Friday, October 30, 2009

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario - Part 3

I'm responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario's response to my quotation from Justin Martyr. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:
Then Turretin Fan quotes Saint Justin Martyr in an attempt to bolster his position that the Scriptures are easy to understand.

Pay attention, therefore, to what I shall record out of the holy Scriptures, which do not need to be expounded, but only listened to.

- Justin Martyr, Dialog With Trypho, Chapter 55


First of all Saint Justin Martyr lived in the middle of the second century. There was not a New Testament canon yet, nor would there be for the next 150 years or more. So the Saint was not even referring to the New Testament as we know it. Secondly the great Saint is only talking about an isolated case here where he is quoting the Scriptures for a specific purpose. Anyone knows that Justin was not making a blanket statement on Scripture as not needing any exposition on them. This is once again a pitiful stretch of the text. If this is so then why does the "Reformer" read the writings of John Calvin in which he expounds upon the Scriptures giving his own interpretation? As many times as I have heard the Reformed apologist tell us that the Scriptures need no aid to their understanding, I am baffled by the pages of Scripture commentaries they refer to. If you have to write anything other than what is in the text itself (in this case the Scriptures), then by definition you are expounding upon the text.
I answer:
1) As to the intro: "Then Turretin Fan quotes Saint Justin Martyr in an attempt to bolster his position that the Scriptures are easy to understand," I've noted a couple of times that the argument is not that every Scripture text is easy to understand. Also, Justin Martyr is not properly a "saint," in traditional Roman Catholic hagiology, not that it matters much (the practice of calling him a "saint" seems to have originated in the 19th century, and gradually expanded due to carelessness - but this issue has nothing to do with the topic of the discussion). In fact, Justin Martyr's testimony is really brought as rebuttal to the idea that Scripture cannot be understood without some further "tradition."

2) Belliario continued: "First of all Saint Justin Martyr lived in the middle of the second century. There was not a New Testament canon yet, nor would there be for the next 150 years or more. So the Saint was not even referring to the New Testament as we know it."

As far as we know, Justin Martyr was born about A.D. 100 and lived to around A.D. 165. There are two main schools of thought as to the date of the completion of the last book of the New Testament, either before A.D. 70 or before A.D. 100. Thus, unless Bellisario is taking a position that no serious scholar has taken, the New Testament was complete either well or at least shortly before Justin Martyr was born.

More likely, Bellisario is simply confusing the historical reality of the canon with official proclamations of this canon. The canon is an historical reality: it is, by definition, the set of the inspired writings. That canon was complete as soon as the last book of the New Testament was finished, whether anyone (other than God) knew that objective reality. Furthermore, while some people may have been uncertain about the objective reality of whether a particular book was in or out of the canon is not dependent on anyone knowing that it is in the canon.

Further, we have to presume that Mr. Bellisario is trying to point us either to Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter (about A.D. 367) or to the Councils of Hippo (about A.D. 393) and/or Carthage (about A.D. 397), each of which contained a correct listing of the New Testament canon. Those are both more than 200 years after Justin's death, though, so it is not perfectly clear what Mr. Bellisario is trying to reference.

In any event, Mr. Bellisario's argument appears to be that because Athanasius and/or Hippo/Carthage haven't come around, people didn't know what Scripture was because they had no authoritative canon. Of course, even after Hippo/Carthage the canon was not "authoritative" because those were regional councils (same for Athanasius, because he's just one bishop). In fact, the first "ecumenical" council to define (authoritatively) the canon of the New Testament was the council of Trent.

Now, if Mr. Bellisario wants to insist that people just had no idea what Scripture was before Trent, so be it. But that's rather unreasonable. Athanasius shows us people knew about it before regional councils weighed in, and the regional councils show us that people knew about it before any bishop of Rome or ecumenical council weighed in. In fact, over a thousand years passed between Athanasius, Hippo, and Carthage (on the one hand) and Trent (on the other hand). People referred to Scripture as Scripture during that time, blissfully unaware of any need for any authoritative canon.

That may sound bad for Mr. Bellisario, but it gets worse. Mr. Bellisario seems to have assumed that Justin Martyr is speaking about the New Testament scriptures. Justin is not. Justin is speaking of Old Testament Scriptures. After all, Justin is debating Trypho, a Jew.

Of course, the same rebuttals apply to Mr. Bellisario's canon argument, if we let him change it to Old Testament canon. It may well be that Justin Martyr had an idea about what books were in the Old Testament that differs in some minor way from the books we have today. What is interesting, though, is that he not only used the term "Scriptures" as though it had meaning, but used it as though it would have meaning to a Jew. That's not overly surprising, I guess: Jesus himself referred to the Old Testament canon as "the Scriptures," without ever explicitly providing a list.

Nevertheless, the ability to reference a group of books by the term "the Scriptures" suggests at least some recognition of the canon, without any authoritative list sitting around: without any "inspired table of contents," as some Romanists are wont to put it. Thus, even if Justin Martyr's knowledge of the canon was less than ours, he had a more or less clear idea of what the Old Testament Scriptures were and so did his Jewish opponent.

Mr. Bellisario's comment, "[Justin] is only talking about an isolated case here where he is quoting the Scriptures for a specific purpose ... [a]nyone knows that Justin was not making a blanket statement on Scripture as not needing any exposition on them," is misleading at best. Anyone reading the statement sees that's not what he's saying. Justin's saying that there are some clear Scriptures that, on an important topic, don't require any interpretation. They speak for themselves. But is Mr. Bellisario willing to grant that many Scriptures are self-evident in their meaning? It's hard to see Mr. Bellisario agreeing that, yes, much of Scripture is easy to understand, so much so that it doesn't require any interpretation.

As potentially misleading as Mr. Bellisario's comments above are, though, his next one is worse: "This is once again a pitiful stretch of the text." The problem with this comment is that he's creating a straw man. He's trying to suggest that I've argued that all of Scripture requires no interpretation, which (of course) is not the case.

His straw man is undermined by the fact that the Reformed churches so prominently exegete and interpret Scripture. Mr. Bellisario recognizes this fact in his remaining comments, which makes his use of a straw man inexcusable. Furthermore, of course, sometimes comments are needed because even Scriptures that are perfectly clear are attacked by those who wish to obscure what is plain.

-TurretinFan

5 comments:

natamllc said...

I think it only fair to immediately stop and go on the record herewith by posting this comment first before proceeding reading this article.

Why? Because of all the time I have spent now in here following closely TF and his motivations I cannot say but a very few times he has "lost" it and not been most scholarly in his demeanor and approach to every issue brought on by him or by another.

I may be wrong in those "very few times" as it could have been me, rather, that was wrong and TF has never in the slightest fallen prey to such a charge as this sentence:

"....Then Turretin Fan quotes Saint Justin Martyr in an attempt to bolster his position that the Scriptures are easy to understand....".

"..in an attempt to bolster [his] position..".

Hmmmmm, no, TF has had one motivation from the beginning of my time enjoying Life and Godliness in here, that is, to put over God's Heart as God's Heart beats deeply in his with such reverences and fears to an extreme degree and fierceness for the Truth to be known.

Now, who would love such a quality in a man?

Now, now, who would hate such a quality in a man?

For the Love of God in Truth, but is it not True, God?

And certainly, if you hate God, you will hate the works of God. And more certain than that, you will hate the man of God that God has bestowed His mercies and Grace upon for no other reason than He has!

Joh 7:5 For not even his brothers believed in him.
Joh 7:6 Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.
Joh 7:7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.


and

Joh 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
Joh 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

and

Joh 15:18 "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
Joh 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

natamllc said...

As to 1) and 2) above, I would let Scripture speak without any further comment then:

1), my responses:

Act 8:29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot."
Act 8:30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
Act 8:31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.....

....Act 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.


and

2), my responses:


Joh 21:24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Joh 21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written....

....Luk 1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,
Luk 1:2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,
Luk 1:3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Luk 1:4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

.... Act 1:1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,

natamllc said...

As for this thought:::>

"....As potentially misleading as Mr. Bellisario's comments above are, though, his next one is worse: "This is once again a pitiful stretch of the text." The problem with this comment is that he's creating a straw man. He's trying to suggest that I've argued that all of Scripture requires no interpretation, which (of course) is not the case.....".

Question, does not Jesus Himself address [Mr. Bellisario's] such foolishness?


Joh 5:36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.
Joh 5:37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen,
Joh 5:38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.
Joh 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
Joh 5:40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Joh 5:41 I do not receive glory from people.


Just like a body without "spirit" is in a rapid state of decaying, so it is the "Word of God" on the mouth of any devil comes to nothing.

Oh? Yes, consider the exchanges Jesus and Satan had together as recorded in the Gospels:::>

Mat 4:6 and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"
Mat 4:7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" [LXX-Psa. 90:11, 12; MT-Psa. 91:11, 12].


One was speaking of the "Truth".

The Truth responded to him, that is, Jesus replied to the devil!

Yahoo Jesus!! He has done something none of us could do without Him! Yahoooooo!

Paul Hoffer said...

Hello all, I have not had the chance to chew on all of the issues presented in this article, but I thought I would comment on one small issue at this point. TF wrote:

"Also, Justin Martyr is not properly a "saint," in traditional Roman Catholic hagiology."

I am not aware of what you would classify to be "traditional hagiolgy" in the Catholic Church, but for the first three centuries of the Catholic Church one could not become a saint unless they were martyred. Unless they were "martyres vindicati," individuals would not be recognized as saints in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church until the 4th century (probably because Christianity was recognized by the Roman Empire and martyrdom was harder to come by). By virtue that there are writings of his martyrdom for the faith, he would certainly qualify under the criteria used in those days. I also believe I read somewhere that Pope Leo XIII acknowledged him to be such as he directed that offices be written for him. Thus, at least I am shown otherwise, I am going to assume that St. Justin has been properly vetted according to the criteria of the time to be called "saint".

TF, Are you aware of a time when St. Justin Martyr was not acknowledged to be a saint in the Catholic Church? I realize that standards for sainthood in my church have gotten more stringent over the ages, but we don't "de-saint" folks on the grounds that their acclamation in a prior time did not follow the rigors of latter times.

Now, I will agree that depending on the criteria used, St. Justin might not properly called an early church father as the criterian used prior to the 20th century required that in order to be a "father" of the church, one had 1) to be a saint, 2) to be a bishop or higher, and 3)to actually have written something. St. Justin was not a bishop, he was a layman. Thus, he does not meet the second prong of the more restrictive meaning of ECF.

God bless!

Turretinfan said...

That is indeed a small issue. If I recall correctly, and I may not, Justin Martyr was not a saint to the medievals because of his excessive fondness for Greek philosophy.

When I said "traditional," I was referring to the pre-Leo XIII view. I am not aware of Leo XIII actually vetting JM's sainthood according to the then-prevailing standards, though perhaps it was done.

Benedict XVI on 21 March 2007 referred to Justin as both "saint" and "father" in the following statement: "In these Catecheses, we are reflecting on the great figures of the early Church. Today, we will talk about St Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, the most important of the second-century apologist Fathers."

But yes, this is a small point. If you want to assume that Mr. Infallibility got this right ... I won't waste time trying to prove you wrong.