan might be fulfilled and Abraham’s descendents saved.

It was not as though Jacob’s brothers first acted and then God came in to clean up the mess they made. No, the “it” in “God meant it” refers back to the first clause, namely “you meant evil against me”. There is one action present with two separate motives referring to that one action, one originating with the brothers and one with God.

c.) Judges 9:23
“Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,”
From what we know about God’s use of evil spirits (i.e. demons) from other passages of Scripture (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1:12, Luke 22:31, etc.; see these and other Scripture passages below), evil spirits ask God to allow them to do evil acts to men. God then allows (or disallows) them to do specific acts to accomplish His plan. Here, God sent an evil spirit to start a war between two evil groups so that, in the end, they might destroy one another (Judges 9:56-57).

Here, God is the ultimate cause of the suffering and death inflicted by the two parties so that God’s plan would be fulfilled. However, the demon and the two groups were the proximate causes of the sin that occurred.

d.) 1 Samuel 2:25
“If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death.
The sinful human free act of disobedience to their father (Exodus 20:12) ultimately came from God “for the LORD desired to put them to death.” They chose X because God wanted Y. This cannot be self-causal or causal-indeterminate LFW since the ultimate origin of their choice was not in themselves but in God.

e.) 2 Samuel 12:11
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.
Although it was Absalom who committed these evil acts of adultery (and was held accountable for such), God was the ultimate cause of these acts and used them for good (i.e. David’s punishment).

f.) 2 Samuel 17:14
“Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.”
To quote Robert Morey: “This passage is remarkable. It answers the questions, “Why did Absalom and all the men of Israel choose not to listen to Ahithophel when he was the clearly the wisest counselor in their midst? Why did they choose to take Hushai’s advice instead?” The text states that God caused them to choose Hushai because He had ordained to defeat Absalom. They chose what He ordained them to choose.” (emphasis his) –Dr. Robert A. Morey, The Nature and Extent of God’s Knowledge, 2nd Edition (Las Vegas, Nevada: Christian Scholars Press, 2002), pp.65-66. Again, they chose X because God wanted Y.

g.) The Comparison of 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1
“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.””
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”
There is no contradiction here. Just as in passages like Judges 9:23, 1 Samuel 16:14, Job 1:12, and 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, God uses fallen angels to accomplish His will. God was the ultimate cause of David’s sin (by willingly permitting Satan to tempt David), but Satan was the proximate cause (as well as David himself) and thus responsible. As the Puritans said, “The devil is God’s lackey.”

h.) 2 Chronicles 18:18-22
“Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘How?’ He said, ‘I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.”
In this amazing passage, God uses an evil sprit to commit an evil act (i.e. lying) to false prophets so that they would give false prophecies of victory to the evil King Ahab which would result in his death (i.e. good). Prescriptively, God hates lying (Exodus 20:16), but here, God providentially ordains that the lying spirit “prevail” in its deceitful actions in order to bring about good in the end. Again, this is not a bare permission but a willing permission since God ordained the ends and the means whereby His purpose should be accomplished.

i.) Job 1:21
He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Job recognizes that the evil acts of the Sabeans and Chaldeans which God hates and will judge them for (Exodus 20:13, 15, 17) have their ultimate cause (through secondary means, of course) in God.

j.) Psalm 105:25
He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.”
Psalm 105 summarizes Biblical history from the time of Abraham through Deuteronomy. Here, the inspired psalmist informs us that the evil intentions of the new Pharaoh, recorded in Exodus 1:8-10, had their ultimate cause in God. God purposefully sent Israel down into Egypt and caused them to multiply so that Pharaoh and the Egyptians would become jealous of the Israelites. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but at the same time, it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

k.) Proverbs 16:9-10
“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment.”
A man’s actions may have been willed freely, but they were ultimately foreordained to come to pass by God. This is the essence of compatibilist free-will (as opposed to the non-Calvinist’s version, libertarian free-will).

l.) Proverbs 20:24
Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way?”
(See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

m.) Proverbs 21:1
The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
This passage could not be clearer. (See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

n.) Ecclesiastes 7:14
In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider--God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.”
(See Job 1:21 and Proverbs 16:4 above.)

o.) Ecclesiastes 9:1
“For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.”
(See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

p.) Isaiah 10:5-7
“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nationsIs the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the GOD of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; and under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame.”
Here, God says that He is sending Assyria to punish Israel. In verses 12-14, the Assyrian king thinks that he has and will conquer the lands of his empire by his own might and for his own reasons. In reality, God is the ultimate cause of the king’s desire for conquest. God wields the king and his army like one wields a wood axe and a war club. God will send Assyria to punish Israel and then turn around and punish Assyria for their evil intentions and pride. This is similar to Genesis 50:20 in that there is one action with two different motives for that one action, one with the Assyrian king and one with God.

q.) Isaiah 45:7
The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.
Clearly, God is the ultimate cause of evil as well as good.

r.) Isaiah 46:9-10
“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
God has actively foreordained everything in history to come to pass for His purpose and His good pleasure. Notice that what is purposed is comprehensive: the end from the beginning.

s.) Isaiah 63:17
Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.”
(See the Exodus passages above as well as Ezekiel 14:9 and John 12:39-40 below.)

t.) Jeremiah 4:6
“Lift up a standard toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still, for I am bringing evil from the north, and great destruction.
God was the ultimate cause (though not the proximate cause) of the evil that happened to Judah.

u.) Lamentations 3:37-39
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?”
The author of Lamentations (thought to be Jeremiah) informs us that evil’s (in this case the Chaldean invasion’s) ultimate cause is God’s decree.

v.) Ezekiel 14:9
But if the prophet is prevailed upon to speak a word, it is I, the LORD, who have prevailed upon that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel.
This is an example of God’s use of false prophets in hardening the hearts of idolaters. These idolaters are seeking a prophet who will give them what they want to hear, something that affirms their lifestyle. God informs us that He Himself will cause (probably through the secondary means of an evil spirit) the false prophet to give a false prophecy (see especially 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 above). This will harden the hearts of the idolaters and strengthen them in their apostasy, resulting in greater judgment (see especially the Exodus passages above).

w.) Amos 3:6
If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
Amos reveals that the destruction of a city and its inhabitants by invading armies is ultimately caused by God’s decree.

x.) Habakkuk 2:12-13
Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence! Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing?
This passage tells us that the ultimate cause of the destruction of evil empires (usually by other evil empires with evil motives) is God. Of course, God probably does this through the secondary means of willingly permitting a demon to influence kings and their armies to do such. Nevertheless, God is still considered to be the ultimate cause.

y.) John 9:1-3
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Jesus reveals the reason for this man’s blindness. It was not for the reason of his sins or his parents’ sins (such as Pharisees had taught), but rather, God decreed from the beginning of time that he be born blind (probably through the secondary means of a genetic defect) and be put in that place for the purpose that Jesus would work a miracle on him. See also Exodus 4:11.

z.) John 12:39-40
God hardened those who rejected Jesus so that they would not repent; though, it probably means a temporary repentance like Ahab’s (see 1 Kings 21:20-29) since God refuses none that come to Him. God did this so that the Jewish leaders and their followers would hate Jesus and kill Him. Though this passage from Isaiah is usually cited in the Synoptic Gospels in such a way that suggests that those who disbelieve harden their own heart, the passage from John cites it in such a way as to suggest that God is the one who hardens their hearts. Of course, both are true since God is the ultimate cause and the unbelieving men are the proximate cause.

aa.) Romans 9
I’ll deal with this one when Persiflage gets around to unconditional election.

bb.) Romans 11:7-10
“What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, “GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.” And David says, “LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER.”
(See the comments on John 12:39-40.)

cc.) 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
Once a man has rejected God’s truth, God hands them over to the dominion of Satan so that his thoughts will be highly influenced by “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). See also 2 Corinthians 4:4. Prescriptively, God wants men to obey His gospel, but decretively, God ordains that those who reject His gospel be given over to further unbelief (Romans 1:21-28).

dd.) Revelation 17:17
For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”
Is it God’s will for the nations to worship the beast? Prescriptively, no (Exodus 20:3-7), but decretively, yes so that “His purpose” should “be fulfilled.” Of course, this probably involved willingly permitting Satan to influence their minds, but this was not a “bare permission” since the verse identifies God as the ultimate cause of their actions.

VII. Conclusion
If God has ordained the end from the beginning to accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10), makes men blind, mute, or dumb in order to accomplish His purpose (Exodus 4:11, John 9:1-3), is the ultimate cause of the death of every man (1 Samuel 2:6, Job 1:21), is the ultimate cause of sins such as disobedience or not accepting wise counsel so that He can destroy someone through their own actions (1 Samuel 2:25, 2 Samuel 17:14), is the ultimate cause of evil spirits causing men to sin so that God can accomplish His purpose in destroying those men (1 Samuel 16:14, 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1, 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, etc.), uses wicked men for the purpose of the evil that they would do so that it would result later in good (Genesis 50:20), directs the steps of men, the decisions of kings, and ultimately controls the deeds of wise and righteous men (Proverbs 16:9-10, 20:24, 21:1, Ecclesiastes 9:1), creates both prosperity and adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14, Isaiah 45:7) and good and evil (Jeremiah 4:6, Lamentations 3:37-38), is the ultimate cause of the rise and destruction of empires and their cities (Isaiah 10:5-7, 37:26-27, Amos 3:6, Habakkuk 2:12-13, Acts 17:26), is the ultimate cause of false prophecy so that He can judge wicked men (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Ezekiel 14:9), is the ultimate cause of heart-hardening and thus unbelief and/or disobedience (Joshua 11:20, Psalm 105:25, Isaiah 63:17, John 12:39-40, Romans 11:7-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, Revelation 17:17), is the ultimate cause of the Messiah’s death at the hands of wicked men (Isaiah 53:10, Acts 2:23, 4:28), and works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11), then it follows that that covers just about everything under the sun. God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Response to Persiflage, Intro

Peter Pike (a.k.a. “Calvindude”) over at Triablogue has been interacting with another blogger, Persiflage, a self-described non-Arminian non-Calvinist. Pike said that he would continue interacting with Persiflage, but I too would like to address some of the arguments that Persiflage was making.

First, I'd like to say that it's refreshing to have a non-Calvinist that doesn't get extremely emotional like the Campbellite Pelagians that come around the internet and do drive-by comments spewing their ignorance. Persiflage seems to show critical thinking skills and is open to the arguments that we have to present. It’s easy when one is in a back-and-forth behind a keyboard to get insulting, forgetting that your opponent is a brother in Christ. It seems that Persiflage has lived up to this standard so far, and so, I intend to do the same.

Having said these things, I have noticed from a few statements made by Persiflage that I can expect a typical Dave Hunt / Norman Geisler style straw-man attack on Calvinist doctrine. For example, take a few quotes from this post:

“So consider this a short introduction to a 5 part series. First of all, I'm not Arimian. I don't believe in universalism and I don't believe that a Christian can lose his salvation…With this ths series of 5 essays, I'm going to explain why I can't agree to any of the 5. I used to think I believed in at least 2 of them, but then I heard the "offical explanation" and couldn't even find Scripture to support my belief in those.”

Now, I may be proven wrong when he does his post on the Perseverance of the Saints and actually comes out supporting a Free-Grace Movement Dispensational Once-Saved-Always-Saved doctrine, but I’ve a got a feeling that I’m going to see the standard Adrian Rodgers style “Calvinists believe that the saints persevere on their own willpower” straw-man.

Also, here’s another from this comment:

“Charles Spurgeon, himself a Calvinist, disbelieved in "Double Predestination" however. Spurgeon said - "I cannot imagine a more ready instrument in the hands of Satan for the ruin of souls than a minister who tells sinners it is not their duty to repent of their sins ... who has the arrogance to call himself a gospel minister, while he teaches that God hates some men infinitely and unchangeably for no reason whatever but simply becauses he chooses to do so. O my brethren. May the Lord save you from the charmer, and keep you ever deaf to the voice of error." - quoted in Iain H. Murray's 'Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: A Battle for Gospel Preaching'”

However, this equivocates on the term ‘Predestination’. John Calvin and R.C. Sproul use the term differently than Spurgeon and other modern theologians. In Medieval scholastic terminology, ‘Predestination’ simply meant God’s foreordination in general, whether it be through primary or secondary causation (another distinction that Persiflage refuses to acknowledge in Reformed theology). Most modern Reformed theologians, however, define ‘Predestination’ as God acting in Himself (i.e. monergistically) to bring about the electing decree. Thus, God works His irresistable grace upon men in regeneration resulting in faith, justification, sanctification, perseverance, and eventually glorification. The opposite side of predestination of the elect is the ‘Reprobation’ of the non-elect which is defined as God simply allowing the non-elect to go their own way and freely choose damnation rather than faith. While God decrees both, God is active in history toward the elect but passive toward the non-elect. Thus, Spurgeon would agree with Calvin and Sproul once the terms are properly defined.

Also, it is a straw-man to say that if God decrees something, then man doesn't have to respond in faith since this ignores the distinction between means and ends.

There also seems to be a misunderstanding of what the term 'decree' means. The decree is simply God's ***plan*** from before creation. The decree does not affect anything in itself.

There is an equivocation on what the term “free” means as Persiflage begs-the-question against Compatibilism by assuming that the only kind of freedom possible is Libertarian Free-Will Action Theory (LFW) and the Priciple of Alternative Possibility (PAP).

Anyway, it’s getting late, and so I’ll start with a post tomorrow on the Decree of God and its proper definition.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More on Scientific Realism

There's been a post over at on scientific realism.

I did a post debunking scientific realism a while back, here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Answering a Question

I was reading tonight and a novel idea dawned on me: check my S&S e-mail (it's located on my profile BTW). Well, I had a lot of spam but 1 actual e-mail question (that has been sitting there for 3 months!...oops):


You state the following:

"Augustine’s View of Original Sin: Augustine’s view of Original Sin, namely that the guilt of the first sin of Adam was transmitted to his offspring, was for the most part limited to the West. To this day, most Eastern Orthodox believe that Adam’s sin added death and corruption to human nature, not the guilt of the sin as well."

Now, isn't this the biblical and reformed view of original sin? I mean, don't we believe that the guilt is also transmitted to adam's offspring?
God bless,


Yes, Mario. I believe that you misunderstood what I said.

The Reformed affirm that Adam passed on not only the death and corruption of our nature but also the legal guilt.

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that Adam passed on only the death and corruption of our nature but NOT the legal guilt.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More Secular Superstitions

This is another confirmation that the secularist is more likely to be superstitious than the Theist.

Let us not also forget that Richard Dawkins believes in space aliens.

Then, I guess that he makes a great spokesman for the atheist community.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Francis Beckwith's Conversion Book

Steve Hays reviews Beckwith's conversion story book, and shocker of all recycles all the bad old arguments that have been refuted since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Divided "Infallible" Councils

Steve Hays has hit the history books (again) on the debates that went on within the chambers of the last few Roman Catholic ecumenical councils.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Leftists and Sub-Prime Lending

Who caused this mess?




Answer: Leftists and their dumb ideas.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Secular Superstitions

This post over at Uncommon Descent pretty much confirmed my view of the so-called 'Enlightenment': the 'Enlightenment' simply replaced one set of superstitions (Dark Age beliefs) for another set of equally superstitious beliefs. From the post:


The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.


During the Renaissance, men who rejected the authority of Rome went one of two ways. They either reformed their beliefs by conforming to Scripture and got rid of many of the superstitions of the Middle Ages, or they rejected propositional revelation altogether and were left to figure out the nature of reality (a universal) starting with only their own 'reason' and experiences (particulars). Seeing that one cannot validly reason from a particular to a universal and having cut themselves off from the only Source that could possibly give them answers to the nature of reality since He alone possesses complete knowledge of it, they were left with nothing but fear of the unknown.

Thus, instead of believing in elves and fairies, they now believe in UFOs and little green men.

Instead of believing in spontaneous generation of flies from trash, they simply add billions of years with the same belief and declare it to be 'scientific'.

Instead of believing in astrology, they now believe in multiple-universes.

Instead of believing that a frog can turn into a prince, they simply add a few million years and call it "our hominid ancestry."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Argument for Church Infallibility...Again

Jason Engwer deals with the argument that if the Protestant uses the church fathers to determine the New Testament canon, then he ought to accept the fathers' belief in the infallibility of the church, here. [Of course, both parts of the above statement are disputed.]

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More from Triablogue on High Church Arguments

Another great post responding to Romanists' arguments for their church's authority.

UPDATE: Steve continues to deal with Bryan Cross' bad philosophical arguments (i.e. what the Reformers called 'sophistry') for Roman Catholic authority here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. [The ecclesiolaters just don't know when to give up, do they?] More: Here and (hopefully) the capstone post here.

UPDATE II: I was wrong. Naive Catholic converts just don't know when to give up, do they? Anyway, David Waltz has been trying to respond to Steve. Steve and Gene's replies are here, here, here, and here.

Lastly, there are two reasons why I am linking to all of these posts. First, so that I can go back through them one day in order to write-up my own summary essay on this matter. Second, so that everyone else who reads this blog (however few that may be) will also be able to read them and come to the same conclusion.

Steve also pointed out an article by Cardinal Avery Dulles that notes that Benedict XVI (then Ratzinger) believed (and still does) that Vatican II taught heresy:

"At discussions of Gaudium et Spes in September 1965, Ratzinger voiced many of the criticisms that would later appear in his books and articles: The schema was too naturalistic and unhistorical, took insufficient notice of sin and its consequences, and was too optimistic about human progress."

"Instead of replacing dogmatic utterances with dialogue, Ratzinger contends, it would have been better to use the language of proclamation, appealing to the intrinsic authority of God’s truth. The constitution, drawing on the thought of Teilhard de Chardin, links Christian hope too closely to the modern idea of progress. Material progress is ambivalent because it can lead to degradation as well as to true humanization. The Cross teaches us that the world is not redeemed by technological advances but by sacrificial love. In the section on unification, Gaudium et Spes approaches the world too much from the viewpoint of function and utility rather than that of contemplation and wonder."

"Ratzinger’s commentary on the first chapter of Gaudium et Spes contains still other provocative comments. The treatment of conscience in article 16, in his view, raises many unsolved questions about how conscience can err and about the right to follow an erroneous conscience. The treatment of free will in article 17 is in his judgment “downright Pelagian.” It leaves aside, he complains, the whole complex of problems that Luther handled under the term “servum arbitrium,” although Luther’s position does not itself do justice to the New Testament."

"He is enthusiastic about the centrality of Christ and the Paschal mystery in article 22, and he finds in it a statement on the possibilities of salvation of the unevangelized far superior to the “extremely unsatisfactory” expressions of Lumen Gentium 16, which seemed to suggest that salvation is a human achievement rather than a divine gift."

Also, Gene Bridges posted a Fitzmeyer quote with regard to the "unanimous consent of the church fathers" that hits the nail on the head:

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: When one hears today the call for a return to a patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is often latent in it a recollection of Church documents that spoke at times of the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers’ as the guide for biblical interpretation.But just what this would entail is far from clear. For, as already mentioned, there were Church Fathers who did use a form of the historical-critical method, suited to their own day, and advocated a literal interpretation of Scripture, not the allegorical. But not all did so. Yet there was no uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East, Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us where such a “unanimous consent of the fathers” is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, “nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous.” Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture, The Soul of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), p. 70.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Triablogue on the Catholic Magisterium

Yes, I've been gone for a while. Anyway, Steve over at Triablogue just posted a great review of Cardinal Dulles' book on the Magisterium. He also posted a reply to a Catholic commenter who threw out all the old Roman Catholic philosophical arguments for high-church authority. [My replies to those arguments are found here.]

UPDATE: Steve continues to review Dulles' book on the Magisterium. Here, he deals with the typical Roman Catholic spoof-texting to "prove" that the New Testament taught Roman Catholic ecclesiology.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Down with the Statist Pigs!

Watch this guy as he lectures the Canadian "Human Rights Commission":


Take that, Fascist Pigs!!!





And on Glenn Beck:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Imputation of Adam's Sin at Parchment and Pen

C Michael Patton wrote a post defending the federal view of the imputation of Adam's sin and made the point that the palatability of a doctrine should not determine its veracity.

Canyons, Flooding, and The Flood

There is a post over at Creation-Evolution Headlines that is interesting as it pertains to two things:

1. The Unreliability of Scientific Realism and

2. The Age of the Earth (namely the downfall of Uniformitarianism in favor of a return to Catastrophism).

The scientist who proposed this theory on the formation of canyons by catastrophic flooding did not make any connection to a global Flood and was probably a secular scientist and not a creationist. Nevertheless, the foundations of Uniformitarianism, the basis upon which scientists rejected the historicity of Genesis, are slowly giving way.

Praise Be to God!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Comment on Scientific Realism at Green Baggins

This was a comment made by one supporting Peter Enns' re-interpretation of the Bible so that it fits current scientific theories. This comment in quotes is followed by my comment responding to it:

"I am an engineer. I cannot seal my worlds apart from one another like you suggest. I know no technical person (engineering, science, medicine, etc) who can. I beg you to reconsider your dismissal of the fruitfulness of critical/scientific method for ascertaining things about the physical world, including its history. Everything surrounding you right now — your computer, your clothing, the materials constituting your furniture and the building you occupy, the food in your stomach, and the antibiotics in your blood the last time you were sick — they are all proof of this fruitfulness. Of course it is not perfect, but that is not necessary (utterly relativizing science was not Kuhn’s point). Please reconsider, if only because pastorally you stand to lose so many technical people by insisting on that tack."

No one is compartmentalizing worlds. In fact, I would consider myself an Instrumentalist, one who recognizes that scientific theories can be useful for engineering things but realizes that with the discovery of a single piece of data an old theory can be placed in the dustbin, rethought, and a new (and sometimes drastically different) theory can emerge.

It was this case with geosynclinal theory. All geologists back in 1960 believed that mountains were formed through trough-like depressions that were filled with sediment, heated, became unstable, and rose to become mountain ranges. In fact, this theory was so widely held that it was said to be as sure as Darwin's theory of natural selection. It could account for the vast majority of the data at the time. What happened to it? Some guy proposed plate tectonics. Within a small period of time, the geosynclinal theory that was believed in by everyone was washed away and replaced by a very different one.

Another example would be the various geocentrist theories of our solar system. It allowed them to predict the position of planets and stars to a great degree of accuracy and was held world-wide by almost all cultures. Did its success mean that it was true? Of course not!

Yet another example would be Newton's Laws. Were they true? If anyone has heard of Heisenberg and Einstein, then obviously not. But did they allow us to engineer all sorts of useful things? Absolutely!

But that's the point. While scientific theories can be useful for engineering such as the things you mention above, antibiotics and computers, they should not be given the status of descriptors of the actual world.

More examples could be given that bear upon the very issue of dating methods. One example is Yellowstone National Park's fossil forrests (i.e. trees buried vertically on top of one another). Just about every geologist at one time thought that the fossil forrests must have been created gradually over long periods of time (i.e. one forest buried and another forrest planted above it and the cycle repeated over again). In fact, this "overwhelming consensus" is what caused Ron Numbers to leave the Christian faith!

Well, after Mt. St. Helens blew, one geologist that witnessed the event who was also an expert on Yellowstone, noticed that the trees that were washed away in mudflows were buried upright, in the same manner as those at Yellowstone. Now, the catastrophic mudflow explanation is the leading theory for how the buried forrests were deposited. Ron Numbers stopped believing in the inerrancy of the Bible all because he didn't wait long enough for the current theory to be overturned. That is the whole point! Christians shouldn't have to re-interpret their Bible because of scientific theories. Scientific Realism is false! Instrumentalism should instead be the philosophy of science for every Christian.

And by the way: I'M AN ENGINEER TOO!

[BTW: The story about Ron Numbers and the Yellowstone forrests can be found here.]

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Argument from Canon Certainty

The last major argument against the Protestant rule of faith, sola Scriptura, that we shall consider is the argument from the canon. Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox like to argue that the only reason that the Protestant has a canon of Scripture today is because it was the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Church that created it. They will argue that the Protestant must rely on their Church’s tradition as found in the writings of the church fathers so as to ascertain the canonicity of the Scriptural books. Sometimes they will use textual variants, New Testament Apocrypha, and Gnostic Gospels (i.e. Bart Ehrman-style arguments) to argue that the only way to have certainty with regards to the canon is to have it established by an infallible authority. “The Church created the canon, and so, it has the sole right to interpret the canon,” they argue. To this we reply:

  1. The “Church” Did NOT Create the Scriptures: First, the Church does not have the sole right to interpret Scripture just because members of the Church wrote it.

  1. The Scriptures were not penned by committees but by individuals moved by the Spirit and written to the Church.

  2. These individuals were apostles given the gift of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. No bishop in either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches claims to be inspired.

  3. The Holy Spirit is the author of both the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16) and the Church (Acts 2:1-4), and so, He decides which will have priority.

  1. Historical Witness, Not Sacred Tradition: The Protestant canonical approach in regards to the church fathers has been to see them as historical witnesses whose testimony should be weighed instead of seeing them as recipients of ‘Sacred Tradition’ (in the dogmatic sense). In fact, since the church fathers give us conflicting accounts as to the origins of certain books, seeing them as historical witnesses whose testimony must be discerned as to its relevance through careful historical study is necessary.

  1. Heretical Sources as Well: Heretical sources were utilized in addition to the church fathers for determining the canonicity of a book. For example, Tatian, an apostate who converted to Gnosticism, in his Diatesseron, names only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the Four Gospels and no others. This is significant since, being a Gnostic, he would be inclined to include any existent Gnostic Gospels, such as the Gospel of Judas or Thomas, in addition to the canonical ones.

  1. Internal Evidence as Well: Internal evidence such as intertextuality (i.e. an already established canonical book naming another book as canonical) and historical allusions (i.e. things that would identify the author’s background and proximity to other canonical authors) which give evidence to a book’s canonicity have been used.

  1. The Skeptical Argument is Self-Destructive: Any skeptical argument calling into question the reliability of the transmission of a written text can be re-packaged and returned with ten-times the destructive power against an oral tradition. I noted several cases of this in “The Argument from Apostolic Tradition and Succession” post found here.

  1. The Hebrews Knew the OT Canon Without an Infallible Authority: (See the same argument in “The Infallible Knowledge Argument” post.)

  1. Early Church Knew the NT Canon Without an Infallible Authority: (See the same argument in “The Infallible Knowledge Argument” post.)

  1. Fathers and Others Who Looked to the Jews: There were a large number of church fathers and later scholars who, when they had become more learned on the subject of the canon, accepted the Hebrew Canon (which omitted the Apocrypha) instead of consulting “Church tradition”. These fathers and others include: Melito of Sardis, Julius Africanus, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Gregory Nazianzus, Amphilochius, Basil the Great, Rufinus, Jerome, Anastasius of Antioch, Primasius, Nicolas of Lyra, Pope Gregory the Great, John of Damascus, the Glossa Ordinaria (a commentary), Cardinal Cajetan, The Venerable Bede, Agobard of Lyons, Alcuin, Walafrid Strabo, Haymo of Halberstadt, Ambrose of Autpert, Radulphus Flavicencius, Hugh of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, John of Salisbury, Peter Cellensis, Rupert of Deutz, Honorius of Autun, Peter Comestor, Peter Mauritius, Adam Scotus, Hugh of St. Cher, Philip of Harvengt, Nicholas of Lyra, William of Ockham, Antoninus, Alonso Tostado, Dionysius the Carthusian, Thomas Walden, Jean Driedo, John Ferus, Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, Johannes Petreius, Cardinal Ximenes, and the Bible translation, Sanctes Pagnini.

  1. No Agreement Within Eastern Orthodoxy: Despite the claims of Eastern Orthodox apologists, there is actually no agreement as to the extent of the canon within Eastern Orthodox circles. This is especially so within the Russian Orthodox Church as well as the Greek Orthodox Church:

For the Greek Church, the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 introduced Wisdom and other Deuterocanonical books to a place in Holy Scripture. ‘There appears to be no unanimity, however, on the subject of the canon in the Greek Orthodox Church today. Catechisms directly at variance with each other on this subject have received the Imprimatur of the Greek Ecclesiastical authorities and the Greek clergy may hold and teach what they please about it (Metzger: 195),”1

The Hebrew version of the Old Testament contains thirty-nine books. The Septuagint contains in addition ten further books, not present in the Hebrew, which are known in the Orthodox Church as the “Deutero-Canonical Books.” These were declared by the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) to be “Genuine parts of Scripture”; most Orthodox scholars at the present day, however, following the opinion of Athanasius and Jerome, consider that the Deutero-Canonical Books, although part of the bible, stand on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament.”2

  1. Analogy to Rabbinic Judaism: Assuming for the sake of argument that the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox is correct in their assertion, the Protestant can always make an analogy to Rabbinic Judaism. God used the Hebrew people to write and gather the Old Testament, and the Christian’s knowledge of the Old Testament canon is dependant upon their ‘tradition’. However, they rejected (on the basis of tradition) the most important aspect of the Old Testament Scriptures which they testify to, the Messiah, and so, God rejected that visible authority structure and built up a new congregation from the faithful remnant of the Hebrew people.

In the same way (for the sake of argument), God used the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Church to write and gather the New Testament canon, and (for the sake of argument) the Protestant’s knowledge is dependant upon that Church’s ‘traditions’. However, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox reject (on the basis of ‘Tradition’) one of the most important aspects of the New Testament Scriptures which they testify to, justification by faith alone, and so, God rejected that visible authority structure and built up a new congregation, the Protestants, from the faithful remnant of the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Church. To put it in an outline form (and again, this is for the sake of argument):

God gives OT to the Hebrews ----> Using tradition, the Jews reject Christ ----> God dispenses with the old, visible authority structure and starts over using the faithful remnant.

God gives NT to the R.C.C./E.O.C. ----> Using tradition, the R.C./E.O. reject sola fide ----> God dispenses with the old, visible authority structure and starts over using the faithful remnant.

To quote John the Baptist:

“But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ ” (Matthew 3:8-10)

To make my analogy clear, I’ll change the words up a bit:

“But when Martin Luther saw many of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bishops coming to Mass, he said to them, ‘You false teachers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Christ and the apostles for our spiritual fathers”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Christ and His apostles. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ ”


1 D. Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday 1979), p.67.

2 T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books 1997), p.200.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Argument from Apostolic Tradition and Succession

A very common objection to the Protestant rule of faith that has been around since the time of the Reformation is that sola Scriptura has led to the formation of novel doctrines such as sola fide and creates a great multiplicity of differing Biblical interpretations. It is argued that we must follow the unwritten traditions of the Church that have been passed down throughout the ages by the bishops who are the successors of the apostles as our lens through which we interpret Scripture. The criterion for what is truly “tradition” is that it has been believed always, everywhere, and by all, and by using this standard, we can know with certainty what the Bible really means. I have dealt with the “Doctrinal Chaos” argument elsewhere, and there are many problems with the appeal to Church tradition as a more objective way for interpreting the Bible:

  1. Begging the Question: The argument that novel doctrines are always wrong assumes the priority of historical theology over against exegetical theology, and so, it begs the question in favor of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox priorities. The Protestant argument was always that the beliefs of the Church gradually became corrupted over time due to accretions from outside influences. [See “The Influence of Greco-Roman Thought and Culture” below.]

  1. Shifting the Problem One Step Back: The writings of the church fathers are literary documents just like Scripture, and so, you have the same alleged problem in interpreting them as you do Scripture. Of course, it can be argued that the writings of the fathers have a greater degree of clarity than do the Scriptures (which I would deny), but once it is admitted that the difference in clarity between the church fathers and Scripture is one of degree and not of kind, then the argument loses much of its force and becomes somewhat subjective.

  1. Even the Apostolic Church Had Its Problems: Even Paul’s first-hand hearers and disciples had problems understanding what he said and meant (Galatians 1:6-10, 1 Corinthians 1:11, 11:17-24, 2 Peter 3:15-16). There were also many false teachers who warped (or flat-out denied) apostolic teaching when the apostles weren’t around (Acts 20:28-30, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Revelation 2:14-15, 20). If the apostolic churches didn’t quite get Paul’s message even when he taught it to them in person and were persuaded by men coming into the church who taught pseudo-Christian ideas, then why should we believe that the post-apostolic Church fared any better?

  1. The Appeal is Selective: The choice of beliefs for a tradition from amongst the early centuries of the church is selective since the church fathers and other early writers often held many differing views that were sometimes completely at odds with each other. Furthermore, there are a number of beliefs within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy that were either developed after the early church era or are completely at odds with the early church’s beliefs. In other words, many of Roman Catholicism’s and Eastern Orthodoxy’s chief doctrines were not believed always, everywhere, and by all:

Roman Catholicism

Complete Innovations:

  1. Papal Primacy: I covered this in my extensive quotations of Klaus Schatz here.1 To quote Cardinal Congar:

Application of the principle is difficult, at least at a certain level. In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is unnecessary: quite often, that which is appealed to as sufficient for dogmatic points does not go beyond what is encountered in the interpretation of many texts. But it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16.16-19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiasiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than judicial. . . . Historical documentation is at the factual level; it must leave room for a judgement made not in the light of the documentary evidence alone, but of the Church's faith.”2

  1. Papal Infallibility: This can be found nowhere in the early church, and in fact, most everyone up into the Middle Ages believed that past popes have erred.3

  1. Popes Over Councils: Up until the fifteenth century, it was believed that ecumenical councils could overrule the decision of a pope. In fact, Martin Luther’s appeal was to a council so that the judgment of Pope Leo X would be overruled. But of course, the appeal was denied by the pope, and the authority of popes over that of councils became official at Vatican I.

  1. Mary’s Immaculate Conception: Despite Rome’s claims to the contrary, almost everyone in the early church denied Mary’s sinlessness, and even amongst those in the West such as Augustine (who believed that she was free from the taint of actual sin) did not deny that she still had the taint of Original Sin. In fact, Vincent of Lerins names this doctrine as one of the innovations of the Pelagians. To quote J.N.D. Kelly:

Tertullian, however, repudiated the suggestion, finding the opening of her womb prophesied in Exodus 13, 2, and Origen followed him and argued that she had needed the purification prescribed by the Law…Irenaeus and Tertullian recalled occasions on which, as they read the gospel stories, she had earned her Son’s rebuke, and Origen insisted that, like all human beings, she needed redemption from her sins; in particular, he interpreted Simeon’s prophecy (Luke 2, 35) that a sword would pierce her soul as confirming that she had been invaded with doubts when she saw her Son crucified…On the other hand, almost all Eastern theologians, so far from acknowledging her spiritual and moral perfection, followed Origen in finding her guilty of human frailties…Only in Syria, where Marian devotion was particularly fervid, do we find Ephraem delineating her as free from every stain, like her Son…But he [Hilary] still regarded the birth as a natural one; he also took it for granted that Mary would have to face God’s judgment for her sins…On the other hand, he [Augustine] did not hold (as has sometimes been alleged) that she was born exempt from all taint of original sin (the later doctrine of the immaculate conception)…After Ephesus, admittedly, her divine maternity and perpetual virginity seem to have been accepted without question in East and West; but the old doubts about her sinlessness and moral perfection continued to be widely held.”4

Some Catholic apologists like to cite some of the church fathers who called Mary “immaculate”, but this is a semantic anachronism as even many of Rome’s scholars have pointed out.

  1. Mary’s Bodily Ascension: This dogma originally started with the Gnostics and was taught by only one church writer in the fifth century who did so on the mistaken notion that the Gnostic text which taught it was orthodox. The Transitus literature was later condemned by Pope Gelasius. This dogma has absolutely no basis in Scripture or historical tradition, and even the current Pope acknowledges this and has to appeal to a form of doctrinal development:

Before Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was defined, all theological faculties in the world were consulted for their opinion. Our teachers’ answer was emphatically negative... ‘Tradition’ was identified with what could be proved on the basis of texts. Altaner, the patrologist from W├╝rzburg...had proven in a scientifically persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the fifth century; this doctrine, therefore, he argued, could not belong to the ‘apostolic tradition.’ And this was his conclusion, which my teachers at Munich shared. This argument is compelling if you understand ‘tradition’ strictly as the handling down of fixed formulas and texts...But if you conceive of ‘tradition’ as a living process whereby the Holy Spirit introduces us to the fullness of truth and teaches us how to understand what previously we could still not grasp (cf. Jn 16:12-13), then subsequent ‘remembering’ (cf. Jn 16:4, for instance) can come to recognize what it had not caught sight of previously and yet was handed down in the original Word…”5

Beliefs Specific to the West:

  1. Purgatory: Although Catholic apologists have for centuries cited the likes of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, etc. as believing in Purgatory, this is an anachronism. In reality, those mentioned above believed in Catharsis which would happen on the Last Day, not an intermediate state that happens before the Last Day. In reality, the belief in Purgatory was limited to the Western Church with its theology of merit. I covered this on my old website here6 and here.7

  1. Augustine’s View of Original Sin: Augustine’s view of Original Sin, namely that the guilt of the first sin of Adam was transmitted to his offspring, was for the most part limited to the West. To this day, most8 Eastern Orthodox believe that Adam’s sin added death and corruption to human nature, not the guilt of the sin as well.

  1. Atonement Theories: The belief that Christ’s death gained merit that was placed in the Treasury of Satisfaction which is then communicated through the Church’s sacraments is limited to the Roman Catholic Church. The East never accepted merit theology.

  1. Aristotelianism: Though there were theologians who appealed to Aristotle before him, Aquinas built an entire theology from Aristotelian categories, and the RCC later made his doctrines into dogma.

  1. Transubstantiation: The teaching that the elements of the Eucharist change into the physical body and blood of Christ is specific to the RCC today (although some of the Eastern fathers taught something like it). Appealing to the passages in the early fathers that speak of Christ’s “Real Presence” is to commit the fallacy of equivocation since there were (and still are) several different “Real Presence” theories in the early church, only one of which involved a physical change.

  1. Version of Justification: The theology of merit and grace as an infused substance (modeled after Aristotelian physics) is specific to the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, the Eastern Church has a theology of being unified with the uncreated, Divine energies of the Trinity.

  1. Beatific Vision: The Roman Catholic Church, following Thomas Aquinas, teaches that the departed saints are given the vision of God’s essence. The East completely denies that one can see God’s essence but only His uncreated energies.

  1. The Filioque: The addition to the Nicene Creed, called the Filioque, was accepted only in the West and was one of the causes of the Great Schism between the Western and Eastern Churches.

Beliefs That Were Either Not Held, Specifically Denied, or Innovated in the Early Church:

  1. The Veneration of Images: The earliest Christians (mostly from the ante-Nicene era) not only did not use images, they specifically and forcefully repudiated their use. Even conservative Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox historians acknowledge this:

Owing to the influence of the Old Testament prohibition of images, Christian veneration of images developed only after the victory of the Church over paganism. The Synod of Elvira (about 306) still prohibited figurative representations in the houses of God (Can. 36).”9

The primitive church,” says even a modern Roman Catholic historian, “had no images, of Christ, since most Christians at that time still adhered to the commandment of Moses (Ex. xx. 4); the more, that regard as well to the Gentile Christians as to the Jewish forbade all use of images. To the latter the exhibition and veneration of images would, of course, be an abomination, and to the newly converted heathen it might be a temptation to relapse into idolatry. In addition, the church was obliged, for her own honor, to abstain from images, particularly from any representation of the Lord, lest she should be regarded by unbelievers as merely a new kind and special sort of heathenism and creature-worship. And further, the early Christians had in their idea of the bodily form of the Lord no temptation, not the slightest incentive, to make likenesses of Christ. The oppressed church conceived its Master only under the form of a servant, despised and uncomely, as Isaiah, liii. 2, 3, describes the Servant of the Lord.”10

Christianity in the earliest period seems to have shared the aversion common in Judaism (though not an absolute aversion as is demonstrated by the highly decorated second-century synagogue at Dura Europos) to painted representations in religious contexts.”11

  1. The Ignatian Episcopacy: Ignatius’ letters teaching the primacy of a single bishop per city have been used by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists for centuries to support their form of church government. In fact, they argue that since Ignatius was so close to the apostles, the single bishop model must have been taught by the apostles. However, it is clear, both from the New Testament and from First Clement, that the Ignatian episcopacy was an innovation of some of the Eastern churches for practical reasons:

“The fractionation in Rome favored a collegial presbyterial system of governance and prevented for a long time, until the second half of the 2C, the development of a monarchical episcopacy in the city…Before the second half of the 2C there was in Rome no monarchical episcopacy for the circles mutually bound in fellowship.
I summarize my view of the sources. Individual presbyters preside over the different house communities in the city, leading the worship and, as bishops, directing the care of the poor in their own house congregation. Each individual congregation therefore also has its own treasury, and ministered by the individual “episcopus” (Apol.1.67)…Both examples from the end of the century illustrate what was customary at least until the middle of the century for each group in the city: each individual group was presided over by its own presbyter-bishop.”

“These letters of Ignatius present us with a picture which is completely different from that which we know from other sources. If we compare the two, it appears that the letters of Ignatius must come from a later time…but the solution is a different one: what Ignatius includes in his letters, as often in church history, is not a description of the real situation, but a demand. In fact, matters had taken a completely different course in the churches to which Ignatius addressed in his letters, as their texts show clearly when we examine them more closely. Ignatius is greatly ahead of the actual development; not infrequently it took several generations until the monarchical episcopate was generally accepted.”13

“The organization, such as we can reconstruct it, does not resemble the hierarchical arrangement of the clergy described in Ignatius’s Letters. It comes closer to the synagogal structure of Diaspora Judaism, an organizational arrangement that, in turn, closely resembled that in Greco- Roman collegia. Such arrangements were available in Paul’s milieu. No long period of internal development was required for them to emerge…There is a complete absence of legitimation of any organizational element in these letters. Leaders are not designated as priests, and none of their functions are cultic in character. Instead, they are given the sort of secular designations used in clubs, and their functions are practical and quotidian…Nothing in the letters supports the idea that structure is in the process of creation…The elements of church structure found in 1 Timothy and Titus are far closer to the elements suggested by the undisputed letters of Paul than to the ecclesiastical arrangements outlined by Ignatius of Antioch.”

Not only does this prove that the church governments advocated by Rome and the East are false by their own standard,15 it also proves that even Christian writers who were taught by the Apostles could innovate doctrine and practice. This casts a grave shadow upon the reliability of using historical theology (namely tradition) as a guide to the content and meaning of apostolic doctrine.

  1. The Sacerdotal Priesthood: A sacerdotal priesthood did not arise in the Church until the third century when Tertullian started to ascribe sacramental functions to the Christian ministry and Cyprian asserted the same even further:

Tertullian was the first who expressly and directly asserts sacerdotal claims on behalf of the Christian ministry, and calls it “sacerdotium,” although he also strongly affirms the universal priesthood of all believers. Cyprian (d. 258) goes still further, and applies all the privileges, duties, and responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood to the officers of the Christian church, and constantly calls them sacerdotes and sacerdotium. He may therefore be called the proper father of the sacerdotal conception of the Christian ministry as a mediating agency between God and the people. During the third century it became customary to apply the term “priest” directly and exclusively to the Christian ministers especially the bishops. In the same manner the whole ministry, and it alone, was called “clergy,” with a double reference to its presidency and its peculiar relation to God.”16

  1. The Eucharist as a Propitiatory Sacrifice: The earliest Christians knew nothing of the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice but only as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, a contrite heart toward God:

The ante-Nicene fathers uniformly conceived the Eucharist as a thank-offering of the church; the congregation offering the consecrated elements of bread and wine, and in them itself, to God…The germs of the Roman doctrine appear in Cyprian about the middle of the third century, in connection with his high-churchly doctrine of the clerical priesthood.”17

“The use of the word (sacrifice) in this connection is not to be understood as a reference to the sacrifice of Christ. The word was a common description of prayers, alms and gifts in the usage of the time. It is the “sacrifice” of the people to which reference is being made.”18

  1. Private Confession: Despite the Council of Trent’s claim that private confession to a priest was always the practice of the Church from the time of the apostles19, all the evidence tells us that the early church only practiced public confession20:

In spite of the ingenious arguments of certain scholars, there are still no signs of a sacrament of private penance (i.e. confession to a priest, followed by absolution and the imposition of a penance) such as Catholic Christendom knows to-day. The system which seems to have existed in the Church at this time, and for centuries afterwards, was wholly public, involving confession, a period of penance and exclusion from communion, and formal absolution and restoration - the whole process being called exomologesis. The last of these was normally bestowed by the bishop, as Hippolytus's prayer of episcopal consecration implies, but in his absence might be delegated to a priest. There is plenty of evidence that sinners were encouraged to open their hearts privately to a priest, but nothing to show that this led up to anything more than ghostly counsel. Indeed, for the lesser sins which even good Christians daily commit and can scarcely avoid, no ecclesiastical censure seems to have been thought necessary; individuals were expected to deal with them themselves by prayer, almsgiving and mutual forgiveness. Public penance was for graver sins; it was, as far as we know, universal, and was an extremely solemn affair, capable of being undergone only once in a lifetime.21

Even the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the ‘private’ practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.”22

Eastern Orthodoxy

Beliefs Specific to the East:

  1. The Essence/Energies Distinction: The distinction between God’s essence and His energies was never accepted by the Roman Catholic Church which followed Thomas Aquinas.

  1. Apophaticism: The Western Church never accepted a strict apophatic theology of God but held a healthy balance between apophatic and cataphatic theology instead.

  1. View of Adam’s Fall: The Eastern Church teaches that mankind inherits only the consequences of Adam’s Original Sin, not his guilt. The West, on the other hand, accepted Augustine’s formulation that mankind inherits Adam’s guilt as well.

Beliefs That Were Either Not Held, Specifically Denied, or Innovated in the Early Church:

  1. The Veneration of Images: (see above)

  1. The Ignatian Episcopacy: (see above)

  1. The Sacerdotal Priesthood: (see above)

  1. Acceptance of Heretical Baptism: (see above)

  1. Private Confession: (see above)

Differing Views Within the Early Church

  1. The Council of Ephesus: The Patriarchate of Babylon (which traces its apostolic origins to St. Thomas) denied the decrees and beliefs of the Council of Ephesus and accepted Nestorianism. In fact, many of the Assyrian Christians are Nestorian to this day. On the basis of tradition, the Nestorian churches have as much a reason to believe that their belief is apostolic as do the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.

  1. The Council of Chalcedon: All of the churches which call themselves “Oriental Orthodox” trace their origins back to those Christians who did not accept the Chalcedonian formula. These churches include the Copts, the Syriac Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Ethiopian Orthodox. Again, on the basis of tradition, these churches have as much a reason to believe that their belief is apostolic as do the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.

  1. The Old Testament Canon: While most of the Eastern Orthodox accept the Apocrypha and the Roman Catholic Church has accepted it dogmatically, many of the church fathers (especially the most learned) did not accept it. They include such names as: Melito of Sardis, Julius Africanus, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Gregory Nazianzus, Amphilochius, Basil the Great, Rufinus, Jerome, Anastasius of Antioch, Primasius, Nicolas of Lyra, Pope Gregory the Great, and John of Damascus.

  1. Differing Views of the Eucharist: Contrary to the Council of Trent, there were, in fact, many beliefs concerning the nature of the Eucharist after consecration within the early church. Among them included: the mystical view, the consubstantiation view, as well as a transubstantiation-like view. To quote Philip Schaff:

“…we distinguish three views: the mystic view of Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus; the symbolical view of Tertullian and Cyprian; and the allegorical or spiritualistic view of Clement of Alexandria and Origen…The realistic and mystic view is represented by several fathers and the early liturgies…With the act of consecration a change accordingly takes place in the elements, whereby they become vehicles and organs of the life of Christ, although by no means necessarily changed into another substance…The symbolical view, though on a realistic basis, is represented first by Eusebius, who calls the Supper a commemoration of Christ by the symbols of his body and blood, and takes the flesh and blood of Christ in the sixth chapter of John to mean the words of Christ, which are spirit and life, the true food of the soul, to believers…But it is striking that even Athanasius, “the father of orthodoxy,” recognized only a spiritual participation, a self-communication of the nourishing divine virtue of the Logos, in the symbols of the bread and wine, and incidentally evinces a doctrine of the Eucharist wholly foreign to the Catholic, and very like the older Alexandrian or Origenistic, and the Calvinistic, though by no means identical with the latter…As to the adoration of the consecrated elements: This follows with logical necessity from the doctrine of transubstantiation, and is the sure touchstone of it. No trace of such adoration appears, however, in the ancient liturgies, and the whole patristic literature yields only four passages from which this practice can be inferred; plainly showing that the doctrine of transubstantiation was not yet fixed in the consciousness of the church.”23

  1. Acceptance of Heretical Baptism: In the midst of the Donatist controversy, the early church accepted heretical Trinitarian baptisms as valid. However, two centuries before, the same controversy took place between Rome and North Africa, but this time the majority of the churches in North Africa and Asia sided against the acceptance of heretical baptisms. In fact, several church fathers rejected heretical baptisms:

The most eminent Greek fathers of the Nicene age, on the other hand, adhered to the position of Cyprian and Firmilian. Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem regarded, besides the proper form, the true trinitarian faith on the part of the baptizing community, as an essential condition of the validity of baptism. The 45th of the so-called Apostolic Canons threatens those with excommunication who received converted heretics without rebaptism. But a milder view gradually obtained even in the East, which settled at last upon a compromise.”24

  1. Atonement Theories: According to the noted church historian, J.N.D. Kelly:

“The student who seeks to understand the soteriology of the fourth and early fifth centuries will be sharply disappointed if he expects to find anything corresponding to the elaborately worked out synthesis which the contemporary theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation presents. In both these latter departments controversy forced fairly exact definition on the Church, whereas the redemption did not become a battle-ground for rival schools until the twelfth century, when Anselm’s Cur dues homo (c.1097) focused attention on it. Instead he must be prepared to pick his way through a variety of theories, to all appearance unrelated and even mutually incompatible, existing side by side and sometimes sponsored by the same theologian.25

To be fair, Kelly goes on to say that the different theories held much in common. However, the commonalities shared by these theories are also found in the classic Protestant theory of the atonement, penal substitution. The East, following Athanasius, held to a more Platonic view of the atonement while the West held to a more legal and judicial view. These differences remain to this day.

  1. Differing Views on Justification: Alister McGrath notes:

For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined. There had never been a serious controversy over the matter, such as those which had so stimulated the development of Christology over the period...The medieval period was characterized by its attempts to accumulate biblical and patristic material considered to be relevant to particular issues of theological interpretation, and by its attempt to develop hermeneutical methods to resolve the apparent contradictions encountered in this process.”26

  1. Catharsis: Amongst some of the earliest Christians, especially at Alexandria, was the belief in Catharsis, the purifying fire that would cleanse unperfected Christians of their sins on the Day of Judgment. This belief was held by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and others. Today, the Roman Catholic Church has accepted its offshoot doctrine, Purgatory, and the Eastern Orthodox have rejected it all together.

  1. Eschatology: One of the earliest church fathers, Papias, held to a form of Premillennialism27 while most of the later church fathers held to Amillennialism.

  1. The Date of Easter: In the late second century, there was a controversy on the exact day that Christians were supposed to celebrate Easter. Victor, the bishop of Rome, said that Easter should be celebrated one day, and the Eastern bishops represented by Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, said another. Both claimed apostolic tradition for their respective dates!

“For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Saviour’s passover. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Saviour.”28

  1. Mary’s Perpetual Virginity: As Basil relates, there were not just a few in the early church who believed that Mary had other children:

“…but Basil of Caesarea, when criticizing the latter, implied that such a view was widely held and, though not accepted by himself, was not incompatible with orthodoxy...”29

  1. Not All the Early Fathers Had a Complete Canon: Certain fathers (e.g. Arnobius), especially the earlier ones, did not have a complete canon, and this resulted in a massively lopsided theology. Sometimes they were totally ignorant of the Scriptures resulting in a theology that is more akin to Greek philosophy than Christianity.

  1. Fathers with Bad Theology: Some of the church fathers were the authors of some of the most horrendous forms of heresy within the Christian Church. Arnobius was the author of annihilationism. Clement of Alexandria was the originator of Universalism. In fact, there are many within both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy who consider Universalism to be a possibility, and why shouldn’t they? It’s found in their own ‘Tradition’!

  1. Obviously Wrong Exegesis: There are cases in which the church fathers obviously misinterpreted the Bible resulting in generations of Christians after them making the same mistake. For instance, Augustine used Luke 14:23 to justify the state’s use of force to quell heresy. He failed to notice that the parable was about God’s judgment upon the Jewish nation. This became the policy of the Latin Church for centuries to come, but for today’s Roman Catholics, such an interpretation wouldn’t even cross their minds.

  1. Tradition Based on Bad Science: In Roman Catholicism, any attempt during sexual intercourse to not have a child (i.e. contraception) is considered sinful. This is based on tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages (and probably before that). However, this tradition was based upon a faulty biology:

“Aquinas, in the Summa contra Gentiles, in a chapter on “the disordered emission of semen” treats both masturbation and contraception as a crime against humanity, second only to homicide. Such a view is natural in the context of a biological belief that only the male gamete provides the active element in conception, so that the sperm is an early stage of the very same individual as eventually comes to birth. Masturbation is then the same kind of thing, on a minor scale, as the exposure of an infant…But the view that masturbation is a poor man’s homicide cannot survive the knowledge that both male and female gametes contribute equally to the genetic constitution of the offspring.”30

Thus, a belief was frozen in time as tradition and became part of dogmatic morality all because of a faulty biology.

  1. Emperor-Enforced Orthodoxy: As I had noted in the “Differing Views Within the Early Church” section above, not all of Christendom accepted the Council of Ephesus or the Chalcedonian formula. In fact, much more of the Eastern Church might have been Nestorian or Monophysite today if it weren’t for the fact that the imperial state enforced the beliefs of Ephesus and Chalcedon upon the Empire and expelled heretics from its borders. Thus, what is now Eastern Orthodoxy is simply Byzantine Imperial Christianity and not the universal faith of all Christians.

  1. The Influence of Greco-Roman Thought and Culture: I covered this important aspect which is relevant to any discussion of the early church here.

  1. No Way to Substantiate an Oral Tradition: Both Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox implicitly assume that their oral traditions were apostolic and passed on faithfully without contortion, addition, or subtraction. However, the problem with this is that there is simply no way to substantiate such a claim, and in fact, there are numerous examples from church history which demonstrate the unreliability of oral traditions.

  1. The Case of Papias’ Eschatology: One of the early church historians, Eusebius, records the beliefs and claims of an apostolic father named Papias:

“But it is fitting to subjoin to the words of Papias which have been quoted, other passages from his works in which he relates some other wonderful events which he claims to have received from tradition. That Philip the apostle dwelt at Hierapolis with his daughters has been already stated. But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead. And he tells another wonderful story of Justus, surnamed Barsabbas: that he drank a deadly poison, and yet, by the grace of the Lord, suffered no harm. The Book of Acts records that the holy apostles after the ascension of the Saviour, put forward this Justus, together with Matthias, and prayed that one might be chosen in place of the traitor Judas, to fill up their number. The account is as follows: “And they put forward two, Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias; and they prayed and said.” The same writer gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten tradition, certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some other more mythical things. To these belong his statement that there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth. I suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses.”31

Papias claimed that the eschatology of Premillennialism was an apostolic tradition passed down orally. However, both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches reject Premillennialism in favor of Amillennialism.

  1. The Case of Irenaeus and Jesus’ Age: In an attempt to make an argument against Gnosticism, Irenaeus claimed that an oral tradition, which had supposedly been passed down from the apostles, taught that Jesus was around the age of fifty when he died. However, anyone who has studied the Gospels knows that Jesus was actually about thirty when He died. Irenaeus’ claim was one of the first times in which a later Christian said that he had received an oral apostolic tradition, and guess what? He was wrong.

  1. The Case of *Pseudo*-Dionysius: In the fifth century, there appeared a work that had supposedly been written by Dionysius the Areopagite, one of Paul’s converts (Acts 17:34). It came to exert great influence on Christian theology in both the East and the West partly due to the fact that it was believed to have been written by one with close ties to Paul. However, beginning in the early Renaissance period, it became clear that the Dionysian writings could not have been written any earlier than the fifth century and are thus known as the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. These writings greatly affected Eastern Orthodoxy which maintains the theology derived from these works as ‘Tradition’. This is another clear example of how easily a non-apostolic belief claiming to be ‘apostolic tradition’ can infiltrate the Church and become frozen as dogma. If a written source (in which the authenticity can be examined) can infiltrate the Church that easily, can one imagine how easily an oral tradition could do the same?

  1. The Case of the Date of Easter: (See “The Date of Easter” under ‘Differing Views Within the Early Church’ above.)

  1. The Case of Heretical Baptisms: As noted above in the discussion of “The Acceptance of Heretical Baptism”, there was a conflict in the third century church over the acceptance of heretical baptisms. What was not mentioned was that both sides claimed apostolic tradition! Cyprian records Pope Stephen’s claims:

“But that they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles…”32

Cyprian goes on to say that Stephen’s apostolic tradition is false and that the rest of the churches of the world agree with his (i.e. Cyprian’s) ‘apostolic’ tradition:

“…any one may know also from the fact, that concerning the celebration of Easter, and concerning many other sacraments of divine matters, he may see that there are some diversities among them, and that all things are not observed among them alike, which are observed at Jerusalem, just as in very many other provinces also many things are varied because of the difference of the places and names. And yet on this account there is no departure at all from the peace and unity of the Catholic Church, such as Stephen has now dared to make; breaking the peace against you, which his predecessors have always kept with you in mutual love and honour, even herein defaming Peter and Paul the blessed apostles, as if the very men delivered this who in their epistles execrated heretics, and warned us to avoid them. Whence, it appears that this tradition is of men which maintains heretics, and asserts that they have baptism, which belongs to the Church alone.”33

Cyprian records a letter from Firmilian, bishop of Cappadocia, which sides with him:

“But with respect to the refutation of custom which they seem to oppose to the truth, who is so foolish as to prefer custom to truth, or when he sees the light, not to forsake the darkness?-unless most ancient custom in any respect avail the Jews, upon the advent of Christ, that is, the Truth, in remaining in their old usage, and forsaking the new way of truth. And this indeed you Africans are able to say against Stephen, that when you knew the truth you forsook the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the Romans’ custom we oppose custom, but the custom of truth; holding from the beginning that which was delivered by Christ and the apostles. Nor do we remember that this at any time began among us, since it has always been observed here, that we knew none but one Church of God, and accounted no baptism holy except that of the holy Church.34

Eusebius records the letter of Dionysius of Alexandria to Sixtus I about Stephen:

“‘He therefore had written previously concerning Helenus and Firmilianus, and all those in Cilicia and Cappadocia and Galatia and the neighboring nations, saying that he would not commune with them for this same cause; namely, that they re-baptized heretics. But consider the importance of the matter. For truly in the largest synods of the bishops, as I learn, decrees have been passed on this subject, that those coming over from heresies should be instructed, and then should be washed and cleansed from the filth of the old and impure leaven. And I wrote entreating him concerning all these things.’”35

  1. The Meaning of Justification: When the Bible was translated into Latin, the language of the West, the verb for “to justify,” “dikaioun,” was translated as “iustificare.” Alister McGrath notes the problems that this caused:

The general tendency among Latin-speaking theologians was to follow Augustine of Hippo…in interpreting iustificare as iustum facere…While this may be an acceptable interpretation of iusificare considered in isolation, it is not an acceptable interpretation of the verb considered as the Latin equivalent of [dikaioun]…it would appear that the Greek verb has the primary sense of being considered or estimated as righteous, whereas the Latin verb denotes being righteous, the reason why one is considered righteous by others... [I]t 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.36

The meaning of “to justify” as “to make intrinsically righteous” later became dogma in the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent. Again, we see another example of a belief becoming frozen in the Church as a “tradition” that was, in fact, based upon misinformation.

  1. Scriptural Arguments for Tradition are to No Avail: The pro-tradition arguments from Scripture are to no avail since they a.) assume too much (see point 14. below), b.) can’t identify the ‘traditions’ spoken of with either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions, and c.) assume that that was to be the normative state of the Church for succeeding generations. I’ve started to cover some of the Scriptural arguments for ‘Tradition’ in my series called “The Eisegeted Verses”.

  1. Scripture Assumes the Unreliability of Oral Tradition: There are multiple places, especially in the Old Testament Prophets, where God orders the prophets to write down what He had told them over their prophetic ministry so that succeeding generations would have knowledge of what was said (e.g. Isaiah 30:8, Jeremiah 36:2-4, Habakkuk 2:2-3, etc.). The very existence of the Gospels shows that the Apostles, like the Prophets before them, believed that only a written record, not an oral one, could withstand the test of time. The Protestant does not deny Apostolic Tradition. However, the only reliable way that we can know the content of this tradition is from the written text of Scripture.

  1. Scriptural Perspicuity Should Be the Default Belief: First, why should we believe that the apostles wrote less clearly than when they spoke? Secondly, if one does not take the material sufficiency position, the burden of proof is on them to prove that these traditions were different in content than that of Scripture. Let them produce the documentation. Unless proven otherwise, the formal sufficiency of Scripture should be the default position.

  1. Matthew 15: Christ clearly testifies to the need to test allegedly ‘divine’ traditions by the written Word instead of interpreting the written Word through the lens of tradition. The argument that Christ was only speaking of admittedly human-made traditions is completely false since the Rabbis taught that many of these traditions were given to Biblical personages and subsequently passed down orally through the Scribes, and thus, the situation is directly analogous. I covered this here.37

  1. God Doesn’t Always Work Through Succession: Both Rome and Constantinople claim that the bishops of their Churches are the successors of the apostles, and so, Christians should be obedient to them since they are given this Divine authority that has been passed down through time. However, it should be noted that God frequently does not work through succession:

“There is in the Bible teaching a strong strain of discontinuity, which seems to me as yet almost wholly unacknowledged in Roman Catholic thought. Saul is anointed king and then deposed…There are prophets who belong to professional guilds, and others, like Elisha, who are anointed by a predecessor. But the great prophets are not among them…And finally the Epistle to the Hebrews points out that Jesus, the great High Priest, could not have been a priest at all if he had had to rely on historic succession, since he came from Judah and a priest must be descended from Levi; on the contrary, Jesus stands in the order of Melchizedek, who is notorious for having no genealogy…To say that God has committed himself to working through a historic succession, but has reserved the right of departing from this method in exceptional circumstances is to say that most of the prophets in the Old Testament, and John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul in the New Testament, are exceptions to a divine rule which finds its full expression in the temple priesthood in the one case and in the Sadducees and Pharisees in the other.”38

The fact that one bishop holds authority through an unbroken chain of succession which can be traced back to the apostles does not prove that they hold any divine authority. Scripture testifies that God has frequently disregarded the old authorities in favor of new ones which he brought forth from humble beginnings.


2 Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (London: Burns & Oats, 1966), pp. 398-399.

3 Klaus Schatz covers this in a limited fashion in my post on Papal Primacy above. I also have a few examples on my old website here:

4 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, reprinted 2003), p.493, 495-498.

5 Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones (Ignatius, 1998), pp. 58-59.

8 Though, I should note that some Eastern Orthodox theologians do accept Augustine’s view.

9 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974), p. 320.

10 Hefele, as found in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3.8.110

11 The Westminster Handbook To Patristic Theology (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 32.

12 P. Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus (Fortress 2003), 397, 400.

13 K. Aland, A History of Christianity (Fortress 1985), 1:12.

14 L. Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Doubleday 2001), pp.75-76.

15 That is, the standard of tradition “believed always, everywhere, and by all.”

16 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2.4.42

17 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, ch.7, part 96.

18 Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible 2:125a.

19 “If any one denieth, either that sacramental confession was instituted, or is necessary to salvation, of divine right; or saith, that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Church hath ever observed from the beginning, and doth observe, is alien from the institution and command of Christ, and is a human invention; let him be anathema.” Council of Trent, session 14, canon 6

20 For more information on this, see here.

21 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (Peabody,MA: Prince Press, reprinted 2003), p.216-217.

22 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1447

23 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, ch.7, part 95.

24 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3.7.92

25 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, reprinted 2003), p.375 (emphasis mine).

26 Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2nd edition (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1998), pp.23, 38.

27 Eusebius, Church History 3.39.8-13

28 Emphasis mine, Eusebius, Church History 5.23.1

29 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, reprinted 2003), p.495.

30 A. Kenney, What I Believe (Continuum 2006), pp. 92-93.

31 Emphasis mine, Eusebius, Church History 3.39.8-13

32 Emphasis mine, Cyprian, The Epistles of Cyprian, Letter LXXIV.6

33 Emphasis mine, Cyprian, The Epistles of Cyprian, Letter LXXIV.6

34 Emphasis mine, Cyprian, The Epistles of Cyprian, Letter LXXIV.19

35 Emphasis mine, Eusebius, Church History 7.7.4-5

36 Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2nd edition (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1998), pp.14, 15.

38 Our Dialogue with Rome, pp. 64-66.