One reader of the blog, "Orthodox," has provided some counter-objections to the rebuttals I've presented so far on the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
I think "Orthodox" is a bit confused, as some of his objections have already been answered in earlier posts. For example, "Orthodox" seems to think that he can use a verse any way he pleases, and it is up to the rest of the world to prove that the verse cannot mean what he says it means.
Thus, his counter-objections turn the matter on his head, as he complains first that:
1) You haven't established that it is only about "the gospel", since the immediate context is about things of a wide range of concerns.
a) The short response is that the burden is on those who attempt to use this verse to support their position to show that it does. They cannot, which demonstrates that their reference to this verse is pretextual.
b) The long response is that, not only is the burden not on me (since I'm objecting to an abuse, not trying to make a positive case), but I can actually demonstrate that "the traditions" refers to the gospel, by reference to the immediately preceding verse.
But "Orthodox"'s confusion about the burden that the abuser faces doesn't stop there, for his second objection is similar:
2) Even if it did thus limit it, you cannot claim victory without proving the EXACT boundaries of "the gospel".
a) This counter-objection clearly misses the point that the burden of establishing that usefulness of the verse to the abuser's position is the abuser, not the objector.
b) This counter-objection is also odd, because - of course - one doesn't have to know the EXACT boundaries to have useful knowledge. For example, one may not know the EXACT boundaries of Russia, while still recognizing that London, England is not in Russia. If someone was arguing that we have to accept London, England as part of Russia because we don't know the EXACT boundaries of Russia, we'd laugh.
c) Finally, of course, Orthodox doesn't explain why I'd have to know the boundaries at all. It should be noted that much of the objection to the abuse of this passage would remain, even if it were stripped from its context, and we had only the word "traditions" and nothing to help us understand what it meant. It would still be the burden on the person who sought to use this text to justify his view of "tradition" to establish that what Paul was referring to was the same thing that the person is referring to. In other words, if someone, let's call him "O" wants to claim that he is entitled to hold fast to icons because Paul said to hold fast to "traditions" then it is up to O to demonstrate that icons are within the boundaries of "traditions" as the term is used by Paul. If O cannot, then O has used the text in a pretextual manner.
"Orthodox" continues, by demonstrating that his passion for the matter has overwhelmed his reason, for he states:
3) Asking if you can "demonstrate" that an oral tradition was taught to the Thessalonians is the equivilent [sic] of asking to "demonstrate" that Peter wrote 2 Peter. You can't really do it, and thus you are hypocritical.
a) The demonstration is simple:
2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
2Pe 3:1 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
That's one of the easiest challenges of Scriptural demonstration that I've ever been presented with. Does anyone think we can expect a sincere and heartfelt apology for "Orthodox"'s false accusation of hypocrisy?
b) Those challenges are not the equivalent of one another, unless I was asserting as either my argument, or a premise to my argument, that 2 Peter was written by Peter. If I were to assert such a thing, though, the demonstration above would be provided to support it.
"Orthodox" false accusations continue with his next assertion:
4) The question of "can you prove they weren't the same as what was written down" is classic sophistry. It's like saying "can you prove you haven't been beating your wife". You can't? Ok, well we'll leave that question open and assume you may or may not have been beating your wife.
a) Calling it sophistry (whether or not one qualifies it as a "classic" sophistry) doesn't make it so. Let's see whether "Orthodox" can substantiate his accusation, or whether this is simply another false accusation.
b) "Orthodox" compares the question to the question "can you prove you haven't been beating your wife." This is improper for several reasons:
(i) First of all, of course, the classic sophistry is to ask, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" That's a sophistry, because the question is loaded: if you answer "yes," it will be understood that you were beating her before. If you answer, "no," it will be understood (via a denial of the antecedent fallacy) that you continue to beat her. It's a sophistry because it is a rhetorical trick to make someone say something they don't mean. It's a trick question.
(ii) The present question is neither complex, nor trick. It is simple and straightforward. Can you demonstrate [x]? If you can, you can, and if you cannot, you cannot.
(iii) The comparison question asked by "Orthodox" is also simply and straightforward, though it is on a somewhat inflammatory subject. Detectives ask this question of suspected criminals all the time. "Do you have an alibi?" they may inquire, or perhaps they may phrase it as, "Can you prove you weren't downtown during the shooting?" If a suspect cannot, a good detective certainly would, as "Orthodox" indicates, "leave that question open and assume you may or may not have been [doing whatever you are suspected of doing]." Indeed, only Clousseau (the detective from the "Pink Panther" movies) or some equally buffoonish detective could be pictured simply taking a suspect's word for it, that the suspect is innocent.
(iv) Furthermore, the inflammatory nature of the question confuses the issues a bit further. After all, we generally (i.e. when we are not acting as detectives) prefer to assume that someone is innocent until they are proven guilty. Thus, we would expect that the accuser needs to prove that the man WAS beating his wife, and not that the man prove that he wasn't beating his wife. In other words, the nature of that question carries with it an underlying burden of proof, if it is placed in a criminal context. This confuses the issue, because there is a very different burden of proof here. Recall how the verse gets abused: someone (let's call him "O") claims we have to accept "oral tradition," because this verse says so. We respond by challenging "O" to demonstrate that the verse says so, and if he cannot we don't accept his supposed proof. The analogy to the wife beating scenario would if "O" were to claim that the bruises on his neighbor's wife were proof that his wife had been beaten by her husband. We'd ask "O" to demonstrate that the bruises weren't caused by the wife being in a car crash, particularly if we saw a highly damaged car sitting in her driveway. If "O" couldn't demonstrate that the husband was the cause of the bruises, we wouldn't call the neighbor a wife-beater, because "O" couldn't meet his burden of proof, just as "O" cannot meet his burden of proof with this verse.
"Orthodox" continued by making an interesting comment:
If you make the positive assertion that they may have been identical, it is up to you to establish that assertion, otherwise the assertion fails and there is no need to consider such an unfounded contention.
a) Does "Orthodox" read what "Orthodox" writes? "Positive assertion that they may ..."? That something may be is rarely a positive assertion, and it's not a positive assertion here.
b) Does "Orthodox" remember the context of the discussion? It is the abuser of the text that has made a positive assertion, namely that the text teaches "traditionism" (for lack of a more succinct word). It's up to the abuser of the text to demonstrate such support. If they cannot, then, as Orthodox puts it: "the assertion fails and there is no need to consider such an unfounded contention."
Next, "Orthodox" shifts gears, and makes a new category of error, this time the error is an allegation of misrepresentation:
5) Discussing a "class of knowledge called Sacred Tradition which is separate from scripture" is a misrepresentation of the opposing view. The claim is that there is one class of knowledge called sacred tradition, of which the written record is a part. This, coincidently, is the exact way that Paul categorises things in 2 Th 2:15. Hold to the "traditions" whether written or oral. Not "hold to the oral traditions and s acred [sic] writings".
a) It's not a misrepresentation. Catholics sometimes talk about "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture" as though they were two parallel bodies of knowledge. If "Sacred Tradition" can only mean (to Catholics) a genus that includes Scripture, then the statement would be a bit like "Fruits and Apples." See, for example, CCC 84 and CCC 97 (in which the genus is "Word of God" and the species are "Sacred Tradition" and "Sacred Scripture"). Furthermore, I've personally heard Catholics discuss the matter that way, specifically excluding Scripture from Tradition as being in different categories.
b) The fact that "Orthodox" wants to use different nomenclature,
(i) doesn't make the Catholics disappear as one category of folks who use the text; and
(ii) doesn't really make much substantive difference: whether one wants to call the genus classification using the word "traditions" or "word of God" or whatever, the underlying issues are the same. While "Orthodox" is welcome to have the debate over whether the Catholics should lump "Sacred Scripture" in with "Sacred Tradition" in their theology, I leave to "Orthodox."
c) Ironically, Orthodox himself provides an example of the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 with his comment: "This, coincidently, is the exact way that Paul categorises things in 2 Th 2:15. Hold to the "traditions" whether written or oral. Not "hold to the oral traditions and s acred [sic] writings"." There a couple of errors here:
(i) The major abuse here is due to the underlying assumption that by "traditions" Paul means what "Orthodox" means by "traditions." There's no reason at all to suppose that. "Orthodox" assumes it, but we have no reason to accept his claim.
(ii) A minor abuse here is due to "Orthodox" misreading "our epistle" as though it were a reference to "written traditions" in general (again, basically assuming "Orthodox"'s definition of "traditions").
(iii) Another (and still more minor) abuse here is due to "Orthodox" misreading "taught ... by word" as thought it were a reference to the class of "oral traditions" rather than to specific things that had been taught by Paul to the Thessalonians (again, underlying that misreading is "Orthodox"'s assumption that Paul means what "Orthodox" means by "traditions").
Turning from abuse of the text and false accusations of misrepresentation, "Orthodox" reverts to his previous false accusation of hypocrisy, this time with a different basis. I was hesitant even to include this item, because it has nothing to do with 2 Thessalonians 2:15, but I ask the reader to be patient with me. "Orthodox" contends:
6) Saying you don't know if Chrysostom wrote this thing is another case of "have you stopped beating your wife". You have zero reason to think Chrysostom didn't write it, but you think maybe if some doubt is cast on it, we can devalue the whole thing. Again hypocrisy. What if this reasoning was applied to the scriptures?
a) The historical question of whether Chrysostom wrote the homilies cited is not comparable to the loaded question (at least this time "Orthodox" correctly relates the question) of whether someone has stopped beating his wife. There's nothing complex or loaded about an historical inquiry as to authorship.
b) And of course, I didn't even ask that question, I just indicated that I didn't know.
c) Despite "Orthodox" claim to the contrary, I do have reason to think Chrysostom might not have written it. As I previously told "Orthodox" (link - does he read carefully?), "John Chrysostom’s legacy is muddied by time and various strains of thought all attributed to him, but not necessarily all his own." (or, for another example, in the post itself to which "Orthodox" was responding, I wrote: "John Chrysostom wrote a a large amount, and even more that he did not write has been attributed to him over the years. ") Even the Catholic Encyclopedia at "New Advent" admits that "numerous" apocryphal writings are attributed to him (link), and additionally mentions the role of editors in the release of at least some of his homilies. So, authorship of these particular homilies, and - more particularly - these specific words is certainly open to reasonable doubt.
d) "Orthodox"'s guess as to my reason for mentioning it is mistaken. I mentioned the open question of authorship to avoid dogmatically asserting that it was Chrysostom, and not one of his editors or a pseudo-Chrysostom that abused 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Furthermore, it was important to point out that the second homily from which I quoted was not the same homily, since one wouldn't necessarily interpret Chysostom in view of what pseudo-Chrysostom wrote, or vice versa. Thus, I cautioned the reader, to soften the force of my own argument.
e) "Orthodox"'s final comments, "Again hypocrisy. What if this reasoning was applied to the scriptures?" are likewise off the mark. In this case, the charges are more absurd than usual. Far from hypocrisy, the matter was a simply clarification of the record, so that Chyrsostom's name might be somewhat removed from the stain of the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, just as one might say that one's neighbor's wife's face was bruised, without dogmatically asserting that it must be the husband that did it. As for the application to Scripture, I simply believe what Scripture says. I don't treat Scripture like I treat the writings attributed to the church fathers. If 2 Peter says it was written by Peter (and it does), then I believe it. If Scripture says nothing about the authorship of a particular book, I refuse to be dogmatic about that matter myself.
As his next-to-last point, Orthodox makes another faulty comparison on the tangential issue of what the passage attributed to Chrysostom is alleged to teach:
7) You say that what Chrysostom means by tradition is ambiguous, but the issue is that it goes beyond what scripture is, and that is not ambiguous in the context. Your argument is equivalent to saying that scripture lists no canon, therefore we can safely ignore scripture. i.e. hypocrisy.
a) Is it really clear that Chrysostom means something beyond Scripture? I'm not sure. The "in context" comment is bogus, because the alleged statement by Chrysostom is practically devoid of context.
b) Furthermore, if someone is going to cite Chrysostom as supporting their position, it is important to establish what Chrysostom was referring to. Otherwise, the same pretextual quotation abuse that we've documented with respect to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 can be made with respect to Chrysostom.
c) Since "Orthodox" pretends to hold to that which was received by all the fathers, it should matter a lot to "Orthodox" what Chrysostom himself meant by what he wrote. It's much less important for me, though, because I am willing to admit that all the church fathers were men, and consequently fallible and errant.
Finally, Orthodox provides a last argument, finally apparently attempting to return to the text.
8) You say that 2 Th 3:6 is about discipline and not about doctrine, so tradition=discipline. Then you claim that 2 Th 3:15 is about the gospel, and not about discipline, therefore tradition=gospel. So you contradict your own restrictive agenda by which you desperately try and shrink the categories out of existence.
a) Actually, my comment about 2 Thessalonians 3:6 was to relate to the reader Chrysostom's comments on the verse, not my own. Chrysostom, when considering 2 Thessalonians 3:6, clearly did not have in mind either the Catholic category of "Sacred Tradition" or the category "Orthodox" prefers of something akin to "everything the church uses to convey information."
b) The verse that we have been discussing, which is about holding fast to the gospel is 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (not 3:15).
c) My only agenda here is to stop the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that I've seen way too often, as well as to expose the fact that it is used as a pretext.
Hopefully, by now it has been demonstrated that there is no rational way to justify the use of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as though it were evidence of the Bible teaching the "traditionist" position with respect to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition.