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