Friday, February 10, 2012

Is Charity a Means to Salvation?

Does the Pope teach works salvation?  The Vatican Information Service capsulized one of his recent talks under the heading, "POPE'S LENTEN MESSAGE: CHARITY AS A MEANS TO SALVATION," but perhaps more significantly consider his own words, as provided by VIS:
All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God's plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation.
(Benedict XVI via Vatican Information Service, 7 February 2012)

By contrast, we believe that salvation is entirely of the Lord.  We teach that it is all of God.  God is both the author and finisher of our salvation. 

Hebrews 12:2  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Philippians 1:6  Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Christ is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end:

Revelation 1:8  I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

Don't get me wrong. Good works are important, as the pope quoted, the Scriptures say:

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

Yet it is not by those works that we are saved. As it is written:

Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

Ephesians 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Amen, and praise the Lord for his mercy and grace, which endure forever.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

Is Rejecting Rome the Only Protestant Unity?

Andre writes:
In my exit interview, federal vision, NPP, and NT Wright were suddenly my pastor’s best friends. He told me that he’d be comfortable if I worshipped with them but that he would worry for my soul if I joined the Catholic Church. When I heard that, I was even more comforted by my decisions. Because suspicion toward Rome seems to be the only thing uniting Protestants at this point.
First, let me tip my hat to Andre for at least going through the "exit interview" process.  While I am sure I have a lot of issues with him and his views, I am glad to see that he took the process with more seriousness than many.

That said, Andre has a warped perspective.  His former pastor would say the same thing if Andre was leaving for Islam or Mormonism, both of which claim (like Romanism) to have an authority that either de facto or de jure supercedes the Bible.  The problem is that Andre has left the visible church to join a church that rejects the gospel and has a history of persecuting those who preach the gospel.

We would and do give him the same sorts of warnings we give to those who leave for Islam or Mormonism.  The Roman magisterium is no more legitimate than Mohammed or Joseph Smith, notwithstanding their lofty claims for themselves.  We fear for the souls of those who take such actions, because they are turning their backs on the gospel, and departing from the catholic and apostolic faith.

Our warnings to those who join the federal visionist or new perspectivist groups tend to be somewhat different, mainly because their serious doctrinal errors there do not necessarily rise to the level of rejecting the gospel.  The warnings we would give in those cases would be similar to the warnings we would give to someone leaving to a Methodist or Lutheran church.

I'm not sure whether Andre understands this important distinction between the gospel and other important doctrines.  I will, however, pray for his repentance and restoration to the visible church.


Why Does the Universe Look So Old?

In human terms, of course, the universe is old.  It's thousands of years old, much older than any living human, and maybe two orders of magnitude older than a typical retiree.  It's old.  It is not, however, as old as people who adopt the presupposition of naturalism think it is.

These days they are telling us that the universe is between 13-14 Billion years old.  Even the Earth itself is between 4-5 Billion years old, they tell us.  Perhaps, on the presupposition of naturalism, that's the "right" approximate age.

That presupposition of naturalism, however, is wrong.  The Earth only appears to be as old as naturalism would suggest it is.

But why then does the Earth look so "old."  Is God lying to us by dressing the world in old clothes to deceive us about its true age?

First, God can hardly be accused of deceiving us about the world's age, when he gives us such detailed information in Genesis and Exodus that allows us to generate an approximate age of the universe.

Second, what would a "young" universe look like?  On naturalism, a 6000 year old universe would be one that is totally inhospitable to life - the same for a 6000 year old Earth.  So, one obvious answer for the reason that the Earth and Universe don't look "young" is that the Earth and Universe are here to support life.

Third, as David Gadbois has noted (see here) any conceivable universe that has the laws of conversation of mass and energy would look older than it is, because the existence of matter and/or energy would imply the indefinite past existence of matter and energy.

Fourth, this "apparent age" is subjective.  Sure, I know that "scientists" use various objective measures and perform calculations, but the notion of appearance is itself inherently subjective.  We see this subjectivity in the "increasing age of the universe" phenomenon.  Nineteenth century scientists evidently estimated the age of the world in the tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years range.  By contrast, the age of the earth is now estimated to be the billions of years, range - with no real guarantee that new theories won't bring new revisions.

In short, given propositional divine revelation, any appearance of age of the universe is hardly problematic.  Moreover, since naturalism cannot account for fully formed worlds springing into being in a moment, it is unsurprising that the universe "appears" older than it is.  When the universe had just been formed, every possible naturalistic judgment of the earth's age would necessarily suggest it was older than it actually is.  That is especially the case for an habitable world, given that both new universes and new earths (as described by the scientific theories du jour) would be completely inhospitable to human life.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Another Beckwith-like Apostasy to Rome

You may recall that some time ago, Francis Beckwith made waves by secretly rejoining the Roman communion, while continuing in his role as president of Evangelical Theological Society. Sadly, we can add to that another similar tale.

Mr. Jason Stewart was an OPC pastor. According to a letter provided by his (now former) presbytery:
Whereas the date Mr. Stewart entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church (January 10, 2011) evidences a studied commitment to that church’s doctrine and practices while he remained a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and

Whereas, in contravention of his ordination vows (FOG XXIII.8. (1-4)), Mr. Stewart did not disclose his change of convictions to his Presbytery until March 10, 2011, thus deceiving both the Presbytery, and the congregation of Trinity, Easton, and

Whereas Mr. Stewart has refused to be dissuaded from his course,

Therefore, in accordance with Book of Discipline V.2.b (1), Presbytery erased his name from its rolls, recorded the circumstances in its minutes, and communicated this action as a form of discipline (BOD V.2) to the congregation of Trinity, Easton with exhortation and encouragement toward a godly response to these events and to Mr. Stewart.
One wonders whether his new-found comrades at the Roman blog, Called to Communion, are aware of the facts of his conversion experience. In his account, he characterizes the events as: "Our decision to leave Presbyterianism for the Catholic Church surprised many." I'll say!

We will pray for repentance and restoration of Mr. Stewart (the erasure by Presbytery is de facto deposition and excommunication). Until that time, however, he ought to consider himself outside the visible and catholic church, and under threat of eternal judgment.

The reason for posting this point publicly, of course, is to draw attention to the issue of deception alleged by his former presbytery. I don't expect that this will matter to the Called to Communion team, but it ought to matter to seekers of truth. It helps to demonstrate the principle announced by the apostle, that they went out from us, because they were not of us. It also helps to qualify the credentials that are being used to promote his "conversion story" ("OPC Pastor ...") - yes, he managed to infiltrate the presbytery - but his manner of departure shows the sort of person he was.


Bodily Exercise Profiteth ...

Western culture is obsessed with a variety of conflicting things. One of those obsessions is health. Perhaps from good motives connected with our duty to preserve life under the sixth commandment, or perhaps from other motives, a lot of Christians in Western culture have come to think that being healthy is godly, and that being unhealthy is sinful.

We're not talking about people who get cancer - but people who eat fast food, or fatty food, or sugary food, or who smoke. These people are told that the Bible tells them to live a healthy life. So, what does Scripture actually say?

Well, Scripture does say that there is value in bodily exercise, but it calls the value "little."

1 Timothy 4:8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

Moreover, there are general warnings in Scripture against glutton, sloth, and drunkenness. The following is a nice example of all three.

Proverbs 23:21 For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.

But what are the usual prooftexts of the Christian Health movement? One is 1 Timothy 4:8, omitting the portion after "profiteth." The more popular verses, however, are the verse that says our body is a temple, and another one that describes bringing our body under submission.

Those verses, however, are being taken out of context.

1 Corinthians 6:13-20
Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

The point Paul is making is not to stay away from the doughnuts, but rather to avoid fornication. Paul is not concerned with sub-optimally healthy diet choices, but with immoral behavior.


1 Corinthians 9:23-27
And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

In this context, Paul is making an analogy between the preparations an athlete makes and the preparation that an evangelist makes. The expression "keep under my body, and bring it into subjection" is part of that analogy. The point is that our spiritual preparations should be as rigorous as the physical preparations of an athlete.

None of the above should be an endorsement of living in a way that takes no regard for one's health. We are to have a concern for our own life and the lives our neighbors, under the sixth commandment. That doesn't mean any particular health craze is good or right - or that trying extend our life through obsessing over diet or exercise is good or right. The point is simply that making health eating, drinking, etc. a priority is a matter of Christian liberty, not a matter of moral duty.


Maximus the Roman Catholic Confessor?

My friend James Swan posted a short article describing Maximus the Confessor's view of Rome's authority.  Matthew Bellisario at the Catholic Champion has now posted a response.

The material provided by my friend, Mr. Swan, was as follows:
7. They said to him, "And what will you do if the Romans unite with the Byzantines? For behold, yesterday there came legates of Rome and tomorrow on Sunday they will take communion with the patriarch; it will become evident to all that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed, there will then be an easy union." And he said to them, "Those who are coming cannot in any way prejudice the see of Rome, even if they should take communion because they have not brought a letter to the patriarch. And I am not at all convinced that the Romans will unite with them unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature both wills and works our salvation according to each of the natures from which he is, in which he is, as well as which he is." And they said, "And if the Romans should come to terms with them at this time, what will you do?" He replied, "The Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle, condemns even angels who sanction anything against what has been preached"
Maximus the Confessor, Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 1985), p. 23.

Maximus, according to this material, was posed with the question about what he would do if Rome united with the Constantinople on the question of the two wills of Christ. That is to say, they asked him what he would do if Rome embraced monothelitism.

The first way that they posed the question led him to respond that if the legates of the patriarch (meaning the bishop of Rome) did not have a letter from the partriarch, even if they technically took communion with the bishop of Constantinople (as evidently was expected) that would not prove that the Partriarchite had consented to that monothelitism is either correct or acceptable.

Thus, they modified their question. As modified, Maximus could no longer escape the idea that Rome had embraced monothelitism. His response under that proposed hypothetical scenario was to maintain his current position. Even if Rome accepted monothelitism, he would not.

That position is not, in itself, Sola Scriptura. After all, Maximus does not explicitly state that the reason for his refusal to adopt Rome's position is because Scripture is a higher authority. One might infer such a position from his reference to Galatians (Galatians 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.).

Whether or not such an inference is correct, Maximus the Confessor is plainly not a Roman Catholic - willing to accept whatever position Rome adopts.

Mr. Bellisario has attempted to provide some counterpoints. He provides three quotations with the citation, "(Saint Maximus the Confessor- The opuscula fragments)." The first quotation is as follows:
All the ends of the inhabited world, and those who anywhere on earth confess the Lord with a pure and orthodox faith, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines, just as the holy six synods, inspired and sacred, purely and with all devotion set them forth, uttering most clearly the symbol of faith. For, from the time of the descent to us of the incarnate Word of God, all the Churches of the Christians everywhere have held and possess this most great Church as the sole base and foundation, since, according to the very promise of the Saviour, it will never be overpowered by the gates of hell, but rather has the keys of the orthodox faith and confession in him, and to those who approach it with reverence it opens the genuine and unique piety, but shuts and stops every heretical mouth that speaks utter wickedness. For that which the creator of everything himself, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, established and built up - together with his disciples and apostles, and the Holy Fathers and teachers and martyrs who came after - have been consecrated by their own works and words, by their sufferings and sweat, by their labours and blood, and finally by their remarkable deaths for the sake of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of us who believe in him, they, through two words, uttered without pain or death - O the long-suffering and forbearance of God! - are eager to dissolve and to set at naught the great, all-illumining and all-praised mystery of the orthodox worship of the Christians.
It appears that this is an alternative translation of the following:
For the very ends of the earth and those in every part of the world who purely and rightly confess the Lord look directly to the most holy church of the Romans and its confession and faith as though it were a sun of unfailing light, expecting from it the illuminating splendor of the fathers and the sacred dogmas, just as the divinely-inspired and sacred six synods have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For ever since the incarnate word of God came down to us, all the churches of Christians everywhere have held that greatest Church there to be their sole base and foundation, since on the one hand, it is in no way overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the very promise of the Savior, but holds the keys of the orthodox confession and faith in him and opens the only true and real religion to those who approach with godliness, and on the other hand, it shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks unrighteousness against the Most High. For that which was founded and built by the creator and master of the universe himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, and his disciples and apostles, and following them the holy fathers and teachers and martyrs consecrated by their own words and deeds, and by their agony and sweat, suffering and bloodshed, and finally by their violent death for the catholic and apostolic Church of us who believe in him, they strive to destroy though two words [uttered] without effort and without death – O the patience and forbearance of God! –and [so seek] to annul the great ever-radiant and ever-lauded mystery of the orthodox worship of Christians.
(Opuscula 11, translation from The body in St. Maximus the Confessor: holy flesh, wholly deified by Adam G. Cooper, pp. 181-82)

The authenticity of this text is disputed (Cooper, p. 181) a fact that Mr. Bellisario fails to mention to the reader (presumably because he doesn't know). Moreover, what does the passage say that Bellisario can affirm? It says some nice things about Rome and the six synods - but wait. It refers to "six synods." People assume the means the first five major councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, and Chalcedon 451), plus the 649 synod of the Lateran. But Bellisario would not consider that last one to be an ecumenical council (nor did it have the characteristics of such a council). And if it refers to the ecumenical council that addressed the monothelitism controversy, then it definitely isn't from Maximus - he didn't live to see that synod.

Moreover, nothing in the passage about indicates that Rome is characteristically unable ever to fall into error for a time. It does seem to suggest a thought that Rome will not be "overcome by the gates of Hades" (a misuse of that passage), but would it be "overcome" if for a time it fell into error?

But as Cooper suggests (p. 187), whether or not the passage is authentic we should consider Maximus' mature ecclesiology, as seen in the Disputatio Bizyae discussing with Theodosius:
What kind of believer accepts a dispensation silencing the very words which God of all ordained to be spoken by the apostles and prophets and teachers? Let us investigate, reverend master, what kind of evil this summary blindly arrives at. For if 'God appointed in the Church first apostles, then prophets, and third teachers' (1 Cor. 12:28) 'for the perfecting of the saints' (Eph. 4:12), having said in the Gospel to the apostles and through them to those after them, 'What I say to you, I say to all' (Mark 13:38), and again, 'He who receives you receives me, and he who rejects you rejects me' (Luke 10:16), it is clearly manifest that whoever does not receive the apostles and prophets and teachers, but rejects their words, rejects Christ himself.

Let us also investigate the other passage. God chose to raise up apostles and prophets and teachers for the perfecting of the saints. But in order to oppose godly religion the devil chose to raise up false apostles and false prophets and false teachers, so that the old law was opposed, as was also the evangelical law. And as far as I understand it the false apostles and false prophets and false teachers are the heretics alone, whose words and train of thought are distorted. Consequently, just as the one who receives the true apostles and prophets and teachers receives God, likewise the one who receives false apostles and false prophets and false teachers receives the devil. So the one who throws out the saints along with the cursed and impure heretics -- mark my word! -- manifestly condemns God along with the devil.

If, in that case, in racking our brains to come up with new words in our own times we find those words to have descended to this extreme evil, watch out lest we -- whilst alleging and proclaiming 'peace'-- be found to be struck ill with apostasy which the divine Apostle said beforehand would accompany the coming of the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

I have spoken this to you, my lords, without holding back.... With these things inscribed in the tablet of my heart, are you telling me to enter into fellowship with a church in which these [other] things are proclaimed, and to have communion with those who actually expel God and, I imagine, the devil with God? May God -- who for my sake was made like me -- sin excepted -- never let this happen to me!
Notice how in this passage he makes individual conscience effectively supreme even over the apparent "apostles, prophets, and teachers" of his day - even to the point of hinting that he may be faced with the great apostasy.

The next quotation Bellisario provided was this:
"I don't have a teaching of my own, but the common one of the Catholic Church. I mean that I haven't initiated any expression at all that could be called my own teaching."
Before we continue, it's worth pointing out that it appears that Bellisario may have gleaned this and the previous quotation from Andrew Louth's article on Maximus's ecclesiology (which can be found here). In that article, it is cited as "Relatio," and is a portion of the transcript of his trial.

The point that Maximus is making here, though, is simply that he has not expounded a novel doctrine. He believes that he is just teaching what the church has universally held. His reference here to "the catholic church" is not a reference to the Roman Catholic church but to the universal church.

Likewise, Bellisario's third quotation (also found in this article) is as follows:
"No, he (The emperor is not a priest) isn't, because he neither stands beside the altar, and after the consecration of the bread elevates it with the words. Holy things for the holy, nor does he baptize, nor perform the rite of anointing, nor does he ordain and make bishops and presbyters and deacons; nor does he anoint churches, nor does he bear the symbols of the priesthood, the omophorion and the Gospel book, [as he bears the symbols] of imperial office, the crown and the purple."
(Relatio 4, as cited in the article)

This has nothing really to do with Mr. Swan's thesis. It's not clear why Bellisario thinks it's important to this topic (he makes a comment in his post that seems to try to tie this quotation to a point of contrast between Luther's liturgy and Maximus' liturgy - something rather tangential at best). Louth thought it was important because the relationship of Emperor to church was one that was going to be significant in coming centuries.

Shortly after presenting that quotation, the article from which Bellisario appears to have been drawing goes on to point out that in fact Rome did succumb to imperial pressures:
A precious document for Maximos' doctrine of the Church is the last writing we have from his hand, a short letter written on 19 April 658 to Anastasios, his disciple and spiritual child of by then forty years' standing, who was exiled apart from his master. (18) By then, Maximos and his few followers were on their own, Rome - in the person of Pope Vitalian - having succumbed to imperial pressure and entered into communion with the other patriarchal sees. In reply to the question - or taunt - 'What Church do you belong to? Constantinople? Rome? Antioch? Alexandria? Jerusalem? See, all of them are united, together with the provinces subject to them'. Maximos says he had replied, 'The God of all pronounced that the Catholic Church was the correct and saving confession of the faith in him when he called Peter blessed because of the terms in which he had made proper confession of him'. The Petrine foundation of the Church is Peter's faith, which even his successor can abandon, as Maximos had just learnt.

(18) The letter can be found in Allen-Neil, pp. 120-3
(Louth, p. 118)

What an interesting omission from Bellisaro! You see, the hypothetical posed to Maximus turned out not to be a hypothetical. Vitalian did cave to imperial pressure, and this was communicated to Maximus. His response, in his final letter, Maximus recognized that it is the confession of faith that defines the church, not the church that defines the confession of faith. And with that, Maximus cannot be said to be Roman Catholic, no matter how high an esteem he had for Rome at certain times (especially right after the synod of the Lateran of 649, when Rome had repudiated monothelitism).

I'm sure more could be said, but we'll leave it at that. Swan's thesis has been adequately demonstrated, and Bellisario's seemingly plagiarized material has been replaced into its proper context and given proper attribution.


P.S. In the comment box at Mr. Swan's blog, I provided a short walk-through of the original quotation, which it may be useful to include here:

Walk through the quotation.

1) "And what will you do if the Romans unite with the Byzantines? For behold, yesterday there came legates of Rome and tomorrow on Sunday they will take communion with the patriarch; it will become evident to all that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed, there will then be an easy union."

They pose this as an argument that it is going to be just Maximus against all the major churches.

2) "Those who are coming cannot in any way prejudice the see of Rome, even if they should take communion because they have not brought a letter to the patriarch. And I am not at all convinced that the Romans will unite with them unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature both wills and works our salvation according to each of the natures from which he is, in which he is, as well as which he is."

But, you see, Maximus is too clever. He points out that the mere communion of the legates is not enough to show that the Roman church is in agreement with Constantinople, because they don't bear a letter to that effect addressed to the patriarch.

3) "And if the Romans should come to terms with them at this time, what will you do?"

They set this aside, and ask what if the church of Rome does join with the other churches?

4) "The Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle, condemns even angels who sanction anything against what has been preached"

Maximus refuses to assent, even under that circumstance.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Does Allah Preserve His Words?

Since I am on James White's blogging team, and am friends with him, I was sure to carefully read an article posted with the alarming title, "Exposing James White’s Deceit and Ignorance of Islamic Scripture," from the "Calling Christians" website.

The title wasn't supported by the body of the piece. "Deceit and Ignorance" turned out to be, at most, a difference of opinion between the author of the piece and my friend, Dr. White. The article begins thus:
In a recent twitter exchange with James White, I found him proposing such an absurd view of Islamic ‘aqidah that I simply had to write an article to correct his misinformation. In the field of academia, we try our best to uphold certain standards, however Alpha and Omega Ministries as missionary zealots don’t have to appeal to this high standard of intellectualism. So what exactly is James’ problem this time around? Let’s see:

[twitter post images here, in which Dr. White states: "How do you explain such texts as 5:47, 5:68, and 10:94 if you affirm (as you have) tahrif il-lafzi?"]

In essence, James White is appealing to the fallacious argument of appeal to ad ignorantium. Summarily, he’s trying to expound the concept that Muslims believe in a self contradicting tenet. This being, that in Islam, while we believe God’s word cannot become corrupted, we also believe that “God’s word” did come corrupt. For example, we say the Qur’an is the word of Allaah and therefore it cannot be changed or corrupted, yet in the same voice, supposedly we claim that the Injil and Tawrah, which are also the words of Allaah, have been altered. The terms which James is trying to use are, Tahrif ul Lafzi (corruption of written words) and Tahrif ul M’anavi (corruption of meaning).

What James White and his missionary zealot friends try to assert is that Muslims have not only a contradicting belief, but because of this belief it is the Qur’an which is wrong and the Bible is the true word of God.
There is a lot of baggage mixed in there, but the author of the piece is correct that we think that it is inconsistent to hold to the ideas that (1) Allah preserves his word, (2) the Old and New Testaments are the word of Allah, and (3) the Old and New Testaments are corrupt.

We are aware that the way Muslims attempt to hold these two ideas is by limiting (1) to simply saying that Allah preserves some portion (or all) of the Qur'an and/or by denying that the Old and New Testaments correspond to the Torah and Injeel.

This particular author begins his response, following the introduction above:
The Islamic belief is that God protects His revelations from becoming corrupt, altered and interfered with. In this regard, we do not hold the belief that God’s words can succumb to corruption, alteration and human interference.
Thus, this particular author has made a more general statement, akin to our (1) above.

The author continues:
Therefore we must correct James’ assertion that we believe God’s words can be corrupted by man, the Qur’an is clear that God would not allow this. It is the belief of all Muslims and if one did not know this belief (you now kn0w) that it is impermissible for a Muslim to believe that God’s words can become corrupted.
Clearly, the author has misunderstood Dr. White's point. Dr. White was not arguing for corruption of God's word, but simply noting a contradiction within Islamic views.

The author proceeds:
With that in mind what about the verses in the Qur’an which mention the corruption of the previous scriptures such as the Injil, Tawrah and Zabur?
The author then sets forth the basic gist of the points about corruption:
There are many verses in the Qur’an which indicate to us that God’s wahy (revelation) has been skewered by the hands of man, both literal words changes and contextual alterations (interpretations):
يُحَرِّ‌فُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ ۙ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِمَّا ذُكِّرُ‌وا بِهِ ۚ وَلَا تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَىٰ خَائِنَةٍ مِنْهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِنْهُمْ ۖ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِي
They distort words from their [proper] usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them. But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good. – Qur’an : 5 : 13.

وَإِنَّ مِنْهُمْ لَفَرِ‌يقًا يَلْوُونَ أَلْسِنَتَهُمْ بِالْكِتَابِ لِتَحْسَبُوهُ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّـهِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّـهِ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّـهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
And indeed, there is among them a party who alter the Scripture with their tongues so you may think it is from the Scripture, but it is not from the Scripture. And they say, “This is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah. And they speak untruth about Allah while they know. – Qur’an : 3 : 78.

مِنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا يُحَرِّ‌فُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَاسْمَعْ غَيْرَ‌ مُسْمَعٍ وَرَ‌اعِنَا لَيًّا بِأَلْسِنَتِهِمْ وَطَعْنًا فِي الدِّينِ ۚ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا وَاسْمَعْ وَانْظُرْ‌نَا لَكَانَ خَيْرً‌ا لَهُمْ وَأَقْوَمَ وَلَـٰكِنْ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّـهُ بِكُفْرِ‌هِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
Among the Jews are those who distort words from their [proper] usages and say, “We hear and disobey” and “Hear but be not heard” and “Ra’ina,” twisting their tongues and defaming the religion. And if they had said [instead], “We hear and obey” and “Wait for us [to understand],” it would have been better for them and more suitable. But Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few. – Qur’an : 4 : 46.
We seemingly have arrived at a theological impasse. On one end, we read above that God would protect His revelations and now we’re reading that God’s revelations were altered by men, corrupted, their meanings and letters distorted. Yet, before we jump to conclusions, we have to analyse what we have attained so far:

(1) God’s words cannot become corrupted.
(2) God’s words did become corrupted.

There seems to be a clear disconnect here.
So far, the author seems to have provided a reasonable presentation of the position he is arguing against, although we would say "God's word" rather than "God's words."

The author then attempts to identify a solution to the disconnect:
Something’s missing from this puzzle and we know what it is. Context. Did God’s word in itself become corrupted? And this is a question we must take seriously into consideration. What we see from the above verses is that there are two cases for God’s word apparently becoming corrupted:

(1) Interpretative alterations.
(2) Textual alterations.

With this in mind, let’s examine both cases.
We certainly have no objection to contextual consideration of the Qur'an, despite the seeming possible futility of applying a contextual method to what amounts to a posthumous topical collection of recalled sayings.

The author then posed the argument based on context:
It is true as we read from the Qur’aan: 5:13, 4:46, 3:78 that God’s revelations were reinterpreted. These interpretations followed the folly desires of men, in some areas to abrogate God’s law to suit material wants and desires, for power, even for illicit pleasures:
Their gist is that the Jews were habitually used to issuing religious edicts as desired by the people, either for the benefit of relatives or to satisfy their greed for money, property, influence, and recognition. This had become a common custom particularly in matters involving punishments that they would, if the crime was committed by an influential person, change the severe punishment of the Torah into an ordinary one. It is this behaviour, part of theirs which has been described in the first verse (41) in the following words: يُحَرِّ‌فُونَ الْكَلِمَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَوَاضِعِهِ (They displace the words after their having been placed properly).

Now the people who were used to making the severe punishments of the Torah easy for their clients by changing them saw an opportunity for themselves whereby they could take such shady matters to the Holy Prophet {saw} and make him their judge or arbitrator. The dual advantage they saw in it was that they would reap the benefits of all easy and light rules of Islamic law, while at the same time, they would not have to commit the crime of altering the Torah. But, here too, they had their crookedness at work as they would hold on to their decision of taking their case to him until such time that they succeeded in finding out beforehand through some source or ruse as to the actual verdict which would be delivered in their case when presented. Then, if they found this verdict matching their wishes, they would make him their arbitrator and have him decide their case. If it happened to be contrary to their wishses, they would leave it at that.- Tafsir Maar’iful Qur’aan : Mufti Rafi Uthmani, pages 164- 165.
However, God did guard the message (risalah) of the revelations (wahy). God sent messengers, prophets to correct the wrong interpretations by these pseudo religious scholars:
إِذْ أَرْ‌سَلْنَا إِلَيْهِمُ اثْنَيْنِ فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَعَزَّزْنَا بِثَالِثٍ فَقَالُوا إِنَّا إِلَيْكُمْ مُرْ‌سَلُونَ
When We sent to them two but they denied them, so We strengthened them with a third, and they said, “Indeed, we are messengers to you.” – Qur’an : Suratul Yasin (36) : 14.
In fact, the New Testament, confirms that Messengers were sent to the people who tried to alter His message through new interpretations:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. – Bible : Matthew (23) : 37.
So as we can see, the Qur’an is correct, God did protect the meaning of His message, until newer revelation was sent. For example the Qur’an abrogates the Injil as the Injil abrogated the Tawrah, and if the case arose where persons were distorting the meaning of a scripture or Prophet’s message, we read that God sent apostles, messengers, Prophets in some instances to correct the people (see 36:14 above).
Regarding the author's conclusion, the solution he is offering is a qualification on the protection of "until newer revelation was sent." That solution is not actually found in the materials he has identified.  In other words, the context has not substantiated his charge.

It seems that (for part of the argument) the author is trying to argue that the Qur'an's references to corruption relate to attempted corruption of the meaning, but that this attempted corruption was essentially ineffective.  This approach might make sense, but would imply that the meaning remains intact.  That solution implies that the Old and New Testaments are intact in their meaning (within the context of Dr. White's criticism).

But the author of the article is not finished.  He continues:
However, now we’ve arrived at the crux of the matter, textual corruption. As Muslims we assert that God’s message is preserved by God (as seen above, contextually), but what about textually? We read earlier that God protects His message in totality, that is, textually and contextually (meanings, interpretations). However as Muslims, we also do say that we do not believe in the Old Testaments of the Jews and Christians nor do we believe in the New Testaments of the Christians as being valid, because we assert they are not the words of God. Since they are not the words of God, they can indeed become corrupted and God did not promise to guard the works of man, but only His words.
This is the approach mentioned above of denying that the Old and New Testaments correspond to the Torah and Injeel. But is this feasible? Let's consider how the author of the article tries to defend this approach:
For example, in the case of the Old Testament, where missionary zealots such as Sam Shamoun and James White try to propose, that their Torah is the Torah from Allaah, we have to correct that appeal to ignorance. The Qur’an does not say that the Old Testament is the word of God, in fact, we read above (5:13) where the Qur’an calls the Torah/ Old Testament of the Jews and Christians as being interpolations from the tongues and minds of men. It is in this regard that the Islamic belief is not that God’s word was corrupted, but that people wrote words and then claimed them to be God’s:
فَوَيْلٌ لِلَّذِينَ يَكْتُبُونَ الْكِتَابَ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ ثُمَّ يَقُولُونَ هَـٰذَا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّـهِ لِيَشْتَرُ‌وا بِهِ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلًا ۖ فَوَيْلٌ لَهُمْ مِمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَهُمْ مِمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ
So woe to those who write the “scripture” with their own hands, then say, “This is from Allah,” in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn. – Qur’an : Suratul Baqarah (2) : 79.
With that being said, we must come to the understanding that when the Qur’an says that the message became corrupted, that is textually, it refers to those who put aside God’s revelation and in its stead, replaced the void with their own sayings, beliefs and propaganda. One example is of the Christian New Testament. The Qur’an says that a scripture (Injil) was given to Jesus (Issa, may God be pleased with him):
وَقَفَّيْنَا عَلَىٰ آثَارِ‌هِمْ بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْ‌يَمَ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَ‌اةِ ۖ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنْجِيلَ فِيهِ هُدًى وَنُورٌ‌ وَمُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَ‌اةِ وَهُدًى وَمَوْعِظَةً لِلْمُتَّقِي
And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. – Qur’an : 5: 46.
However Christians by themselves prove the Islamic belief of textual corruption as displayed above:

(1) Muslims believe that Jesus (Issa, may God be pleased with him) was given a revelation by God called the Injil.
(2) Christians believe that inspired scripture about Jesus originated with the apostles of Christ.

Therefore the Christian argument in reality disproves itself.
As for the last argument, this argument is only relevant to the Gospels, not to the Torah or the Zabur (Psalter, book of Psalms). Moreover, this argument presupposes that it is true that the Injil was given as a revelation to Jesus. However, this assertion itself is not correct. Indeed, it is simply another error of Mohamed's teaching.

This point is also something of a red herring. Even if there were a different book called the Injil that was allegedly given to Jesus, where has this been preserved at all? In other words, the situation is much worse for the Muslim who tries to avail himself of this particular argument. Instead of simply small textual variants in the New Testament, now the Muslim must account for the seeming complete destruction of the whole book and any record of its existence. After all, there is no record before Mohammed of any book given to Jesus.

There is a similar problem with respect to the argument about the Torah. So, the Muslim is claiming that the Torah which has been preserved is not the Torah referenced in the Qur'an. But then the lack of preservation is much worse than the Muslim has contended - the original Torah is completely gone if the one we have is not the original Torah but some new fake Torah.

Moreover, there is another problem, the Koran seems to suggest that the Torah and Injil are in the possession of the people of Mohammed's day:
وَلَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ كِتَابٌ مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ مُصَدِّقٌ لِّمَا مَعَهُمْ وَكَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ يَسْتَفْتِحُونَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُم مَّا عَرَفُوا كَفَرُوا بِهِ ۚ فَلَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ And when there comes to them a Book from Allah, confirming what is with them,- although from of old they had prayed for victory against those without Faith,- when there comes to them that which they (should) have recognised, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of Allah is on those without Faith. Qur'an 2:89 (Yusuf Ali translation)
If the Torah and Injil are something that were with Christians and Jews in the 7th century, then they weren't destroyed. Moreover, we know what the Old and New Testaments looked like in the 7th century - in fact we have even older copies than that.

So, it seems that the problem hasn't really been addressed. But let's consider how the author tries to wrap up this argument:
They have now failed on two fronts. Firstly, the premise that Muslims contradict themselves when they say the Bible is corrupted is proven false as we do not believe the Bible is the word of God. We don’t believe it is the word of God for namely two reasons:

(1) Christians assert it’s from the apostles and not from the Prophet Jesus (may God be pleased with him).
(2) Christians assert the revelation (wahy) isn’t revelation verbatim from God, which is what Muslims believe, but that the Bible is an inspired word from God, through the words of men.

Secondly, since they have made significant distinctions with what the Muslim concept of revelation is and what their scripture is actually comprised of, then they have shown that the Bible (New Testament) is not the Injil and as it follows, the Injil is not the Bible.
Most of this argument is already addressed above. Some people who call themselves Christians may not believe that the Bible is the very word of God, but verbal plenary inspiration is an important part of orthodox Christian belief. We do not believe that only the ideas but not the words are inspired. Our view of the mechanism of inspiration may differ from that of Muslims (we don't believe that the words simply are spoken, as it were, in the ears of the prophets), but that difference seems to be irrelevant to this particular argument.

The author of the article then provides a section designated as "conclusion":
Therefore, we must come to a logical conclusion. When missionary zealots such as Sam Shamoun and James White, along with their propganda team at AI, state that the Qur’an is wrong for saying the Bible is corrupted because Muslims believe the word of God can’t be corrupted, we must educate them. It is in this light, that our response should be, as such:
  • Muslims believe the word of God cannot be corrupted.
  • We believe the Bible is corrupted because it is not the word of God.
We do not believe it is the word of God because:
  • Christians do not believe the Bible is the verbatim word of God, but inspired ideas from God through the words of men.
In conclusion:
  • Therefore the Bible is corrupted because it is not the word of God and as such Muslims do not believe in it.
What was wrong with James White’s missionary belief, is that they think the Bible is the word of God and therefore we should accept this belief and as a consequence adhere to it, however as displayed above they don’t believe in the kind of scripture we do, they make a clear distinction between the Injil which we believe God revealed to Isa (Jesus, may God be pleased with him), while they believe in a scripture inspired by God, worded by the minds of men, which manifested after Jesus had walked the earth.

May God guide those who appeal to the fallacy of ad ignorantium.
As noted above, however, this doesn't really solve the problem - it just makes it worse. The Torah and Injil are now not merely somehow obscured through textual variation, but instead are completely destroyed. Under this theory, they are preserved much worse than if the Old and New Testaments are the Torah and Injil.

Moreover, there is no good argument provided for the assertion that the Torah and Injil do not correspond to Old and New Testament. Regarding the Injil, the argument that it cannot be the New Testament because of the mode of transmission (a) makes the problem even worse for the Muslim and (b) assumes both the reliability of the Qur'an on this point and the reliability of Christian accounts of how the gospels were given.

As for the fallacy of ad ignorantium, it has not been substantiated by the author of the article, and so we may leave our response at that.


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Unto What Shall We Liken the Roman Hermeneutic?

Rome insists that she is an authentic interpreter of Scripture.  We can easily provide an example, within a document defining a dogma, of Rome making a clear blunder.  But let's leave that aside for a second, and consider the effect of Rome's claims on a conversation.

Christian: We should reject Marian devotion because the Bible teaches us to trust in God alone.
Roman apologist: You have wrongly interpreted the Bible.  Only Rome can authentically interpret the Bible.
Christian: That's not true, the Bible was written to be understood.  Anyone can authentically interpret the Bible, and many do - some more, and others less, well than others.
Roman Apologist: No, you cannot understand the Bible without the Roman Catholic church.
Christian: That's not so.
Roman Apologist: Look, it says so right here in Matthew 16:18.


Now, that appeal to Scripture looks an awful lot like the Roman Apologist conceding that people can understand the Bible without the Roman communion.  But behind that appearance lies a question about what this Roman hermeneutic entails.

1) Is it like special decoder glasses?

Is the Bible simply incomprehensible on its own, and one needs the Roman church to provide spectacles to make the incomprehensible, comprehensible?  If that were true, then it would make no sense to appeal to Scripture to anyone not already looking through the spectacles.

2) Is it like the answer key to a Rubik's cube?
Is the Bible simply highly complicated, and one needs the Roman church to show the map of the way through to get the solution?  If this were the case, the appeal to Scripture might make sense.  This is just the first breadcrumb along a trail that eventually leads to Rome.  In fact, though, all of Rome's attempts to prove her distinctive doctrines from Scripture fail.  When you get an answer key to a Rubik's cube, you can see the parts all come together to form the solved puzzle, even if you couldn't have done it on your own.  But with Rome, you don't get satisfactory answers like that.  You get alleged solutions, but even knowing the supposed solutions, one cannot arrive at these solutions from Scripture.

3) Is it like the person who showed you how to look at "Magic Eye" 3D pictures?
Sure, at first it was just a weird bunch of lines and patterns, but once you were taught how to change your focus, suddenly the beautiful stereoscopic patterns emerged.  Some of Rome's converts stories make it sound like they feel Rome's hermeneutic is similar to this.  The two problems are - first, they don't seem to be able to teach us how to see the butterfly amidst the squiggly lines - and second, until we see the butterfly, appeals to Scripture are just appeals to squiggle lines, and consequently futile.

4) Is it like Humpty Dumpty?
In Alice Through the Looking Glass, she encounters the character Humpty Dumpty who insists on making words mean what he wants them to mean, even when that meaning is quite distant from any conventional sense of the word.  Some of the arguments from the Roman side favor this interpretation.  After all, some Roman apologists try to approach the Bible as though it were the creation of the Church, rather than being God's word delivered to the churches (and CCC 111 and 113 seem to encourage them to take this approach).  If the Bible were the product of the Church, then the authorial intent behind the words becomes important, and we need to let Humpty Dumpty use words like "only mediator" in a far from conventional sense.  One problem with that is that it turns the text of Scripture into such a "living document" that the document itself has no particular significance.  Matthew 16:18 might as well teach the papacy as it teaches the bodily assumption of Mary, so long as Rome says that is what it means.  The fact that we don't see it in the actual meaning of the words doesn't matter.

Ultimately, no matter what we liken the Roman hermeneutic to, we should realize that the Roman hermeneutic boils down to sola ecclesia: what Rome says goes.  If the Bible appears to say the same thing, and that convinces someone that Rome is right - great.  If the Bible appears to say the opposite, the Bible's apparent meaning should be subordinated to what Rome teaches.

But if that's Rome's hermeneutic, then the appeals to Scripture as an authority are really disingenuous.  Honest Roman apologists shouldn't argue that we should believe them because (to use their lingo) we interpret the Bible the same way they do.  After all, when we interpret the Bible differently, we're supposed to just set that aside, no matter how clear the Bible is.

Yet, I welcome comments from Roman apologists, clergy, and even laity.  To what do you liken the Roman hermeneutic, and to what shall I compare it?  And when you try to quote the Bible to me, do you think I'm just unaware that your church teaches that "all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God"  (CCC 119, quoting Dei Verbum 12, 3rd paragraph)?


P.S. Oh, and by the way - the alternative is that the Bible is the very word of God, and that God made it clear enough to serve as a rule of faith and life for his church.  Not all parts are equally clear, however, and sin blinds the minds of some men so that even the most clear parts become dull.  Nevertheless, core doctrines (like the contents of the Apostles' creed, for example) are plainly and unmistakeably set forth in the Scriptures, without the need for any special glasses, tricky eye techniques, or authoritative lexicography.